The Witness of the Word to Itself
November 2nd, 1980 @ 8:15 AM
THE WITNESS OF THE WORD TO ITSELF
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-2-80 8:15 a.m.
The message this morning on the Word of God, The Witness of the Word to Itself: there is no finer presentation of a self description of the Bible than to be found in Hebrews 4:12-13:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged 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.
This not unique; it is typical of the witness of the Word to itself. All through the Bible, almost instance without number, do you find the Word of God speaking of itself. The Psalm out of which we just read, the one hundred nineteenth Psalm, it’s the longest Psalm in the psaltery; it is the longest chapter in the Bible, by far. And all of the psalm is a presentation of the Word of God. It’s an alliterative psalm; it follows the Hebrew alphabet. There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and each one of the eight verses of the psalm begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, the first section all of the verses begin with aleph; and then the next section all of the verses begin with beth; and the next one all of them begin with gimel; and then the next with daleth and he, and all the way through. And outside of two verses in the one hundred nineteenth Psalm of 176 verses, all of it presents the Word of God. Many, many of those verses we have learned since childhood, such as the eleventh: "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee" [Psalm 119:11]; verse 89, "Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven" [Psalm 119:89]; and 105, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" [Psalm 119:105]. Thus throughout the Bible these verses and chapters are dedicated to a presentation of the Word of God.
It accomplishes the purpose for which God sent it:
· Isaiah avows in Isaiah 55:11, "My word shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that whereunto I have sent it."
· It is powerful, as Jeremiah avows in 23:29, "Is not My word like as a fire, saith the Lord; and like as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" [Jeremiah 23:29].
· It is eternal, as Jesus says in Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away."
· It is unbroken, as Jesus avows in the tenth chapter of John [John 10:35].
· It has in it the breath of God; it is inspired, as Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God."
· And it is not to be added to or taken away from, as Revelation 22:18-19 avows; this is the revelation of God, and we are to receive it wholly as God delivered it to us, not adding to, not separating from.
The Spirit of God is in His Word. God Himself is in His Word. Jesus is in His Word. Both of them are called the Word of God, both the Lord incarnate and the sacred Book I hold in my hand. When we exalt the written Word, we glorify the incarnate Word; but if we degradate the written Word, we disgrace and grieve the incarnate Word. God rides in His Word as in a chariot.
Now, the tremendously effective description, the witness of the Word to itself, in the passage that we have read is one of the finest presentations we have in the Bible of the Word of God. "For the word of God is quick," zon [Hebrews 4:12], that’s a present participle of zao, "to live." Zoe is the word "life"; we get our zoology from it, a study of living animals. Zon, "quick," it is living. There is a mystic vitality in the Word of God. It stirs itself, it works miracles in the soul, it has a life that cannot be destroyed. It is like the life of God; yesterday, today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]. If the Word of God were buried beneath an avalanche of higher criticism, it would stir itself, it would shake off its encumbrances like scraping off barnacles from a steamship; and it would rise from the grave. If the Word of God were cast into a flame of fire, it would walk through, and the smell of smoke would not be found on its garments. If the Word of God were cut into a thousand pieces and parcels and parts and shreds, each piece and part would be a seed that would bring forth a hundredfold. If every copy of the Word of God were destroyed, it could be reproduced from the memory of men. If every man were destroyed, it could be reproduced from the literature and the monuments and the inscriptions of man. If the whole heaven and earth were destroyed, it could be reproduced by the angels in glory. As that psalm we referred to, 119:89, "Forever, O God, Thy word is established in heaven" [Psalm 119:89].
Not only does it have a life in itself, it is zon, it is quick, it is living, it has a mystic vitality, it works miracles in the soul, not only is its life indestructible, but its message is always pertinent, and modern, and fresh, and up to date. One of the things that you’ll find in studying philosophy is this: that the systems of thought of men have fashioned and grow old and are discarded. If you will take a history of philosophy, you will find that through the years and the years and the years that there were great systems of thought that swept the world and were popular for a moment, then they grow old and are discarded and lose their vitality. They’re like garments that grow old and are cast aside. Systems of thought are like the waves of the sea that rise and fall. They’re like the autumnal leaves that fall to the ground and perish. But the word of God never changes; it is as vibrant and vital today as thousands of years ago [Psalm 119:89].
