The Authority & Power of the Word upon the Heart

by J. C. Philpot

The main point which we endeavored to establish in our last paper was the way in which the word of God became lord and master of a believer's conscience. Until this supremacy of the word of truth is established, nothing is really done. Long may be the struggle, for sense, nature, and reason die hard; and as in the case of the children of Israel becoming masters of the land of promise, these opposing nations may be driven out only "little by little," and even then the Canaanite will still dwell in the land. (Exod. 23:30; Josh. 17:12.) But as Jesus must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet, so will he by his Spirit and grace put down every enemy to the power and authority of his word upon the heart of his people. As by grace we are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son; (Col 1:13;) as this kingdom is within us; (Luke 17:21;) and that not in word, but in power; (1 Cor. 9:20;) seeing that it "is not food and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit," (Rom. 14:17,) it necessarily embraces two distinct things—

1. The putting down of all other rule and all other authority and power. (1 Cor. 15:24)

2. The setting up and enthroning of the Lord Jesus in the conscience, heart, and affections.

This double work was beautifully symbolized in the vision of Nebuchadnezzar as interpreted by Daniel—"While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth." (Dan. 2:34, 35.) The stone that fell upon the feet of the image represents the Lord Jesus, the stone laid in Zion for a foundation, (Isa. 27:16,) and its being "cut out, without hands" symbolizes his pure humanity as made of a woman without the help of man. (Mark. 14:58; Heb. 8:2.) The stone thus cut out without hands fell upon the toes of the image; for while the image stood upon its feet, the stone could not become a great mountain and fill the whole earth.

So in grace. (We do not offer this as an interpretation so much as a spiritual application of the prophecy.) Until the image of sin, Satan, and self is broken to pieces, and the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold become like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors, Christ in his grace and glory cannot fill the heart.

Hitherto, then, we have been considering the putting down of the rule, authority, and power of darkness, ignorance, and death—under the two figures of the stripping of the strong man of his armor—and the entrance of the two-edged sword of the word into the heart. By this effectual operation the word, as we have shown, becomes lord and master of conscience. This is the hardest part of the work, for until submission is produced, mercy is not manifested. "The arrows are sharp in the heart of the King's enemies, whereby the people fall under you." (Psalm 45:5.) Where there is no falling under the power of the word, there is no real submission of heart to Jesus; no meek taking of his yoke upon the neck—for this is only for the laboring and heavy-laden; (Matt. 11:28, 29;) no kissing the Son lest he be angry. (Psalm 2:12.)

But when the heart is "brought down with labor so as to fall down, and there is none to help;" (Psalm 107:12;) when the Lord sees of his servants that "their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left;" (Deut. 32:36;) when there is a putting of the mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope; (Lam. 3:29;) and there is no plea nor cry but, "Lord, save me," "God be merciful to me a sinner," then the scale turns; then it is found that "the Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him, and that it is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." (Lam. 3:25, 26.)

Being thus made "poor in spirit," a title is given to, an interest secured in the kingdom of heaven; (Matt. 5:3;) and as this poverty of spirit is attended with the docility and teachability of a little child there is an entrance into it; for "of such is the kingdom of God, and whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in nowise enter therein." (Luke 18:16, 17.)

If our readers have thus far, then, followed our train of thought, they will readily perceive that hitherto we have been directing our attention mainly to that first work of the law upon the conscience, whereby the soul is—slain, stripped, and emptied of all its self-strength, self-righteousness, and self-sufficiency—and brought into the dust of death. This is analogous to the falling of the stone upon the toes of the image, and corresponds to the first part of Jeremiah's commission—"See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down—to build and to plant." (Jer. 1:10.) There we see that the prophet, as having the words of the Lord put into his mouth, was commissioned "to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down"—as well as "to build and to plant." And so the Lord speaks elsewhere—"And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to destroy, and to afflict—so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, says the Lord." (Jer. 31:28.) Both are equally of God; and he as much watches over the soul to pluck and break down—as to build and plant.

But as we have endeavored to show the one and first part of the work, so shall we now attempt to trace out the other; for if the Lord kills—he makes alive, if he brings down to the grave—he brings up; and he who makes poor—also raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the beggar from the ash-heap, to set them among princes, and make them inherit the throne of glory. (1 Sam. 2:6-8,) Let us see, then, how this gracious work is accomplished, and the effects that follow.

