THE UNFAILING WORD OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-14-80 10:50 a.m.
And it is no less a gladness to welcome the multitudes of you that are sharing this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Unfailing Word of God, a sermon built upon my favorite text in the Bible. Next Sunday, the Sunday before Christmas, the sermon will be entitled The Worship of Jesus. It will be a Christmas message. The last Sunday of this month, the message will begin again, a series on bibliology, “The Great Doctrines of the Bible.” And if you have any awareness at all of your modern world, you will be fascinated by the message Sunday week; it is entitled The Bible and Modern Science. Then the first Sunday in January I always deliver a message entitled the annual message on The State of the Church. Then the following Sunday, the second Sunday in January, will be the closing and final message on bibliology, “The Great Doctrines of the Bible,” on the Bible itself, and that final message will be entitled A Famine for the Word of Life.
The message this day on bibliology, on the Bible, entitled The Unfailing Word of God, and there are three words in the Bible that characterize the immutable and eternal revelation of God in these holy pages. And we take the first one which is in Psalm 119:89, “For ever, O God, Thy word is nitzav in heaven.” Psalm 119:89, “For ever, O God, Thy word is nitzav in heaven.” Translated here “settled,” it could well be translated “established” or “fixed.” “For ever, O God, Thy word is settled, it is fixed, it is established, in heaven.”
Now the whole psalm is like that; in the one hundred fifty-second verse, “Concerning Thy testimonies, I have known of old that Thou hast founded them for ever” [Psalm 119:152]. The one hundred sixtieth verse, “Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of Thy righteous judgments endureth for ever” [Psalm 119:160]. The Word of God that we have in earth is a repercussion and a pattern and a copy of the pattern that is in heaven. The canon is in heaven, and the canon of truth in heaven we have here in earth. It is first established in heaven, and then we receive it in earth.
In Washington D.C. there is a Federal Bureau of Weights and Measures. As far as human ingenuity is able to contrive, in that Bureau of Weights and Measures, the standards of all of our measuring in America, you’ll find a perfect inch, a perfect foot, a perfect yard; you’ll find a perfect pound, a perfect ounce, a perfect quart, a perfect gallon. And all other measurements in America—the gallons and the feet and the pounds and the yards—must conform to that fixed standard that is in Washington. The Word of God is like that; the pattern and the fixedness, the standard is in heaven.
In Washington DC in the Naval Observatory, there is a chronometer. And every day at high noon that chronometer is set according to the movement of the stars in God’s heaven. And all of the clocks and watches and timepieces of America are set according to that chronometer that is in Washington D. C.
So the Lord said to Moses, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that I showed thee on the mount” [Exodus 25:40]. The tabernacle was first in heaven, and God gave the pattern of it to Moses to make a like tabernacle in earth. Thus the Word of the Lord, “Forever, O God, Thy Word is nitzav,” it is fixed, it is established, it is settled, “in heaven” [Psalm 119:89]. It was written there first, then the pattern of it is copied here in earth.
Thousands of years ago there were thirty-nine books in the Old Testament; there are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament today. In the first Christian centuries there were twenty-seven books in the New Testament; there are twenty-seven books in the New Testament today. And the great councils of Christendom did not create the canon of the Bible; they just affirmed what the Holy Spirit had already done. The books were written by the inspiration of the Spirit of God [2 Peter 1:20-21], and they were kept inviolate, and they were collected by the same Holy Spirit of God.
Through all of these centuries, there have been many who have said we must add to the canon of the Scriptures; we must add books to the Bible. The bishops of Hippo and the synod of Jerusalem and the Council of Trent said that we must add the Apocrypha to the Old Testament. But God said, “No!” And there is not an intelligent, aware, sensitive, Hebrew scholar in the earth that would add the monstrous absurdities that we find in the Apocrypha to a Deuteronomy or to an Isaiah. God said, “No!” and they’re not added.
