THE FORM OF SOUND WORDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 1:13
10-12-80 10:50 a.m.
And it is no less a joy for us in our dear church to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church, first of all inviting you to an all day prayer meeting this coming Wednesday. We will start in the morning; we will go all day long through our evening midweek service. You can come anytime, there will be someone here leading our service, mostly in prayer intercession, asking God to bless our church in its great hour of need and our response to it. The budget of our church—the giving outline of our church covers pages and pages and pages—it is so long in detail that we do not try to print it. Somebody asked in that giving outline, “What about the cooperative program?” Because of the tremendous burden of debt on our church, our men cut down in everything that was possible, all except one; and that was the cooperative program.
In these days, the pastor is preaching in the morning on the great theological doctrines of the Bible, in the evening on the problems of human life. The sermon tonight at 7:00 o’clock is entitled Eli: Trouble in the Home. It will bless your hearts to listen to the message Trouble in the Home; the problems of human life. And this morning, in the long series on bibliology, the message is entitled The Form of Sound Words. Next Sunday at this hour it will be The Self-Revelation of God.
The doctrinal sermon this hour is based upon one of the most unusual words that Paul has written, found in 2 Timothy chapter 1, verse 13:
Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us.
[2 Timothy 1:13-14]
The unusual text and the background of this doctrinal message, “the form of sound words” [2 Timothy 1:13]; “sound,” our word “hygiene” comes from that. A “u” in Greek, when the word is pulled over into English becomes a “y.” In Greek hugianō, hugianō, it means to be well, to be in health. The substantive participial form of the verb means healthful, ministering to our spiritual well being—“sound” translated here. In our Bible, as well as in our own word, our own language, the word has come to mean “orthodox.”
For example, Paul will write in 1 Timothy, “sound doctrine” [1 Timothy 1:10]. We use the word like that. We refer to a “sound” preacher; that is, he is a true and faithful and orthodox preacher. He doesn’t present his own speculative opinions instead of the Word of God, but he is a sound, orthodox preacher: sound, true to the Word and revelation of God.
Paul felt that flaccidity of belief, of teaching, preaching, is anathema. Paul felt that as the body must have a skeletal frame, otherwise it is a heap of useless mass, so teaching and preaching must have a great doctrinal frame, and he calls that “sound,” orthodox: “sound” orthodox words. In 1 Corinthians 2:13, Paul says:
The words we speak are not the words which man’s wisdom teacheth,
but words which the Holy Spirit teacheth us; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
Now isn’t that an unusual avowal the apostle makes about the revelation of God? God speaks in words, the revelation is in words. All through our Baptist Zion there is such a discussion about that today, most of which is amazing to me! For Paul plainly writes, “These words which we speak—that are written here in this Book—are not the words of man’s wisdom, but they are the words which the Holy Spirit teacheth, speaketh, useth” [1 Corinthians 2:13].
All through the Bible you will find phrases like this: “The word of the Lord came to…” and then such and such speaker, or such and such author, or such and such writer, or such and such prophet; the word of God came to that man. That is, not a suggestion came to him, not an experience he had that he’s going to delineate for us, not some revelation came to him that he’s going to describe for us; all that may be true, but the Bible says, “The word of God,” came to that man. The words are the words of the Holy Spirit, the words of Christ, the words of God, “the form of sound words” [2 Timothy 1:13].
Then he uses a description here that is to me amazing: “the form of sound words” [2 Timothy 1:13]. God’s revelation—when He speaks—takes on a paradigm, a model, a form, a pattern. The word here is hupotupoō, hupotupoō, that means “to delineate, to outline.” And the substantive, the noun form of it, hupotupōsis, refers to a pattern, or a model, or a paradigm.
Now what he means is this: that when we study the Word of God, as in the passage I just read in 1 Corinthians 2:13, “These things we speak are not the words of man’s wisdom, but they are words which the Holy Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual,” when we do that—when we study the words of God, comparing spiritual things with spiritual things, when we look at the whole revelation of God—there emerges from it a form, a pattern, a paradigm, an outline, a summary of doctrine. And if we don’t add to it and if we don’t take away from it, but if we faithfully present it, it will be beautifully proportioned; the form will be heavenly, and beautiful, and spiritually blessed; helpful, healthful, “sound” he calls it [2 Timothy 1:13].
That is exactly as one would form, say, a five-pointed star. If you don’t change its angles, no matter how far into infinity you may project it, it will always be beautifully proportioned; it will be a magnificent five-pointed star. But if you change the angels you change the proportion, and it won’t be beautiful and proportionate. So with God’s teaching and God’s doctrine: if you don’t add to it, if you don’t take away from it, but if you present it as it is, it will always be beautifully proportionate.
