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General Conference Bulletin, vol. 1

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    IN our study last evening we were brought face to face with the consideration of the spirit of prophecy from the standpoint of the infallibility doctrine, and we will continue the study on that basis. To bring the matter clearly before our minds, I would like to submit what I regard as the false and the true statement of the infallibility question:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 342.18

    It is a dogma divinely revealed, that the Roman pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, — that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the universal church, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, — is possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that his church should be endowed for defining faith or morals; and that therefore such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the church. — Catholic Belief, p.69.GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.1

    This is the official definition of the infallibility doctrine, as defined by the Vatican Council in the fourth session, on the eighteenth of July, 1870.GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.2

    Opposed to that, I would like to submit this statement, — that Jesus Christ is the infallible head of the church, and that when he speaks, what he says is infallible, and that Jesus Christ speaks now as of old by visions and dreams, and that the “testimony [or the witness] of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.3

    Let us consider further God’s idea as to how his word is to be interpreted and understood. It was brought to our attention last evening that Jesus Christ gave the word (It was the spirit of Christ in the prophets.); that he came here in the flesh and was the Word; and that when here visibly present with his disciples “he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself,” and that he opened “their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures;” and that, as his promise is, “Lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,” so his office of interpreter of his own word is the same as ever, — that the Holy Spirit, the actual representative of Jesus Christ, does this work for us. We will proceed further with that thought.GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.4

    But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God: that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:9-14.GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.5

    Or, as the translation of the Syriac Version reads: “They are discerned by the Spirit.” Therefore, of course, the natural man cannot know them. It is not simply that the natural man will not try to know them, will not give his attention to them, is not attracted by them; but “neither can he know them.” Why? — Because they are discerned by the Spirit, and he knows nothing of the Spirit of God and its workings; therefore he cannot know the things of God. But he who has been born of the Spirit, in whom Jesus Christ abides by his spirit, he can know them, because we have received the Spirit of God for this very purpose, — that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.6

    Now let us turn to John’s gospel, sixteenth chapter: “Here is the promise of the coming of the Comforter, the gift of the Spirit, and here are the things that the Holy Spirit will do. Eighth verse, and onward:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.7

    And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth [my actual representative], is come, he will guide you into all truth [and so concerning the things that I have to say to you now, but ye cannot bear them: when he is come, he will guide you into all truth]: for he shall not speak of himself.GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.8

    And again in chapter twelve, verse fourteen: “I have not spoken of myself.” The idea is not: I do not speak those words concerning myself; but I do not speak those words of myself, do not speak them of my own will, of my own volition; I do not choose the words that I speak to you, “but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment what I should say, and what I should speak.” So the Holy Spirit, when he is come, “he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” That is exactly the office of a true interpreter, — not to speak of himself; but what he hears, that he speaks.GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.9

    It has seemed to me that this idea, as between the true and the false interpretation, may be illustrated in this way. It is the claim of the Roman Catholic Church that it is the interpreter of the word of God. Here is the statement from the “Faith of our Fathers,” by Cardinal Gibbons, page 97: “The Church is the divinely-appointed custodian and interpreter of the Bible.” But let us see how the Roman Catholic Church fulfills this office in interpreting the Bible. When the Holy Spirit, which is to guide into all truth, does this work, the Scripture says: “He shall not speak of himself;” what he hears, he will speak; and “he shall testify of me.”GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.10

    Now suppose one of these brethren who has come from a foreign field wished to address this congregation. We understand the English language, but he understands and speaks only the French language. He asks me to interpret for him, and I agree to do so. So he comes forward, and says: “My friends, I desire to show you in a brief talk this evening that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath.” But I do not like that teaching. I hear what he says in French, and I want the congregation to get a different idea, so I say, “My friends, I desire to show you in a brief talk this evening that the first day of the week is the Sabbath.” Is that interpreting for him? — No. Am I speaking what I hear? — No, I am speaking something that I want to put in place of what I heard. I am falsifying his thoughts and his mind to the people.GCB February 25, 1895, page 343.11

