Unshakeable Confidence Ministry of the Word
You will find our text in the Gospel according to John, chapter 10, verses 34 to 36. Our subject is the absolute reliability of Scripture. 'Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?'
Who is Jesus? Who is your Jesus? We who are older have lived through a host of blasphemous suggestions: a Jewish monk perhaps; in the rock-and-roll era, Jesus Christ Superstar; to the Jehovah's Witness, a mere created angel; to the Mormon, a polygamist. Heresies are not new The Apostle John wrote his Gospel against the background of the philosophical logos.
The Apostle John commences his Gospel with the astonishing truth that you find in John 1:1: 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God'.
The following truth you find in verse 14: 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth'. This is our Jesus: the Eternal Son of God come in the flesh to save sinners by the gift of Himself. Is this your Jesus, this wonderful Jesus, the Lamb of God, who sacrificed Himself to pay the price of sin and to redeem poor, mortal sinners such as we are? This astonishing Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, came into a world of sin.
It is equally astonishing that He, the Living Word, the Eternal Word, should place such honour upon this written Word as to rest His case upon it 'Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law...' Surely, this humbles us to a reverent approach to the Bible, especially in connection with its absolute authority? Here is the Eternal Son of God Himself, come in the flesh, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons and He has said the Scripture cannot be broken. This absolute reliability is of the Word of God written. Absolute reliability: we cannot say that of our Prime Ministers, we cannot say that of our Presidents, we cannot say that of our doctors, our lawyers, our teachers, our scientists. They all make mistakes and they get it wrong. But we can say it of our Bible. Why do we have such an unshakeable confidence in the Old Testament Scriptures and the New Testament Scriptures? These three thoughts come to us this afternoon:
We have this unshakeable confidence because of what the Bible is.
We have this unshakeable confidence because of the word of Jesus about it.
We have this unshakeable confidence because of the way that the Lord Jesus Christ used it.
What the Bible Is
We have an unshakeable confidence in the Bible as utterly reliable because of what it is. 'Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken...’
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself gives us three fundamental descriptions of the Scriptures. He calls them your law. 'Is it not written in your law...' We know that the Jews did have a threefold division of the Old Testament. It is referred to by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as recorded in Luke 24:44: 'And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me'. The Psalms are used as a description of the third division of the Old Testament because they were at the head of that particular division. The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms: these are the holy writings.
However, the quote of interest to us is from Psalm 82:6, and it raises the question: how is it then Law? 'Is it not written in your law...': but this is in the Psalms. If you are a student of the Bible you know that Genesis 1-50, Exodus 1-18, nineteen chapters of Numbers and the first four chapters of Deuteronomy are all history — spiritual history indeed, but they are history — 91 of the 187 chapters of the Pentateuch are history. The Law is fifty percent spiritual history. So the Law itself is not merely commandments; the Law as it is being used here emphasises the binding authority of the Word of God.
This absolute authority of the Word of God commands your submission and mine, too. I was religious before I was saved. I went to church, I sat in my pew, I gave my offerings and I so on. I tried to be as good as I could to be a Christian. But you see what was missing in my life: I had never been brought into submission to the Word of God, to the authority of the Word of God. If you asked me if I believed in the Bible, I would have said, yes, indeed I do. But I did not know what it was to bring my life and my belief into submission to the absolute authority of the Word of God. Do you?
This is so fundamental. This is the starting point of Christian experience. This is the beginning of our new life. In those words in Isaiah 8:19-20, 'And when they shall say unto you Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them'. Those of us who are engaged in open air preaching know that when you go into the market square or the high street and you take this Book and you open this Book, before you utter a word the situation has changed; you can see by the reaction of some of the people in the market square that the situation has changed 'We will not have this man to rule over us', their hearts are already saying. The Word of God has been opened and an authority has come into the presence of every sinner who hears it, an authority that demands an absolute submission in bowing before Jesus Christ as the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the great Prophet raised up like unto Moses and the great High Priest of His people. The last word and the first word belong to the Word of God, because it is the only Word.
