The Two-Edged Scalpel of God (Part 1)

The Two-Edged Scalpel of God
(Part 1)

David J. MacLeod

Dr. David J. MacLeod is a member of the faculty of Emmaus Bible College, Dubuque, Iowa.

The second part of this choice study will appear in the next issue of “Food for the Flock” (D.V.).


A Christian Role Model

One of the greatest Christians of the 19th century was George Muller of Bristol, England. As a young man Muller had often been penniless and in debt; he had even stolen money from his father. But at the age of 20 he received Christ as his Savior and came to be known as a great man of faith. Without asking anyone except God for money Mr. Muller raised millions and built orphanages for the homeless and parentless children of England’s streets.

At the age of 23 through the help of some Brethren Bible teachers he became grounded in the basic doctrines of Scripture. The essential doctrine, Muller came to believe, was the supreme authority of the Bible.

Everything he had learned at the University of Halle, every book he studied, every move or decision he made - all were tested in the light of Scripture. Mr. Muller’s counsel to young Christians was this: “First of all, it is of the utmost importance that we regularly read through the scripture.”1

A Pattern Among Great Christians

As we read accounts of the outstanding believers in each age of church history we find that all of them were people of faithful prayer and the study of God’s Word. The Bible is God’s means of leading us to Christ and helping us grow in Christ. We will not make progress on the Christian pathway without God’s Word.

Of John Bunyan someone said, “Prick him anywhere and you will find that his blood is bibline; the very essence of the Bible flows through him.” In 1956 Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians in Equador, was martyred by those whom he was seeking to reach. His wife Elisabeth later wrote these words, “It was Marcus Aurelius who said, ‘A man’s thoughts dye his soul.’ Constant dwelling in the words of the Lord dyed Jim’s soul.”2

A Tragic Neglect of the Word

Safe passage through the wilderness of life is accomplished by the living, effective and penetrating work of the Word of God. In light of this central place of Scripture in Christian progress, the tragic fact is that many who profess to know Christ allow their Bibles to gather dust on the shelf.

Why is this so? It is because, as James wrote (1:22-25), the Scriptures are like a mirror. As we read them we not only learn of God, but of ourselves as well. The Bible exposes us to all of the ugliness of our sinful condition. So, we turn away; we refuse to look. “There is that in each one of us which dislikes the light.”3

There is not a Christian anywhere who would like his or her mind’s inner closet opened. We get uncomfortable at the thought of the secret places of our thoughts being exposed. Even with our closest friends there are subjects not to be touched; questions not to be asked. As with Adam in Eden, so with mankind today, says Harry Cotton, “one of the driving forces of men is the impulse… to escape the notice of God.”4

The Importance of Heeding Scripture

Yet, we must face the mirror, and as we do we shall see our true position before God. We shall learn what kind of Christians we really are.

This, at least, is the lesson of Hebrews 4:11-13. In this great passage we are reminded that the Bible is important because it is the Word of God. “The Word of God is personified here, and endowed with all the attributes of God Himself, with whom it is identified in vs. 13.”5 As God’s Word it is living, it is no dead letter. It must be heeded; it must not be trifled with.6 This section may be outlined as follows: the imperative of diligence (v. 11), the means of diagnosis (v. 12) and the certainty of judgment (v. 13).

The Imperative of Diligence

In context the author is warning his readers of the danger of missing out on God’s “rest” (Heb. 4:1, 11). By “rest” the author means “the world to come” (2:5), the “heavenly country” (11:16), “the city of God” (11:10; 12:22; 13:14), the “promised land” (11:9) and the “kingdom of Christ” (1:8) towards which all of God’s people journey as pilgrims in this present life.

The author is concerned about unreality in the life of some of his readers. He fears that although most of them appear to be believers, albeit immature ones (cf. 3:1; 5:11-14), a few lack genuine faith and are therefore in danger of “falling away from the living God” (3:12; cf. 4:2) and missing out on God’s “rest” (4:1-10) .

For the author of Hebrews the condition for entering “rest” is faith in the promise of God (4:2), the good news of forgiveness through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ (10:1-18). The evidence of reality is persevering or enduring in the faith until the end (3:6). To paraphrase Jonathan Edwards, the sure proof of salvation is perseverance unto the end.

The author does not view this present life as a time of rest. Rather, it is a time for perseverance. “Let us be diligent,” he says (4:11). This expresses the seriousness and concern we owe God’s Word. Unconcern caused the Israelites in the wilderness to die in the wilderness and miss out on the land of Canaan (3:7-12; 4:1-10), and it may be evidence that some who may profess Christ might ultimately fail to enter “rest.”

One of the great Christians in the early 1800’s was Charles Simeon who ministered in England to students at Cambridge University. He had a young protege named Henry Martyn, who went as a missionary to India. Seven short years later, after translating the New Testament into Urdu and Persian, Henry Martyn died. Charles Simeon was sent a portrait of his beloved friend, and he hung it over his mantelpiece. When friends visited, Simeon would point to the portrait and say, “There! See that blessed man! What an expression of countenance! No one looks at me as he does—he never takes his eyes off me; and seems always to be saying, ‘Be serious—be in earnest—Don’t trifle.’ And I won’t trifle—I won’t trifle.”7

But what of the triflers who first read this epistle, most of whom were immature and dull in the faith (5:11-14) and some of whom may have had no genuine faith at all? They are simply warned that God is not to be trifled with; His Word cannot be ignored without serious consequences. It must be received in faith and be obeyed daily.8 If this response is not true of us, then we may be like the wilderness generation which fell in unbelief.

What about today’s reader who considers himself or herself dull, immature and soulsick? The answer of our text is that he or she must give serious attention to the Word of God. James would tell him or her to look intently into God’s mirror. Hebrews uses another metaphor.

The author of this epistle says that he or she must submit to the Word as to a physician’s diagnostic probe or scalpel. The Word of God will effectively diagnose our condition and bring blessing to those who receive it in faith and judgment upon those who reject it.9

1 G. Muller, “Stick to the Word of God,” Counsel (Nov., 1987), p. 14. On the life of Muller, cf. R. Steer, George Muller: Delighted in God (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1981).

2 Cf. R.M. Horn, The Book That Speaks for Itself (London: Inter Varsity, 1969), p. 115. Elisabeth Elliot’s remarks are found in Shadow of the Almighty (New York: Harper & Row, 1958), p. 52.

3 J. Harry Cotton, “Exposition of Hebrews,” in The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. G.A. Bujttrick (New York: Abingdon, 1952-57), 12 vols., 11:635.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 N.R. Lightfoot, Jesus Christ Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976), p. 98.

7 H.E. Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 149.

8 F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eeedmans, 1964), p. 80.

9 Ibid.