Read: John 1:1,14; Revelation 19:13; John 6:63; John 8:47; 14:10.
We come to the fourth of those four greatnesses of Divine revelation—the greatness of the Word of God. Let me say at once that it is not my intention to argue that the Word of God is great. We might gather all kinds of evidences to build up an argument for the place of the Word of God, but what we are concerned about just now is the nature of the greatness.
By way of introduction, let me say that in this matter, as in the other three which have engaged our hearts, there is tremendous need for a new understanding. I do not think we get very far in real spiritual value when we launch out in arguments for the inspiration of Scripture. To be taken up with a ‘fundamental’ movement simply to seek to prove that the Bible is the Word of God from cover to cover and that it is inspired (whether it be verbal or plenary) does not get us very far spiritually. It does not mean that we make little of that, but the important thing is that by the Word of God we should be brought into all the mind and purpose of God; and that is not done by theories, or interpretations of inspiration. It can only be as we really know what the Word of God is, for the Word of God is much more than something written.
The Identity Between the Divine Person and the Divine Word
Having said that, we find ourselves immediately at the point which gives the indication of what is the greatness of the Word of God, and it is found inside that very first statement in the Gospel by John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” As you know, a particular Greek word is used there, while another word is used in the other passage: “The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life” (John 6:63; ASV). And in between those two statements we put this: “He that is of God heareth the words of God: for this cause ye hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47)—and yet the Lord was speaking these very words in the hearing of those concerned. They heard just as much as anybody else His actual words and statements, but He said they did not hear—indeed, He said more: “Ye cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). Here we have the identity between the Divine Person and the Divine Word. In that matter, the same is true of the Word of God as we have seen to be true of Christ Himself and of the Church. We have seen that Christ was a complete mystery to the natural man, and to this world as He passed up and down in the midst of men—men of ordinary intelligence and men of unusual intelligence, men of no learning and men of great learning, men who naturally may have had great sagacity and natural understanding, and good judgment and perception. He moved amongst such continually and they knew Him not. As we have said, God passed incognito, unrecognized, through this world. “No one knoweth the Son, save the Father” (Matthew 11:27; ASV). It was the mystery of God incarnate.
In our previous meditation we passed that on to the Church. The true Church, according to God’s mind and according to revelation, is not a thing that you can recognize or identify here on this earth. It is something hidden, something heavenly, a mystery; even while here on the earth it is a mystery. Its true nature and identity are hidden even from the wise and prudent, and from the best faculties and brains and intelligence of men. To try to make the Church to be recognized or bring it within the apprehension and understanding and knowledge of men is to rob it of its essential Divine nature, and to bring it down to a level where it will be stripped and shorn of its power. A great deal of history hangs upon that fact, and it explains much of the weakness and futility today in what is called ‘the Church.’
Now, what is true of Christ and of the Church is true of the Word of God. It is a mystery. God manifest in a hidden way—a contradiction, a paradox; but that is the meaning of mystery.
The Word of God the Unique Language of God
The Word of God is firstly God’s language, which is not the Hebrew language, nor the Greek language, nor any language known to us on this earth. It is God’s language, a language which no one knows and which no one can learn with any human faculty at all. In what is being said now you are hearing a lot of things which I trust are true—and I trust they are the truths of God—but you will go away and will pass some kind of judgment upon what has been said, and that is all there will be to it, unless something else happens in and through the hearing, and deeper and further back than the mere listening with your natural ears. Something must come to you as from God Himself, and unless that happens, whatever you have heard will remain for just a few hours or a few days, and then it will fail altogether, and leave you with your own verdict and judgment upon what has been said. The Word of God is something very much other than what I am saying about it and about Him, though I trust I am speaking the truth. The Word of God is a mystery; it is God’s language, and you have to have some kind of God-given faculty for understanding His language. It is outside this world and outside all the nations and languages and tongues of this world. It is something different and something other, and you have to receive a heavenly faculty, by a new birth from heaven, and to learn an entirely new language from the very alphabet, the A.B.C. of heaven. You can know the Bible from cover to cover and not know a word of God’s language. God’s language may be inside the Bible, and it is; but it is not that which is in the actual letters and words. It is something beyond that, and is the deeper language of God. You may read this Book with all its sacredness and preciousness, and not hear God speaking at all. To hear God’s language a sovereign act of God is necessary. As we said before about the recognition and identification of the Son of God in Jesus Christ, it had to be so. “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father” (Matthew 16:17). So He, Who is the Word, demands for identification this sovereign act of Divine revelation as the Word. The perception may be but for an instant, as with Peter on the occasion cited above, and then depart until something permanent has been done inside the recipient. The fact that it is God’s act does not remove man’s responsibility, for we can control our prejudices. Preparedness and eagerness to hear and receive are essential factors in the Divine communication and quickening.