1. Poverty of spirit springing out of the stripping hand of God, as we have described it, brings the soul within the reach of all the invitations of the gospel. "To the poor, the gospel is preached," (Luke 7:22,) and for the poor is the gospel supper provided; (Luke 14:21;) To them, therefore, emphatically do the invitations of the gospel belong. The full soul loaths a honeycomb. What are all the invitations of the gospel to one who is "rich and increased with goods and has need of nothing?" (Rev. 3:17.) "Ho, every one who thirsts!" "Look unto me and be saved, all the ends of the earth." "Call upon me in the day of trouble." "Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you." "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden," etc.

These and similar invitations are all addressed to the poor and needy sinner. There is now a place in his heart for them, as emptied of self; and, as they come home with some degree of sweetness and savor, power attends them, whereby faith is raised up to believe that God speaks in them. This is more especially felt when in some season of distress the invitation is applied, and is thus embraced and acted upon. How many a poor sinner has hung upon the invitations, embraced them, pleaded them, and acted upon them. "Ask and you shall receive." What an encouragement to prayer.

"Look unto me." "Come unto me." How many a poor sensible sinner has, upon the strength of these words, looked unto Jesus and been lightened; (Psalm 34:5;) come to him and met with a kind reception.

By the power which attends these invitations the heart is opened, as was the heart of Lydia, to attend unto the things spoken in the gospel. It is not put away as too holy for a poor polluted sinner to touch, nor is the Lord Jesus viewed as an angry Judge; but in these invitations—his clemency, tenderness, and compassion are seen and felt—and beams and rays of his mercy and grace both enlighten the understanding and soften and melt the heart. Thence spring confession of sin, self-loathing, renunciation of one's own righteousness, earnest desires and breathings after the Lord, and an embracing of the love of the truth so far as made known.

And as all these effects—so different from the old dead Pharisaic religion—are produced by the power of the word upon the heart, the Bible becomes a new book, and is read and studied with attention and delight. The ears too being unstopped, as well as the eyes opened, if there be the opportunity of hearing the preached gospel, with what eagerness is it embraced, and what a sweetness there is found in it. All who have passed through these things will agree with us that there are no such hearing days as what Job calls "the days of our youth, when the secret of God is upon our tabernacle." (Job 29:4.)

2. This breaking up of the great image of sin and self by the falling of the stone cut without hands upon its feet prepares a way also for the entrance of the promises, as so many pledges and foretastes of that kingdom of God—which is peace, and righteousness, and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is upon the promises that the new covenant stands, as the Apostle says—"But now has he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises." (Heb. 8:6.) As, then, we are brought within the compass of the promises we are brought within the bonds of the covenant, according to the declaration—"And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant." (Ezek. 20:37.) As, then, the soul is brought within the compass of the promises, and thus put within the manifested bond of the covenant, these promises become—as they are made sweet and precious—so many breasts of consolation, feeding the new-born babe with the sincere milk of the word, that it may grow thereby. (Isa. 66:11; 1 Pet. 2:2.)

Every promise that is made spirit and life to the soul, establishes the power of the word in the heart; for by the application of the promises (as Peter unfolds the mystery) "the divine nature," that is, the new man who, after the image of God, (Col. 3:10,) is created in righteousness and true holiness, is brought forth. (Eph. 4:24; 2 Pet. 1:4.) This is a partaking of the divine nature, that is, what is communicable of the divine nature, as being a conformity to the image of God's dear Son, Christ in the heart the hope of glory. (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:27.) By being brought, then, within the compass of the promises we become children and heirs of them; (Gal. 4:28; Heb. 6:17;) and as they are applied with power, they are all found to be "in Christ yes, and in him amen, to the glory of God by us." (2 Cor. 1:20.)

It was by thus believing the promise that our father Abraham was justified, as the Apostle declares—"He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness." (Rom. 4:20-22.) In his steps his children walk, and thus are blessed with him. (Rom. 4:11; Gal. 3:9.) The promise comes, faith believes, hope expects, patience waits; and so through faith and patience they inherit the promises. (Rom. 15:4; Heb. 6:12, 17-20.)

3. And as the promises are made sweet and precious, as pledges and foretastes of the gospel, and thus establish the power of the word upon the heart, so when the gospel itself is made "the power of God unto salvation," it beyond everything seals and ratifies this power and authority of the word. This is what the Apostle sets forth so clearly and blessedly in his first epistle to the Thessalonians, "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." (1 Thess. 1:4-6.) "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when you received the word of God which you heard of us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually works also in you that believe." (1 Thess. 2:13.)

