THE BOOK THAT LIVES FOREVER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-18-88 8:15 a.m.
And this is the pastor bringing the message. Inside of the folder of the order of our service, you have an outline for the reading of the Bible throughout the coming new year. There is also a card of commitment that we will read the Bible each day, following that sacred outline. In keeping with that, the people of our church have asked me to deliver a message on God’s Holy Word. It is a joy for me to do so. I have entitled it The Book—The Book that Lives Forever. And a background text is in Revelation 1, verses 10 and 11; Revelation 1:10-11: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” this day, the Lord’s Day, “and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia” And the seven churches of Asia represent the churches of all the ages of all the centuries, and all the churches today. “What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches of Asia” [Revelation 1:11].
This Book is a reflection of God’s holy established word in heaven. Psalm 119:89: “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is natsab, natsab in heaven.” The King James Version translates it “settled”; which is a fine translation. “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is natsab, settled.” It could have been translated “established”; it could have been translated “fixed.” “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is fixed, it is established in heaven” [Psalm 119:89]. This Word that I have here in my hand is a copy of the eternal forever-established Word that God has written in heaven. It is there. It is here. And this in earth is a reflection and a copy of that in heaven.
Like the Bureau of Weights and Measures in Washington, DC.: there is a perfect inch, and a perfect foot, and a perfect yard; there is a perfect ounce, there’s a perfect pound, there’s a perfect gallon, there’s a perfect quart; and all of the other measurements are reflections of that Bureau of Standards in Washington, DC. In the Naval Observatory in Washington there is a clock. And every day at high noon that clock is set by astronomical measurements according to the starry heavens. And the chronometers of the world are set according to that standard in the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC.
In the Book of Hebrews and in the Book of Exodus, God says to Moses, “Here is the pattern of the tabernacle from heaven; and make this tabernacle according to the pattern that I show you from heaven” [Hebrews 8:5; Exodus 25:9, 40]. In the Revelation you see the tabernacle, God’s pattern in heaven [Revelation 15:5].
This Book that I hold in my hand is a copy of that eternal established word of God in heaven [Psalm 119:89]. Thousands of years ago there were thirty-nine books in the Old Testament. After these thousands of years there is still thirty-nine books in the Old Testament. Immediately following the first Christian centuries there were twenty-seven books in the New Testament. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament today. No matter how man has sought to change it, it remains everlastingly the same.
When the Council of Trent, for example, and the Jerusalem Synod, for example, and the bishops of Hippo, for example, said we must add to the books of the Old Testament the Apocrypha, God said no; and those monstrous absurdities were never added to this Holy Bible. And after the writing of the New Testament, world without end, were there other gospels and other epistles and other books that were sought to be added to the New Testament; they all have rotted away like fruit tied to a tree. “For ever, O Lord, Thy word natsab, is fixed, it is established in heaven” [Psalms 119:89]. And this is but a reflection and a copy of that Holy Word God has before Him in the presence of the angels of glory, the Book of the Lord that endures forever.
A second word in God’s holy revelation concerning this sacred volume: in 1 Peter chapter 1:23: “We are born again, not of corruptible, but of incorruptible seed, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” [1 Peter 1:23]. This word is aphthartos; phthartos is the Greek word for “perishable, corruptible,” phthartos. You put an “a” in front of it, and it negates it, called in the Greek language, in the Greek study an alpha privative. We use it all through our own language. The word for God is theos; you put an “a” in front of it, and it negates it, “atheist,” there’s not any God. The word for “know,” “know” in Greek, “know” in English, put an “a” in front of it it’s an “agno,” an “agnostic”: he doesn’t know anything. So with this word: phthartos means corruptible, perishable; put an “a” in front of it, and it is incorruptible and imperishable. And that’s what God says about His Holy Word: it is aphthartos; it is incorruptible [1 Peter 1:23]. And that is one of the most amazing phenomena in human history: the incorruptibility of the word of God.