The Lord Jesus Christ says, 'If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came…' This description the Word of God points to its origin: the Author of the Bible is God. When the Lord Jesus Christ was in that deep conflict with Satan in the days of His flesh, He answered and He said to him, 'It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God' (Matthew 4:4). But was not the Bible written by men, men like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Yes, indeed; but by men so carried along by the Spirit of God that without being reduced to robots, what they wrote was what God spoke. It is as Peter tells us in his epistle, 'For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost' (2 Peter 1:21).
The process is a mystery. It is incomprehensible to us. But the product is not a mystery. The product of what took place when holy men of God were moved along by the Holy Spirit was a God-breathed Word, the Word of God written, that Word of which the Apostle wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 'All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works'. That is what the Bible says, that you can be thoroughly furnished for a life of holiness by the study of the Bible alone. It will equip you for everything that you need to come to God and find forgiveness, and to live that life of godliness. The Apostolic faith, the faith to which we hold, is that of which David spoke; the Psalmist said it, but it was God's Word. So when the New Testament Church was in a time of extremity and thankfulness to God for His intervention, they prayed, as we read in Acts 4:24-25, 'Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?' The mouth was the mouth of His servant, but the word was the Word of God.
Numerous Godly prophets came along and the introduction to their message was, 'Thus saith the Lord'. 'Not my word', Isaiah would say, 'but God's Word'. 'Not my word', Jeremiah would say, 'but God's Word. 'Not my word, Malachi would say, 'but God's Word.'
The Lord Jesus Christ refers to the Old Testament as the Scripture. 'If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken...'
You remember how it was: the teacher used to come along, look over your shoulder as you were writing your work at your desk. 'You have a nice script,' she might say if you were doing well. That was the same as saying, you have good writing. Jesus is talking about something written. 'Is it not written in your law...?' This is the Scripture, the written Word of God.
We are not depending upon something by way of recollection. How you wished you had recorded that telephone call! You scratch your head and say, 'What time was that meeting that I was supposed to be attending?' 'Which ward of the hospital was it that I was supposed to be going to?' Oh, you wish that you had written down the message on your telephone pad. Then you could go and you could read and you would know what it was that you had to do. In the same way, here we are this afternoon, not trying to recollect what God said but reading what God said. We have the open Bible before us. We can have it read to us. It is here in permanent form.
So the Apostle Peter, who heard the voice of God speaking from Heaven on the Mount of Transfiguration, could later write in 2 Peter 1:18, 'And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount'. But what does he go on to say? 'We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation' (vss. 19-20). We have an unshakeable confidence in the Scripture because its Author is God, its authority is absolute and the access to it is permanent. God has preserved His Word and He will preserve His Word until that day when the Lord Jesus Christ returns with great power and glory to judge the living and the dead and we are all gathered before the Judgement Seat of Christ to give an account of the deeds done in the body. Will your profession in that day be that you believed the Word of God written, that you received it, that it transformed your life? You took its promises, you believed upon the Saviour revealed in it and by the grace of God, and the power of His Spirit, you endeavoured day by day to live according to it in holiness of life to the glory of His Name.
The Word of Jesus about the Scriptures
Now secondly, we have an unshakeable confidence in the Bible as utterly reliable because of this word of Jesus about it 'If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken...'
Scripture cannot be broken. Not so my word to you. Not so the theological textbooks' word to you about the Bible. After all the vicious attacks that have been made upon the authority and accuracy of the Bible, I say to you this afternoon that Jesus said — our Lord Jesus Christ said — 'the scripture cannot be broken'. Do you see that? Do you understand that? This is the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning the Scripture in which we trust.
Now the Lord Jesus Christ is not speaking about the manuscript in David's handwriting.1I do not know where that would have been at the time the Lord Jesus Christ was speaking. Long since worn out, no doubt. Yet Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?' Now He is not speaking about the manuscript in David's handwriting. He is speaking about what was accessible to them in their own day. In the original Greek this is a perfect passive participle. The Greek grammars would tell us it means 'written so that you have it now', something accomplished with continuing effect. The Lord Jesus Christ was talking about the Old Testament in their temple, the Old Testament in their synagogue pulpits, the Old Testament in their studies back at home: a God-breathed and God-preserved Word.
