Question No. 3:—What is private interpretation? In what manner is one inspired? And through whom does Inspiration work?
“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.” 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 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 Pet. 1:20, 21.
Affirmatively stated, all Scripture (not merely a part of It) is inspired. Negatively stated, none of It is privately interpreted, for the reason that It did not come of men but of God. And It can be interpreted by men only as and when God’s Spirit decrees. Accordingly, every jot and title of Scripture and Its interpretation is of Inspiration, and thus wholly profitable to guide the man of God doctrinally, to reprove and to correct him, and righteously to instruct him, unto perfection of faith and works.
Let us therefore covenant with the Lord that henceforth we shall neither accept nor advance as revealed truth any private interpretation of the Scriptures. And to keep understandingly inviolate this solemn promise to the Lord, we must first, of course, understand—The Phenomenon of Inspiration.
In Its Scriptural sense, Inspiration is defined as “a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul of man” (The New Century Dictionary); in other words, It is a special function of the Spirit of God. It is, therefore in Its divers manifestations, set in operation, not by the working of the mind itself, but by the power of the Spirit. To get a correct understanding of this process, however, one must necessarily see it in historical perspective, operating in the midst of the human race from the beginning of creation.
In His own image God created Adam, and gave him sovereign “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Gen. 1:26.
Accordingly, as He made Adam the king of earth’s first dominion, and all living creatures the subjects thereof, Adam’s natural ability to rule them, and their natural submission to him, show that all creation, man and beast, fowl and creeping things, were divinely influenced or endowed–inspired. So when Adam reviewed the whole animal creation as it passed before him, he spent no time in studying the nature of the creatures in order to identify them, but instantaneously gave every species its name; they, in turn, immediately recognized him as their king–gave submission to him. This Super-intelligency (such as is vouchsafed in Matthew 10:19) clearly shows that all creation was influenced by a power above and beyond its own. In short, both Adam’s and the animals’ understanding came by Inspiration.
Inspiration, consequently, is not limited in Its manifestations, to man alone. And sacred history reveals that neither is it limited to visions (Dan. 7:2), or dreams (Gen. 28:12), or indirect communication (Ex. 40:35; 28:30), or direct face to face conversation (Gen. 18:2) with divine beings, or to any other form of expression. Rather It comes “in divers manners.” Thus wise, God “at sundry times…spake in time past unto the fathers.” Heb. 1:1.
This fundamental truth was, perhaps, best exemplified in Noah’s work, particularly in its climax, when special intelligence was imparted to selected members of the animal creation, so that from near and far they could find their way into the ark and keep peace one with another. (See Genesis 7:1-4.)
But having survived the flood, the descendants of Noah’s family straightway forgot the priceless lesson. So it came to pass that the post-diluvians were as determined to believe that there could be a second universal flood as the antediluvians were that there could not be a first one. Thus unbelief in Noah’s inspiration became as pronounced after the flood as it had been before, with the result that in the effort to gain security of life, men attempted to build the tower of Babel, the world’s first skyscraper and the earliest monument to the folly of man’s prodigious labors to secure his salvation without the assistance of Divine Inspiration. This insulting attitude of the builders toward the Lord’s promise through Noah, so aroused His displeasure that He blotted from their memory the language which He had given them through Adam and, in its stead, inspired in them all the diverse languages of earth, with the result that the builders became confused among them selves and could no longer continue building (Gen. 11:7-9).
In this preternatural event which so radically changed the course of human society, we see another form of Inspiration revealing that while one individual or a group of individuals may deliberately work at cross-purposes with God, He can bestow His gift even on them, to frustrate their own evil designs (Gen. 11:1-9) while promoting His eternal purpose and getting praise to His name (Ps. 76:10).
Another example of this marvelous manifestation is seen in the contravention of Balaam’s evil intent. The Lord so controlled Balaam’s tongue that though his mind was bent on cursing Israel, he could pronounce only blessings (Num. 22, 23, 24).
Let these “ensamples” be our constant reminder that anyone who undertakes to work against the Lord’s revealed will is doomed to failure and shame.
In later postdiluvian days the Lord appeared and said unto Abram: “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” Gen. 12:7. Then some years afterwards “three men stood by him,” and one of them said to him, “Sarah thy wife shall have a son.” Gen. 18:2, 10. Thus through Divine agency, in some respects different from that which controlled Adam and Noah, was Abraham enabled (inspired) to understand what the future held for him and for his posterity.
Then, too, there was the time when Balaam (who, at the instance of King Balak, was on his way to Moab) whipped his faithful ass, which thereupon received the gift of speech, and said to his abusive master: “What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?” Num. 22:28. The dumb creature, we see, was enabled (inspired) to speak by the Power which created him. Hence, it will be well, indeed for every man to give heed to what the Lord says and does regardless how, when, where, or through whom He says or does it.
