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The Word of God Quick and Powerful Bookmark

The Word of God Quick and Powerful

Heb. 4:12. 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.

THE state of a Christian’s mind should be alike distant from slavish fear and from presumptuous confidence. He is authorized to entertain a confidence, because he has Omnipotence for his support, and the veracity of God pledged to supply him with all that is needful for his spiritual welfare. But he has need of fear also; because he is in the midst of temptations, and has a deceitful heart, ever ready to beguile him. In the view of his privileges, he may rejoice: but in the view of his dangers, he should tremble. In a word, he should, as David expresses it, “rejoice with trembling.” This frame of mind is supposed by many to be unsuited to that full liberty into which we are brought under the Christian dispensation. But St. Paul continually inculcates the necessity of it in order to a safe and upright walk: “Be not high-minded, but fear:” “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” But in no place of Scripture is this mixture of diffidence and affiance more strongly insisted on than in this and the preceding chapters. We are taught the indispensable necessity of “holding fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of hope, firm unto the enda;” and yet we are again and again warned by the example of the Israelites, who were excluded from the promised land, lest we also should “fall after the same example of unbeliefb.” It is in this view that the declarations in our text are introduced. There is an abruptness in them which renders the meaning of the Apostle somewhat difficult at first: but when the connecting link is supplied, the sense of the passage is clear, and very important. It speaks to this effect: The Israelites thought they had sufficient grounds for their unbelief; yet it ruined them. You also may be deceived by an evil heart of unbelief: but, however you may vindicate yourselves, that word, which you now disobey, will judge you in the last day; and will both expose your self-delusion, and justify God in passing against you a sentence of exclusion from the promised land.

The scope of the passage being thus explained, we propose to consider,

I.    The description here given of the word of God—

Many able commentators have given it as their opinion, that, by “the word of God,” we are to understand the Lord Jesus Christ, who is frequently called by that name in the Holy Scriptures. But St. Paul never speaks of Christ by that name: nor is there any mention of Christ in the context. On the contrary, the word of revelation is mentioned, as that which the Israelites would not believec; as that also which excluded them from the promised restd; and as that which speaks to us precisely as it did to theme. And the different things spoken of it in the text are far more suited to the written word, than to the Lord Jesus Christ. To that, therefore, we limit the description before us. Its properties are set forth,

1.   In figurative terms—

It is “quick,” that is, a living word. Our blessed Lord represents it in the same view: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are lifef.” And it is the very same term which Stephen also makes use of, when he calls the Scriptures “the lively oraclesg.” The word is not a mere dead letter, that will soon vanish away: it lives in the mind of God: it lives in the decrees of heaven: it liveth and will live for ever: nor will millions of ages cause it to be forgotten, or in the least enervate its force. All besides this shall wax old, and decay: but this shall endure, without the alteration of one jot or tittle of it, to all generationsh.

It is also “powerful.” ear the appeal which God himself makes to us respecting it: “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord: and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in piecesi?” Yes: there is nothing that can resist its force.

But in the text it is compared with “a two-edged sword,” which, how sharp soever it may be, cannot penetrate like that. Frequently is it characterized by this image, especially as proceeding from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christk. Yet does that image give but a very faint idea of its power: for a sword, though it may inflict a mortal wound, would be utterly incapable of dividing, with accuracy, the almost imperceptible organs of the human frame: but the word can “pierce to the dividing asunder the joints and marrow, yea, and the animal soul also from the rational spirit.” By this is meant, that there is nothing so hidden, which it cannot detect; nothing so blended, which it cannot discriminate.

This the Apostle proceeds to set forth,

2.   In plain language—

The word is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Of the unregenerate man it is said, that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continuallyl.” The regenerate are “renewed in the spirit of their minds.” But still they are not so renewed, but that some imperfection cleaves to all which they do: there is something in every thought and every purpose of the human heart, something which still shews that man is a fallen creature, and which cannot stand the strict scrutiny of God’s all-seeing eye. If he lay judgment for a line, and righteousness for a plummet, there is not anything in which there will not be found some obliquity. Such a perfect standard is the word of God: “it will discern between the good and evil that is in the most holy thought of the most perfect of men.” In the hand of “the Spirit, whose sword it ism,” its power is infinite, even though it be wielded by the feeblest arm. In the hand of the prophets, it “hewed” the hypocritial Jews in piecesn. In the hand of the Apostles, it pierced thousands to the heart at onceo. In the hand of ordinary ministers, it has still the same power, and can so detect all the secret thoughts of men’s hearts, as to evince that, it is indeed the very word of God himselfp,———and through him is still, as much as ever, “mighty to the casting down of the most haughty imaginations, and to the bringing of every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christq.”

