THE IMPORTANCE OF DOCTRINE OR SOUND THEOLOGY
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Since they are inspired by God it naturally and necessarily follows that they are “profitable,” for He could not be the Author of what was purposeless and useless to its recipients. For what are the Scriptures “profitable”? FIRST, for doctrine, that is, for sound and wholesome doctrine, “doctrine which is according to godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3).
The word doctrine means “teaching” or instruction, and then the principle or article received. In the Scriptures we have the truth and nothing but the truth on every object and subject of which they treat, such as no mere creature could have arrived at or invented. The unfolding of the doctrine of God is a revelation of his Being and character, such as had never been conceived by philosophers or poets. Their teaching concerning man is such as no physicist or psychologist had ever discovered by his own unaided powers. Such, too, is its doctrine of sin, of salvation, of the world, of Heaven, of Hell.
Now to read and ponder the Scriptures for “doctrine” is to have our beliefs formed by its teachings. So far as we are under the influence of prejudice, or receive our religious ideas on human authority, and go to the Word not so much with the desire to be instructed on what we know not, but rather for the purpose of finding some thing which will confirm us in what we have already imbibed from man, be it right or wrong, so far we exercise a sinful disregard to the Sacred Canon and may justly be given up to our own deceits.
Again; if we set up our own judgment so as to resolve not to accept anything as Divine truth but what we can intellectually comprehend, then we despise God’s Word and cannot be said to read it either for doctrine or correction. It is not enough to “call no man Master”: if I exalt my reason above the infallible dictates of the Holy Spirit, then my reason formulates my creed. We must come to the Word conscious of our ignorance, forsaking our own thoughts (Isa. 55:7), with the earnest prayer “that which I see not, teach thou me” (Job 34:32), and that, so long as we remain on earth.
FIRST AND FOREMOST THEN THE INSPIRED SCRIPTURES ARE PROFITABLE FOR DOCTRINE: that our thoughts, ideas and beliefs concerning all the subjects of Divine revelation may be formed and regulated by their infallible teachings. How that rebukes those who sneer at theological instruction, who are prejudiced against the doctrinal exposition of the gospel, who ignorantly account such “dry” and uninteresting, who are all for what they term “experimental religion.” We say “ignorantly,” for the distinction they seek to draw is an unscriptural and invalid one.
The Word of God nowhere draws a line between the doctrinal and the experimental. How could it? when true experimental piety is nothing but the influence of truth upon the Soul under the agency of the Holy Spirit. What is godly sorrow for sin but the influence of the truth upon the conscience and heart! Is it anything else than a realization or feeling sense of the heinousness of sin, of its contrariety to what ought to be, of its being committed against light and love, dissolving the heart to grief? Until those truths are realized there will be no weeping over your sin. . .
Yes, first and foremost the Scriptures are “profitable for doctrine”: God says so, and those who declare otherwise are liars and deceivers. . .That personal piety or holy living may be neglected through an excessive attachment to favorite theological tenets is readily granted, but that doctrinal instruction is inimical to following the example which Christ has left us, we emphatically deny. The whole teaching of Scripture is “the doctrine which is according to godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3): that is to say, it is the doctrine which inculcates godliness, which supplies motives to godliness, and which therefore promotes it. If Divine truth be received according to the lovely proportions in which it is presented in the Word, so far from such a reception of it enervating practical godliness, it will be found to be the life of it. Doctrinal, experimental and practical religion are so necessarily connected together, they could have no existence apart from each other. The influence of the truth upon our hearts and minds is the source of all our spiritual feelings, and those feelings and affections are the springs of every good word and work.
SECOND, THE INSPIRED SCRIPTURES ARE PROFITABLE “FOR REPROOF” OR CONVICTION. Five times the Greek word is rendered “rebuke” and once “tell him his fault” (Matthew 18:15). Here is the chief reason why the Scriptures are so unpalatable to the unsaved: they set before him a standard concerning which he knows he falls far short: they require that which is thoroughly distasteful to him and prohibit those things which his evil nature loves and craves. Thus, their holy teachings roundly condemn him. It is because the Word of God inculcates holiness and censures every form of evil that the unregenerate have such a disrelish for it. It is because the Word convicts its reader of his sins, upbraids him for his ungodliness, blames him for his inward as well as outward lack of conformity thereto, that the natural man shuns it. Flesh and blood resent interference, chafe against being censured, and is angry when told his or her faults. It is much too humbling for the pride of the natural man to be rebuked for his failures and chided for his errors. Therefore he prefers “prophecy” or something which pricks not his conscience!
“Profitable for reproof.” Are you, am I, willing to be reproved? Are we really, honestly desirous of having made known to us everything in us which is contrary to the law of the Lord and is therefore displeasing to Him? Are we truly agreeable to be searched by the white light of the truth, to bare our hearts to the sword of the Spirit? The true answer to that question reveals whether or not we are regenerate, whether a miracle of grace has been wrought in us or whether we are still in a state of nature. Unless the answer be in the affirmative, there cannot possibly be any spiritual growth for us. Of the wicked it is said “They despised all my reproof” (Prov. 1:30). On the one hand we are told “he that hateth reproof is brutish” and “shall die” (Prov, 12:1; 15:17); on the other, “reproofs of instruction are the way of life,” “he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (Prov. 6:23; 15:32). If we are to profit from the Scriptures we must always approach them with an honest desire that all amiss in us may be rebuked by their teachings and be humbled into the dust before God in consequence thereof.
THIRD, THE SCRIPTURES ARE PROFITABLE “FOR CORRECTION.” The Greek word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but signifies “setting right.” The reproving is but a means to an end: it is a showing us what is wrong that it may be put right. Everything about us, both within and without needs correcting, for the fall has put man all out of joint with God and holiness. Our thoughts on everything are wrong and need readjusting. Our affections are all disorderly and need regulating. Our character is utterly unlike Christ’s and has to be conformed to His image. Our conduct is wayward and demands squaring with the Rule of righteousness. God has given to us His Word that under its guidance we may regulate our beliefs, renovate our hearts and reform our lives. Hence it answers but a poor end to read a chapter once or twice a day for the sake of decency, without any definite intention of complying with the mind of God as revealed therein. Since He has given us the Scriptures “for correction” we should always approach them with a sincere purpose of bringing into harmony with them everything that is disorderly within us and irregular without us.
FOURTH, the Scriptures are profitable “for instruction in righteousness.” That is the end for which the other three things are the means. As Matthew Henry pointed out: the Scriptures are “profitable to us for all the purposes of the Christian life. They answer all the ends of Divine revelation. They instruct us in that which is true, reprove us for all that which is amiss, direct us in all that which is good.” ”Instruction in righteousness” refers not to the imputed righteousness of Christ, for that is included in ”doctrine,” but relates to integrity of character and conduct—it is inherent and practical righteousness, which is the fruit of the imputed. For that we need “instructing” out of the Word, for neither reason nor conscience are adequate for such a task.
If our judgment be formed or our actions regulated by dreams, visions, or supposed immediate revelations from Heaven, rather than by the plain meaning of the Holy Scriptures, then we slight them and God may justly give us up to our own delusions. If we follow the fashion, imitate our fellows, or take public opinion for our standard, we are but heathen. But if the Word of God is the only source of our wisdom and guidance, we shall be found treading ”the paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:6).