Yesterday, I was on a panel, discussing the inerrancy of the Bible, and as it was coming to an end, Mark Dever turns to me and says, “Okay John, just tell these folks, these 8,000 folks, why you believe the Bible is inerrant. Why do you believe the Bible is true? Just give us a short answer to why you believe the Bible is true.” Which I was very happy to do.
Here’s what came out of my mouth: “That kind of question always requires a layered answer.” There’s a lot of levels at which one believes things.
Reason 1: Faithful Parents
So, here’s the first reason. My momma told me it was true.” That’s what I said, and they all laughed. Mark didn’t laugh, and he said, “That’s an important answer.” And I said, “I know it’s important; it’s the most fundamental one.” Well, maybe the second most fundamental. I’ll get to the most fundamental one, because it’s a biblical answer. Paul writes to Timothy and he says, “Remember from whom,” and he means Lois and Eunice, “Remember from whom you’ve learned these things,” (cf. 2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:15). That’s why you should keep on believing them. If other arguments start to get in the way, at least remember that. Remember what she was like. In fact, I was going to do this, but I forgot. I brought along a picture of my mom, and I was going to say, “I wonder if we can just stick it up there,” but maybe another time. I was going to let you see what she looked like when I was young. That was the first answer I gave, and it’s a biblical answer. It’s true. Let’s just be honest. We are who we are because of where we came from. All kinds of other things have happened to us along the way, which you just heard from Mary, but we are profoundly stamped for good and ill by our backgrounds and by our parents. And I had a mom who taught me, modeled for me, that the Bible was true.
Reason 2: God Enabled Your Belief
I’ll mention a few of the other layers that I gave. The one at the bottom is: God enables you to see. That’s why you ultimately believe the Bible. The God of this age has blinded the mind of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the knowledge of the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. So, we’re blind and then verse six, “The God who said let light shine out of darkness has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” And that’s how you see him when you open the Bible.
“God enables you to see. That’s why you ultimately believe the Bible.”
One day, it’s boring, it’s meaningless, it’s mythological, it’s useless, and the next day there’s glory on every page because the One that it’s about is authenticating Himself to us. That’s why most of you believe the Bible, because there was a point where as you were reading, you couldn’t not believe Him. He pressed himself in on you as a Saviour and a Lord, and out from that grew confidence in what He said. And out from that grew confidence in what He said about what others said in the book. And so, you began to be a Bible woman. That’s the way it happens. It’s not very theological, and very intellectual, and very academic for most people.Very rarely does anyone come to believe the Bible through academic arguments. We come through experiential ways.
Reason 3: Paul’s Personal Testimony
Another reason I gave was that the Apostle Paul has won my confidence like Jesus has. So, if something happened 10 years ago, and you weren’t there, and you’re trying to find out if it really happened. It’s a little skewed in our day because we have videos, and cameras, and recorders so you can ask for that kind of evidence. Well, just put yourself back two centuries before any of that or 20 centuries, and you need to verify whether something happened, like your life hangs on it. It does, and you don’t have any immediate evidence. What have you got? There’s only one thing you got−testimony. All you have is testimony. Somebody says they saw it. They write you a note: “I saw it; I was there.” Now, how do you decide? Very simple. Are they credible? So, you come to the testimony, you come to the witnesses, and you have to decide. Your life hangs on it. There is no fence-sitting in life on this issue. You go against and die, or you go for and live. There’s no middle ground. You have to decide if you are going to follow the witnesses.
One of the main witnesses in the New Testament is Paul. He wrote 13 of the 27 letters. I’ve read Paul’s letters hundreds of times. I know my friend Paul, and I trust him. Along comes a liberal theologian when I’m in Germany, and he casts down here and there. And I said, “Okay, I’m studying you fellow. What kind of person are you? How smart are you? How loving are you? How kind are you? How coherent are you?” And then, I go to Paul, and I say, “I know you.” And I put the two together and say, “I’m going with Paul.”