It is the peculiar province of faith to believe the gospel; but this faith must "stand not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God," (1 Cor. 2:5,) that it may be a saving faith. When, then, the gospel comes "not in word only," as it does to thousands, "but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction"—as it only does to the elect of God, (1 Thess, 1:4,) by this power faith is raised up and drawn forth. By this faith the gospel is received, "not as the word of men," which might be weak and worthless, and is sure to be inoperative and inefficacious—but "as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually works in those who believe."

How evidently does this show, not only the power of the word, but that the gospel is that power, and that it is, if we may use the expression, a working power effectually molding the heart, giving grace to the lips, and producing all holy obedience in the life. But as the gospel is a message from God, a proclamation of mercy and grace—the best news that ever reached a poor sensible sinner's ears, for it proclaims pardon and peace, reconciliation and acceptance, through the blood and righteousness of Christ, so it is but the herald of advance to announce the nearer coming of the Son of God himself. It is, as it were, the chariot in which he rides "paved with love for the daughters of Jerusalem." (Song Sol. 3:10.)

We do not wish to separate, except for the sake of distinctness, the gospel—from him who is the sum and substance of it, nor the belief of the gospel from the revelation of Christ in and by the gospel, as these are often made manifest at one and the same moment. But for the sake of obtaining clearer views of the subject, we shall make a distinction between believing the gospel and the personal manifestation of Christ. Thus the disciples evidently believed the gospel and received Christ's words; (John 15:3; 16:30; 17:8;) and still they were as yet unacquainted with the special manifestations of Christ, as is evident from the question of Judas, (not Iscariot), and the Lord's answer. (John 14:22, 23.) So in many cases now, and we may add it was much our own experience, there is a believing the gospel—prior to the revelation of the Son of God with power to the soul.

4. When, then, the blessed Lord reveals himself to the soul in his glorious Person, finished work, atoning blood, and dying love—then it is with the willing heart almost as it was when the risen and ascended King of Zion entered the courts of heavenly bliss—"Lift up your heads, O gates; and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in!" (Psalm 24:7.) Surely the posts of the doors of the heart are moved at his appearance as of the King in his beauty. (Isa. 6:4; 33:17.) His eternal Deity and Sonship on the one hand, and his pure spotless humanity on the other, uniting to form his one glorious Person as Immanuel, God with us—are presented to the eye of faith. As he thus appears in his glory—the understanding is divinely illuminated, the conscience purged, the heart melted and broken, and the affections drawn forth to embrace this glorious Lord as the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely one!

And as this revelation of Christ, though necessarily supernatural, has nothing in it visionary or enthusiastic, but is a most sober and substantial reality, so it is always attended with, or followed by the word of truth, either to communicate or confirm it. Sometimes it communicates it; that is, through the word applied and believed the Lord reveals himself to the soul, as very frequently, for instance, under the preached word—and often in private by the applied, without the medium of the preached word. Sometimes the word does not so much communicate it as it follows upon and confirms the inward revelation of the Son of God—"before I was aware, my soul became like the chariots of Amminadab," or "a willing people;" (Song 6:12;) that is, the soul is unexpectedly, as it were, ravished with the appearance of the King in his beauty, without any particular word from his lips. But passages flow almost immediately in to explain, confirm, and settle what has been thus transacted between the Lord and the soul without the immediate instrumentality of the word itself. This is like a second feast, a sitting under the shadow of the Beloved with great delight, and finding his fruit sweet to the taste. (Song 2:3.)

We thus see how the word of God is established in its power and authority in the heart, not only by its strength to pull down, but by its strength to build up; by its mission to heal, as well as by its mission to kill. If we may say of it what the Apostle declares of an earthly magistrate, that it "bears not the sword in vain," we may also add, it "is the minister of God for good." (Rom. 13:4.) The word of a king would be spoiled of half of its authority if life as well as death, were not in the power of his tongue; (Prov. 18:21;) and if he could not, as supreme, (1 Pet. 2:13,) show mercy as well as judgment, pardon as well as punish.

