The Manner in which Divine Truth is Communicated in the Holy Scriptures
It is a fact which must have struck every attentive reader, that God has not communicated his mind to us by giving us a set of principles, arranged in the form of a scheme; or that we have no such creed as formally includes all the things necessary to be believed in either the Old or New Testament. On the contrary, we see Divine truth introduced rather incidentally than systematically. It is scattered from one end to the other, through all the historical, devotional, prophetic, and epistolary writings.
I have no intention to derive an argument from this, as some have done, against creeds and confessions of faith; nor do I conceive that such an argument can hence be fairly derived. We might with equal justice argue against the science of botany being reduced to a system, on the ground of herbs and flowers of the same kind not growing together, but being scattered over the earth in beautiful variety. The variegated face of nature is not marred by its productions being scientifically collected and arranged: on the contrary, its beauties are so much the better understood. Yet, with respect to the actual position of the products of nature, we must needs decide in favour of variety; and the same may be said of the actual position of Divine truth in the Holy Scriptures: the incidental manner in which it is commonly introduced gives it great energy and beauty. It may be worthy of attention to consider a few of the incidents and occasions on which some of the most important truths are introduced, and to notice the wisdom of God in his thus introducing them.
It is a truth which lies at the foundation of all religion, that there is a First Cause and Creator of all things, visible and invisible. But this truth is never introduced, that I recollect, in the form of an abstract proposition. At the commencement of revelation it is rather supposed than asserted: “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” Moses does not expressly inform us that there was a God who existed prior to this, but leaves us to infer it; hereby intimating, perhaps, that this is so evident a truth that they who doubt it need reproof rather than information.
The perfections of God are taught abundantly in the Scriptures; yet I do not recollect a single instance where they are introduced merely as a proposition, without some practical end to be answered. When Abraham, through Sarah’s unbelief and impatience, had deviated from his usual conduct, in taking Hagar to wife, hoping thereby to see the Divine promise fulfilled, Jehovah thus reproved him: “I am the Almighty (or all-sufficient) God. Walk before me, and be thou perfect.” When Israel despondingly exclaimed, “My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God,” he was thus answered: “Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding.”
In this manner also we are taught the moral government of God, and the accountableness of rational creatures. These important truths, as they stand in the sacred page, do not barely meet our eyes, or our understandings, but our consciences. They give us no time to dispute: ere we are aware we feel ourselves arrested by them, as by an almighty and irresistible force. “They say, the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard. Understand, ye brutish among the people; and ye fools, when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know? Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth!”
Thus also we are instructed respecting the fall and depravity of human nature. We have no encouragement curiously to inquire beyond the fact; but we are told that “God made man upright, and he sought out many inventions.” If we would wish to flatter ourselves, or our species, from a partial view of human virtue, we are instantly cut short, in being told that “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” And the substance of this is stated to induce our acquiescence in the doctrine of justification “by free grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
The doctrine of the Trinity is never proposed to us as an object of speculation, but as a truth affecting our dearest interests. John introduces the sacred Three as witnesses to the truth of the gospel of Christ, as objects of instituted worship, into whose name we are baptized; and Paul exhibits them as the source of all spiritual good: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” Again, “The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ.”
In this manner we are taught that great mystery of godliness, “God manifest in the flesh,” or the proper Deity and humanity of Christ. One sacred writer announces, in prophetic language, “Unto us a child is born, and his name shall be called The mighty God.” Again, he describes him as the Lord God, coming with strong hand; yet feeding his flock like a shepherd, gathering his lambs with his arm, carrying them in his bosom, and gently leading those that are with young. Another directs his followers to him, and says, “This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man who is preferred before me, for he was before me.” A third draws from his quiver an arrow of conviction: “Ye have killed the author of life!” A fourth finds in it a motive of compassion to the murderers: “Who are Israelites, of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever.” On one occasion, it is introduced as affording a pattern of humility and condescension: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” On another, it accounts for the wonderful extremes in his character: the sacred writer having exhibited him as God, whose “throne was for ever and ever”—as having “laid the foundations of the earth,” and declared the heavens to be the work of his hands—an objection might arise from his being well known to be a man, and to have lived among men. In answer to this he adds, “He was made a little lower than the angels.—The children being partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same.—In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a faithful and merciful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Finally, it is brought in at the close of the Revelation, to seal it with Divine authority: “I Jesus have sent mine angel, to testify unto you these things in the churches. l am the root and the offspring of David.” What a majestic sweetness does this truth afford in these connexions!
It is impossible to enumerate the various occasions on which the Scriptures introduce the doctrine of atonement by the death of Christ. This is, to the doctrines and precepts of the Bible, as the life-blood to the animal system. The first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians is often resorted to, as treating on evangelical blessings; but there is a design which runs through that whole chapter, nay, almost through the whole Epistle, which is to endear the name of Christ, and to exhibit the invaluable worth of his redeeming love. Are we blessed with all spiritual blessings? It is “in Christ Jesus.” Were we predestinated to the adoption of children? It was “by Jesus Christ.” Are we accepted? It is “in the Beloved.” Have we redemption, even the forgiveness of sins? It is “through his blood.” And so on. Christ crucified is the substance of the Jewish ceremonial, and the spirit of its prophecies; the theme of the Christian ministry on earth, and the song of the blessed above!
It is not very difficult to discern the wisdom of God in introducing truth in such a manner. If every species of plants and flowers were to grow together, instead of the whole being scattered over the earth, the effect would be very different, and much for the worse; and if all truth relating to one subject were to be found only in one book, chapter, or epistle, we should probably understand much less than we do. There are some Divine truths which are less pleasant than others. Even good men have their partialities, or favourite principles, which would induce them to read those parts of Scripture which favoured them, to the neglect of others. But truth being scattered throughout the Scriptures, we are thereby necessitated, if we read at all, to read the whole mind of God; and thus it is that we gradually and insensibly imbibe it, and become assimilated to the same image. The conduct of God in this matter resembles that of a wise physician, who, in prescribing for a child, directs that its medicines be mixed up with its necessary food.
Moreover, Scripture doctrines being introduced in some practical connexion, we learn them in that connexion. The occasions and ends of truth being associated in our minds with the truth itself, the great design of God in giving us a revelation, which is to sanctify our spirits and fit us for every good word and work, is more effectually answered. To one that has learned truth from the Scriptures, and in whom it dwells richly, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, it is scarcely possible to think of a doctrine but in connexion with its correspondent duties, or of a duty without the principles by which it is enforced.
Once more, Truth being introduced in connexion with some case or incident, it more readily occurs to us, when such case, or something similar to it, becomes our own. If, through distrust of the Divine power and goodness, and with hope of better accomplishing my object, I be tempted to turn aside from the straightforward path of uprightness; having once read and felt the story of Abraham, and the admonition that was given him on that occasion, it is much more likely to occur to my mind, and to correct my folly, than if I had barely read that God was “Almighty,” or had only found a general admonition to “walk before him, and be perfect.” Or if I be tempted to sink in despondency on account of dark and intricate providences, having read of the promises of God to Jacob, of his subsequent fears, and of the happy issue, such promises are much more likely to be a ready remedy than if I had barely read, unconnected with any particular case, that God will surely do his people good. In the one case truth is laid down, as it were, in abstract propositions; in the other, it is illustrated by particular examples.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 537–540). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.