Again, years before Israel went into Egypt, God in His providence (Gen. 45:5) influenced Jacob to make a coat of many colors for his youngest son, Joseph. This seeming partiality, along with Joseph’s dream and his father’s interpretation of it (Gen. 37:10), provoked the jealous brothers to sell him as a slave, to be carried away into Egypt so as to prevent his supplanting them in influence or position. But there in Egypt the Lord in His own time raised him to the second throne of the realm, then brought the years of plenty, also the years of famine, as the means to remove the whole household of Jacob into Egypt.
In their desperate endeavor to be rid of Joseph so as to avoid being ruled by him, his brethren succeeded only (by stirring up the ever-attentive potential of Providence) in exalting him to the administrative throne of Egypt, and in bringing themselves down in humiliation at his feet. Here is marked evidence that he who attempts to defeat God’s purposes succeeds only in defeating his own and in promoting God’s.
When, as a fugitive from Egypt, Moses was attending his father-in-law’s flocks in Midian, “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.” Ex. 3:2. By this manifestation, Moses was inspired to liberate Israel from their hard Egyptian bondage. And then as the leader of the Hebrews during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, he communed with the Lord face to face (Ex. 34:30-35), and departed with his countenance divinely irradiant. Thus his experience was anomalous to that of others before him.
Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar had dreams. Joseph and Daniel interpreted them (Gen. 40:8-12; 41:25-38; Dan. 2:28; 4:20, 24). Daniel the prophet, John the Revelator, and other holy men of God had visions. Each was the special recipient of Inspiration in a distinctive form, and to a greater or less degree.
From these and many other examples, we see that Inspiration works in divers ways Its wonders to perform. Through man and through beast, in fact through all creation, Its work is seen in many forms. Some have heard It in audible voice, both through agents seen (Ex. 34:30-35) and agents unseen (Ex. 3:2). Others have witnessed It through definite impressions, dreams, visions, providences, preternatural and instantaneous speech endowments.
In all diligence, therefore, give heed to any supernatural manifestation in the church of God, irrespective of source, whether it be human or brute, small or great, black or white, rich or poor. Unbiasedly compare its work with the Scriptures, and if it is in harmony with them, if it finds its foundation and prediction there, makes men loyal to the law and to the prophets, and adds light to the present truth, accept it whatever the cost in money, property, position, friends, and relatives, for it is your very life. He who will prove faithful in this responsibility will receive a hundredfold for the sacrifice it has cost him to be true to the Lord’s voice (Matt. 19:29).
But to be true, and thus to save oneself from the unpardonable sin, one must be constantly on guard. And this he can do only by prayerfully investigating the spirit that purports to come in the name of the Lord. Failing to do this, he stands in greatest peril of rejecting the pleading of the Holy Ghost (Inspiration), and thus of indifferently tossing away his very life.
“When a message comes in the name of the Lord to His people,” says the Spirit of Truth, “no one may excuse himself from an investigation of its claims. No one can afford to stand back in an attitude of indifference and self-confidence, and say: ‘I know what is truth. I am satisfied with my position. I have set my stakes, and I will not be moved away from my position, whatever may come. I will not listen to the message of this messenger; for I know that it cannot be truth.’ It was from pursuing this very course that the popular churches were left in partial darkness, and that is why the messages of heaven have not reached them.”–Testimonies on Sabbath-School Work, p. 65; Counsels on Sabbath-School Work, p. 28.
Inspiration makes very clear that the Lord’s messenger dare not in any way improvise upon revelation (Rev. 22: 18-20), although often privileged to articulate it in his own words. Judged by the same standard, no one else dare meddle with the inspired writer’s work. This rational sequence consistently concludes that when a point in one’s writings is not clear, then only the writer himself should be consulted concerning it, if he is living. Otherwise, only the same Spirit of Inspiration, the original Author of the writings, can clarify whatever is involved. Indeed, “if a message comes,” as Inspiration says, “that you do not understand, take pains that you may hear the reasons the messenger may give, comparing scripture with scripture, that you may know whether or not it is sustained by the Word of God.”–Testimonies on Sabbath-School Work, pp. 65, 66; Counsels on Sabbath-School Work, p. 29.
In no case is it a moral and safe procedure to appeal to an opposer of one’s writings to illuminate any part of them. A Democrat would not think of appealing to a Republican to illuminate the Democratic platform, or vice versa, if each wished to know the truth. Remember that Eve’s placing credence in the Enemy’s interpretation of the Lord’s Word (an act which led both her and Adam to their transgression and fall, and to their consequent banishment from Paradise) is what brought the curse of sin and death upon all earthly creation. Rather, it is for us now to avoid this old stumbling block to the pit and thereby make it a stepping stone to the Kingdom.