In the days of the canonizing of the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament, there were uncounted numbers who said, “We must add to the books of the New Testament,” and they wrote gospels and epistles and apocalypses, but they all rotted and died away, as fruit would if you tied it to a tree. God said there are thirty-nine books in the Old Testament, and there are thirty-nine. God said there are twenty-seven books in the New Testament, and there are twenty-seven. “For ever, O God, Thy word is nitzav, it is settled, it is fixed, it is established in heaven” [Psalm 119:89].
The second word is found in 1 Peter chapter 1, verses 23 and following: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible —not of phthartēs seed but aphthartēs seed—by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” [1 Peter 1:23]. Then He quotes my favorite passage in Isaiah [40:6-8]: “All flesh is as grass, the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, falleth away, but the word of the Lord endureth”—nitzav, endureth, established, fixed—”for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” [1 Peter 1:24-25].
He takes that passage in Isaiah 40:8, and he adds to it a word. We are born again, we are saved, not by phthartēs, perishing, corruptible, but by—in Greek when you put an ‘a’ in front of a word it negates it, so aphthartēs is “incorruptible” imperishable, which is the word of God, that liveth and abideth forever [1 Peter 1:23]. The Word of God, according to the passage I’ve just read, is incapable of corruption; it is incorruptible. That is a miracle! The same Lord God that preserved the incarnate Word when the sword of Herod was raised over the Child in Bethlehem [Matthew 2:16]; the same Lord God that preserved the Word of God from corruption in the grave, in the tomb [Acts 2:27, 31]; the same Lord God that preserves us against the day of salvation, that assures us that we will get to heaven some day [Ephesians 4:30]; that’s the same Lord God who has assured us, that the Word of God is incorruptible, true, imperishable. We have it just as God intended that it be written.
May I show you or share with you the miracle of that—the incorruptibility of the Word of the Lord, the Bible. The finest scholars estimate that there are 4,105 ancient Greek texts of the New Testament. There are something toward 30,000 ancient Latin versions of the New Testament. There are something like 1,000 versions in other languages such as ancient Syriac and Coptic, beside the papyri that we in these recent centuries have been able to find with the archeological spade in the hermetically sealed sands of Egypt, and beside the quotations from the fathers; thousands and thousands of ancient manuscripts of the Word of God. Now you look at the marvel of that, when you remember 1,500 years after Herodotus the first historian, there was one manuscript. Twelve hundred years after Plato, the most classical of all the ancient philosophers, there was one manuscript. There is only one manuscript of the Annals of Tacitus, the ancient Latin historian, one manuscript of Greek Anthology, and very, very few manuscripts of Sophocles, Euripides, Thucydides, Virgil, and Cicero. When you compare the paucity of those great classics in ancient manuscripts, when you compare it to the profound proliferation of the manuscripts of the Word of God, it is a miracle.
And what it evolves to is this: God saw to it that His Word was kept incorruptible. If a copyist made a mistake here, in this manuscript, there are thousands of other manuscripts to compare it to, to see what was the true and correct word. God does that; He is doing it today. If there is a preacher who departs from the faith, God sees to it that there is another preacher raised up who is true to the deity and the saviorhood of our Lord. If there is a denomination that departs from the faith, God sees to it that there is another denomination raised up that will be faithful to the preaching of His Word. If there is a translation of the Bible that is liberal and modern, the spirit of which denies our Lord and the great mighty omnipotence of God in Christ Jesus—if there is such a translation, as there are, then God sees to it that there are translations that adore and worship and exalt the living Lord.
That’s one reason why, always, I preach out of the King James Version of the Bible, the King James translation of the Bible, with all of the stumblings in it; because of the change of our language in the last 450 years, it still exalts the Lord Jesus. The very tone of it is worshipful. That’s God; that’s the Lord. The Word of God is aphthartēs; it is incorruptible [1 Peter 1:23]. God sees to it that the Word we read is the Word that conveys the true message of His revelation.
