“For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
Regenerated, born again, and for the second time from above, and that by the Word of God which liveth and abideth for ever!
Of this the apostle wrote in the preceding verse, to which we called attention the last time.
This Word of God which liveth and abideth for ever, whereby we are born again, so we pointed out, is not to be identified with the Word of the gospel which is preached unto you. Though it is true that the Word of God is also preached, as our text for this time abundantly makes clear, there is a difference. The Word preached is neither living nor abiding; but the Word whereby we are regenerated is both. It is living because it quickens. It is abiding because God continues to speak it. It is the Word which God continues to speak through Christ, Who in Scripture is called the Word of God.
It is on this truth that the apostle elaborates in the words of our text. This the apostle does by first of all quoting a suitable passage from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, where Isaiah the prophet also contrasts the word of man with the abiding Word of God. Evidently the apostle is quoting from the translation of the Septuagint, and not literally from the Hebrew text. (Is. 40:6-8). Secondly, we notice that the apostle also shows that that eternal and abiding Word is preached. And finally, we notice how that that abiding Word which is preached brings that regeneration which is wrought in us to a conscious living experience.
All flesh is as grass!
When the apostle here, and the prophet Isaiah in his prophecy, speaks of flesh, and all flesh, he is not referring to flesh in general. Though, no doubt, all flesh in general is of a temporal nature, flesh in general is not especially referred to. In other words, the reference is not to vegetation, or to the flesh of creatures in general; but the flesh of man is compared here to grass. Plainly Isaiah asserts: “surely the people is grass.” And Peter declares: “And all the glory of man as the flower of grass.” It is plain, therefore, that the text as well as the commentary has in mind the creature—man, man, whose breath is in his nostrils, but who also, in distinction from the rest of creation, intelligently speaks.
The nature of grass and flesh is that it withereth and the flower of it falleth. If it is not blasted from without by the burning sun or drying wind, it dries up from within. All in a little while. Today it stands in green verdure upon the field. Tomorrow it is cast into the oven, and is no more. Such is also the nature of man. For a time he stands in the power of his strength. He appears to be some one to be reckoned with. But soon he is cut down. His power is diminished: His voice weakens, and he passes away. He returneth to his dust.
Because the nature of man is so temporal, it follows that his word is also temporary in nature. The word of man dies.
The point of comparison in the text is between the word of man and the Word of God. It should be clearly understood that implied in the comparison is more than a comparison between the eternal nature of God and the changing, fleeting nature of the creature. When the text speaks of the word of man in terms of its temporal nature, implied is also all human attempts for the salvation and the life of man and the world being as vain and futile as the word of man itself. Moreover, implied also is all the attempts of the flesh to counteract and oppose the Word and counsel of God as vain. And seen in this light, the contrast in the text becomes emphatically important in our day. It is doubtful whether there ever was a time that stresses more the power of humanism than today.
O, to be sure, it is true that man has always withstood, denied the Word of God, and attempted to replace God’s Word with his own, as he is by nature. But today this is most pronounced. Man seems to need no Word of the cross to save him. By human wisdom, philosophy, science, etc., man will save himself and the world. But the Word of God says: all flesh is grass, and its glory as the flower of grass that dies. Man’s wisdom and word cannot endure; neither can it make alive and save.
But the Word of the Lord endureth for ever!
Peculiarly the apostle uses the term “word” in the sense that he refers to the word as spoken. Scripture uses two words which are translated “word”; but there is a difference in their meaning. The one refers to the word as the term denoting the idea, the reason of the word. The other denotes the expression of the word. It is the latter term which the apostle uses. God not only has an idea or reason which He conceives in His mind or counsel, but He also gives expression to it. He declares it.
That God’s Word endures for ever, is difficult to explain, simply because it is most difficult to express the idea of eternity. There is really no word for eternity in our temporal language. Eternity is a concept which naturally lies beyond our comprehension. The most we can say is that eternity is not time. It is this idea that the terms: eternal, forever, and everlasting mean to imply. The point here is that the Word of the Lord never ends. He keeps on expressing it, while the word of man is like all flesh – it dies. It is upon this abiding, this eternal Word of God, that regeneration depends. So understood, regeneration also abides forever.
That enduring Word of God is also preached!
