By Irven Lee
The righteousness of God is revealed in the Bible. Of course, God is righteous, and this is made clear, because He is the perfect standard of righteousness. In addition to this fact, the New Testament reveals God’s plan of righteousness for man (Rom. 1:16-18). The teacher, called the man of God, is well equipped and completely furnished to every good work by the word. It gives all things that pertain to life and godliness. Man should be forever grateful that God has spoken and that He has confirmed His word. We all need His whole counsel (2 Tim. 3:14-18; 2 Peter 1:24; Heb. 1:1,2; 2:14).
An amazing fact about the book of God is that it is as new and fresh today as it was when the apostles and prophets first wrote it for man’s enlightenment. The principles of righteousness are eternal. They are just as relevant now as they ever were, and they need to be proclaimed boldly by stout-hearted men to this corrupt, materialistic generation. It is difficult for man to realize how precious the revelation is and how great his need of it. The devil has been successful in keeping it out of the hearts of the masses through the centuries even though it was written to be read and understood (Eph. 3:1-5). Its influence has always been wholesome in the lives of those who have learned and appreciated its message of wisdom.
Our Lord’s command that the gospel be preached to every creature was carried out in one generation (Mark 16:15; Col. 1:23). There were no methods of rapid travel or means of mass communication, but the teachers had the zeal to walk and carry the message if there were no better way to reach the people. It has been in periods of much gospel preaching that there has been growth and the spreading of the borders of the Lord’s church. Apostasy comes when the church people look away from or lose sight of the revealed message and heaven’s authority expressed in it. In such times men in their ignorance of God’s righteousness go about to establish a righteousness of their own (Rom. 10:1-3).
Beginning with the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. men have given out many official pronouncements concerning religion, and they have often upheld them by the strong arm of the military and judicial powers of established governments, God wills that the governments exist, but it is not their prerogative to decide what is true in religious matters, nor can they force men to accept some prescribed creed of their fellows. Decisions of councils took the place of the Bible to a great extent. The councils handed down official decisions as if the inspired and confirmed testament of Christ were not already official and authoritative. This was a sad turn of events for the sin cursed world. The church must constantly fight against such or the superstitions and false beliefs of the world about it will come inside the body itself and hide the Bible from the people.
Men began to decide matters of religious controversy by vote, and these decisions we call creeds. When Rome fell into the hands of barbarous people ignorance covered the world with a blanket of darkness. Men were not taught to read. The Bible was pushed aside by the customs and beliefs of the pagan people, and the church went into the apostasy of the dark ages. As far as the typical man was concerned, it was as if there were no Bible. The decisions of ecumenical councils and the conformity with the world took the Bible away from the people. Out of this period of darkness there arose a church that was more like the Roman Empire in government and more like the pagans in practice and belief than it was like the Bible pattern for the Lord’s people.
The leading men of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century were, of course, men of courage because they ran the risk of losing their lives in opposing the doctrines and practices of the vicious Roman church. There had been several men who had tried to break that yoke, but they were killed before their efforts got off the ground. Luther and others of his generation succeeded in their efforts because there were many powerful political leaders as bitter toward Rome as were the reformers. That is how they were able to tear the church of the dark ages apart at the seams.
How do comments about the Reformation fit into an article about “The Bible through the Ages”? It is very much on the subject because one chief effort of those who opposed the pope and his dictatorial powers was to get the Bible to the people in a language they could understand. There were few copies of the Bible, and they were in Latin. The people were told that only the priests could understand it. The situation was as if there were no Bible. The people did not see a copy or hear it read. Their religion was pre-digested for them. It included ritualism, superstition, and paganism, dispensed by a money-loving, religio-political machine. One of the greatest things the reformers did was translate the scriptures into the language of the people. The printing press had come on the scene, and Bibles could at least be scattered to the extent that there could be one or more copies in each community or in each secondary school.
There is a very sad story associated with the Reformation in regard to the Bible. Calvin, Luther, Knox, and others taught that all were born totally depraved and incapable of any good because they were all heirs of Adam’s sins. They also taught that the decision as to those who were to be saved had already been settled by God. If they were destined to be saved they would be saved. If the decree of God was that they be damned they would be lost anyway. His grace was unconditional and irresistible. In other words, they were told that the Bible teaches thus and so and it was not necessary that they study it. No doctrine can do more to take the Bible away from the people than the doctrine that all decisions are made in heaven and man is so helpless that he need not try.
The Restoration Movement was a powerful influence in getting the message to the people that the Bible can be read and understood, that man is accountable, that he is invited to learn, and that he may obey as a free moral agent. The leaders of the Restoration taught that God has spoken to the common man, and for the sake of his family and friends, and for the sake of his own soul, each should search the scripture. The devil continued in these years to advance the old Calvinistic doctrine of helplessness. The god of this world blinded men to the Bible by getting them entangled and overcome in lust and pleasure, and by getting them ensnared by the love of money. The immorality and materialism of our pleasure mad age have taken the Bible from the people again. There are millions of copies of the good book, but there are tens of millions who never look inside it. To them it is as if there were no Bible. Many children are not taught its precepts, but they are taught evolution and skepticism.
The gospel is God’s power to salvation. The word is the seed of the kingdom and abundantly able to save. Faith comes by hearing the word, but millions among us are so blinded by the god of this world that they never hear it. The word is the seed of the kingdom, but many are like the wayside soil. People need to search the scripture until they can handle it aright. Keeping the Bible from the people is the way the devil keeps his power. Emotionalism requires no Bible study. It can satisfy without the word. How many ways has the prince of this world tried in keeping the Bible from the people? Resist the devil and reach for the Bible, please.
Truth Magazine XX: 50, pp. 796-797
December 16, 1976