Warm Christian greetings. It should be noted that we as Christians never strive to attack. We strive for the Truth rather than against people—and there lies the big difference. We have determined to actively resist and teach against any false doctrines that are deceiving those among the Lord’s people. Doing so presents us with a unique problem. When a person (specifically elders or study leaders) teaches a false concept or doctrine, it rarely has anything to do with himself. Generally, the heresy can be clearly singled out and countered without having to necessarily address the brother who teaches it. For instance, if someone denies the “ransom for ‘ALL'” or teaches that the Lord is not present, or rejects the restoration of Israel or even Pastor Russell as “that Servant”, it’s easy to counter such claims with the Truth, without attacking the particular men teaching these errors. But consider! What if the heresy is inseparable from who and what a brother says that he is? What if the matter is also at the core of who a Christian worships? Do we say, ‘I can’t dispel this kind of false teaching because if I do I would also attack its author’? The reasoning might continue, ‘I know that this brother is deceiving thousands, but I can’t address his error, or try to help those he is deceiving, because I would also be attacking him, not just his heresy.’ The problem could go further. If a brother claimed to be a special servant of God, must we give him a ‘free pass’ because, in dispelling such an outrageous idea, we would also appear to be attacking the brother making the claim? What if someone stated that God had revealed to him that he was a special messenger? Can we not question—prove—him? What if he asserted himself to be Christ? The question looms even larger. You see the point? Consider when Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, did he attack them? No! God inspired Isaiah to ‘Cry aloud and spare not!…Show My people their sins!’ (58:1). We are doing just that—and it will soon be evident that one of the greatest sins the brethren are committing lies at the heart of watering down the Harvest Message. We are under no illusion. This website will evoke attacks against us personally. However, as consecrated Christians, we strive to lay down our lives for the Lord and the Truth. Our my job and YOUR JOB, is to help the brethren and other Truth-seekers. If we can help even one, even at some personal expense, it is well worth it!
“In the last days perilous times shall come; men shall be traitors, heady,…lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.”– 2 Timothy 3:4.
THE expression, “the last days,” or the latter days, the closing days, refers, not to the end of the world in the sense that many expect this event, but is a Scriptural designation of the present time, the end of this Age, when the Reign of Righteousness is about to begin. We are glad to be living now in this Harvest time! “The Harvest is the end of the Age.” (Matthew 13:39. –Diaglott.) The warning given by the Apostle is that, instead of the world’s being Christianized and converted to God at this time, the reverse condition will prevail. It will be a time of great peril– peril to the Lord’s people–peril for those who have started out to follow Christ. However, it will not be so much a perilous time for the world.
The only ones who are on trial for life or death are those who have been released from the Adamic condemnation. To these the time described by St. Paul will be one of severe testing. The whole course of the world will be turned aside from the high standard that might have been expected. Men will be traitors. As long as it will be of advantage to them to perform a contract they will do so; when not advantageous they will not fulfil the contract. It will be a time when every man’s hand will be lifted against his neighbor. Selfishness will be rampant. Each will do what will be to his own interest, regardless of obligation. There will be manifest headiness and selfishness and self-conceit. Men will be “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” This condition is to be a sign of the end of the Age.
Every thoughtful person must perceive that this condition of things is prevailing now. Whenever a contract is found to be unsatisfactory–whether it be a marriage contract or a business contract–the dissatisfied contractor is liable to break the agreement. This party to the contract then assumes the attitude of one who declares, Force me to keep it if you can. The Lord’s people will keep their word and be firm for principle and true to their contracts, even when these prove disadvantageous to them. This attitude is pleasing to the Lord.
PREVALENCE OF THESE CONDITIONS UNIVERSAL
We find headiness of spirit in the world everywhere –a loss of respect for authority. No doubt there has been too much respect for authority in the past. Now the pendulum is swinging to the other side, and there is no respect for authority. This condition has been brought about by a lack of reverence for God–the inevitable result of loss of faith in the Bible as the Word of God. As people lose faith in the Bible, they lose faith in God, and become more selfish and more self-willed. This condition of affairs has been brought about by false doctrine, error. People think that God is their Adversary, purposing to do them harm.
The Higher Critics have been seeking to put away what they have considered the absurdities of religious thought, and to this end have done away with the Bible. Bible students see that the absurdities have been brought about by the creeds and not by the Bible. But the world, losing confidence in God, are becoming more heady than ever before. Even the reverential fear which once held them is departing, and there is a disposition to doubt everything. People are in the condition of mind where they say, “Let us eat, drink and be merry”; nobody knows about the future; the preachers are all confused. Everything has come about by evolutionary processes. Let us enjoy the present. Let pleasure be our aim in life. This would seem to be the attitude of the world. They are lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.
WORLDLY SPIRIT IN SOME OF THE CONSECRATED
These conditions of our day make it a perilous time for the Church. Do you ask, Would not the Church, on the contrary, be more than ever led to love God? And would this not guard them and keep them from danger? We answer that some of God’s people are becoming more and more immersed in the world. The spirit of the world surges all around them. With great difficulty could these come to realize that the whole world is astray in their ideas and ways. The tendency of all such is to have the mind of the world, even though they be spirit-begotten.
