In the previous chapter we sought to show the need for interpretation. Before setting forth some of the rules to be observed and the principles to be employed in the interpretation of Scripture, we would point out various things which are required to be found in the would-be interpreter himself. For “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Holy Spirit Illumination
Here, then, is the first and most essential qualification for understanding and interpreting the Scriptures, namely a mind illumined by the Holy Spirit. The need for this is fundamental and universal. Of the Jews we are told, “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart” (2 Cor. 3:15). Though the Old Testament be deeply venerated and diligently studied by the “orthodox” section, yet is its spiritual purport unperceived by them. Such also is the case with the Gentiles. There is a veil of ill-will over the heart of fallen man for “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom. 8:7). There is a veil of ignorance over the mind. As a child may spell out the letters and learn to pronounce words the sense of which he apprehends not, so we may ascertain the literal or grammatical meaning of this Word and yet have no spiritual knowledge of it, and thus belong to that generation of whom it is said “hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive” (Matthew 13:14).
Second, an impartial spirit is required if we are to discern and apprehend the real teaching of Holy Writ. Nothing more beclouds the judgment than prejudice—none so blind as those who will not see. Particularly is that the case with all who come to the Bible with the object of finding passages which prove “our doctrines.” An honest heart is the first quality the Lord predicated of the good-ground hearer (Luke 8:15), and where that exists we are not only willing but desirous to have our own views corrected. There can be no advance made in our spiritual apprehension of the Truth until we are ready to submit our ideas and sentiments to the teaching of God’s Word. While we cling to our preconceived opinions and sectarian partialities, instead of being ready to abandon all beliefs not clearly taught in Scripture, neither praying nor studying can profit the soul. There is nothing which God hates more than insincerity, and we are guilty thereof if, while asking Him to instruct us, we at the same time refuse to relinquish what is erroneous. A thirst for the Truth itself, with a candid determination for it to mold all our thinking and direct our practice, is indispensable if we are to be spiritually enlightened.
A Humble Mind
Third, a humble mind. “This is an eternal and unalterable law of God’s appointment, that whoever will learn His mind and will, as revealed in Scripture, must be humble and lowly, renouncing all trust and confidence in themselves. The knowledge of a proud man is the throne of Satan in his mind. To suppose that persons under the predominance of pride, self-conceit and self-confidence can understand the mind of God in a due manner is to renounce the Scripture, or innumerable positive testimonies to the contrary” (John Owen). The Lord Jesus declared that heavenly mysteries are hid from the wise and prudent, but revealed unto babes (Matthew 11:25). Those who assume an attitude of competency, and are wise in their own esteem, remain spiritually ignorant and unenlightened. “God resisteth the proud, but He giveth grace unto the humble.”
A Praying Heart
Fourth, a praying heart. Since the Bible is different from all other books, it makes demands upon its readers which none other does. It is at this very point that so many fail. They approach the Bible as they would any other book, relying on a closeness of attention and diligence of perusal to understand its contents. We must first get down on our knees and cry unto God for light: “Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies . . . give me understanding, that I may learn Thy commandments . . . order my steps in Thy word” (Ps. 119:36, 73, 133). No real progress can be made in our apprehension of the Truth until we realize our deep and constant need of a Divinely anointed eye. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all liberally” (Jam. 1:5). It is because they make use of that promise that many a Christian ploughman and simple housewife is taught of the Spirit, while prayerless scholars know not the secret of the Lord.
A Holy Purpose
Fifth, a holy design. Many are deceived in this matter, mistaking an eagerness to acquire scriptural knowledge for a love of the Truth itself. Inquisitiveness to discover what the Bible says is why some read it. The desire to be familiar with its contents so as to hold their own in an argument moves still others. If it be nothing better than a mere desire to be well versed in its details which causes us to read the Bible, it is more than likely that the garden of our souls will remain barren. The inspiring motive should be honestly examined. Do I search the Scriptures in order to become better acquainted with their Author and His will for me? Is the dominating purpose which actuates me that I may grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord? Is it that I may ascertain more clearly and fully how I should order the details of my life, so that it will be more pleasing and honoring to Him? Is it that I may be brought into a closer walking with God and the enjoyment of more unbroken communion with Him? Nothing less is a worthy aim than that I may be conformed to and transformed by its holy teaching.
London Baptist Confession, 1689, Chapter 1, para 6
The whole revelation of God concerning all things essential for his own glory, human salvation, faith and life, is either explicitly set down or implicitly contained in the Holy Scriptures. Nothing is ever to be added, whether by a new revelation of the Spirit, or by human traditions. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that the inward enlightenment of the Spirit of God is necessary for the saving understanding of the things revealed in the Word.