[An address to a gathering of Gideons] - I want you to turn with me, if you have a Bible with you - if you don't, shame on you, Gideons without Bibles! There should be a few about here somewhere, I'm sure! Isaiah chapter 55 - I'm only joking, don't be embarrassed if you don't have a Bible! - Isaiah 55. Now I'm sure that this portion of Scripture has been read many times at Gideon meetings. In a way I thought, well, you should bring something different to them - but this was very much upon my heart to leave with you tonight. I believe the Lord would have a message come to you from it.
We're going to read from verse 6, please, of Isaiah 55: "Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off".
If you're familiar with your Bible, you will know that God's holy word has been under attack from the very beginning. Right in the Garden of Eden, before man had fallen, the words were heard: 'Has God really said?'. Of course, God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that in the day they ate thereof they would surely die. Satan, of course, in the form of the serpent, was - way back then - casting doubt on the inerrancy of God's word. Of course that has always been the case right throughout our human history, there has always been an external attack upon the inerrancy - that is, that God's word is true, perfect, and without error as it was originally given - it has always been there, an attack from outside.
But what is, perhaps, most shocking is that more in recent days there have been attacks on God's word from within Christendom. I've been following, I'm sure as you have been, the debate around homosexuality - as the Bible calls it, sodomy - that is going on in our land at the moment. I'm not going to get into that tonight, but a secondary debate in that great debate - which actually is the more serious debate, perhaps - is the authority of God's word in relation to issues like homosexuality, and things that we face every day. The startling thing that has come to me, listening even to clerics, and one of the highest ranking in our land - the Archbishop indeed - has said in that whole debate: 'It's important to distinguish between parts of the Bible that are considered to be God's direct word, and elements that are human interpretations of His teaching in the context of the time'.
Now, without getting too technical, that's what's called 'revisionist theology'. They are looking back at the Bible and saying: 'Well, that's what maybe Paul meant in his day, and that was OK in his society and was acceptable, but it's not today'. So the inerrancy of God's word, doubt has been cast upon it - and people even within the church, so to speak, are casting doubt on whether everything we have in this book is true and actually God's word. Of course, Paul the apostle said: 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable' - all of it. Indeed our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, quoted by John, said: 'Search the Scriptures...and they are they which testify of me'.
True believers need to rediscover afresh the inerrancy, the wonder, the magnificence, the dynamic power of the word of God. We need a revival today of Christians, a revival, a rediscovery of faith in God's word. Let me commend the Gideons, because I think you're at the very frontline of this battle, because there's nothing - well, apart from reading the word of God itself - second to that something that really helps me and increases my faith in the whole wonder of the word of God is reading your Gideon magazine. To see the magnificence of what it is to plant God's word in the people's hands, not even directly, maybe in a hotel room or a prison cell, and to see what God's word can do on its own! The power that is in the scriptures!
There's no better place to learn about this than the passage we read together this evening, Isaiah 55 verses 8 through to 11: 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it'.
First of all, what Isaiah does for us - inspired by God - in verses 8 and 9 he gives an illustration of what the word of God is like. Matthew Henry describes it like this: 'Isaiah is trying to say that if we look to heaven, we find God's counsels there high and transcendent, His thoughts and ways infinitely above ours. But if we look down to the earth, we find that God's word is there also, powerful and effectual, and achieving all His great intentions'. He uses nature as another illustration in verse 10, and he speaks to us of the efficacy of God's Word in the kingdom of nature. Look at verse 10, 'He says to the snow to be on earth, and the snow lies on earth. It is He who appoints when the snow comes, to what degree it comes, and how long it shall lie on the earth'. Incidentally, Job 37 says the same about the rain, God ordains the small rain and the great rain. Whether it's the snow or the rain, it will not return without having accomplished its end.
Now, what's the end of the snow and the rain? Of course, the purpose of watering the earth is to produce fruitfulness. He says, verse 10, 'it will bring forth bud' - and so, this harvest time, the produce of the earth depends upon what? The dew from heaven, and thus it gives - verse 10 - 'bread to the eater', what is that? Well, that's your meat on the plate now, your present maintenance every day to man, woman and family - but it also gives seed to the sower, what does that mean? Food for another year as the seed is sown and the new harvest is reaped. So God's faithfulness from heaven, His effectual word, can be seen all around in nature - and the rain that comes down, and the snow that comes down, does not return void or empty, it accomplishes the reason why God sent it.
So he uses in verse 10 the efficacy of God's word in the kingdom of nature to impress upon us in verse 11 the efficacy of God's word in the kingdom of grace - what God's word does in all of our lives - and it's just as certain as what the rain and the snow do in nature. 'So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth', God is saying: 'My word is not unable to effect what it was sent for. My word is not obstructed by insurmountable problems and opposition, no! My word will accomplish that for which I have sent it'. The idea is: 'It will not return unless it has accomplished My will'. As Debbie said tonight, the Amplified Version is a good one, and it translates this word 'void', 'without producing any effect'. God's word will not return without producing any effect! It is not useless, but God says: 'It shall accomplish that which I please and purpose'.
