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Exposition on select Bible verses: Hebrews 4:12-13

"One of the most solemn passages of the whole Bible follows:

[Hebrews 4] Verse 12: For the word of God is living, and active

Remark that they of old, as well as we, have to do with His Word—that which God has magnified above all His Name (Ps. 138:2). For those having to do with God, have to do with that Word! All His being and attributes are behind it. It is of eternal consequence that we should have a right perception of the Word of God! It is not merely a book of 66 books, bound between two covers, which you may pick up and lay down as you might any writing of man. Our Lord Jesus said of His own words,
"The words that I have spoken unto you are Spirit, and are life."
It will be impossible in the compass of this comment to trace all that God says of the Scripture that "cannot be broken." Notice that the word "For" begins the verse, because verses 12 and 13 give the great reason why there must be earnest diligence in this matter of entering into the rest of faith, and going on with God. It might be supposed that the "diligence" in verse 11 concerns man's activity onlydiligence in prayer, or any special activity. But this word, "For," brings in God. And how, God? you ask. The answer is astonishing: For the word of God is Living, and active. (The A.V. rendering, "quick and powerful," is doubly unfortunate. First, "quick," as meaning living, is an old word not now commonly used or understood. Second, "powerful" is not a good translation of the Greek word, energes. Thayer renders it, "that which is at work.") 

God deals with men not by mere "influences," nor through human "thinking," but through His Word, whether written or preached. Compare verse 2.

First, it is "living." That is an amazing statement. It may be beyond our grasp to know just in what manner the Word of God is "living," except to remind ourselves:

    a. That it is the Word of God, not of a creature. Therefore it can never pass away:
"Forever, O Jehovah, Thy word is settled in Heaven" (Ps. 119:89).
    b. That the Word of God, being the utterance of living Deity, and as we have seen, not passing away, must abide perpetually in the same vitality and energy as when first spoken, because the Spirit of God Who inspired the words, does not leave them:
"The Word of God, which liveth and abideth" (1 Pet. 1:23.)
This is why believers grow: they feed upon the words that "are life"; and why unbelievers, modernists, who actively reject the Bible as "God spake all these words," find it "a savor of death unto death." For the Holy Spirit, Who alone can impart life, lives in the words they reject!

While the Word of God is for life, thousands are slain by it; while sadly few hearken and live. The same Word was preached in the parable of the Sower (Matt. 13) to the wayside hearer, the rocky ground hearer, and the thorny ground hearer—that was preached to the good ground hearer. But only the last, "in an honest and good heart," received it. It were better for the others had they never heard.

   c. Being the Word of God, it is the utterance of infinite wisdom. Here is no chaff, no possible element of decay, it will be as fresh a billion ages from this moment as now. Spurgeon said, "If, when I go to Heaven, God should say, 'Spurgeon, I want you to preach for all eternity,' I would simply say, 'Give me a Bible, Lord; this is all I shall need.'" 

Let everyone who has a Bible in his house remember that he has a living book there! Being the logos (Word) of God, it becomes the hrema (saying) of God,by the quickening power of the Holy Spirit Who inspired it and indwells it.

Second, it is "active." There are things alive that are not active. I saw a large tortoise at a neighboring zoo the other day. It had life, but hardly activity. Near it was a cage of golden eagles, whose very existence was activity. But the Word of God is not only living, but active. This, people will not believe. But concerning this Word, our Lord said,
"Take heed how ye hear."
That is, the Word of God is always doing something to those who hear or read it! 

When Jonah cried out to that great city of Nineveh,
"Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!"
how active God's Word through His prophet became!
"The people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. And the tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he made proclamation ... Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock ... feed nor drink water; but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands ... And God saw their works. that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil ... and He did it not" (Jonah 3:5-10).
We emphasize this example of the activity of the Word of God. It is the Word of God that has gone forth and searched them out, the activity of the Word of God only.

And sharper than any two-edged sword

Paul must have been familiar with the sight of the bronze Roman sword of the first century: "Among early double-edged swords, the Roman pattern stands out as a workmanlike and formidable weapon for a close fight," the Encyclopaedia Britannica tells us. But how much sharper is the Word of God than any man-made weapon!

And piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit

At a great camp-meeting I attended many years ago, there was a great deal of prayer. Some 1500 Christians had come together from all over the United States and Canada. I remember Fanny Crosby sitting in the second seat from the front, a dear saint, with Heaven upon her face. One day some one had preached the Word with power in the afternoon, and the people were dispersing. But a Negro came running up to the altar, dropped on his knees, and began to cry mightily to God. I truly believe his voice could have been heard a mile. We gathered around him to comfort him, but it was as if we were not in existence. The Word of God had pierced even to the dividing of Soul and spirit. Our singing, our talk, meant nothing to the man. He had been a backslidden church member, and as he afterwards told it, "I saw myself before God's judgment bar! yea, slipping into hell, and the voices of earth meant nothing."

Alas, we forget that many come to meetings, enjoy the singing and the organ, yea, the eloquence of the preacher; but never experience dividing of soul and spirit. All is "soulical" to, them. There is no direct dealing with God.

Here is a church "service": in comes the "choir," who, with "most acceptable performance," and "skillful accompaniment," "render" a musical "number," which, using probably Bible words, brings the audience under a religious spell. But is it spiritualof the Holy Spirit? Hear one of them earnestly describe it: 

"Hearing God's message while the organ rolls. It's mighty message to our very souls."  

