Authenticity is highly prized in our culture, both in society and in the church. Nobody wants to be fake, everyone wants to be true to themselves. The difficulty is discerning what our true inner selves are really like. We all want to be the best version of ourselves, but lurking inside the deepest core of our being is something unpleasant. We don’t want that to be expressed to the world. More than being true to our real selves as sinners, what we need is truth in our inner selves. Certainly what God desires is for us to have truth in the inward parts, in our innermost being. God Himself is true through and through. Correspondingly, the Bible, His Word is true and reliable, and He transforms His people so that they have real integrity in their deepest places of their hearts. In this updated extract, David Dickson shows that when our hearts are open to being searched and shaped by God’s Word, we become more and more true to Him. Then our renewed selves become really worth expressing honestly and consistently to others.
The hidden intentions of our hearts matter
The writer of Hebrews has just reminded his readers of the warning that was given to the people of Israel, that unbelief would prevent them from obtaining the blessed rest that God promises His people. Now, lest any should shrug off this warning, as something that expired with those to whom it was first spoken (or else cloak their sins and their intention to defect from the faith when the time seems right), he lets them know the power of the Word, and the power of God who they are dealing with. “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 4:12).
We must therefore carefully study the use, extent and nature of God’s Word, lest through misunderstanding it or being ignorant of it, we might misapply or misinterpret it.
God’s living Word strikes a chord deep in our hearts
The first attribute of the Word is that it is “quick,” or living, alive. It does not die when those to whom it was first directed die, but it endures, speaking on with the same authority, to all who hear it, in all times after. The Word is not a dead letter, which expired in previous ages. It is the same to us as it was before to others – fit for working, and working the work for which it is sent, whether for convincing or converting the hearer, always.
God’s powerful Word makes changes deep in our hearts
Again, the Word is “powerful.” It is not only fit to work, but active and operative in effect. It actually binds the conscience to obedience, or judgement, whatever opposition the sinner may make. If the hearer believes it, it sets working immediately to clear his mind, rectify his will, reform his life, and to bring about his good and safety. If a hearer does not believe it, again it sets to work, there and then binding him guilty to judgement, and augmenting his natural blindness, and his heart’s hardness, bringing on some degree of the deserved punishment on him (although of course it does not do this of its own nature, but rather by the disposition of the object on which it is working). So, the Word does not lack its own effect, whenever it is preached. Always it either helps or harms the hearer, according as the hearer yields to it or rejects or neglects it. We therefore do well to observe what sort of work it does on us personally (seeing it must have some effect), so that we may be framed to the better by it.
God’s Word reaches the deepest core of our being
Another property of the Word is that “it is sharper than any two-edged sword.” It pierces speedily through a brow of brass, and a dissembling countenance, and a lying mouth. It thrusts itself, without any resistance, into the conscience of the most obstinate, with a secret blow, and makes that obstinate one guilty in his own heart.
Preachers should therefore not think their labour is lost, when they are engaging with obstinate sinners. The stroke is given at the hearing of the Word, and it will be found uncured after. On the other hand, dissemblers should not please themselves with good appearances, as if the Word did not touch them. Rather, they should give glory to God, at the time when they are pricked at the heart. For if they carry on ignoring the wound they have received from this sword, the wound shall prove deadly.
The Word also “pierces even to the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit.” The most secret devices and plots of the mind or spirit, and the most hidden affections of the heart or soul towards any forbidden evil, this Word will find out. It can even divide asunder the soul and the spirit, the heart and the mind, and tell the man how his soul or heart cleaves to that sin, and how his mind plots pretences to hide the evil of it from himself and from others, even in those sins which have not broken out, but lie concealed in the mind, like the marrow in the bones. And it can put a difference betwixt the purposes of the heart and the thoughts, how to contrive the scheme, and how to disguise the behaviour. Or those ways how the sinner beguiles himself, and seeks to conceal things from the eyes of others, the Word deciphers, and distinguishes all the things which self-deceiving sophistry wants to keep tangled up.
Clearly then, secret purposes fall under the jurisdiction of the Word, as well as practices performed. And pretences and excuses will not put off the challenge of the Word. Nothing remains then except for us to give ourselves up to the governance of the Word, fleeing from what it forbids, and following what it commands.
God Himself sees who we really are
Finally, to confirm the power of the Word, the writer brings in the nature of God whose Word it is. He sets up the sinner’s secret thoughts in the sight of the all-seeing God, with whom the sinner has to do. “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13).
God is the one with whom the hearer of the Word has to do, the one with whom he has his reckoning to make – not the preacher. God himself joins with His Word, and gives it that searching, and discovering and piercing power.
God’s omniscience, and all-seeing sight, should make us look to our inward disposition. This is how this, and other similar exhortations and warnings, shall have better effect and fruit in us.
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