But that which gives to this description its force, is,

II.   The end for which it is adduced—

The Apostle means to say, that, however secret the workings of unbelief may be, they will all be detected and condemned by the word in the last day. Now,

Unbelief is a most subtle sin—

It has ten thousand pleas and pretexts by which it clokes its malignity, and justifies to the mind and conscience its operations. See it in the Jews, whom it deceived to their ruin. There was always some great trial, some apparently insuperable difficulty in their way. They supposed that God would make all their way easy, and that they should have nothing to try their faith and patience. Hence they construed every difficulty as a violation of God’s promises, and a prelude to his final dereliction of them. Hence also they made their appeals upon this subject with as much confidence, as if their conclusions were undeniable: and the chastisements which they received for their impiety only increased their complaints, as though, in addition to the disappointments of their legitimate expectations, they were treated with undeserved cruelty. Thus it is with us: we hide from ourselves, or rather we justify to ourselves, the workings of unbelief. Its operations all seem to us to be founded in truth and equity. If we look at God’s threatenings, it cannot be that they should ever be executed, because such a procedure would be inconsistent with the Divine perfections, and an act of injustice towards man. If the promises of God be the object to which our attention is turned, they are too great, and too good to be performed; or at least, that they are not intended for such sinners as we. Besides, they are so far out of our sight, as to have, in our conceptions, little or no reality, in comparison of the objects of time and sense. Other sins we excuse as acts of frailty: but this we justify, as an act of wisdom.

But, how subtle soever our unbelief may be, the word of God will discover and condemn it—

The word of God is so comprehensive, that there is not in the whole creation a thought or purpose that does not come within its ranger: and it is so minute, that there is not the slightest “imagination of a thought,” of which it does not take cognizance. It is spiritual, even as the Author of it himself is spiritual; and, when it is brought home with power to the soul, it convinces a man of sins of which he had before not the least conceptions. As by a chemical process the constituent parts of material bodies may be discovered, so by the application of the word to our souls in the last day will every thought be decompounded, as it were, and its every particle of good or evil be disclosedt. The fire that will try us will search the inmost recesses of the soul, and determine, with infallible precision, the quality of the most latent imagination thereu. Of this we have an earnest in the events which happened to the Jews in consequence of their unbelief. Thus, God addresses them by the Prophet Zechariah: “our fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever? But my words and my statutes which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like as the Lord of Hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with usx.” And the very same confession will, assuredly, be made in the last day by the most confident unbeliever in the universe: “His sin shall surely find him outy;” and it shall then be seen, “whose word shall stand, God’s or hisz.” The counsels of every heart shall then be made manifesta;” and God be justified before the whole universe in the sentence that he shall passb.

From hence we may see—

1.   How attentive we should be to the word of God—

Would we but inspect it with humility and care, it would be as a glass to reflect our own image, in a way that nothing else can doc. And, is it not madness to neglect the opportunity it affords us of learning our true character, and of ascertaining, beforehand, the sentence of our Judge? To what purpose is it to deceive our own souls? Will that word be altered? Will any other standard be brought forward whereby to estimate our state? Or shall we be able either to dispute its testimony, or avert its sentence? Dear brethren, remember the description given of it in our text: think how unavailing all your pleas and excuses will be, when its voice shall be raised against you: and now, ere it be too late, take it as a light to search all the secret corners of your heartsd, and to guide your feet into the way of peace.

2.   How fearful we should be of unbelief—

As there is no grace which so honors God, as faith, so there is no sin which so dishonors him, as unbelief. Other sins, though they oppose his authority, do not deny his right to command: but unbelief questions the very existence of his truth. Hence does St. John so frequently speak of it, as “making God a liare.” Ah! little do the sceptic and the unbeliever think what guilt they contract: and little do they imagine what chains they are forging for their own souls! How, I would ask, will any man get his sins forgiven? it can only be by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and by a living faith too: for it is not a dead faith that will suffice; but such a faith as unites the soul to Christ, and derives out of his fulness all that grace, and mercy, and peace which we stand in need of. Most awful is that declaration of God, that “all the fearful and unbelieving shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second deathf.” Whether we believe this or not, it will prove true in the end: and the sentence, once denounced against Israel with an oath, shall again be repeated against all that abide in unbelief; “I swear in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my rest.”

