MY FAVORITE TEXT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-28-1975 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who are sharing the service with us over WRR, the radio of the city of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled My Favorite Text. Out of all of the Bible, we have come to the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, and in that chapter, verse 8 is my favorite text in the Bible. The reason it is my favorite text is because apart from it we would not know God, we would not know His name, we would not know Jesus Christ, we would not know He came into the world, and we would have no assurance of our eternal salvation. This text includes the whole revelation, promise of God.
What gave rise to it is in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, coming to the marvelous, apocalyptic disclosure of the visitation of God among His people. They’re sold into slavery. They live in a foreign land. They have been defeated and crushed. They live in despair. And the fortieth chapter begins with that glorious comforting word, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people” [Isaiah 40:1]. Then the Lord makes, next in the chapter, an incomparable unbelievable promise; that He is coming visibly and that they are to build a highway for Him [Isaiah 40:3] and keeping with Oriental custom—or we would say in our day, rolling out a red carpet—in that day, building a highway, building a road, a causeway for the great God and Savior. He is coming visibly to redeem and to deliver His people [Isaiah 40:5].
Well, such a promise is so unthinkable, that God would come in the flesh and visit His people and redeem them from slavery and despair. So the next section which immediately follows is an avowal how that God will do it. Against the background of despair and disillusion and the weakness of men, this is what He says:
The voice said, Cry.
And he said, What shall I cry?
The voice said, Repeat this glorious promise that the Lord God is coming. The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. Cry it aloud.
And another voice said, How shall I cry such a promise as that?
All flesh is grass, and the goodness of thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
How could you plan or hope for any glorious kingdom promise such as, that the Lord is coming in the flesh and all the world will see it together. The whole world is a dissolving community. Its society and its culture and its structures are all dissolving. There’s no permanence in them at all. Nothing that we see in the world is finally permanent even heaven and earth shall surely pass away. Then the incomparable promise of Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withereth,” that’s true, “the flower fadeth,” that’s true, “but the word of our God shall stand forever,” and that is true.
Now, in expounding this incomparable verse, we will look at it in three ways. First: that the word of God that shall endure for ever [Isaiah 40:8], is a word that in eternity always was before God; these holy revelations. In Psalm 119:89, “For ever, O Lord, Thy word nitsav in heaven.” Now how would you like to translate that? In the King James Version, it is translated “settled.” “For ever, O God, Thy word nitsav in heaven—is settled in heaven” [Psalm 119:89]. I think a wonderful translation for it would be “is fixed; it is established in heaven.” The reason I feel that is a good translation is in the same Psalm, the one hundred and nineteenth Psalm, the psalmist says, “Concerning Thy testimonies, I have known of old that Thou hast founded them forever” [Psalm 119:152]. Up there in glory is the word of God fixed and settled before the foundations of the earth were laid. Or I look again in the one hundred and sixtieth verse, “Thy word is true from the beginning; and every one of Thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” [Psalm 119:160]. In other words, God set the word and fixed the word in heaven. It was before Him. And what I have in my hands in earth is but a copy and a reflection, a thing made from a pattern of what God has before Him in heaven. The word of God is in heaven fixed [Psalm 119:89]; it was founded and selected before the foundation of the world [Psalm 119:152]. And this Word that I have is a copy of that eternal pattern of God in heaven. Isn’t that an astonishing thing?
So we look at it. In Washington D.C. there is a bureau of weights and standards and measurements. And in that bureau there is a perfect inch, and a perfect foot, and a perfect yard, and a perfect pound, and a perfect ounce, and a perfect liter, and a perfect quart, and a perfect gallon. And all of the measurements and weights of the United States of America are made to conform according to that standard of weight and measurement in Washington D.C. And if a man in a grocery store comes under that standard, they can arrest him, fine him, send him to jail. All of the weights and the measurements of the United States are to conform to that standard in Washington D.C.