Now third: the word used in my favorite text. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall yaqum”—what a marvelous word!— “that the word of our God shall yaqum forever.” The word yaqum, which is built on the Hebrew word qum, literally means “to rise, to stand, to flourish, to remain, to endure.” “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall yaqum, shall rise, shall stand forever” [Isaiah 40:8]. And that in itself again is a miracle that our eyes can behold. We could be here all day long, literally, describing the onslaughts against this Holy Book, the efforts, violent and vicious, to destroy it.
One of the tremendously vigorous, gifted emperors of the Roman Empire was Diocletian. Diocletian, in 303 AD, promulgated the imperial decree that the Bible was to be destroyed. I wish we had time to enter into some of these things without which we don’t understand history. There never was an empire more lenient toward its provincial people and their gods than Rome. That was one of the secrets of the great strength of the Roman Empire: their latitudinarian, sympathetic spirit for the people who comprised the provinces, and for their religions. And what they did, as you know, and if you’ve ever been in Rome, the most perfectly preserved of all of the beautiful buildings of antiquity is the Pantheon in Rome. It is there as Agrippa built it in at about 44 BC; Agrippa, the friend of Julius Caesar. And the ceiling of that beautiful Pantheon has been copied all over this earth. Well, why did Rome persecute the Christian? The only evidence of it in the entire long millennial history of the Roman Empire, the only religion they ever persecuted was the Christian religion. Well, why did they persecute the Christian religion? The answer’s very plain: most any ruler will see that one of the cohesive powers that hold his empire together is a common religion.
The English kings saw that, so they tried to make the Anglican church “the” church, and everybody had to conform to it, or they were harried out of the country or burned at the stake. One of the great, tremendous, sealing, cohesive powers of any nation or people is a common religion. You see that in Islam today. How in the world does a Khomeini, an Ayatollah Khomeini do what he does? It’s because he has behind him a Moslem fanatical brotherhood. There’s no power in the earth like religious devotion, commitment.
Well, the Roman Caesars could see that, so they thought to make the Roman emperor the great god, and then all the other gods could be placed in niches around him. But emperor worship was “the” worship of the Roman Empire. Well, when the Christian was invited to bow down before the image of the Roman Caesar, the Christian said “No! Kaisar Iēsous” Jesus is Lord! Kaisar, Kaiser, Czar, they’re all the same words, “Lord.” Not Kurios Kaisar, not Caesar is Lord; Jesus is Lord. Well, all the Christian had to do, all he had to do was to take a little pinch of incense and put it on the flame that burned before the image of the Roman Caesar; that was all. And he’d spare his life, spare the life of his family; that’s all he had to do. Did the Christian do it? No! He refused to bow, he refused to compromise; they are a different stripe than what we know today. And they were fed to lions and burned at the stake, and great throngs of Rome went to the Coliseum every day to see them offered up as sacrifices to “god.” Now that’s why Rome persecuted the Christians: they refused to bow.
As for the rest, when Egypt was conquered they took Isis and Osiris, their gods from Egypt, and put them in niches in that Pantheon. When Asia was conquered, the Roman province of Asia from Ephesus, they took a god called Diana, Artemis, put her in a niche there in the Pantheon. And so the whole Pantheon—pan, “all”; theos, “gods”—all the gods, they were there. But when they said, “We’ll take an image and a likeness of Jesus and put Him in a niche by the side of Jove, or Juno, or Artemis, or Bacchus, or Saturn,” the Christians said, “No! It’s Jesus and Jesus alone.”
Well, all of this little rabbit chasing is just to explain to you why Diocletian persecuted the Christians. And what Diocletian saw was that the Christian built his faith on a book. He took his stand on a book. He was a follower of the Book. So Diocletian said, “If I can destroy the Book, I will destroy the Christian faith.” Thus, the tremendous persecution against the Christians and the Bible, the Book.
