R. C. Sproul on the Bible

Holy Scripture, as the inspired Word of God witnessing authoritatively to Jesus Christ, may properly be called infallible and inerrant.  These negative terms have a special value, for they explicitly safeguard crucial positive truths.

Infallible signifies the quality of neither misleading nor being misled, and so safeguards, in categorical terms, the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe, and reliable rule and guide in all matters.

Similarly, inerrant signifies the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake, and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions.

. . . . .

The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (e.g., the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another.  It is not right to set the so-called “phenomena” of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself.  Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored.  Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where, for the present, no convincing solution is at hand, we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true despite these appearances and by maintaining our confidence that, one day, they will be seen to have been illusions.

From: Can I Trust the Bible? by R. C. Sproul; The Crucial Questions Series, #2 (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2009), pp. xxv, xxvi-xxvii.  The material in this publication was previously published in other formats in 1980 and 1996.

R. C. Sproul (1939-2017) died yesterday in a hospital in Altamonte Springs, Florida, of emphysema.  He was 78. RIP.

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On the Authorized Version (KJV)

John Seldon was no literary critic, and his remarks on the Authorized Version of the Bible (1611) show an extraordinary insensibility to the merits of that mighty book.  That it is the greatest monument, by far, of Jacobean prose there can be very little doubt, and the objection which Seldon himself made and which has been rather unwisely echoed since – that it does not directly represent the speech of its own or any time – is entirely fallacious.  No good prose style ever does represent, except in such forms as letter-writing and the dialogue in plays and novels, the spoken language of its time, but only a certain general literary form, colored and shaped not too much by contemporary practice.  The extraordinary merits of the Authorized Version are probably due to the fact that its authors, with almost more than merely human good sense of purpose and felicity of result, allowed the literary excellences of the texts from which they worked – Hebrew, [Aramaic,] Greek, and Latin – and those of the earlier versions into English from that called Wyclif’s to the Bishops’ Bible, to filter through their own sieve and acquire a moderate, but only a moderate, tincture of the filter itself in passing.  No doubt the constant repetition, universal till recently and pretty general – fortunately – still, of the text in the ears of each generation has had much to do with its prerogative authority, and still more with the fact that it still hardly seems archaic.  But the unanimous opinion of the best critics from generation to generation, and still more the utter shipwreck of the elaborately foolish attempt to revise it some years ago,* are evidences of intrinsic goodness which will certainly be confirmed by everyone who, with large knowledge of English at different periods, examines it impartially now.  There is no better English anywhere than the English of the Bible, and one of its great merits as English is its retention of the “blend” character of all the truest English products.

*Saintsbury is referring to the English Revised Version (1881).

From: A Short History of English Literature by George Saintsbury (London: The Macmillan Company, 1898), pp. 380-381.

Peace While Living in God’s Law

If we take the word “peace” for a prosperous or happy condition of life – a sense in which the Hebrews often employ it – the word rendered “stumbling-block,” to correspond with it, will be used for “adversity,” as if it had been said that those who love God’s law shall continuously prosper and retain their positions although the whole world should fall into ruins.

But a different interpretation will be equally appropriate, namely, that they have great peace because, being persuaded that both their persons and their lives are acceptable to God, they calmly repose themselves on [their] good conscience[s].  This tranquil state of conscience, this serenity of mind, is justly reckoned the chief point of a happy life, that is to say, it is so when it proceeds from God’s being reconciled to us and from His fatherly favor shining in our hearts.  The [psalmist] justly teaches that we attain this peace from the love of the law, for whoever would make it to depend upon anything else will be, from time to time, trembling at every little blast.

If this sense is adopted, the word “stumbling-block,” in the second clause, will signify all the troubles and disquietudes of mind with which all who lean not upon God’s Word are miserably distressed and tormented, and with which they are driven about either by their own depraved passions or by the caprice of other men.

But, in whatever way we understand these two words, “peace” and “stumbling-block,” the design of the [psalmist] will remain the same, which is to show that those who are not devoted to God are miserable for, although they may applaud themselves for a time, yet they will meet with many stumbling-blocks to drive them suddenly out of their course.

