Rightly Handling the Word of Truth

Matthew 4:5,6; 2 Timothy 2:15
       Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
       Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): “Rightly dividing the Word of truth”—rightly cutting out; we translate it rightly dividing.

JOHN TRAPP (1601-1699): The metaphor seems to be taken from the priests of the law, who were to cut up the sacrifices accurately, and to lay them upon the altar orderly; or else from householders, that cut and carve to every one at table their share of meat.

MATTHEW POOLE: It is not material whether the metaphor be drawn from the priests right cutting out their sacrifices, so as all had their shares in them; or from carpenter cutting out their timber, cutting off the sappy part, and by a right line dividing the other parts; or from cooks, or carvers, or parents rightly dividing a dish of meat among several guests or children…The sense is, rightly handling the word of God, and giving to all their portion.

JOHN TRAPP: The Syriac renders it, “Rightly preaching the Word.”

JOSEPH HALL (1574-1656): But what is this I see? Satan himself with a Bible under his arm, and a text in his mouth: “It is written”―He cites Scripture but with mutilation and distortion; it comes out of his mouth maimed and perverted; one piece left, all misapplied. Those that wrest or mangle Scripture for their own purpose, it is easy to see from what school they come.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): How dreadfully the Word of God has been mauled and mangled by a certain band of preachers who have laid texts on the rack to make them reveal what they never would have otherwise spoken.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Some mutilate it, others tear it, others torture it, others break it into pieces.

JOHN TRAPP: They tear up a text, and torment it, they wrest the Scriptures and wrong them.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): Take another example, that of a man preaching on Naaman the Syrian. You remember the point in the story about his strong objection to the command to go to dip himself in the river Jordan—a miserable small river as contrasted with the rivers Abana and Pharpar, [2 Kings 5:12]. But the theme of the sermon was “The Importance of the unimportant in life.” That, again, is nothing but a sheer misuse of a text. The meaning of that text and its context is not to show “the importance of the unimportant in life” but to show that Naaman could not be healed by God without being humbled, and that all of us have to submit to God’s way of salvation. But that was literally not mentioned at all in the sermon. The idea behind this affront to a text is that you just extract an idea, anything that pleases you, such as the fact that the river Jordan was smaller than the other rivers, and ignore the real meaning of the text and its context. It is not only superficial, it is actually dishonest and an abuse of the scriptural statements.

C. H. SPURGEON: Scrupulous truthfulness should always characterize everyone who stands up to proclaim the truth of God.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: It is necessary to issue a warning at this point. It is wrong for a man to impose his system violently on any particular text; but at the same time it is vital that his interpretation of any particular text should be checked and controlled by this system, this body of doctrine and truth which is found in the Bible. The tendency of some men who have a systematic theology, which they hold very rigidly, is to impose this wrongly upon particular texts and so do violence to those texts. In other words, they do not actually derive that particular doctrine from the text with which they are dealing at that point. The doctrine may be true, but it does not arise from that particular text; and we must always be textual. This is what I mean by not “imposing” your system upon a particular text or statement.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): How apt we are to misunderstand Scripture—to understand that literally which is spoken figuratively, and to expound Scripture by our schemes, whereas we ought to form our schemes by the Scriptures.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Never force your text. An idea may occur to you and it may excite you and thrill you; but if you find that you have to do some manipulating or forcing in order to make that fit into this particular text, don’t do it. You must sacrifice a good sermon rather than force a text.

WILLIAM GURNALL (1617-1679): Think it not enough your text is Scripture, but let your whole sermon be also such—I mean agreeable to it.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: We must be honest with our texts; and we must take them always in their context. That is an absolute rule. These other men do not observe that; they are not interested in that, they are always looking for ‘ideas.’ They want a theme, an idea; and then they philosophize on that, giving expression to their own thoughts and moralizing. That is utterly to abuse the Word of God. You must take your text in its context, and you must be honest with it.

C. H. SPURGEON: I have no sympathy with the preaching which degrades God’s truth into a hobby-horse for its own thoughts, and only looks upon Scripture as a sort of pulpit from which it may thunder out its own opinions.

JOHN CALVIN: It behoveth us well to remember and bear away what Paul saith here, to wit, that it is their office which have charge to bear the Word of God, and to teach the Church, to forge nothing of their own brains, but to divide aright and wisely the Word of God, which is the Word of truth. When Paul saith, Word of truth, he requireth one point by it, to wit, that we put forth nothing of our imagining. For we cannot be preachers to forge and build what we think good, and to give the people our fantasies to drink. But the word of truth holdeth us bound, both him that speaketh, and us that hear. For God will rule over us, Jesus Christ will only be Master: but yet when we have the word of truth, we must not swerve one whit from it, no, not the least iota that may be: but we shew ourselves lightheaded, to be carried this way and that way.

C. H. SPURGEON: If you ever take two texts for one sermon, mind they are congruous; for example, you must not give out, “He went and hanged himself” and “Go thou and do likewise.”


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