In Washington D.C. in the naval observatory, there is a clock, there is a consummation of an exact time, and every day at high noon, at twelve o’clock at high noon, that naval observatory takes that clock and they adjust it—maybe by one millionth of a second—but they adjust it by the great concourse of the stars. And then from that clock in the naval observatory in Washington D.C. all of the timepieces of America are corrected. Every timepiece in America is corrected by the standard in the naval observatory in Washington D.C.
God said to Moses, “See that thou make all things according to the pattern which I have showed thee on the mount” [Exodus 25:9, 40; Hebrews 8:5]. Up there in God was a tabernacle spoken of in the Apocalypse, in the Revelation [Revelation 15:5]. Up there was a tabernacle, a temple. And God showed Moses the pattern of it. And God said to Moses, “See to it that you make everything in this tabernacle according to the pattern that I have shown thee from heaven” [Exodus 25:40]. What is down here on earth is but a following, a realization of a pattern that God has in heaven. So this text avows that God’s word is nitsav; it is fixed, it is settled in heaven [Psalm 119:89]. And what I have here in my hand is but a following, a reproduction of that pattern of God’s Word that is before Him in heaven.
Thousands of years ago there were thirty-nine books in the Old Testament; today there are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament. In the first Christian centuries there were twenty-seven books in the New Testament; there are twenty-seven books in the New Testament today. The Bible that I hold in my hand in the Old Testament is the exact Bible that Jesus had in His hand. In the Old Testament Scriptures, in the Hebrew Scriptures, every letter, every jot, every tittle is on the same spot on the same page of all the Hebrew Bibles of the world. The Bible may be big, it may be little, but every copy of the Hebrew Bible in the earth has the same spot, the same letter, the same verse, the same Scripture, the same jot, the same yodh, the same samekh, the same aleph exactly in the same place; and has been for thousands of years.
One of the marvelous things of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I noticed Dr. Patterson, that when we come here on Wednesday night, this Wednesday night, and we’re going to sit down here for a while in this auditorium in our New Year’s service and the preacher’s going to ask, you’re going to ask him questions, and he’s supposed to be able to answer them, God help me. Now one of the things that I see you’ve written in that program is, “What is the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls?” Well, I’m going to answer that right now. The oldest manuscript that we had of the Hebrew Old Testament was written about from 900 to 1000 AD, called the Masoretic, made by the Masoretes. Now the Dead Sea Scrolls push those manuscripts back one hundred fifty years BC, a thousand years earlier. And what did the Dead Sea Scroll reveal to us? One of them was by Isaiah. If you go to the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, you’ll see that scroll of Isaiah there in that shrine. And what they saw was this: that the scroll of Isaiah that they discovered in the Qumran caves one hundred-fifty years before Christ is exactly like the Masoretic text which we have, which is a thousand years later! The little old differences are inconsequential. How could such a thing be? God did that! The Lord God did that. The word of the Lord is fixed in heaven [Psalm 119:89]. It is before God in heaven everlastingly! And this is but a copy of what God had chosen to be in this Book from the foundation of the world! [Psalm 119:152].
Isn’t it an amazing thing how it stays just as it is? Why, there have been attempts through the centuries and centuries to add to that Book and to take away from that Book. The Council of Trent, and the Synod of Jerusalem, and the bishops of Hippo said, “We must add to those thirty-nine books of the Old Testament Scriptures. We must add to them the Apocrypha.” And so they added to the Old Testament Scriptures the Apocrypha. Listen: there is not a fair-minded Jew and there is not a fair-minded learned Christian in the world today that would add to the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament the absurdities that you find in the Apocrypha. Who would place Judith or Tobit by the side of a Deuteronomy or an Isaiah? And they were not added. In this Bible you will not find them because God said, “No!”
Take again, these ancients in the centuries gone by said, “We must add to the books of the New Testament. We must add gospels, and we must add apocalypses, and we must add epistles.” So there were gospels written, I don’t know how many. There were epistles written, I don’t know how many. There were apocalypses written, I don’t know how many. They flooded the world with them! But not a one of them will you find in the New Testament; like dying fruit on a tree, it rotted and faded away!
