The Witness of the Word to Itself


The Witness of the Word to Itself

November 2nd, 1980 @ 10:50 AM

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged 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.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Hebrews 4:12

11-2-80    10:50 a.m.



It is a great joy to welcome the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television.  This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled The Witness of the Word to Itself.

We are following during these present months, in the morning hour during these present years, a series of sermons.  The evening hour at 7:00 concerns the problems of human life.  And tonight the subject is entitled Elijah, Despondency and Depression.  One of the unusual things that I have learned as I have studied and prepared this message is that the more religious you are, and the more intelligent you are, the more you are susceptible to depression.  Did you ever see that cartoon, that picture drawing of a hillbilly?  He looks like a moron, and underneath it says, "What, me worry?"

You will be interested in the sermon tonight; Elijah, Depression and Despondency.  Something that all of us; it is universal, something that all of us fall into.  It is a malady that affects every human life.

The sermon this morning is one in a long series on the doctrines of the faith; the doctrines of the Bible.  The long series is divided into fifteen sections, and this is the first one on bibliology, on the doctrine of the Word of God.  And as our background text, and a part of the exegetical presentation of the morning message, we read Hebrews 4, verses 12 and 13.  Hebrews 4, verses 12 and 13:


For the word of God is quick, and powerful, 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 its sight:  but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

[Hebrews 4:12-13]


The witness of the Word to itself; it would be practically numerically impossible to count the number of instances in the Bible when Word is called to the Bible itself, to the Word of the Lord itself; the descriptions of the Word of God.

In the Psalms out of which you just read, Psalm 119, that’s the longest psalm.  It’s by far the longest chapter in the Bible.  It has one hundred seventy-six verses.  And it is an alliterative psalm.  There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  And the first eight verses began with "aleph" – the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet.  Then the next eight verses begin with "beth," and then the next verse, "gimel," then the next word "daleth," and so on through the twenty-two [letters] of the Hebrew alphabet.

And every verse in it – all one hundred seventy-six – all of them, outside of two, refer to the Word of God.  Some of them we have learned since childhood.  The eleventh verse of Psalm 119: "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee."  Verse 89: "Forever, O God, Thy word is fixed, established, settled in heaven."  Verse 105: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."  And so the whole psalm points, describes, presents the word of God.  And this is just typical of the entire Bible – the witness of the Word to itself. 

Isaiah, for example, will speak of the accomplishments of God’s word.  In Isaiah 55:11: "My word shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that where unto I have sent it."  Or the power of the word of God as Jeremiah will speak of it in Jeremiah 23:29: "Is not My word like as a fire? said the Lord; and like as a hammer that breaketh a rock in pieces?"  The Lord Jesus refers to His word as being eternal in Matthew 24:35: "Heaven and earth shall pass away" – the very creation itself – "but My words shall never pass away."

In the tenth chapter of John, the Lord speaks: "The Scriptures cannot be broken" [John 10:35].  Paul speaks of its inbreathing; God breathing its inspiration.  In [2] Timothy 3:16: "For all Scripture is given by inspiration of God."  It is God-breathed.  Theopneustos – the breath of God is in it.  The Bible closes in Revelation 22:18-19 we are not to add to it; we are not to take away from it.

The witness of the Word to Itself: God lives in the Holy Scriptures; the Holy Spirit moves in the Bible.  Jesus Christ lives in the Word of God.  Both of them are called "the Word of God"; the incarnate Word, the Lord Jesus; the written Word, the Holy Bible – both the Word of God.  When we exalt one, we glorify the other.  When we disparage one, we grieve the other.  God rides in His Word as in a chariot. 

In all of the passages of the Bible, there is hardly any self‑description, any witness to itself, that is more poignant and dynamic and fully descriptive as the passage we shall now exegete:


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, of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,

because all things are opened and naked before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

[Hebrews 4:12-13]


So the Word of God is quick.  "Zōn " – that’s the present participle of zao"to live."   The word in Greek for life is zoe .  We get our word "zoology" from it – a study of living things. 

"Zōn," for the word of God is living.  It has a mystic life in itself.  It stirs itself.  It imparts life.  It works miracles in the soul.  The Word of God is alive.  It lives.  It quickens.

