Chapter 16 – The Spirit of Inspiration

“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 Peter 1: 20, 21.

This passage directs our attention to the inspiration of the ancient prophets, and to the work of the Holy Ghost as revealing the will of God to His chosen messengers. God at sundry times and divers manners spake to our fathers by the prophets.

Divine revelation began in Eden, and God has never ceased to maintain communication with His devoted subjects. In the antediluvian and patriarchal dispensations He spake at intervals to particular men, revealing His will to them; but from the time that He called Moses to lead the chosen people out of Egypt, He has had a special class of messengers through whom He has revealed His will to His people. These have been called the prophets of the Lord. Moses was, perhaps, the first of them.

In the fourth chapter of Exodus, God distinctly calls him to this special ministry. “Now, therefore, go,” He says, “and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” When afterwards He appointed Aaron to be His spokesman, He added, “Thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.”

Moses recognized himself as a prophet, and said of his Antitype, “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.”

The next great prophet was Samuel. Like Moses he also appeared at a special crisis in the history of his people. They had been for centuries in the deepest declension and distress. Like Luther, God’s instrument in the Reformation of our own time, God sent him to call Israel back to Himself. The call of Samuel was most marked and his ministry most important. In 1 Samuel 3: 19-21, we read concerning him, “The Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel . . . knew that Samuel was established to a prophet of the Lord. And the Lord appeared again in Shiloh: for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel in Shiloh by the word of the Lord.”

Indeed, Samuel was really the founder of the prophetic institutions and the schools of the prophets which from his time we find in Israel. No nobler race of men ever lived than the prophets of Israel. They were the only class that was true to God. The kings, with a few exceptions, were disastrous failures; and even the priesthood became subservient to a corrupt throne and a godless populace. But the prophets were God’s true representatives and witnesses, and stood for righteousness and godliness in the darkest ages of God’s ancient people.

When Saul failed to meet the purpose of his high calling, Samuel was still true to Jehovah. When David sank in his double crime, Nathan was there to reprove him and to bring him the message of Jehovah. When Solomon allowed his heart to be turned away from God, the prophet Abijah was there to bear God’s message of warning, and to tell Jeroboam what God was about to do in rending the kingdom asunder. When Rehoboam succeeded his father and was about to ruin his kingdom in presumptuous recklessness, the prophet Shemaiah was ready to carry God’s message to him and arrest him in his reckless purpose. When Jeroboam had ascended the throne of Israel and reared his idolatrous altars at Dan, there was a prophet of the Lord ready to stand before him and to warn him of God’s judgment because of his idolatry. When the wicked Baasha, king of Israel, had filled his cup of sin, God had His servant, Jehu the prophet, ready to utter His message of warning and judgment against the wicked king. When Shishak, king of Egypt, came up against Rehoboam, then Shemaiah the prophet was there to call the nation to repentance, and to promise them deliverance from the hand of the enemy.

W hen King Asa summoned his people to meet the common enemy, and to trust in the arm of Jehovah, then God sent Azariah the prophet to bear to him the message of encouragement and covenant promise; and when, later in his reign, Asa became willful and self-reliant, and turned from God to the arm of flesh, God sent Hanani the prophet to tell him of the divine displeasure and of the judgment which he was about to bring upon himself. When Jehoshaphat stood face to face, with the Ammonites and Moabites in the valley of Berachah in great peril and humiliation, then God sent the prophet Jeheziel to announce the victory of faith that was to come with the morrow.

When Joash, king of Judah, turned away from God, then Zechariah, the prophet of the Lord, stood up to reprove him for his sin, and suffered martyrdom at the hands of the king and people, the first of that band of witnesses who sealed their testimony with their blood. W hen Ahab and Jezebel reigned in Samaria, and all Israel was given up to the worship of Baal, then Elijah appeared as God’s messenger of fire to warn the people and to lead them back to their allegiance to heaven. When Elijah’s ministry was completed, Elisha, coming as the messenger of peace, for half a century guided and counseled the king and the people in the name of Jehovah, the glorious type of the coming Christ.