    Well, the illustration seems to me to apply with some force. The Bible says: “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God,” but this self appointed guardian and interpreter says: “No, the first day of the week is the Sabbath and we are bound to observe that day.” Is that interpreting the Bible? — No, that is putting one’s self above the Bible, and falsifying the Bible. It is the business of an interpreter to speak what he hears, and he, himself, is to be left out of the account entirely. Does the Roman Catholic Church take that place as an interpreter of the Bible? — No, it puts itself in between the Bible and the people, and speaks its mind to the people, rather than the mind of God as expressed in his word. That is not interpreting; that is falsifying.GCB February 25, 1895, page 344.1

    There is a difference between the illumination of the Spirit to open the word through the mind in the ordinary study of the Scriptures, and speaking in a vision or a dream. What, then, is the purpose of Jesus Christ, who gave the word, in his interpreting? and how is it that we are able to be guided into all truth, and that the Spirit will take the things of his, and show them unto us? — First and foremost, by the enlightening, quickening, guiding influence of that Spirit which is promised to every one, and which belongs to every one, that when one comes to the word of God, he shall put his ideas into it, and not draw ideas out of it, but simply take the word of God as it reads, for what it says, and believe it for what it is. Then God’s spirit is promised to open his understanding, that he may understand the Scriptures, and it is Jesus Christ opening his understanding, just as he opened the understanding of the disciples, and that without either vision or dream.GCB February 25, 1895, page 344.2

    And yet Christ is not limited in the way in which he will give us understanding of his word. If he sees fit to give to any individual a vision or a dream for the further opening of his word, and for the further understanding of his word, that is all right. If he does not see fit to give to any individual a vision or a dream for that purpose, that is all right. The point is this: The Spirit, The Holy Spirit, is the spirit of prophecy. It is the spirit by which the prophecy was given. It is the spirit which enlightens and quickens the mind of every student of God’s word who comes prayerfully, to be taught of God, and submits his mind to the guidance of the spirit. It is the spirit through which all the gifts are manifested in the church. That is the spirit by which comes the interpretation of tongues; that is the spirit through which come miracles, discerning of spirits, etc. “All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit.” And what we are to seek for, and what we are to pray for, and open our hearts to, is the incoming of the Spirit of God, and then let him use us as he will, and not have an itching desire that there shall be some unusual demonstration through us in any way, but only that by perfect submission to the working of the Spirit of God there will be opportunity for that Spirit to work as he will, and not as we will; and that is the spirit which worketh in the children of obedience, in contrast with that other spirit which worketh in the children of disobedience.GCB February 25, 1895, page 344.3

    But when it pleases God to take one wholly out of himself in order that God may speak through him in a special way, he does it, and he chooses his own instrument through whom he will do it; and man and man’s choice are left out of the question entirely. In how marked contrast is this from that false method of putting the interpretation of the word by vote of men in a man, and pretending to constitute him an infallible interpreter of the word! It is altogether of man, and the interpretation is altogether man’s interpretation, with this reservation, — that if ever the devil inspired any one and speaks through any one, he does it through this self-styled interpreter of God’s word.GCB February 25, 1895, page 344.4

    Now it is true, and it is a truth that we should cherish, that infallibility belongs in the church of Jesus Christ. It has seemed to me that, not understanding the nature and the office of the spirit of prophecy in the church, we have belittled one of God’s greatest gifts to his people, and fearing lest we should seem to be on Roman Catholic ground, we have hardly dared to step into and occupy the true ground upon this question.GCB February 25, 1895, page 344.5