The Word of God is a life in itself that cannot be destroyed.  It is like God Himself – it lives forever!  If the Word of God were buried beneath an avalanche of higher criticism, it would stir itself.  It would cast off its encumbrances, as you would scrape barnacles off of a great ship, 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 upon its garments.  If the Word of God were cut into a thousand pieces and shreds and parts, each piece and part would be alive in itself and bring fruit a hundredfold.

If the Word of God were destroyed in the earth, if every Bible were burned in the earth, it could be reproduced from the memory of men.  If every man was destroyed from off the face of the earth, the Bible could be reproduced from the literature and the inscriptions of humankind.  If the Bible were destroyed in the earth, that itself was destroyed, if all creation were destroyed, the angels of heaven could create the Word of God.  Psalm 119:89: "Forever, O God, Thy word is fixed.  It is settled.  It is established in heaven."  The angels could reproduce it if the entire creation were destroyed.

Not only is the life of the Holy Word of God indestructible, but it also is current.  It is fresh.  It is pertinent.  It is vital.  It is modern.  It is applicable in every generation, through all the centuries and the millennia.

One of the things that you will find in studying philosophy is this: that there are fads in thought.  Human thinking follows certain patterns.  When you read those books of the story of the history of philosophy, you will find that there were certain ways of thinking that were very popular in certain eras, and then they are outmoded and have lost their vitality and pertinency.  They rise and fall – human thought does – like the waves of the sea. 

Human thought is like a garment.  It’s like clothing.  It gets old and wears out, and we cast it aside.  The story of human thought is like the autumnal leaves that fall down to the ground and perish, but God’s Word is so different.  As my favorite verse avows, Isaiah 40:8: "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of God, the word of our God shall stand forever."

This is the presence of the Lord in our midst, as He speaks to us and reveals Himself in the immutable and unchanging Book.  The Word of God is always alive, and afresh, and vibrant, and pertinent, and addresses itself to our present hour.

If every drop of the Pacific Ocean were to dry up and it turn into a dead lake, this Book would still be the fountain of the water of life.  If that vast granite, flint‑rock mountain range called the Sierra Nevada should finally turn into heaps of dust, this Book would still be the rock of ages.

If the very stars were to grow old and to grow dim and to go out, this Book would still be the light of the world.  And if the time comes when the very atomic elements of this creation are melted with fervent heat, this Book will still witness to the coming of a new heaven and a new earth. 

This is the immutable, unchanging Word of God.  "Heaven and earth may pass away; but My words will never pass away" [Luke 21:33].  It is zōn.  It is quick.  It is alive.  The second descriptive word used here is "energēs " – translated "powerful" [Hebrews 4:12].   We take the word and spell it out in English – "energy."   The Word of God is energēs.  It is active.  It is quickened.  It is alive.  It is dynamic.  It is powerful.

Paul, writing to his son in the ministry in 2 Timothy 2:9, Paul says, "I am in bonds, I am in chains, but the word of God is not bound."  The Word of God is like some great Samson.  It’s like some gigantic Hercules.  It’s like a Superman.  It’s like the Incredible Hulk.  It breaks every bond.  It tears apart every bar.  It leaps every prison wall.  It goes beyond every mountain range, and it reaches to every isle of the sea.  It is energēs.  It is powerful!

And when the Word of God is preached, when it is delivered in the unction of the Holy Spirit, it becomes omnipotent, as in the beginning the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters [Genesis 1:2] and the Lord God spoke to the primeval darkness, saying: "Let there be light:  and there was light" [Genesis 1:3].

The Word of God convicts us.  It converts it.  It consecrates and hallows our lives, and it comforts our souls.  The Word of God crushes me and smites me.  The Word of God weeps with me.  It brings the gospel message of hope to me.  It clasps my hand.  It is warm.  It sings to me.  It preaches to me.  It leads me to Jesus.  It converts my soul.  It saves my life.  And it assures me of hope in heaven. The Word of God is energēs.  It is dynamic.  It is powerful. 

It is not only zōn, quick, and not only energēs, powerful, but it is tomōteros.  The Greek word for "to cut" is tomas.  That’s where you get your word atomas – atom.  They used to think – the Greeks thought that the smallest indivisible uncut thing in the world was an atomasTomas, cut is alpha privative, tomas, to cut.

Now the comparative form of it in Greek, it’s always a teros; tomōteros, tomōteros, translated here "sharper."   If you were to translate it exactly, it would be "sharper cutting."   Temnō is the word "to cut." 