3.   How earnestly we should pray to God for the gift of his Spirit—

It is by the Spirit of God alone that we can either “be convinced of unbeliefg,” or be enabled to exercise a living faithh. O! beg of God to give you his Spirit. Seek it in earnest; and you shall not ask in vaini. It is the Spirit’s office to “take of the things that are Christ’s, and to shew them unto youk.” It is his office to make the word effectual to your souls: for it is then only effectual, when “it comes in demonstration of the Spirit and of powerl.” Read not then, nor hear, the word in dependence on your own strength; but cry mightily to God to bring it home to your hearts “with power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurancem.” Then shall you experience its life-giving efficacy, and find it “the power of God to the salvation of your soulsn.”[1]

 

 

a Heb. 3:6.

b ver. 1, 11.

c ver. 2.

d Heb. 3:7–11.

e ver. 7–9.

f John 6:63.

g Acts 7:38.

h 1 Pet. 1:23–25.

i Jer. 23:29.

k Isai. 49:2. Rev. 1:16.

l Gen. 6:5.

m Eph. 6:17.

n Hos. 6:5.

o Acts 2:37.

p 1 Cor. 14:24, 25.

q 2 Cor. 10:4, 5.

r Ps. 119:96.

s Rom. 7:9, 14.

t John 12:48.

u 1 Cor. 3:13.

x Zech. 1:5, 6.

y Numb. 32:23.

z Jer. 44:28.

a 1 Cor. 4:5.

b Ps. 51:4. with Rom. 3:4.

c Jam. 1:23, 24.

d John 3:19–21. Prov. 20:27.

e 1 John 2:22. and 5:10.

f Rev. 21:8.

g John 16:8, 9.

h Eph. 2:8. Phil. 1:29.

i Luke 11:13.

k John 16:14.

l 1 Cor. 2:4.

m 1 Thess. 1:5.

n Rom. 1:16.

[1] Simeon, C. (1833). Horae Homileticae: 2 Timothy to Hebrews (Vol. 19, pp. 204–210). London: Holdsworth and Ball. (Public Domain)

The Word of God Quick and Powerful

Heb. 4:12. 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.

THE state of a Christian’s mind should be alike distant from slavish fear and from presumptuous confidence. He is authorized to entertain a confidence, because he has Omnipotence for his support, and the veracity of God pledged to supply him with all that is needful for his spiritual welfare. But he has need of fear also; because he is in the midst of temptations, and has a deceitful heart, ever ready to beguile him. In the view of his privileges, he may rejoice: but in the view of his dangers, he should tremble. In a word, he should, as David expresses it, “rejoice with trembling.” This frame of mind is supposed by many to be unsuited to that full liberty into which we are brought under the Christian dispensation. But St. Paul continually inculcates the necessity of it in order to a safe and upright walk: “Be not high-minded, but fear:” “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.” But in no place of Scripture is this mixture of diffidence and affiance more strongly insisted on than in this and the preceding chapters. We are taught the indispensable necessity of “holding fast the confidence, and the rejoicing of hope, firm unto the enda;” and yet we are again and again warned by the example of the Israelites, who were excluded from the promised land, lest we also should “fall after the same example of unbeliefb.” It is in this view that the declarations in our text are introduced. There is an abruptness in them which renders the meaning of the Apostle somewhat difficult at first: but when the connecting link is supplied, the sense of the passage is clear, and very important. It speaks to this effect: The Israelites thought they had sufficient grounds for their unbelief; yet it ruined them. You also may be deceived by an evil heart of unbelief: but, however you may vindicate yourselves, that word, which you now disobey, will judge you in the last day; and will both expose your self-delusion, and justify God in passing against you a sentence of exclusion from the promised land.