It’s the work of God Himself. God sees to it that it is preserved exactly as the Lord by the Holy Spirit has written it [2 Peter 1:20-21]. Like the story we read at this Christmas season of the birth of our Savior: Herod’s bloody sword was raised above the manger [Matthew 2:16], but God preserved the life of the Child; God did it [Matthew 2:13-15]. Same thing about the burial of our Savior [Matthew 27:57-60]: it was the Spirit of God that preserved His body from decay, from corruption [Acts 2:31]. Same thing about us: it is the Spirit of God that will preserve us unto the great day of the Lord, saved forever [Ephesians 4:30]. It is the Spirit of God that has preserved this Holy Word from corruption [2 Peter 1:20-21].
I want to look at that for just a moment. It’s an amazing thing! If there is a copyist that has made a mistake in a manuscript, there’s a copyist who’s made a mistake, there will be thousands of manuscripts where that mistake can be easily seen, eradicated. A scholar has said that there are more than four thousand two hundred ancient Greek manuscripts; and beside that you have between twenty and thirty thousand copies, manuscripts of the Latin translation of those early manuscripts. And beside that, you have a thousand manuscripts and more in Coptic and in Syriac, beside the multitude of translations—all copying the Word of God. Look at that for a minute. Fifteen hundred years after Herodotus there was one ancient manuscript, one; twelve hundred years after Plato there was one manuscript of the writings of Plato, one. Today there is just one manuscript of Tacitus; there is one manuscript of Greek anthology; there are practically one of the manuscripts of Euripides and Sophocles and Themistocles and Xenophon. Yet God saw to it that the manuscripts of this Holy Word would be by the thousands: over four thousand two hundred ancient Greek manuscripts of the Word of God. It is almost unthinkable and unimaginable what God has done!
If there is a scribe here that has made a mistake in copying the Word of God, the Lord will see to it that there is a manuscript here, a scribe here that copies the Word of God without a mistake. You know, I see that in the whole record of God’s mercy in providing for His people and His church. If there is a preacher standing up in the pulpit who’s an infidel, who’s a liberal, who’s a moderate, they say, if there’s a preacher somewhere who is denying the Word of the Lord, at the same time he’s standing up denying the Word of the Lord, there’ll be another preacher over here that God has raised up who is declaring the full glory of the message of Christ. God sees to it. God does it.
If there is a church over here that goes infidel, that goes liberal, God will see to it that there’s another church over here standing by the fundamentals of the faith. If there is a translation of the Word of God into English that does dishonor to the revelation from heaven, God will see to it that there are a dozen other translations that are true to the Word of the Lord. If there is a denomination that departs from the faith and becomes unbelieving and infidel, God will see to it that there is another denomination raised up who will be true to the faith and to the Word of the Lord. It’s a remarkable thing! Incorruptible: you cannot destroy it; you cannot minimize it; you cannot compromise it! It is incorruptible; it is aphthartos, God’s holy and revealed Word.
One other that I have time to mention: what God says about His Word. And you who have known me for all these years as your pastor, know this is my favorite verse in the Bible: Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever”; yaqum, shall stand; qum means “to rise,” it means “to flourish,” it means “to remain,” it means “to endure.” Everything we see in this earth perishes; even the earth itself shall pass away. But God’s Word shall never pass away. When the grass withers and the flower fades, the Word of God yaqum, shall rise, shall stand, shall flourish, shall endure forever! [Isaiah 40:8].