I tell you, there's no greater thing that will inspire your faith, and give you a rediscovery of the vitality and inerrancy and wonder of the word of God, than to think about the vital force of it - its power. There is a strange force in every utterance of God, in every word that He has spoken. Think of creation: 'Let there be light', and there was light. As the Psalmist said: 'He commanded, and they were created'. There are so many instances in the Old Testament that we can look to to show the vital power of God's word, but then when we come to the New Testament we see the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Living Word of God. He came to earth, and He gave life with a word. At the tomb of Lazarus He cried: 'Lazarus, come forth!', and he came forth! Not only did our Lord Jesus give life with His word, He also destroyed life. In Matthew 21 and verse 19 we read that He saw a fig tree and found no fruit on it, but leaves only. He said to it: 'Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever', and presently the fig tree withered away. With a word He could give life, with a word He could destroy it. How many times do we read in the Gospels that with a word He cast out devils, with a word He healed diseases, with a word He calmed the tempests - and when the soldiers came to the Garden to take Him away to try Him, with a word He spoke and they fell to the ground! The vital force of the word of God as seen in the Living Word of God, our Lord Jesus.
God said in Deuteronomy 32, a bit like this passage, 'My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass'. Our Lord Jesus echoed those words written by Moses when He said: 'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall never pass away. The spirit quickeneth; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life'. Paul said the preaching of the cross, the preaching of the Word of God, this message preached; it's foolishness to those who do not believe, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God - God's power in God's word.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3: 'I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase' - His word is endued with the very life of God. The Psalmist says: 'His word runneth very swiftly'. It shall not return void, it accomplishes everything. One writer put it like this: 'It runs like a swift messenger through nature and the world of man. It runs to melt the ice, as it were. Here it runs to heal, here it runs to save, and it does not return from its course till it has given effect to the will of the Sender'. Does that not reaffirm your faith in the Bible?
Martin Luther has already been mentioned this evening, and he had a great faith in God's word when no one else had. He said that he wished to make two contributions to the church of his day: a Bible they could understand, and a hymnal which they could sing. He said for both of those things: 'Let them loose, and like a flame they will spread on their own!'. They did, because he had a faith in the vital power, the inerrancy of God's word. Whatever our opposition today is, whether it's from outside or inside Christendom, we need to rediscover, we need a revival in the power of the written and spoken word of God. John Wycliffe, one of the first men to translate the word of God into English, he was an Oxford Professor of Divinity, and he was branded by his peers as an instrument of the devil and the author of schism because he wanted to give the word of God to people in a language they could understand!
It was Voltaire, that godless philosopher, who said that he could and would destroy, in a few years, what it took Christ eighteen centuries to establish - a great enemy of the gospel and the word of God. After his death, his own printing press was used to print Bibles, and his log cabin was bought over by a Bible Society - and was filled with Bibles! I know things are hard today, aren't they? I know the Gideons have had their struggles, being refused entry of Bibles into all sorts of places. Things are harder than they have been for a very long time, but let us not lose heart - because God's word is still God's word! It's still sharper than any two-edged sword, and whatever anyone says about it - indeed the gentleman I mentioned earlier has spoken of many who hold the Bible dear as being guilty of 'bibliolatry' - do you know what that is? Worshipping the Bible! That's the Archbishop, here! He says that: 'This is the mother of dogmatic fundamentalism'.
Now, we don't worship the Bible above God: 'Beyond the sacred page, we seek Thee, Lord' - but it is through the Scriptures that we learn of God, that we learn of Christ. It tells us of the Living God, and the Living Word is set forth within it. You know that a word is an expression of a person's thought and will, isn't it? This is the expression of God's thoughts, God's will - and He thinks so highly of His word that, do you know what Psalm 138 verse 2 says? 'I have set my word above my name' - that's what God said! His word is so important, the problem comes when we exalt reason over both the scriptures and the Son of God.
What an attack there is from the enemy, both without and within, today. But isn't it wonderful that we have God's word, and the Lord Jesus Christ's words, when they said: 'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my word will never pass away' - never!
Suppose there was a man who lived on earth for 1900 years. This man had been thrown into the sea, but he could not be drowned. He had frequently been cast before the wild beasts, and they were unable to devour him. Many times he was forced to drink deadly poisons, which never did him any harm. He had often been bound by chains and locked in prison dungeons, yet he had always been able to throw off the chains and escape from his captivity. Imagine a man who had been repeatedly hanged until his enemies thought him dead, yet when his body was cut down he sprang to his feet and walked away as though nothing had happened. Hundreds of times he had been burned at the stake, until there seemed to be nothing left of him - yet, as soon as the fires were out, he leaped up from the ashes as well and vigorous as ever. We don't need to expand the idea further: such a person would be superhuman, they would be a miracle of miracles - yet that is the story of the Bible. They have tried to burn it, they have tried to ban it - all because God has declared that His word should stand forever, we have it today, it's the only reason. May you be encouraged to keep distributing it, but more than that: keep believing in it. As John Marriott put it:
'Thou whose almighty Word
Chaos and darkness heard,
And took their flight,
Hear us, we humbly pray;
And where the gospel day
Sheds not its glorious ray,
Let there be light.
Spirit of truth, and love,
Life-giving, holy Dove,
Speed forth Thy flight!
Move on the waters' face
Bearing the lamp of grace,
And in earth's darkest place
Let there be light!'
'For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it'. May God bless His word to all our hearts this evening.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at the Ulster West Gideon's Friends Meeting in Knockconny Baptist Church in Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Vital Power Of God's Word" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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