This is a human being. He’s writing what he says he saw, and you have to say “This is an idiot” or “I’m going there with you.” You’ve heard the argument for Jesus: liar, lunatic, or Lord. I think that’s a really good argument. He’s a liar, lunatic, or Lord. Works the same with Paul, only you don’t say Lord. You say liar, lunatic, or faithful witness. It does work. Go home and read from Romans through 2Timothy, Titus, and ask, “Can I call this man foolish or does his witness certify for me that this man’s not crazy and that this man’s a reliable witness?”
Reason 4: Only God’s Word Successfully Slays Sin
I only had five minutes yesterday when I was talking about this, but those are some of the layers. I did mention one other. Where in life do you get power to kill sin and to put to death this inveterate, selfish human being that we all are? There’s only one power; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. There’s an ongoing witness in life as you walk with this book, and you realize, “I’m not going anywhere but here to fight against my selfishness and my lust and my pride and self pity.”
So, I’m coming off of a very exciting conference in Louisville and coming to a very exciting conference here, and I’m really honored to be with you. About a third of those guys were pastors; none of you is a pastor, probably. Does that mean that that group is more influential than this group? That’s a very tricky question. Influence and public authority aren’t the same, are they? I have argued in public that probably in the history of the world, mothers are the most influential people on the planet. I think that’s probably true; I can’t measure it. I know you’re not all married, and you don’t all have kids. And there are other ways. In other words, you can’t quantify influence in manhood and womanhood, or in vocational roles, you just can’t. Just know that as a human being, married, single, mom, grandma, or whatever, your influence is immeasurable if you’re saturated with this Book.
I have a real high sense of what I want to happen tonight, in your heart and your mind, for the sake of the world. Families, neighborhoods, institutions, job places, husbands, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, society, nations — out of this room. Don’t underestimate what we’re about here. Nothing is more crucial for a woman’s being who God made you to be and knowing how to make your life count, than being saturated with the Bible, nothing.
True God-Knowledge, True Self-Knowledge, True Womanhood
Everything was made by God; therefore, everything is sustained by God, determined by God, defined by God, including you. And therefore, you cannot know who you are without God. You can’t know who you are individually; you can’t know what womanhood is, unless you’re saturated with His Word telling you. There are a thousand people interpreting womanhood for you today. On every channel, on every billboard, and on every internet site, a message is coming to you about the nature of your gender and your own individual being. You will make a decision about that. You will be defined. And the only the question is, by what? And I’m going to do my best to persuade you to live here. You’ll be what God made you to be, and it will be glorious if you live here. Only you can discover the individuality of that.
“Everything was made by God; therefore, everything is sustained by God, determined by God, defined by God, including you. And therefore, you cannot know who you are without God.”
I’m kind of working from general to specific in this message. That was all the introduction. I’m going to move from truth to Bible. The question of truth. I want you to be women who really, really prize external, objective truth. Mary just said, “My spirit resonated with the Baptists, but I wanted to know the truth.” That’s a good sentence. Whether this is a Baptist or not. Oh, for more women and men who speak that way. “I just wanted to know what’s true!” An assumption behind that is that there is such a thing. You can’t assume that today with the people you are talking to at work, but I want to persuade you that it’s a good idea to assume that.
Michael Novak writing in First Things says,
“They say ‘no such thing as truth’. They even teach it to the little ones. ‘Truth is bondage.’ ‘Believe what seems right to you.’ ‘There are as many truths as there are individuals.’ ‘Follow your feelings, do as you please, get in touch with yourself.’ ‘Do what feels comfortable.’ Those who speak this way, prepare the jails of the 21st century. They do the work of tyrants.”
The Jail of Relativism Breeds Instability
Now, why did he say those two things? In other words, if you have the mindset of relativism, post¬–modernism, in which you say, “There’s no such thing as absolute truth; I have a truth; you have a truth. Truth is infinitely malleable, and everybody should just own his own authentic truth to try to conform to external truth.” Bondage. He says, “People that talk that way are preparing jails.” Secondly, he says, “People that talk that way are acting like tyrants.” Why? He didn’t say why but I think I know why, and you probably could figure it out if you just thought a few minutes about it. I think he’s saying with regards to jail something like this.