This worldly spirit, the Apostle suggests, would affect the Church to some extent. Consequently some of the Lord’s people would thus come into special peril at this time, because of neglecting their Covenant with the Lord. Others would remember that Covenant, and watch and pray, and so make good progress. Those who are living close to the Lord are, for this reason, developing in mind and heart. But these are few.
The Great Company class, while still loving the Lord, are becoming immersed in the spirit of the world. Even those who are living nearest to the Divine standard will be more or less imperiled through this spirit, unless they continue diligent in prayer and the study of God’s Word. What we see going on about us seems natural to our minds. The way in which other people spend time and money is a temptation to the Lord’s people which must be steadfastly resisted.
A SUBTLE TEST
The Lord’s people spend and are being spent in His service–by volunteer work, by attending meetings, by holding meetings and in various ways, according to opportunity. They are living separate from the world– distinct lives, lives of consecration. The world now has an eight-hour day. The Lord’s faithful people would, on the contrary, make theirs a sixteen-hour day. But all these present-day conditions constitute perils. For us to do what others do, and to devote to the Lord’s service only what the world considers a reasonable day’s work, would not be fulfilling our Covenant of Sacrifice at all. Those who seek merely to do right, and to put in eight hours or so a day faithfully, after the manner of the world, will be judged from this standpoint; and they will merely obtain a place in the Great Company. They are not fulfilling the conditions of the Covenant of sacrifice.
But the Little Flock will serve the Lord with such delight that they will scarcely know how to cease their efforts. They recognize that their bodies are fully consecrated to the Lord, and they are daily putting them to death in a reasonable, rational manner. In view of these perilous times, let us each ask himself the question, To which class do I belong?
“The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister“– Matthew 20:28.
THE Master was impressing upon His hearers the difference between Himself and other great kings. He had come to be King of Israel, in fulfilment of Scripture prophecy. Unlike earthly rulers He was not seeking to learn how much He could get out of the people, but how much He could do for the people. He was not selfish. He was not trying to see how little He could serve and how much others could serve Him; but on the contrary, how little others might do for Him and how much He could do for others. And this is His expectation in respect to His followers. He and His disciples, called with a Heavenly Calling, called to a Heavenly Kingdom, are not called to be selfish or to appropriate honors to themselves for their own gratification; but they are called to service–especially to the service of the people of God. This is the true meaning of the word minister; namely, one who serves.
It is especially appropriate that all who are followers of the Lord Jesus should remember that we have each been called to service; and that those who are ministering in spiritual things, those who are especially known by the name of “minister,” should bear in mind that theirs is an office which calls for service, not to themselves, but to others; and that they have consecrated their lives thus to serve. Our Lord entered upon His ministry at His consecration. Of His life previous to His baptism at Jordan, the Scriptures say very little, so that the more attention may be attracted to His three and a half years of ministry in the Truth, when He was laying down His life for others–for His friends and also for His foes.
The same is true of all His followers. Our ministry begins at the time of our consecration. We are not authorized to minister, or serve, in holy things until we have entered upon the way which the Lord has pointed out to us. We are not today, however, obliged to wait until we have reached the age of thirty before we begin our ministry; but at as early an age as we can comprehend what we are engaging to perform, we may give our lives to the Lord and to the service of the Truth and of the brethren. This is because we are not under the Law covenant.– Romans 3:19.
ONLY A SON OF MAN COULD SERVE AS RANSOMER OF MAN
Our Lord speaks of Himself as the Son of Man, who came to “minister, and to give His life a Ransom for many.” He was indeed the Son of God, even while He was the Son of Man. The perfect man Adam, before his fall into sin, was a son of God. Our Lord in calling Himself the Son of Man was emphasizing the fact that He was no longer on the spirit plane, but on the human plane. He came to earth for a specific purpose–as He explained, to minister, to serve. He could not have done the necessary service for man as a spirit being. The requirement was that He should become a man in order to ransom mankind. He could ransom man only by becoming man. He could purchase life for the perfect Adam and the race who lost life in him only by becoming a perfect man.
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a man’s life for a man’s life,” was the demand of the Divine Law. Adam had sinned, and must be redeemed before he could be restored, either physically, mentally, or morally, or could be returned to God’s favor. Jesus had come to make possible this full restoration. His life was devoted to the service of others, and He completed this great service in His death on the cross. Throughout His earthly sojourn He gave us a noble example of the proper life of those who would be followers in His footsteps.
OUR SERVICE PARTICULARLY FOR THE NEW CREATION
Many misunderstand the Bible and think that now is the time to save the world. Hence they are spending all their time and energies to comfort and uplift humanity. They are indeed engaged in laudable efforts; for every good work or effort is to be commended. But to those who are rightly informed respecting the Divine Plan there is another, a far higher work, to be done now. The work of God in the present Age has not been the reformation of the world, but the development of the New Creation. This work is not yet fully completed. If we would work the work of God, our works must relate to the New Creation preeminently. We may do good unto all men as we have opportunity, as the Apostle says, but especially are we to serve the Household of Faith.
Jesus was in line for this work of ministry. Although there were no New Creatures as yet, while He was here in the flesh, His work was to prepare for these New Creatures. His work was the gathering out of some who would be faithful footstep followers of Himself, and the laying down of His life on their behalf and on behalf of the whole world.