My favorite verse, Isaiah 40:8, "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever." Isn’t that a remarkable thing? "The word of God shall stand forever." When the Pacific Ocean dries up like a dead lake, this Book, this Word will still be a fountain of the water of life. When that vast Sierra Nevada rains of granite and flint rock, turned to heaps of dust, this Word will still be the Rock of Ages. And when the very stars in the heavens have gone out, this Word will still be the light of the world. And when the very elements melt with fervent heat, this Word will still speak of a new heaven and a new earth. "Heaven and earth may pass away," said our Lord, "but My words shall never pass away" [Luke 21:33]. It is quick, it is living; it has an undying life and an undying message.
"For the word of God is quick, and powerful," energeis, energeis, our word "energy, energetic," it is active, translated here "powerful" [Hebrews 4:12]. "For the word of God is energeis," not only zon, living, but energeis, active, energetic, filled with dynamic power. That’s a remarkable thing when you consider God’s Holy Book. Paul wrote in prison to his son Timothy, in 2 Timothy 2:9, "I am bound, I am in chains, but the word of God is not bound." Like a tremendous Samson or a Hercules or a Superman or an Incredible Hulk, it breaks every bond asunder. It tears down every iron bar. It leaps every prison. It crosses every mountain range. It visits every isle of the sea. It is powerful. And when the Word of God is preached in the unction of the Holy Spirit, as in the beginning the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters, and as God spoke to the primeval darkness, "Let there be light; and there was light" [Genesis 1:2-3], so there is an omnipotence in the powerful presentation of the powerful Word of God. The Word of God convicts me. The Word of God converts me. The Word of God consecrates me. And the Word of God comforts me. It is energeis, it is powerful, it is active, it is quickening. The Word of God crushes me and smites me. The Word of God bows me. The Word of God weeps with me. It prays with me, it preaches to me, it sings to me. It leads me to Jesus. It comforts my soul. It saves my life. It assures me of God’s loving care and presence.
"For the word of God is quick and powerful," energeis; "it is sharper," tomoteros, which is a comparative of tomos, a tom means "uncut," tomos means "cutting"; timno means "to cut," so tomoteros, the comparative, means that it is cutting and the comparative is more cutting, it is more cutting, it is translated here, "sharper," tomoteros, "more cutting, more sharp." And then he gives an illustration here: "It is more cutting than a two-edged sword," the Greek word for "two" is dis, and the Greek word for "mouth" is stoma, and the literal is "two-mouthed." It is two-edged [Hebrews 4:12]. That word’s only used twice: once here, and to describe the Lord Jesus Christ in Revelation [1:16], "And out of His mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword." The Word of God is tomoteros; it is sharper, more cutting, than a two-edged sword." It cuts every way; it is sharp in every direction. There is no side to it that is blunt. It is piercing. It cuts to pieces that which ought to be cut to pieces. As Agag was hewn to pieces by Samuel before the Lord [1 Samuel 15:33], it cuts to pieces what ought to be cut. And it brings to quickening life what ought to be brought to quickening life, as to Saul on his way to Damascus [Acts 9:1-6], or to the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to see if those things were so [Acts 17:10-11]. The power of the Holy Word of God to cut, to destroy what ought to be destroyed, and to quicken what ought to be quickened is a miracle of God [Hebrews 4:12].
I have no idea who this man is, but, in my reading, I came across a Mr. Thorpe of Bristol. He was a tremendous Christian and a great soulwinner. But what was remarkable to me about him was this: he belonged to a club of scornful atheists called the Hellfire Club. And out of curiosity, he went to hear George Whitefield preach. George Whitefield must have had a very unusual manner and tone in his delivery. I have read several times that he could pronounce the word "Mesopotamia" and bring an audience to tears; George Whitefield, one of the great preachers of all time. As I say, he must have had an unusual and unique delivery. He was a powerful preacher; he was the leader of the Great Awakening in England and in America. Well, this man Thorpe, whoever Thorpe was, who became a tremendous Christian, this man a member of that Hellfire Club, went to hear George Whitefield preach. And, at the next meeting of the club, he stood up before the members, and being a remarkably intellectual genius, he began to deliver George Whitefield’s message from God’s Word with great accuracy and with the same tone and gesture and delivery as he had seen and heard in George Whitefield. And as this Mr. Thorpe stood before that Hellfire Club delivering the sermon of George Whitefield in the way and manner and tone that George Whitefield had delivered it, in the midst of his delivery, he suddenly paused, and sat down, and fell into great weeping, and under deepening conviction, confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and became the marvelous Christian that I read about in the books. "The word of God is tomoteros, sharper cutting than any two-edged sword" [Hebrews 4:12].