On another occasion, given in John 5:39, Jesus had spoken to the Jews, saying to them, 'Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me'. The Scriptures that you have in your temple, in your synagogues, in your study, go and read them, go and search them. He did not say, search for the Scriptures as something that was lost, as the woman had to do in connection with her lost coin: she had to search for it because it was lost. The Lord Jesus Christ is not saying to the Jews, search for the Scriptures because we do not know where they are and we do not know which ones they are. He says to them, search the Scriptures which you have because they are they which testify of me. These Scriptures are so reliable, testifying to your soul of who He is and what He has done and how He as God is the Saviour of the world, how He has died upon an accursed cross to take that wrath which belonged to sinners such as we are. We by believing upon His Name can be justified by faith alone, knowing that we can trust this written Word about the Lord Jesus.
Now with respect to this reliability of the Scriptures, we learn of it from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The theologians can repeat this, they can repackage this, but they cannot change this without going against the Word of God itself, without going against God Himself, without going against Christ Himself. The Lord Jesus Christ says that the preserved Scripture is reliable to a word. 'If he called them gods...': the whole argument rests upon a word, 'gods'. You have the same in Galatians 3:16 where the Apostle Paul rests his entire doctrine at that particular point on a word of the Old Testament. 'Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ'. The Apostle Paul, following the example of His Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, knows that one word will do it We have the same here: 'If he called them gods...' One word of Scripture will be sufficient to demonstrate the case.
We understand from this that the Scriptures in the original languages have been transmitted in such a degree of purity as to make appeal to a single word possible. These documents in the original languages in our hands have verbal authenticity and we cannot accept that variant readings impinge upon the verbal accuracy of the Scripture, because any divergent readings are no part of Scripture. Our reformers at the time of the Reformation were not ignorant men. They were aware of the fact that variants existed and they discussed them on a case-by-case basis. But they would not allow either sectarians or the Roman Catholics to lessen the authority of the Scriptures in our hands because some variants existed. This was Scriptural and was according to the doctrine and the practice of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Lord Jesus Christ believed that the Scripture in their hands could not be broken. This is so in the line of faithful transmission.
William Hendriksen in his commentary on John's Gospel says in connection with Scripture that 'it is absolutely indestructible, no matter how man may regard it. The Old Testament as it lies there in written form! is inspired, infallible, authoritative'!2In consequence of this teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the practice of the Saviour Himself in reverently handling the Scriptures, we must therefore reject the idea that the church had a corrupted text of Scripture through all these centuries until the 19th century scholars came along. This assumption that has been used with such destructive effect in connection with many people who call themselves Christians is thoroughly unscriptural and contrary to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. No theory of textual criticism can be relied upon that involves the denial of the Scriptural truth that God has preserved His Word in the hands of His Church through the centuries. It is unbreakable down to a single word, so that you today might put your trust in this Word of God written. You today might stake all, even life itself, upon the things which are written in the Bible and trust this revealed Saviour, Jesus Christ, and Him only.
In this age of multi-faith worship, when such worship has become the politically correct thing, we are going to stand to the end for the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. 'I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me' (John 14:6). We are going to stand upon the claims of Jesus Christ because they are written in this Bible which we receive as the authoritative Word of God inscripturated and unbreakable down to a single word. We are not to imagine and we are not prepared to concede that at some point in time some manuscripts will be discovered that will show that all this time the church has been relying upon an imperfect and corrupted textual tradition.
The teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ requires acceptance of the reliability of the ecclesiastically transmitted text as being in His mind: not in the preacher's mind; not in the theologian's mind; not in Louis Berkhof's mind or Charles Hodges' mind or John Calvin's mind or whoever else we might want to mention in this connection. It is in the mind of Godly men, yes, but for this one and only reason: it was first in the mind of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In His mind there was no disconnection, no disjunction, no rupture between immediately inspired autographs and the faithful copies of uninspired men that witnessed to them. The Scripture in your hands cannot be broken. Christ refers to a providentially preserved, immediately inspired Word of God written that was accurate to a word.
