The Living Word
June 7th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE LIVING WORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-7-59 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. We have two complete and different services this morning. One is this preaching hour, and it closes with an appeal, and then our people are at liberty to go. We have a second service this morning, the breaking of bread, the memorial of the Lord’s Supper, and we pray that all of our people in this divine presence will stay for this first service, no one leave until it is fully ended. Then at the conclusion of this service, all of you who wish will have ample opportunity to go. We had our memorial hour at the 8:15 o’clock service. There are many of you possibly here, who tarried for that hour and would not wish to stay for this memorial service, but there are two different services. The memorial service is not tacked on to this preaching hour. The preaching hour is first and complete, and then all of you who can, and should, will tarry in quietness and solemnity for the memorial of the breaking of bread.
The title of the sermon this morning is The Living Word of God. And in our preaching through the Bible, we have come to Hebrews 4:12-13. This is one of the most remarkable passages in the Bible, about the Holy Word of God; Hebrews 4:12-13:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Neither is there any creation 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.
All of the expositors and interpreters and commentators would have a fulsome word on that passage. They greatly differ in their ideas. Some of them say that that passage refers to Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Others say, like John Calvin and most of them, that it refers to the Book of the Lord, the holy and inspired Scriptures. We would say that it refers to both, the Word of God incarnate and the Word of God inspired. God hath joined the two together, and the two are in one. They rise, they fall, they live, they die together. The Lord Jesus Christ is in His Word, as one would ride in a chariot. And it is the quickening, living, powerful, piercing, dividing, discerning Word of God because of the life of Jesus in it. There are many who exalt Jesus and praise the great Teacher, but who scorn the Scriptures as being the inspired Word of the living God [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. There are those who praise our Savior in His humanity and who present Him as the great Leader and Savior of the race, but who abhor all of the revelations of the Holy Scriptures concerning the purposeful, meaningful sacrifice, atonement, of His death [Matthew 27:22-50].
They are like Judas Iscariot, who kissed the Lord, then betray Him [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50]. Their homage is more insulting than their scorn. They meet the Lord with a, “Hail, Master,” then “tread underfoot the blood of the covenant whereby He was sanctified” [Hebrews 10:29]. But to us, God is in the Word as the Word is God. To exalt the one is to glorify the other. To dishonor the one is to grieve the other. Christ and His Word are indivisibly, inexorably connected. They live or die together.
“The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow” [Hebrews 4:12]. The word of God is quick,” zōn, living. It has life in itself. It moves in itself. It stirs itself. It is able to impart heavenly life. It is able to do miraculous things in the soul. It has that strange, mystic power of quickening and making alive. Like that dead man who was buried in the grave of Elisha, the man of God, and when the dead man’s corpse touched the dead bones of Elisha, the man lived again. He was resuscitated and quickened and made alive [2 Kings 13:21]. So it is with the Word of God. It has in it a mystic, marvelous, miraculous, quickening power. As the wisest man of all men said, “When thou goest, it shall lead thee: when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee” Proverbs 6:22; for the Word of God is living. It speaks to me. It smites me. It wrestles with me. It frowns upon me. It smiles upon me. It weeps with me. It sings with me. The living Word of God speaks to the human heart. It is alive and it continues to live. It abides. Homileticians pass and theologians pass and interpreters and commentators pass, but we never grow beyond the need of apostles, and prophets, and the revealed Word of God. Human systems that were vibrant and alive with intensest life yesterday, have now grown old and used and worn like a garment. But the Word of God is ever bright, and ever fresh, and ever powerful, and ever quickened [Hebrews 4:12].
Homer and Hesiod were infants when these beginning ancient Scriptures were venerable and old. And yet the Word of God, after the passing of the millenniums, is as new and as fresh as this morning’s newspaper. Our words come and go, and they fall like shed and rotting leaves, to find the grave in the moist, damp earth. But the living Word of God abides forever. “The flower fadeth, the grass withereth, but the word and promise of God shall stand forever” [Isaiah 40:8]. The living gospel ever abides. The Word of God has the life of God in it. If it were cut into a thousand pieces, each thread, each part would live and grow in itself. If it were buried beneath a thousand avalanches of error, it would arise, shake off the incubus, and grow and thrive and live. If it were cast into the fiery furnace, it would walk through the flames without even the smell of smoke on its garments—the living Word, the quickened Word of Almighty God [Hebrews 4:12].
