Is not my word like as a fire? said the LORD; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?
1. Words are the vehicle by means of which we convey to others the ideas which exist in our minds, making known our wishes, responding to the speech of our friends, and declaring to the world what manner of men we arc. By the medium of words we give expression to the feelings of kindness and of benevolence toward others, by which we are animated. Our desires for help or assistance in times of difficulty and of danger, are made known by means of language addressed to friends, or to those from whom aid may be expected. Our real characters are often made known by the use which we occasionally make of our tongue, more than by the habitual form of our words, and an accidental inadvertence may do more to enable others to form a correct estimate of us than years of dissembling. Words often fly from our lips, without ever being thought about again, but the consequences which flow from them, either for good or for evil, cannot be calculated. Words spoken by our lips may prove us to be God's people and animated with love to our fellow-man, or they may brand us as children of the devil, and enemies of religion and of truth.
2. The Word is one of the names by which Christ is known in the New Testament. In the first ages of Christianity a sect arose in the Christian Church, who held some very peculiar opinions, of which the adherents were called Gnostics. They supposed that the world was ruled by one supreme Being, but that under Him there were inferior deities, who presided over departments of creation, to whom were given the names of the Word, the Life, and the Light, and of whom Christ was one. St. John commences his Gospel by declaring the falsity of such an idea, and, instead of denying that Christ was one of these inferior beings, he asserts at once that He was the Word, that He was really God, and that He had existed from the beginning in the bosom of the Father. He is called the Word, because He came upon earth to declare the Father, whom He revealed to man much in the same manner as words make known the desires and intentions of a human being.
3. There is another meaning to be given to the term "word" in Scripture, differing from the speech by which men convey their thoughts one to another, and from the person of Christ. It must be understood as the revelation of His will, which God has condescended to make to man on various occasions, and the various forms which it has assumed in the hands of different persons. In the New Testament it is equivalent to the Gospel preached by Christ Himself, and afterwards by His apostles. It is a powerful agent in the hands of the Almighty, the idea of which is conveyed by a threefold comparison — to a sword, to a fire, and to a hammer, in order to show its effects when applied to the consciences of men.
I. IT IS MANIFESTLY GOD HIMSELF WHICH IS SPOKEN OF; for the inquiry is, "Is not My Word... like a hammer?" It is the Almighty who uses the Gospel as His instrument for reaching the consciences of sinners, and awakening in them a sense of the value of the blessings which it is calculated to bestow. The Father, Son, and Spirit planned the scheme of redemption in the councils of eternity, by which a lost and degraded race were to be rescued from ruin and death, and to recover their forfeited inheritance. This great work having been finished, the Holy Spirit employs His power in applying it to the consciences of men, giving them ability to see the efficacy of the blood of Christ to wash away sin, renewing them by the washing of regeneration, and shedding abroad in their hearts the love of God.
II. THE INSTRUMENT WHICH THE SPIRIT USES IN ACCOMPLISHING THIS WORK. It is the hammer of the Word. The age of miraculous manifestations is past, and there is no reason to suppose that God will ever employ miracles to convert men from sin. It is Scripture and Scripture only which He employs to carry home conviction to the soul. God does not speak to man from heaven with an audible voice, commanding him to repent and live, but He speaks by His Spirit, in the words of the revelation which is now in our hands. He does not reveal His will to any, in another manner than by the inspired sentences which contain the embodiment of His gracious purposes of mercy and of love, and which the simplest and most illiterate can understand. The Word is the instrument which Ha always uses, and none other, wielding it like a hammer, to smite the human heart. If you went into the forge of a blacksmith, you would see him, with strong arm, beating a piece of heated iron with a hammer or sledge, in order to form it into some particular shape, either of a nail, a horse-shoe, or a ploughshare. If you went into the shop of a carpenter, you would see him driving home nails into wood with a hammer, as he makes some article of furniture or of utility. Now, in the same manner, the Holy Spirit uses the hammer of the Word, in order to fashion the hearts and characters of the saints, employing particular passages of Scripture for this purpose, by shedding upon them a light, Which, when reflected into the soul, causes them to be felt and experienced in power. He uses the hammer of the Word in order to drive home truth, "as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd."
III. OBJECT UPON WHICH THE HOLY SPIRIT USES THE HAMMER OF THE WORD. It is called in the text "the rock"; this being a metaphor to convey the idea of the hardness and insensibility of the heart of the natural man. The heart of man is compared to a stone by our Lord Himself, in the parable of the sower. Some of the good seed of the Word is represented as falling upon stony places, where there was little earth, and where it was impossible for it to come to perfection, because it could not take root, and soon withered away. Nothing will grow upon stones or rocks, and no good thing can come out of the heart of the natural man; but, on the contrary, very much evil. But, when the human heart is thus compared to a stone, and in our text, to a rock, what do we exactly understand by the comparison? If you saw a stone lying upon the ground, you would see it to be destitute of the power of motion, a hard, irregular, and useless mass. If you saw a rock out in the sea, at a distance from an iron-bound coast, lashed unceasingly by the restless waves of the ocean, you would see that it ever bids defiance to the utmost rage of the tempest, unaffected and unchanged by the ceaseless flow of the briny waters. These illustrations will give us some idea of the senseless nature and the hardened indifference of the heart of the unconverted mail There are persons in the world upon whom no impression whatever is produced by the tale of sorrow or of distress, the spectacle of suffering or of misery, or by appeals to their feelings of compassion or of sympathy. The story of Divine love, surpassing that of a mother for her child, as much as the Infinite surpasses the finite, the spectacle of suffering and of distress endured in the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the Cross, when Christ drank to the very dregs the cup of wrath, appeals to men to have compassion on themselves, by accepting the mercy which God offers, exhortations to repentance, motives to draw forth the exercise of the feelings of affection and of love, and calls to manifest gratitude for unceasing favours, fail to extract a tear from their insensate eyes, to stir within the soul a single emotion, or to soften their hard and obdurate hearts.
IV. THE EFFECTS WHICH ARE PRODUCED WHEN THE ROCK IS SMITTEN BY THE HAMMER. It is said that it is broken in pieces, which conveys to us the idea of destruction. If the human heart be not softened by the ordinary means which the Spirit employs, and if the sinner be not brought to humble himself before God, the only alternative before him is to be broken to shivers. If you went into a blacksmith's forge, and struck his anvil with a hammer, it would recoil, damaged to some extent by the blow, while the metal of which the anvil is made would be condensed. If the hammer were strong enough, and if a blow of sufficient violence were struck, it is manifest that the anvil would be shivered into fragments. This will give us some idea of the method of the Spirit's operation, when He strikes the conscience with the hammer of the Word. If all efforts are unavailing, and the stone of the human heart still continues impenetrable, then the awful doom is pronounced — "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone." The Spirit ceases to strive, invitations to come and drink of the water of life freely are no longer issued, the unpardonable sin has been committed, and nothing remains but the execution of the sentence. The Word is the instrument which we may now turn to account, that we may be saved; but hereafter, if rejected, it will be a witness against us, and a testimony to the justice of the perdition of ungodly men.
(J. B. Courtenay, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?