Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated

By William S. Plumer, 1875


I. Truth is in its very nature excellent. Religious truth has the highest excellence. As mind is above matter, as eternity is more lasting than time, as heaven is better than earth, as God is greater than his works—so religious truth excels all other truth. The fear and knowledge of God are the beginning of wisdom. He who has them, has light and understanding. "Divinity is the haven and Sabbath of all man's contemplations." The subjects, of which it treats, surpass all others in worth and practical usefulness. It opens to us the glorious fountain of all being, and of all blessedness. It tells us whence all creatures come. It gives the true theory of human nature. It teaches man correct views of himself, and of the moral government under which he lives. It settles the doctrine of an endless life beyond the bounds of time. Its truths make glad all the most virtuous of every generation. It cheers and guides poor wanderers through the wilderness of this world. It purifies men's hearts. For power, for sublimity, for refreshment, for purity, nothing can compare with its lessons. They humble without debasing. They elevate without puffing up. They beget modesty without cowardice. They embolden without impudence. They at once inspire beneficial fears and animating hopes. They give joy without levity. They make men to sorrow after a godly sort, and yet they greatly multiply the sources of happiness. To these ends they have a fitness in themselves.

II. To those who seek him with all the heart, God makes his truth efficacious by special divine influences. Even a heart dead in sin will revive under the energies of truth in the hands of the great Sanctifier. Therefore we ought to seek unto God by prayer. Often did David cry: "Teach me your statutes." "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law;" "Teach me good judgment and knowledge." We ought to be willing even to suffer affliction if it may but enlighten us in divine truth. The Psalmist said: "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn your statutes." Psalm. 119:71. It is the very office work of God's Spirit to lead the soul in the way of life. All the understanding we have comes from him. Job 32:8. A man may have a sun-dial, but he cannot tell the time of day unless the sun shines upon it. So he may have the blessed Bible, but unless God's Spirit shines upon it, he will not gain the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.

III. If the study of divine things is not a blessing to any person, it is because he is "sensual, having not the Spirit." He is blind, and cannot see afar off, and yet is too proud to submit to divine teaching. If men will not believe the truth that comes before them with proper evidence, they must continue ignorant of the greatest truths. And if men will not practice what they do know, they will make but slow progress in learning what they do not know. David learned much because he delighted himself in God's commandments. Psalm. 119:47. The promise is, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not; and it shall be given him." James 1:5. A disobedient spirit is wholly opposed to good progress in knowledge. Jesus said, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." John 7:17. All this is true.

IV. Yet many truths have mysterious aspects. God himself is the greatest mystery in the universe. His gospel is a mystery of love, and grace, and wisdom. We can believe a mystery—that which we do not fully comprehend, which is above the power of our natural reason, or which we never could have known if God had not revealed it to us. We cannot believe anything which is absurd; but he who believes nothing except what he fully comprehends, will have a very short creed. Absurd things are not true. But many truths are mysterious. Man himself is known perfectly to none but Jehovah. All God's works are inscrutable. The greatest man on earth cannot tell how the grass grows; how soil, and air, and water, and seed, and light, produce a plant. Nor do we know how bread, and meat, and milk, and honey, are turned into sustenance, and so made to nourish our bodies.

V. If God were no greater than ourselves how could we adore him? To worship one who is known to be in all respects an equal, or an inferior, is contrary to all right reason. Therefore those do greatly err, who think that God is altogether such a one as themselves; or who think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone—graven images of man's device. Acts 17:29.

VI. A mysterious doctrine may be very important to us. "The most mysterious of all are, in reality, the most important; not because they are mysterious, but because they relate to things divine, which must of course be mysterious to weak mortals, and, perhaps, to all creatures whatever."

VII. If it were our business to govern the world, it would be very important to us to know all things, and the reasons of them, as well as the modes of their working. But our work is far different. We must obey, submit, be learners, and have the spirit of little children.

VIII. The truths of revealed religion are most mysterious, as they respect the gospel plan. As far as the truths of natural religion are concerned, they are as plainly stated in Scripture as anywhere else. But when the question is, How shall sinners be saved? reason gives no answer, and nature teaches no lesson. The law of nature says, Do and live, disobey and die. But the gospel plan is for saving the guilty, and bringing back lost souls to God. Here was a great work to be done, and none but God could do it. Moreover, none but God knew how it could be done.

IX. It would be a great wonder if poor, blind, feeble men knew all about God, or could understand his wonderful ways. Augustine determined to give three days and nights in succession to prayer and meditation that he might know all about the mystery of the trinity. On the third night he was overcome with sleep, and dreamed he was walking on the seashore. There he saw a little child, who was scooping a hole in the sand, and filling it with sea-water from a shell. "What are you doing, my child?" said Augustine. The answer was, "I am going to put all the sea in this hole." Augustine said, "You can never do that." The child looked up, light beaming in his eyes, and said, "I can do it, Augustine, as easily as you can comprehend the subject of your thoughts."

X. The errors into which men have fallen respecting mysteries are two. Some count everything false or doubtful which is mysterious. Others pretend to explain everything so as to make it comprehensible. The former are infidels, the latter are vain pretenders. The right way is to receive all the truth we can acquire respecting mysteries, and humbly leave the rest until God shall see fit to explain it to us. Thus, I know that God gave his Son to live and die for sinners, because he says so; but I know not how a holy and infinite God could stoop so low. If Jehovah hides himself, he is still Jehovah.