The question was put to us: do we understand what we are standing for? I trust we do. Why does the Trinitarian Bible Society take such a stand in reproducing in English the Authorised Version exclusively? Do we know why? Can we give an answer? We are not making claims for the Authorised Version that it is perfect, because every translation of the Word of God must choose words of men to translate the original languages. We are not claiming the translation's perfection, but why are we standing for the Authorised Version? It is for this reason: 'Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy'. We are standing for the Authorised Version because of the accuracy of the underlying Hebrew and Greek texts. We are standing for the accuracy of the Authorised Version because of the translation principles upon which it was made. We are standing for the accuracy of the Authorised Version because it unambiguously keeps to the originals' devotional address to Almighty God. To God the Father we say, 'Thou art God'. To God the Son we say, 'Thou art God'. To God the Holy Spirit we say, 'Thou art God'. To the Divine Being we do not say, 'You are God', an ambiguous way of speaking capable of interpretation as singular or plural, but to the Divine Being we say, Thou art God, exclusively singular. In our devotion, we have this accuracy in the Authorised Version: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, not three gods but one God, the incomprehensible mystery of God blessed forever.
The Way the Lord Jesus Christ used the Word
Now we have, in the third place, unshakeable confidence in the Bible as utterly reliable because of the way that the Lord Jesus Christ used it. You see here from this passage our Lord's example. Our Lord's example was to apply the sacred text to matters of dispute. Is there a difference of opinion? Is there a difference of doctrine? Then let us go to the Law and to the Testimony and let us have it resolved out of the Word of God written.
I would like you to notice in this particular passage that our Lord's example was to apply the sacred text to matters of dispute and to do so in a way that recognised the authority of Scripture as the final word in settling controversies. 'Is it not written in your law...?' This will decide the matter. This will end the matter. Whatever the Scripture says, that is it, that closes the argument, and that demonstrates the truth of the matter. Our Lord's example was to apply the sacred text to matters of dispute and to do so in a way that recognised its authority as the final word in settling controversies while also affirming its utter reliability as incapable of error: 'Is it not written in your law' and 'the scripture cannot be broken'. All matters are decided here: matters of doctrine and matters of practice, matters of faith and matters of behaviour.
In pursuing His argument, it was enough for the Saviour to demonstrate that the basis of His argument was Scriptural. Once done, His case was established. Therefore, there is no possibility of the Scriptures being altered in any way. That is why Satan has had to enlist so many scholars over the last hundred years to undermine the authority of the Bible and to stop people referring to the Bible, because once the authority of the Bible is accepted, once that authority is submitted to, people's lives change. They are transformed. When you come across someone who seriously accepts the authority of the Bible as the Word of God written, supreme and absolute in its statements and unbreakable and authentic down to a word, it is no good trying to sell that person relativism, that you can choose how you live your life, that you can choose your own morality. It is no good trying to sell that person situation ethics as though there are no absolute standards so that when you get into a particular situation you have got to work it out for yourself in that situation since there are no absolute standards to refer to. You cannot do that to man or woman, boy or girl, young man or young woman who says: 'This Bible is the Word of God written, it has absolute authority, it is unbreakable down to a word, every word is authentic, I trust it, I believe it, I follow it, and I live by it'.
You see what a challenge we are to the society of our own day as it staggers around in its relativistic morality. I remember some years ago, I believe it was the Chief Inspector of Schools who said something to the effect that it is the dragon of relativism that has to be slain because the children no longer have any absolute standards of right and wrong and do not know how to make choices on the basis of absolute standards. How many of our young men in consequence have gone out and committed suicide before they reached the age of thirty because they needed the Word of God? The young men need the authority of the Word of God, this Word which is unbreakable.