And so, is there not one supreme Law-giver who is able to save and to destroy? (Jas. 4:12.) When David measured Moab with two lines, the one to put to death and the other to keep alive, (2 Sam. 8:2,) the line of life was as much the king's line, and as much stretched by his authority as the line of death. The stretching of both these lines over the heart, of law and gospel, of the curse and the blessing, of the killing and the making alive, of the wrath of the king as the messenger of death and the light of his countenance as life and his favor as a cloud of the latter rain, (Prov. 16:14, 15,) makes the Lord at once both feared and loved. By the one the soul is preserved from presumption, and by the other from despair; and thus by the combined impressions of judgment and mercy, God is served acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Heb. 12:28.)

But this manifestation of Christ to the soul is attended with peculiar blessings which not only are in themselves exceedingly precious, and prove the revelation to be genuine—not "the child of fancy richly dressed," but "the living child," but still more fully confirm the power and authority of the word of the Lord.

1. First, this manifestation of Christ to the soul makes the word itself exceeding sweet and precious. Jeremiah knew this experimentally when he said, "Your words were found and I did eat them, and your word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart;" (Jer. 15:16;) and so felt the Psalmist—"How sweet are your words unto my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth." (Psalm 119:103.) Nor was Job without an experience of the same sweetness of the word when he said, "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food." (Job 23:12.) Does not, then, this tasting of the sweetness of the word establish its power in the heart in the surest and most convincing way?

2. This manifestation of Christ to the soul sweeps away the unbelief and infidelity of the carnal reasoning mind. Perhaps few of his readers have been more tempted by unbelief and infidelity than the writer of these lines; but he knows from blessed experience how a revelation of the glorious Person of the Son of God to the soul sweeps away as with one stroke, at least for a time, all these armies of hell. Not a single doubt of the Deity, Sonship, and pure humanity of the Son of God can stand before the revelation of the glorious King of Zion; and if the unworthy author of these Meditations has been enabled in former papers to trace out the Deity and Sonship, and the spotless humanity of the blessed Redeemer with any degree of light and life in his own soul, or with any measure of instruction and edification to his readers, he must thankfully ascribe it to what he has been favored to see of these divine realities by the eye of faith in the person of the God-man.

3. This manifestation of Christ to the soul therefore harmonizes the whole word of God from first to last. As the incarnate Word was "set for the fall" as well as "the rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which should be spoken against," so it is with the written word; it is made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block "to those to whom God has given the spirit of slumber—eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear." (Luke 2:34; Rom. 11:9.) This is the reason why men infidels stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed. (1 Pet. 2:8.) Ever on the watch for difficulties and objections, they easily find or make what they seek; and as quarrelsome people readily pick a quarrel, so do they in a moment quarrel with a straw if it seem to lie awry across their reasoning, counting, calculating path. But by so doing they only fall into their own nets, while the godly escape. (Psalm 141:10.)

Truly does Wisdom speak—"All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge." (Prov. 8:8, 9.) But being destitute of a heavenly mind and of that divine anointing which teaches of all things, and is truth and no lie, (1 John 2:27,) such men "speak evil of those things which they know not; and even what they know naturally," as arithmetic and logic, "in these things they corrupt themselves," (Jude 10,) abasing their very knowledge to attempt to prove God a liar.

4. This manifestation of Christ to the soul by faith, also produces submission to the will of God, a leaving of all things in his hand, and a laying at his feet a thousand difficult questions in providence and in grace, which at other times, the more they are thought of, the more do they rack and perplex the mind, both as regards ourselves and others. We cannot enlarge upon this point, but it is surprising to find what hard knots a believing view of Christ unties—what crooked things it makes straight—and what a complete answer it is to the sullen objections of our perverse spirit—bearing the soul, as it were, on a full wave into a harbor of peaceful rest—over those sunken rocks on which so many gallant ships sink.

5. Another effect which we must name as produced by the personal manifestation of Christ to the soul is the place which it gives the precept in the heart. All who study with any measure of divine light and life the pages of the New Testament, and pay any attention to such portions of it as the sermon on the mount and the preceptive parts of the Epistles must clearly see and feel what an important place the precept occupies in the inspired word. Take, for instance, the Epistles to the Ephesians, the Philippians, and the Colossians, and it will be found that at least half of each of these epistles is occupied with the precept, blended it is true with doctrine and experience, but enforcing, in the plainest manner, practical obedience.

But these holy, godly, practical precepts are in our day either wholly overlooked, or distorted into legal duties—the reason being that they have not that place in the heart which they have in the word of truth. And yet by this preceptive portion of the gospel are explained and enforced all that practical obedience, all that godliness of life, all that holiness of walk and conversation which mark the followers of the Lamb, and whereby their heavenly Father is glorified.

