“That Book in Your Hand”
I’ve been writing at some length on my fourth sermon on Bibliology, on the doctrine of the preservation of the Scriptures. There are other things that could be said, particularly about how the doctrine applies to the area of study called “textual criticism.” I hope to have some things to say on that in the coming days, but I didn’t touch on it in the sermon I preached, and I would like to defer that discussion. It is an application of the doctrine, but there’s another application that is more important to most believers.
The preservation of Scripture is vital in the life of every believer, whether or not you’ve ever heard of “textual criticism.” When/if I discuss textual criticism, I’ll draw on the doctrine, but leaving it aside for now, I would like to summarise and close this discussion of preservation by looking at the Scripture passage with which I closed my sermon.
Sermons on the nature of the Bible:
- The inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16.
- The moving of the Spirit in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21.
- The inerrancy (complete reliability) of God’s Word.
- The preservation of God’s Word.
On this fourth sermon on the preservation of the Scriptures, I’ve written on the following:
- Indirect teaching of the doctrine of Scripture preservation.
- Direct Scriptural teaching of the doctrine.
- Biblical examples of Scripture preservation in action.
- When Copies Differ (1). Soteriology and pneumatology meet Bibliology.
- When Copies Differ (2). Ecclesiology joins the theological chorus.
“Thou Shalt Keep Them”
1 Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.
2 They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
3 The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:
4 Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?
5 For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the LORD; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.
6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
8 The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.
Psalm 12 discusses the plight of God’s people when surrounded by a wicked and lying people, who oppose and oppress them. This is the theme of the entire Psalm — that God’s people have many enemies, people of evil words, but He will arise.
I’ve put verses 6 and 7 in blue, because sometimes these verses are cited as a stand-alone statement of the Biblical doctrine of preservation, effectively thus: “God’s words are pure and He will preserve them.” But this gives rise to an important question. When we look at the entire context of Psalm 12, does “them” refer to God’s words, or to the people He is going to protect, the “godly” and “faithful”, the “poor” and the “needy” to whom He has referred earlier in the Psalm?
“Them” in Psalm 12:7
Hebrew grammar, at first glance, appears to link “them” to the “poor” and “needy” of verse five. Pastor Kent Brandenburg ably demonstrates (and my Hebrew grammar reference supports him) that the grammar certainly permits the alternate view. When I turn to context, though, I differ from his conclusions.
This is one of a series of Psalms which focus on the need of God’s people for deliverance from the wicked. The first and last verses of the Psalm fit this same theme, and I see no reason to view it differently from its neighbours.
Thus, I understand Psalm 12 as being primarily about God arising to deliver His people from the enemies around them. In such a context, verse seven refers to God’s protection of His people, and the grammar fits that view at least as well as the alternate view. God will keep and preserve His people.
Verse Six Belongs
So why did I conclude a sermon on Scripture preservation with this passage? As Pastor Brandenburg pointed out, the theme of contrasted words (the wicked’s words vs. God’s) is certainly present in the Psalm as well. Verse five, the hinge on which the entire Psalm turns, brings these two themes together — the plight of the godly, and the words of God. In response to the attack by lying words on His people, God arises and by pure words preserves them.
Verse six didn’t sneak into the text between verses five and seven by accident. It belongs right where God put it, because God’s words are the means by which He preserves His people. Perhaps a table will help to illustrate the contrast of “words” in the Psalm:
|Words of the Ungodly||God’s Words|
|Corrupt (Lying and Flattery)||Very Pure|
|Intended to Destroy||Intended to Preserve|
|Doomed to Destruction (v. 3)||Eternally Effective (v. 7)|
This Psalm is not only about God’s protection of His people, but also about how He will keep them — through His “very pure” words, pure as silver which has been purified in a furnace over and over again.
This is nothing new to those who have been reading this series. God’s Word is the means by which He saves and sanctifies His people. If He is going to preserve His people, He is going to do it by means of His pure words. Thus, Jesus said in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth.”
Psalm 12 directly teaches God’s preservation of His people, and indirectly teaches His preservation of His words. The logical progression:
- God says He will keep His people forever.
- God says He will keep His people by His “very pure” words.
- Therefore, God’s words must remain “very pure” forever to continue to do the work of preserving His people.
- Therefore, God’s promise to keep His people forever by His pure words is an indirect promise to preserve the purity of His words forever. If His words fail, the promise fails.
Psalm 12 is one of the most important passages on the preservation of Scripture precisely because the doctrine is taught indirectly. It is thus anchored firmly to what I believe is its most important application — God’s eternal, unfailing love as He cares for His people. He lovingly sees our need, He lovingly gave His perfect Word to meet that need, and His Word will not return void.
Charity never fails, and God’s preservation of His Word is a testimony to that fact. He did not have to preserve His Word on this earth for His benefit. He knew from all eternity what His words were going to be, and He will know them “when we’ve been there ten thousand years.” This would have been the case even if His words had perished from the earth forever. He preserved and is preserving and will preserve His Word, His very pure words, not for Him, but for us, because He loves us. It is the means and the guarantor of all that His love wants to accomplish in your life: your salvation, your sanctification, and your preservation.
Preservation is not a mere question of theory for theologians to debate. It is a testimony to God’s eternal love for you that will never, ever fail.
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
A pure Word of God is one of those “all things” that He freely gives. His love at the Cross is proof that He loves me enough to preserve for me a pure Word. When you can convince me that His love will fail, then you can convince me that His Word will fail. By that pure and holy Word, He who has begun a good work in me will complete that work (Philippians 1:6), lovingly accomplishing all His holy will in my life. This doctrine is mine and yours, to cherish, and to praise His love for us.