The Word of God
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight; but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”—Hebrews 4:12-13
The words of great men are treasures. We read books to find out what they said. We look into the papers and magazines to learn the last utterance of the great leaders of science, politics or religion. How much more important a word of God. Suppose it could be proven that God, who created the heaven and the earth, had spoken just one sentence? It would be a diamond sentence. We would treasure it above all the wealth of the earth, THE WORD OF GOD. Yet that is what we have. “The word of God.” The Word written, the Word spoken, the Word lived. The Word written, as we have it in the Bible; the Word spoken, as we speak it and transmit it to others; the Word lived, as we translate it into character and deed.
Notice the little connecting word “For,” which links it with the previous verse, “Let us labor, therefore, to enter into that rest, for”—that rest has to do with the Word of God, and the word “rest” there means to rest down upon. The Word of God is the foundation upon which we rest our hope, and we should labor to quarry out the stones, and place them in the foundation. That is the object of our labor,—not work, that as a result of working we may find rest, but work in searching God’s Word that we may find something to rest upon. Labor to enter into the rest that comes from having the Word of God as our foundation.
Now there are four things said about the Word that we shall study. First of all, It is alive. Second, It is powerful. Third, It is surgical. Fourth, It is victorious.
The Living Word.
1. “The Word of God is alive.” “All Scripture is God-breathed.” As He made man and breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a living soul, so He inspired men to write the Scriptures, breathing into them the breath of His life, and their words became His living words. So we ought to treat God’s Book as a living thing. We ought to have the reverence for it that we have for life. We have more reverence even for vegetable life than for death. We certainly respect a living, growing flower more than an artificial thing. Where there is life, it is elevated to a higher realm, and life makes all the difference between respect and disrespect, reverence and desecration.
I remember going through the Smithsonian Institution one day with a friend, and we came to a glass case which had a number of receptacles underneath it filled with substances of various colors. “Well, what is that?” I asked. Said the guide, “It is the constituent parts of a human body. That is a child you see under the glass case. Every part of the child is there. There is so much of lime, phosphorus, water, iron and other things.” And yet I confess to you if someone had brought that stuff into my room and left it there, I should have thrown it out of the window. Too gruesome. Don’t want it around. Had no special respect for it. Looking into the glass case with us were some ruddy-cheeked children and some beautiful women and robust men. When I looked at one of these beautiful children I said, “There is a child after all under the glass case, a child in weight and substance, but it is not a child after all.” The difference was in the life, and I would not have thrown one of those children out of my window for my right arm.” The fact that the child had life gave me respect, reverence and value. So it is with the Word of God. The men who cut the Word of God to pieces, let them remember, they are cutting life; they are putting the sword into the vitals of living truth. They need to respect and reverence the Word of God, as having in it the very life of God Himself. When this word gets into our hearts and lives, it becomes active; it shows life. No Christian is respected who does not show life. He may have the constituent parts of the Christian in different receptacles under the glass case, and people can look at him with a curious, gruesome sort of interest, if he is dead, but unless they see him move, and move along the line of God’s life, they have no respect for him at all.
Some medical students went out to Potter’s Field and got a subject for the dissecting room. They dug it up hurriedly after midnight, flung it into a cart, rattled the cart down the road, carried it into the dissecting room, went off, got ready and came down for business. They laid the cadaver out on the marble slab, and after they began to work one of them noticed that a finger moved. “What’s the matter?” And presently another finger moved. He said, “There must be some electric current around here.” Then it moved an arm and turned over. You ought to have seen those fellows move, as they went upstairs, three steps at a time, to tell the professor that there was a live corpse in the dissecting room, and they didn’t know what to do with it. When the professor came in there the fellow sat, very much addled, of course. The professor said, “Good evening. What hotel would you like to put up at? What number of hat do you wear? What is the size of your shoe?” He gave one of the boys some money and sent him out to buy that fellow a hat and coat and pair of shoes, and everything he needed; then gave him five crisp ten-dollar bills, and told him to go out and say nothing about it. The difference between a corpse and a man! As a corpse they had dumped him into a cart, rattled him down the road, flung him into the dissecting room, but the very moment he became a man they asked about the hotel he would put up at, the number of his hat and the size of his shoes. If you show yourself a Christian corpse they will just dump you into a cart and rattle you off into some graveyard or dissecting room, for everything that is dead ought to be buried or cut up. One reason why people criticize us so unmercifully is that we show so little life. Life is beyond criticism. Spiritual life you cannot reach with criticism, and when a man shows that he is brimful of the life of God, all the scalpels of the critics cannot harm him.