“If you raise generations of young people who don’t believe there is external objective truth to which they must conform, and their psyche, their ego, is the center of the world determining the truth for what they will believe and do, a lot of them are going to live like that and go to jail. If you don’t put them in jail, they will rob from you, take your purse if you leave it here, or kill you or rape you. That’s what they’ll do because the truth for them is that’s satisfaction. And the jails are full of people that have not been brought to the point where they will submit to reality outside of them. They become reality and define reality and do reality from inside out. There is no bondage from law or God or mom.
The Work of Tyrants Breeds Anarchy
What about, “Do the work of tyrants?” Why did he say that? You talk relativism and no truth, and everybody’s got their own truth. Do the work of tyrants or prepare the world for tyrants. Here is the reason. Think about this historically. If enough people begin to live out their autonomy with no submission to truth and reality outside themselves, eventually you will have mobs. You will have anarchy. Each one doing what’s right in his own eyes. And what happens in anarchy? Mob rule; nobody can tell who’s going to do what in the city anymore. You can’t tell whether they’re going to drive on one side of the road or the other, whether your house is going to be in flames before you get up, whether you’re going to have the purse ripped off of you as you walk on the street. There’s no control anymore. Everything’s out of control, and what do societies at that point want more than anything? They don’t want freedom more than anything. Freedom gets you killed in this society. They want a ruler, who will kill those people or throw them in jail. “Just give us order. Just give us order. We will have order at any cost. We just can’t live without it.” That’s true; that’s why America won’t survive if we don’t have people who are operating submissively towards reality and truth outside themselves.
That was just a flavor of how important the sheer question of truth is. I haven’t gotten to the Bible yet. Is there an external reality to which you must submit because it’s absolute? Now, God is absolute. He was there before anything was there; He brought into being what is; therefore, His creation totally depends on Him. We must decide if we will be what He defines us to be, or if we will be in rebellion the rest of our lives, which will bring only heartache and chaos to us. That’s really big.
Six Serving Men
Now, here’s the way I’m going to approach this. I’m going to take a little poem here from Rudyard Kipling and discern three questions in it. Here’s goes the little poem. You might have used this with your kids.
I keep six honest serving-men. They taught me all I knew; Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who. I send them over land and sea, I send them east and west; But after they have worked for me, I give them all a rest.
Six serving men. What, Why, When, How, Where, Who. Sounds like inductive Bible study.
That’s Rudyard Kipling. When I finished teaching six years at Bethel in 1980 and became a pastor here, my Greek students gave me a t-shirt with two lines on the back, and the lines were, “Asking questions is the key to understanding.” That was their summary of my legacy, and I was very happy with that. I didn’t always try to tell them what they should believe. I wanted them to learn how to ask the right questions and find for themselves the right answers.
Therefore, I’m going build the rest of this message around three of those serving men: Why, What, and How. If you’re at Bethlehem and you listen carefully over time, you’ll realize that’s all I do in preaching. I ask questions. The ‘Why’ one is always the most important for me, but then the ‘How’ one is practical, and the ‘What’, you don’t even know what’re talking about unless you say what. So, what, why, and how are pretty much in every sermon. I want to know what we’re talking about; I want know why you care, and why anybody out there should care. How do you do anything with this? Make a difference in your life. These are just massive questions that you should ask about almost everything you deal with.
I’ll give you the summary:
- Why should we care about a passion for truth? You and the next generation, over which most of you have significant influence.
- What is the sum of truth? Why I should care about it, be passionate about it. What is it? What is truth? What is the sum of truth?
- How can we come to know it?
1. Why Should We Care For Truth?
First question, why should you care about passing along to the next generation and becoming more fully yourself, a woman who is passionate for the truth we’ve been talking about? Just truth. If you are indifferent to truth, Jesus won’t have anything to do with you. He won’t come alongside you because he doesn’t like people like that.
Answer 1: Jesus Doesn’t Like Those Who Hate Truth
I’m going to give you a story to show you that. This is serious. That’s pretty strong. Matthew 21:23–27 is one of my favorite stories. It’s profoundly defining for me as a person and a pastor, and I think it should be for you as a person as well.