Remember, too, that the practice of comparing statements stripped of their context is fundamentally disingenuous, and leads today to as many perversions and misapplications of truth as does the deliberate wresting practiced in Satan’s challenge to Christ: “If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down: for it is written, He shall give His angels charge concerning Thee: and in their hands
From the points thus far adduced, we see clearly enough that the end-products of Inspiration fall into one of two categories– either Inspiration of words or Inspiration of ideas. To illustrate specifically: an angel appears and says to one, “The Lord is at such and such a time to do thus and thus with His people. Speak unto them this message, and show it unto them from the Scriptures of truth, for the prophets have therein spoken it of old.” The angel’s message must be delivered with fidelity to the idea; though obviously the choice of words, aside from the quotations, is necessarily left to the messenger. Consequently, anytime he sees the possibility of making the inspired idea stand forth more clearly and powerfully, the messenger is under deepest moral obligation to revise his language. Only thus can the stream of inspired ideation become progressively more lucid and beautiful.
Still further, there are circumstances in connection with certain aspects of every message which necessitate clarification. Such clarification, however, can be no greater than the light which shines at the time. And the light may come solely from within the message itself, or, again, it may derive from a limited understanding common to the time “then present”–an understanding which the messenger himself shares.
Such a case was John the Baptist’s. Inspired to declare only the coming of the King, John was squarely confronted with the question concerning the setting up of the kingdom. He answered in keeping with the common understanding which he as well as the people had of the kingdom–that when the King arrived He would doubtless set up His kingdom and thus free His people from the Roman yoke. But when Christ finally appeared, He explained that the time for the kingdom to be set up, and for the Roman yoke to be removed from His people’s shoulders, was not yet come. And the truly “wise” gave no concern to these discrepant teachings, but gladly accepted the truth in its progressive form, and went on to higher and higher spiritual attainments, whereas those who stumbled on this disparity either rejected John as a false prophet and accepted Jesus as the Christ, or accepted John as a true prophet and rejected Jesus as a false Christ, and consequently slipped farther and farther backwards and downwards until they were no longer followers of either Christ or John.
The ways of Inspiration are constant, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Questions concerning revealed truth must therefore be answered in the same way today as they were in John’s time. And thus now as then, the critical, the skeptical, and the doubting will find many hooks upon which to hang their doubts. But likewise now as then, the doubters will be taken in their own craftiness.
Inspiration, moreover, always brings the messengers of God into perfect harmony, never into division. This prime truth is seen beautifully illustrated in the experience of the apostle Peter, a Jew, with Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, a Gentile. The Lord knew that Peter would never receive a Gentile, and that Cornelius would never present himself to a Jew. So both were given a vision instructing them what to do. (See Acts 10.) And obeying the heavenly vision to which they had mutual respect, they without trouble drew into mutual accord.
Then there is the marvelous experience of Paul. While he was engaged in the unholy work of persecuting the Christians, the Lord met him on the road to Damascus, converted him, and gave him instructions to interview Ananias. But knowing that Ananias, who knew Paul only as a persecutor of the faithful, would never receive the latter on his own profession of conversion and friendship, the Lord gave Ananias a vision likewise, revealing to him Paul’s conversion. And thus they, too, like Peter and Cornelius before, were not disobedient to their heavenly vision (Acts 26:19).
In the days of Moses, some rose up claiming that the Lord was speaking through them as well as through Moses (Num. 16:2, 3). Their agitation, however, instead of bringing order and harmony between themselves and Moses, brought confusion and dissension, with the tragic result that thousands lost their lives (Num. 16:32, 35, 49). Had the Lord spoken to those men, He would certainly have made known the fact to Moses. But the very absence of any such revelation, made clear to Moses that the Lord was not exalting Korah, Dathan, and Abiram as they claimed He was, but rather that they as jealous upstarts and imposters, were exalting themselves. Had Moses, as a servant of God, acceded to their demands, he most assuredly would have met with some such retribution as did the “man of God” who, persuaded by the “old prophet” to turn out of the way and eat bread with him, when the Lord had charged him not to do so, was slain by a lion. Solemn lesson! Give no heed to human voices contrary to God’s. (See 1 Kings 13.)
Those, furthermore, whom the Lord promotes, ever shrink from putting themselves forward. Though David, for example, had been anointed by Samuel to be king over Israel, he never attempted to take the throne. As a matter of fact, he did not even so much as make known his elevation. And then at the risk of death at Saul’s own hand, he even protected him. In all this beautiful chivalry, David showed forth the love, humility, meekness, and righteousness born (inspired) of the Spirit of God. His was the calm, kind, forbearing patience which comes with the sure knowledge that God is in control. Knowing that the Lord had anointed him to be king, he happily waited until the Lord saw fit to put him on the throne.