The scope of the passage being thus explained, we propose to consider,

I.    The description here given of the word of God—

Many able commentators have given it as their opinion, that, by “the word of God,” we are to understand the Lord Jesus Christ, who is frequently called by that name in the Holy Scriptures. But St. Paul never speaks of Christ by that name: nor is there any mention of Christ in the context. On the contrary, the word of revelation is mentioned, as that which the Israelites would not believec; as that also which excluded them from the promised restd; and as that which speaks to us precisely as it did to theme. And the different things spoken of it in the text are far more suited to the written word, than to the Lord Jesus Christ. To that, therefore, we limit the description before us. Its properties are set forth,

1.   In figurative terms—

It is “quick,” that is, a living word. Our blessed Lord represents it in the same view: “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are lifef.” And it is the very same term which Stephen also makes use of, when he calls the Scriptures “the lively oraclesg.” The word is not a mere dead letter, that will soon vanish away: it lives in the mind of God: it lives in the decrees of heaven: it liveth and will live for ever: nor will millions of ages cause it to be forgotten, or in the least enervate its force. All besides this shall wax old, and decay: but this shall endure, without the alteration of one jot or tittle of it, to all generationsh.

It is also “powerful.” ear the appeal which God himself makes to us respecting it: “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord: and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in piecesi?” Yes: there is nothing that can resist its force.

But in the text it is compared with “a two-edged sword,” which, how sharp soever it may be, cannot penetrate like that. Frequently is it characterized by this image, especially as proceeding from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christk. Yet does that image give but a very faint idea of its power: for a sword, though it may inflict a mortal wound, would be utterly incapable of dividing, with accuracy, the almost imperceptible organs of the human frame: but the word can “pierce to the dividing asunder the joints and marrow, yea, and the animal soul also from the rational spirit.” By this is meant, that there is nothing so hidden, which it cannot detect; nothing so blended, which it cannot discriminate.

This the Apostle proceeds to set forth,

2.   In plain language—

The word is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Of the unregenerate man it is said, that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continuallyl.” The regenerate are “renewed in the spirit of their minds.” But still they are not so renewed, but that some imperfection cleaves to all which they do: there is something in every thought and every purpose of the human heart, something which still shews that man is a fallen creature, and which cannot stand the strict scrutiny of God’s all-seeing eye. If he lay judgment for a line, and righteousness for a plummet, there is not anything in which there will not be found some obliquity. Such a perfect standard is the word of God: “it will discern between the good and evil that is in the most holy thought of the most perfect of men.” In the hand of “the Spirit, whose sword it ism,” its power is infinite, even though it be wielded by the feeblest arm. In the hand of the prophets, it “hewed” the hypocritial Jews in piecesn. In the hand of the Apostles, it pierced thousands to the heart at onceo. In the hand of ordinary ministers, it has still the same power, and can so detect all the secret thoughts of men’s hearts, as to evince that, it is indeed the very word of God himselfp,———and through him is still, as much as ever, “mighty to the casting down of the most haughty imaginations, and to the bringing of every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christq.”

But that which gives to this description its force, is,

II.   The end for which it is adduced—

The Apostle means to say, that, however secret the workings of unbelief may be, they will all be detected and condemned by the word in the last day. Now,

Unbelief is a most subtle sin—

It has ten thousand pleas and pretexts by which it clokes its malignity, and justifies to the mind and conscience its operations. See it in the Jews, whom it deceived to their ruin. There was always some great trial, some apparently insuperable difficulty in their way. They supposed that God would make all their way easy, and that they should have nothing to try their faith and patience. Hence they construed every difficulty as a violation of God’s promises, and a prelude to his final dereliction of them. Hence also they made their appeals upon this subject with as much confidence, as if their conclusions were undeniable: and the chastisements which they received for their impiety only increased their complaints, as though, in addition to the disappointments of their legitimate expectations, they were treated with undeserved cruelty. Thus it is with us: we hide from ourselves, or rather we justify to ourselves, the workings of unbelief. Its operations all seem to us to be founded in truth and equity. If we look at God’s threatenings, it cannot be that they should ever be executed, because such a procedure would be inconsistent with the Divine perfections, and an act of injustice towards man. If the promises of God be the object to which our attention is turned, they are too great, and too good to be performed; or at least, that they are not intended for such sinners as we. Besides, they are so far out of our sight, as to have, in our conceptions, little or no reality, in comparison of the objects of time and sense. Other sins we excuse as acts of frailty: but this we justify, as an act of wisdom.