There are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament in God’s heaven. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament in God’s heaven. And there are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament in this Bible. And there are twenty-seven books in the New Testament in this Bible. “Forever, O God, Thy word is nitsav” [Psalm 119:89]. It is fixed in heaven, and you can’t add to it, and you can’t take away from it. You cannot do it. God did that, sealed that, and fixed and founded and established that. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” [Isaiah 40:8].
Now my second avowal in expounding the text; not only is the Bible, the Holy Scripture, the word of God forever fixed in heaven [Psalm 119:89]—and no man can add to it, and no man can take away from it—but the Lord God has seen to it that through all of our present generations it abides, it endures incorruptible, inerrant. Listen to the Word of the Lord by Simon Peter. First Peter 1, the last three verses:
We are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
[1 Peter 1:23]
Then he quotes Isaiah 40:
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass.
The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away; but the word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.
[1 Peter 1:24-25]
Now Simon Peter adds a word to Isaiah 40:8. He adds the word aphthartos. Phthartos is the word for perishing, corruptible. The alpha privative aphthartos is the word for incorruptible, imperishable. And that is a word that he adds being born again, not of phthartos seed—corruptible, perishing seed—but of aphthartos—incorruptible, imperishable seed—by the word of God [1 Peter 1:23]. For the “grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of God shall stand for ever” [1 Peter 1:24-25, Isaiah 40:8].
Now what is it that Simon Peter has done to Isaiah 40:8 when he adds that word aphthartos—incorruptible, imperishable? [1 Peter 1:23]. Well, what he’s talking about is this: that the word of God abides true, inerrant! It is not changed; it is not corrupted by the hand of man, nor does it perish itself [1 Peter 1:23], but it abides exactly as God said it, fixed it in heaven [Psalm 119:89; 1 Peter 1:23].
Look how the Lord does. The Lord God ordained that the life of the Incarnate would be preserved when Herod drew his sword to slay the Child at His birth in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:13-16]. God did that. The same Lord God saw to it that the body of the incarnate Word was preserved from corruption when they laid Him in the grave at His death [Acts 2:27, 13:35; Psalm 16:10]. The same Lord God watches over the saints to see to it that they are sealed, that they are eternally secure, that they’ll get to heaven [John 10:28-30]. God does that. And the same Lord God watches over His Holy Word and sees to it that it is not corrupted, that it remains pure and undefiled, a reflection, a copy, following that pattern in heaven [Psalm 119:89]. God does that. The Holy Spirit inspired it [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21], and the Holy Spirit keeps it.
Now how does God do that? He did it in a wonderful and amazing way. He did it by multiplying the copies of the Word of God. Now you say, my land, what is unusual about that? All right look at this; you look at this. There are 4,105 ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. There are something like thirty thousand Latin versions of this New Testament. There are something like a thousand other versions, ancient versions of the New Testament, such as the Syriac and the Coptic, beside the references that we find to this Word and quotations from it in the papyri and from the church fathers; thousands and thousands and thousands of copies. And by comparing those copies we can see any time that the copyist made an error, that something crept in to corrupt the text.
Now I want you to behold the miracle of that! Look, look, look! One thousand five hundred years after Herodotus wrote his history, there was one manuscript of it in the whole world; just one. One thousand two hundred years after Plato wrote his Republic and his great classics, there was one manuscript of it in the whole world. In the whole world today, there is one ancient manuscript of the Annals of Tacitus. There is one ancient manuscript of the Greek Anthology. There are hardly more for Sophocles, Euripides, and Thucydides, and Cicero, and Virgil.
But God saw to it that there were thousands and thousands and thousands of copies made of the Holy Word of God. And by comparing those copies, any time that there was a corruption, any time there was an error, by comparing those, we can see right here where that copyist made that error; and it is easily and apparently what has been done.