In the context we note the fact that two of Jesus’ disciples were especially desirous at this time of sitting upon the Throne with the Master in His Kingdom, one upon His right and the other upon His left. Jesus did not condemn them for this desire, but pointed out to them how difficult were the conditions, and asked them whether they were able to comply with these conditions. They replied, “We are able.” They were willing, at least. That their answer was pleasing to Jesus was manifested by His words, “Ye shall indeed drink of My cup, and be baptized with My baptism.” They asked for places in the Kingdom very near to Him. Jesus informed them that He was not Himself able to give them such places–that the places would not be given according to favor, but according to justice; and that the Father would dispense these.
ARE WE MEETING THE NECESSARY CONDITIONS?
The place that we occupy in the Kingdom will depend much upon the extent to which we become ministers, or servants. And if we simply try to get as much as possible out of others and to give as little as possible, we shall not be such characters as the Lord is seeking for rulership in the Kingdom; in fact, we would not gain the Kingdom at all. He is seeking a very choice class. This class will all be servants, willing and glad to serve, esteeming it a great privilege to lay down their lives in the service of the brethren, to the extent of their ability and opportunity; for the service of the brethren is the service of God, to whom they have rendered themselves in consecration, to whom they have professed to devote their lives.
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”–Matt. 4:4.
WE READ that these words were a part of our Lord’s answer to Satan when the Adversary exhorted Him to command the stones to be turned into bread, in order to satisfy His hunger, after fasting forty days in the wilderness. The Lord knew, however, that it would be unlawful for Him thus to use the superhuman power which came to Him as a result of His consecration to the Father’s service. That power was not to be used for His flesh. Hence our Lord refused to use His superhuman powers for the gratification of the flesh, even though He hungered. Then Satan suggested, How do you expect to live if you do not exercise your power to live? Our Lord’s answer, as we see, was that man shall not live by bread, merely, but by every word, every promise that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Our hope of eternal life, therefore, rests upon that obedience to God which would entitle us to eternal life, according to His arrangement. If our Lord had gratified the flesh He might have satisfied His hunger, but He would have violated His covenant of obedience to God. Whoever would have eternal life must seek to be obedient to God, to all that God has commanded, all to which He has directed the individual. Of course, He might have one command for the angels, another for man, and a third for the Church. But since we find that we are not able to obey perfectly every command of God, we cannot hope for eternal life by perfect obedience to the letter of the Word of God. Even though God has accepted us as His children, we can hope for life only by having the spirit of obedience to His Word.
One of the lessons to be learned in the School of Christ is that a “man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth”–food and raiment, etc.– but that his life, in the fullest, highest, grandest sense, is dependent upon his complete submission to the Divine will. Careful attention to every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, to every admonition, every encouragement, every promise, is necessary to the development of those whom God is now calling to eternal life as joint-heirs with His Son in the Kingdom. Let us, then, more and more, as the disciples of the Lord Jesus, keep in memory the words of the text, and act upon them.
LIVE BY EVERY WORD FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD
But how is it possible for us to live by the words that proceed out of the mouth of God? What did Jesus mean? How can God’s words give life?
He meant that all hope of attaining eternal life depends upon God–upon the Divine Plan and its promises. Looking into these promises we can see distinctly that the Divine Plan, dating from before the foundation of the world, is that all of God’s creatures, created in His likeness and abiding in faith, love and obedience in harmony with Him, shall have life everlasting. This is God’s Word upon the subject, namely, that obedience is the condition of life everlasting. This is, undoubtedly, what our Lord had in mind in the words of our text. He may also have had the thought that He had come into the world upon a special mission, to do the Father’s will, and that His understanding from the beginning was that His perfect obedience to the Divine will would insure Him glory, honor and immortality with the Father, eventually; but that any disobedience would mean the forfeiture of Divine favor and would involve the sentence of disobedience —death.
Our Lord’s prompt decision, therefore, was that to disobey the Father’s will and thus to secure bread for the sustenance of His body, would be a great mistake; that food thus secured could sustain life for but a little while; that His better plan would be to trust in the Word of God, the Divine promise, that those who love and serve and obey Him shall ultimately come off conquerors and more, and have eternal life with God. And this, our Master’s conclusion, is full of instruction for us who are His disciples, seeking to walk in His footsteps.
DISCIPLINE AN EVIDENCE OF SONSHIP
One “word of God” which is very comforting to His children is His assurance of Parental care and discipline. “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:7.) In this statement the word “chastening” should not be understood as meaning disapproval on the part of our Father, and sin on the part of the individual, but rather instruction. We are guided in the matter by remembering that although our Lord was a Son in whom there was no sin, yet He received, in the Father’s providence, as a part of the “cup” poured for Him, various trials, disciplines. All of these experiences were very profitable, showing that the Father loved Him; that the Father had something which He was desirous that our Lord should do that He would not have been qualified to perform without some of these educational instructions and experiences.
Some disciplines, some chastisements, come as a result of our own mistakes and the natural consequences flowing from those mistakes and the apologies and heartaches which may necessarily follow them. God could save us from these experiences and so seclude and shelter our lives that we would not have anything to tempt us. But such is not His proposition. He wishes us to have these experiences that we may be guided in the right way and learn of our own weaknesses.