And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.”
This is amazing. “I’m going to give you a chance to show me how you feel and think about truth before I share truth with you”. It talks about don’t throw your pearls before swine. It’s like a swine test. It’s what it feels like to me.
Verse 25, “The baptism of John,” Jesus says, “from where did it come? From heaven or from men?”
Okay, they’ve heard the question, they huddled up.
They discussed it among themselves saying, “If we say from heaven, he will say to us, why didn’t you believe on him? But. If we say from men, we’re afraid of the crowd for they all hold John to be a prophet.”
They’re afraid of some mob violence here or some shame, so they answered Jesus,
“We don’t know.” And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I give these things.” I don’t talk to people like that.
Like what? What’s wrong here? Where’s truth? Okay, He just asked about the baptism of John. What do we think about it? Heavenly, godly, good thing, bad thing? Just human? If we say this is total expedience here, not one rib or shred of care about the truth, just skin and ego. If we say from heaven, He’s going to shame us. He’s going to say, “Why didn’t you guys believe in him then?” And we won’t know what to say. We’ll look like fools. I don’t like to look like a fool.” Not looking like a fool is more important than truth for a lot of people. Then the other one asks, “How about if we say it’s from man?”
“Not looking like a fool is more important than truth for a lot of people.”
“Yeah, but the crowd thinks He’s a prophet. If we say it’s from Man, they could stone us. Are they going to laugh at us? Are they going to drive us out? Are they going to shout us down? We’ll look absolutely ridiculous. So, what are we going to say?”
“Just tell Him we don’t know.”
“But we know. We don’t think it is heavenly.”
“Don’t say that. Just tell Him we don’t know.”
Don’t Be Merely Pragmatic
What do you call this in America? Pragmatism. Sheer, truth-less pragmatism. That’s everywhere in America, and Jesus won’t deal with them. This is why I’m starting with truth. You have to be women who care, or He just won’t deal with you. If He comes to you ready to offer Himself in truth to you, and you posture yourself for ego or for safety and don’t care about truth, He’ll say, “That’s the way you want to be. I can’t negotiate that with you. I’m a man of truth. I give truth where it’s valued. If you don’t have any value for truth, if you value your skin and your ego more than you value my contribution to your truth, then OK.” That’s really big.
My answer to my first serving man, Why: Why should you care? Why should you care to be a woman of truth? To use that sentence Mary used to say, “My heart was going with the Baptists, but I need to know the truth. I need to know what’s real, what’s out there. If it’s hard, I’m going to embrace it. If it’s easy, I’m going to embrace it. If it beats me up, I’m going to embrace it. I’m going to be a woman of the truth.” Jesus really gets close to people like that. He’ll go a long way with sinners like that.
2. What’s the Sum of Truth?
Question number two: What? What is it? What’s the sum of truth? And I have a text with each of those. The text for the ‘Why’ answer was Matthew 21:23-27 because what I say here doesn’t really matter. What God says really matters, so if I don’t have a text under these, then you should say, “Wonder why there wasn’t any text under that one? Must be an opinion.”
Truth Is God’s View
Number two: What’s the sum of the truth? What do you even mean when you say, “Truth.” Now, here’s my main text: Psalm 119:160:
“The sum of your Word is truth. And every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”
Now, there are two halves to that psalm. That’s the way the psalms are. They’re parallel, lots of times symmetrical like this. The first half, “The sum of your Word is truth,” sounds collective. Like, “If you want to know what is truth, this is truth. This is truth. This whole thing right here.” And the next line is, “And every one of your righteous rules, your statutes, are enduring forever because it’s true too.” So, there’s a summation of truth, your word, and there’s an individualization, every one of them is truth. So what is truth? Truth is God’s mind, thought, word, about anything you’re wondering about the truth of.
“Truth is a statement that corresponds to the real — God's mind, thought, or word about anything.”