After the bombing of London—when they sought to make a king’s way through some of the ancient city that had been covered over with dwellings for centuries, when the ground was opened, botanists were amazed at the new plants, new flowers that sprang up in those places covered for the centuries. They were plants brought there by the Romans, under the Caesars, buried out of sight for centuries, then alive and quickened to bloom and to flower again. So with the quickened Word of the living God: hidden away, lost, forgotten, yet one volume, in a lonely isolated monastery, fell into the hands of a Martin Luther; and his heart was a seedbed for the growth of word of God; “For the word of God is quick zōn, living.”
“For the word of God is quick, and energēs” [Hebrews 4:12]. How would you translate it? Energēs: energetic, powerful, effective, dynamic, moving. “For the word of God is energēs.” It has in it, the presence and the power of God Himself. When a man speaks the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, it has the same omnipotence as it had when the Holy Spirit brooded over the primeval darkness [Genesis 1:2] and [God] said, “’Let there be light: and there was light” [Genesis 1:3]. The quickened, powerful Word of God [Hebrews 4:12], is effective, and dynamic, and energetic to all sacred and holy ends. The Word of God is a mirror, before which a man looks upon his face, and he sees himself as really he is. “My word”—in convicting power—“shall burn like a fire, and like a hammer shall break the rock in pieces” [Jeremiah 23:29]. And the Word of God is the convicting power of the Lord. The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation; the convicting Word of God, as the psalmist says, “Thy law is perfect, convicting, converting the heart” [Psalm 19:7].
The natural man is a depraved man. He is a fallen man. He is a sinful man, and he is locked behind iron bars, and stone walls, and steel gates. And however much we may seize those imprisoned beyond these walls—we may shake those bars and rattle those gates and tug at those iron chains—we are helpless before them. But the power of God in the Word of God, is a breaker of bolts and a breaker of bars and a breaker of iron chains; it is the living and powerful Word of God [Hebrews 4:12]. The Word of God is powerful for the saving of the soul, for the sanctifying of the life, for the cleansing of the heart, “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” [John 15:3]. “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth” [John 17:17]. “Now, you are clean, you are sanctified with the washing of water by the word” [Ephesians 5:26]. The Word of God is the cleansing agency of the Lord. We are washed, we are made clean by the Word of the living God, and it is our stay and our refuge and our comfort [Ephesians 5:26]. It was the Holy Spirit through the Word that led us to Christ in the first place [John 16:7-15]. And it is the Holy Spirit of God through the Word that leads us to Christ all the remaining days of our lives.
“For the word of God is zōn—living—and energēs—powerful—and tomōteros—more cutting” [Hebrews 4:12]. The Greek basic syllable for cutting is tom. An atom is something that cannot be cut. Tomos, cutting. Tomōteros is the comparative form. And it is atomos, it is tomōteros, “it is more cutting, even than a twoedged sword” [Hebrews 4:12]. The Word of God is sharp on both sides; it cuts this way and that way. There is no blunt side or blunt edge [Hebrews 4:12]. It is the cutting Word of God, more cutting than any twoedged sword. It destroys. It hews to pieces, as Agag was hewn to pieces by Samuel before the Lord [1 Samuel 15:33]. It destroys what ought to be destroyed. It slays what ought to be slain. And it quickens, it makes alive what ought to be quickened and what ought to be made alive. “For the Word of God is more cutting even than any twoedged sword” [Hebrews 4:12].