If we did not come into contact with various testing experiences we should not know where we are weak. Thus we learn where we can strengthen our characters and how we can be thoroughly developed as New Creatures. The Scriptures speak of our Lord Jesus as “enduring such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” (Heb. 12:3.) Our trials, or disciplines, in meeting every opposition that can come to us, should bring more or less of correction in righteousness. Even if this would not mean outward stripes, we, in any event, would have our mental regrets as New Creatures, and thus we would get a form of correction, or discipline. Additionally, the Lord causes His children to come into peculiar trials as an example either to the brethren or to the world. In many of these, whatever the cause, we may understand them to be also corrections or instructions in righteousness.
TRIAL–DISCIPLINE–NECESSARY TO THE PERFECTING
OF OUR CHARACTERS
Character cannot be developed wholly without trial. It is like a plant. At first it is very tender; it needs an abundance of the sunshine of God’s love, frequent watering with the showers of His grace, much cultivating with the applied knowledge of His character as a good foundation for faith and inspiration to obedience. Then, when thus far developed under these favorable conditions, it is ready for the pruning hand of discipline, and is also able to endure some hardness. Little by little, as strength of character is developed, the tests applied to it serve only to develop more strength, beauty and grace, until it is finally developed, perfected, fixed, established, through suffering.
This great work of developing and training character is necessarily a slow and tedious one, and not infrequently it is a painful process. But the Apostle plainly tells us that such things are necessary for the development of steadfast and enduring character. Consider how your own experience has verified this, you who have been for some time under the Lord’s special care and leading. How much richer you are for all the lessons of experience, and for the patience and other spirit-fruits that experiences have developed in you!
Although, like the Apostle, you can say that “No chastening for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward, it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Heb. 12:11.) The lessons of experience and discipline have made you stronger. They have increased your faith and drawn you into closer communion and fellowship with the Lord. They have made you feel better acquainted with Him and enabled you to realize more and more His personal interest in you and His love and care for you. And this in turn has awakened a deeper sense of gratitude and an increasing zeal to manifest that gratitude to Him. This also deepens the sense of fellowship with God, and gives confidence to the hope of final and full acceptance with Him as a son and heir, made worthy through Christ.
OBEDIENCE THE TEST
Another helpful “word of God” is found in I John 2:5: “Whoso keepeth His Word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” Here we have a test by which to determine our development as a New Creature. Only those who have received the Word of God can keep it, can retain it and comply with its requirements. The text suggests that it is a difficult matter to keep the Word of God. On all sides we hear various reasons why we should retain, hold fast the world, the flesh, rather than that which the Lord’s Word holds out to us. There are many allurements to entice us from the “narrow way.” Hence these who hold fast to the Word of God are “overcomers.”
The Scriptures intimate that to live righteously and godly in this present time will cost us our very lives. “Whosoever will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12.) Under present conditions faithfulness means faithfulness even unto death. The intimation is that unless we have the love of God we will not undertake to be obedient to His Word; that otherwise we can neither retain the Word of God nor be in accord with it, serving it even unto death.
Our Lord Jesus illustrated the perfection of obedience to the Word of God when He said, “I come to do Thy will, O God!” Everything written in the Book; everything that was God’s will, He was glad to do at any cost. Our Lord Jesus could not have reached this degree of submission to the Divine will unless He had had love for the Father. And so with us. Unless we have love for God and the principles of righteousness we cannot continue in this way.
Consequently, only those who so love God that they would surrender life to do His will, are properly keeping His Word. We may say that this condition is reached when we first make consecration, for the heart has given up its will and surrendered itself fully to the Lord–“Not my will, but Thine, be done.” All those who are complying with the conditions of self-sacrifice have reached the mark of perfect love. Of course, there is another sense of perfecting which we shall attain in the resurrection. But only those who will keep God’s Word by faithfulness even unto death will secure the prize and become partakers of the divine nature.
The test is OBEDIENCE. In proportion as we keep the Lord’s Word, in like proportion the love of God is perfected in us; for if we have received the mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the effect will be to cause us both to will and to do His good pleasure to the extent of our ability. And this ability should be continually on the increase year by year. Although we may not hope to be perfected until we shall be “changed” and be granted our new resurrection bodies, nevertheless, we may keep so closely in touch with the Lord in the spirit of our minds that we may have continual fellowship with Him; and by confessing our faults daily and seeking his forgiveness we may continue to the end of our journey clean from sin, even though we must still acknowledge the infirmities of the flesh, that in our flesh dwelleth no perfection.
THE WORK OF RESURRECTION
A further word from the mouth of God assures us that He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust–weak, imperfect, dying; and that it is not His purpose that we shall continue always to be in conflict with ourselves–perfect will against imperfect body; but that He has provided that, in the resurrection, we shall have new, perfect bodies, in full accord with our new minds.
He assures us that He is able and willing to do all this and that He purposes to give to His elect, bodies of a much higher order than the human–that He will give us spirit bodies–and that of the highest rank. We shall have part in the First Resurrection, and will thenceforth be able to do the Father’s will perfectly in every respect, as we now show ourselves desirous of doing His will so far as we are able. O gracious provisions! O wonderful words of compassion, inspiring us to wondrous hopes of eternal life and glory! It will be to such as thus overcome in spirit, in faith (I John 5:4), that the Lord will give the final Word of His mouth–“Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joys of thy Lord!”
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.”– James 1:12.