Lord in heaven, what a demonstration of that revelation and affirmation do we find in human history! There’s not a schoolboy but has read about the Roman emperor Diocletian, Diocletian. In 303 AD, Diocletian set in motion the most tragic persecution of the Christians that the civilized world had ever seen. He slew them from one side of the empire to the other. He burned them at the stake; he drowned them in water; he decimated them. And after Diocletian, in 303 AD, had come to the consummation of his persecution of the Christian people and their Holy Word, over a Bible burned, over a Bible burned he erected a monument; and on the monument he wrote these words: “Extincto nomine christianorum,” “Extinct the name of the Christian.” What we’d say in our vocabulary today: “The name of the Christian is forever destroyed. This is the end of the faith.” That was in 303 AD. There’s not a schoolboy but that knows Diocletian’s successor was the emperor Constantine. The emperor Constantine, eleven years later, put the sign of the cross on every Roman shield. He made the Christian faith the faith of the Roman Empire. And the whole civilized world was turned into Christian. God’s Word shall endure forever [Isaiah 40:8].
I think again of a persecution even more bitter than that of Diocletian. And isn’t it strange that it should be by the Church? The persecution by the Church, the Church, the bitterest persecutor of the Word of God has been the Church! When Martin Luther was a grown man—he’d been a monk all of his life—when Martin Luther was a grown man, he said, “I have never seen a Bible. I have never seen it. I have never seen a Bible.” And he was a religious professional all the days of his life; grown, “I’ve never seen a Bible.” And when the Inquisition, the bitter Inquisition reached over England, they dug up the body of John Wycliffe. He died before those terrible, bloodthirsty ecclesiastics could seize him. They dug up the body of John Wycliffe, and they burned it, as all of the other followers of John Wycliffe. They put their Bibles around their necks, hung them around their necks, and burned them at the stakes. They dug up the body of John Wycliffe and burned it and cast his ashes on the River Swift. But the River Swift runs into the Avon, and the Avon runs into the Severn, and the Severn runs into the sea: a parable and a picture of the word of God—from the Avon, from the Severn, and in the sea washing the shores of the continents of the earth. I have followed the river Avon. I have stood on a mountain and looked where the Severn pours its waters into the sea, and thought of the word of God. Great God in heaven! The Word is forever fixed and endures forever [Psalm 119:89; 1 Peter 1:25].
The last and most terrible of all the persecutions against the Word of God is in our day. The modernist, the higher critic, the seat of learning in our colleges and in our seminaries, the Wellhausens, and the Humes, and the Strausses, and the Tubingen school, what you call “higher criticism,” denying the inspiration of the Book [2 Timothy 2:16], mocking the miracles of our Lord, denying His deity [John 20:28], and His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-7]; higher criticism.
Voltaire said, “One hundred years from now a Bible will be a curiosity object in an antiquarian shop.” Hume, the atheistic philosopher in England, said, “I see the twilight of Christianity.” One hundred years to the day after Voltaire said that, “This Bible one hundred years from now will be a curiosity in an antiquarian shop,” one hundred years to the day after Voltaire said that, a copy of the first edition of Voltaire sold on the streets of Paris for ten cents. And on that same day the government of Great Britain paid $500,000 to the czar of Russia for Codex Sinaiticus, an ancient manuscript of the Bible. Today it’d be something like three million dollars. And Hume missed sunset for sunrise: instead of the twilight of Christianity, it’s the sunrise of the faith.
These Wycliffe missionaries are over the earth. Our missionaries are over the earth. And Christ is being preached on television and radio and by voice to the uncounted thousands and millions of the earth. God’s Word endures forever [1 Peter 1:25].
And that is our appeal to you this precious hour. You who have listened on radio and watched on television, to receive God’s holy revelation as the truth of heaven, this is the way God has made known for us how to enter into the gates of glory. Open your heart to the truth and follow after in the way of our Lord Jesus. And to the great throng of people in God’s sanctuary here this sacred morning, “Pastor, today I’m giving my heart to the Lord, to the faith.” A family you coming into the fellowship of the church, a couple you answering the call of God, or just one somebody you receiving Jesus in your heart [Romans 10:9-10], on the first note of the first stanza, come, make it now, make it today, what a glorious time to answer the call of the Spirit of God in your heart! Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.