    Jesus Christ is the infallible head of the church, and he has not delegated that office and that authority to any human being. It is the very kernel of all the work that we have been doing here together that Jesus Christ is here with us, and of us, and that he is so near to us that not one single person can get in between him and us, because he is one of us. But in order to bring in this false idea of interpretation, and this false idea of infallibility, the first thing to do is to put Jesus Christ far away, and to put the word of God far away from the people, and to build up the idea that it is necessary that there should be some one between Jesus Christ and us, and some one between the word of Jesus Christ and us, in order that we may have access to Jesus Christ and have an understanding of his word; and until Jesus Christ is put far away from us, it is impossible that there should be a vicegerent of Christ in the earth, and until his word is put far away from us, it is impossible that there should be any place for a human interpreter to come in between Jesus Christ’s word and our hearts. But notice that this is exactly what the Catholic Church has done in both instances. As to the idea of putting Jesus Christ far away, and having some one between him and us, I will read an extract from an encyclical of Pope Pius IX. In the encyclical of 1864, in closing, he says:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 344.6

    But in order that God may accede more easily to our and your prayers, and to those of all his faithful servants, let us employ in all confidence as our mediatrix with him, the Virgin Mary, mother of God, who “has destroyed all heresies throughout the world, and who, the most loving mother of us all, is very gracious, and full of mercy, allows herself to be entreated by all, shows herself most clement toward all, and takes under her pitying care all our necessities with a most ample affection,” and who, “sitting as queen upon the right hand of her only begotten son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in a golden vestment clothed around with various adornments,” there is nothing which she cannot obtain from him. Let us implore also the intervention of the blessed Peter, chief of the apostles, and of his co-apostle Paul, and of all those saints of heaven, who, having already become the friends of God, have been admitted into the celestial kingdom, where they are crowned and bear palms, and who henceforth, certain of their own immortality, are solicitous for our salvation. — The Vatican Council, pp.33,34.GCB February 25, 1895, page 345.1

    But you see, in that very thing, that the necessity presses itself upon the human mind that in order for us to have access to God, there must be humanity in the connection; and having taken the humanity all out of Christ, and having made him altogether of a nature that is higher than the cherubim and higher than the seraphim, our poor humanity cannot touch him and cannot reach him; so of necessity between him and us there must come in those who have been human; and so his mother and Peter and Paul and all the other saints who have gone to heaven, and have become the friends of God, are brought in to form a connection between our humanity and divinity. You can see in that the utter perversion of the very truth that is so precious, and that we have had brought out so clearly before us here, — that in Jesus Christ the human and the divine did meet, and that jesus Christ is one with us and one of us, and there is no place for Peter and Paul and all those other saints to get in between us and him, and there is no necessity for putting in any more humanity, because humanity was in him. But all that blessed truth is entirely perverted; and yet there remains that feeling in the human soul to be answered by this false doctrine, that there must in some way be something that has had human flesh to make connection between us and God; but that is all done in Jesus Christ.GCB February 25, 1895, page 345.2

    But why the necessity of bringing in an interpreter, so called, of his word? Let us see. Of course, the first thing to do is to put the word away from the people. So among the rules laid down by the Roman Catholic Church with reference to prohibiting books, is this one:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 345.3

    But versions of the books of the Old Testament may be allowed only to learned and pious men at the discretion of the bishop, provided that they use such versions as elucidations of the Vulgate to understand the sacred Scripture, but not as the sound text. But let versions of the New Testament, made by authors of the first class of this index, be allowed to no one, because but little utility, but very much danger, is to flow from their perusal.GCB February 25, 1895, page 345.4

    And the next rule is as follows:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 345.5

    Whereas, it is evident from experience that if the sacred books be permitted in the vulgar tongue indiscriminately, more harm than utility arises therefrom by reason of the temerity of men, in this respect let it depend on the discretion of the bishop or inquisitor, so that with the counsel of the parish priest or the confessor, they can grant to them the reading of the books translated by Catholic authors in the vulgar tongue, — such persons as they may consider may derive not injury, but an increase of faith and of piety from reading; which power they may have with respect to the Scriptures. But whosoever shall presume to read them without such power, let him not be able to obtain absolution of his sins, unless he has first given back the books to the ordinary. — The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (translated by Buckley) p.285.GCB February 25, 1895, page 345.6

