God's Word: Sweet And Bitter

Henry Allan Ironside

"And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter" (Revelation 10:8-10).

Now, what are we to understand by these verses? You will recall that a similar experience was given to the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3). He, too, was called upon to "eat the book." And the lesson in both instances is the same. It is only as we feed upon and digest the Word of God, that we ourselves are nourished and built up in the truth of our most holy faith, and in a right condition of soul to use that Word for the help and instruction of others.

David said, "Thy Word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee" (Psalm 119:11). And again, "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom" (Psalm 51:6). This, I take it, is what John's experience illustrates. He was commanded to eat the little book that was in the angel's hand, that is, to meditate upon it, to make it thoroughly his own. Someone has said that meditation, in these busy days of ours, is a lost art. Would to God it were restored, and that His people, generally, were more given literally to feed upon His truth. For it is not only that God would have John and Ezekiel eat the book, he wants you to eat it likewise. He has given it to you who believe on His Son, to be the food of your own souls, to make you fit to serve Him in this scene.

John tells us that when the book was in his mouth it was very sweet, but when he had eaten it his inward parts were made bitter. This is most instructive. There is no sweeter portion in all Scripture than that which God has revealed concerning the manifestation of His blessed Son. Prophetic truth is generally sweet and attractive to those whose interest is just being awakened in it. But, if followed up, if the book is really eaten, it leads to self-judgment, and to separation from evil, and this will always be bitter; for there is not one of us who readily takes the place that God's Word would put him in during this period of Christ's rejection. And so the point here is that God's truth makes demands. If you conscientiously undertake to walk in the truth revealed, you too will know something of its bitterness. You cannot enjoy things that you used to enjoy, if you receive the prophetic testimony, and walk in the power of what is revealed there. As the great divine program unfolds before your mind, it may be very interesting, and, in this sense, the book is sweet; but, as great divine principles enter your hearts, and you realize more and more the call to strangership in this Satan-controlled scene, the truth becomes bitter indeed, and it makes demands upon you.

How many a soul has greatly enjoyed his first taste of instruction as to the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ! It was all so new, so wonderful, so different to the platitudes perchance that he had heard before. But as this truth got a grip upon him, as it entered into his innermost being, he found it made demands from which he shrank, and required of him what at first he felt he could not give. It was bitter, truly; yet it is not always the sweet things that are best for us. We need the bitter as well as the sweet; and every soul who has walked in the truth, as God has revealed it to him, has found, at last, the blessedness of obedience. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).

It is a very sad thing indeed, when truth is simply held in the intellect, with no particular bearing upon the life. The apostle John tells us, speaking of the second coming of the Lord, "Every man that hath this hope in Him, purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3). It is a truth that should affect the believer at every angle of his life. Anyone who really believes it cannot afterwards live for self or for the world. If one professes to believe in the second coming of Christ, and yet lives like the world, it but evidences the fact that, whatever he may hold mentally, the truth of the Lord's coming does not hold him. That truth believed, makes carnal Christians spiritual; it makes worldly people heavenly; it makes covetous people generous; it makes careless people earnest.

And so I want to be very frank with you. If you do not desire to let this truth have its sway over your lives, it might be better to cease studying the Bible, for all God's truth has been made known for the obedience of faith. And I am certain of this, that these truths are going to change the lives of some people completely, or they will harden them in their waywardness, and be the means of searing their consciences as with a hot iron.