I wish I could have found, but I haven’t been able to, the story of this man; his name is Mr. Thorpe. He was of Bristol, England, and he belonged to the Hell Fire Club, an infidel’s organization, in the days when George Whitefield was the power of God in the preaching of the gospel. All I can find out about that fellow Thorpe is, second, the tremendous power of his testimony when in his speaking he turned thousands and thousands to Christ, and first, how he became a convert, a Christian. He was a brilliant man and belonged to an infidel club, they called it the Hell Fire Club, scorning God, the Scriptures, the church, the Christ, all things religious. He went to hear George Whitefield preach, I suppose the most able, the most moving, the most dynamic of all preachers of all time. When he heard George Whitefield preach, he went back to a meeting of his infidel club, his Hell Fire Club, and getting him a stool, he stood up there before his associates and compatriots, and with marvelous accuracy, he repeated George Whitefield’s sermon, with his intonations, and his gestures, and his voice, and his vocabulary, and his message. And while this man, Thorpe, whoever he was, while he was there on his little stool, in the applause and laugher of his infidel club, re-delivering George Whitefield’s great sermon on Jesus, he suddenly stammered, and he paused, and he stopped, and he sat down, and he buried his face in his hands, and he began to sob. He was convicted while he was making fun and sarcasm of the preaching of the Word of God. And lifting his face before the astonished fellow unbelievers and infidels, stood up to confess what had happened to his soul and his heart. They dissolved the club, it never met again, and this Mr. Thorpe went out to preach the gospel that once he scorned. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword” [Hebrews 4:12].
It is not only like a sword, cutting both ways, with no blunt edge, but it is like a rapier, piercing, pointed, probing, stabbing—“even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”: the probing, piercing, pointed Word of God, “piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow” [Hebrews 4:12].
This week I prepared no small section of this message, that soul and spirit, but I haven’t time to enter into it. It is a profitable study. It blessed my heart. I just make a concluding comment, out of much, much that could be said. The Scriptures make a difference between a psuchikos man and a pneumatikos man. In the [first] Corinthian letter, the second chapter and the fourteenth verse, “But the natural man”—the psuchikos man—“receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But the” pneumatikos man—“the spiritual man—discerneth” the things of God [1 Corinthians 2:14-15]. That is a part, by no means do we exhaust its meaning, but that is a part of the meaning of the author here when he refers to the Word of God as piercing, probing, discerning, dividing even to the tearing asunder of soul and spirit [Hebrews 4:12]; the psuchikos man, the natural man; and the pneumatikos man, the spiritual man. And what he means is this: there is a straight line, there is a straight thrust in the Word of God, and it divides between the natural man and the spiritual man [Hebrews 4:12].
I listen to the professional clerics many times. I listen to them on the radio. I hear them at the civic clubs. I listen to their prayers. I listen to their preachments and presentations. My impression of the average cleric, when he stands up to pray or to deliver his preachments, he sounds as if, he talks as if, he presents his message as if all men were Christians—the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. The Holy Spirit assumes no such flattering appraisal. The Spirit of God is a discerner, it is a divider [Hebrews 4:12], it is a piercing rapier [Hebrews 4:12]. To us, it may be all gray, but to the Holy Spirit of God [1 Corinthians 2:10], and to the quickened Word of God, it is either white or it is either black. To us, men are somehow pretty much the same, but to the quickened, piercing Word of God, we’re either dead or alive. We are repentant or we are impenitent. We are believers or unbelievers. We are saved or lost. We are pilgrimaging to heaven, or we are moving inevitably toward the judgment day of Almighty God. The Word of God is a discerner and a dividing asunderer of those who are either a psuchikos man, a natural man, or a pneumatikos man, a spiritual man [Hebrews 4:12].
I do not know of anything that will divide a congregation quicker than the plain preaching of the Word of God. Those that love the Book will be attracted to the services, will lean upon it, will listen intently to it, will come back like a hungry soul for heaven’s manna, like a thirsting life for the water of heaven. Those who are not drawn will be repulsed, they will be offended. They will be bored and uninterested, for the Word of God is a great divider [Hebrews 4:12]. It is a great discerner—the living, powerful, quickening, cutting, piercing, discerning, dividing word of the living God [Hebrews 4:12]. Nor could I describe—I have not the eloquence—nor could I describe the marvelous, incomparable, miraculous influence of the Word of God in the life, in the nation, in the destiny, in the make-up, in the character of a people. I shall seek, taking one little page out of its endless story, that we might briefly look upon the impact, the quickening power, the miraculous heaven-sent blessing that accompanies the declaration of the Word of God [Hebrews 4:12].