When a man changes the angle of what he believes, the man is changed; he’s something else. When a preacher changes the angle of his doctrinal presentation, his preaching changes. When a church changes the angles of its doctrinal commitment, the church changes. We are exactly like the pattern of our belief, of our faith. And God’s words take a form and a pattern; and when we keep it that way, it will always be proportionately beautiful.
Another thing, the form of sound words [2 Timothy 1:13]—the summary, the model, the pattern, the paradigm—it is always self-consistent; it is never self-contradictory. In the revelation of the truth of God, it will be the same yesterday, and today, and forever. It will not present a truth here which is true then, but a truth which is characterized as false now; but it will be the same eternally, always. Now when you apply that to the revelation of God, it has tremendous and sometimes awesome meaning for us. The Word of God is true forever. It is fixed in heaven [Psalm 119:89], and what God says then is the truth of the Lord is true now and forever.
For example, hell was not hell a thousand six hundred years ago, but today in this enlightened age, it is now a period of probation, or doesn’t exist at all. The revelation of God is everlastingly true; and if there was a hell centuries ago, and God revealed its awesome judgment to us, there is a hell today!
Or again, depravity: if God teaches us that the human heart is depraved, fallen in all of its nature, our minds are fallen, our hearts, our emotions are fallen, our wills are fallen, our lives are fallen, if God taught us that in the generations ago, it is true today; we are yet and now and still a fallen and depraved people [Romans 3:9-12].
Like atonement: atonement in the Bible will be the same all the way through. If there was atonement in the twelfth chapter of Exodus, when the people who were saved, when God judged Egypt, were under the blood [Exodus 12:3-7, 13, 23], the doctrine of atonement is the same in 1 John 1:7, when “the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” When the Mosaic legislation will say in Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your [souls]; for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the [soul]”; now when God teaches us that, His nomenclature is the same forever. “Altar” means “altar,” and “sacrifice” is “sacrifice,” and “atonement” is “atonement,” and “expiation by blood” is “expiation by blood,” and it is God’s teaching us the truth and the language of heaven by type here, and by anti-type in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Or take the great doctrine of election: if election was true in Genesis 12 and 15, in the calling out of Abraham [Genesis 12:1, 15:1-5], then election is true in the Book of Romans, when he talks about God’s elective purpose for Israel [Romans 9:11, 11:5, 7, 28]. Then it is true of us when Paul talks about it in the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians [Ephesians 1:3-23]. It is the truth forever! Nor does it ever contradict itself—it is the same all the way through—it is homogenous.
All right, again, the form of sound words [2 Timothy 1:13]—this paradigm, this doctrinal summary that arises out of the study of what God says—it is universally applicable. It is not just for them over there, but it would be different for us here; but it is forever in every place applicable. It is truth there, it is truth here: God is like that in all of His works, there’s no exception.
For example, two plus two does not equal four just in Europe, but two plus two equals four in America. Two plus two in America will never equal, say, six and five-eighths, or twenty-five. No matter where the truth of God is found and delivered, it is the same, always applicable. And no matter how far into mathematics you may go, the first primeval truth is always foundational and always factually so. It never is superseded; it is always that. Two plus two equals four in mathematics. It is also true in algebra. It is also true in geometry. It is also true in trigonometry. It is also true in parabola. It is also true in hyperbola. It is also true in ellipse. Those four fundamental basic truths that we learn in simple arithmetic—division, and multiplication, and addition, and subtraction—no matter how far into the science of mathematics you may reach, it is always still the same. New discoveries will not obviate or vitiate what we already have found to be true.
Now in God’s leading us along as we progress, and we do; and as we learn, and we do; and as we understand more, and we do; whatever else we learn, and whatever future thing is revealed to us will never obviate or vitiate or deny or contradict the truth of the past, but it will confirm what is past. For God’s truth is universally applicable: it is the same everywhere.
You see that in the hand of God in the other book that He has written. God has written two great books: one is in nature, and one is here. And whether it is the book there or whether it is the Book here, God’s handiwork is always just the same. It is eternal and it is universal.
Look at God’s outward book here: Dr. Steven Weinberg is the professor of physics at Harvard University. He was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. In 1977 he published a book entitled A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. Now he avows three things in that book, and I want to point out two of them to you. One of them is this: “The universe is governed,” he says, “by a cosmological principle,” meaning there are definite and observable laws throughout the creation which are uniform and universal. He says, quote:
The universe is isotropic and homogeneous. By saying it is isotropic, we mean that it appears the same in all directions. By saying that it is homogeneous, we mean that it appears the same to all observers.
He says the cosmological principle is the foundation for all scientific research. He says:
When we sent our men to the moon we did so believing that on the moon the same laws prevail that we find on earth.
