“The Word of God Is Alive and Exerts Power”
“THE pen is mightier than the sword.” In one form or another that sentiment has been expressed by more than one well-known figure of history, Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin being among that number. In the exact form here given these words appear in Bulwer-Lytton’s play about Cardinal Richelieu, who was an astute and crafty French statesman and prince of the church of Rome in the first half of the seventeenth century.
However, modern totalitarian governments have tried hard to prove that the sword of persecution as exercised by them is mightier than the pen. By stifling freedom of speech, of press and of religion they have almost succeeded in proving their point. Almost, but not quite, for there has ever been at least one notable exception. And what is that? The inspired Pen, the Bible, the Word of God.
Yes, totalitarian governments have been able to bind men, but the inspired Word of God they have been unable to restrain or bind. (2 Tim. 2:9) As the inspired writer of the Bible book of Hebrews well states: “The word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, . . . and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.”—Heb. 4:12.
Why is this Word of God so alive, so powerful? Because it is the very essence of truth and because its penmen were filled with the spirit or active force of the Creator, Jehovah God, the omnipotent One. Its words are truly spirit and life, even as God’s Son, Jesus Christ, said. (John 6:63) Those who drink in the words of truth found in the Bible with open minds and honest hearts are bound to receive some of God’s powerful active force or spirit. Further, that Word of God imparts faith to those who receive it in good and honest hearts; a faith that enables them to do many valiant and mighty works. (Hebrews, chapter 11) More than that, the Word of God imparts strength to truth-hungry and open-minded readers by its very honesty and candor as well as by its emphasis on righteous principles. It also imparts strength for righteousness by its revelation of the all-wise, all-mighty and perfectly just Creator, the one who, above all others, is the proper object of fear.
Among the many ways that the Word of God has shown itself to be alive and to exert power has been by its giving human creatures strength and zeal for the doing of the service, the ministry of Jehovah God, namely, to “preach the word.” And it has enabled them to do this in spite of bitter opposition, empowering them to continue faithful until death.—2 Tim. 4:2, 7, 8.
A striking example of its power was furnished some 2,500 years ago by the faithful Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. His was a very unpopular message to give, and being opposed, ridiculed and persecuted, he became weary on one occasion and decided he would no longer bear witness to his God. But was he able to desist? What does the record state? “In my heart it proved to be like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I got tired of holding in, and I was unable to endure it.” He simply had to go on preaching. The word that Jehovah God had given him was that powerful.—Jer. 20:9.
EXAMPLE OF EARLY CHRISTIANS
The same was true of the servants of Jehovah God who became Christians, Christ’s followers. The Word of God caused them to become active workers, zealous preachers of the gospel or good news, and they proved that Word more powerful than the sword of persecution. Thus when the apostles were seized and haled into court and commanded no longer to preach about Jesus Christ, they fearlessly replied: “Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.”—Acts 4:19, 20.
Shortly thereafter the apostles were again apprehended and this time beaten as well as ordered to stop preaching. Did this cause them to desist? What does the record show? “These, therefore, went their way from before the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonored in behalf of his name. And every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.” (Acts 5:40-42) Yes, though flogged and ordered to stop preaching, they continued “without letup” to preach.
Neither did the sword of persecution prove mightier than the inspired Pen, the Word of God, when, sometime later, the Christians in Jerusalem were cruelly persecuted, scattering them abroad. No, for “those who had been scattered went through the land declaring the good news of the word.”—Acts 8:4.
Likewise in the case of the apostle Paul and the Christian congregation he founded at Thessalonica. As Paul himself testifies: “The good news we preach did not turn up among you with speech alone but also with power and with holy spirit and strong conviction . . . The fact is, . . . in every place your faith toward God has spread abroad, so that we do not need to say anything.” No question about the Word of God as preached by Paul being alive and exerting power.—1 Thess. 1:5-9.
HUMAN TRADITIONS DO NOT GIVE POWER
In striking contrast to the inspired and powerful Word of God stand the traditions of men that conflict with the Bible. They do not impart such power, they are not based on truth, they are not filled with God’s holy spirit. Concerning them Jesus Christ once stated: “You make the word of God invalid by your tradition which you handed down.” (Mark 7:13) It follows that those who are fed on tradition instead of the Word of God would lack the power and zeal that the Word of God gives.
Proof of this in modern times is furnished by the very ones who adhere to the traditions of men, an example being furnished by the prolific and popular Roman Catholic writer William J. Whalen. In one of his most recent publications, Jehovah’s Witnesses (1965), which has the imprimatur of C. F. O’Donnell, J.C.D. Administrator, Archdiocese of Chicago, he, among other things, states: “Fr. Omer Degrijse, C.I.C.M., superior general of the Immaculate Heart of Mary missionaries, declared recently that the major problem of the Church everywhere is the passive outlook of lay people. ‘Only 5 percent of the members of the Catholic Church are actively engaged in an apostolic work,’ he said. ‘These are the priests, the religious [monks and nuns], and the few lay apostles of Catholic Action.’ The head of the Sheut Fathers said the real problem of the Church in every country and every parish is how to awaken the 95 percent to their responsibility of spreading the word of God in their own sphere of influence. They do not recognize this responsibility now. As a result . . . the Church has become an army composed solely of officers without soldiers.” After commenting on the zeal of Jehovah’s witnesses, Mr. Whalen goes on to say: “If other Catholics feel as I do, they dread the thought of spending even a few hours every few years calling on fellow Catholics for some fund drive.”
