J. Hudson Taylor on inspiration

How this amazing missionary proved the Bible

By J. Hudson Taylor, D. D. Founder of the China Inland Mission

(Given at D. L. Moody’s Northfield Conference, Summer, 1888)

Two questions have been put into my hands on the subject of inspiration.

One is: “‘Are we not in the danger of trying to make Scripture mean too much—for instance, by insisting on verbal inspiration?” Well, dear friends; try and make it mean too much. Try and get half of its fullness. I don’t think there is very much danger in this way.

The other question is: “Do the Scriptures teach that they are verbally inspired?” That is a very important question indeed, and the suggestion has been made to me that I should say something as to how far verbal inspiration is consistent with the fact that there are so many different manuscripts.

No Difficulty Presented by Variations in Manuscripts

With regard to the manuscripts, no one believes that every manuscript is verbally and distinctly inspired, and that no copyist’s mistake may not have crept in. But the manuscripts are very numerous, and they have been very carefully compared, and many of you have the critical apparatus at hand which will enable you to discover for yourselves what is the extent of the variations. Well, I needn’t tell you as college men that three-fourths of them are simply questions that may be compared in English with the question whether we are going to spell a certain syllable with an ou after the French fashion, or with an o after the Latin fashion. It is a mere matter of spelling.

There is such a general consensus of all the manuscripts that it isn’t a matter of insuperable difficulty to discover the fact that no question of doctrine anywhere from Genesis to Revelation is affected by any doubtful reading. There is no more perplexity from variations in manuscripts than if we were to say: “How shall we ascertain what is the perfect shape of a leaf when the caterpillars have been all through the tree?” Look among the fragments, and you will find at least one side of a leaf, and then you will find the other side of one, and by putting them together you will very easily find the shape of a perfect leaf. And then there may be a good many perfect leaves left on the tree. Look carefully, and you may find one.

Testimony of the Word to Itself

What the Scriptures teach, however, on inspiration is a very important question, and I think we shall not study the Scriptures without ascertaining the mind of God on the subject.

I need scarcely refer you to that familiar passage in II Timothy 3:16, 17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” There is another equally familiar one in II Peter 1:21: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

You are also familiar with the use made in Scripture of quotations from one book in another. The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul, and in the third chapter of Galatians he has a very important matter to discuss with the people who are being carried away by Judaizing teachers.

Now, on what does he base his argument in the third chapter and sixteenth verse? He wants to prove that Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham that was promised by God, and that the law, which came in after the promise to Abraham, could not disannul the promise that’ was given before it. Here is his argument.

Stress Placed Single Words

“He saith not, And to seeds”—the plural—”as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Here not merely one word, but even the number of the word—whether it is singular or plural—is the argument: the word is “seed,” and not “seeds,” as of many. He shows that the neuter plural—which is so frequently used in a very comprehensive way—is not employed here; and on that circumstance he builds this argument: that Christ is the true seed of Abraham, and that that promise could not be disannulled by the law which came 430 years afterwards.

And the Lord Jesus in His discussion with the Sadducees on the question of the resurrection does

not bring half-a-dozen Scripture proofs and say: “From the general tenor of these remarks you will see that the resurrection was in God’s mind.” He quotes one single passage, and He builds His argument on the use of one single word. He quotes the passage in which God calls Himself the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. His argument is: “God did not call Himself the Jehovah of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He called Himself the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and you Israelites know very well that that is a word which is used only with reference to living persons and living things. Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still living.”

Again, when Satan came to tempt Christ, He met every assault by quoting the Word of God. As the Saviour of the world—as an inspired Teacher—He might very well have dealt with Satan directly; but He quotes this precious Word of God, and refutes Satan with that which is written. “It is written,” and what is written cannot be broken. He doesn’t mean merely that the general idea of Scripture is true; but whatever is written in the Word of God cannot be broken.