In other words, you can’t have a thing called truth if you don’t have a thing called real. Truth is a statement that corresponds to the real. If you don’t have real, this is nothing out there. This is nothing. Then, words are clearly constructs of your own being, which is where most of our academics in American universities are. If you lose the real, out there, the ultimate real, the very concept of truth becomes inward, not there. Whereas, I think I’m always dealing with God and my concept of truth, and it’s: Is it what He thinks about my marriage? Is it what He thinks about this text? I’m a preacher. I’m supposed to not just say anything I feel like saying. When I read words, I want to know: Are they what God meant? You’ve got to have a ‘real’ out there to measure your own whirling brain about. And He’s really out there, and He’s really spoken. Therefore, we have truth−
“the sum of your word is truth.” () “Sanctify them in the truth,” Jesus said. “Your Word is truth.” ()
Truth Conforms to God
God is ultimate reality, and truth is what conforms to Him. The place that this reality and its representation in truth become most profoundly one is Jesus Himself.
“In the beginning was the Word”, (John 1:1) the revelation. The real going public. The real communicating. It eventually takes form of propositions in a book, but most fundamentally, the real became us.
“In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. And we beheld His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”
And so, the ultimate truth revelation is Jesus Himself. And then, what Jesus does becomes the heart of truth and what He says becomes the heart of truth.
“I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth,” Jesus said (John 18:37)
“My testimony is true, for I know where I come from.” (John 8:14)
“My judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. The One who seeks the glory of Him who sent Him is true, and in Him there is no falsehood.” (John 7:18)
So, He was the truth, He was the Word, and He came to speak the truth. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
Jesus’s Inerrant Bible
We believe that when you go to this book all of it is true, but it has a center. It has a hero, and He is the Word, and all these words are meant to make Him plain. All these words are meant to highlight Him. This is a book about Jesus from beginning to end, as it leads to Him and flows from Him, Jesus Himself. If you say, “What was Jesus’s view of the law?” This is interesting. Simon Gathagan, the most heavyweight scholar on our panel yesterday, believes in inerrancy. He’s at Cambridge University in England. This is unheard of. Revival has come. A teacher at Cambridge University believes in the inerrancy of the Bible. He said,
“My main reason is because historically, I cannot deny that was Jesus’s view of His Bible. I can argue in any scholarly setting, any university in the world, that that is a fact. That Jesus viewed His Bible, mainly the Old Testament, that way.”
Heaven and Earth may pass away. Not a jot, not a tittle, not a stroke, not a cross of a ‘t’ or dot of an ‘i’ will fall from the law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18). That’s Jesus talking. And so the scholar says,
“Okay, if I’m going to be submissive to Jesus as Lord of my life, and historically Jesus had that view of the Bible, and before Jesus left and went back to heaven, He chooses these apostles, and He says, especially in the gospel of John, ‘I will send the Spirit of truth who will guide you into all truth, so the first half of your Bible I’m endorsing, and the second half of your Bible I’m inspiring.’“
And that’s how God works. You start at the center with Jesus, and you work your way out to Jesus’s powerful view of the Old Testament, and Jesus’s preparation to make the New Testament authoritative, and then you have the apostles saying,
“And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (1 Corinthians 2:13)
This is a remarkably consistent testimony. So, my answer to the second question of what; first why, why should you care about truth? Because if you’re the kind of person who’s expediently and pragmatically manipulating your language to avoid problems and never dealing with truth, Jesus won’t come and deal seriously with you. That’s a big reason. And the second question of what, what is truth? The sum of Your Word is truth. I am the truth, and I have endorsed the first half of this Bible, and I have endorsed the second half of this Bible. This Bible is the faithful testimony to Me, who is the ultimate truth, and all that I did in dying for you and rising again. That’s question number two.
We have an affirmation of faith here. The elder affirmation of faith goes like this,
“We believe that the Bible, consisting of the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible Word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts. We believe that God’s intentions revealed in the Bible are the supreme and the final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right. In matters not addressed by the Bible, what is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.”
