1891: Oracles of God



Brethren Of The Graduating Class :—When Peter gives his charge to those who have the gift of public religious address, he urges them to speak as oracles of God. What he means by "oracles of God" is not at all doubtful. He alludes to the utterances of the Old Testament. Stephen had spoken of the law of Moses as "living oracles,"—communications that are not dead and ineffective, but that have power to awaken and move the heart. Paul had pointed out the great advantage of the Jews in that " they were intrusted with the oracles of God,"—by which he meant not only the

legal utterances of the Old Testament, but the prophetic utterances as well. And in the Epistle to the Hebrews we find the "first principles of the oracles of God" distinguished from the more advanced and complex teaching of the Scripture,—it being all the while understood that those oracles embrace God's whole saving revelation, all his disclosures to men in Christ. So we may properly regard them as including the New Testament as well as the Old. If the Old Testament is God's word, the New Testament is none the less so. We are to regard the whole Bible, in all its parts, as "the oracles of God."

Three things seem implied in this designation of Scripture. First, its divinity ; in every part of Scripture God speaks to us. The words may have come out of the depths of a human experience ; a human being may have clothed the thought with a style and language peculiar to himself; yet he is not the only speaker; his words are the vehicle of divine communications; through all his utterances the mind and will of God are made known to us. Secondly, the use of this phrase, " oracles of God," implies that the Scriptures are truth and only truth. The "oracles" are not heathen oracles, ambiguous, deceptive, a mixture of truth and error. They are the word of God, that "cannot be broken" or set aside, and that "liveth and abideth forever." Every part of it, when rightly interpreted and taken in connection with every other part, is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness." And that because, thirdly, the "oracles of God" are authoritative. They possess just that element which perverse human nature needs and which fallible human instruction lacks, namely, the mandatory and binding force of divine authority. God gives the witness of miracle and the witness of the Spirit to prove their truth. The word of God is quick and powerful; Christ's sayings are spirit and life; by them we are to be judged at the last day.

Here then are three characteristics of the Scriptures as oracles of God, namely, divinity, truth, authority. How solemn, in the light of this, appears the injunction of the apostle that we who are called to speak for Christ should speak as the oracles of God! That injunction means two things: it respects the what and the how of our preaching ; the Bible is to furnish both the matter and the maimer of it. On the one hand we have a definite message from God to proclaim. That message is no cunningly devised fable; it is entirely distinguishable from our own thoughts and theories; it is a body of facts with regard to Christ's incarnation, death, and resurrection; it is God's revelation of atonement and justification through his Son. This message is given us in the Scriptures; we are to speak what they speak; and, so speaking, our word shall be God's word, and it shall not return to us void, but it shall accomplish God's purpose in the redemption of men. Then, on the other hand, the manner of the preacher is to be modeled after the Scriptures also. Do they speak persuasively? Then, even by the terrors of the Lord, the preacher is to persuade men. Do they speak authoritatively? Then the preacher is to utter the divine commands also, declaring the whole counsel of God. Such was the preaching of Christ our Lord: *' He spoke as one having authority, and not as the scribes."

My young brethren, I congratulate you upon your vocation. You are stewards of the mysteries of God; God's disclosures concerning his Son are put into your charge, the truth that makes men wise unto salvation. It is an objective revelation, a body of doctrine with which you are not to tamper, but which you are only to proclaim. You are ambassadors, and the ambassador does not make his message, he only delivers it. When he preaches the gospel he has God for his backer; his business is not to demonstrate but to promulgate; his success is measured, not by his popularity with his hearers, but by his faithfulness to the truth.

And as the substance of his message is given to him, so the power to deliver it is given to him also. There is a Spirit not his own, as there is a word not his own. The Holy Spirit of God can reinforce his weakness, can dissipate his unbelief, can infuse courage, can impart understanding, so that his utterance partakes of the divinity, the truth, the authority, of the Scripture itself.

To stand between the living and the dead, to be the mouthpiece of almighty God, to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, to this you have been called. Value this calling more than any human dignity. Be faithful to it. It will cost you something to be true to the Bible. Many are the modern scribes who are substituting their own eccentric speculations for the truth of Scripture. Many are the sermons based upon the dictum of some scientific rabbi rather than upon the word of God. And therefore many a pulpit is losing all its air of authority, and is becoming a mere lecture platform. The world has no need of such. If the preacher has no authoritative communication from God to give me, I prefer to read at home,—my own impressions are as good as his. But if the preacher only utters God's words, and is possessed by God's Spirit when he speaks, then his vocation is the sublimest of all on earth. Felix trembles before him; reformations begin; the power of God is felt; the kingdom of God is set up in human hearts.

A peculiar tie of affection unites us, the members of the Faculty, to this class that now goes out from the Seminary. You have been faithful students, while at the same time you have been independent searchers after truth. We exhort you to the same faithfulness and independence in your coming ministry. We trust that increasing experience and study will show you that our teaching has been essentially the teaching of Scripture. But if you find that the Scripture and we part company, then I urge you to follow, not us, but the Scripture. Man's word shall pass away, but God's word shall abide. Set yourselves to know and to proclaim that everlasting word. And may the Holy Spirit so instruct and energize you that, both as to the matter and as to the manner of your preaching, you shall be enabled to speak " as oracles of God."