HEBREWS IV. 12

“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.”

Of the Word, and its quickening power and divine energy, we have already expressed our views, in the preceding number, reserving for the present article, some remarks on the peculiar power of the word of God to divide asunder the soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart.

“Piercing, even to the dividing asunder.” As we have considered Christ, in his title as the essential Word of God, as the Head and Fountain of all spiritual, eternal life to the church, which is his body, and the words which he speaks to his people, as spirit and life, according to his declaration, (John vi. 63,) so the entering of his word is compared to a piercing, or a sharp sword. Those who have experienced its quickening operation, are sensible that they were by nature children of wrath even as others, that they were dead in sins, and in that state continued till the Word of life was spoken to them, with the same irresistible and almighty power as when he said, Let there be light, and there was light. Then the dead heard his voice, or word, and by it were quickened into life. Or in other words, they were born again of an incorruptible seed, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. Its powerful entrance is fitly represented as a piercing, or a pricking them in the heart, as at the day of pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out in fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, and many were pricked in the heart and cried, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Acts ii. 37, compared with Psalm xlv. 5, “Thine arrows are sharper in the heart of the King’s enemies, whereby the people fall under thee.” This quickening operation of the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, has to do with the heart, and that in an experimental way. It does not merely cut to the heart, making a flesh wound which may be easily healed, as when Stephen preached, (Acts vii. 54,) but it enters the heart and makes sure work. The sword or word enters, and the dead hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. (John v. 25.)

“Dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit.” Dull as we may be to comprehend the soul of man, or to define either the spirit of man that is common to all men, or that spirit which is communicated by the new and heavenly birth, the word of God can and does make the discrimination, and if we have not mistaken its revelation, it pierces to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit. The natural spirit of man, which goeth upward, is what we understand is called the soul, and we shall not attempt to distinguish between the terms spirit and soul, when thus applied. But the word of God does clearly discriminate between the soul and spirit which is natural and common to all men, and that spirit which is the production of the new birth. That which is born of the flesh is divided asunder by the word, from that which is born of the Spirit, and the one is called flesh and the other spirit; the one is of the earth and earthly, the other is of the Spirit of God, and spiritual. The one is earthy, sensual and devilish, the other is spiritual, heavenly and Christ-like. In the one there is nothing good, in the other there is nothing but that is good. The one lusts against the other, and brings the child of God into captivity to the law of sin which is in the flesh. The one is in the image of the earthy Adam, and the other is after God, created in righteousness and true holiness. The Scriptures make this discrimination in the plainest terms, but still we are dull to comprehend their testimony, until the word comes to us, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance. Then the sword of the Spirit divides, and we are taught to know that every heavenly emotion that we feel, every spiritual exercise, every divine impulse, every correct perception of God, of the way of life and salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, every display of the love of God shed abroad in us; instead of being a natural growth of the soul, is the legitimate fruit of the spirit which is born of the Spirit, and all within us that was against the Spirit of life which God has implanted in us, is the natural production of our depraved, fallen nature. The lusts of the eye, the corruptions of the flesh, and the pride of life, these are not born of God, but they are born of the flesh and they are flesh, and as many as are led by them and walk after them, shall die; but as many as through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the flesh, shall live. As many as have the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God; but if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. We think if our brother Huston will carefully consider this matter, he will perceive that the sword of the Spirit does not, as he had supposed, unite the soul with the spirit, that the inspired writer of our text was right, and his views were wrong. Just so far as we are led by the Spirit in our experience, we learn that there is as wide a distinction between our old man and the new, our inner and outer man, as between sin and holiness, as wide a distance as that between heaven and hell. The spirit being born of God cannot sin, because it is born of God, and because the seed abideth. It is of heavenly origin, and has no relish for sin, no inclination to sin, but it fights against all that is carnal and opposite to holiness, while the flesh and all our fleshly powers are prone to sin, as sparks fly upward. Hence the warfare in every one that is born of the Spirit. Brother Huston, we conclude, knows something about this warfare, and in it he has what we regard a clear illustration of this part of the text on which he desires us to dwell particularly.

But while we feel the powerful and piercing effects of the word, dividing asunder, separating and discriminating between that in us which is born of the flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit, we have two most grand and glorious considerations to cheer and encourage us.