You see, the essence of the Word of God is its spirituality, its spiritual nature, and not its naturalness. The Jesus of history will never save you; only the Christ risen, ascended, and coming in the power of the Holy Spirit, will effect anything. The Word as an historical document will never save you and never accomplish anything. It has to come in the power of the life of the risen Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to effect its purpose. The spiritual is the real Word of God. “The words that I have spoken unto you are spirit, and are life” (John 6:63). “...not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). They may be spoken, but apart from an act of God you will not hear them; all will be in vain. Hence it is possible to preach Christ and the Cross and make them of none effect because they are preached in the wisdom of men.
The Impact of God Through the Word
Further, we have seen that Christ is the personal impact of God. When Christ really does touch, or is really touched in a spiritual way, God is found. We sought to show this in our previous meditation by indicating that even when the multitude thronged and pressed Him, hemming Him in on every side, they did not register anything; He was to them but as any other man in a crowd. But one woman was in a different realm altogether from the multitude. She had faith, the essential link with God, and said: “If I touch but His garments, I shall be made whole” (Mark 5:28; ASV). And she pressed her way through and touched, and was made whole that very moment, finding that in that One from Whom the multitude were deriving nothing, though in closest proximity, she met God. Hers was a testimony which stood in contrast to that of the whole multitude. They had all seen Him and heard Him, and He had been with them all, but one alone made the discovery, that is, only one met the impact of God.
And what is true of Him personally is true of Him as the Word, and true of the Word of God.
God’s Word His Act
You see, God’s Word is always an act. Do not forget that! The Bible as written is not always an act. How many times do you read your Bible and come away with nothing? Many tell me: ‘I do not know the Bible as really alive. I read it, but I do not seem to get anything.’ Is that not a common experience? Ah, yes. The Word of God is something that is more inward than the framework, than its channel, and the real Word of God is God’s act. “He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9; ASV). “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3). Did you notice in that fragment from John 14: “The words that I say unto you I speak not from Myself: but the Father abiding in Me doeth His works”? You would expect Him to keep His full statement on the same line and make the second half correspond to the first: ‘The words that I say unto you I speak not from Myself; but the Father abiding in Me speaketh the words.’ But He did not say so. ‘Words . . . works’; and the works of the Lord Jesus were largely done by His Word. There was an utterance and something happened. “I say unto you...” God’s word is an act.
The Bible, if we knew it aright, is not just a book at all. It is a Person. It is not a collection of truths and doctrines, laws, commandments and technicalities. It is just a Person, and the Bible will miss its purpose unless it is all the time bringing us into touch with the Person—and that Person is the Lord Jesus Christ. There is only one system in the whole Bible, and that is a personal one—Christ. You may not quite grasp that, but think about it. The Word of God is creative; something happens, and something results. *
* All that we have said above does not mean that the written Word in itself has no value or purpose. The fact that we have the Bible at all is going to be a basis of judgment. We are responsible to God just by having His written revelation; but its power to effect anything in our lives is through faith, and, apart from a combination of the Spirit’s action upon faith in quickening us to “know,” the Word itself remains but the verbal statement, and not “life.”
God’s Word is Spirit
Let me try to get at it in this way. What is the object of God’s speaking? What is the object of all Divine revelation? What is the object of the Word of God? There is only one object, and that is to bring back the lost relationship with Himself. From beginning to end, the one object of the Word of God is to recover, to restore, to secure again a relationship with Himself personally which has been lost. How is that done? How can that be done by the human language of words? It can only be done in a personal way, so it is a relationship with a living Person. But how can man have a living relationship with the living God? That is utterly impossible as man is. God is a Spirit, and only spirit can have a vital relationship with God. If, then, the object of the Word of God is to recover relatedness with God, something spiritual has to come about in the persons concerned to link them with God, Who is Spirit; and the Word of God, the Word which Christ has spoken, is spirit and is life. Then the effect of the Word of God should ever and always be to quicken our spirits and make us live by Divine life.
If this is true, I am sure you agree with my opening statement: that a new understanding of the Word of God is very necessary today, and the failure to understand this about the Word of God accounts for so much weakness and loss. We can be fundamental to the utmost limit, arguing for the authority and inspiration of the Scriptures, and still be spiritually dead and ineffective. The Word of God is something more than that.