THE above words of the Apostle James are a part of an earnest exhortation to all the Church of God scattered abroad. “Blessed is the man who endureth [with fortitude] temptation.” Those who do not love the Lord with all their hearts, in whom self or some other idol has first place, will be seduced by the world, the flesh or the Devil into some form of rebellion against the Divine Word or Divine providences. They will have schemes, theories or desires which they will prefer to the Lord’s Plan and way; and their own theories, plans and ways will be found, when analyzed, to be based upon selfishness and ambition or an evil spirit of envy, hatred, jealousy, pride, etc. It is only such as endure such temptations and besetments with fortitude, by the grace of God conquering and subduing the fleshly mind, that will receive the promised crown.
The Apostle here speaks of the final reward as being “the crown of life.” It might be possible to view this matter of the crown of life from different standpoints; for instance, to think of life as being a crowning blessing, on whatever plane of being. Those who will be brought into the Lord’s favor during the Millennial Age will, after the close of that Age, if proven worthy, gain everlasting life. In other words, they will be crowned with a life which will be endless. The Ancient Worthies will have this life everlasting. They will be crowned with life. Life, perfect, unending, is the greatest blessing God could bestow. Then the Little Flock will be especially crowned with life; for they will have life on the superior plane, the life of the Divine nature–the nature of Jehovah; life in the very highest form will be their crown. So we think of all these things as being crowns of life when all have been tested and proven to the end of their course.
THE CROWN ABOVE ALL OTHERS
But we have reason to suppose that James is here referring to the Church, the Bride of Christ, the most blessed of all humanity. The Church is now especially on trial. This trial of our love, endurance, faith, patience, is for the purpose of demonstrating which of us will be found worthy of the chiefest of all blessings–the Divine nature, which God has promised to those who love Him–love Him more than they love houses or lands or bonds, more than they love wife or husband or parents or children or self, or any other thing. God will have a reward for others, also; but it will not be this highest crown, which He offers to the Bride of His Son alone.
What constitutes the temptation spoken of in our text? The answer of the Scriptures is that the Lord has said there will come trials and temptations–disciplinings–to those who are His, to develop their character, to prove their steadfastness and loyalty. Without trials and temptations our allegiance to God would never be shown. Self-love might be reigning in our hearts, and we would not recognize it unless it were demonstrated. It is very easy to think how much we love the Lord and how much we would like to do for Him. Then comes the temptation to sloth, and to do something for ourselves instead of for the Lord. It is easy for us to think we love His will, and to sing:
“I love Thy will, O God.”
Then we are severely tried on that line, and we sometimes find out that our love for His will needs yet farther development and greater fixity.
Our covenant with the Lord is to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to live up to this standard in the spirit of our minds so far as we are able by Divine assistance, trusting to the merit of the precious blood to cover our unavoidable deficiencies. Yea, we are to “lay down our lives for the brethren.” The temptation comes to love other things more, to love self more than we love God and the brethren. The Lord permits these trials and temptations and difficulties to come to us. The way we meet these, we think, will have much to do in deciding whether we shall be worthy of the highest crown of life.
THE CROWN OF LIFE AFTER THE TRIAL
“When he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life.” The expression, “when he is tried,” does not mean one trial merely; but our entire experience is spoken of as a trial, a test of loyalty. Our whole life is a matter of trial or testing to see how sincere we are, how fully we love the Lord, what we are willing to sacrifice, in harmony with our covenant. “When he is tried,” then, means, when his trial is over. Then he will receive the “crown of life.” He will not get it before. That would not necessarily mean, however, that he would get the crown the minute the trial was over–as soon as his sacrifice was completed in death. Jesus slept until the third day before He received His crown. The Apostles and others slept for many centuries before they received theirs.
It does not mean, either, that the very minute or the very day on which the Christian had fully demonstrated his faithfulness to the Lord he would immediately fall asleep or would be instantly ushered into honor and immortality by the glorious change of the First Resurrection. The Lord might have further purposes of usefulness, etc., in regard to His children before their sacrifice would be completed.
So with every phase of our trial and testing there should be a demonstration of our loyalty. Let the trials come, then, and let them continue to come. No matter what our natural infirmities may be, we shall be granted grace sufficient; and we are expected to be loyal under all conditions, at all times, until the end.
DEVELOPMENT AS NEW CREATURES IN CHRIST
“Strong meat belongeth to them who are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”–Hebrews 5:14.
THE Apostle here seems to have in mind some who are babes in Christ, some who have immature conceptions of God and His Plan, who lack spiritual development, contrasting them with others who are more developed, who have become men in Christ Jesus–who are “of full age,” as Paul expresses it, mature in Christian attainment. “Strong meat” belongs to these. The Apostle has given a reproof to some who, considering the length of time they have been in Christ, should have been strong in the faith, in doctrine, in spiritual life, and should be qualified to teach others. Yet still they were children, needing others to teach them again the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, needing still to be fed on milk, even yet not able to assimilate “strong meat.”
Beginners who have not long known Christ, who are new in respect to the truths of God’s Plan, are not to be choked with strong meat. These may be fed upon the simpler truths, which they can assimilate. They need “the sincere milk of the Word, that they may grow thereby.” Some of the Lord’s people, who have been longer in the way, in talking with the newly consecrated unwisely begin to tell them the truths regarding immortality, trinity, etc., before they are able to digest them. These are giving strong meat to babes, and are liable to drive them away from the table of the Lord, giving them spiritual dyspepsia, so that they are unable longer to eat even of the simpler food furnished by the Lord.