The brightest light of the good Hezekiah’s reign was Isaiah, the prophet of the Lord. Even when Jerusalem fell, and Judah passed into captivity, Jeremiah, like a guardian angel, hovered over its dark midnight, and sought by his warning and pleading to avert its cruel fate; and then, when he could do no more, like the Master Himself, he wept over the city that he had loved. The last days of Israel were linked with the prophetic ministry of Hosea, the prophet of love. The exile of Judah was lighted up by the prophetic ministry of Ezekiel by the river Chebar, and of Daniel in far off Babylon. The days of Restoration were less dependent upon the leadership of Zerubabel than upon the prophetic ministrations of Haggai and Zechariah; and, finally, the Old Testament Dispensation was closed by Malachi, the messenger of Jehovah and the prophet of the coming age.

The very names of these prophetic messengers are beautifully significant. “Isaiah” and “Hosea” mean that God is the Savior; “Jeremiah,”God is high; “Ezekiel,” God is strong; “Daniel,” God is judge; “Joel,” Jehovah is God; “Elijah,” God is Jehovah; “Elisha,”God is our Savior. “Jonah,” who stands first among the prophets whose writings are recorded, means “the Dove,” and suggests the Holy Ghost in His gentle grace. “Nahum,” who wrote amid the sorrows of Israel’s ruin, signifies “the Comforter,” and “Malachi,” who was the messenger of the new dispensation, means “My messenger.” Thus were their very names and lives consistent with their high character and their divine commission.

The prophets of Israel may be divided into two classes; first, those whose lives alone are recorded; and, secondly, those whose writings have come down to us. The latter company may again be divided into six classes.

First, we have Jonah, standing alone as the pioneer and the earliest of the prophets whose writings are recorded. Next, we have the prophets who were connected with Israel’s last days; namely, Hosea, Amos, and Nahum. Thirdly, we have the prophets connected with Judah from the reign of Hezekiah for about two generations and about a century before the fall of Judah. These were Joel, Micah, and Isaiah. They lived in the palmy days of Judah’s kingdom, and were sent to hold the nation back from the captivity to which they were hastening. Through their ministry the catastrophe that came to Israel was averted from Judah for more than a century. It came at last, however, and we have a fourth group of prophets, who cluster around the sinking fortunes of the kingdom of Judah and fall of Jerusalem. They are Jeremiah, Obadiah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk.

We have a fifth class a little later, who may be called the prophets of the exile. They prophesied in captivity. They are Ezekiel and Daniel, the one in the country, the other in the capital of Babylon.

Finally, we have the prophets of the Restoration, the men who counseled and comforted the returning bands who went back to rebuild the temple and city of Jerusalem. They were Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These sixteen names constitute the glorious company of the prophets whose writings have come to us. They are commonly divided into the major and minor prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel belonging to the former, and all the others to the latter class. They all claimed to be the special messengers of Jehovah, and they were all accredited by His signal presence and power. They belong to that class of whom our text says they “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The same language might yet more emphatically be applied to the prophets and writers of the New Testament.

And so we come to the great subject of the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures and the messengers of God’s will in the various dispensations. Let us briefly consider; first, the nature of inspiration; secondly, its evidences; and, thirdly, the responsibility that it lays upon us.

1. As to the nature of inspiration what do we mean by the inspired prophets and the inspired Scriptures?

The Scripture writers themselves settle this question. There is no doubt that they claim for themselves, and the Lord Jesus Himself recognizes the claim, that they are the special messengers of God and bring to man the expression of His will. It may not be easy for us to explain the precise nature of their inspiration. All we need to know is its practical extent and value, and that it was a divine influence which so possessed them that it preserved them from all error and enabled them to give to men a correct and infallible record of the facts they intended to represent, and the message which God intended they should bear. It was such a superintendence by the Holy Ghost as made their message absolutely inerrant and infallible. It was not always necessary that they should receive a revelation of all the facts in the case, because they may already have been familiar with many of them or even all of them. What they needed was such a divine guidance and control as would enable them to state these facts accurately and as fully as God required.

