Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated

By William S. Plumer, 1875


I. The word THEOLOGY means a discourse concerning God. The word itself is not found in the Scriptures. We have there "the word of God," "good doctrine," "sound doctrine," "form of doctrine," "doctrine of God," "doctrine of Christ," "form of sound words," "the Scriptures," and such like phrases. Theology is divinity, as a theologian is a divine. Theology treats of the being and perfections of God, of his relations to us, his purposes towards us, his promises made to us, his will concerning us, and the right way of pleasing him.

II. We cannot learn theology from other sources, than those which God himself opens to our minds. These are the volume of nature and the volume of revelation. The volume of nature is made up of all God's works. What we learn from it is called Natural Theology. In studying God's works we make use of our reason and of all true science, searching out all that we may know. Natural Theology is the foundation of all true religion. David says, "The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or a word; their voice is silent in the skies; yet their message has gone out to all the earth, and their words to all the world." Psalm 19:1-4.

Paul says, "since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Romans 1:19-20. The Psalmist says, "Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them." Psalms 111:2. Many parts of Scripture say a great deal about God's works of creation and providence.

III. The other volume from which we learn theology is the Bible. This is the very word of God. 1 Thess. 2:13. It is the word of the living God, that abides forever. 1 Pet. 1:23. In this volume God makes himself known to us in a new and special manner for our salvation. It draws out at length many of the lessons of natural theology, and tells us very clearly many things which nature taught us but dimly. Its peculiar glory is that it teaches the way of salvation to sinners. What we thus learn is called Revealed Theology.

IV. The knowledge of God possessed by angels and by the spirits of just men made perfect in heaven, is very different in degree from that possessed by even godly and able men on earth. Here all men are liable to err, and all men do err. No man on earth is without some wrong view, or some ignorance, which mars his knowledge. This is no reason for sloth or discouragement; but it is a good reason why we should be humble and careful and teachable, and pray for light and divine guidance. It is far different in heaven. There they do always behold the face of God. Matt. 18:10. They do not hope for anything, for they already possess all good. Romans 8:24. "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known." 1 Cor. 13:12. Knowledge without any mixture of error belongs only to the heavenly state. Yet a great part of the knowledge which the inhabitants of heaven have concerns the very things which good men are learning in this world. Those above know perfectly what we know in parcels only.

V. Natural theology teaches enough to make us guilty for not loving and obeying God. It condemns us--but it cannot save us! It leaves us without excuse, but it also leaves us without hope. Romans 1:20. It gives us clear information that there is something wrong in us, but it does not tell us how things may be put right. Natural conscience convinces of sin, and human misery shows that we have displeased God. But nowhere among the works of God do we read of mercy to the lost or pardon to the guilty. "Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." Romans 2:14, 15.

God never leaves himself without witness, in that he does good, and gives us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. Acts 14:17. Men ought to know, and if their hearts were not blind they would know--that God made the world and all things therein, and that he is Lord of heaven and earth, and that they should seek the Lord, for in him they live and move and have their being. Acts 17:24-28.

VI. Revealed theology takes for granted and confirms all the truths taught by God's works. The volume of revelation never contradicts the volume of nature. He who speaks to us by his works is as surely the God of truth as he who speaks to us in Holy Scripture. God can neither deny nor contradict himself. Even Balaam's theology went so far as to admit that God cannot lie. Numb. 23:19. The divine sincerity is proclaimed in all worlds, and by all God does. If man had never sinned, nature would have taught him enough to make him an acceptable worshiper. But now that he has lost the favor and fellowship of God, and knows not where to turn, there is need of a guide from heaven—a new lesson both as to the matter and manner of serving God. The light of nature does not avail to salvation. The wisest of the heathen have declared their belief in the need of a great teacher with new light from heaven.

VII. This lack is supplied by Jesus Christ, his prophets, and his apostles. He said, "My doctrine is not mine, but his who sent me." John 7:16. The prophets were moved to write by the spirit of Christ. 1 Pet. 1:12. Indeed, all the holy men who wrote the Scriptures spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2 Pet. 1:21; 2 Tim. 3:16. In Scripture are the best lessons of heavenly wisdom. The word of God is very plain. But the human mind is very weak, and sadly darkened. So that "the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Cor. 2:14. Yet "the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." Psalm. 19:7. The Scripture was given that the man of God might be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work. 2 Tim. 3:17. If any man would be a good minister of Christ, let him "hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers." Tit. 1:9. The word of God is wholly unerring. Its authority is perfect. No flaw has ever yet been discovered in it. It leads the soul back to God, whom we have wickedly forsaken.

VIII. The end of all God has done and spoken is his own glory. "The Lord has made all things for himself; yes, even the wicked for the day of evil." Proverbs 16:4. "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created." Rev. 4:11. But the peculiar excellence of God's word is that it is suited to lead men to salvation. "These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name." John 20:31. God's word is savingly applied to his people, that they should show forth the praises of him who has called them out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Pet. 2:9.