From these and many other examples, we see that God not only never delegates one agent to alter, to reset, or to countermand the message with which He has charged another agent, without His first making the matter known to both, but also that He never honors with promotion those who seek to uplift and aggrandize self, but that He exalts in due season those who humble themselves under His mighty hand (1 Pet. 5:6).
As a logical corollary to the foregoing phases of the subject of Inspiration, it is to be recognized that all who become converted and submissive to the Lord are recipients of Divine illumination. For none but the Holy Spirit can convince one of the Truth, convict him of his sins, give him repentance, and empower him to obey God’s laws, His statutes and His ordinances. Man himself can no more effect these transformations than the leopard can change his spots.
“If you see your sinfulness, do not wait to make yourself better. How many there are who think they are not good enough to come to Christ. Do you expect to become better through your own efforts? ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.’ There is help for us only in God. We must not wait for stronger persuasions, for better opportunities, or holier tempers. We can do nothing of ourselves. We must come to Christ just as we are.”–Steps to Christ, pp. 35, 36.
“You can not atone for your past sins, you can not change your heart, and make yourself holy. But God promises to do all this for you through Christ. You believe that promise. You confess your sins, and give yourself to God. You will to serve Him. Just as surely as you do this, God will fulfill His word to you. If you believe the promise,–believe that you are forgiven and cleansed,–God supplies the fact; you are made whole, just as Christ gave the paralytic power to walk when the man believed that he was healed. It is so if you believe it.”–Id., p. 55.
Thus every true follower of Christ is inspired in his own lot–one to interpret, another to study, still another to teach, and yet still another to discern, and all to act and to sacrifice for His sake. —
So also is every true Christian divinely enabled to suffer or to rejoice. Hence, whatever betide him, whether it be suffering and sorrow, or well-being and joy, the trusting child of God dare credit only the Lord and none other for his portion. And remember that “there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 1 Cor. 10:13.
“Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” Ps. 121:4-8.
Be ye therefore not murmurers as were those who “despised the pleasant land,” and “believed not His Word; but murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord. Therefore He lifted up His hand against them, to overthrow them in the wilderness.” Ps. 106:24-26 .
But be like the faithful apostle: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philip. 4:11-13.
But while there flows from the golden bowl (Zech. 4:2) that Inspiration which enables one to be a true Christian, there flows from the cauldron of hell that opposite inspiration that works to make one a false Christian. The one saves, the other destroys. Needing as much as we do to become fully conscious and respectful of the one, the Divine, we at the same time have equal need to become fully alive to its counterfeit —Satanic Inspiration.
Tragically, this Satanic power has invariably throughout the ages been notoriously successful among the church leaderships. Unwittingly, they have all along the way been inveigled into following Satan’s designs and efforts to tear down (new-model) the very work they thought to be building up.
At Christ’s first advent, the leaders of the church were so inspired with the spirit of Satan that, as church history reveals, they at times acted like demons, like men who had lost their reason. Impervious themselves to the rain of Truth as it fell in that day, the priests, scribes, and Pharisees were naturally imbued with the zeal to keep the people from the showers of Truth. So it was that they employed every possible means to pitch an umbrella, as it were, over the heads of the people, so as to prevent even a drop of the life-saving showers of the early rain from falling upon them. Consequently though drops of Truth were falling all around them as never before, they were content to remain in drought under the priests’ Truth-proof umbrella.
It was in these dark hours of human history, that Truth and error, light and darkness, freedom and bondage, were joined in what perhaps was the greatest conflict of all time. Up to the Pentecost, only 120 persons out of the millions then living were rescued from the spiritual dearth throughout the land. And not until they were baptized with the Holy Ghost and filled with power on the Pentecost were they enabled to help other thirsty ones to break out of the Satanic circle.
Defeated in this effort to quench the Truth forever, Satan quickly renewed his efforts. Come the Dark Ages, and he is again seen inspiring hostilities against Truth and its adherents. Turning loose all his demons in all their fury upon the church, he brought in the “great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” And had those days not been shortened, there would have been no flesh saved, “but for the elect’s sake those days” were shortened (Matt. 24:21, 22) by the Reformation. Accordingly, only Divine intervention prevented him from silencing the Reformation’s voice and dissipating its power. Thus it has always been, is today, and will be to the bitter end.
As a result, despite all the light now shining, multitudes foolishly go on huddling under Satan’s canopy, at the same time helping to pull and hold multitudes of others under with them. Nevertheless—God’s Promise Stands Fast.
“Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of My mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain My speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.” Deut. 32:1, 2.
“Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God: for He hath given you the former rain moderately, and He will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil….And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My spirit.” Joel 2:23, 24, 28, 29.
“Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.” Isa. 35:6, 7.
In spite of Satan’s striving to canopy all earth with his Truth-resistant device, “in the last days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
“And He shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it. For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” Mic. 4:1-5.