The Perfection and Sanctity of the Holy Scriptures
Charles Simeon, 1759-1836
"I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." Revelation 22:18-19
THE voice of inspiration carrying with it the authority of Jehovah, it might be expected that persons, eager to establish particular sentiments of their own, or to draw disciples after them—would profess to have received revelations from Heaven, so that they might obtain a more entire and extended influence over their adherents. To prevent such impositions under the Mosaic dispensation, God said to the whole of Israel, "You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it. Deuteronomy 4:12."
In like manner, at the close of the Christian dispensation, our Lord directed his servant John to record this solemn declaration: "I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and, if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
In its primary sense, this declaration seems to refer to the particular book which contains the Revelation of John; but, as this book completes and closes the sacred canon, I consider the warning as extending to the whole of the New Testament Scriptures; and as making known to us,
I. The PERFECTION of the Scriptures—
That may be considered as perfect, to which nothing can be added, and from which nothing can be withdrawn. Now the Scriptures, in this view of them, are perfect: for there is nothing in them either superfluous or defective. They are perfect,
1. As a revelation from God—
That they might discover to us many things which are at present either altogether hidden, or but obscurely revealed, is certain; but they have made known to us all that we are concerned to know; and the secret counsels, which, if revealed, would have only increased to our pride, are better hidden from our view. Indeed, God has hidden many things on purpose, that, while we behold much which he alone could reveal—we may be constrained to humble ourselves before him as creatures who are altogether indebted to him for all the light they enjoy, and dependent on him for the instruction which they hope yet farther to receive.
In the Holy Scriptures, Jehovah displays, as it were, before our eyes, all his glorious perfections, and opens to us his eternal purposes, especially respecting the redemption of the world by the incarnation and death of his only-begotten Son. In them too, the person, work, and offices of Christ are all set before us; and that with such plainness that we cannot err, and with such a weight of evidence that we cannot doubt.
2. As a directory to us—
In this view also they are perfect: for while, on the one hand, there is nothing revealed for the mere purpose of gratifying our curiosity; so, on the other hand, there is nothing withheld that could in any way conduce to the welfare of our souls.
Respecting the whole of spiritual life, we have all the instruction that can be desired. The manner in which that life is imparted, and carried on unto perfection, is so fully delineated, that there is nothing lacking either for our direction or encouragement.
And for our behavior towards men, there is a path marked out for us in general principles, which are applicable to every situation and circumstance in which we can be placed; and it is yet further traced out to us in examples, which serve to illustrate every virtue which we can be called to exercise.
Nor have we any cause to complain that the rules were not more minute and numerous: for to have made a specific rule for every possible case would have been of no service, because the Scriptures would have been so voluminous, that a whole life of study would not have been sufficient to make us acquainted with them. But by laying down a few general principles, and embodying them in living examples, God has given us all the information that we can need. In every relation of life, whether as husbands or wives, parents or children, masters or servants, magistrates or subjects, we have rules laid down for us, from which we cannot greatly deviate, if only we implore of God the guidance of his Spirit. Only "let our eye be single, and our whole body will be full of light."
In the prohibition to add to, or take from, the Holy Scriptures, we also behold,
II. The SANCTITY of the Scriptures—
Nothing can exceed the strictness with which the smallest alteration of God's blessed word is forbidden—
If we add to the inspired writings, God will lay on us all the plagues which are there denounced against sin and sinners. If we take away from them, "God will take away our part from the book of life," and never allow us to taste any of those blessings which they hold forth in rich abundance to the upright soul.
In many other places we read of specific judgments denounced against sin; but in no place are the denunciations of God's wrath so full and comprehensive as in the passage before us. It was necessary that a fiery sword should be thus waved before our eyes, to prevent us from trespassing on that hallowed ground: and though some slight alterations might seem allowable for the purpose of accommodating the expressions of Scripture more to our own apprehensions or desires, yet will God on no account suffer us to suppress or add one single word.
Nor is the severity of the prohibition at all more alarming than the occasion requires—
In no other way can we offer a greater insult to GOD, or do a greater injury to man, than by erasing what God has spoken, or by obtruding any conceits of our own under the sanction of his authority. If we presume to leave out anything which God has revealed, what is it but an impeachment of his wisdom in revealing it? And if we presume to add anything to his word, what is it but a denial of his goodness, in withholding from us information which he ought to have communicated?
Both in the one case and the other, it is a most impious imposition upon MAN, whom we defraud by our concealment of the truth, or deceive by substituting our own fallible dogmas in the place of it.
