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General Conference Bulletin, vol. 1

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    I HOPE none will misunderstand the nature and purpose of this study which we are pursuing at this time. The purpose is not to establish whether there is at the present time among this people a manifestation of this gift by which Jesus Christ speaks infallibly. We are not studying that question now. When we were studying the nature of the word of God, we did not attempt to prove to you that it was the word of God. I understand that this people believe that this is the word of God, and I am not trying to establish the fact that it is. I understand that this people believe that there is a manifestation among them of what we term the spirit of prophecy, and I am not attempting to establish that fact. The point of the studies just now is to view this subject of the spirit of prophecy from the standpoint of the infallibility doctrine, and to bring out and emphasize this idea that true infallibility does belong to the church of Jesus Christ, and that it belongs in the true head of the church, which is Jesus Christ; and that when he speaks, no matter when, or through whom, what he says is infallibly true; and that this is the true idea of infallibility.GCB March 1, 1895, page 416.5

    And to make the contrast clear upon what I regard as the true and the false ideas of infallibility in the church, I have brought to your attention statements made by the false and the true for your consideration; but the thought in this is simply to consider the question of the spirit of prophecy from the standpoint of infallibility, not to establish the spirit of prophecy. And I have taken occasion to call attention to this matter, because I feel very sure that the question of infallibility will be pressed upon us in the near future, as never before, and I have thought it might be helpful to us if some hints and suggestions were thrown out on this general question to open the way for further study; for from such study as I have been able to give to the subject already, it has seemed very clear to me that in having the truth upon this subject, as upon other subjects that God has given us light upon, we are fully able to meet every form of error upon this subject, and that when the true and the false ideas of infallibility in the church are contrasted, the true will shine with a clearer light; and I hope we may appreciate more what God is doing for his church in this way, and that we may have a clearer understanding of its place, its purpose, and the right use to make of it.GCB March 1, 1895, page 416.6

    So continuing further, we will this evening draw a contrast between the true and the false in the way that they refer to the Scriptures, and the power which each one claims for itself. I would like first to call attention to the points brought out in a recent study as to the purpose of the written word of God as suggested by the preface to Luke’s gospel, first chapter, and the first four verses. Revised Version, marginal reading:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 417.1

    Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled 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.GCB March 1, 1895, page 417.2

    That is, the written word was given in order that the individual might be, not infallible, but certain concerning the things which have been taught him by word of mouth; that is, that the written word is the test of tradition, and that the purpose of it is that the individual might be certain. It may be well to call attention to the difference between certainty in an individual and infallibility. The difference between certainty and infallibility may be stated this way: A person who is infallible cannot go wrong; one who is certain, can go wrong, but does not. Observe the difference again: An individual who is infallible cannot make a mistake; an individual who is certain, can make a mistake, but does not. It is in exactly this sense that infallibility is claimed for the pope or for a council. Even Catholic writers go so far as to emphasize this idea in the very strongest way, by stating that when an ecumenical council has been properly called, and is presided over either by the pope or by some one who is the authorized representative of the pope, it would be impossible for that council to decide anything wrong; and if they should do their very best, they could not go wrong, because under those circumstances they are infallible, and cannot err; it is beyond the bounds of possibility for them to err under any circumstances whatever. That is infallibility. Certainty is the knowledge that one is right, and yet he is at liberty all the time to go wrong if he wants to.GCB March 1, 1895, page 417.3

    To illustrate the idea: Here is one who is making a journey on foot through a country strange to him. His purpose is to reach a city. Not knowing the way, he seeks a guide. One is found for him. The inquiry is, “Do you know the way to this city?” — “I do.” “What evidence will you give that you know the way?” — “I have been there. I have traveled over this very road.” “Tell me about it.” And the guide gives him a full description of the road. He not only tells him the right road, but he speaks of roads that lead in the wrong direction, — roads that appear in themselves as being more inviting, being broad and smooth, and warns him that he should not take such a road as that; it is not the road to the city. Satisfied with the truth of this statement, the journey is begun, and at every step of the way the description given by the guide becomes true. He calls attention as they go on their journey to what he spoke of in the earlier conversation. He says, “That road appears to be more smooth, and you observe that many people are going that way, but we are not to take that road. This rougher way is the way that leads to the city.” Now as the traveler journeys on, the certainty grows in his mind that he is on the right road to the city, and that the guide knows what he is talking about; and when they come to partings of the way, and the guide says, “This is the way,” he hesitates not to follow the direction of the guide. Yet he himself does not thereby become infallible concerning this way, and he can take any one of the other ways if he wishes to do so, but having confidence in the guide, he is certain that he is on the right road.GCB March 1, 1895, page 417.4

