“I could not go beyond the commandment of Jehovah my God, to do less or more” (Numbers 22:18).
We must beware of exaggerating the truth; taking it beyond its normal meaning. If we do we may soon find ourselves in error. Alternatively we may fall into error by understating it. See Deuteronomy 4:2 for example.
There are many ways we can fall into error by not keeping within the limits of the truth. We may simply get so pernickety that we end up straining out a gnat (a tiny thing) and the simplicity of our Christian life be lost. Alternatively we may drink down a camel (a large thing) and the purity of our Christian life belost.
We should seek to keep within the limits of the truth as revealed to us in Scripture. We may be uncertain as to the force of words, but we can often get enlightenment from types and from seeing how Christ acted, for the truth is in Jesus (Ephesians 4:21). We might condemn someone for taking a little wine (or a drug) for medical reasons, or go to the other extreme of getting drunk (or drugged). Consider 1 Timothy5:23; and 1 Corinthians 11:21.
Scripture often sets bounds which we should not transgress, these bounds may be on our right hand or on our left. We should not turn aside to the right hand nor to the left (Proverbs 4:27). Our course should be straight forward on the one highway and not on some by-path (1 Samuel 6:12; Jeremiah 18:15).
I give below some statements on this matter made by intelligent and spiritual persons and to which we would do well to take heed. Certainly we should practise what is taught in Scripture, but unless we are walking in the Spirit we shall be acting in the flesh and like king Saul we shall not truly keep the Lord’s commandment, but shall either partially perform it (1 Samuel 15: 17-23) or go beyond it in our misplaced zeal and do what is wrong (2 Samuel 21:2).
We need to see that we do not get over occupied with any particular aspect of the truth as our minds may become obsessed with that aspect and it may get out of proportion in our minds.
Some examples of the teaching of Scripture getting out of hand are as follows:-
Scripture exhorts women to be decent in deportment and dress (1 Timothy 2:9/10). Peter says similarly (1 Peter 3:3-4). However, what do we find in the world today? Some Moslem women go about completely covered up apart from slits for their eyes, so that they can see where they are going. However, often young ladies (non-Moslems) expose as much of their bodies as they dare. Their dress may be so provocative that they are asking for trouble. Scripture speaks of veils as a head covering (1 Corinthians 11:5) or face covering (2 Corinthians 3:13) but never of all over coverings. A prostitute might go to that extreme to hide her identity as Tamar did in Genesis 38:14.
Scripture tells us that it is wrong to walk with evil persons (Psalm 1:1). However, this can be watered down, even to the extreme spoken of in Proverbs 1:10-19. However, others may go to the other extreme of committing suicide like those that followed Jim Jones. Certainly they got out of the world, but this is going beyond Scripture (John 17:15). Many would not go as far as they did, but may shut themselves away in monasteries or nunneries or simply become recluses. Others may live in compounds with others of their fellowship so that they can be apart from other people.
How are we to be preserved from such ridiculous behaviour? Firstly, one would say: by having our eye on Christ. He is our model (1 Peter 2:21-25). We should also be able to see Him in measure in godly Christian elders (1 Peter 5:3), but they may fail. Further, we must be dependant on God for keeping power (Jude 24). Last, but not least, we should keep the whole of the Scriptures in mind and not focus on one text. One text may state a principle, but we may need others to help us to see how it should be worked out. For instance Scripture says: “Remove thy foot from evil“. That is a principle (Proverbs 4:27). However we need other passages to learn in detail what evil is (e.g. Mark 7:20-23; Romans 1:28-32; 2 Timothy 3:2-5). There is always the danger of using a passage out of context to support error as Satan did (Matthew 4:6).
Letters of J. N. Darby Vol. 2 page 23: “ Itis wise and safe not to go beyond Scripture” and “The word of God checks, or keeps us rather, in the right and safe course.”
Letters of J. N. Darby Vol. 2 page 208: “Exaggerated truth is always error, and leads to the denial of the real truth, and ceases necessarily to be experimental, for what is not true cannot be true in me.”
Ministry of J. B. Stoney New Series Vol. 3 page 149: “There never was a heresy but it took its rise in the overstraining of some singular truth, giving it an undue prominence, and thus destroying it; that is what a heresy is… if you insist on a truth unduly, and persevere in it, you will become a heretic.”
Ministry of J. B. Stoney New Series Vol. 7 page 244: Heresy… was advocating one truth apart from Christ… heresies… were all the result of good men, so occupied with a particular truth, that they distorted all the other truths…. That is how every heresy has sprung up; well disposed men so advocating a truth, and bringing it into such prominence at the expense of other truths, that they became unsound in the faith.”
Ministry of F. E. Raven New Series Vol. 11 pages 473/474: “Now we get a tendency (2 Timothy 2:14) which people are carried away by sometimes, that is, extravagances, putting out things beyond the truth, extra spiritual. Now I hear there is someone putting forward, that if you have faith for it, your body will be quickened now. I do not believe that the truth will ever shock common sense. In my recollection there were people who promulgated that they were in resurrection bodies… I do not believe in hyper-spirituality, I believe it is fleshly. Christianity is all simple… There is a vast number of people amongst us who are ready enough to be carried away by any ridiculous extravagance, ‘death to nature’ for instance. It leads to spiritual pride and it leads people to think they can be something above the ordinary… Now these extravagances lead to ungodliness (2 Timothy 2:16), and for this reason, that these extravagances bring reproach upon the truth.”
Ministry of F. E. Raven New Series Vol. 15 page 100/101: “Heresy is using some peculiarity in doctrine in order to form a party. It may be done by exaggeratingsome particular doctrine to such an extent that it is taken out of its proper import, and becomes a rallying point for a party” and “ The exaggeration of true doctrine might become that; for instance, if undue importance were attached to baptism, it might become heretical as leading to the formation of a party.”
Ministry of F. E. Raven New Series Vol. 17 page 89: “The Spirit fulfils a great office in regard of us. We get every part of the truth in its own proper place. We never see a thing in its true measure until we get it in its proper place. Until then a truth is exaggerated beyond its proper importance. It is a great thing to see things in their proportion.”
Ministry of J. Taylor Snr. New Series Vol. 51 page 498: “Exaggeration is a subtle thing which crops up in the best of us, but it has to be judged.”
Yes, we may exaggerate things, but we may go further and go into extremes. Relevant quotations are as follows:-
John 13:8/9 “Peter says to him (Christ), Thou shalt never wash my feet” (one extreme). “Simon Peter says to him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head” (the other extreme).
Letters of J. B. Stoney Vol. 1 page 249: “The greatest proof of divine power in a servant is that he is even. Do not go into extremes.
Letters of J. Taylor Snr. Vol. 1 page 326: “One is… greatly afraid of extremes and so cast on God as to this as to himself and others.”
Letters of J. Taylor Snr. Vol. 1 page 450: “We must avoid extremes or we shall discredit our “good”.”
Ministry of C. A. Coates Vol. 27a Outline of the Books of Chronicles page 372: “The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Timothy 4:22). It is the last word… I feel, and would preserve us from hardness and harshness and the self-confidence that marked Amaziah. If it was so we should be preserved from extremesand from getting lifted up and entertaining thoughts that are beyond the measure of what God has allotted to us; we should be sober and sensitive to the word.”
Ministry of C. A. Coates Vol. 28 Notes of Readings on Matthew’s Gospel page 139: “ “Often he falls into the fire and often into the water” (chapter 17, verse 15). We go to extremes; it is a thing that often happens.”
(Under linings above are my own; italicised words are not)