From the term “love,” we gather that this peace is not acquired by a slavish observance of the law but [that it] proceeds from faith, for the law has no sweetness to attract us to it unless it exhibits to us God in the character of a father and tranquilizes our minds by the assurance of eternal salvation.  So far from enjoying peace, all worldly men and despisers of God are justly punished by their own depravity and obdurate rebellion, for each of them is his own executioner, and the more fiercely they rage against the Word of God, the sorer they are tormented until they bring upon themselves utter destruction.  The godly, it is true, are also tormented or distressed, but this inward consolation wipes away all their sorrow or, raising them up, enables them to surmount all stumbling-blocks or so relieves them that they faint not. – John Calvin (1509-1564), comment on Psalm 119.165.

On a Weakness in Reformed Christianity

I would also say that Reformed Christianity is rather narrow in its appeal today.  We seem only to be able to reach people of the white middle-to-upper classes, people with some college education.  We have not reached minorities, the poor, the uneducated.  That should be a special concern because, in Scripture, the church is ethnically and socially universal and it has a special concern for the poor.  Again, there are a few exceptions to this general rule: the Center for Urban Theological Studies, in Philadelphia, the books of George Grant and others.  But, I still don’t see us, on the whole, making much of an impact.  Groups like the Salvation Army and Victory Outreach have much thinner [theological] messages than we, but they have done far more good in poor communities.  We can learn from them.

From: “Reformed and Evanglicals Together” by John M. Frame, in John Frame’s Selected Shorter Writings: Volume 1 by John M. Frame (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2014), p. 109.

Combinations

St. Peter was an apostle, but not an evangelist.  St. Luke was an evangelist, but not an apostle.  St. Matthew was both an evangelist and an apostle, but not a prophet.  But our St. John was all these: in his epistles, an apostle; in his apocalypse, a prophet, in compiling his gospel, an evangelist. – John Boys (1571-1625)

On Capital Punishment

Death is, as one of the ancients [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 3.6.2] observed, “of dreadful things the most dreadful,” an evil beyond which nothing can be threatened by sublunary power or feared from human enmity or vengeance.  This terror should, therefore, be reserved as the last resort of authority as the strongest and most operative of prohibitory sanctions, and placed before the treasure of life to guard from invasion what cannot be restored.  To equal robbery with murder is to reduce murder to robbery, to confound, in common minds, the gradations of iniquity, and [to] incite the commission of a greater crime to prevent the detection of a less.  If only murder were punished with death, very few robbers would stain their hands in blood.  But when, by the last act of cruelty, no danger is incurred and greater security may be obtained, upon what principle shall we bid them forbear? – Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) from The Rambler, essay no. 114 (“Crime and Punishment”), published on Saturday, April 20, 1751.

Matthew Henry (39)

God’s prophets were His witnesses to His church, each in his day, for several ages, witnesses for Him and His authority, witnesses against sin and sinners, attesting the true intents of God’s providences in His dealings with His people then and the kind intentions of His grace concerning His church in the days of the Messiah, to whom all the prophets bore witness, for they all agreed in their testimony.  And now, we have only one more witness to call, and we have done with our evidence.  And, though he be the last, and in him prophecy ceased, yet the Spirit of prophecy shines as clearly, as strongly, as brightly in him as in any who went before, and his testimony challenges an equal regard. – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), from his introduction to the Book of Malachi.

Reading Machen (5 of 5)

We shall have to reject, therefore, the easy apologetic for Christianity which simply declares that religion and science belong in independent spheres and that science can never conceivably contradict religion.  Of course, real science can never actually contradict any religion that is true.  But to say, before the question is determined whether the religion is true or false that science cannot possibly contradict it, is to do despite both to religion and to science.  It is a poor religion that can abandon to science the whole realm of objective truth in order to reserve for itself merely a realm of ideals.  Such a religion, at any rate, whatever estimate may be given of it, is certainly not Christianity, for Christianity is founded squarely, not merely on ideals, but upon facts.  But, if Christianity is founded upon facts, then it is not entirely independent of science, for all facts must be brought into some sort of relation.  When any new fact enters the human mind, it must proceed to make itself at home.  It must proceed to introduce itself to the previous denizens of the house.  That process of introduction of new facts is called thinking.  And, contrary to what seems to be quite generally supposed, thinking cannot be avoided by the Christian man.  The Christian religion is not an innocent but useless epiphenomenon, without interrelation with the other spheres of knowledge, but must seek to justify its place, despite all the intellectual labor that that costs, in the realm of facts.  (Machen, pp. 241-242)