Again, He says in the fifth of Matthew: “Verily, I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” If that expression, “Not one jot or one tittle shall pass from the law till all be fulfilled”— if that doesn’t mean the verbal inspiration of Scripture, all I can say is, I don’t understand the passage at all. If you were to take a document and say: “Here is a proclamation from our Government here, and I can’t tell whether it is a correct transcription of the proclamation or not” —what would it be worth? But if you should say: “I can tell you there is not a dot of an i or the crossing of a t that hasn’t behind it the full authority of the Government” — h o w different would be the effect! From this statement of Christ we gather that every letter of the law is just as God has given it. He claimed that it was verbally accurate— that is, that every letter was correct in it.

Just see for a moment what is the use of that jot, or yod, in Hebrew. It is the great letter of inflection. How do you form the Hebrew singular into the plural? Very often by that letter. How do you indicate certain grammatical inflections in a verb? By means of that letter. Then what Christ meant was that not only every word but every inflection of every word is inspired and unchangeable. Isn’t that a fair understanding of our Saviour’s words?

Take Cruden’s Concordance and look at that word “word,” and see in how many instances the expression “the word of God” is used in the plural: “the words of God.” They are far too numerous to bring up here. When the Apostle Paul is writing to the Corinthians he tells them that he not only preaches the truth in a general way, but he says: “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth” (l Cor. 2:13). It was so in olden time. You remember when Balaam claimed that the words he spake were from God, he said that he whose “eyes were open” and had “heard the words of God” said so-and-so. Moses told the: Israelites “all the words of God” and wrote these words down—not merely their general purport (Exod. 24:4).

Precision of Expression Necessary in Revelation

How could the mind of God be conveyed except in words? You know quite well that there is no such thing as a perfect synonym. You can’t express a thought without modification in different language. You can’t modify a sentence without modifying the meaning of the thought to some slight extent.


Now, God has given His Word in order that we can rest upon it. God said to Isaiah: “I have put my words in thy mouth” (Isa. 51: 16). The Lord Jesus said: “The words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” If the Lord Jesus Christ Himself did not speak His own words, can we doubt that equal inspiration was given to other messengers who needed it far more than Christ did?

If you will look through a few passages in the Gospel of John— 5:47; 12:47; 14:23; 15:7; 17:8— you will see what Christ Himself says with regard to the words that were given. We will just look at the last passage and then pass on—John 17:8.

Our Saviour in that wonderful prayer that He offered before He left the earth, said: “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.” The friends of God receive God’s words. God’s Word is found by the prophet, and he eats it. It is like honey to his taste.

Fidelity of God to His Promises

And if the Scriptures were not verbally inspired, what would be the alternative? Everybody would have to find out how much truth was in the Bible by his own wits. Suppose there is a chart of a dangerous coast. It gives only a general outline. The navigator finds that that mark indicating a rock is merely to let him know that somewhere there is such a rock to be found. What is the use of that chart? Or suppose there is a compass by which he is sailing. He knows that that compass is diverted by some object—he doesn’t know how much. Of what use is it to him? If God’s Word didn’t mean what it said, of what use would it be to me?

Suppose I should deal in this way with a commercial document: Some one sends me a bank note for a thousand pounds. Sometimes, you know, a friend who wishes to give a thousand pounds to the China Inland Mission doesn’t want it to be known, and so he gets a bank note in which no signature is necessary. He doesn’t want even the bank clerk to know what he is giving—it is for the Lord Jesus to know it, and nobody else. Well, suppose I get a Bank of England note of a thousand pounds, and I say: “I don’t for a moment imagine that he means exactly what he says. No doubt there is a general truth in it. He is going to do something liberal. I should be disappointed if I shouldn’t get at least five pounds. Perhaps it will be ten.” Why, if people were to hear a man talking like that, wouldn’t they assume that such a man was a fool?

Dear friends, don’t let any one shake your confidence in the Word of God. Eat and see if it isn’t good nourishment. Study it carefully. Look it through and through.