When Moses made the tabernacle, this solemn injunction was repeatedly given to him; "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown to you in the mount." And it would have been at his peril to have deviated in any respect from it; because the whole structure, together with all the furniture thereof, was typical of things which were to be more fully revealed under the Christian dispensation: any departure from the instructions given him would have destroyed the beauty and harmony of the whole.
So will it be at our peril to change or modify any part of that system which God has revealed in his word. We must take the whole simply as we have received it, and not in any respect presume to be wise above what is written.
The prohibition to alter the Scriptures yet farther marks,
III. The REVERENCE due to the Scriptures—
If we are not to change the word of Scripture, neither are we to elude its force. On the contrary, we are to maintain the strictest jealousy over ourselves, that we make no portion of the inspired writings void, but that we adhere to them with the utmost possible fidelity,
1. In our exposition of the MEANING of the Scriptures—
It is perfectly surprising to see with what unhallowed boldness many will put their own construction upon God's blessed word, denying its plainest import, and annexing to it a sense totally contrary to its most obvious meaning.
To what a fearful extent this liberty has been taken by Papists is well known: but, to the shame of Protestants, I must confess, that in this guilt they also participate to a great extent. Nor do I here speak of those only who fearlessly expunge those parts of Scripture which are hostile to their views; but of those adverse parties in the Church, who, while they profess to reverence the whole of the inspired volume—wrest and pervert its plainest assertions, in order to maintain a theological system of their own. This it is that has introduced endless dissensions, divisions, and bitter animosities into the Church of Christ. Men have adopted sentiments of their own, instead of submitting to be taught of God; and then they have labored, by forced constructions and ingenious theories, to make the Scriptures accord with their views. The different parties all see and condemn this disingenuousness in their adversaries, while yet, without remorse, they practice it themselves.
In truth, so fettered are the great mass even of teachers themselves by human theological systems, that there are scarcely any to be found, who will dare to give to the whole of Scripture its true meaning, and to bring forward in their ministrations all that God has spoken in his word. So vitiated is the taste of the generality of their hearers, that scarcely any would be found to approve of this fidelity, even if it were exercised towards them.
The pious reformers of the established Church were of a different mind; they have faithfully declared to us the whole counsel of God: but among their degenerate children there are few who follow their example; almost all having ranged themselves as partisans of opposite and contending opinions—instead of conforming themselves simply to the declarations of Holy Writ. But I hope the time is not far distant, when all the articles of our Church will be equally esteemed, and every truth of Scripture be impartially brought forward in our public ministrations.
2. In our submission to the AUTHORITY of the Scriptures—
To every part of God's blessed word we should bow with meek submission; not regarding any doctrine as "a hard saying," or doubting the truth of it because it exceeds our comprehension. We are but children; and, as children, we should receive with implicit reverence whatever has been spoken by our heavenly Instructor. And if with simplicity of mind we receive the first principles of the oracles of God, we shall have our understandings progressively enlarged, and be gradually guided into all truth. In relation to those things which we do not at present understand, we should be content to say, "What I know not now—I shall know hereafter."
So likewise, in reference to the COMMANDS of God; no one of them should be considered as "grievous," but all be viewed as "holy, and just, and good." To explain them away, or to lower them to the standard of our own attainments, is criminal in a high degree. We should have no wish but to be conformed to the mind and will of God, and to have our whole souls poured, as it were, into the mold of his Gospel.
As far as respects the impiety of the act, it matters very little whether we change the words or the sense of the Holy Scriptures: in either case we greatly offend God, and entail on ourselves all the judgments that are denounced against us in the text.
The words immediately following my text may well serve to enforce every word that has been spoken. It is the Lord Jesus Christ himself who "testifies of these things," and who, to impress them the more deeply on our minds, says, "Surely I come quickly." He will come quickly, and whatever he has spoken shall surely come to pass; not one jot or tittle of it shall ever fail.
We may now take away from his word, or add to it, as seems good to us; but in that day his word shall stand; and his judgments be dispensed in perfect accordance with it.
We may deceive others by our perversions of Scripture, and may even deceive ourselves: but Him we cannot deceive: nor, when he shall pass sentence on us for our temerity, shall we be able to elude his vengeance.
I pray you then to regard the Scriptures with the veneration that is due to them. Do not imagine that they were given us for the purpose of displaying our skill in controversy; though I deny not but that we ought to combat error, and to contend earnestly for the faith delivered to the saints. The inspired volume is holy ground: and we should "put off our shoes," as it were, whenever we enter upon it, and implore help from God, that we may be enabled to "receive it with meekness as an engrafted word," and find it effectual to save our souls.