For those who are only beginners in the good way, there is plenty of food in God’s Word of the more easily digestible sort; food which should be helpful to New Creatures in Christ who are just beginning to walk in the narrow path. We are not to understand, however, that they are to continue for quite a period of time to live exclusively on milk. As they begin to grow and develop on a milk diet, they may be given somewhat stronger food, until after a time they will be able to digest the strongest features of the Truth, and to draw nourishment from them. Some develop and are able to digest the strong meat much more rapidly than others. Those who have not been falsely taught regarding Scriptural doctrines, who have not been steeped for many years in the errors brought into the Church during the Dark Ages, are often much more ready and able to grasp the truth on these subjects than are those who have been long under the blinding influence of error along these lines.
SYSTEMATIC STUDY NECESSARY
Those who are of humble, teachable mind, seeking a “thus saith the Lord” for all they accept, not trying to uphold any theories of their own, but to follow only the Lord, can generally, by taking the STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES and their Bible, and taking up the Plan step by step, in a systematic, orderly manner, as it is presented, proving every statement by the sure Word of God, see the truth regarding these fundamental doctrines with little difficulty. In this way they gain a comprehensive view of the whole Plan of God, and can see how its various features fit and dovetail into one another; this would be impossible if they heard first only a portion of the Plan, disassociated from the rest.
For this reason it is well to urge the newly interested one to read and prove for himself, and not endeavor to explain too much through conversation. Much harm is often done thus by well-meaning friends, in their zeal to have the beginner grasp it all at once, which is impossible; and often their efforts result in confusing the mind of the one seeking the Truth.
SPIRITUAL EYESIGHT A MATTER OF GROWTH
As we look at a little babe, we see that it can crow, can kick a little, can cry somewhat, and to a certain extent can see objects. It has a certain amount of appreciation of things beautiful, of things terrorizing, of things happifying. But it does not see things very clearly nor comprehend them. If we pass our hand before its eyes, it apparently has not a focus. As with young kittens, which cannot tell what is near and what is far off, so with beginners, babes, in spiritual matters. The younger ones in their attempt to study God’s Word, are apt to go tripping along through it, and think they see this or that. They cannot be entrusted with important truths at first; for they would be pretty certain to be stumbled.
But as these grow older, they can “rightly divide” the Truth, they can distinguish Truth from error, they can tell what would be hurtful and what would be helpful. Even a child that burns itself at the fire learns to look out for that which will burn, and learns to approach the fire very carefully, very judiciously. As all this is true as relates to temporal matters, and as the sense of appreciation and comprehension develops in the babe, so in babes in Christ, there is a development of the sense of appreciation and ability to comprehend the heights and depths and lengths and breadths of God’s Wisdom and Love, and the fulness and grandeur of His great Plan with all its varied features.
NECESSARY FOOD ALWAYS IN “DUE SEASON”
To gain this appreciation, it is necessary, not only to read the Truth, but to think upon it, to make it our own, to strive earnestly to conform our lives to it. It is better, of course, for one to merely read so many pages or chapters of the Bible than to read some worthless thing; but to simply read a certain amount in the Bible without understanding accomplishes little. The Bible needs to be studied; and the Lord has never left His people without teachers of His own choosing, who were able to lead the dear sheep of the great Shepherd’s Fold into the green pastures where they could obtain whatever food was needed at that time. As the gradual unfolding of Truth in its times and seasons has added to the quantity and variety of food required by the flock of God for their proper nourishment, it has been supplied by Him through instrumentalities which he has raised up for the purpose in due season.
The real saints of God have never been left without all needed supplies in every age. In our own day more Truth has unfolded than at any previous period of the Church’s history. More and richer food is now necessary, to strengthen the Church for the peculiar conditions and testings of this day; and more has been supplied. But as we have stated, and as the Apostle in our text shows, there are various degrees of development in the Church of Christ; and some have been accepted from the world in these latter days to take the places of some who have through unfaithfulness lost their crowns. Hence the wisdom that cometh from above is required to feed and nourish these weaker ones properly.
FIRST LESSONS IN SCHOOL
In a school there are lessons arranged according to the ability and comprehension of the pupils. When the primary lessons in spelling are given, the teacher begins with small, simple words, instead of long words. Such words as c-o-w, cow; c-a-t, cat, are given first. A teacher who is wise and understands her business would not think of starting little children out with such a word as “prognostication,” or “hippopotamus.” The pupil would first be given more simple and easily comprehensible words. Object lessons, by pictures, etc., are also used at first to attract the eye, and thus to assist the child mind.
And so with religious matters. Those who would give proper instructions to others must be qualified to teach. The Lord has placed the various members in the Body of Christ “as it hath pleased Him.” To some He has given Apostles and workers of miracles; to others evangelists and teachers and pastors. In the early history of the Church, in its infantile condition, miracles– object lessons and proofs to the eye, to the ear, the outward physical senses–were necessary, and hence were supplied. As the Church became established, these outward evidences in connection with the Truth passed away.