The Word of God is zōn; it is living.  It’s energēs;  it is powerful.  It is tomōteros.  It is more cutting, sharper [Hebrews 4:12]. 

The Greek word for two is dis, and stoma is mouth, literally "two mouth."   The word is translated "two-edged sword"; two-edged, a sword two-edged.  That word is used twice in the Bible, here and in Revelation 1:16 when our Lord glorified is described as having a tongue like a two-edged sword, out of His mouth went a two-edged sword.  The Word of God is a two-edged sword.  It cuts both ways. 

The sharpness of the Word of God is devastating.  The cutting power of it, it cuts to pieces what ought to be cut to pieces.  And it brings to life in quickening power what ought to be brought to life.  The Word of God cuts us down in our thoughts and in our lives that ought to be hewn and ought to be cut down, as Agag was hewn by Samuel before the Lord [1 Samuel 15:33].  But it also quickens.  It has the power of giving life, such as Saul on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-18], or the Bereans who search the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so [Acts 17:11].  The tomōteros, the cutting power of the Word of God is a miracle in itself.

In my reading in my preparing for this message, I came across a great Christian in England who was unknown to me.  His name was Thorpe, and he lived in Bristol.  He must have been a very brilliant man, a very intellectually capable man, able man.  And as so many academicians are, they are skeptical and infidel in heart and spirit.  And this man belonged to what he called a Hell Fire Club.   They were men of infidel persuasion who scoffed and laughed at the things of the Lord.  Well, this man Thorpe, he was described as these books say, as a great Christian and a great witness for Christ and a tremendous soulwinner.  This man Thorpe went to hear, as an infidel, he went to hear George Whitefield preacher. 

George Whitefield was, I suppose, one of the greatest preachers of all time.  The effect he had upon an audience, before a PA system was invented, speaking outside to maybe twenty thousand and thirty thousand people, and bringing them all to tears – it was George Whitefield, you remember, that Benjamin Franklin went to hear.  And he heard that he had such power, and he was not going to give him any money.  And so Benjamin Franklin says that he carefully left all of his money at home in order that if he listened to George Whitefield make an appeal for his orphan home, why, he wouldn’t give him anything.  He wouldn’t have anything.  He left it all at home. And so Ben Franklin stands there and listens to George Whitefield, and under the spell of the eloquence of that mighty preacher, he turns to his neighbor that he doesn’t even know and says, "Sir, lend me some money that I can give to the preacher."   That’s George Whitefield. 

George Whitefield was the leader of the Great Awakening in America, as well as in England – the friend of John Wesley.  Now he must have had a certain tone, must have.  They describe him as being a man who could stand up and repeat the word Mesopotamia and bring an audience to tears just in the pronunciation of that one word.  There must have been something, I say, about George Whitefield in the tone of his voice and the manner of his delivery that was very moving.

Well anyway, this man Thorpe went to hear George Whitefield preach.  And being a very gifted intellectual and understanding man, why, when he came to his Hell Fire Club, he thought he would do a smart thing.  He stood up there before those men, those infidels, and he delivered George Whitefield’s sermon to them.  And he did it in the same intonation, and in the same manner, and with the same expression as George Whitefield did.  And in the midst of his delivery of George Whitefield’s sermon from God’s Book, in the midst of it, the man broke down, and sat down in uncontrollable sobs and tears, and confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus, and became, as I say, that great Christian that they refer to as Thorpe of Bristol, England.

That’s the Word of God.  The power of it and the cutting edge of it is sometimes miraculous to behold.  I have seen that with mine own eyes.  You have, too.  Men that you would never in the earth think for as being devout, humble followers of Jesus, and now look at them.  They are first in the ranks of those who magnify the name of the Lord; sharper than any two-edged sword. 

And this last description – piercing, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow [Hebrews 4:12].  The Greek word for through is dia.  You find that word in a thousand English words, dia.  And the Greek word for "to pass" is erchomai.  So dierchomai is to pass through, and it is translated here "pierce."   It is the same idea as a dagger or a rapier.  A sword is sharp to cut.  A rapier or a dagger is to thrust.  And the word of God is described here as a thrusting, piercing rapier that goes through "even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow."

Now to me, the "dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow" is a poetic figure and a tremendously effective one.  It does not refer to so much as the joints being here and the marrow over here, as it refers to the thrust of it through the whole human body, and using that as the dagger or the rapier would thrust through joint and marrow.  So the Word of God thrusts through the soul and the spirit.