    So the first thing is to remove the Bible just as far as possible from the people; the next thing is to remove the interpretation from them, if they happen to have a Bible even under all these restrictions. So we read among the decrees of the famous Council of Trent (and this council is especially prominent in the Catholic Church, because being held in the sixteenth century, after the rise of the Reformation, it was with special reference to the doctrines of the Reformation):—GCB February 25, 1895, page 345.7

    Furthermore, in order to restrain petulant spirits, it decrees that no one.... dare to interpret the said sacred scripture contrary to that sense which the holy mother church, whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, hath held and doth hold.GCB February 25, 1895, page 345.8

    In the first place, forbid the Bible to the people. In the second place, forbid the interpretation of theGCB February 25, 1895, page 345.9

    Bible to the people, and place it altogether in the hands of the church.GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.1

    I will read a word from the genuine source, just to see the contrast:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.2

    The Bible with its precious gems of truth was not written for the scholar alone. On the contrary, it was designed for the common people; and the interpretation given by the common people, when aided by the Holy Spirit, accords best with the truth as it is in Jesus. — “Testimony” No. 32, p.87.GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.3

    [Elder A. T. Jones here gave the following: Here is a testimony from Robertson Smith on that same thought, — that of the experience of the common people: “The silent, practical experience of the common people, throughout the history of the church, has always been truer and has led the church in a safer path, than have the published decrees of those who claim to be the authoritative leaders of theological thought.”]GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.4

    But in order to overrule that interpretation of the common people, first the Bible must be taken away from the common people, and, second, they must be forbidden to say anything about it in any way, and it must be put altogether and wholly into the hands of self-styled learned men, who have taken on themselves altogether to guard, as they say, and interpret, as they claim, the Bible.GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.5

    Now all of this grows out of the idea that the Bible cannot be understood by ordinary people, that the Bible is a mystical book. Now to be sure it is the mystery, even the hidden mystery; and the natural man knoweth not the things of the Spirit, and cannot know them; but the Lord hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit, and he has given us and we have received the Spirit of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God, and the source of our information is not from decrees or councils of self-styled leaders, but from Jesus Christ himself.GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.6

    But we must be careful that we do not give countenance to this same idea, that it is necessary to have somebody interpret the Bible to us. The principle is the same, whether it is done in a Seventh-day Adventist church or in a Roman Catholic church. When it is necessary to look to some man, no matter who he is, to interpret the word of God to us, we are on Roman Catholic ground, and it does not make any difference what denomination it is. When it is necessary for one to look to a creed for a statement of what God says, he is on Catholic ground. It does not make any difference what church you belong to, when the interpretation of God’s word is taken away from the source where God has placed it, and put in a man or a company of men, that is Catholic ground. That is not to say that we cannot help each other in the study of the word, but it is to say that no man is to receive his gospel from men.GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.7

    Now God uses instruments to teach us, and we should respect the instruments. God has ordained instruments for teachers in his church; but we should not degrade God’s ordained instruments by attempting on our part to put them in the place where God has never put them. Furthermore, we should learn to see and to hear in the human instrument which God uses, Jesus Christ speaking, and not the human instrument.GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.8

    Now to speak in confidence between us, I want to know if you ever heard any one say that the difference between Seventh-day Adventists and Roman Catholics was that Roman Catholics had a man for a pope and Seventh-day Adventists had a woman for a pope, and I want to know if you ever knew any Seventh-day Adventist who felt half sorry that it was so, and thought if he did not have to meet that pope question, he could do a great deal better?GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.9