Then you have a tremendous description of that effect of its sharper cutting: "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 . . . For all things are naked and opened before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" [Hebrews 4:12-13]. Piercing, the Greek word for "through" is dia, and they’ve got a word iknaomai, which means "to pass"; so dia iknaomai, diiknaomai means "to pass through," translated here "piercing" [Hebrews 4:12], diiknaomai, "to pass through." Not only is the word of God a sword, sharp, cutting, but the word of God also is diiknaomai; it is a dagger, it is a rapier. A rapier is made to thrust, to pierce; a dagger is made to thrust and to pierce. The word of God is like that. The word of God is sharp, it is cutting, and it is piercing. Its thrust is awesome! [Hebrews 4:12].
I was re-reading in the First Book of Kings, chapters 21 and 22, and just reviewing that diiknaomai, that piercing thrust of the Word of God, and how its living, vibrant, cutting, piercing dagger thrusts into human life [Hebrews 4:12]. Well, anyway, reading those chapters, Jezebel encompasses the death of Naboth [1 Kings 21:5-14]. And Ahab arises at her invitation to possess Naboth’s vineyard [1 Kings 21:15-16]. And when he comes into the vineyard, he meets Elijah [1 Kings 21:17-18]. And Elijah says to Ahab, "In the place, in the exact place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, shall the dogs lick up thy blood, even thine" [1 Kings 21:19]. Chapter 22:
And Ahab says to Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, Let us go up to Ramoth Gilead and war against it. And Jehoshaphat says, Let us ask of a prophet of God how we shall fare, whether we should go up or not. And all of the false prophets of Ahab say, Go up. But Jehoshaphat says, Is there not yet one other prophet? And Ahab replies, There is, but I hate him; he always prophesies evil concerning me. And Jehoshaphat answers, Let not the king say so. And they bring in the prophet of God, Micaiah. And Micaiah says, You go up against Ramoth Gilead, and you will not return alive; and the armies of Israel will be scattered like sheep over a mountain. And Ahab says to his servants, Take this fellow, and put him in prison; and feed him bread of affliction and water of affliction until I come back victorious.
[1 Kings 22:1-27]
They join the battle. And, in the battle, an archer without aiming it bends his bow and pulls back the arrow and lets it fly. And it finds a crevice in the joint of the armor of Ahab and pierces his heart; and his blood flows out, filling the chariot. And when they take him back to Samaria, they wash out the blood of the king from the chariot; and in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, there did the dogs lick up the blood of Ahab. According to the saying of the man of God, the story closes [1 Kings 21:19, 22:34-38].
A thrust, a dagger, a rapier, and, however society or government or choice of individual seeks to obviate the Word of God, it stands forever! We never obviate it. We’re never able to discount it. We’re never able to overcome it. We’re never able to deny its truth, not ultimately. It pierces like a rapier; it cuts like a sword, the Word of Almighty God [Hebrews 4:12].
Then he speaks of it, "piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" [Hebrews 4:12]. That’s a beautiful word and I think largely poetic, its imagery, "Piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow." I don’t think the word, text, means that the spirit is set on this side and the soul is set on this side, or the joints set on this side and the marrow set on this side. I think it is a tremendous inspired imagery that the Word of God pierces through even as you would cut through the bone and the marrow, so it cuts through the soul and the spirit, dividing asunder. And now, in this one moment that remains, may I speak of that dividing, this separation that is one of the characteristics of the thrust of the Word of God?
It is a remarkable, to me a miraculous thing, how the Word of God separates, how it divides. It’ll divide a man’s life. Here he was lost, and here he is saved. He’s not the same man; there’s a division in his life. It’ll divide the life of a people, between the saved and the lost, between the repentant and the unrepentant, between those that follow and love God and those who disown Him. It is a great divider, the Word of God.
