More Foundation articles from past issues of the Presbyterian Standard are available online here.
WE have seen previously that in the Bible God's word is compared to seed. In its use and effect the word of God is precious and powerful seed. Through the reading of the Scriptures, or by the preaching of the gospel, a man who is spiritually dead in trespasses and sins may be brought to life. When a person becomes a Christian it is because the truth has been planted in his heart by the Holy Spirit and he has been born again. A child of Adam has become a child of God and a new life of grace has begun. But how is this new life to be nurtured and developed? How does a Christian "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18)? It is by the same word of God. The apostle says, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 2:2).
Milk is the most natural of foods. In Bible times milk from sheep, cows, goats and even camels was an important part of the people's diet. For a young child though there was nothing better than the milk of the mother. It is rich food, designed by divine wisdom to satisfy the appetite and meet all the needs of growing infants. See how a child cries for and seeks after his mother's milk! He is restless until he has sucked and been fed. And if he is a healthy child, in a few hours he will be crying for more!
The doctrines of the gospel are to bornagain souls what milk is to a newborn baby. As we feed upon the truth by faith so our souls are blessed and made fat.What should we discover as we 'taste' the milk of God's gracious word?
Our diet today often consists of processed foods. A food which is grown naturally is harvested and then treated in various ways before it comes near our tables. Some of the original material is lost and new ingredients are introduced. But the milk which an infant draws into his mouth while upon the breast is the purest of all foods; it passes directly from mother to child. It is not spoiled or adulterated in any way.
One of the most beautiful things about the word of God is its purity. Though they have come to us through human penmen the Scriptures are given by divine inspiration and so they are the word of God throughout. We are to regard them as "the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2). Agur could say, "Every word of God is pure" (Prov. 30:5). How pure? "Thy word is very pure," testifies David (Psa. 119:140). The Psalmist states this as strongly as he can when he says: "The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Psa. 12:6). On this verse Thomas Manton says: "It notes the exact perfection of the word: there is no dross in silver and gold that hath been often refined; so there is no defect in the word of God."
The greatest testimony to the purity of the Scriptures though is from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, when He says to His Father, "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Though copied and translated many times the word of God is not a mixture: it is pure truth, not the truth of God mixed with the errors of men. In a special providence an Almighty hand has protected the Bible and so nothing has been added to or taken away from this pure spiritual food.
This is so important. Imagine if we were told that the Bible were 99% accurate or 99% true. This might sound very impressive. But could we trust the Bible on such a basis? Would we not be thinking, Which narrative or doctrine is suspect? is it the divinity of Christ, or the atonement, or the resurrection perhaps? We would continually be in doubt. Satan would assail us and spoil us of every comfort. There would in fact be no solid ground for our faith.
Praise God we are not left in such a plight. Just as God's covenant with His people is "ordered in all things, and sure" (2 Sam. 23:5) so is His word in which that covenant is revealed. Our need is to drink from this pure fountain and not to look to alternatives. You will have noticed how far removed from Scripture teaching much Christian literature is today, abounding as it does with emotionalism, revivalism and prophetic speculations. We should shun such. It may feed our curiosity but it will never feed our souls. And while we may benefit from the sound writings of good men, even they must never become replacements for feeding upon the pure word of God itself.
For a child a regular supply of pure milk is essential. The great concern parents have for their infant is whether he or she is growing and putting on weight. Nothing will promote this development in the same way as milk. There really is no substitute!
The Bible teaches us that the Lord has given to His church certain means of grace which are necessary for our salvation and spiritual growth. Chiefly these are the reading and preaching of Scripture, the sacraments, prayer and praise. We can see that one thing is common to them all – the word of God. It is the basis for our preaching, it directs our praying and it provides our praise. The sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper are in fact lifeless and empty without the word.
By God's own appointment the Bible is the great means of grace. John Calvin could say: "We must be reminded that there is a permanent relationship between faith and the Word. He could not separate one from the other any more than we could separate the rays from the sun from which they come....The same Word is the basis whereby faith is supported and sustained; if it turns away from the Word, it falls. Therefore, take away the Word and no faith will then remain."
In the literal word we meet the Living Word, Jesus Christ, who says, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35). Here is the believer's essential food, which we must receive by faith. Faith is the mouth and the stomach of the soul, feeding upon the Saviour in all the merit and power of His life, death and resurrection as He is revealed to us in the Scriptures. We shall not find Christ elsewhere. The lesson we must learn is this. Without the word of God our souls have no food: without faith our souls cannot feed.
How hungry are we for the truth? Are we like a babe desiring to be fed? "I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for thy commandments" (Psa. 119:131). The needs of our soul should be more important to us than anything else in this world. We should be able to say with a godly man of old, "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:12)?
Where can a food more nutritious than milk be found? It contains a wonderful balance of what the body requires – protein, fat and vitamins. Because of this and because of its rich, sweet and refreshing taste it satisfies and sustains us.
The word of God is the same for our spiritual health. It nourishes every faculty of the soul. Its doctrines instruct our minds, its commandments direct our wills, and its promises warm our affections. God's word strengthens every gracious feature in the believer's life, because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, uses the word of truth in His work of sanctification. As 'Rabbi' Duncan taught, the character of God's inspired word, and the work of God's Spirit in the souls of renewed men, are in perfect unison.
All Scripture is wholesome for the Christian, and is in that sense to be regarded as "milk" for the soul. But a division may be made among the teachings of the Bible. There is the "milk" and there is the "meat." The milk of basic doctrine is for the babe in Christ; the meat of difficult doctrine is for the mature believer. Just as an infant would not be given solid meat to eat until he has been weaned, so a wise pastor will not instruct a young convert in the more complex teachings of the Bible until he has understood the truths of ruin by the fall, redemption by Christ and regeneration by the Spirit. There must be a progression from Catechism to Confession.
We are constantly told that modern versions of the Bible make God's truth more 'digestible' for today's generation. They are said to be simpler to understand than the quaint old English of the Authorised Version. Especially is this claim made with regard to younger people. "Modern versions are much easier for them!" is the cry. But what has been the result of the entry of these versions into many churches? It is to be feared that the effect has been to reduce much of the visible church to a state of permanent spiritual immaturity. Many converts seem happy to remain babes, spoon-fed on a diet of syrupy choruses and a sugary gospel!
Today we witness everywhere a weakening of doctrinal convictions and a lowering of moral standards among professing Christians. We do not find among the advocates of the new versions and new ways such a vigorous testimony to the truth as our forefathers had. Could we imagine a document such as the Westminster Confession of Faith appearing for the first time in a day such as ours? In many places where wholesome food was once provided for hungry souls there is now "death in the pot" (2 Kings 4:40).
Yet God is faithful to His word. The Lord promised Israel that He would bring them out of Egypt and into Canaan, "a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exod. 3:8). Only briefly did they have this prosperous territory wholly in their possession. But for all God's people there is an inheritance in an even better land. "Now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly" (Heb. 11:16). Believers are even now citizens of heaven. Though we have not yet gone to heaven and our feet do not yet walk upon the streets of the holy city yet through faith in Jesus Christ heaven has already come to our souls. In the word of God we get a view of the land of everlasting salvation. We drink the milk of its doctrines and enjoy the honey of its promises. With this comfort let us "hold fast the form of sound words, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 1:13).