Every elder at Bethlehem signs that. In other words, we know that all the questions we have to answer in 21st century America, they aren’t all in the Book. Movies weren’t invented, internet wasn’t invented, and abortion isn’t mentioned per se, and lots of lots of things. The Bible is not worthless on those things, because it’s got hundreds of trajectories and principles and transformative views of your life and heart and society and world, that if you’re saturated with this Book, you can discern all kinds of moral issues your kids are going to raise for you.
3. How Can You Know The Bible Is Reliable?
Finally, How? How can you, with integrity and authenticity, come to know this is so, that this is it? Know that Christ is who He said He was, and know that this Book is a reliable guide to reality. How can you know?
Believing things without reason doesn’t honor the worth of what you’re believing. If you say, “I believe in God,” and somebody says, “Why?” And you say, “No reason, I just do.” God’s not honored by that answer. It might as well be green cheese. “I believe in green cheese.” “Why?” “No reason, just do.” So, whether God or cheese— the only way you can honor the person you are believing or think exists is to have a reason. The reason will be one that gives Him some credit or credibility or trustworthiness.
If you’re walking down a street and a guy, total stranger, walks up to you and has a sack of $10,000 in cash, gives it to you and says, “Would you deposit this for me? Here’s my account number, here’s my PIN number, and I’ve already signed the thing, just deposit it for me.” And starts to walk away. And you say, “Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. I don’t even know you. Why are you trusting me with this $10,000?” And he says, “No reason, I just picked you out. There’s no reason whatsoever.” You are not honored by that.
“You’re crazy.” That’s all you’d think. “You’re crazy. I’m not honored by this. You’re stupid.” However, rewind the film and do it again. He comes up to you and he says, “Would you deposit this for me? And I’ve written it out, cash, here’s the PIN number.” And you say “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Why are you trusting me with this?” And he says, “Well you don’t know me, but we work in the same place. We have for a year, and I’ve watched you. I’ve watched you for a year. I trust you.” How do you feel? Pretty good, and you should. There’s a reason. The reason imparts honor to you. “I’ve watched you. You’re faithful, you keep your word, you’re honest. I know you, I’ve watched you.” And that’s the way it is with God. If you say, “Here, take my life.” and He says, “Why would you trust me?” And you say, “I don’t know, no reason.” He’s not honored by that. Reasons really matter. So, how do you help a 9-year-old, or yourself, come to a credible belief that this is so, that this is true? That’s huge.
When I was in the seminary, you take courses on apologetics, lots of reasons why you believe the Bible, answers to all the objections against God and the Bible. I had a teacher who was so wise, very bright, and knew all those arguments. He would help us read the right books on those arguments. But every year, he had a special class, and he invited all kinds of college students to come who were thinking about going to Fuller Seminary at the time. And it was called “A Rational Faith for Non-Historians.” Meaning, and he told us why he did this, he said,
“I do this because I know that 90% of the people who come to faith in Christ and the Bible do not come through rational historical argumentation. I mean, just be honest. If I required that you stand here right now and just talk for five minutes about historical evidences for the infallibility of the Bible, most of you would be at a loss, even though lots of you learned those once upon a time, but they go out of your head. They go out of my head, and I’m supposed to be an expert in these things. If I have to give a lecture on that, I have to go read the books again.”
Well, what kind of confidence is that? I have to go read the books again. “Do you believe in God?” “Well let me go read the books again.” “You believe the Bible?” “Well, I’ll have to go read the books that I read in seminary.”
If we cannot have a warranted confidence another way, we won’t have one. That way just won’t cut it. Maybe 2% of the human beings in the world will be able to maintain their faith by having ready at hand with every demonic temptation some nice historical reasons.
So, he gave a lecture, which was very profound to me, and he pointed me to Johnathan Edwards, the most important dead theologian in my life outside the Bible. I’m going to read you a paragraph that was enormously important in helping me know whether I could be a pastor or not. Because while I was teaching in school, I felt like I could always do the academic thing, give the arguments, and therefore, maintain some credibility for the faith. I knew that if I were to stand in this pulpit week in and week out with real, ordinary human beings, that was not the way it could be done.