Certainly, it is to their souls, not to their spirits! 

Then (let us hope), comes a godly preacher, who uses
"the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God."
He calls sinners to "flee from the wrath to come," to the Cross, where judgment on sin has already fallen. Men, women and even children fall under the power of the Holy Spirit, so that God becomes a living Person with Whom they have to deal. Real conviction has seized them. They have no peace until they are led by the Spirit of God to rest in the blood of Jesus, shed for them. Those who believe God (and none others are ever saved), flock forward, entirely forgetting their "religious" condition of awhile ago, when "the organ rolled," and concerned only with their spiritual state before God. The Word of God, living and active, has pierced to the dividing of soul and spirit. Men deal with God, and God deals with men, not in "soulical" music and eloquence, but in SPIRIT. Those saved have dealt with God as spirits, and will worship Him in their spirits. "God is my witness," cries Paul,
"Whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of His Son!"
"The Spirit of God"
is said to
"bear witness with our spirits that we are born-ones of God"—
not with our soulical faculties, which may hear the organ roll, feel religious, and go to hell!

We repeat, soul and spirit, Heb. 4:12, is one of the Scripture proofs that soul and spirit are not one and the same. Another is 1 Thess. 5:23:
"May your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire."
Man is here seen as a tripartite being, not merely body and soul. (See author's book, Romans Verse By Verse, pp. 11, 211, 306-8.) This comes out first in Eden:
"Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground"
there is the body;
"and breathed into his nostrils the breath (Heb., ruach spirit) of life; and man became a living soul."
There is the being, or mode of life, formed by the combination of spirit with body, and the spirit could now look forth upon the creation and take part in its activities. "Mind," as we call it, found its activity in the soul-life, as we read in Gen. 2:19, that
"Jehovah God formed every beast ... every bird ... and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them."
Man had a perception of the respective places in creation assigned to the creatures by their Creator, with Whom he was at that time in blessed relationship.

The doctrine that man is only "body and soul" has enabled fallen man to exalt this "mentality" of his, and to dream that it is the spirit. So there are theological seminaries today that claim to "prepare men for the ministry" by a course of mental exercises in theological lessons in "church history," and other studies. But this leaves out the Holy Ghost Who came at Pentecost! It does not treat man as a spirit, which spirit alone has communion with God. A theological "training" that leaves out the Holy Ghost, is a daily insult to the God of Pentecost!

So in this dividing of soul and spirit by the living and active Word of God, people become, praise God, spiritual Christians! In 1 Corinthians 2:12 to 3:3, there are seen three classes: 

(1) natural men, not born of God; 

(2) babes in Christ, born of God, but still carnal, under prevailing fleshly impulses; and 

(3) spiritual, that is, those controlled in mind and life by the blessed Spirit of God, toward Whom, by us, account must be rendered. The Holy Spirit does not present the truth to the soul, to the sensibilities, or to the reason, but directly to the human spirit.

Of both joints and marrow—The opposite effect from dividing and judging is seen in Ephesians 4:16 and Colossians 2:19:
"From Whom all the Body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the Body unto the building up of itself in love."
"The Head, from Whom all the Body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God."
Physicians have long known that the purpose of the marrow "appears to be to increase the red corpuscles." In the joints is no life: in the marrow, there is. But here in Hebrews 4:12, it is a work of searching out (even for judgment) and for ultimate salvation. It is no mere figure of speech, but just as soul and spirit of this verse denote different parts of man, so the body is, as it were, opened up, even in both joints and marrow, by the judging, living Word of God.

Many years ago, I was called to the home of a beloved and very prominent Christian worker to talk to his daughter, it being hoped that I might lead her out of her attitude of despair of salvation. Both she and her father told me her story. 

She had engaged in Christian service in another land along with her parents, and had become deeply infatuated with a Christian writer known the world over. When assurance of her own salvation began to fail her, she saw this man as her idol. As I quoted to her several Scriptures which spoke of God's sovereignty in grace, and His willingness to receive any, and reminded her that His Word is living, and active ... piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow; and said that we may throw ourselves completely upon His mercy, she suddenly screamed to her father: 

"Do you not see? I am dying!" She stretched forth her arms: "See! they are dead! My bones are drying up! God has forsaken me, and I know it!"

No persuasion of either her father or myself availed in the least.

"I am nothing but soulI'm all soul! My spirit is dead!" she would scream.
I kept in touch with her father. He wrote me that she died, despairing!

And quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart: We have known people suddenly arrested in their deepest being by reading a verse of Scripture. The thoughts, and necessarily, the intents of the heart, they found discerned, and themselves the object of an infinite Intelligence, but yet an Intelligence not like that at Sinai, when the glory and power and majesty of God were openly displayed; but in the written Word of God, which, being "living and active," had pierced them. This piercing may have resulted in their conviction of sin, and accepting Christ and salvation; or it may have been resisted. Nevertheless, the power of the Word of God is here seen, and we greatly need to meditate upon it in these days.

Verse 13: The Word of God brings everything out into the light: All things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do. 

As David said to Solomon,
"Know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for Jehovah searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts" (1 Chron. 28:9).
And Hannah, in her great prayer:
"Jehovah is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed."
And Solomon, in his prayer of dedication:
"Render unto every man according to all his ways, whose heart Thou knowest (for Thou, even Thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men)."
William R. Newell
Hebrews Verse by Verse
Chapter 4

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Exposition on select Bible verses: Hebrews 4:12-13


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