THE ENDURING WORD OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Well, I have some thoughts, and I will tell you what it is I am going to say, then I am going to say it, then I am going to tell you what it is that I said. That’s an old college boy’s outline. What I am going to say is this: I am going to speak of the Word of the Lord as being forever, eternally fixed in heaven, forever and eternally enduring the same in earth and time and history, and forever and eternally in the projected prophesied unending eternity of the ages of ages to come. That’s what I am going to talk about: the word of God before time, in time, and after time.
First, then: the word of God before time, before creation—for time is a creation like space and matter. Time is a creation of God. There is not any time in eternity; time belongs to us who live in this terrestrial earth and who belong to these planetary systems. Now, before the world, before creation, before time, the word of God, the word of God was for ever fixed in heaven, Psalm 119:89, “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven; Thy Word is fixed in heaven.”
Now these things are sometimes difficult for us to understand, to grasp in our minds because we are so finite and we are so imprisoned in the daily adventures and developments of our lives. But there is no such thing as that with God. God looks on everything in the present tense; everything is present before God, all of it. From the eternity before creation was, through all of time and history and the consummation of the age and the vast eternity that is yet to come, God looks on all of it in the present tense. He looks at the end and the beginning and all in between; God reviews it all, and it is all present tense with the Lord.
Now we are not that way. To us things happen day at a time, piece at a time; they turn a corner, and we watch things happen day at a time. But God does not stand behind a corner as we do and watch things occur: He looks at all of it from the beginning to the end.
One time, when I was a youth, I went to Chicago, and it happened to be on a Labor Day, and they were having an enormous Labor Day celebration in Soldier stadium. And Alfalfa Bill Murray from Oklahoma was to be the speaker for that Labor Day rally. Well, I went out to Soldier stadium—and you know it’s built like a horseshoe, with the field, museum down here at this end—and that parade, an enormously long Labor Day parade was coming in that end of that horseshoe stadium, and I was down there in it. And as I sat down there in one of those tiered levels and was watching the parade come in, there’d be the butchers and their band and all their… and then the bakers and their band and all that bunch, and then the candlestick makers and that band and all their bunch and they all came in, the boilermakers and the bricklayers, and the steam fitters, and they all coming you know. Well, after I sat there for several hours I just got tired. So I climbed up on top of that stadium, clear up to the top of it; and when I stood up there on the top of the stadium I could watch that parade, I don’t know how far, up Michigan Avenue, clear to the end of it. And I could watch it move down Michigan Avenue as they were banded together, and as the instruments played and they marched. I could watch it all the way through as it moved. And then I could watch it come into Soldier stadium, and then finally take their places in the field itself.
Now we are like that: down here in this world and we see things happen one at a time, one at a time, day at a time. And what the future holds, we do not know because things happen to us as they turn the corner, as they come into the stadium, into the field of view. But God’s up there at the top, and He watches the whole human parade, the whole era of history from that tail end down there clear to the front end here. And He watches it move together, the whole gamut of human story. He looks at all of it in the present. Here, here, here, God reviews all of it all the time.
In Chicago, there is one of the most effective pieces of sculpture that I ever saw. It’s at the street that runs down through the middle of Chicago University, and it runs into kind of a park thing at the end. And at that end of the street there is a picture of Time: typical, long beard, scythe in his hand, and over a little lagoon he is watching the story of human life all depicted in sculptured form over here. The reason it made such a great impression upon me was because the last one depicts death. And I have just seen the truth of that so many times. As the artist pictured death, there is first a picture of a child looking at death in wide open, innocent wonder. There is a picture of a youth as he covers his eyes; it is to him a horrible and ghastly spectacle. And the last picture is of an old, old woman as she bows on her knees, and her hands are uplifted, outreaching toward death; to her it is a liberation. Now, as Father Time stands there and he watches the whole story of human life, and he sees it from beginning to end, so God in His glory and on His throne watches all of history. And no part of that surprises God. There’s no piece of that that astonishes Him, that catches Him by surprise. He sees all of it, if you didn’t; the little mosaic that is you, and everything about you, and the end of your life. There’s a time when you’re going to die; and the Lord knows it, and you’ll not live a second beyond that time. There’s a time when you were born, and God saw that. There’s a time when you’re going to die, and God sees that; and when that time comes you’ll not live a moment longer. God sees the whole gamut of human history.