    You will easily be able to draw the parallel. We are on the way to the city; our guide has told us of the way; he has described both the right and the wrong way, and he has gone this way himself, and he says: “I will guide you with mine eye;” but when we go farther than is possible in the case of humanity, and know that this guide who promises to lead us on the way to the city is himself infallible, and that what he says is infallibly true, then we are certain from the very first step that we are on the right course. And though a multitude of others take another course, it does not lead us to take that course, because the infallible guide says: “This is the way, walk ye in it;” and what the infallible guide says is infallibly true, and what he says makes us certain, but not infallible. So all the time the infallibility is in Jesus Christ alone, and never in any human being, and not even in the instrument that he may use through whom to speak. He is infallible, and what he says is infallibly true; but the instrument is never infallible. That is the true doctrine of infallibility.GCB March 1, 1895, page 417.5

    Let me add a word right here: Because we have learned that Jesus Christ is the head of every individual, and that Jesus Christ is infallible, do not make a mistaken application by concluding, therefore, that each individual is infallible: “And therefore, since Jesus Christ is my head, I do not propose to be directed any more by any committee. The Lord has given me credentials, and called me to do his work; and Jesus Christ is my head, and I have nothing to do with any such arrangement,” — all of which would show that the very essence of the doctrine is wholly misunderstood, wholly misapprehended. Remember that there is more to it than that Jesus Christ is the head of the individual. He is also the head of the church; and when Jesus Christ is the head of the individual and is the head of the church, there will be no conflict whatever between the individual member and the body, and the head will not say to the feet, I have no need of you, neither will the feet say to the head, I have no need of you, but there will be a spirit of union throughout. That other way of regarding it would be self coming in another form, and you may be sure that that same old devil, who is deceiving so many, will be at hand to give those truths just a little turn which will make them totally wrong. Let the wisdom of God guide in it, and we shall gladly accept it with the firm confidence that Jesus Christ is not only the head of the individual but that he is also the head of the church. And therefore there will be perfect harmony.GCB March 1, 1895, page 417.6

    Now let us continue the contrast between the true and the false infallibility with reference to the Scriptures. I called attention last evening to the fact that the Catholic Church puts itself above the word of God, by the very course of reasoning which it uses to establish the infallibility doctrine. Now let us hear a word from the other source. In one of the very first issues from the spirit of prophecy given to this people, now found as the first part of “Early Writings,” at the close occurs this statement:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.1

    I recommend you to read the word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that word we are to be judged. God has that word promised to give visions in the last days, not for a new rule of faith, but for the comfort of his people, and to correct those who err from Bible truth.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.2

    What relation does this sustain to the word of God? — It exalts the word of God, and commends the reader to the word, and says that the visions to be given in the last days were not for a new rule of faith, — not to say something contrary to the word, — but for the comfort of the people, and to correct those who err from Bible truth. Furthermore, in the second part of “Early Writings,” which was perhaps the second issue of the “Spirit of Prophecy,” on page 85 I find as follows:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.3

    Then I saw that God knew that Satan would try every art to destroy man; therefore he had caused his word to be written out, and had made his purposes in regard to the human race so plain that the weakest need not err.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.4

    There is a great difference between that and that he could not err. God, by writing out his word, made his purposes in regard to the human race so clear, so plain, that the weakest need not err.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.5

    After having given his word to man, he had carefully preserved it from destruction by Satan or his angels, or by any of his agents or representatives. While other books might be destroyed, this was to be immortal. And down near the close of time, when the delusions of Satan should increase, it was to be so multiplied that all who desired might have a copy, and, if they would, might arm themselves against the deceptions and lying wonders of Satan.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.6

    I saw that God had especially guarded the Bible; yet when copies of it were few, learned men had in some instances changed the words, thinking that they were making it more plain, when in reality they were mystifying that which was plain, by causing it to lean to their established views, which were governed by tradition. But I saw that the word of God, as a whole, is a perfect chain, one portion linking into and explaining another. True seekers for truth need not err.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.7

    They are not infallible; they can go wrong, but they need not err.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.8

    True seekers for truth need not err; for not only is the word of God plain and simple in declaring the way of life, but the Holy Spirit is given as a guide in understanding the way of life therein revealed.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.9

    I will read further from “Testimony” No.33, beginning on page 191:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.10

    That the Testimonies were not given to take the place of the Bible the following extract from a testimony published in 1876 will show:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.11