The Apostle Paul says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I thought as a child, I understood as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11). And so with every true follower of Christ. As he grows and develops, step by step, as his senses become exercised to discern good and evil– what is true, what is right, what is profitable, what is comprehended in the glorious High Calling of the Church, what is included in full consecration to Christ–he more and more puts away his childish views, his immature conceptions, and becomes educated and advanced in the things of God–the deep things. A beginner, who had not learned to study the Word of God, could take it and get out of it things that would be really harmful to him. One must learn to take Bible truths in their setting–to see what they mean, how they apply, to whom they apply, etc.–or all will be confusion and contradiction. One can bring sweet music from an instrument only when he learns how to manipulate the keys, how to combine the various chords; otherwise only discord is the result.
RESPONSIBILITY OF THOSE LONG IN THE WAY
There are certain principles laid down in the Bible. We need to get a grasp on these principles and apply them in our daily lives. There is the principle of Justice –a foundation principle. This principle must be recognized and practiced before we are in a proper condition to build upon this foundation the principles of Love, Mercy, Gentleness, etc., all of which must be incorporated into our lives, our characters, as children of God. We need to learn what justice means, what true love means. The standards of the world along these lines have become much perverted, and we need to be properly taught from the only authoritative source–the Word of God. We must learn how to apply these principles.
Those who have been for some time drinking from the Fountain of Truth, and feeding at the table of the Lord, where the food is pure, unadulterated, nourishing, should be fully established in the first principles of the doctrine of Christ. Much of the superstructure of “gold, silver and precious stones” should be already erected, and the good work of character-building should be progressing steadily day by day. We should be firmly rooted and grounded in Christ, so that nothing can move us. We should be able to discern clearly between truth and error on every important point. We should be so loyal to the Lord and His Word that we shall rejoice in the glorious privilege of proclaiming it at every suitable opportunity. We should know what we believe and why we believe it, and be courageous and uncompromising in declaring the Truth which has so blessed our own hearts and lives.
“Covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet I show unto you a more excellent way.”–1 Cor. 12:31.
LOVE–VARYING IN KIND
The question naturally and properly arises, What is Love? The Bible answers, “God is Love.” As it is impossible to fully describe God in all His greatness, so it seems impossible to fully describe all that would be comprehended in the word Love. Love is the most powerful thing in the world; therefore Love most nearly represents God, because He is the Supreme, Almighty One. We might say that God is not this, not that, not the other. And so with Love–we might describe it by saying what it is not. Nothing can be right that is out of harmony with Love, as nothing can be right that is out of harmony with God. The Apostle says, in describing Love, that it does not think evil, does not vaunt itself, has not the disposition to be puffed up, is not easily provoked, does not take pleasure in iniquity, etc.
We may, of course, remember that our word love is made to cover a variety of sentiments; for instance, the love of a hen for her chickens, her care over them; the love of a father and mother for their children, and their care over them. Love, then, includes this interest in all that are under one’s care. God has this quality of sympathy which leads Him to look out for the whole universe –all sentient creatures, all that have life. He is bound by Love to look out for all these.
In human love–natural love–we find sympathy a very strong quality. Then we have a higher than mere sympathetic love–we have esteem, appreciation of some admirable quality. We say that we love certain traits in the character of some one. Again we have something more than mere sympathy and esteem; we have affectionate love. That is a very real and deep interest in every affair of the one we love–a deep, sympathetic love which would stop at nothing–even though it is an earthly love. The only thing that could be superior to it would be our love for the Almighty, which should dominate us as superior to this affectionate love.
Later comes in the spiritual love for the Lord’s people which seeks to avoid all fleshly preferences, seeking merely to live as a New Creature, and to look after the welfare of the New Creature. Thus doing, we become closely united to the things of God and to all who are associated with us in the work of this Gospel Age. This is the highest type of love on any plane of being–this into which we have entered. God is Love. The more we grow up into this proper, spiritual Love, the more we are growing up into the character-likeness of our Father, of which we read, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”–Matt. 5:48.all else in life is useless. To be devoid of love is to be devoid of God-likeness. And so the Apostle goes on to enumerate the characteristics of this love–meekness, gentleness, long-suffering, brotherly kindness, godliness [God-likeness]–Love. All of these are merely parts or streams of Love flowing from the inexhaustible Fountain. These characteristics all proceed from Love, and are strong in proportion as our love is strong.
JUSTICE THE BASIS OF LOVE
Next we inquire as to the way in which Love fulfills the Divine Law. Divine Law is not necessary as respects restraint from good deeds. There is no need of a law to say, “You shall not do too much for your brother, or give him too much money.” No law is necessary along these lines. But Divine Law steps in and says, “You shall not come short of a certain standard.” So the Law calls merely for justice. The Apostle Paul points out that since the Law calls for justice, we shall not murder our neighbor either by our act or by our tongue. We must be perfectly just in everything pertaining to our neighbor. Every thought of our mind must be just, absolutely just. This is the standard of the Divine Law. We are violators of the Law if we give less than justice to anybody. Therefore the Law as set forth to the Jews, told them what they should not do. “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” “Thou shalt not steal,” etc.–telling them merely the things that they should not do. Whoever loves his brother would not wish to steal from him either his property or his good name. Hence love fulfills everything that the Law could demand.
Love has no limit in its capacity; as, for instance, God’s sympathetic love was exercised toward mankind after He had pronounced the sentence of death. That death sentence must stand, yet
“‘Twas Love contrived the way
To save rebellious man;
And all the steps that Love display,
Which drew the wondrous plan.”