I have had all sorts of experiences in all sorts of circumstances, and when I have come to God and pleaded His own promises in His Word, I have never been disappointed. I have been in circumstances of great difficulty, and have been led to ask Him for remarkable help. I was nearly wrecked when I was going out to China the first time. Our vessel was becalmed, and gradually drifting upon the coast of New Guinea. We could see the savages on the shore. They had kindled a fire, and were evidently expecting a good supper that night. When I was a medical student some of the other students used to jeer at me because I was going among the heathen, and they would talk about “cold missionary.” Well, it did look that night as if somebody was going to have a piece of hot missionary.

The captain said to me: “We can’t do anything else but let down the longboat.” They had tried to turn the head of the vessel around from the shore, but in vain. We had been becalmed for several weeks, with never a breeze, or any sign of one. In a few minutes we would be among the coral reefs. We would be at the mercy of those savages, and they didn’t look as if they had much mercy.

“Well,” I said, “there is one thing we haven’t done yet. Let the Christians on board pray about it.”

There was a black man on board, a steward, who was a very sweet Christian man, and the captain was a Christian, and myself. I proposed that we should retire to our cabins, and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ ask our Father, and His Father, for a breeze immediately. They agreed. I went to my cabin, and told the Lord that I was just on my way to China; that He had sent me; and that I couldn’t get there if I was shipwrecked and killed; and then I was going on to ask Him for a breeze, but I felt so confident about it that I couldn’t ask Him. So I went up on deck. There was the second officer, the chief mate—a very godless man. I went up to him and said: “If I were you I would let down the mainsail.”

Said he: “What do you want me to let down the mainsail for?”

I said: “We have been praying for a breeze, and it is coming directly, and the sooner we are ready for it the better.”

With an oath he said he would rather see a breeze than hear of one. As he was speaking I instinctively looked up, and noticed that one of the sails was quivering with the coming breeze.

Said I: “Don’t you see that the corners of the royals are already shaking? My dear fellow, there is a good breeze coming, and we had better be ready for it.”

Of course, the mate went to work, and soon the sailors were tramping over the deck. Before the sails were set the wind was down upon us. The captain came up to see what was the matter. He saw that our prayers had been answered; and we didn’t forget to praise God for so signal a deliverance from the perils to which we were exposed. We have been penniless in the interior of China; but we simply turn to this Book, and draw a check, and it is always honored.

Now, when you can take Scripture and test it again, and again, and again, in ten thousand different circumstances of life—when you find at every turn there is something appropriate, and a familiar passage that perhaps you learned in childhood and never understood comes to your mind when you need it, and just fits your case—when you find that God is always true to His promises —isn’t all this evidence of verbal inspiration? It is words that proceed out of the mouth of God; not ideas. There are no unclothed ideas. You can’t think without thought formulating itself in words. Put the Word of God to the test. The more you test it, and prove it, the more satisfied you will be.

Lovers of the Word Shall Prosper

Let us look for a moment at the first Psalm. It says that if you will fulfill certain conditions, whatsoever you do shall prosper. Find a man who has fulfilled the conditions and hasn’t prospered in whatsoever he has undertaken, and then you will have proof that this Psalm is not verbally inspired.

What does it say: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.” It isn’t “that walketh not in ungodly counsel,” mind you. A good many people walk in the counsel of the ungodly just because it isn’t ungodly counsel. It is the “counsel of the ungodly” that is to be avoided. I am afraid there are churches that sometimes walk in the counsel of the ungodly. Sometimes a matter comes up, and some counsellor in the church will say: “Well, the first thing is to secure the money.” That is the “counsel of the ungodly.” The first thing is to know the mind of God, and secure the blessing of God. There are a great many maxims of the ungodly—and some of them are very good when they are properly interpreted. An example may be found in the maxim, “Take care of number one.” Who is number one? The ungodly man says: “I am number one.” But God is number one. Take care of God’s interests first, and He will look after yours.