How do you preach on the gospel of John without having an apologetics lesson every Sunday, which I don’t. Here’s what Edwards wrote:
“Unless men may come to a reasonable, solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the gospel by the internal evidences of it, by a sight of its glory, it is impossible that those who are illiterate and unacquainted with history should have any thorough and effectual conviction of it at all. They may, without this, see a great deal of probability of it. It may be reasonable for them to give such credit to what learned men and historians tell them, but to have a conviction so clear and evident and assuring as to be sufficient to induce them with boldness to sell all, confidently and fearlessly, to run the venture of the loss of all things, and of enduring the most exquisite and long-continued torments, and to trample the world underfoot and count all things as dung for Christ, the evidence they have from history cannot be sufficient.”
That’s true. I think it’s true for every scholar, as well as ordinary person. But, you know what you get from studying history? Probabilities. Somebody can always come along with your six arguments for the resurrection from the dead, your six reasons why the tomb was empty and say, “But what about this? Have you thought of this?”
Now, probability is great. We live a lot of our lives by probability. You walk across the street assuming a car is going to stop at the red light, but when your life hangs on the truth of this Book, and somebody’s got a pistol to your head, you need more than probability. You need something really profound inside that has persuaded you, that’s valid, rationally responsible. So, that’s what Edwards said, and at 24 years old, I wasn’t quite sure what it was or how to say it. I felt it, I felt like, “I believe. My mama told me so. She was a good woman.”
There are two texts that I’ll give you for this argument of Edwards.
“Unless men may come to a reasonable, solid persuasion and conviction of the truth of the gospel by the internal evidences of it, by a sight of its glory, it is impossible for the illiterate and unacquainted to have conviction.”
Just picture yourself as a missionary in Papua New Guinea. You penetrate a tribe, you spend a year or two with them, you begin to tell the whole story of the Bible. They are riveted with interest. You get to the cross, and they believe. How’s that? They don’t know anything about historiography. They don’t know anything about rational argumentation for the inerrancy of the Bible or for the resurrection. They just have heard a story, faithfully told from an authoritative book, and they surrender to it. Is that rationally responsible? It is. But why is it? That’s what we need an answer for, and I’ll give you two passages of scripture of how that works.
Jesus comes and says, “Who do men say that I am?” Some say John the Baptist and some say Jeremiah, “But, who do you say that I am?” So Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
He’s expressing a true conviction about the man standing in front of him that looks like every other man. “You’re the Son of God.” Well, where’d that come from? Here’s Jesus’ answer, verse 17:
“Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah. Flesh and blood... “
Now, that just means ordinary human existence, rational, emotional human existence minus God.
“Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
I don’t think that meant God the Father whispered in his ear, “He’s the Son of God,” and didn’t whisper it in anybody else’s ear. What He did was open the eyes of his heart so that all the evidences that were really standing there in front of him, the way He taught, and the way He acted, and the way He related to His Father, showed with self-evidencing glory, “You are the Son of God.”
There was no whispering. “I see it. I’m not trusting a voice; I’m trusting you. You’re the Son of God, and I see it. I know it because I see it.” Judas didn’t.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
That’s one text. Here’s a more important one. This is right in the top 10 of my texts in the Bible. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. Everything is here to explain why Edwards said what he said, why you don’t have to be an academic historian to have a rock solid, rationally credible conviction that Jesus is who He said He is, and this is His book. Here’s what it says. 2 Corinthians 4:3—
“Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case, the God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from... ”
Now, I’m going to read a phrase here, and then it’s going to be repeated in verse six, two verses later, a little differently. It is enormously important.
“The God of this age is keeping you blind, keeping you uncertain, making you say, ‘I don’t know. I can’t tell. I’m not sure. I don’t know if I should commit my life to this. I don’t know. I can’t...’”
There’s a blindness there. To what? Rational, historical, long chains of reasoning? Listen.
“To keep us from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”
Now, what does that mean?
“The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.”
That’s what Satan is keeping unbelievers from seeing.