Reading Machen (4 of 5)

The Christian, then, produces the practical life of love on the way to something greater.  The Christian lives by hope.  That is, sometimes, made a reproach.  The Christian does what is right, it is said, because of the rewards of heaven.  How much nobler is the man who does what is right simply because it is right or because it will lead to the happiness of generations yet unborn, even though he believes that, for himself, the grave ends all! 

The reproach would, perhaps, be justified if heaven involves mere selfish enjoyment.  But, as a matter of fact, heaven involves not merely enjoyment, not merely happiness, but also goodness, and goodness realized in communion with the One who, alone, is good.  To regard that communion as broken off forever in death does not, in actual practice, lead, as, at first sight it might seem as though it would naturally lead, to a height of unselfish service in which, without thought of individual survival, a man would live for the sake of the race.  For the race is worthy of a man’s service, not if it is composed of mere creatures of a day, whose life is, essentially, like the life of the beasts, but only if it is composed of men with immortal souls.  A degraded view of human life, by which it is deprived of its eternal significance, does not, in the long run, lead to unselfish service, but it leads to decadence and despair. 

At the very heart of the Christian religion, at any rate, despite what is being said today, is the hope of heaven.  That hope is not selfish, but it is the highest and noblest thought, perhaps, that has ever been placed in the mind of man.  It is the highest and noblest thought because it involves not mere selfish enjoyment, but the glory of God.  For the glory of God, realized through the creatures that He has made, eternity will not be too long.  Man’s chief end is not merely to glorify God and enjoy Him, but is is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  (Machen, pp.  220-221)

Reading Machen (3 of 5)

The fact is, then, that there is no other way of coming to Christ except the old, old way that is found in the conviction of sin.  The truth of Christianity cannot be established by the intellect unless an important part of the argument is based upon the fact of sin, which is revealed by the law of God.  The beauty of Jesus, which attracts the gaze of men, cannot be appreciated without a knowledge of the holiness upon which it is based.  The companionship of Jesus is possible only to those who say, first, in deep contrition, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  The example of Jesus is powerless to those who are in the bondage of evil habits, and it is not even a perfect example unless He be the divine Redeemer that He claimed to be.  The true schoolmaster to bring men to Christ is found, therefore, now and always, in the law of God – the law of God that gives to men the consciousness of sin.

A new and more powerful proclamation of that law is, perhaps, the most pressing need of the hour.  Men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law.  As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway.  They are turning to the village of Morality and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens.  Mr. Legality has, indeed, in our day, disguised himself somewhat, but he is the same deceiver as the one of whom Bunyan wrote.  “Making Christ master” in the life, putting into practice “the principles of Christ” by one’s own efforts – these are merely new ways of earning salvation by one’s own obedience to God’s commands.  And they are undertaken because of a lax view of what those commands are.  So it always is: a low view of law always brings legalism in religion.  A high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace.  Pray God that the high view man again prevail, that Mount Sinai may again overhang the path and shoot forth flames in order that the men of our time may, like Christian in the allegory, meet some true Evangelist, who shall point them out the old, old way through the little wicket gate to the place somewhat ascending where they shall really see the cross and the figure of Him who did hang thereon that, at that sight, the burden of the guilt of sin, which no human hand could remove, may fall from their backs into a sepulcre beside the way, and that then, with wondrous lightness and freedom and joy, they may walk the Christian path, through the Valley of Humiliation and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and up over the Delectable Mountains until, at last, they pass triumphant across the river into the City of God.  (Machen, pp. 149-142)