You read these verses in John 10:34-36, 'Jesus answered them, is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?' You read it and scratch your head wondering how exactly this argument fits the situation of the Saviour being accused of blasphemy. This reaction of the Jews is not too easy for us to understand, and I am in no position this afternoon to go into an extended exposition with regard to this. But let me just quote some very wise words from the great reformer John Calvin, who was also a great commentator on the Scripture — and do not let anyone convince you that John Calvin is too scholarly or too intellectual for the average Christian to read. He is intensely devotional. He sums things up in this little paragraph:
The argument is not drawn from equals but from the less to the greater ... Scripture gives the name of gods to those on whom God has conferred an honourable office. He whom God has separated, to be distinguished above all others, is far more worthy of this honourable title. Hence it follows, that they are malicious and false expounders of Scripture, who admit the first, but take offence at the second.3
The arrow of the Word of God was aimed right into the hearts of these men. Examine your heart See what is really there and how important it is that we keep on heeding that approach of the Saviour. He is interested in your heart. He is interested in what is there. When you are backsliding and growing cold to the things of Christ, He comes and challenges you about that. Perhaps this afternoon there is someone here who has been going to church for years, has been going to church all his life and yet does not know Jesus Christ in a personal way as Saviour. One of the things that was mightily convincing with me before I was saved was the fact that I was kneeling down at my bedside and I was saying the words of the Lord's Prayer, beginning with those words, 'Our Father which art in heaven', and the thought kept coming insistently into my mind that I was praying 'Our Father which art in heaven, but I did not know God as my Father; I called myself a Christian but I did not know Christ as my Saviour, Jesus the Eternal Son come in the flesh.
Now my friends, we are unashamedly Trinitarian. We accept the claims of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The blood which was shed at Calvary in which we trust we regard as being of infinite worth. I say to Jehovah's Witnesses when they come to my door, 'If Jesus was just a created being, everything He did in His life and in His death He had to do for Himself; only if that claim was not upon Jesus with respect to Himself could He do anything for others. But the Eternal Son of God did not have to keep that law for Himself. He did not need to die accursed upon that tree for Himself, pure holy Saviour that He was, but he needed to die to save sinners such as we are, so undeserving. '...Feed the church of God', said the Apostle, 'which he hath purchased with his own blood' (Acts 20:28). Elsewhere he says: 'The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me' (Galatians 2:20).
Now you see that Scripture must settle every controversy. We have an unshakeable confidence in it to do that and we thus have the challenging task of distributing uncorrupted versions of the Holy Scriptures according to the Trinitarian Bible Society Constitution. Regarding foreign language versions, I suppose we in Stockton-on-Tees thought that we were thereby supporting ministers of the gospel in other lands far away. But we have found that the foreign missions are now in our own high streets, and because of the influx of asylum seekers we in Stockton have needed Turkish Bibles, Farsi Bibles for the Iranians, French Bibles and Arabic Bibles. In this the role of the Trinitarian Bible Society has been invaluable. The Lord has brought the world to Britain. Have you prayerfully meditated on the potential in that? There are so many people in so many different lands who are now here on our doorstep. People who have never had a Bible in their own language in their hands before can be given one: in London, in Stockton-on-Tees, in Bedford, and wherever else it might be. Have you prayerfully meditated on the potential in that?
Dear friends, this is no time for our hands to hang down or our knees to be feeble. The tide of God's purposes hastens on and we must catch that tide and go with it so that the strongholds of Satan might fall and brands be plucked from the burning, fulfilling the Word of God.
I have almost finished, but let me share with you what I did this morning. I went to Buckingham Palace. I saw the great gates there of the palace thrown open wide and out came the soldiers of the Queen and a silver band went to the right and the brass band went to the left, playing as they went. Their dress was immaculate — there is no other word for it — immaculate as they proudly played in honour of the Queen. The crowds were there to see them. My thoughts anticipated what our Chairman said this afternoon: 'Display the doctrine'. I looked at these soldiers and I thought, yes, we are soldiers, too, soldiers of the King. Are we so concerned that we might put honour upon Christ, that we might point by our lives to Christ that we might put on our best clothes for Christ? As I watched, a little tear rolled down my cheek because I thought, here are soldiers of the Queen and look at all these crowds from many different nations gathered to see the soldiers of the Queen: what kind of day will it be in Britain when it happens once again that the crowds gather for the soldiers of the King; when they want to come and hear the preaching of the gospel; when the lives of Christians are so compelling that this one and that one from this nation and that nation comes and says, 'Sir, we would see Jesus!'? Oh, what a challenge!
The tear rolled down my cheek but that is not enough. We have got to live the life. What an opportunity we have, with this treasured Society which is in our hands, that by wise and careful stewardship, the Word of God might penetrate throughout all nations unto the ends of the earth. I will let David have the last word from Psalm 22:27. It amazes me the way the Psalm begins with the Messiah's cry 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' and yet in verse 27 we have that Word of God saying, 'All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee'. Amen. So be it.