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XI. THE WORD OF GOD AND ITS EDGE
"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." HEBREWS iv. 12.
WE all have to do with God. "Him with whom we have to do." You cannot break the connection. You must do with him as a rebel, if not as a friend; on the ground of works, if not on the ground of grace; at the great white throne, if not in the fleeting days of time. You cannot do without God. You cannot do as you would if there were no God. You cannot avoid having to do with him; for even though you were to say there was no God, doing violence to the clearest instincts of your being, yet still you would breathe his air, eat his provender, occupy his world, and stand at last before his bar.
And, if you will pardon the materialism of the reference, I will follow the suggestion of my text, and say that the God with whom we have to do has eyes. "The eyes of him with whom we have to do." "Thou art a God that seest" was the startled exclamation of an Egyptian slave girl whose childhood had been spent amid the vast statues of gods who had eyes with far-away stony stare, but saw not. And she was right. "The Lord looketh from heaven; his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men."
Those eyes miss no one. " There is not any creature not manifest in his sight." The truest goodness is least obtrusive of itself. It steals unnoticed through the world, filling up its days with deeds and words of gentle kindness, which are known only to heaven; and herein it finds its sufficient reward. It prays behind closed doors; it exercises a vigorous self-denial in secret; it does its work of mercy by stealth. Thus the great blatant world of men, with its trumpets and heralds and newspaper notices, knows little of it, and cannot find the nooks where God's wild flowers bloom in inaccessible heights, for his eye alone. But the Father seeth in secret. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous. His eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward him. Do you want guidance? Look up! those eyes wait to guide by a glance. Are you in sorrow? they will film with tears. Are you going astray? they shall beckon you back, and break your heart, as Peter's. You will come to find your heaven in the light radiated by the eye of God, when once you have learned to meet it, clad in the righteousness of Jesus.
Unconverted reader, remember there is no screen from the eye of God. His eyes are as a flame of fire; and our strongest screens crackle up as thinnest gauze before the touch of that holy flame. Even rocks and hills are inadequate to hide from the face of him that sits upon the throne. "Whither shall I go from thy presence?" That question is unanswered, and unanswerable. It has stood upon the page of Scripture for three thousand years, and no one yet of all the myriads that have read it has been able to devise a reply. Heaven says, Not here. Hell says, Not here. It is not among angels, or the lost, or in the vast silent spaces of eternity. There is no creature anywhere not manifest to his sight. He who made vultures, able from immense heights to discern the least morsel on the desert waste, has eyes as good as they. And think how terrible are the eyes of God! When Egypt's chivalry had pursued Israel into the depths of the sea, they suddenly turned to flee. Why? Not because of thunder or lightning or voice; but because of a look. "The Lord looked out of the cloud, and troubled the Egyptians." Ah, sinner, how terrible will it be for thee to abide under the frown of God! "With the froward he will show himself froward."
Those eyes miss nothing. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." It is said of the Lord Jesus, on one occasion, that he entered into Jerusalem, and into the Temple; and when he had looked round about on all things, he went out. It was his last, long, farewell look. But note its comprehensiveness. Nothing escaped it. We look only on parts of things, and often look without seeing. But the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. "Naked and opened." This is a sacrificial phrase, indicating the priestly act of throwing the victim on its back before him, so that it lay, exposed to his gaze, helpless to recover itself, ready for the knife. Ah, how eagerly we try to hide and cloak our sin! We dare not pen a truthful diary; we dread the illness which would unlock our tongues in wholesale chatterings; we shrink from the loving gaze of our dearest. We deceive man, and sometimes ourselves; but not our great High-Priest. He sees all, that secret sin; that lurking enmity; that closed chamber; that hidden burglar; that masked assassin; that stowaway; that declension of heart; that little rift within the lute; that speck of decay in the luscious fruit. And thus it is that men are kept out of the Canaan of God's rest, because he sees the evil heart of unbelief which departs from himself; and on account of which he swears now, as of old, "they shall not enter into my rest."
Is it not a marvel that he who knows so much about us should love us still? It were indeed an inexplicable mystery, save for the truth of the words which so sweetly follow: "Seeing, then, that we have a great High-Priest." He has a priest's heart. His scrutiny is not one of morbid or idle curiosity, but of a surgeon, who intently examines the source of disease with pity and tenderness, and resolves to extirpate it as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Is it not frequently the case that fuller knowledge will beget love, which once seemed impossible? There are some people whose faces are so hard, and their eyes so cold, that we are instantly repelled; but if we knew all, how they have been pierced and wounded, and disappointed, we should begin to pity them, and pity is close kinsman to love. The Saviour has known us from all eternity, our downsittings and uprisings, our secret possibilities of evil, our unfathomed depths of waywardness and depravity; and yet he loves us, and will love us.
"He knows all, But loves us better than he knows."
And out of this love, which wells up perennially in the heart of Jesus, unfrozen by the winter of our neglect, Unstanched by the demands of our fickleness, there comes the stern discpline of which this passage proceeds to speak. In majestic phrase, the Apocalyptic seer tells how he beheld the Word of God ride forth on his snow-white steed, arrayed in crimson robes, whilst the many crowns of empire flashed upon his brow. Two features are specially noted in his appearance. His eyes were as a flame of fire; this characteristic looks back over the words we have considered. Out of his mouth goeth a sharp two-edged sword; this looks forward to the words which now invite us. We must never divorce these two. The eyes and the sword. Not the eyes only; for of what use would it be to see and not strike? Not the sword only; for to strike without seeing would give needless pain, this would be surgery blindfolded. But the searching tender vision, followed by the swift and decisive flash of the sword of amputation and deliverance. Oh, who will now submit to that stroke, wielded by the gentle hand that often carried healing and blessing, and was nailed to the cross; guided by unerring wisdom, and nerved by Almighty strength? Not death, but life and fruitfulness, freedom and benediction, are all awaiting that one blow of emancipation. That sword is the Word of God.