First. Although this Spirit wars against the flesh, and against all that is vile, sinful and ungodly, it never war’s against holiness, against truth and righteousness, nor against the same Spirit, wherever it is found. Of the body of Christ it is said, There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are all called in one hope of your calling. As this Spirit is one Spirit, so there is a vital and heavenly union and fellowship among all who possess it. They may hate the garments spotted with the flesh, in themselves and in their brethren; they may hate father and mother; wife and children, and their own life also, but if born of God, they cannot hate the spirit of life and immortality which God has implanted in them and in all their brethren. The love of the saints is not a carnal attachment, for the saints are called to mortify the flesh with its affections and lusts, and to know no man after the flesh; the love of God shed abroad in christians by the Spirit, will commune with its kindred spirit as readily in a poor Ethiopian, as in the most renowned prince, and love the image of Jesus as dearly when found in a poor, despised outcast, as when found in our nearest or dearest earthly relative.

Second. As this spirit dwells in us now, producing a constant warfare with the flesh, the war will be over before long, and victory is certain to the new man. The opposition to holiness shall be subdued, these bodies, which to us are at present what Paul’s body was to him, a body of this death, yet death itself shall be destroyed: the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. Mortality shall be swallowed up of life, and he that raiseth up Christ from the dead, shall also quicken our mortal bodies by his spirit that dwelleth in us. The discrimination made by the quick and powerful word of God, by which the saints are born again, is a divider asunder of joints and marrow. As the church of God, in her mystical union, is the body of Christ, so it is said of the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands, having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. (Col. ii. 19). But in order to do this, there must be a circumcision, by which our fleshly powers are cut off, for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. But this cutting off is effective, and all the saints, as the body of him in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, are complete in him which is the Head of all principality and power, in whom, also, ye are circumcised, with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead, and you being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God; (Col. ii. 9-13, and iii. 4.) Here by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, there is a dividing of joints and marrow, so far as the old man is concerned, for Adam is the figure of him that was to come, which is Christ, and as the members of Christ are by joints and bands embodied in Christ, in our new and spiritual life, so by joints and marrow were we embodied in the earthly Adam, in our natural relation to him. But here is a cutting off, a circumcision, a dismemberment of the earthly Adam, and the members of Christ’s body are brought out of every nation, kindred, tongue and people, and brought by the word of God into the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. iv. 13.)

“And is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” That Christ who is, as we have contended, the essential Word of God, discerns the thoughts of all hearts, that he is able to search the hearts and try the reins of the children of men, was abundantly demonstrated when he was here in the flesh, and that he is still the discerner, now that he has ascended up on high, is a matter of unspeakable consolation to his people, for he knoweth how to succor them when they are tempted, which would not be the case if he could not discern the thoughts and intents of our hearts. All things are naked and open to his omniscient eye, even from everlasting to everlasting. But the words which he speaks to his people, are a transcript of himself, and they also are Spirit and they are life; they are a communication from himself to his members, in which of his fullness they all receive, and grace for grace, (John i. 16.) Therefore when he by his Spirit holds communion with his members by the way, he causes their hearts to burn within them. He works in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure. The preparation of their hearts and the answer of their tongues are of him, and they have his mind and his Spirit, which searches all things, even the deep things of God. How often has our brother Huston and all the saints been joyfully surprised when he has shown himself to them, as it were through the lattice, and calmed the tempest that has distressed their mind; when his word has come to them so appropriately, so suited to their peculiar straits and trials, that they have been constrained to say, He is a refuge in distress and a very present help in all our troubles. Take the striking figure which eternal wisdom has provided, he is the Head over all things to the church, which is his body; and can the natural body of a man have thoughts or intents, or pains or joys, or any other sensations or emotions, and keep them concealed from the head? Certainly not. Well, Christ as our Head knows us altogether. His communications to us prove this, for his communications to us by his written word, through all the gifts which he has bestowed are appropriate and well timed, never out of place, as they might be if he were not a discerner of the thoughts and intents of our hearts.

We will now submit what we have written to the consideration of brother Huston, and to all our readers, with our sincere desire and prayer that, so far as we have written in accordance with the word and Spirit of our divine Lord and Master, it may be made edifying and comforting to his dear people.

Middletown, N.Y.
February 1, 1858.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 50 - 56