You see, God wrote in the sacred Book that His word would abide aphthartos, incorruptible [1 Peter 1:23]. Isn’t that a marvelous thing? If this copyist made a mistake, God saw to it that there were a thousand other copies that didn’t make the mistake. The same thing holds true today. If there is a modernist who translates the New Testament into English, God will see to it that there are a hundred other translations that will be true to the text; faithfully following the Holy Word of God. Did you know God does that in His whole world? If there’s a modernist preacher over here that denies the faith, God will raise up a great man of God here, who will be true to it, to every ounce of energy in his soul, and body, and blood, and life, and sinew, and muscle, and bone. If there is a church here that wanders away into infidelity, God will raise up a church here that will be true to the faith. If there is a denomination that falls away into apostasy, God will see to it that there’s another denomination raised up over here who will be true to the Word of the living God. That’s what God has done to keep His Word faithful and true and inerrant. It abides aphthartos, incorruptible [1 Peter 1:23].
One other in our hastening; “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever” [Isaiah 40:8]. We have spoken of the fact that it is forever fixed in heaven [Psalm 119:89], and what we have here is a copy of God’s Word that He chose from the foundation of the world [Psalm 119:152].
We have spoken secondly of the fact that it is incorruptible [1 Peter 1:23]. You can’t change it by the errors of men or by the volitional of choice of men. God sees to it that it abides pure.
All right, third: God says that it shall continue into the age of the ages. It shall endure; it shall abide; it shall flourish. Let me translate that word for you. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God”—the Hebrew verb is qum—the word of our God qum, forever [Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:24-25]. Literally, it means “it shall rise.” And I think the imagery that lies back of it is this: when the whole earth is crushed and falls in pieces and maybe, and maybe burns, phoenix-like, out of the crushing, and out of the fading, and out of the withering, and out of the destruction, God’s Word shall rise, phoenix-like, to stand forever, to endure forever. It shall continue forever and ever and ever. Heaven and earth may pass away, but God’s Word shall never pass away [Matthew 24:35]. Qum, it shall stand, it rises to flourish and to fruit and to glorify God forever [Isaiah 40:8].
Now I’m going to take three illustrations of that and see how in the face of merciless attacks, vicious attacks, the Word of God rises to endure and to abide. First we shall take the merciless onslaught of paganism against it. And out of the sea of literature we will take one instance, that of Diocletian. One of the bitterest persecutions ever mounted against the Christian faith was by Diocletian, the emperor of the Roman Empire, and in 303 AD he edicted that every Bible should be burned and destroyed and the people who possessed them should be slain. And it was the purpose of Diocletian to eradicate Christianity out of the Roman Empire. And when he saw that they built their faith upon a Book, he said the way to eradicate it is to burn the Book and the people. So in 303 AD Diocletian, the Roman Caesar, implemented a vicious attack against the Bible and the Christian people. They burned the Bibles from one side of the empire to the other, and they slaughtered Christians by the myriads. And when he got through with his terrible and merciless persecution, over a burned up and destroyed Bible, Diocletian erected a monument to his victory. And on the monument he inscribed these words: Extincto Nomine Christianorum, “Extinguished is the name of Christian.” That was in 303 AD.
You know who followed him? Constantine. And in 312 AD Constantine removed the pagan symbols from off the shields of his soldiers and placed on the shields the cross of Jesus Christ, In Hoc Signo Vinces, “In this sign, conquer.” In less than ten years—after Diocletian had thought he had destroyed the Word of God and destroyed the Christian faith from the earth—within ten years after that, Christianity had subdued the Roman Empire and unhinged it and placed it in another category, in another faith, in another religion, in another culture, in another society, in another way.