Some of us have smiled at the foolish fellow who stood here on a Chicago street, and looking through the window of a taxidermist shop saw an owl in the midst of the animals and birds he was stuffing for exhibition and began to criticize the owl. The feathers were not arranged right’ the head was not on right; the body was not posed right, and when he got through his criticism the owl turned and winked at him. The man walked off feeling that he was a fool, and so he was. My proposition is that the moment the owl turned around and winked he was beyond that fellow’s criticism, and everything he said up to that moment was true. If we have a stuffed sort of Christianity in the window for exhibition, the world will pass by and criticize us and everything about us, but when we show life, the life of God, we get beyond the scalpels of all the critics in the world.
The Powerful Word.
2. Not only living, but the Word of God is powerful. It is powerful to convict; powerful to convert; powerful to transform; powerful to revolutionize. You want to see that man convicted of sin? Argue with him and he may outargue you. Bring the Word of God to bear upon him and it will do the work. You want to comfort that man who is broken-hearted? Go to him with a beautiful philosophy and it will fall like ice upon his soul; go to him with a promise from the Bible and he feels the very life of God in the sympathy of His heart throbbing in it. Do you want to give guidance to the man groping in darkness? Go and talk to him about how to live according to a rational standard, and he may understand you or not; but go to him with God’s revelation. Tell him what God says, and if he follows Him he will go right. The Word of God is powerful to convict, powerful to comfort, powerful to guide and powerful to transform as spoken, sung, written and lived.
I saw the working of it some time ago in Wilson, N.C. A wholesale merchant came to me and said, “My two partners are not Christians. I am a Christian and I believe they know it, but somehow I cannot influence them. I am familiar with them, and they are familiar with me. Won’t you go with me tomorrow afternoon at three o’clock and talk with one of them?” Of course I promised. I went with him at three o’clock. I quoted some of this living Word to that honest, upright, successful, moral merchant. He assented and consented to it. He said, “I do not know what I’ll do about it,—whether I will make a public confession just now or not; but you can just say this, that I have decided for Christ the best I can,” and that night, when the invitation was given in the great warehouse for those who would accept Christ to confess Him, that man rose, with his wife, and they came down together and shook hands with me. The merchant came over the next day and said, “My other partner is not saved. Night before last, after I had told you to come and talk with my partner, I spent until two o’clock wrestling with God in prayer. Could not sleep—I so desired that man to be saved that I just wanted to pray all night, and when he came up and confessed Christ in the warehouse I was so happy—so full of gratitude and joy—that I went home and went to the same place where I spent nearly the whole night in prayer and spent that night in praising and thanking God.” And he said, “I am just sure that God is going to save my other partner.” I went down and spoke to the other man, and he was so ready to receive Christ that I had hardly quoted the first Scripture until he surrendered. What did that mean? It meant that the Word lived in that Christian merchant; it meant that the Word, with its life, went into the heart of his partner; it meant that the life began to work and show itself in fruit; it meant that God Himself is in His word, doing His will and carrying forward His purpose.
“The word of God is quick and powerful.” A young woman said to me the other day, “I traveled through Europe last summer. One of the most interesting places I saw was Pilate’s Staircase in the old city of Rome. The old monks and nuns were climbing it on their knees and kissing each step as they went up and saying a little prayer between.” Half way up the staircase a monk one day was climbing on his knees, and he heard in his inner consciousness the voice of God’s word, “The just shall live by faith.” The monk stood on his feet, desecrating those stairs for the first time with the soles of his feet and walked down the stairs, and his tread shook the world. He went out to proclaim justification by faith. That was Martin Luther, and it was God’s word that entered his heart and gave him life, and through him life to the modern world.
Christmas Day I sent South four big books, volumes of Spurgeon’s Autobiography. I confess I hadn’t read them—too busy with other things, and it just occurred to me that as the years went by, my dear old father might like to dip into them a little, for I knew he loved Spurgeon. So I expressed them to him as a Christmas present. The other day when I met him, I said, “Father, how are you getting along reading Spurgeon?” He said, “I have read every word of it,” and then he began to talk about Spurgeon’s faith and Spurgeon’s power and Spurgeon’s Christ and Spurgeon’s God, and Oh, I could feel the throb of life that come from Spurgeon into his heart and mine, and all of it could be traced back to the living word, God’s word in Spurgeon. You know how it got there? How it was on a sleety, snowy, rainy day the lad took his seat underneath the gallery of the old Wesleyan Chapel and heard a plain, blunt, ignorant Wesleyan preacher get up and with thunderous tones, take the text “Look unto me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth; for I am God and beside me there is none else.” The lad felt the life of it and the thrill of it went through his soul, and he went out to preach the gospel of the Son of God. It was life in the word which through the Methodist exhorter entered the heart of Spurgeon, then all over the world and all down the centuries.
The Surgical Word.
