How Readest Thou?

by Alan Burns

A MONK going forth from the world is hardly conscious that the world goes with him and is closer to his soul than his shadow is to his body. When Luther left Romanism he went forth, but not all of Romanism was left behind. Many a movement in the more recent years of Protestantism has sought to free itself from the sectarianism of the sects only to add one more to the overcrowded list.

When the Brethren (Plymouth Brethren) "came out" from the various existing churches they knew not that, while sectarian names were left behind, the spirit of sectarianism was not. When a later revolt against the churches started a special movement they, too, thought that all of decay and corrupted Christendom was left behind. They erred, for they took with them one of the most pernicious evils in Christendom, viz., the spiritualizing method of interpretation. It is concerning this mode of "explaining" Scripture we wish to write, for we feel there are many thousands of hearts loyal to God's Word who would not hesitate for a moment to have done with this imaginative mess were they only to see how grossly inconsistent, illogical and irreverent it really is.

To read a treatise on the Bible, or some part of it, colored by this "method," or to listen to a sermon by a "spiritualizer" is to be forcibly reminded of a certain printer's error. The notice which he was to set up in type concerned a minister who had preached both morning and night. When the clergyman read the report, however, he knew at last that he had "preached bosh morning and evening!"

The spiritualizer teaches that God means something other than what He says. He speaks of days but he means years! He mentions cities but He means religious systems! His prophetic word is not exactly fulfilled but only in spiritual equivalents! This method is condemned by the Bible from the very start, for in God's past fulfillments of His word He has always shown it as part of His glory to have meant just exactly what He said, and to do exactly as He had either threatened or promised. "In Bethlehem" was the prophetic word. "In Bethlehem" is the seal which history affixes thereto. "Of a virgin" was the promise. Thus, too, was the fulfilling of the Word. "Jerusalem" has often been the subject of divine intimation. Have not God's promises and threats to that city been literally fulfilled? God, then, is the great Literalist- -meaning exactly what He says. When He speaks of cities He means cities; when He uses Israel's name He means Israel; when He employs the term "days" He intends days to be understood; and when He refers to years it is the idea of years He would convey. Mark carefully the fact that fulfilled prophecy proves this to be God's method, consequently to substitute a spiritualizing method is to contradict the precedent of Scripture, and, without authority from the Book, to insinuate that God has changed His method of keeping His word. It must be classed as an irreverent imposition on the people of God.

How readily would the spiritualized meaning of the birth of Christ be given by an Old Testament spiritualizer! The "outburst of a great spiritual movement." The "house of bread" (Bethlehem) would be "demonstrated" as indicating a revival of the Word of God. But the great clock of history has slowly but surely ticked out the refutation of such ideas. And how inconsistent it is to acknowledge the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies in an individual, to make the Christ of prophecy a person, and the prophesied Antichrist a system, or even a series of persons! Where does God indicate that He has two ways of prophetic fulfillment? Where, then, is the authority for this irreverent and illogical change? The precedent of Scripture is literal--change that method at your peril. "All kinds of twisting and turning done here" is an inscription suitable for an ironworker's shop and also for many a volume of spiritualized fancies.

We know how the important prophecy of the Seventy Weeks in Daniel nine is constituted and divided. The first sixty-nine "heptads" are, shown by indubitable historic fulfillment to have been heptads (or sevens) of actual, literal years. The spiritualizer cannot avoid this fact; nevertheless, he waves his conjurer's wand and the remaining "seven" expand into spiritualized years of three hundred and sixty years each. There is no intimation from God that such a tremendous change of prophetic fulfillment is involved here. The theory springs entirely from the spiritualizer's fancy and is without precedent in Scripture. It is as unauthorized as it is illogical. In an entirely different connection God does allot a "year for a day" as in the case of Israel's failure to enter Canaan . Forty years for forty days, this was the measure of their judgment but the days meant days and the years meant years. God did not say one thing and mean another: He meant days when He said days and years when He said years.

If we consistently and logically interpret the seventieth seven as being the same in kind as the preceding sixty-nine with which it is grouped, then when we read God's reference, as in the Apocalypse, to "three and a half years," "forty-two months," "twelve hundred an d sixty days" we know that once more God means what He writes, years when He writes years, months when He writes months, and days when He writes days. The Apocalypse is full of divine explanations. The seven lamps, the seven stars, and other symbols are explained, but not once is there a hint given that the days are other than days or the years other than years. It is evident that an interpretation of the Apocalypse which is consistent with the prophetic calendar of Daniel nine mean s nothing short of catastrophe to the system with its "gospel" that millennial dawn is now breaking upon the nations' night. No "gospel," however, can be the gospel of God if it does not honor the glorious self consistency of the Word of God. And if any of our dear brethren deem it a catastrophe to relegate these false, spiritualized fancies to the waste paper basket let them remember it is nothing to the catastrophe of putting God's Word there, and this is really what the "spiritualizing" method does when it makes the sacred Book a thing of rubber or wax, to be twisted this way and that at pleasure. The keen disappointment which has been created already by the "revision" of dates but foreshadows the bitter chagrin to be experienced by the failure of the dates set for the future.

The inconsistency of making sixty-nine sevens equal to four hundred and eighty-three years, and one seven equal to two thousand five hundred and twenty years; which makes Bethlehem and Jerusalem literal cities and Babylon a religious system; which makes the prophesied Christ a person and the prophesied Antichrist the Papal succession, is irreverent, for it repudiates the way in which God has shown, in inspired history, how His promises and threats came literally true.

Christendom is familiar with the vice of spiritualizing away some of the plainest statements of Scripture. "Death" has been made to mean "misery," and "life" has been reduced into "happiness." The real service one of the latest movements has rendered to thousands consists in the repudiation of this method as it applies to such terms, and in showing that their full literal meaning is to be understood instead. May we not hope then that, if our brethren have made a great advance by discarding the "witches' broth" of spiritualization when applied to man, they will make a further advance when they repudiate it as a key to unlock God's references to cities, nations, and dates?

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