Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 1, 1955
NUMBER 17, PAGE 8-9a

How God Reveals His Will To Man

Cecil B. Douthitt, Brownwood, Texas

God has a will to man-ward (I Thess. 5:18). He has revealed his will in the words of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:11-13; I Tim. 4:1). Man can and must understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph. 5:17).

How is our duty to God made known to us in the scriptures? What methods are used by the Holy Spirit in the revelation of God's will to man? How are eternal principles established? Can a Bible principle exist independent and exclusive of, and separate apart from, the commands, the examples and the necessary inferences of the Bible ? When can an eternal principle be applied to a religious work ?

Our duty is made known to us and eternal principles are established in only three ways in the Bible: by command, by approved example, by necessary inference.

I. Commandments Of God

The divine commands are expressed in three different forms in the scriptures: by direct order, by entreaty, by exhortation.

1. Explicit order. The Jews on Pentecost were commanded to repent and be baptized by direct order (Acts 2:38). God's will concerning the church's duty toward the wicked man at Corinth was made known by divine order. He commanded, "Put away the wicked man from among yourselves" (I Cor. 5:13). The New Testament contains many other commandments of the Lord in the form of plain injunctions or direct orders. Each commandment establishes an eternal principle.

2. Entreaty. To entreat is to beseech, to beg, to implore. Paul commanded the Corinthians to "speak the same thing" by entreaty. He said, "I beseech you" (I Cor. 1:10). In the same way the Christians in Rome were commanded to present their "bodies a living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1). Peter said, "I beseech you . . . . to abstain from fleshly lusts" (I Peter 2:11); this is a commandment, and it has all the authority and power behind it that any direct order has.

3. Exhortation. To exhort is to urge by advice, warning or promise. Paul said, "I exhort . . . . that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men" (I Tim. 2:1). This is a command in the form of an exhortation. Peter makes known or reveals an elder's duty to "tend the flock" by a commandment in the form of an exhortation (I Peter 5:1-2). In II Peter 3:11-12 he exhorts to "holy living and godliness" by a warning. This, too, is a command with all the authority of an explicit order or divine entreaty.

II. Approved Examples

God's will concerning the appointment of qualified men to the work of elders is revealed to us through divine example (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). In II Cor. 8 and 9 we have approved examples of many churches' sending donations to churches in need for a work to which the receiving churches bore a relationship that the contributing churches did not bear. In Phil. 4:16 and II Cor. 11:8 God reveals by approved example that it is his will and the churches' duty to send wages to gospel preachers in distant lands. These examples are as authoritative as the commandments of God, and eternal principles are revealed and established by them.

III. Necessary Inferences

Jesus appeared to Saul on the Damascus road and said, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" (Acts 22: 7). We know that Paul at that time was not persecuting Jesus in person; but he was persecuting the church. Therefore, we know by necessary inference that Saul persecuted Jesus by persecuting the Lord's church. This necessary inference reveals and establishes an eternal principle which applies for all time to come wherever the church is persecuted.

Members of the church in Corinth were saying, "I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ" (I Cor. 1:12). "Were ye baptized into the name of Paul?" was one of the questions put to them to prove they were not "of Paul". Therefore, we conclude by necessary inference that a person must be baptized into the name of Christ in order to be "of Christ", or to belong to Christ. And this principle, revealed and established by this necessary inference, is applicable wherever men may be for all time to come.

Many inferences have been drawn, which are not necessary inferences. For example, some have inferred that infants in the house of Lydia or in the house of the jailor were baptized, because the Bible says "her household" and "all his house" were baptized (Acts 16: 15, 34). But this inference is not indispensable; it is not necessary; because in many families there are no infants, and the Bible nowhere implies that either Lydia or the jailor had an infant.

Some have inferred that Philippi or Ephesus was the "sponsoring church" for Paul's missionary work, and that one or the other of these churches collected money from other churches and sent it on to Paul. But this is only a wild guess. The inference is not indispensable; it is as "far-fetched" as the infant baptism inference in the house of the jailor.