When it says, “The light of the gospel of the glory,” it means, tell me the story. Tell me the story of the gospel, that there’s God and there’s wrath and holiness, and I’m lost and sinful, I know that. And God sends His Son into the world in the climax of the history of Israel, and His Son lives a perfect life of righteousness, which I could never live. He never sins, so He could be a perfectly pure, blemish-less sacrifice. He willingly goes to the cross as a substitute for me, and He triumphs over death and rises and vindicates the adequacy of the substitute, so that all who come and believe in Him will have all their sins forgiven and righteousness counted as theirs and be eternally safe and be adopted into the family of God.
That’s the story, and there’s a glory in it, a self-authenticating divine glory in it that if God does verse six, you will see, and you’ll die for it. There’ll be reason for it, and the reason isn’t in you. It’s in the reality out there, and God’s opening your eyes to see it. Here’s verse six. “God.” So, all we read in verse four was Satan keeps you from seeing that. Well, how do you see it? How do you get over the horrific, satanic blindness? Verse six. “God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’“ talking about God’s initial creation in the beginning. The God who said that “has shown in our hearts.” That’s where you see that “Paul prayed for the eyes of our hearts.”
Ephesians 1:17. “The eyes of our hearts.” Not the eyes of our head only, but the eyes of our hearts. “The God who said that light shine of darkness has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Which is virtually the same as the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God. Verse four and six are parallel statements. So, here’s how you come to know. This is the how, the third serving man. Why should you give a hoot about truth? Jesus won’t come seriously to people who are playing games with truth. And what is it? It’s Him and His book. The sum of His words, His truth. How can I know? I can’t go back to school and go to seminary. The God who said, “That light shine out of darkness.” As you’re reading the story, as you’re meditating on the real revealed person causes the eyes of your heart to be open to see what is really there.
Blind Men Won't See Sunlight
It’s no hocus pocus. The fact that an unbeliever will come up to you and say, “I don’t see it.” Should not affect you any more than a blind man coming up to you and saying, “I don’t believe in the sun. I think warmth is just on your skin. I think it comes out of the skin.” You won’t be affected by that argument. You have eyes. And when you see the self-authenticating glory of the gospel, the Christ of the gospel, the light of the gospel of the glory. There will come a day, Lord willing, where that story and that Christ, and how he’s unfolded in the letters and unfolded in the Gospel, you’ll read it enough and one day, eyes will go open and glory, self-evidencing, real, divine glory will say, “You can’t disbelieve this anymore.” I actually said on that panel. I don’t know if they knew what I meant, but I said to them, after I said, “The bottom foundation of reason for believing is that God enabled me to.” I said, “I don’t think I could believe in this Book if I tried.” That’s dangerous, but I think it’s true.
This is my theology coming out. I believe I had been taken from eternity by God. I believe I have been made His own by election. I believe He broke into my life with sovereign grace, opened my eyes and has promised, “Those whom I called, I will keep.” If I tried right now to say, “I don’t believe you,” I would just feel like that’s trying to fly. That’s ironic because unbelievers feel like believing it is trying to fly. I’m going to flap my wings and fly; you won’t.
Let me sum it up one more time, and maybe we can remember these three serving men, Why, What, How, and the text to go with them. Why should you care about being women who say with Mary, “I just wanna know what’s true. What’s real? What’s outside in me? If it’s true, I’m bowing.” Matthew 21:23, “Jesus won’t deal with people who play around with truth.” What sum of Your Word is true? Psalm 119:160. “The sum of Your Word is truth.” “I am the way, the truth, and I have endorsed the Old Testament,” in Matthew 5. “And I have prepared for New Testament under my inspiration,” in John 16. How can you know that? Why am I just not jabbering away because my momma told me to. Because, as you’re reading the story, the gospel, God Almighty, just like he said, “Let there be light” in the beginning of the world, comes to you. This is called the new birth. It’s called conversion. He comes to you, and He doesn’t whisper in your ear. That wouldn’t honor the glory here. “It’s really true.” “Well, I don’t see it.” “It’s really true.” “Okay, I’ll believe it, but I don’t see it.” That does not honor Him. Whispering is not a very honourable thing, but, if He opens your eyes while you’re reading one morning… “You love me like that? Your only Son? And a hundred other reasons to see glory here.” You’ll die for that or live for it.