This week Thursday the church of Jesus Christ remembers one of the most glorious things that God has done for her: the Reformation of the sixteenth century. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany to object to the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. And God used that event to begin the Reformation of the church in which we were freed from the bondage of man unto the glorious gospel of God.
Those who take the Bible seriously will not celebrate October 31 as Halloween. Halloween began in a pagan and devilish superstition that on that night ghosts and goblins and demons were set free to roam on the earth. And it became a night for trick-or-treat, parties, vandalism, and other such nonsense. Those who take the Bible seriously, and by God’s wonderful grace are children of the Reformation, will not be celebrating Halloween, but will remember the Reformation of the church when God freed the church from the superstitions of men and brought them back to the glorious gospel of God as it is revealed in the Bible.
What did the Reformers believe? What did Martin Luther believe? What was behind that great movement of God in the church?
Jeremiah 23:29 expresses clearly one of the main points of faith taught by the Reformation. In this verse we read: “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” The church at that time (before the Reformation) was teaching that the Bible was not so important. That was not said in so many words, but it was said nevertheless. It was said, first of all, that the average person in the church could not understand the Bible. Only the priests could interpret the Bible. The common person was denied the Bible. In fact one of the Reformers, a man by the name of William Tyndale, was put to death because he printed the Bible in the English language in order that everyone might read it for himself.
Secondly, the church was saying that the Bible was not the final authority; it was not the sole rule in the church. The church’s traditions were above the Bible. The writings of the church fathers and of the pope himself had more authority than the Bible did. The church taught that there were many things which, even though the Bible did not teach them, were nevertheless true. They founded their faith upon the traditions of men.
The Reformers Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox overthrew that terrible lie and said that the Bible alone is the authority for the church. They said that the Bible is word for word the Word of God who cannot lie. Because it is word for word the Word of God who cannot lie, it must be believed in all that it teaches and obeyed in all that it commands. Especially the Reformers began to preach the Word of God, something which was almost unheard of in those days. Sometimes six or seven times a week Calvin and Luther and Knox would preach to their congregations the mighty Word of God. They believed that God’s Word was a fire and a hammer which was able to break down and melt hearts of unbelief and to build and preserve the church of God in the world.
And that is what we believe. The Reformed Witness Hour, which brings you this program, believes that the Word of God is like a fire and like a hammer, and that the truth of the Word of God is always thetruth which sets a person free.
Let me explain to you a little bit the situation of Jeremiah’s day to which this verse speaks. The situation was not unlike our day. In this chapter God gives one of the most scathing indictments against false prophets who were scattering His sheep. There had been a controversy between Jeremiah and the false prophets over the simple question, Will God punish sin, yes or no?
That question was couched in this question: Would Judah and Jerusalem be destroyed by Babylon which was threatening her, or would she be delivered by God? The false prophets said, No, she will not be destroyed but delivered. Jeremiah proclaimed, Yes, she will be destroyed and not delivered. But the real question behind it was: Will God actually punish sin? Is sin real? Is God just?
Jeremiah had been sent to the temple to prophesy the Word of the Lord. As he stood in the court of the Lord’s house, he said to all of the people, “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it because they have hardened their necks that they might not hear my words.” And it was for this that the false prophets put Jeremiah in stocks. In opposition to Jeremiah, the false prophets mounted their own pulpit and proclaimed a message which the people wanted to hear. We read in verse 17 of Jeremiah 23 that they said unto them that despise God, “The LORD hath said, Ye shall have peace; and they say unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you.” “You shall have peace,” they said, in the way of evil. “There will be no consequences for your sins. Nothing is going to happen to you.”
Understand that behind their message lies a concept of God. What were the false prophets saying about God? Their message made Jehovah to be a God who was tolerant of evil, a God who was less than purely holy and spotlessly righteous. What did their message say of His justice and of His righteousness? It made God out of the stuff of their own imagination, not a God who had revealed Himself through Jeremiah, the true prophets of His Word. Therefore God declares that He is the holy God, verses 23, 24: “Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.” That is the context.
And it is in that context that we see the intent of the words of our text. “Is not my word like a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” God is declaring that His Word is invincible, inviolate. It can never be rendered void. It can never be overthrown. Its power can never be stripped away. Even when it is despised by false prophets, even when false prophets appear to have the ascendancy and God’s true prophets are spoken against, even when the words of the false prophets are received by the people, even then God’s true Word remains irresistible in its power, will never be routed, will always accomplish its purpose.
That is the truth. That was the Reformation. And that is what we believe today.
You see, that is because the Bible is a divine Word, “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer?” The Bible is the Word that God Himself has spoken. It is the Word that comes from the almighty God and, therefore, it is divine. The prophet Jeremiah reminded God’s people of that. He reminded them that the Word that he spoke was from God and that to oppose it was to oppose God. To despise it was to despise God. He says in chapter 13:15, “Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud: for the LORD hath spoken.”
The origin of the Bible is not in man. The Bible is not man’s speech about God. Today it is put in high-sounding phrases, almost reverent-sounding phrases, by those who deny that the Bible is word for word the Word of God. There are many who say, “Well, the Bible relates to us the various encounters that men have had with God. And it has recorded the impressions that God left upon men in order that these impressions may filter down into our life.” That is a proud heresy! II Peter 1:19-21 tells us that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost so that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. It is God’s Word, emphatically! It is the Word that God Himself spoke through the servants whom He had called. He actually spoke and saw to it that His Word was written.
The Bible is not man’s speech about God.