Now you see, in order to destroy the Word of God, you have to destroy the Person of Jesus Christ, and so also the other way round. That is exactly what the devil has sought to do. You cannot separate these two; they go together. If Christ is the Son of God, if He is God incarnate, then the Word of God stands supreme. Now, to get rid of the authority and the supremacy of the Word of God, you have to undermine the Person of Jesus Christ, and you notice that is exactly what is happening in Modernism. Why does the devil seek to take away His essential Deity from Christ and make Him the Jesus of history? It is in order to get rid of His mighty impact as the Word of God for the quickening and making alive of others. So the Word always goes with the Person. Modernism must logically follow up the reducing of Christ to the level of a great man by reducing the Word of God to the word of man. They stand or fall together.
The Word of God the Cause of all Being
Then if this is true we are led to this further fact: that the Word of God, being God’s language and God’s act, is the very occasion and cause and explanation of our being. “By faith we understand that the worlds have been framed by the word of God.” He commanded and He spoke; it was His act. The existence of the world, or the ages, then, is because God spoke and something happened. Dear friends, as the Lord’s new creation we are attributable to God’s having spoken in this sense of very being. We are begotten again by the Word of God. It is not simply our taking the letter of the Word and trying to give some response to it, and making some decision. Oh, I do not want to be misunderstood or to be thought critical, for God knows how we value and appreciate anything and everything that is of Him and can be used by Him, but we have said before in these meditations that the great peril of our time in evangelical Christianity is the cheapening of everything and making it so easy by flinging open the widest door possible for anyone to come in on the easiest lines. While it is not desired to make things difficult, I do think there is a need in this matter to realize that it requires something altogether beyond the natural to bring someone back into that restored relatedness with God. It requires nothing less than this Word-act of God which brings into being, and without which there is no existence, so far as relationship with God is concerned. We can only have a being as members of the new creation if God has spoken and it is done. Do not let us deceive ourselves. It must be like that. God, Who said: ‘Let light be!’ must shine in our hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6).
And when it is like that, as we have been saying about Christ and the Church, eternity has broken into time; the advent of eternity has simply swept time out of existence, and we are linked with the eternal God. Something has happened—“I give unto them eternal life” (John 10:28). New birth is the activity of the Word which produces a new creation in which there is a new life linking with eternity. What a tremendous thing the Word of God is! It is a matter of very being!
Being Maintained by the Word of God
And it is not only that. The Lord Jesus said things which had to be opened up later on through His Apostles when the Holy Spirit was come. He said: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Not only is man’s being to be attributable to this Word of God of which we are speaking, but his very maintenance is on that basis. The maintenance of that imparted spiritual life, and its sustenance throughout, is by the Word of God, and that is something more than reading the Bible. Let me ask you again, and let us be quite honest (and there is room and need for honesty: I know I am open to misunderstanding, but I am taking the risk in order to get right to the heart of things and save people from deception and a false position, and honesty is called for here)—do you find always and continually that your spiritual life is sustained, nourished, built up and maintained by reading the Bible? Do you always find that you go on and grow spiritually by Bible study? The universities can make doctors of law and philosophers, but they cannot make, in the true sense, doctors of the Word of God. Only the Holy Spirit can do that, for it is a spiritual thing. And honesty must face this. There is a difference between reading the Bible as a book—yes, the greatest of all books, and a God-given book—and God coming through it and causing us to say: ‘Oh, I have read that passage many times, but I never saw that in it! God has now spoken to me in a text that I have known from my infancy, in a passage of Scripture with which I am most familiar. God has now spoken in a way in which He never has before through that Scripture!’ That is what I mean. The Word of God lies behind the very maintenance of our life in the sense that something from God is coming from beyond (though it may be coming through this or that channel, or along this or that line). It is coming from behind, from beyond, as something extra, something more, and finding us. And when we pass our conclusion upon the matter, we have to say that we have come, not to some new apprehension of the Scripture, but to some new knowledge of the Lord by means of that Word. There is such a thing as Divine sovereignty operating with the written word and making it His embodiment.
The Word of God Requires Divine, Not Human, Interpretation
This explains one or two things! In the first place, it explains why you can have a number of different institutions which all contradict and exclude one another, and yet all claim to be founded upon the Bible. There is not a sect or denomination which does not claim the Bible as the warrant for its existence and its order, and yet they are mostly mutually exclusive. How do you explain that? And, mark you, in the fact of the existence of all those things there is spiritual limitation. When the particular order and constitution and ecclesiastical position and all that belongs thereto are forgotten for the time being, and the Lord’s people come together in any one given place, and are there only as the Lord’s people, you will find a great deal more life and fulness and consciousness of the Lord than when all are proceeding along the various lines of their ecclesiastical departmentalism, for the Lord is met. Ought this state of things to be?