And they were gathered wherever in the empire they were found, and they were burned. And the Christians who owned them, when they could be sought out and hunted down, they also were fed to the lions or burned. And Diocletian thought that he had destroyed every Bible in the world and had slain, martyred, every Christian, they died by the myriads. So much so that over a burned out Bible, burned up Bible, Diocletian erected a great monument—a long, tall pillar and on it this Latin inscription: “Extincto nomine Christianorum.” Extincto, extinct, extinguished; nomine, the name; Christianorum, of the Christians; “Destroyed is the Christian faith.”
There’s not a schoolboy but couldn’t tell you who followed Diocletian. And I don’t mean a long time down the line; in less than ten years, in less than ten years, the emperor that followed Diocletian was named Constantine, and he took the signs and the symbols and the aegises of the Roman Empire off of the shields of his soldiers, and put on there instead In hoc signo vinces, “In this sign conquer,” and it was the cross of the Son of God; within less than ten years after Diocletian. That’s the Lord; that’s God, “The flower fadeth, the grass withereth: but the word of our God shall yaqum, shall rise, shall stand for ever” [Isaiah 40:8].
Now no less an amazing development in history is the persecution of the ecclesiastical, tyrannical church against the Word of God, which is almost inexplicable in itself. Instead of the Holy Scriptures, they substituted the decrees, and the ordinances, and the sacraments, and the traditions of men. Can you believe this? Martin Luther was a churchman all of his life, all of his life. He was a monk. Martin Luther said when he was a grown man, “This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Bible.” And he was a grown man.
The terrible Inquisition sought after the life of John Wycliffe, the translator of the Word of God into the English language, but he died before the awesome hands of the Inquisition could seize him. But the Inquisition dug up his body— exhumed his body—and they burned it, and they scattered his ashes over the river Swift. But the river Swift blows into the Avon, and the river Avon flows into the river Severn. And the river Severn flows into the sea, and the seas lave the six continents of the earth, and they pour on their bosom the ashes of John Wycliffe. And the Word was scattered over the ends and the four corners of the globe. “The grass withereth, and the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall yaqum,” shall rise, shall stand, shall endure, “for ever” [Isaiah 40:8].
And now we have come to our day, and in our day the deadliest of all of the antagonists of this Holy Bible have been raised up by the kingdom of darkness. We know it as rationalism or humanism. The Wellhausens and the Bauers and the Strausses and the Tϋbingen schools have literally torn apart the Word of God. They decry the inspiration of the Bible; they scoff at the deity of Christ; they belittle the whole fabric of God’s Holy Word and look upon it as they would any other piece of ancient Greco-Roman anthology—fable, legend, mythological characters. That’s the modern academic world in its attitude toward the Bible.
Voltaire said, “One hundred years from this day there will not be a copy of the Bible in the world except as you will find it in a museum as an exhibit of a piece of antiquarian antiquity.” And his contemporary David Hume said, “I see the twilight of Christianity.” One hundred years to the day that Voltaire said that, one hundred years later to the day, a first edition of Voltaire sold on the streets of Paris for eleven cents. And that same day, that same day, the British government paid the czar of Russia five hundred thousand dollars for Codex Sinaiticus, today about five million dollars. And you can see it in the British museum the next time you’re in London. Tischendorf found it in St. Catherine’s monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai: Codex Sinaiticus, God’s Holy Word, the earliest manuscript of the Bible.
David Hume couldn’t tell the time of day; he mistook sunrise for sunset. “The flower fadeth, the grass withereth: but the word of our God shall yaqum,” it shall rise, it shall stand, it shall endure, for ever” [Isaiah 40:8]. Tell me; tell me, do you know anybody who reads a book that’s a thousand years old? Even a thousand years; do you know anybody? The only people I know reading a book a thousand years old will be these kids; and the teachers are trying to cram down their heads some Latin from Cicero or, or Caesar, or some such Latin author, I don’t know anybody else. And they do it under duress, believe me. On a blackboard after a class one of those kids went up there and wrote:
Latin is a dead language
As dead as it can be;
It killed all the Romans,
And now it’s killing me.