I don’t know whether any of you read this or not. A war correspondent wrote an article of the advance of the American army in Okinawa in this last Second World War. And what that war correspondent said was this: that about thirty years before, thirty years previous, there was an American missionary on his way to Japan, who passed through Okinawa; but he was hurried. So in a village called Shimabuku, Shimabuku, he won, just passing by, he won two converts, Shosei Kina, Shosei and Mojun. He won two converts to Jesus, and left them with a Bible; and went on his way to Japan, thirty years before. Now comes the American army and as they advance they come to this little village of Shimabuku. And when they come to this little village, there comes out to meet the American Army two old gentlemen; Shosei Kina is the mayor of the little town, and Mojun is the headmaster of the school. And when they come out to meet the American army, the GIs are there with their guns pointed and their artillery and all of their weaponry focused; but these two old gentlemen bow and welcome the American soldiers, welcome them. And they say that, "We have seen an American thirty years ago, and he brought us the gospel of Christ, and he left with us this Holy Book." And the mayor of the town, Shosei Kina, he explains to the army that their town has been built upon the Word of God. All of the people in the little village are Christians, all of them; all of them. And Brother Mojun is the headmaster of the school. And the Book for their teaching is the Bible. That’s their Book! They pray, they love Jesus; they’ve given their hearts in faith to the Lord. I thought of our academy. There they teach the Book, and they pray, and they sing words of praise to the Lord Jesus. What a wonderful way to teach, and what a wonderful way in which to bring up our boys and girls, on the Book; the great literature and the subject matter and the text, the Book! So this man Mojun explains to the GI soldiers the schooling and the textbook, the Bible; and Shosei Kina, he explains to them the laws of the village, based on the Word of God. The GIs absolutely overcome, they call for the chaplain, and they call for the intelligence officers, and they call for the commanding officer. And led by those two old men, Christian men, they go through the village. Instead of the village being as those other towns in Okinawa, poverty stricken, full of ignorant and filthy people, the streets were clean, the little homes were shining and spotless, and the people were genteel and gracious. When the American officers looked at it in amazement, the two old gentlemen thought that they were disappointed, and they bowed, saying, "Oh, but sir, you must pardon us, we are a backward people, and we were just seeking to follow the Lord Jesus. If you could show us how better?" And the men exclaimed, "Better? Better?" And this American war correspondent, who’s filing the story, he says, "As I was walking through the village with the tough old army sergeant, the sergeant turned to me and said, ‘You know, I’m beginning to wonder if we’re not using the wrong weapons to change the world.’" I wonder the same thing.
What we do is to seek to change the world by government, and by politics, and by armies, and navies, and weaponry, and power and force, when the greatest instrument for the changing of the world is the immutable and unchanging Word of God [Psalm 119:89]. We need to preach it, and to teach it, and to inculcate it in our hearts, and homes, and lives, and the structure of our business, and the very foundations of our government. This is God’s testimony to the power of His quickening Word [Hebrews 4:12]. And all of us have felt that saving grace mediated to us through the gospel message of the Book [Ephesians 2:8-9]. We came to know the name of Jesus in this Book, came to know how to be saved in this Book [John 3:14-17]; we’re led through the baptismal waters by the instruction of this Book [Matthew 28:19-20]; and in these years since, we’ve been an infinite gladness and joy in gathering together listening to an exposition of the saving message of the Book.
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, what a wonderful foundation upon which to build our lives; the Word and the promise of God. When the heavens have fled away and the earth is dissolved in flaming fire [2 Peter 3:10-12], the word of God abides forever [Isaiah 40:8]. Our feet may tremble, but the Rock upon which we stand is never moved. We may be filled with hesitancy and doubt, but the Word of God is our assurance and our promise. O bless Thy name, that You gave into our hands such a precious possession.
And in this moment, while we wait and pray, a family, a couple, or just one somebody you, give himself to the Lord Jesus, the great subject of this Holy Bible, to reveal Him; to give your heart to the Lord Jesus, or to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, in a moment when we sing our song, out of the balcony round, and down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come." So Lord, bless the family, and bless the couple, and bless that one somebody who this morning turns his face to Thee. Thank Thee for them, in Thy wonderful name, amen.
Now while we wait for this moment, in answer to God’s call, the wooing of the Spirit of Jesus, down one of these aisles, down one of these stairways, and there’s time and to spare, make the decision now, and come now. Our men are here, our deacons, our ministers, with a welcome beyond any way we could describe it. God bless you as you come, while we pray, while we wait, and while we sing, while we sing.