This divine control did not make them necessarily passive and mechanical. They were not writing as a phonograph would speak, or as a typewriter would obey the touch of the performer. While in many instances they may have been unconscious, in others they undoubtedly wrote and spoke in the free possession of all their faculties and in the exercise of their own intelligence. We know that they acted with perfect individuality, and that each man’s message was colored by the complexion of his own mind, so that we know the writings of Isaiah from those of Jeremiah; we know the voice of Elijah from that of Elisha; we know the style of John from that of Paul. The Book of God is like a beautiful garden, where all the flowers grow upon the same soil and are watered from the same heaven, but each has its own unique colors, forms, fragrance and individuality. This is a harp of nearly a hundred strings; but all are in perfect harmony, and every measure is resolved into one glorious refrain, JESUS, REDEMPTION, “Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace, goodwill to men.” It is not necessary for us to believe that the Holy Ghost inspired the wicked words which the Bible records, the ungodly speeches and the foolish utterances contained in the Book of Job, and many such things. All that was necessary was that it should give a correct record of what Job’s wife and Job’s friends really said, and even of the devil’s wicked speeches. The speeches were inspired by the devil, but the record of them was inspired by the Holy Ghost.

The Apostle Paul records the nature and fullness of inspiration very explicitly when he says, in 1 Cor. 2: 12, 13, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth. “We, therefore, know that these records are divine, that these messages are from the throne, and that this blessed book is the very Word of the living and everlasting God.

2. The Lord Jesus Christ bears witness to the inspiration of the Scriptures. Again and again He quotes from the Old Testament books, and He tells us that it was the Word of the Lord and the Word of the Spirit through the prophet.

The New Testament bears witness to the Old, and the Holy Spirit, through His later messengers, confirms His messages through former oracles.

The message brings its own evidence, and bears to every true heart the conviction of its divinity and its truth.

The best evidence of the Holy Scriptures is the response which they find in the consciences of men. Listening to the great Teacher, we are compelled to say, “He told me all that ever I did.” “Is not this the Christ?”

To the child of God the divinest testimony to the Holy Scriptures is the blessing which they have brought to his own soul, the witness of the Holy Ghost within him, and the effect that this book has produced upon his heart and life.

Its miracles of grace are its divinest credentials. It has changed the sin-possessed soul into a saint of God, and has made the wilderness of evil and misery to blossom as the rose.

But it has also divine and supernatural credentials. Side by side with God’s inspired Word have always marched the twin witnesses of miracles and prophecy. These mighty words have moved the heavens and shaken the earth. In response to their command the dead have been raised, the living have been transformed, and all the powers of nature have witnessed to the supreme authority of God’s inspired commands.

This book is the panorama of the ages, and history has kept time to all its paragraphs. Here we find, centuries in advance, God’s inspired prophecies of coming events, which have all been fulfilled so literally as to read more like history than prophecy. When Babylon was in its glory, Daniel dared to say that it would fall and be superseded by the Persian Empire. He lived to see the prophecy fulfilled.

When Cyrus was flushed with universal conquest, again Daniel looked through the horoscope of prophecy and saw the coming of Grecian and Roman conquerors. Again all the events of later times and history have literally fulfilled the visions of Daniel, and are fulfilling them today.

What but a divine mind could have given these predictions? What but an inspired book could contain such records?

Even in the minutest particulars we see the traces of divine wisdom and omniscience. The ancient prophet declared in one place that Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, should be carried to Babylon, and in another place he declared that Zedekiah should never see Babylon. It looked like a discrepancy at first, but history literally fulfilled it. Zedekiah, blinded by Nebuchadnezzar before He reached the city, entered it a captive, but never saw it with his sightless eyes. Thus has God been confirming His Word as the ages have come and gone.