THE WORD OF GOD IS LIVING. The words he speaks are spirit and life (John vi. 63). Wherever they fall, though into dull and lifeless soil, they begin to breed life, and produce results like themselves. They come into the heart of an abandoned woman; and straightway there follow compunction for the past, vows of amendment, and the hasty rush to become an evangelist to others. They come into the heart of a dying robber; and immediately he refrains from blasphemy, and rebukes his fellow, and announces the Messiahship, the blamelessness, the approaching glory, of the dying Saviour. They come into hearts worn out with the wild excesses of the great pagan ages, and ill-content, though enriched with the spoils of art and refinement and philosophy in the very zenith of their development; and lo! the moral waste begins to sprout with harvests of holiness, and to blossom with the roses of heaven. If only those words, spoken from the lips of Christ, be allowed to work in the conscience, there will be forthwith the stir of life.
THE WORD OF GOD IS ACTIVE, i.e., energetic. Beneath its spell the blind see, the deaf hear, the paralyzed are nerved with new energy, the dead stir in their graves and come forth. There are few things more energetic than life. Put a seed into the fissure of a rock, and it will split it in twain from top to bottom. Though walls and rocks and ruins impede the course of the seedling, yet it will force its way to the light and air and rain. And when the Word of God enters the heart, it is not as a piece of furniture or lumber. It asserts itself and strives for mastery, and compels men to give up sin; to make up long standing feuds; to restore ill-gotten gains; to strive to enter into the strait gate. "Now ye are pruned," said our Lord, "through the word that I have spoken to you." The words of Christ are his winnowing-fan, with which he is wont to purge his flour, whether in the heart or the world. We are not, therefore, surprised that a leading tradesman in a thriving commercial center said that the visit of two evangelists, who did little else than reiterate the Word of God, was as good as a revival of trade, because it led so many people to pay up debts which were reckoned as lost.
THE WORD OF GOD IS SHARP. Its sharpness is threefold. It is sharp to pierce. On the day of Pentecost, as Peter wielded the sword of the Spirit, it pierced three thousand to the heart; and they fell wounded to the death before him, crying, "What shall we do?" Often since have strong men been smitten to the dust under the effect of that same sword, skillfully used. And this is the kind of preaching we need. Men are urged to accept of the gift of God, and many seem to comply with the invitation; but in the process of time they fall away. Is not the cause in this, that they have never been wounded to the death of their self-esteem, their heart has never been pierced to the letting of the blood of their own life, they have never been brought into the dust of death? Oh for Boanerges! able to pierce the armor of excuses of vain hopes, behind which men shield themselves, that many may cry with Ahab, pierced between the joints of the harness "Turn thine hand, and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded!"
It is sharp to divide. With his sharp knife the priest was accustomed to dissect the joints of the animal, and to open to view even the marrow of the bones. Every hair was searched, every limb examined; and thus the sacred gift was passed, and permitted to be offered in worship. And God's scrutiny is not satisfied with the external appearance and profession. It goes far deeper. It enters into those mysterious regions of the nature where soul and spirit, purpose, intention, motive, and impulse, hold their secret court, and carry on the hidden machinery of human life. Who can tread the mysterious confines where soul and spirit touch? What is the line of demarkation? Where does the one end, and the other begin? We cannot tell; but that mystic Word of God could cut the one from the other, as easily as the selvage is divided from the cloth. It is at home in distinctions which are too fine drawn and minute for human apprehension. It assumes an office like that which Jesus refused when he said, "Who made me a judge and divider over you?"
It is sharp to criticise and judge. "Quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart." Christ is eager about these. Because what a man thinks and intends in his heart, that he will be sooner or later in life. We must expect to have our most secret thoughts, relations, and purposes questioned, criticised, and measured by the Word of God. No court of inquiry was ever presided over by a more exact inquisitor than this. The corpses of the dead past are exhumed; the old lumber-rooms with their padlocked boxes are explored; the accounts of bygone years are audited and taxed. God is critic of all the secrets of the heart. As each thought or intention passes to and fro, he searches it. He is constantly weighing in the balance our thoughts and aims, though they be light as air.
On one occasion, when Saul had spared the spoils of a doomed city, together with its monarch, the latter came to Samuel, not as a criminal, but delicately, as a pampered friend. And Samuel said, "As thy sword has made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord." Thus it is that we have spared too many of our sins, at the risk of our irreparable rejection from the throne of true manhood and righteousness. How much better to let Christ do his work of amputation and excision! If we do not know ourselves, let us ask him to search us. If we cannot cut off the offending member, let us look to him to rid us of it.
Do not fear him; close after these terrible words, as the peal of bells after the crash of the storm on the organ at Freiburg, we are told that "he was tempted in all points like as we are," and that " we have not a High~Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." "Does she sing well?" asked the trainer of a new operatic singer. "Splendidly," was the reply; "but if I had to bring her out, I would first break her heart." He meant that one who had not been broken by sorrow could not touch the deepest chords of human life. Ah! there is no need for this with our Lord Jesus; reproach broke his heart. He understands broken hearts, and is able to soothe and save all who come unto God by him.
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