    Brother R. would confuse the mind by seeking to make it appear that the light God has given through the Testimonies is in addition to the word of God; but in this he presents the matter in a false light. God has seen fit in this manner to bring the minds of his people to his word, to give them a clearer understanding of it. The word of God is sufficient to enlighten the most beclouded mind, and may be understood by those who have any desire to understand it. But notwithstanding all this, some who profess to make the word of God their study, are found living in direct opposition to its plainest teachings. Then to leave men and women without excuse, God gives plain and pointed testimonies bringing them back to the word that they have neglected to follow.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.12

    If you had made God’s word your study, with a desire to reach the Bible standard, and attain to Christian perfection, you would not have needed the Testimonies. It is because you have neglected to acquaint yourselves with God’s inspired book that he has sought to reach you by simple, direct testimonies, calling your attention to the words of inspiration which you have neglected to obey, and urging you to fashion your lives in accordance with its pure and elevated teachings.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.13

    The Lord designs to warn you, to reprove, to counsel, through the testimonies given, and to impress your minds with the importance of the truth of his word. The written testimonies are not to give new light, but to impress vividly upon the heart the truths of inspiration already revealed. Man’s duty to God and to his fellowmen has been distinctly specified in God’s word; yet but few of you are obedient to the light given. Additional truth is not brought out; but God has through the Testimonies simplified the great truths already given, and in his own chosen way brought them before the people, to awaken and impress the mind with them, that all may be left without excuse.GCB March 1, 1895, page 418.14

    Pride, self love, selfishness, hatred, envy, and jealousy have beclouded the perceptive powers, and the truth, which would make you wise unto salvation, has lost its power to charm and control the mind. The very essential principles of godliness are not understood, because there is not a hungering and thirsting for Bible knowledge, purity of heart, and holiness of life. The Testimonies are not to belittle the word of God, but to exalt it, and attract minds to it, that the beautiful simplicity of truth may impress all.GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.1

    That is the position that the spirit of prophecy, the true manifestation of infallibility, takes with reference to the word of God. Now let us read a few words from the other standpoint, just for the sake of contrast. And as we bring out these contrasts, watch for the principle, and see how easy it is for us to get on the same ground in principle, although we reject it in name. I will read from “Catholic Belief,” beginning on page 39. This is an authorized book for instruction in the Catholic Church:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.2

    Besides the written word of God, Catholics believe also in the unwritten word.GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.3

    Now their definition of tradition:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.4

    By tradition we do not mean a mere report, a hearsay, wanting sufficient evidence to deserve belief, or a local tradition started by men, and therefore merely human, as were those traditions of the Pharisees condemned by our Lord; but we mean a tradition first coming from God, continually taught, recorded, and in all desirable ways kept alive by a body of trustworthy men successively chosen in a divine or divinely appointed manner. — Ib.,pp.39,40.GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.5

    That is the Catholic definition of tradition; that is the theory of it. You are to observe whether it is so in fact. Now speaking in reference to the written word, and the unwritten word, tradition, as being both the word of God, the inquiry is made:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.6

    Some may ask: Which of these two divine words is the more useful to us? — Ib.,page 44.GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.7

    Though these two divine streams are in themselves, on account of their divine origin, of equal sacredness, and are both full of revealed truths, still, of the two, tradition is to us more clear and safe. — Ib.,page 45.GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.8

    Taking, therefore, this position with reference to the unwritten word, or tradition, of course the Bible is to be tested by tradition. And what tradition says, must be the authoritative teaching of the church, no matter whether it be in harmony with the Scriptures or not. Let me call attention to two or three instances that illustrate this. Why was it that the Catholic Church at this time, in the controversy on the Sabbath question, was willing to print officially and send forth to all the world that series of articles which we have reprinted under the title of “Rome’s Challenge,” in which it is distinctly stated over and over, and emphasized again and again, that there is not a word of Scripture authority from Genesis to Revelation for the observance of the first day of the week as the Sabbath? — Why, because having what to them is a higher authority than the Scriptures, they are perfectly willing to admit that the Bible teaches nothing in favor of the sacredness of Sunday; but the higher authority does, and the higher authority overrules the Bible. That is but the logical outcome of this very statement that tradition is more clear and more safe.GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.9

    I found an illustration of this not long since, which touches upon it from a new standpoint. I will read from pages 170, 171 of “Protestantism and Infidelity,” by a Jesuit priest, F. X. Weninger, D. D.:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.10