    That grows altogether out of a misunderstanding of the nature of the spirit of prophecy. And I want to tell you in the same confidential way, that every one who is on that ground, unless he gets better light on that question, will not always stay on that ground. He will give up the whole thing. And did you ever hear any one intimate that Brother So-and-so had gotten a scorching from Sister White? Well, the one who speaks thus needs to learn what the spirit of prophecy is. Now I speak of these things very plainly, because they touch the very root idea of this question. It is time to put those ideas away entirely, and let me say that no one can possibly meet the Roman Catholic doctrine of infallibility, except the one who knows the true doctrine of infallibility in the church of Jesus Christ; and, further, that that question is soon to be pressed upon us in a way that we have not known before, and that it is high time that we understand the true doctrine of infallibility in the church of Jesus Christ; and when we do understand it, it is a blessed truth, and it is a place where every one is glad to stand.GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.10

    Well, then, the first thing for us to do is to understand the true position on this question. Here is the position as defined by Archbishop Purcell in his celebrated debate with Alexander Campbell:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.11

    The basis of Protestant belief is that the Scripture, this book of divine revelation, is the only rule of faith; and that Jesus Christ having left on earth no living infallible authority to interpret it, every man is obliged to expound it for himself. — Campbell and Purcell Debate, p.176.GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.12

    Is that the correct statement? Let me read another. This is Dr. Campbell’s reply to Purcell:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 346.13

    The Protestants say that God can speak as intelligibly as the pope, and that he is as benevolently disposed as any priesthood. He does not require an infallible expositor; he is his own expositor. His spirit is the spirit of knowledge and eloquence, and can speak intelligibly to every listener. — Ib.p.181.GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.1

    What do you think about that? If only Dr. Campbell had gone the next step, and had seen what belongs with that! But he has stopped short of it, after all.GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.2

    Now as to the difficulty in understanding the Scriptures. See how the way is paved to make it necessary that there should be a human interpreter of the Scriptures:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.3

    Let us observe, first, that the Bible, though divinely inspired, is but a written document, and very often so obscure that even St. Augustine, though so great a scholar and doctor of the church, confessed that there were more things in the Bible he did not understand than things he did understand. — Catholic Belief, p.49.GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.4

    So it was necessary to have some interpreter. The Catholics argued that it would not do to let the common people have the Bible; for they would not understand it. But do you not see the contradiction in that? There is no danger in letting a man have a book in the Greek if he does not know the Greek alphabet. Let him have it, and play with it. It will not do him any harm; but if the people have the Bible and read it, they can see that the learned doctors have falsified. So the Bible must be kept away from them.GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.5

    That was in accordance with Luther’s experience. He never had seen a Bible, never had read a Bible. He found one chained to the wall in a convent, and he went there to read it; and as he read, he found the truth exactly contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church - and that was the basis of the Reformation. The Bible in the hands of the people has always brought about a reformation. Where the Bible, as the word of God, goes it builds churches and it establishes people in the faith. It is only when it is shut away, and a false interpretation is given it in presenting it to the people, that all this harm comes.GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.6

    But what is the purpose of the written word of God? The Catholic Church says that the written word of God is not clear without the unwritten word, and that the people cannot understand the word without tradition, and therefore they place the traditions of the church above the Bible, and that is placing man above God.GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.7

    Now let us read the Scripture itself upon that point. I will read the marginal reading of the Revised Version, which is fully authorized by the original text; and it brings out exactly the thought that we want. Luke is giving the reasons why his gospel was written, and all the books were written for the same reason:—GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.8

    Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fully established among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the words which thou wast taught by word of mouth. Luke 1:1-4.GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.9

    Now which establishes the certainty; is it the word of mouth, or is it the word of God that establishes the certainty of the word of mouth? — “That thou mightest know the certainty concerning the words which thou wast taught by word of mouth.” That is to say, the written word was given in order that we might by that know the certainty concerning the things which we have heard by word of mouth. The Scripture says of the Bereans that, they “searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” That is, the written word of God is given to establish the certainty of the preaching of the word, or the unwritten word.GCB February 25, 1895, page 347.10

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