Now in the beginning, before the beginning, before creation, before the foundation of the world, all of this was settled, fixed in heaven [Psalm 119:89]: every syllable of it, every word of it, every detail of it, every historical development of it, every character in it, every revelation of God. All of it, the whole word of God, all of it, from beginning to end of it was fixed up there in heaven before God created the world, all of it [Psalm 119:89].
We don’t have time to follow it or even to speak of it, but the Lord Jesus Christ volunteered to be the atonement for our sins up there in glory, before the foundation of the world [Hebrews 10:4-14]. The Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world [Revelation 13:8], the whole plan of salvation, all of it, “Forever, O God, Thy word is fixed, settled, known, written in heaven” [Psalm 119:89].
Now in time, in history—this is my favorite verse. What do we see in time and history? Now where we live, what do we see? We see a dissolving fellowship, a dissolving family, a dissolving nation, a dissolving relationship; no matter what it is, it is dissolving. Life is dissolving. The years are dissolving. Time is dissolving. Everything is dissolving. Our whole world around us is changing, is dissolving. Why even in my lifetime, my mother’s gone, my father’s gone. Practically all of the people who brought me here to this church are gone. Every man on the pulpit committee, I have buried all six of them. We live in a dissolving world.
Is there anything that abides forever? Is there? Oh, these tremendous monuments. Well, you go look at the pyramids, they’re just a skeleton of what they once were. They’re just jagged memories. Couldn’t even find the great monuments of the past in Nineveh or in Babylon; the winding sheet of the desert sands cover them. The Parthenon in Athens is a shell; a piece, a broken one. Even the Pantheon in Rome; and these are the oldest buildings that we have. It is a dissolving world, all of it. Is there anything that abides? My favorite Scripture: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of God endureth for ever” [Isaiah 40:8]; in a dissolving world, this never changes.
Now beyond time: the Scriptures say that the heavens being on fire, and the earth, one of its satelliting, orbiting planets, the very elements shall be dissolved by raging flame and fire [2 Peter 3:10-12]. Well, in the great, ultimate judgment and catastrophe—and the world is moving toward some kind of a judgment; you’d be a blind man not to sense that. The whole flow of human history is toward some kind of a holocaust. If nothing else, the atomic weapons that nations are stockpiling would ensure that. Beside the prophecies of the Book, the whole flow of human history is toward final intervention of God from heaven. And as Simon Peter writes, “It is with an awesome, awesome, furious fiery burning end” [2 Peter 3:10-12].
Well, when the heavens are on fire, and when the earth passes away, is there anything that endures? Matthew 24:35; “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Beyond the heavens, beyond the earth, beyond creation, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, the word of God endures forever! [Isaiah 40:8].
I want to read you this poem. It’s past time, but I’ve just got it in my heart. I want to read you this poem.
The starry firmament on high,
And all the glories of the sky,
Yet shine not to Thy praise, O Lord,
So brightly as Thy written Word.
The hopes that Holy Word supplies,
Its truths divine and precepts wise,
In each a heavenly beam I see,
And every beam conducts to Thee.
Almighty Lord, the sun shall fail,
The moon her borrowed glory veil,
And deepest reverence hush on high,
The joyful chorus of the sky.
But fixed for everlasting years,
Unmoved amid the wreck of spheres,
Thy Word shall shine in cloudless day,
When heaven and earth have passed away.
[“The Starry Firmament on High,” Robert Grant]
Precious Savior, Thou art the Word of God [John 1:14]. The written Word came from Thee [2 Timothy 3:16]. The living Word we saw in Thee, and the incarnate Word is none other but Thee [John 1:1, 14]. And the record of Thy presence, of Thy grace and greatness, open before us on these sacred pages. Dear Lord, as we sit at Thy feet [Luke 10:39], give us bigger hearts and souls and minds to grasp more of the infinitude of the glory of Thy goodness and grace. In Thy dear name, amen.