And you know when you read the Bible and look at that, how oft times do you see it in the story of God dealing with humanity?  I was reading the twenty-first and twenty-second chapters of 1 Kings.  In the first of those chapters, you have the story of the stoning of Naboth when Jezebel said to Ahab, "Arise, Naboth is no more" [1 Kings 21:15].  He had been stoned to death [1 Kings 21:13].  And when Ahab comes into Naboth’s vineyard to take possession, there he meets Elijah, the man of God, who looks at Ahab and says: "In the same place, in the identical and exact place where the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, shall the dogs lick up thy blood, even thine"  [1 Kings 21:19].

Then in the next chapter, Ahab and Jehoshaphat are preparing to go up to Ramoth Gilead to war.  And Jehoshaphat, being a man of God and a godly king, says to Ahab: "Let us inquire of the prophets."  So the prophets all gather around Ahab and they carry on: "God is going to give you a great victory" [1 Kings 21:5-6].  And Jehoshaphat, as he listens to them, he asks Ahab: "Is there not one other prophet from whom we could ask, of whom we could inquire?"  [1 Kings 22:7].

And Ahab says: "Yes, there is, but I hate him.  He always prophesies evil of me" [1 Kings 22:8].  Jehoshaphat says: "Say not so; send for him."  So Micaiah, God’s, servant comes.  And he says to Ahab: "You will not come back, and all Israel will be scattered like sheep upon a mountain" [1 Kings 22:17].  And Ahab says: "Take this fellow and put him in prison and feed him water of affliction and bread of affliction until I come back in triumph and in victory" [1 Kings 22:26-27].

And then the story continues – do you remember it? In the battle, a man draws a bow.  The King James Version says, "at a venture" [1 Kings 22:34].  A man in the battle draws back a bow without aiming it, and he lets fly the arrow.  And the arrow, and the arrow – just according to the sharp rapier of the Word of God – the arrow finds a joint in the armor of Ahab, pierces his heart, and his blood flows out into the chariot [1 Kings 22:35].  When they bring him back to Samaria, they wash out the chariot.  And in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, in that place, the dogs lick up the blood of Ahab [1 King 21:19, 22:38].

The piercing, the sharpness, the rapier‑like thrust of the Word of God; we don’t obviate it.  We don’t get beyond it.  We don’t overcome it.  We don’t outlive it.  It is always there – sharp, piercing, living; God’s immutable unchanging Word.

And then this last thing; he speaks of it as "dividing asunder soul and spirit, and the joints and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  For all things are opened and naked before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" [Hebrews 4:12-13].  God’s Word lays bare.  God’s Word divides.  And that division, that laying bare, is opened for any man to see, any eye to look upon.  It is so very apparent and demonstrable.  The difference between the lost and the saved, between the repentant and the unrepentant, between those that follow our blessed Lord and those who do not; it is so apparent, opened and naked before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do, and before the eyes of the world that they look upon it laid bare.

I don’t know whether any of you read this or not.  It is the filing of a report by a war correspondent who followed the United States forces as they stormed and occupied Okinawa.  What happened there, so this war correspondent says, thirty years before, there came through Okinawa a missionary on his way to Japan.  He had but a moment to stay, but in that moment that he stayed, in a little Okinawa village named Shimabuku he preached the gospel.  He won two young men to Christ, and he left them with a Bible. 

One of those men was named Shosei Kina, and he became the head man of the village – the mayor, we would call him, of the village.  The other man was Mojun, and he became the headmaster of the village.  And what happened in those thirty years just having the Bible?

First of all, they built a school, and Mojun was the headmaster of the school.  He was the teacher.  And they had a text.  They had the Book.  And they taught in that school the Bible.  They learned the Bible.  They studied the Bible.  They prayed to the Lord Jesus.  They found the Word of God and the will of the Lord for their lives.  They had one text – the Bible.

I think of our academy.  I can’t describe to you how I thank the Lord and praise God for our Christian school.  We can use the Bible as a textbook there.  We can praise God there.  We can sing to Jesus there.  We can teach every subject in the mind of the Lord in Christ Jesus.  It is a Christian school.  It is a Christian academy, like they had in Shimabuku, taught by Mojun:  they had one Book, they had one text – the Bible!