But, how subtle soever our unbelief may be, the word of God will discover and condemn it—

The word of God is so comprehensive, that there is not in the whole creation a thought or purpose that does not come within its ranger: and it is so minute, that there is not the slightest “imagination of a thought,” of which it does not take cognizance. It is spiritual, even as the Author of it himself is spiritual; and, when it is brought home with power to the soul, it convinces a man of sins of which he had before not the least conceptions. As by a chemical process the constituent parts of material bodies may be discovered, so by the application of the word to our souls in the last day will every thought be decompounded, as it were, and its every particle of good or evil be disclosedt. The fire that will try us will search the inmost recesses of the soul, and determine, with infallible precision, the quality of the most latent imagination thereu. Of this we have an earnest in the events which happened to the Jews in consequence of their unbelief. Thus, God addresses them by the Prophet Zechariah: “our fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever? But my words and my statutes which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like as the Lord of Hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with usx.” And the very same confession will, assuredly, be made in the last day by the most confident unbeliever in the universe: “His sin shall surely find him outy;” and it shall then be seen, “whose word shall stand, God’s or hisz.” The counsels of every heart shall then be made manifesta;” and God be justified before the whole universe in the sentence that he shall passb.

From hence we may see—

1.   How attentive we should be to the word of God—

Would we but inspect it with humility and care, it would be as a glass to reflect our own image, in a way that nothing else can doc. And, is it not madness to neglect the opportunity it affords us of learning our true character, and of ascertaining, beforehand, the sentence of our Judge? To what purpose is it to deceive our own souls? Will that word be altered? Will any other standard be brought forward whereby to estimate our state? Or shall we be able either to dispute its testimony, or avert its sentence? Dear brethren, remember the description given of it in our text: think how unavailing all your pleas and excuses will be, when its voice shall be raised against you: and now, ere it be too late, take it as a light to search all the secret corners of your heartsd, and to guide your feet into the way of peace.

2.   How fearful we should be of unbelief—

As there is no grace which so honors God, as faith, so there is no sin which so dishonors him, as unbelief. Other sins, though they oppose his authority, do not deny his right to command: but unbelief questions the very existence of his truth. Hence does St. John so frequently speak of it, as “making God a liare.” Ah! little do the sceptic and the unbeliever think what guilt they contract: and little do they imagine what chains they are forging for their own souls! How, I would ask, will any man get his sins forgiven? it can only be by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and by a living faith too: for it is not a dead faith that will suffice; but such a faith as unites the soul to Christ, and derives out of his fulness all that grace, and mercy, and peace which we stand in need of. Most awful is that declaration of God, that “all the fearful and unbelieving shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second deathf.” Whether we believe this or not, it will prove true in the end: and the sentence, once denounced against Israel with an oath, shall again be repeated against all that abide in unbelief; “I swear in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my rest.”

3.   How earnestly we should pray to God for the gift of his Spirit—

It is by the Spirit of God alone that we can either “be convinced of unbeliefg,” or be enabled to exercise a living faithh. O! beg of God to give you his Spirit. Seek it in earnest; and you shall not ask in vaini. It is the Spirit’s office to “take of the things that are Christ’s, and to shew them unto youk.” It is his office to make the word effectual to your souls: for it is then only effectual, when “it comes in demonstration of the Spirit and of powerl.” Read not then, nor hear, the word in dependence on your own strength; but cry mightily to God to bring it home to your hearts “with power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurancem.” Then shall you experience its life-giving efficacy, and find it “the power of God to the salvation of your soulsn.”[1]

 

 

a Heb. 3:6.

b ver. 1, 11.

c ver. 2.

d Heb. 3:7–11.

e ver. 7–9.

f John 6:63.

g Acts 7:38.

h 1 Pet. 1:23–25.

i Jer. 23:29.

k Isai. 49:2. Rev. 1:16.

l Gen. 6:5.

m Eph. 6:17.

n Hos. 6:5.

o Acts 2:37.

p 1 Cor. 14:24, 25.

q 2 Cor. 10:4, 5.

r Ps. 119:96.

s Rom. 7:9, 14.

t John 12:48.

u 1 Cor. 3:13.

x Zech. 1:5, 6.

y Numb. 32:23.

z Jer. 44:28.

a 1 Cor. 4:5.

b Ps. 51:4. with Rom. 3:4.

c Jam. 1:23, 24.

d John 3:19–21. Prov. 20:27.

e 1 John 2:22. and 5:10.

f Rev. 21:8.

g John 16:8, 9.

h Eph. 2:8. Phil. 1:29.

i Luke 11:13.

k John 16:14.

l 1 Cor. 2:4.

m 1 Thess. 1:5.

n Rom. 1:16.

[1] Simeon, C. (1833). Horae Homileticae: 2 Timothy to Hebrews (Vol. 19, pp. 204–210). London: Holdsworth and Ball. (Public Domain)



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