The laws throughout the universe are uniform and universal.
If you were to send an American man to Jupiter, or Mars, or to the sidereal spheres, the same laws we see here will be the same laws that are observed and obtain up there.
All right, the second thing this wonderful scientist avows:
The universe is a unity. It is more than a huge conglomeration of atoms and molecules wildly gyrating and randomly colliding with each other,
but the universe has cohesion and therefore it has meaning.
That is exactly the way God works! In the universe above us there are tremendous universal laws that are everywhere true, everywhere the same, and everywhere applicable. So in this other Book God has written. The truth of God, the Words of the Lord that are revealed to us take a form, and they take a shape; they follow a pattern and a model. And when we look at it, as Paul says, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual” [1 Corinthians 2:13], we find that they are forever. They never change, they are the truth of God forever, and they are universally applicable! They were applicable to the generations before us, they are to us today, they are for our children, and they are forever. “The truth of God is eternally fixed in heaven” [Psalm 119:89], so says the psalmist.
All right, another thing about the form of sound words [2 Timothy 1:13]: they are breathed from the breath of God, they come from the Lord. In the second letter of Timothy, this one, chapter 3, verse 16, Paul calls those words theopneustos, God-breathed, “God-breathed; they come from the breath of God [2 Timothy 3:16]. And the form, and the shape, and the model, the summary of all the teaching of God—all of it—is a reflection of the mind, the breath, the Spirit of the Lord [2 Peter 1:20-21].
Now we’re going to look at that for a moment: there are men, world without end, my impression is the whole theological world is like this—there are men who are liberal, and they live in a world of higher critics. And they look upon the Bible, all of them do, they look upon the Bible as a collection of antique literature. It is the writings of an obscure and primitive people, thousands of years ago. Well, if that is true, if the Bible is just a collection of antique literature written by an obscure and primitive people who lived thousands of years ago, then what I can’t understand is, in our progressive and enlightened age, why can’t we write a better Bible? Why can’t we do it?
Those people who wrote the Bible so many thousands of years ago, they belonged to a small and mostly hated and despised race, and they lived in a little place tucked away that’s not as big as one of our Texas counties. And they had no printing presses, and they had no great libraries in which to study, and they had no laboratories, and they had no research centers. And they had no jets, and no steamships to bring them news from the other cultural centers of the world; and they had no AP and UPI press services and newspapers to spread before them. And the scientists had not unlocked the secrets of the rocks beneath us and the stars above us. Well, they had none of those things. Then how did they write the Bible? Why can’t we write a better one today? Well, why not?
Surely, surely we could call together the greatest minds of our greatest universities, and there—with vast libraries for research and with laboratories in which to study—surely, they could write a better Bible. They would not admit, oh no! Those men would not admit that we today could not do what, say, they did four thousand, or six thousand, or two thousand years ago. That would be to admit that we are retrogressing! “We could never admit that! Retrogressing? Man, we are evolving! We believe in evolution, and we’re coming up from the beast; give us time and we’ll be archangels.” Now, isn’t that an amazing thing? If that’s true, why don’t they write a better Bible today? Do you know it just might be that the Book came from a source greater than man, above man, beyond man? It just might be. And it might be that there’ll never be another Christ: He was the One, and unique, and only [Hebrews 7:26]. It might be that He is the source of all truth [John 14:6].
These humanists, and secularists, and materialists, and pseudoscientists amaze me! They are strange creatures as I look at them; they remind me of those false prophets of Baal [1 Kings 18:24-29]. And they cry, “Oh, oh, send the light, send the fire!” And they plead with blind force, with a frenzy that amazes me! And they beg before inanimate matter, saying, “Reveal to us the secrets of the meaning of life. Where did we come from? And where am I going to? And what is the meaning of existence?” And they envelop themselves with a credulity—a faith—that puts me to shame. I could just pray that I’d have the depth of faith in God that they evince in blind, adventitious atoms, and in impersonal force. I can’t understand.
They can cry to Baal forever, and there’ll never be an answer. They can plead with inanimate matter forever, and they’ll never know. They can worship at the shrine of blind force forever, and never get an answer of the meaning of life. “My existence, is there purpose in it? Is there destiny before me?” They’ll never find an answer. Inanimate matter doesn’t reply. Blind force has no ableness to direct us toward a beautiful and heavenly goal. And I look at these men, and they cry, “Oh, the darkness, the darkness, the darkness! Oh, the night, the night,” when all the while if they would just open their eyes, the Son is shining in His meridian strength, telling us all of the truths of God [John 1:18]: where I came from, where I’m going to, the purpose and meaning of life, all of it plainly revealed; but they can’t see the form of sound words; it’s from God [2 Timothy 1:13].