“The flower fadeth, the grass withereth: but the word of God shall stand forever” [Isaiah 40:8, 1 Peter 1:24-25]. Look again; one of the most unusual things is that mounting of a merciless attack against the Word of God by a bigoted and tyrannical church. Can you believe that? That the ecclesiastics themselves should be in the forefront of those who sought to destroy the Word of God. Isn’t that an amazing thing, to substitute tradition and dogma and human decrees for the revelation of the infallible, inerrant Word of the Almighty God?
Martin Luther was an ecclesiastic all his life. Martin Luther said when he was a grown man, “I have seen my first Bible.” As a grown man, an ecclesiastic all his life, Martin Luther said as a grown man, “I am now looking upon the first Bible I ever saw.”
The Inquisition was not able to get a hold of John Wycliffe before he died. But John Wycliffe’s body was dug up, exhumed from the ground and burned, and his ashes scattered on the River Avon. And anyone in England found with a Wycliffe Bible, an English Bible, they hung it around his neck and burned him and the Bible together. But you know, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but God’s word shall endure forever” [Isaiah 40:8]. The ashes of Wycliffe were strewn over the face of the Avon River, and the Avon River runs into the Swift, and the Swift runs into the Severn, and the Severn runs into the sea, and the sea bathed the seven continents of the world. And the word of God translated by John Wycliffe came to the shores of the nations and peoples of the earth, and came to us in America—abides for ever [Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:23].
Oh, my time is gone. And I want to expatiate on the modern attack against the Word of God, which is out of all history the most vicious and the most terrible. The modern attack against the Word of God is found in rationalism; the Wellhausens, and the Bauers, and the Strausses, and the Tubingen schools who mock at its supernatural revelation; who deny the deity of Christ; who repudiate the miracles; who say that the Bible is nothing other than a collection of legend and myth and folklore, like a Greek anthology.
You know it looked as if that the prophecy of Voltaire would come to pass. Voltaire died in 1779. Voltaire said, “Within a hundred years there will not be a Bible on the face of the earth except as an antiquarian curiosity. And the infidel Hume said, “I see the twilight of Christianity.” Did you know one hundred years after Voltaire said that prophecy, a first edition of Voltaire sold in Paris for eleven cents? And at that same time the British government paid the Czar of Russia $500,000 for Codex Sinaiticus, which today would be about $2,000,000. Have you been to the British museum? Go see Codex Sinaiticus, one of the great codex’s, one of the great manuscripts of the Bible to be found in all of the libraries of the world. And as for Hume, he mixed up his sunsets and his twilights. What he thought was twilight was sunrise.
Oh, the Word of God written for our assurance. The world may pass away, the grass may wither, the flower may fade: but the Word and promise of our God shall stand forever [Isaiah 40:8]. Diocletian never broke one string of its thousand stringed harp. Voltaire and Hume never took off one twig from its forest of glory. All the rationalists of the world haven’t drowned one word in their infidel ink. And a Tom Paine and a Bob Ingersoll have not shortened its life by one moment. This is my favorite text [Isaiah 40:8].
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, just one somebody you, in the balcony, on this lower floor, down a stairway, walking down one of these aisle, “Today, pastor, I give my heart to God. I accept the Lord Jesus for all that the Book says that He is.” “This is my family, pastor. All of us are coming into the fellowship of the church.” Or just you, or just two of you or three of you as God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now; do it now; make the decision in your heart now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up responding with your life. May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
MY FAVORITE TEXT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Word of God is fixed forever from eternity past
1. Psalm 119:89:
forever settled in heaven
2. 39 books in the
Old Testament, 27 books in the New Testament
3. Dead Sea scrolls
an example of God’s preservation of His truth
1. Lives and abides
forever, 1 Peter 1:25
2. Corruption kept
out by multiplying (copying) the text, there are thousands and thousands of
copies of the ancient text
3. Any additions or
deletions are immediately discovered by comparing the thousands of ancient copies
1. Standing forever,
2. All attacks to
eliminate the Bible throughout history have failed
3. Pagans, the
church itself, rationalists have failed