Thirty years before World War II in a little island called Okinawa, that nobody ever heard of until our forces overwhelmed it and made it a base for a final attack upon Japan, which island we hold today, in which island I one time visited myself. Thirty years before World War II, an American missionary stopped there on his way to Japan. He stayed just for a while and visited, in his journey, a tiny little village on the inside of the island, named Shimabuku. He made two converts; a man named Shosenina and his brother Mojoan, left with them a Bible and went on his way to Japan. As the years passed, those two men, Shosenina and Mojoan, taught the word of God to all of their fellow villagers, until every man, woman, and child in the little town of Shimabuku became a Christian. Shosenina was elected mayor, and his brother Mojoan headed the school, and the curriculum was the Book. They built their community along the lines of the Book, they built their homes and their lives, following the pattern of the Book.
Thirty years later the American forces stormed the beaches of Okinawa. And our men, step by step, foot by foot, hill by hill bathed its shores in blood. And upon a day—taking the island a little at a time—upon a day, the patrols of the American army swept into that little village of Shimabuku. And to the amazement of those boys with their machine guns leveled, there appeared two old Okinawa men, who bowed gracefully in their presence and welcomed the American fellow Christians. Speaking through an interpreter, they had never forgotten their American friend, thirty years before, and they were welcoming their fellow Christians.
The astonished GI’s with their machine guns leveled and all of the trappings of war, flabbergasted, amazed, and astonished, did as you would expect those GI boys to do. They sent for the chaplain, and the chaplain came, and the commanding officer, and those two old gentlemen told them how thirty years before an American had come and left in their hands the Book of God, and had won them to Jesus. The party made a tour through the little village. They were astonished at what they saw. For Okinawa, as you know, has been a place of dirt and filth and unbelievable darkness and ignorance. That little village was like a diamond in a dunghill. The homes were clean, the children were dressed, the people were genteel and courteous; and there the little church, pointing to God. And as they looked, the commanding officer and the chaplain and the men in the little party could not hide their astonishment! Those two old Christian men, Shosenina and Mojoan, thought they were disappointed, and bowing before the American soldiers, they said, “Oh, honorable sirs, you must forgive us for we are a backward and unlearned people. All we have had is the Word of God, and we have just been trying to follow Jesus, but sirs, if you could show us the way, more perfect.” Show them the way, more perfectly! Ah!
The chaplain was returning down the road from the little village, and by his side walked a big, hard-bitten army sergeant. The army sergeant turned to the chaplain and said, “Chaplain, I have about concluded we are using the wrong weapons to remake our world.” I have come to this veritable conclusion; to fight is to fight again; to kill is to kill again. We will sweep out of the earth a Hitler, and a Tojo, and a Mussolini; to stand in the face of a brutal Stalin and a merciless, cruel, Khrushchev, and what lies beyond. And it continues and it continues. O God, that it might be Bibles and not bullets. That it might be missionaries and not soldiers. That it might be churches and not arsenals. That it might be life and not death. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, sharper than any twoedged sword” [Hebrews 4:12]. Lord, bless the message of the Book, as we try to preach it here, and in our dedicated efforts share it with the benighted and the lost of the world.
Now while we sing our song, on the first note of its first stanza, in this moment that we tarry, in this brief appeal that we make, in this balcony round, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord, come into the fellowship of the church. On this lower floor somebody you, a family or just one, you, giving your heart in faith to Christ or coming into the fellowship of the church, while we sing this song, while we make appeal, would you make it now? Into the aisle, down one of these stairwells, to the pastor, “Here I am and here I come. I’ll make it now, this morning,” while we stand and while we sing.