Handling Aright the Word of Truth (VII)
Morris W. R. Bailey
It has been pointed out that the failure to handle aright, or rightly divide, the word of truth is responsible, in a large measure, for many of the doctrinal errors that plague the religious world today. In our previous article we pointed out that the failure to distinguish between conditions before and after the cross of Christ, when the old covenant ended and the New Testament became effective, can be, and has been responsible for erroneous concepts regarding the conditions of salvation. This disposition becomes obvious when examples of forgiveness of sins without baptism that occurred during the personal ministry of Christ are regarded as precedent for our being saved without baptism today.
In this article we propose to show that the claims of Pentecostal and other Holiness groups, to the gift of miraculous healing, and the ability to speak in tongues-gifts that were conferred upon certain men while the New Testament was being written-are due to the failure to make the proper distinction between
The Temporary And The Permanent
By this is meant the distinction between miraculous manifestations that attended the inauguration of a new order, and the law or laws by which said order was perpetuated. This is a distinction that runs all through the Bible, from the beginning. Observe the following examples.
1. The creation of the universe. Genesis 1:1 says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Previous to creation nothing existed. By a miracle God brought the heavens and the earth into existence, and established the laws by which the universe is governed today. The miraculous, having served its purpose, has given way to the permanent order and does not have to be repeated today.
2. The vegetable kingdom was brought into existence by a miracle. Genesis 1:11 says, "And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, herbs yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, wherein is the seed thereof, upon the earth, and it was so." The question of which came first, the oak or the acorn is immaterial. If the oak came first then it came by a miracle-creation. It then produced an acorn from which the next oak grew in harmony with natural law. If the acorn came first then it came by a miracle, and produced the first oak according to the law of nature which Goc' established, and which is permanent.
3. Animal life came by the miracle of creation. Genesis 1:21 says, "And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moveth, wherewith the waters swarmed, after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind: and God saw that it was good." Sometimes the question is asked, Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Again we say, it is immaterial as to which came first. If it was the chicken, it was a created chicken and it laid the first egg from which the next chicken came. If it was the egg which came first, then it was a created egg which then produced a chicken. In either case, there was first the miracle of creation, then the law of reproduction, which is the permanent order.
4. Man was brought into existence by a miracle-creation. Prior to that event, "there was not a man to till the ground" (Genesis 2:5). But Genesis 1:27 says, "And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them." The purpose of the miracle having been accomplished, man was then told to "Multiply and replenish the earth" (Gen. 1:28). This is God's law of procreation-the permanent order.
This same order-first the miraculous then the permanent order-characterized God's dealings with Israel. He divided the waters of the Red Sea to save them from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:15). The purpose of the miracle having been accomplished, it has never been repeated. When God gave the Law of Moses from Mount Sinai, its giving was accompanied by miraculous phenomena that struck terror to the hearts of the children of Israel (Exodus 19:16). These were never again repeated after the Law of Moses-the permanent order-was given. God fed the Israelites miraculously with manna from heaven for forty years (Exodus 16:34). But when they entered the land of Canaan the manna ceased and they ate the fruit of the land (Joshua 5:12).
We have given considerable space to the above examples, but all to emphasize this obvious fact, that miraculous phenomena but serves a temporary function, and is no part of the permanent order. We shall now show that this is no less true with regard to
Miracles That Attended The Inauguration Of Christianity
First, let us notice that the system known as Christianity is the permanent order, to which the Law and the prophets were but preparatory. I do not know if I can give a definition of Christianity that would suit everyone. But I offer this as what I conceive it to be. "The System of Redemption designed by God in the Eternal Past, executed by Christ through His Death on the cross, and revealed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles and other inspired men of the First Century." This may not be a perfect definition, but I believe it is a fair summary of what we call Christianity. Since it is Christ-centered and built upon Jesus' claim to be the Son of God, it was essential that His claim be authenticated by substantial proof. Such proof does exist in
The Miracles Of Christ
Time and space forbids our telling all the miracles He performed during His earthly sojourn. A fair summary of His miracles is found in the language of Jesus, Himself, when, in answer to the question of the disciples sent from John the Baptist, 'Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?' Jesus replied, "Go tell John the things that ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up" (Matthew 11:2-5).
Not only did Jesus demonstrate His power over the ills of the body, but also over the forces of nature (Matthew 8:23-26 records His stilling the tempest on the sea of Galilee); the demon world (Matthew 8:28-32 records His sending the demons out of two men, and into a herd of swine); and the Law of gravity (Matthew 14:25 records His walking on the sea).
We are not left in any doubt as to the purpose of the miracles wrought by Christ. On the occasion of the healing of a palsied man, and when challenged concerning His right to forgive sins, Jesus said, "But that ye may know that the Son of man hath authority on earth to forgive sins (then saith he to the sick of palsy) Arise, and take up thy bed, and go unto thy house" (Matt. 9:6). This miracle demonstrated Christ's authority to forgive sins -- a divine prerogative.
In a summary of the miracles performed by Christ during His personal ministry, John said, "Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life through his name" (John 20:30,31).
So while the miracles of Christ conferred some physical benefit on those on whom they were performed, that was not their primary purpose. The purpose of such miracles was to establish the fact of Jesus' divinity. They were thus used by the apostles in preaching the gospel to unbelievers (Acts 2:22, 10:38). These miracles have been preserved for us in a permanent record, the New Testament. Thus we have access to the same evidence as those who heard the gospel preached by the apostles.
So when some professed faith-healer modestly (?) claims that his miracles are due to the power of Christ working through him, it raises some questions:
1. Why is such power limited today to just one thing-healing? Why do they not stop tornados? There has been no lack of opportunity. Why not miraculously provide us with the money to pay taxes, as Jesus did (Matt. 17:24-27)? What a boon that would be! And, why do they not raise the dead? Does Jesus not have the power to do all that he did while on earth?
2. Granting (which we do not) that actual miracles of healing are being performed today, we ask, What would be the purpose of such miracles? If it is the physical benefit that is conferred, we are then led to ask, Why is this gift of healing limited to so few men (Oral Roberts, and a few others), and why is there still so much sickness when God sends his material blessings on all men (Acts 14:16,17)?
3. Since the divinity of Jesus was abundantly confirmed by the miracles He performed during His personal ministry (John 3:1,2), what purpose would more miracles serve today? If men will not be convinced by the miracles of the First Century, what assurance is there that they will be convinced by miracles worked today?
The fact of the matter is, the miracles of Jesus, like the miracle of dividing the Red Sea, and feeding Israel on manna, served a temporary purpose. Having accomplished that purpose they do not have to be repeated.
Truth Magazine XXI: 39, pp. 613-614