But more. Not only is the Bible the Word which God has spoken, but it is the Word which God speaks about Himself. It is His Word. God is the subject: He does the speaking. And God is the object: He speaks about Himself. Whatever God has said in the Bible, and whatever the Bible is talking about, it always comes down in the deepest sense to a teaching about God, about who He is, about His essence, about His wonderful attributes, about His Son, about salvation, of His justice and His grace, His righteousness. It is about God. Scripture has one content, one theme: to give to us (and Jesus said this in John 17:3) the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ the Savior. God has only one thing to talk about: Himself. He is God. He is the wonderful one for what He has done. That is God’s Word. In the deepest sense, it is the Word that God has spoken, so that it is His Word, the absolute truth. And it is the Word that God has spoken about Himself.
So Jeremiah may say in verse 9 of chapter 23, “Mine heart within me is broken because of the prophets; all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome, because of the LORD, and because of the words of his holiness.” Jeremiah said, I shake like a skeleton blown in the wind. I swagger, I swoon. Why? Because of the Lord, because of the Word He has spoken, because I have been brought face to face with the Lord in His Word. The Bible is the Word of the living God.
That was the Reformation. That is the truth. And therefore the Word of God is a mighty power. It is a power which is able to destroy all those who would oppose it. It is a power which will accomplish the salvation of God’s church. There is nothing that can ever hinder, stop, or thwart the Word of God from accomplishing these purposes.
Stop and think about it. If it is God’s Word, then the Scriptures are a mighty power. Can anyone withstand God? Will someone stand up and thwart Him? So the point of this Word of God, when God says, “Is not my word like as a fire … and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” is that the Word of God is powerful. Or, we may say, efficacious. The word “efficacious” means “having the power to accomplish the desired effect.” God’s Word is the power whereby He accomplishes what He intends to do. Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
Despite false prophets who abound today and who muddy the water and cloud the air so that you begin to think, Well, nobody can know anymore the truth; despite all the forces of unbelief which are set against the Word of God and all the propaganda of men, “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” God’s Word is powerful! It will save the church. All who put their trust in that Word of God will never be ashamed. It is the power to crush and to consume all who would oppose the Word of God and reject the Word of God in their pride. God’s Word is the power.
“Is not my word like as a fire?” Fire represents the power to consume or to purify. Human flesh cannot stand before the blazing heat of fire. Men run from it. So God’s Word. For the godly, for His children, it is like a fire that purgeth and refines and purifies and removes the dross of our sins and strengthens us unto a godly life. For the ungodly, for those who reject the Word, it consumes and burns and leaves them in the ashes of their own condemnation. So is the Word of God. It is as a fire and like a hammer to break in pieces the rock, says Jeremiah.
A rock represents that which is unchangeable and unmovable in the creation. A hammer crushes the rock. So is God’s Word. To God’s children that Word comes and breaks down their natural rebellion, smashes their proud heart of sin, pierces and breaks the yoke of sin. The ungodly who set themselves against the Word of God, who shake their fist against God, who say that the Bible is not God’s Word, who say that it is just one word and there are many other words and many other truths – they all appear so immovable and so strong; but God’s Word will crush them, expose them, will leave them ripe for judgment. “Is not my word … like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” Will you not hearken, says Jeremiah? Will you not listen?
That was the faith of the Reformation. And that is why the Reformers preached the Word of God, because God’s Word is not a little power. It is not able to accomplish a few little things. It is not simply a few suggestions which are intended for the betterment of a few things. It does not trickle down here and trickle down there and do a few positive things in the life of men. God’s Word is all-conquering. God’s Word is invincible. God’s Word is irresistible. It always accomplishes the purpose for which God sends it – to save or to expose in damnation. It is doing that right now. Do you believe God’s Word? Do you embrace that Bible as word for word the Word of God? It is the power of God unto salvation to you! Do you set lightly by the Bible? Do you turn to the Bible in apathy? Do you deny that it is word for word His Word? Beware! Repent! Take warning. Heed. Believe the Word. It is as a fire and a hammer to break in pieces the rock.
Be faithful to the Word of God. Be committed to the Word of God.
That is the heritage of the Reformation. The heritage of the Reformation is that the church believes the power of the Word of God to accomplish God’s purpose and does not substitute its own power to accomplish those purposes and does not begin to deny the power of the Word of God by saying that the Bible is not God’s Word.
Much of the Protestant church, the church that has come from the Reformation, has sold its birthright at this point. Much of that church does not believe anymore that God’s Word is like a fire and like a hammer. So they begin to resort to gimmicks and tricks. They forsake the preaching of the Word of God and instead they try to make God’s Word relevant and up-to-date. They publish new versions of the Bible with racy covers – versions which are not faithful to the Scriptures. They say we must have something else. We are tired of hearing the Word of God. We need to have entertainment.
Beloved, hold to the faith. Scripture alone is the power and the authority of God unto salvation. Only the conviction that the Bible is God’s Word will make a person wise unto salvation. Then it is the light that shines into the darkness and it conquers. If ever there was a day that God’s people need to hear that God’s Word is a fire and a hammer, it is today.
Be faithful to that Word.
And bow before that Word in all humility, in humble dependence upon God. In all of your work in the home, church, and school, in your entire life, believe that it is the power of God unto salvation. And be humble before that Word. For God has spoken. Will you not listen? Let all the earth be silent before Him. His Word is going to accomplish the salvation of the church and the judgment of sin and unbelief. His Word is like a fire and like a hammer. His Word is invincible. Bow before that Word.
Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. To this man will I look, even to him that is of a poor and a contrite spirit and trembleth at My Word.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the glorious reformation of the church in which the church was restored to the faith that the Scripture alone is the authority, the Word of God. We pray that this faith may be written across our hearts every day and that we might walk in a humble trust and dependency upon the living and the abiding Word of God. Amen.