“The counsel of the ungodly,” then, is something different from ungodly counsel. And you know “standing in the way of sinners” doesn’t mean that we do wrong when we go among sinners to shine among them as lights in the world. But if we are constantly among them without the purpose of doing them good, we shall very soon find that “evil communications corrupt good manners.”

Then there is a warning against sitting in the seat of the scornful. What does that mean? It includes a good deal more, perhaps, than we commonly think. If a man goes to church to criticise, is he not sitting in the seat of the scornful?

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord: and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”

A man who loves the Word of God—a man who dwells upon what it says—a man who keeps a little text in his mind to think about as he is walking on his way, and that meditates upon it day and night—”Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.” If you can find a man who carries out this direction and doesn’t prosper, you can doubt the inspiration of the first Psalm; but find the man first. Put the thing to the test and see if it isn’t so. I have very, very imperfectly and faultily carried out this direction for a good many years past, and it is wonderful how the Lord has made things to prosper that I have been connected with. Things that have seemed very unlikely to prosper He has made to prosper.

Look at Joshua as an example. He was to be “strong and very courageous”—not to fight battles and put down the Canaanites, but to observe to do all that the Lord directed, because the Lord’s directions were verbally inspired, and they were inspired for the purpose of making him who observed them prosperous in his work. “Thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”

When Solomon came to the throne and had a great temple to build, God told him that if he would observe all the things that were written in the law, and do them, he would be prosperous in building the temple and in governing the realm.

The book of Ezra is a very interesting study. If you have never gone through it, take time to do so. There is a gap of fifty-nine years between the sixth and seventh chapters. The people were given a commission to build a temple at Jerusalem; but after twelve years they hadn’t completed it yet, and they were so remiss that God allowed obstacles to spring up, and the work was stopped and nothing done for fifty-nine years. Then there arose a man after God’s own heart. “He was a ready scribe in the law of Moses.” “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it.” That was the man that God used in the building of the temple. Whatsoever that man did, the Lord prospered it.

Here Is a Promise to Test

Here is a promise to test: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:38) Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the Giver of this full blessing? It doesn’t mean, “He that believeth on me for the pardon of his sins,” because there are many persons who are pardoned and who have not this fullness of blessing—you can see that rivers of living water do not rush out from them. But it is: “He that believeth on me as the giver of the fullness of the Spirit.”

Look also at that other passage: “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” I accept that promise. I do believe I shall never thirst again. I do believe that from me—poor little me—rivers shall flow, rivers of living water; and God shall be glorified, and souls shall be saved. If we refuse to accept the promises of God, we make Him a liar. Why should we expect to be hungry when He says: “He that cometh to me shall never hunger”? Why should we expect to thirst when He says: “He that believeth on me shall never thirst”?

Those of you who are familiar with the original know very well that the word used there —popote—is the same as is used in another passage: “No man hath seen the Father at any time.” So that the meaning of the passage is: “He that cometh to me shall not hunger at any time; and he that believeth on me shall not thirst at any single time.” I suppose he will always have an appetite; but he will never be famished and thirsty and unable to get refreshment. Shall we not take this promise and test it? Oh, if we do so, we shall find it such a source of blessing! If we do not, how much sorrow we may bring upon ourselves—how much dishonor we may bring upon our Lord!

Oh, our Master wants us to be strong! He wants to give us more of the Holy Spirit. When you are brought into the presence of some poor soul who is in sorrow and trial, and you don’t know what to say to comfort that soul, just look up and say, “Father, let the living water flow according to Thy Word,” and see if He doesn’t answer that prayer. When you are brought into some circumstance of perplexity, and there is a question, perhaps, brought to you, and you don’t know how to answer, and it must be dealt with, just look up to Him, and ask Him, who is All-Wisdom, to be your wisdom and to guide you in this matter. You will find you will never lack resources when you are resting in the living God. God doesn’t leave His people without sufficient resources for every circumstance. He will be with you in any field into which He may lead you to labor in His name.

(From College Students at Northfield; edited by T. J. Shanks; published by Fleming H. Revell)

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