One of the greatest mosques of the Mohammedan world has recently been destroyed by fire in the city of Damascus. It was an ancient Christian temple, on whose facade was cut in stone this inscription, “Thy kingdom, O Christ is an everlasting kingdom, and Thy word endureth to all generations.” When the Moslems captured Damascus, and took possession of the old Christian church, they obliterated the inscription on the front by plastering it over and emblazoning in gold a verse from the Koran above it.

As ages went by, that archway spake only the message of the false prophet. But by-and-by time wore off the plaster, so that within the past two years the old Christian inscription has come out again, and God’s word stands forth through all the wreck of time. When a few weeks ago the old church was burned down, strangely enough, the tower was left standing with the inscription untouched by the destroying elements; and there it stands today, declaring to the world, “Thy word, O Christ, endureth to all generations.”

3. We have our responsibility for God’s Holy Word. If this is the inspired Word of God, how solemn and supreme its claims! Let us believe it implicitly; let us believe it without compromise or questioning.

Let us not try to eliminate the supernatural and bring it down to the plane of our own reason and knowledge; but let us bow submissively before the throne of Him who speaks from heaven, and say with every fibre of our being, “It means just what it says.”

But let us also obey. Believe means to “live by.” Our faith has two sides; one is faith, the other is faithfulness. One is trust, the other is trustworthiness. They are the two wings that bear us above the dark abyss; they are the two oars that carry us through the dangerous rapids; they are the two hands that grasp and hold fast forever the eternal covenant.

Obedience is always the condition of faith. Only as we live by this blessed book can we fully claim its promises and rest upon its words of grace.

Let us live up to the fullness of our Bible. Let us translate every word of it into our lives. Let each of us be a new edition and a new version of the Scriptures, translated into flesh and blood, words and acts, holiness and service.

God has spoken to the successive generations, expecting each age to correspond to the message given; but to our generation He has given the largest measure of His truth and the fullness of His revelation. He expects from us a deeper, fuller, larger life. Let us live out the whole Bible in this dispensation.

There is a day coming when we shall have larger revelations of truth and an eternity in which to live them out: but in this life let us measure up to the Word of God without abatement, and, like the Master Himself, fulfill every word of Scripture before we shall have run our course.

Have we lived out all the Bible? Have we proved its every promise? Have we illustrated its every command? Have we translated it into the living characters our own record? God help us, not only to have a Bible, but each of us to be a Bible.

Finally, if this is God’s inspired Word, it can be understood only by inspired men. There are two senses in which inspiration can be received and understood. The inspiration of the apostles and the prophets was to write the Bible, but we need an inspiration just as real to read it and to understand it. It was not written for the cold intelligence of natural man, but for the spiritual
eyes of the heart. And so no man knoweth the things of God, save the Spirit of God which is in him. We must have “the mind of Christ” and the Holy Ghost before we can rightly and fully understand the Holy Scriptures.

Shall we receive His blessed Spirit to understand His blessed Word? Shall we read the Bible, not as a book of history and biography, but as the love letter of a Friend, the personal message of our Bridegroom and our Lord? Then shall we understand it, love it, and know its blessed meaning and heavenly power.

A poor blind girl was dying. Her cold fingers had ceased to feel. She called for her dear old Bible, and tried to read the raised letters once more, but all sense having gone from her hands, she turned away with sorrow, and clasping it to her bosom, and pressing it to her lips, she said, “My dear Bible, I cannot read you longer, but; I love you still.” At that very moment she found that as her lips touched the characters they could still feel and read them. She gave a great cry of joy, and as she passed her lips from line to line the words still spake to her intelligence and to her heart.

Beloved, let us take the Bible a little closer, and we shall understand it better, and it will speak from the heart of God to our inmost heart as the living message of His love.