I don’t know anybody reading books over a thousand years old. Do you know anybody reading books of world religion, do you? I’ve never seen anybody reading the Bhagavad Gita or the Vedic Hymns of the Hindu. I’ve never seen anybody reading the Avesta of the Parsees. I’ve never seen anybody reading the Tripitaka of Gautama the Buddha; I’ve never seen anybody reading the Six Classics of Confucius. But sweet people, since I was a little boy watching my mother, I can’t count the people I’ve seen reading the Word of God; and many times bathing its pages with tears. It’s a miracle.
Look again. Do you know a book translated out of another language that has great circulation among another people? It’s a rule of thumb, it’s a universal rule, that any book written in a language here finds very little acceptance in a language over there. For example, a book written in Spanish would have a very difficult time in circulating in the Dutch, or among the Germans, or the Russians, or the English; that’s just the way life is. Look at you. Do you know the authors of Brazil? I mean right now, Brazil, do you? Do you know the authors in Turkey? Do you know the authors who are popular in China? That’s just a universal rule. There is no book written in another language that has great circulation in another people.
But this Book, you’d think it was written in the native language of every tribe under the sun! I one time was amused by reading of a Hottentot who was commiserating with a white man from the West because he said, “You can’t read Hottentot, and that means you can’t read the most beautiful language in the world, namely John 3:16, in Hottentot.” It’s as though it were written in the language of the people to whom it is being sent. God’s Word is yaqum: it shall stand, it shall rise, it shall endure forever! [Isaiah 40:8].
Diocletian and all of his persecutions never destroyed one string from the thousand-stringed harp of God’s beautiful Book. Voltaire and Hume never tore away one twig from the vast forest of its innumerable branches. All of the rationalists and humanists of the earth are not able to drown one syllable in their venomous, poisonous ink. And all the infidels, all the Tom Paines and the Bob Ingersolls who ever lived have not shortened its life and ministry by one hour. Heaven and earth may pass away someday; but God’s Word will not pass away [Luke 21:33]. The sun may fade and the moon decay, but God’s Word yaqum, shall stand and endure and rise and live forever.
The flags of the nations may be furled,
The very mountains into the seas be hurled,
But one Book shall still outlast the world.
God’s Word shall yaqum, shall rise, shall stand, shall live, shall endure for ever, “And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached, unto you” [1 Peter 1:25]. Our feet may tremble, but the Rock upon which we stand is never moved: the same yesterday, today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]. By it we know our Lord; in its promises we have our assurance of salvation, and in the glorious vistas that it opens for our souls, we are comforted in age, in death, and forever.
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, how could we frame the sentence to say it, or put together the word to pronounce it: our gratitude to God for the revelation of Jesus our Lord on this sacred page? We see His face in every syllable; we feel His heartbeat in every appeal; and we are comforted and strengthened by its every promise. Ah Lord, with what diligence did God labor that we might have the truth mediated unto us in these sacred pages. And now Lord, it is just for us to respond with our lives when God bids us come. It is our joy to say, “Lord, here I am; here I come.”
And while our people stand in quiet prayer for you, make that decision now in your heart. “Pastor today, we have decided for God and here we come.” A family you, in this balcony around, on the lower floor, “Today we’re answering God’s invitation, and we’re here; the whole family of us.” Or just a couple you, or just one somebody you, make the decision in your heart. And in a moment when we sing, down that stairway, down that aisle, “Here I am, pastor, here I come.”
And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us in Thy precious and saving and wonderful name, amen.
While our deacons are here, and all our ministers are here, and the angels of God are here to welcome you, on the first note of this first stanza, come. While we sing, while we sing, while we wait.
THE UNFAILING WORD OF GOD
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
forever, qum, rises,
2. All attacks to
eliminate the Bible throughout history have failed
3. Pagans, the
church itself, rationalists have failed