    Tell me why you baptize infants, though there is not a word about infant baptism in the whole Scripture? and why you do not wash one another’s feet, although Christ apparently commands the practice as necessary to salvation? Here is the answer: You administer infant baptism and omit the other practice, because the tradition of the Catholic Church has taught you that the baptism of infants is necessary for their salvation, but the washing of one another’s feet was not commanded as an indispensable rite. Relinquishing the letter of the Bible on these points, and throwing yourself back on tradition, why do you maintain that the Bible is the only rule of faith? Your practice, as well as your theory, is inconsistent with itself.GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.11

    When I read that, I thought I would like to have the author present, and have a little dialogue: “Tell me why you baptize infants.” — “I do not.” “Tell me why you do not wash one another’s feet.” — “But we do.” “Ah!” How easy the truth will meet every such charge of inconsistency. But true to the statement that tradition is above the word of God, a guide more clear and more safe, they are free to acknowledge that there is no command for Sunday-keeping in the word of God. That is logical. I am thankful that God has given us so clearly the light of truth that those inconsistencies may be avoided. And when we study the truth aright, we shall find that there will be truth in the word of God, clear and plain, that will meet every single point in that mystery of iniquity.GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.12

    Further, as to the interpretation of the Scriptures, let us compare the true and the false. I have not taken the pains, nor considered it necessary, to bring to your attention extracts from the spirit of prophecy in which we are instructed over and over to study the Bible for ourselves, and that under the guidance of the Spirit of God we are able to form our opinions for ourselves from the word. And have we not been warned repeatedly against fixing our faith upon what any one says, and upon the teachings of any man, no matter who he is? And have we not been warned against this idea of infallibility in some man? There is a word upon that point from a testimony dated Oct.27,1894:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 419.13

    The only true knowledge of the message of the righteousness of Christ, the only true test, is personal acceptance of it. The effect will be vitalizing to the human soul. By poor, misguided agents, the messenger of truth may be regarded as infallible; by human minds that think themselves wise, he may be placed where God should be, and be left to reveal that he is not infallible. Then the ones who have looked for something to condemn, feel a triumph in iniquity, and those who exalt the human agent may be just as willing to turn against him.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.1

    But there is the message all the same; it is not changed; it trembles not from any shock it may receive. The men who have been lauded and exalted may reveal the weakness of humanity, because they did begin to think that they were more than common humanity; but what then? Will they adhere to error? Here is the test: If, when they see the danger, they flee from it, they show to the world, to angels, and to men, that the citadel of the heart is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that they will in no case harmonize with selfishness of any description.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.2

    How often has the instruction been repeated to us not to depend upon any man; and when it is in the Seventh-day Adventist Church it is just as bad as in the Roman Catholic Church. We must not believe that a certain thing is so because Elder So-and-so said it. That is exactly the papal principle. It is the truth because God says it, and that is why we are to believe it always; and we are to know that God says it. But what says the false? Now I want you to decide where you agree and where you disagree. We must learn to know the truth, even if it is in a book that has a Catholic imprint upon the cover.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.3

    The Holy Scriptures are the word of God. This, I will assume, as admitted by the Protestants generally, but it is clear that if the Scriptures are wrongly interpreted, they become the word of man.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.4

    Protestants should consider well this point, especially those who so confidently and plausibly boast that they stand by the Bible alone, and imagine that to stand by the Bible alone means that they rely not upon human authority, but upon the word of God.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.5

    Certainly nothing can be better than to stand by the word of God, but whether what they call standing by the Bible alone be to stand by the word of God, we shall see.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.6

    The Bible because a written document, remains always silent unless interpreted, that is, unless some meaning is affixed to the words by some one. It is clear that the Bible cannot speak and interpret itself. — “Catholic Belief,” pp.48,49.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.7

    And I will just read another statement which I think I have here to this effect, speaking of the Bible.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.8

    It is not a book which is its own interpreter. — “Protestantism and Infidelity,” page 177.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.9

    That is the Catholic view. Let me drop in here the contrast upon that particular point.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.10

    The Bible is its own expositor. One passage will prove to be a key that will unlock other passages, and in that way light will be shed upon the hidden meaning of the Word. By comparing different texts treating upon the same subject, viewing their bearing on every side, the true meaning of the Scriptures will be made evident. — “Christian Education,” page 85.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.11

    You see how diametrically opposed those two are at every point. Well, this work says:—GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.12

    Let us consider, secondly, that the Bible, because a written document, remains always silent unless interpreted, — that is, unless some meaning is affixed to the words by some one. It is clear that the Bible cannot speak and interpret itself. You must take the Book in your hand, open it, read it, compare passages, and attach a certain meaning to those words which fall under your eyes.GCB March 1, 1895, page 420.13

    (Continued on page 429.)

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