All right; this man Shosei Kina, the other Christian, became mayor of the little town.  He led the people into the ways of the Lord.  Those two men won everybody in the village to faith in Christ.  They all were Christians, all of them.  And they built the government of their village around the Word of God!

Well, America stormed Okinawa, and this village of Shimabuku was in the way of the advance of the American forces.  And this war correspondent is with those GI’s, storming that island.  And when the forces of America, our American boys, came to Shimabuku, they came to the village with artillery and with machine guns and with rifles!

And can you imagine? They were met by two old men.  One of them named Shosei Kina and the other named Mojun.  And one of the men introduced himself as the mayor of the town, and the other introduced himself as the teacher and the headmaster of the Christian school.  And they welcomed the GI’s because they had heard they were Americans.  And they had known one American, and they said, "These Americans who are now coming are somewhat different" from that one that they had seen before.  But those two old men were welcoming the Americans, welcoming the Americans.  And when those two men welcomed the Americans, they did it in the name of the Lord, in the name of Christ, and in the name of the Holy Book, around which they had centered their lives and constructed their city government.

Well, those GI’s were overwhelmed.  They didn’t know what to think of that.  So they called the chaplain, and the chaplain called the commanding officers.  And those two godly, Christian old men accompanied the American officers through the streets of their village.  And the officers were overwhelmed, for the villages of Okinawa were filled with filth and dirt, and the people were ignorant and untaught.  And this city, this little town, was spotless.  Its streets were perfectly kept.  Its homes were clean.  And the people were genteel and gracious.  And the officers expressed amazement at what they were seeing. 

And those two Christian old men thought that they were disappointed.  And they bowed, saying, "Oh, but you must pardon us.  We’re such a backward people, and all we know is the Bible.  And we have done no other thing than just to follow Jesus.  You must forgive us." 

And those men said, "Forgive you? Forgive you?"

And then the correspondent closed that report with this: he says, "I was walking through the streets of Shimabuku with a tough old American sergeant, and he said to me, he said, "Phillip, look at this."   He said, "I’m beginning to wonder if we’re not using the wrong weapons to change the world."  I, many times, wonder the same. 

We try to change the world by – and then you name it.  We try to change it through government.  And we try to change it through politics.  And we try to change it with force.  And we try to change it through diplomatic channels such as the United Nations.  And in a thousand ways does a floundering, faltering, failing humanity try to right the world, when all the time, what is needed to make the world right is the preaching and the delivery of the eternal and everlasting Word of God.

Think what a world it would be if instead of bullets, we had Bibles.  Instead of diplomats, we had preachers of the gospel.  Instead of ambassadors of political coloring, we had plenipotentiaries from the gates of heaven.  I don’t know what might happen, but it would be wonderful to think of it:  speaking the word of faith in truth; loving the world through loving God; bringing to the feet of our blessed Lord Jesus our own souls and the souls of those who would bow and worship with us.  It would be a new day.  It is for us who have tried it in our heart.  It is for us who have sought that blessing in our own houses and in our own homes.  And it never fails to bless a people and a nation.  Fortunate, "Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord" [Psalm 33:12].  Now may we stand together? 

Our wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Father in heaven, and Savior, and the Spirit of Jesus in our hearts, living and breathing, and moving in the sacred Book; O Word of God, that we might the more fully and wonderfully and completely dedicate ourselves to its message.  Help us, Lord, to preach it powerful, omnipotently.  The Spirit of God is in that Word.  God moves in it.  God breathes in it.  And how it speaks to us, convicting us and bringing us to the blessed Savior.

And our Lord, we pray that God will sanctify and hallow its message, even this holy hour with a sweet harvest of souls.  Thank Thee, Lord, for the tremendous harvest You gave at the 8:15 service.  Those families that came, all of them, "I want to be baptized on the confession of my faith."  What a wonderful sight, just to look upon it.  And our Lord may it be no less God doing it again. 

And while our people pray and our heads are bowed and the Lord is here, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, on that last highest row, there is time and to spare.  Down one of these stairways, in the press of these people on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, "Here I come, pastor.  We have decided for God and here we are."  And our Lord, thank Thee for this sweet harvest You give us, in Jesus saving keeping name, amen.  And now while we sing our song, on the first note of this first stanza, while our ministers and our deacons are here to receive you with joy unspeakable, welcome a thousandfold, as you come, while we pray and wait and while we sing.