J. A. Trench.
Article 33 of 55 from 'Truth for Believers' Volume 2.
It is lamentable to me in the extreme, that in presence of the most subtle and virulent assault upon Scripture, brethren so privileged as we have been should not have made up their minds as to what the Word of God is, as the expression is commonly used in Scripture. And I cannot but ask myself what it is that has involved this great truth, like so many others, in confusion. For there used to be no uncertainty about it, nor anything upon which you could count for a more united testimony among those in fellowship.
Mark 7:13 does not stand alone, as clearly indicating the Scriptures as far as they then were written.
If in the parable of the Sower the seed was the Word of God (Luke 8:11), it was that, and nothing different that the devil took out of the hearts of the wayside hearers lest they should believe and be saved (ver. 12); the same that was received with joy, and so without root (ver. 13); the same that fell on good ground, as those that with an honest and good heart heard and kept it, and brought forth fruit with patience (ver. 15); and who could be owned as in relationship characteristically with the Lord in verse 21. Thus, whether the sowing was effectual or ineffectual, the thing sown was the Word of God. So it might be handled deceitfully (2 Cor. 4:2), or made a trade of (2 Cor. 2:17) And it might be blasphemed if men and women did not observe the proprieties of life, and of the relations in which they stood to one another. (Titus 2:5) I have put these negative cases together, first because the theory is that the Word of God can only be true of what is brought home in power to the soul. The Lord identifies it clearly with the Scriptures as then possessed, in John 10:35, and I need hardly quote the passages that prove the claim of the New Testament writings to the same place. Filled with the Holy Ghost we find them speaking the Word of God with boldness, in Acts 4:31. So it was in Phil. 1:14, with the brethren that had become confident as to the character of the Apostle's imprisonment; they were much more bold to speak the Word of God (as the undoubted reading is) without fear, though we know the motives of all in so doing were not such as would bear the light. It was this that the Gentiles had also received in Acts 11:1, as Samaria had before (Acts 8:12). We find it preached in Acts 13:5, 46 (compare vers. 7, 44, 49); Acts 17:13 (compare ver. 11); and taught in Acts 18:11. The Thessalonians received it as such, "not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God." (1 Thess. 2:13)
The leaders might then well be characterised as those that had spoken to the saints the Word of God. (Heb. 13:7) It enters into all the practical life of the believer, for even his food, as provided of God for him, is sanctified in his use of it by the (here anarthrous, and so characteristic) Word of God, and intercourse with Him (1 Tim. 4:5), while it is intimately connected with the source of the young man's strength in the family of God — the Word of God abiding in him, recalling the use of it made by the Lord Jesus in the temptation. But when the general force of the expression in seen by the Scripture use of it, we are not surprised to find it identified with the effects produced by it, as, for instance, when I find in 2 Timothy 2:9, "the word of God is not bound," however the greatest preacher of it might be.
It is remarkable, too, that in the parable of the Sower, as given by Matthew and Mark, "he which received seed" (Matt. 13:19-23) is "he which was sown," or as Mark has it even in the A.V., "these are they which are sown"; and in the parable of the tares, "the good seed are the children of the kingdom." (Matt. 13:38) Thus it says "the word of God increased" (Acts 6:7), the connection is "and the number of the disciples multiplied." Similarly, "the word of God grew and multiplied." (Acts 12:24) So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed (Acts 19:20). I never heard of these passages being a difficulty to anyone. It was the mighty effect of the "manifestation of his word in preaching," that is marked in the passages of this class — the effects produced being identified with their source.
It is extraordinary to me how the plainest force of passages is made to bend and give way to a theory. I heard A — say that he supposed no one would question that the Word of God in 1 Peter 1:23, the incorruptible seed by which we were born again, that liveth and abideth for ever, is Christ; turn to Isaiah 40:5, 8 from which Peter is quoting, to see the folly of it; it is the Word of our God that the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken, that is contrasted with the corruptible fading-away glory of man.
Born of Christ is not a scriptural thought: and we can easily see what would be enfeebled by the substitution, i.e. the communication of the nature of God that is implied in being born of God. But Peter does not stand alone in attributing the instrumentality of this mighty work to the Word of God. James 1:18 affirms nothing less; nor John 15:3, and John 3:5 — if under the symbol of water more is conveyed than if "the Word" were used, even the purification produced by it in a new life and nature involving the end of the old under God's judgment. For the water, as well as blood flowed from the side of the blessed Lord in death. But there is what carries us deeper, and marks the fitness of the Scriptures being so named and characterised.
"This Word, being divine, being inspired, is the divine expression of the divine nature, Persons, and counsels. Nothing that is not inspired in this way can have this place, for none but God can perfectly express or reveal what God is. Hence it is infinite in what flows in it, because it is the expression of and connected with the depths of the divine nature, and so, in its connection infinite, though expressed in a finite sense, and so far finite in expression, and thus adapted to finite man."