But this is not surprising when we note that this same lack of power, of zeal, courage and conviction reaches all the way up to the top of this religious organization. Thus there is also Roman Catholic writer Nerin E. Gun, who speaks of himself as “a good Catholic, raised by the Brothers and educated in part by the Catholic University in Paris.” In his book, The Day of the Americans (1966), which deals with his experiences in the German Dachau concentration camp, he has the following to say about the record of Pope Pius XII in relation to Hitler and the Nazis: “What could the Pope do? He could at least have abstained. He might have refused to sign concordats with Fascist Italy and Hitlerite Germany. He could have excommunicated both of their dictators as in olden times he had excommunicated emperors (remember Canossa).*
“It has been said that the Catholic clergy suffered tremendously. This is true—but exactly what proportions? For each anti-Nazi priest, how many were there who collaborated with the regime and tolerated it? . . . It is said that the Supreme Pontiff, by unequivocally opposing Hitler, would have only provoked more cruel oppressions. That is not proved by any means. It would have been difficult for Hitler to have been more pitiless than he was. What would he have done? Burn the corpses of the Jews a second time? Besides, fear of reprisals has never been a valid excuse for not doing one’s duty. After all, if all of us had kept our arms crossed [Gun was a neutral who landed in Dachau’s concentration camp because of his honest and fearless reporting] so as not to expose our families, our friends and our possessions, there would have been no Resistance, no partisans, no counteraction of any sort.” And that is said by a Catholic writer intensely loyal to his Church, as appears from elsewhere in his book.
From the foregoing it is clear that religious traditions do not make men and women, clergy and laity, strong, zealous and fearless. Traditions are not more powerful than the sword of persecution.
THE WORD OF GOD STILL POWERFUL
That the Word of God is just as alive and powerful today as it was in apostolic times is proved by the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. They stand foursquare upon the Bible, and as Mr. Whalen observes, the Witnesses “set aside time to read the Bible,” as well as for reading “The Watchtower and Awake! magazines, tracts and books,” all of which are based on the Bible. He further testifies: “Even those who are most critical of the Witnesses can hardly deny that the Witness usually exhibits a complete commitment to his religion; this is one of the things I like about Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are Witnesses who are physicians and farmers, housewives and architects, day laborers and teachers; but if they are dedicated Witnesses they know that their first allegiance is to Jehovah.” “I can assure you that most Witnesses have to struggle to overcome the same shyness, sensitivity, and inertia which would face any of us who were asked to tramp door to door trying to interest neighbors and strangers in our religion. That most Witnesses persist in this gruelling work year after year is something which I must admire.” “Each Witness—man or woman, adult or child—knows he must become an active missionary.” Yes, the Word of God is alive and exerts power in our day even as it did in Bible times.
And these Bible-oriented Christians manifest this zeal in spite of bitter opposition and persecution, even as the early Christians did. Thus Mr. Gun says about his experience in the Dachau concentration camp: “I would like to be able to say there had been nothing but heroes in the Lager [Camp] but that, unfortunately, would not be true. We were a heterogeneous group. Among us there were some of everything: Communists, members of the underground, criminals, anarchists . . . and the admirable Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . The members of Jehovah’s Witnesses, it must be said, showed such courage, daring, virtue and stoicism in adversity that they deserve a special salute. They were rocks in a sea of mud.”
“Rocks in a sea of mud”? “Deserve a special salute”? Why? Because of the powerful Word of God that was in their hearts.
And some twenty years later we find the witnesses of Jehovah making the same record in other lands. As the 1967 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses shows, in the past year they have suffered persecution in upward of twenty lands, among the most bitter being that experienced by them in Portugal and Cuba.
How do these Witnesses respond to such treatment? Even as did the apostles of old. The Yearbook gives some of the statements of those in concentration camps in Cuba: “We are not downhearted. We will reply with Paul’s words: ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Jesus.’ Pray for us as we pray for you.” And wrote one to his wife: “They say that we are not going to be sent to prison, that either we become soldiers or we go to the cemetery. So be faithful and pray for us.”
Yes, the Word of God is truly alive and exerts power. It proves itself to be mightier than the sword of persecution. It is beneficial for many things, especially to enlighten one as to the course of righteousness and then to empower one to follow that course. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) So read your Bible daily, read it in faith, ask God to help you to understand it and to apply what you read to your daily life. And should you want further assistance in your efforts to understand it, Jehovah’s witnesses, who have so greatly profited from it, stand ready to assist you.
Where Pope Gregory VII let an excommunicated German emperor stand for several days in the cold of winter in a penitent’s shirt, begging forgiveness.