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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 life." And it is the very same term which Stephen also makes use of, when he calls the Scriptures "the lively oracles." 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 generations".
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 pieces?" 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 Christ. 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 continually" 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 any thing 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 pieces". In the hand of the Apostles, it pierced thousands to the heart at once. 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 himself,
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 Christ 9."]
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,
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 range: 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 conception. 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 disclosed'. 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 there". 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 for ever? 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 us." 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 out;" and it shall then be seen, "whose word shall stand, God's or his." The counsels of every heart shall then be made manifesta;" and God be justified before the whole universe in the sentence that he shall pass.]
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 do. And, is it not madness to neglect the opportunity it affords us of learning our true character, and of ascertaining, before hand, 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 hearts, 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 honours God, as faith, so there is no sin which so dishonours 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 death." 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 unbeliefs," or be enabled to exercise a living faith". O beg of God to give you his Spirit. Seek it in
e Jam. i. 23, 24.
e 1 John ii. 22. and v. 10. 8 John xvi. 8, 9.
d John iii. 19-21. Prov. xx. 27.
f Rev. xxi. 8.
h Eph. ii. 8. Phil. i. 29.
earnest; and you shall not ask in vain. It is the Spirit's office to "take of the things that are Christ's, and to shew them unto you." 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 power1." 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 assurance"." Then shall you experience its life-giving efficacy, and find it "the power of God to the salvation of your souls"."]
i Luke xi. 13. m 1 Thess. i. 5.
* John xvi. 14.
n Rom. i. 16.
1 1 Cor. ii. 4.
GOD SEES OUR INMOST THOUGHTS.
Heb. iv. 13. All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
MEN will commit those things in secret, which they would not commit, if they knew that the eye of a fellow-creature was upon them. But, if they duly considered the omniscience of God, they would be as watchful over their conduct in their most hidden recesses, as they now are in the noon-day. Yea, they would impose a far greater restraint on their inmost thoughts, than they now do on their outward actions. To fortify the Hebrews against apostasy, the Apostle endeavoured to impress upon their minds the thought that every motion of their hearts was strictly noticed by God.
From his words we shall consider,
I. The omniscience of God
"There is not any thing in the whole creation which is not manifest in his sight." At one glance he beholds,
1. All things
[All that is past, however long since, or however forgotten by us, is as fresh in his memory, as if it had been transacted this very moment. All present things, in whatever
a Isai. xli. 22.