I wish you would refresh your memory by reading what I am quoting from now, i.e. the Synopsis on 1 Timothy 1, in a dozen pages. It is a profitable study. But this accounts for the divine powers that are attributed to the Scriptures. Compare Romans 9:17; Galatians 3:8, 22; 4:30; James 4:5. Thus in Hebrews 4 the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper, etc., and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, with the effect of (next verse) bringing out all that is in us, consciously under the eye of God. Again, nothing of it can fail; "not as though the word of God hath taken none effect." (Rom. 9:6) Though "this is hidden from them [the mockers of the last days] through their own wilfulness, that heavens were of old, and an earth, etc., by the word of God. … But the present heaven and the earth by his word" (true text) "are laid up in store kept for fire." (2 Peter 3)
I believe I have run through all the passages where logos is used for the expression in all the fulness and depth of that rich word, save the use of it in Revelation 1:2, 9, where we find, that however slow men may be to give it its divine place, it has it fully before God; and Rev. 19:13.
I know not what to say to the theory that takes the application of the name the Word of God (it does not say He is — He is much more than this, He is the Word, and the Word was God — but "his Name is called the Word of God") in Revelation 19 to the Son of man who comes forth to judge (for all judgment is committed to Him as such), as though it was equivalent to John 1:1-4. Though it could not be applied to Him, if He were not the revelation of God, as we have seen of the Scriptures, I do not believe it sets forth directly the full divine glory of His Person (though it does by implication, for none but God, or that which is divine, could be the revelation of God) as verse 16 taken in connection with 1 Timothy 6 does. He is the Word of God here to make good the nature of God in judgment against those who have rejected the testimony that called them to repentance.
rhema does not go far as you will know, not being a word of the same fulness. It is used without the objective article, and therefore more as in character (Luke 3:2; Eph. 6:17; Heb. 6:5; Heb. 11:3); throughout anarthrous — and "Word of the Lord." (1 Peter 1:25)
Only recently I heard of a real student of the Word, who would have no sympathy with the expression of which you speak so revolting to the heart, saying that it would be rather the characteristic form "God's Word" when it meant the Scriptures, and "the Word of God" when applied to Christ. But this was his theory.
The fact is that only in four cases is the anarthrous form used. I have noted one of them above. So that there is no such use of Scripture — no scriptural support for the idea, as he now knows, and has abandoned it.
I believe, then, the Word of God to be the testimony of God from the first with ever-increasing fulness, in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, by Christ when on earth, and then by the Apostles as empowered for it by the Spirit, and now recorded for us in the Scriptures as completed — the complete revelation of God in them.
Only wishing as you do I am sure, to take our thoughts from Scripture on this subject of the "Word of God," I am unable to accept your main definition of it, as the voice of God by His Spirit to my soul. I do not find that the expression undergoes any change in its essential force from Christ being glorified, although now that the last subject of revelation has been supplied by the Mystery, it is completed, and has thus gained in the fulness of the term.
But just as it was possible before Christ was glorified, or come at all, to make the Word of God of none effect through the traditions of men (Mark 7:13), and after He came was the seed of His sowing whether it fell on ground where it made no impression, or upon good ground and brought forth fruit (Luke 8:11, 21), so after He was glorified it might be corrupted (2 Cor. 2:17) or, handled deceitfully (2 Cor. 4:2), I do not see how these passages consist with your theory of it.
But there is another line of its use, or class of passages, that I cannot fit in your definition. How could the voice of God by His Spirit to the soul, be preached? (Acts 13:5, 44) Was it not the Word of God still, supposing no voice of God was heard in it by the Spirit in a single soul: nay, that it should be contradicted and blasphemed by those to whom it was first spoken? (Ver. 46) So at Berea, under happier circumstances, we know from Acts 17:13, that it was the Word of God Paul preached, and they received (ver. 11) with all readiness of mind. Yet it could not as preached have been the voice of God by His Spirit to their souls, for they searched the Scriptures daily whether these things were so. The effect of their searching would then be doubtless as at Thessalonica, that they received the Word of God they heard of the Apostles not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. (1 Thess. 2:13) But this effect was another point, for as we have seen it was as fully the Word of God when nothing but opposition was produced. Nor is this preaching confined in any way to Apostolic testimony; for the Apostle uses the expression as you know in Phil. 1:14 (see N.Tr. and R.) when it is of the preaching of the brethren who had gained confidence as to the character of his bonds, and were much more bold to preach it.
Again, I doubt exceedingly whether your definition would not (as in all the above passages) limit too much the thought of God in 1 Timothy 4:5; or 1 Peter 1:25, where the connection with Isaiah 40:5-8 gives it the widest possible force. In 2 Peter 3:5, I suppose it is the mighty fiat of creatorial power for which rhema is used in Hebrews 11:3. (As also Eph. 6:17, not the book merely but the text, as it has been shown, with which compare Matt. 4:4 Gr.) Otherwise you have improved your paper, giving more justly the force of logos, which, as you say, is difficult to present to an English mind. But I should advise you not to print. We so stereotype in our minds what we put in print, and thus hinder enlargement in the thoughts of God.