But as this obedience must be spiritual not carnal—evangelical and not legal—of the heart and not of the lip—to the glory of God and not to the exaltation of self—it can only be produced by the Holy Spirit. As, therefore, the Lord Jesus, under the power and unction of the Holy Spirit, reveals himself to the soul, and takes his place as Lord of the heart, obedience to the precept is produced by the same power and influence as the faith, hope, and love by and in which he is received. The precept, therefore, under these divine influences, comes into its right, its scriptural, and spiritual position—occupying that place in the heart which it occupies in the word of truth—and is seen and felt to harmonize in the most gracious and blessed manner with every holy doctrine, every precious promise, and every sweet manifestation.

We would willingly enlarge here, and show how productive this is of all practical obedience in attending to the ordinances of God's house—and how it embraces and extends itself to every relationship in life—and is as remote from all Antinomian carelessness and licentiousness as it is from legal service and Pharisaic righteousness. But as it is in our mind, the Lord enabling us, on some future occasion to make this point the subject of our Meditations, as being in our view, though much disregarded, yet full of profitable instruction, we shall content ourselves with thus briefly touching on one of the most important and, we must say, least understood points of our most holy faith.

6. Our limits warn us to close, and yet we cannot bring our subject to a conclusion without naming another point closely connected with the power and authority of the word of God on the heart as established by a believing view of the Son of God. It is this—A firm support is needed amid all the storms of temptation, seas of affliction, and seasons of desertion and distress which are the appointed lot of the mystical members of Christ, and whereby they are conformed to his suffering image. We see how our gracious Lord was supported and upheld by the word of God from the moment when he said, "Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do your will, O my God; yes, your law is within my heart," (Psalm 40:7, 8,) to his last expiring breath, when, with the word of truth in his mouth, he meekly said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." (Psalm 31:5; Luke 23:46.) (To open and unfold this point is beyond our present scope, and to handle it properly would require much wisdom and grace; but that our blessed Lord was upheld by the power of the word is plain from the history of the temptation in the wilderness, from his words to Peter before his crucifixion, (Matt. 27:53, 54,) to the disciples going to Emmaus, and to the rest of the disciples just before his ascension. (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47.) That the Scriptures should be fulfilled, and the will of God revealed in them be fully accomplished, held him up in his path of suffering obedience.)

In a similar way the power of the word is needed to hold up the soul in seasons of trial and temptation. Abraham's case is full to the point. What but the promise that he should have a son by Sarah held him up for five-and-twenty years, in the very face of carnal reason and unbelief, against hope believing in hope, until after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise? (Rom. 4:18; Heb. 6:15.) And what but the word of the Lord strengthened him to offer up Isaac, when grown up, as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah? This hanging of the soul upon the word is beautifully unfolded in Psalm 119, in such expressions as, "Your word have I hid in my heart;" (ver. 11;) "I trust in your word;" (ver, 42;) "I have hoped, or I hope in your word;" (ver. 74, 81; 114, 147) "I rejoice at your word;" (ver. 162) Your word is true from the beginning;" (ver. 160;) "Concerning your testimonies, I have known of old that you have founded them forever." (Ver. 152.)

All these and similar expressions with which the Psalm is filled show how the man of God hung upon the word as the prop of his soul in every trying hour. "When the enemy," we read, "shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him." (Isa. 59:19.) But how? Not in a visionary way—but by the word applied with power, and thus believed, pleaded, hung upon, and its fulfillment patiently expected.

But we must draw our Meditations to a close—not that the subject is exhausted, but because our limits warn us to restrain our pen.

It is not our intention to pursue the subject, at least not under its present form, but to close it with the closing year. We have not been able, indeed, to carry out our expressed intention, to show the aspect which the word bears to the world as well as to the Church, and what it will be in the hands and in the mouth of the great Judge to all who have heard it, but disbelieved or disobeyed it. Let it be sufficient for the present to quote the Lord's own words—"There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day." (John 12:48.)

And now what remains but for us to commend our Meditations on "The Authority and Power of the Word of God" to his most gracious disposal, in the prayerful hope that he who has magnified his word above all his name (Psalm 138:2) will attend with the unction of his grace our feeble attempt to set it forth in the light of Scripture and experience. And should he kindly condescend to bless it to any of his dear family, to him writer and reader will gladly unite in ascribing all the praise.