If we had the Word of God in the sense in which we have just been speaking of it—God coming through in illumination, in quickening, in His act of new creation—while there would be variety, there would be essential oneness and unity, and no contradiction. Nature is a great parable of this. It is strange how in nature, despite all the God-given colors that there are, you never find any real clash. But if you tried to wear those colors in a garment, there would be a clash. In a garden, where they are all found, there is no clash. In God’s realm there may be endless variety, but there is no contradiction nor clash. The Holy Spirit is One and God is One; and if we get off the ground of human interpretations of the Word of God, of man’s mental handling and apprehension of the Scriptures, and get God’s revelation of His meaning, then there will be an absolute oneness, and contradiction and exclusive expression will go. You have left the earthly ground and come on to heavenly ground.
So what is true of the Church, according to God’s mind, as a heavenly thing, altogether other than of this earth, is true of the Word of God. When you really get on to the ground, not of the letter only, but of the essential nature of the Word of God—the speaking, the breathing, the working of God—you get on to another level which is altogether different from the earthly, and you find that the clash and the contradiction go out. There is tremendous need for the people of God to get on to God’s level of things and away from man’s in all these matters; a need to get right into the heart of God’s thought and mind. It is costly. As we have said before, Christianity is such a tight system now that it is well-nigh impossible for many who are in it—and especially those who are in it officially—to come into God’s full thought, because it means so much in every way to escape from that system. But, oh! where it does happen and there is escape: where the price is paid: where there is obedience: where the heavenly vision is and there is no disobedience to it: where God has spoken, and you cannot but hear and know that it is God, and your heart gives the answer back to Him and at all costs you go on: then you come out into a place of tremendous spiritual enlargement and into a realm of fulness.
Faith Must Accompany the Word of God
To sum up. The essential nature of God’s Word is akin to the essential nature of God Himself, which is spirit. God’s Word is spirit because God is spirit. And God’s Word as a means of communication defines the essential nature of Christ the living Word, for He can only be known after the Spirit. We have said that although He was there before people’s eyes, they saw Him not, they heard Him not and knew Him not. Essentially, it was what He was spiritually that was His real nature. Paul makes that perfectly clear: “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him so no more” (2 Corinthians 5:16; ASV). He does not say so positively, but he clearly indicates that our knowledge of Christ now is not that of the Jesus of history. We know Him now after the Spirit. The real nature of the Word of God is what Christ is essentially, spiritually; so also the essential nature of the Word of God is what the Church is spiritually. God is spirit; the medium or vehicle of God’s speaking is Christ known after the Spirit; the vessel receiving the speaking of God—the Church—is spiritual. As the Church, we are tested by this. Do we hear more than the Bible as something written in words of men? Are we, as the Church, hearing through it the more, the extra, which no man can hear unless it is given him of God? Are we hearing that? Where that is truly found, the Church is something of spiritual power, spiritual life and spiritual growth. What is true of the Church, of course, must be true of every part of it; every member of that Body must be a spiritual person, made so by spiritual birth. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). In order really to hear the Word of God continually (though God may in a sovereign act make an unregenerate man know that he is being spoken to through the Scriptures) something must have been done inside us, and that something must be continually maintained. What lies behind everything with God is spiritual. He has bound Himself more with the spiritual than with the natural. I will not pursue that further.
I wonder if you are able to discern even now, by the Lord’s help, the great difference, and the great need to know what the Word of God really is, what its possibilities and its potentialities are, and what is the nature of its greatness? It is not just a verbal statement. It is the impact of God Himself, and that impact is sovereign. Therein is the place of faith in preaching and in coming to read the Scriptures. It is possible to preach without God coming through, and there is plenty of that, yet God has ordained to come through preaching, and everyone who preaches can only preach in faith, declaring the truth of God. He is cast back upon this: that God must act sovereignly and make this one here and that one there recognize that God is speaking; not a man only, but God. Hundreds may be gathered, and yet only one of them hear God speaking. We are cast upon that sovereignty of God. Blessed be God, it does work like that! People are able to say, and we ourselves are able to say as we look back over our own spiritual history: ‘I knew the Bible well enough. I could quote it, analyze it and set it forth; but one day God came through it and smote me, and from that time the Scriptures which were so familiar to me became the basis of a new life and an entirely new position.’ That is the Word of God coming through.
What is really needed today is a recovery of the Word of God in its essential, intrinsic greatness, and of the fact that the Word is God, with a personal impact upon us.