3. “The Word of God” is surgical, “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and joints and marrow and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” “The word of God” is not only living, but it is sharp, “sharper than a two-edged sword.” The business of the sword is to pierce and it can pierce between soul and spirit, the joints and the marrow—cut right into the innermost being. The soul there represents the natural man; the spirit represents the spiritual man. “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” “The natural man discerneth not the things of the spirit,”—exactly the same words. “The soul of man discerneth not the things of the spirit,” and it takes the Word of God to discriminate between the natural and the spiritual. It is “the Word of God” that tells you whether you are living simply a natural life or a spiritual life. Do you worship God in the realm of nature—going out and looking at the stars and feeling worshipful? Looking at the flowers and feeling worshipful? Listening to the wind and looking out upon the lake and ocean and feeling worshipful? Standing by Niagara with its thunder and feeling worshipful? That’s natural. But when you let the word of God begin its work, it will draw a distinction between the natural worship and spiritual workship, that finds its source on Calvary, in the very heart of God, and in the resurrection of Christ through the new nature imparted by the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is like the two-edged sword, discriminating, piercing, cutting asunder, labeling the spiritual, labeling the natural; showing what is the natural and what is the spiritual. It is a painful process; most of us do not like it. We like the word as milk. But this labeling the carnal and the spiritual by the process of piercing, we do not enjoy, but it is a needful work. Notice a still severer process. “Piercing to the dividing asunder of joints and marrow.” The joint is an articulation of the body and the Word of God can pierce through the joint and break the articulation. There sometimes comes an unnatural articulation. I remember reading a sign just outside of a show, “A Three Armed Man.” A man with a third arm attached to him, an unnatural articulation. When the mother and father saw it, the first thing suggested, of course, was a surgeon and a knife; But that was neglected, and after he grew up, the side-show man suggested that there was money in it and they could exhibit him as a freak;—so he went around as a freak. Now if they had taken him to the surgical ward of some hospital and said to the doctors, “We would like to have you cure our son,” they could doubtless have disarticulated this unnatural member. That sort of a thing applies to some Christians. There may be a sort of articulation with the world, the flesh, the devil, with dishonest methods in business, with a false philosophy, with a great many other things; and a monstrosity is the result. A man who is a child of God and yet has a hand of the world, a hand of dishonest enterprises, a hand of lustful desire—needs the skill of the surgeon, and it takes the Holy Spirit with the knife of the Word to disarticulate and cut these things away from the spiritual man.
Deeper still it goes. Dr. Adam Clark tells us that in ancient days the skillful Jewish Rabbi, who was appointed for the purpose, with a sharp knife, (that is what the word “sword” here really means,) could with a few strokes, lay the victim open, clear through, cutting the marrow half in two, and leaving one-half on one side and one-half on the other. The victims were divided frequently, as in the case of Abraham when the lamp went between the pieces, and some think that is the thought in this text, that the Word of God, in the hands of the Spirit, the great Surgeon, can just cut through the marrow, destroying what ought to be destroyed and fitting everything for the sacrificial altar; and if it takes the piercing, the cutting, the disarticulation, the flaying alive even, to bring about the sacrificial preparation, God will do it through His Word. That is not pleasant. It is not even pleasant to talk about it, but, my friend, are you willing to let the Word of God do its work, even if it is to be the two-edged sword that pierces, and cuts and lays open the marrow and flays alive? It is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It is a “critic”—criticus in the Greek,—of the thoughts and intents of the heart. We have some critics of the Word these days. The Spirit says the Word is to be the critic of the critics, and a critic of the thoughts and purposes, not only discerning the things that make us spiritual monstrosities, not only laying bare the inmost soul by the sword of the Spirit, but telling us what thoughts and purposes are right.
The Victorious Word.
4. The Word of God is triumphant. “There is no creature that is not manifest before Him, for all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” “All things are naked and opened.” The Word is the light in which God sees us, making everything manifest and revealing our lustful feelings, our selfish tendencies, our unholy motives, our thoughts, our purposes, our wills; this Word is the light that comes from God and the light in which God Himself sees, for “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.”
The Word “opened” is more repulsive still. This is the only time it is used in the Bible. It means first of all to throttle—as sometimes wrestlers clinch and throttle each other. It goes further than that, and is used in classic Greek for the butcher, when he takes hold of the animal, turns back the neck and flays it, then looks down to see whether everything is fit for the sacrifice. It is an awful word. “All things are naked and cut open” by the Word of God. Everything that is evil, that is wicked, that is unholy, every lustful feeling and selfish purpose, the Holy Spirit just takes hold of by the throat and uses the word as a knife to flay alive. That means victory over every sin.
Have you evil thoughts and purposes? Have you evil imaginings? Turn them over to God and the Holy Spirit, acting as a surgeon, will flay them alive. When death itself shall come, the monster that so many of us fear, we shall find that the Holy Spirit, through the Word has destroyed his power, flayed him alive with His sword. Victory over every sin, every fear, victory over every affliction and sorrow, victory for time and for eternity.