In these last moments, one other thing: the form of sound words [2 Timothy 1:13], they are final and all-sufficient, and all-adequate for all of our human life, our human problems, our human existence. They’re full and complete, needing nothing else; all of it is revealed to us in this Holy Book.
You see, the modernist, the liberal, the man of the enlightened age, he will say this: “What we need is another arithmetic, we need a greater geometry, we need a vaster trigonometry. We need another doctrine. We need another preachment. We need a faith that is commensurate with our times. It needs to be brought up to the twentieth century in which we live. The old orthodoxy, and the old faith, and the old Book, and the old religion, and the old preachment, the old teaching; it is antiquated, it is out of date. It might have been good for those thousands of years ago, but today in our enlightened age we need another gospel, and a new faith, a new arithmetic.”
Now, that would be all right if we changed, if we were any different. But the problem is that human failure, and human need, and human sin, and human depravity, and the judgment that we face, they’re just the same. Death is no different for us today than it was for them then, and the need we have in human life is no different today than it was for them then. If we put a man on the moon and he’s walking around up there, he’s still just the same up there as he was down here; he’s just the same. One man flies through the air in a jet, and another one rides in an old rickety wagon behind a flea-bitten, flop-eared mule; but when both of them are in the hospital and the doctor looks at them, they look just the same, just the same. You see, basic human need is forever alike—whether in the days of Adam, or Noah, or Abraham, or David, or Isaiah; whether in the days of Peter, James, Paul, and John; whether in the days of Savonarola, or Wycliffe, or Roger Williams; or in the days of Truett, and Scarborough—always the same. We are a lost, dying, undone people, and only God’s arms can lift us up, and only Jesus can deliver us from the judgment of our sins [John 14:6, Acts 4:12; Isaiah 45:22].
For us to seek an answer to human depravity in the advancement of human knowledge is to fall into abysmal failure. Satan does not cast out Satan, nor can the arm of man save us. We must be as those dear people in the days of Moses, who were dying—bitten by serpents—and Moses was commanded by God to raise a brazen serpent in the middle of the camp, and preach the gospel, “Look, my brother, look and live!” [Numbers 21:8-9, John 3:14-16]. That’s what we must do: raise up the cross and point our weary, sinful, death-judged souls to the Lord Jesus [Romans 6:23]. Look to Him, bring our children to Him, bring our families to Him, bring our problems to Him, bring all of the cares and tears and decisions of life, bring them all to Him. The midnight will never be turned into day except in the rising of the sun. Nor will our midnight ever turn to brightness and glory until the sun of Righteousness shall rise, as Malachi says, “with healing in His wings” [Malachi 4:2].
We turn to broken cisterns and empty fountains, when we turn to these things—these things, humanistic things—to find answers for us, and our homes, and our hearts, and our children, and our people. The answers are found only in the revelation of God, the great truths the Lord has revealed to us in presenting us His words that guide us to the faith, the worship, the adoration, the love, the thanksgiving, the gratitude that wells up in our hearts when we bow at the feet of the blessed Jesus.
And that is our appeal to you. In this moment, where you are seated, make the decision in your heart, “Today, today, I am giving my life, and destiny—every dream and hope for the morrow—I’m giving it to the Lord Jesus [Ephesians 2:8]. I’m asking Him to bless me, and to help me, and to strengthen me, and to forgive me, and to write my name in the Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], and to keep me forever” [John 3:16, 10:28-30]. A family you, coming down that aisle, walking down those stair steps, if you’re in the balcony, the whole family, come. A couple of you: husband, take your wife by the hand and say, “Dear, today, let’s go. Let’s give our home and our hearts, our whole destiny, let’s give it to God. Let’s see what God can do with us.” Into the fellowship of this dear church, by baptism or by letter, or however God would place the appeal upon your heart, do it! And you will find the breath of heaven upon you and that dedicated commitment. Now let’s stand, and let’s pray for ourselves, that God will lead us in the way.
Our Lord in heaven, our hearts go out in deepest intercession and supplication and appeal to many here this morning. They have prayed, they have come before Thee for an answer, and our Lord, may the answer be from God. “This is our day, and we’re coming.” This is God’s moment for us, and we’re answering with our lives. While our heads are bowed and our people pray; that one simple step, and the rest is a victory, it’s a triumph. Angels will attend you, the strength of God will be yours, just take that first step, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you.
And our Lord, while we pray in this quiet moment, and while the Holy Spirit makes appeal, may this be the great day of commitment. And for the sweet harvest, we shall love Thee and thank Thee forever, in Thy saving name, amen.
Now while we sing, into that aisle and down to the front, “Here I come, pastor, here I am.”