Necessary it is in our day to ask the questions: What is preaching? and who is the preacher? Our day is characterized by gross ignorance relative to the preacher and his mission. In the thinking of many anyone can be a preacher. Not only men, but also women, and even children. And because men aspire to the sensational, even the dumb creature, as the horse, is used in the preaching service, which has been trained to stamp rhythmically with his front hoofs the words of a text from Scripture. Societies, institutions, and even business associations hire, prepare, and send out preachers. And today the mission of the preacher seems to be a far cry from what Scripture understands by his mission. Preachers are hired as professionals to draw crowds. They are given huge salaries to entertain, and by emotional carryings on are expected to sway the multitudes. Many make better acrobats and circus performers than ministers of the Word. And in many instances a “good sermon” is nothing more than a forty-five minute play on the emotions.
In the light of this, it is well to ask the questions: What is a preacher? and What is his mission?
A preacher is a man through whom it pleases Christ, the Chief Prophet, to speak His Word. If Christ does not speak to you through the one who calls himself a preacher, you have no preacher. The preacher is an ambassador of Christ, and sent by Him through His church. As an ambassador has no right or authority to speak his own word, so no ambassador of Christ comes authoritatively with his own word. He is one who declares with authority: Thus saith the Lord. And the word which he brings is only the infallible Word of God in the Scriptures.
It follows then that the preacher is one who is sent. He must be officially commissioned to bring Christ’s Word. And this commission comes to him by Christ through His church. The apostles were sent out directly by Christ, while ministers, preachers, are sent out indirectly by Christ through the church.
As important as it is to understand properly the significance of the preacher and his mission, so also it is of prime significance to understand the significance of preaching. Faith, that is, the activity of faith and the experience of salvation depend on the preaching. Not on Bible reading or instruction, good and important though they be, but on the lively preaching of God’s Word do faith and salvation depend. It is with this in mind that the apostle Paul asks the questions: How shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent? And the conclusion is: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.
Now the text informs us that the abiding Word of God is preached.
Preaching is here the means whereby we come into contact with the living and abiding Word. To be noted here is the fact that the apostle in the original text does not say: which is preached UNTO you, as the translation has it. This would mean that it preached in your direction. This is, of course, true in itself. The Word must be directed unto you, shall you hear it. But this is not precisely what the apostle says. Neither does he say: which is preached AMONG you. But emphatically the original text declares: which is preached INTO you. That is, the Word which is preached penetrates into you, so that you hear it not only with your physical senses, but spiritually in your heart. The preaching of the Word, in other words, brings you into contact with the living and abiding Word which God never ceases to speak, that almighty, creative, regenerative Word whereby we are saved.
Thus understood, you can also understand how that preaching of the Word is the Divine instrument to bring that life of regeneration in us to a living consciousness. The seed of regeneration is implanted in us immediately, that is, without means. God simply speaks and we are made alive from the dead. We have the resurrection life of Christ implanted in our hearts by this living and abiding Word of God. And that seed of new life is incorruptible seed. Mysteriously and wonderfully God speaks, and that new life in seed form is implanted in our hearts. So we possess the life of regeneration below our consciousness. So we are born again, not of corruptible seed, such as that of which I am born the first time physically; but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. But that seed of new life God does not allow to lie dormant in me. He keeps it alive through His abiding Word, which He continues to speak.
Through the preaching of the gospel God brings that seed of new life into conscious existence in me. That preaching is as the rain and sunshine upon the seed implanted in the soil; it evokes the seed of new life into living consciousness, so that subjectively I know that I am born again from above. So He by the preaching brings me into living contact with the living Word He continues to speak.
So the preaching of the gospel is the chief means of grace. Not the Sacraments, but the preaching of the Word is the chief means.
Were that Word not preached, we could have no living contact with the abiding Word. But God graciously causes that Word to be expressed in the lively preaching of His Word, and He providentially brings me under that preaching so that I hear it, not only with my ears, but in the inner recesses of my heart. And the life of regeneration whence is the life and activity of believers in Christ, becomes a conscious, living reality in us.
Thanks be unto God for the living and abiding Word whereby I am made alive from the dead!
And thanks be unto His holy Name for the preaching of the gospel, whereby I am consciously made partaker of the life of Christ Jesus my Lord!