Some have inferred that one of the churches in Macedonia (nobody seems willing to tell which one) was made the depository of funds from many churches for that Judean charity work (II Cor. 8 and 9), and then this unidentified Macedonian church sent the money to the elders of the church in Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem elders then took control of the money, and distributed it among the elders of other churches in Judea as they saw fit. Such inferences are too fantastic to be called inferences at all, much less indispensable inferences. They are only wild guesses.

IV. The Foundation Of All Bible Principles

The commands, examples and indispensable inferences are the foundation of all eternal principles. Where there is no command, example, or necessary inference there can be no Bible principle.

In the Lufkin debate brother E. R. Harper said:

There are four ways to teach a thing: one is by a command; the other is by example; the other is by necessary inference; and the other is by a principle eternal."

This erroneous theory that the scriptures "teach a thing — by a principle eternal", apart from and in addition to the commands, examples and necessary inferences of the Bible, opens wide the flood gate for every religious innovation within the scope of human imagination. "A principle eternal" cannot so much as be known to any man on earth (much less "teach a thing"), except through the commands, examples and necessary inferences of the Bible.

Brother Harper argues that we have no command, example or necessary inference for teaching the Bible in classes; that our sole authority is "principle eternal". How wrong he is! Does he not know that class teaching is commanded in Titus 2:4, and that teaching by women is restricted to class teaching? Does he not remember the example of Priscilla and Aquila in taking Apollos unto them and teaching him the "way of God more accurately", while they had Apollos in a class all to himself? (Acts 18:26). This command and this example establishes an eternal principle, which can be applied everywhere that Christians can find or form a class to teach. If Ernest ever meets an anti-Sunday school brother in debate, he will be greatly handicapped, unless he renounces his "principle eternal" theory.

That a gospel preacher will defend a religious practice in public debate, while admitting there is no Bible command, example or necessary inference for the practice, is unusual. Not many, if any, except Ernest Harper, will do it.

V. The Application Of Bible Principles

The principles of the Bible can be applied only to things analogous or parallel to the elements in the command, example or necessary inference that reveals and establishes the principle. A few illustrations of this truth may help to understand it, and therefore are presented as follows:

The command to penitent believers to be baptized for the remission of sins reveals an eternal principle which applies to every alien sinner on earth, who believes and repents. But the principles cannot apply to sinners who do not believe or who do not repent, because they are not parallel to the penitent believers of the command.

The apostolic precedent of appointing qualified men to the eldership establishes an eternal principle which has an application in every church with qualified men in it. But the principle cannot apply to churches that have no men qualified for the work. The qualified men in the divine examples (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) are not analogous with unqualified men in any church.

II Cor. 8 and 9 and many other passages present an approved example of many churches' sending contributions to poor congregations that were not able to do the work which was strictly their own. Taking care of their own destitute members was the work of the churches in Judea. They were related to this work in a way that no other church was related. But they were not able to do their own work. Therefore many other churches sent funds the elders of these poor churches in Judea to enable them to do this work which was their own.

This example reveals an eternal principle which applies wherever a church is not able to do its own work. But this principle can have no divine application whatever to a church's receiving donations from other churches, unless the receiving church is an object of charity; because a church that is not an object of charity is not parallel at all to the Judean churches included in the divine example.

A church or an individual may be poor, and yet not be an object of charity. The churches in Macedonia were poor (II Cor. 8:1-1), but they still had "power" to give; they were not objects of charity. "For according to their power, I bear witness, yea and beyond their power, they gave of their own accord" to the destitute churches in Judea that not only had no "power" to give to others, but had not the "power" to provide for their own. (II Cor. 8:3). The condition of the Macedonian churches was not comparable to the condition of the Judean churches; therefore, this principle of receiving from other churches could not apply to the Macedonian churches or to any other church that is not an object of charity. Men today wrest the scriptures "unto their own destruction" (II Peter 3:16) when they try to apply this eternal principle to a strong church's receiving donations from other churches for a work to which all are related equally. Brethren, "the judgment lies ahead of us". How careful we ought to be, lest we wrest the scriptures!