Love has done this by providing for the satisfying of the Law in respect to Adam, so that Adam can be freed from the Law sentence. Justice could not lay this obligation upon the Logos; therefore God could not command. The only thing He could do was to set before Jesus certain incentives. God set before Him the joy of being the savior of men, and the additional joy of high exaltation in God’s Love and favor and to the glorious Kingdom privileges. So Love might use various inducements.
Love with us must also be just. We can never take what belongs to one and give it to another. The sympathy may be there, but Love cannot act in violation of Justice. Hence the advantage that Christians have who are students of God’s Word. The Bible gives us the true conception of what justice is. It gives us the balance of a sound mind. The Heavenly Father has sympathy and love, but He exercises these qualities according to the principles of justice. We are not limited to justice. It was not our law that condemned our brother, but God’s Law of Justice. So we are at liberty to exercise our love beyond mere justice. Jesus gave the example of one who owed his master a large sum of money; and when he could not pay, his master forgave him. Then this man went out to one who owed him a few pence, and, because he could not pay the debt at once, began to inflict punishment. We ourselves cannot render perfect justice, and we cannot rightfully require it of others. God, who is perfect and just, has a right to demand justice.
EVIL SURMISING NOT OF LOVE
Love, as we have seen, is that great and grand quality which more fully than any other quality represents our Heavenly Father. Love includes a great many things– not merely generosity and affection. It seems to include every good quality–things that can be appreciated outside of justice.
The Apostle’s statement, “Love thinketh no evil,” is not to be understood to signify that Love is blind to evil, or that those who have the spirit of love are blind to evil. On the contrary, Love is wounded every day by contact with evil influences, and Love cannot help knowing that it is an evil thing that is doing the wounding. Love is not, therefore, to be blind, and say that there is no evil thing–no such thing as sin, selfishness and meanness; all these various things exist. Love is in contention with all these unlovely things.
Love thinketh that there is evil, and our quotation from the Apostle does not contradict this. The imperfection in the translation may perhaps be charged with the apparent difficulty. “Love does not surmise evil,” would seem to be the proper thought. What is it to surmise evil? We answer that we have various means for arriving at conclusions. We see some things. We gain knowledge in various ways, direct or indirect. And for Love to have knowledge of evil is not wrong. But to surmise evil–to imagine evil when we do not have the knowledge –is wrong. Love does not surmise evil.
If we saw some one do an evil deed or knew in some way that the evil deed were committed, and it came under our jurisdiction, Love would not hinder us from punishing the guilty person. Suppose the matter is mere hearsay and the report not well founded; then Love would be prompt to say, “I do not know that this is so. I will need to have proof.” Love would wish to think well of every circumstance, every condition. If we saw that murder was committed, we would not be justified in surmising who did it. We might think who were the most probable ones, in order to make an investigation. We would think of the persons who had less love, but we should not hastily decide who is the murderer, simply because he or she has an unsavory character, an unloving character. We are to give him the full benefit of the doubt. We are to make investigation.
It would seem that some of the most serious wrongs have been committed by surmising evil. Evil has been surmised against people without a shadow of proof. It is not for us to say that any are totally depraved. Very few are totally depraved. But whoever surmises evil, even a little, shows that he is lacking in the quality of Love. Whoever surmises evil much shows that he has a very small degree of Love. Evil surmising makes countless thousands mourn. Surmising evil of others has caused more suffering in the world than all the battles that were ever fought!
The Lord’s people are being taught of God, and hence are learning more and more to control their thoughts and words and acts. Our thoughts are to be kind! Our thoughts are to be generous! Our thoughts are to be just! We are not to allow an evil suspicion to lodge in our minds against anybody. The common law of man decides that no judgment shall be passed against any one until the thing be proven against him. Those who have done the most evil and caused the most difficulty are those who have surmised evil against others. But it is better if we learn this as a precept from the Lord’s Word, and happy are we if we see the degrading power of evil-speaking and evil-thinking and entirely refrain therefrom.
“LOVE YOUR ENEMIES”
The basis of this instruction–that we love our enemies –is evidently that our characters may be developed. Retaliation is a natural element of the mind, and particularly of the fallen mind–the fleshly mind. The more selfish we are, the more inclined we are to render evil for evil, slander for slander, blow for blow.
Our Lord taught the very reverse spirit. We are to love even our enemies, doing them good in return for their hatred, and ever sympathizing with their condition and desiring blessings upon them from the Lord, while they are feeling the very opposite toward us, as indicated by the persecutions they practice upon us. The Lord says that we are to do this in order that we may be the children of our Father who is in Heaven. We have been begotten of the Holy Spirit, and by practicing along these lines we become more and more like Him in character.
Jesus said, “Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.” Then to these who could see and hear Jesus gave certain special lessons applicable to them–and not only to them, but to a certain like company, or class, all the way down through the Age. He told them that because they manifested a responsiveness of heart they were pleasing to Him. He told them that in proportion as they would make progress in imitating Him, in that same proportion they would come into fellowship with the Father and become participants in His Love.
And when some took this step of consecration, Jesus told them, “The Father Himself loveth you”–He loves you because you have taken a stand for righteousness; because when you saw these principles of righteousness you were willing to do in accordance therewith. And the Father loves you because you are seeking to walk in the narrow way–the way which is difficult. The other way is a broad way, leading now to death and destruction. But this narrow way that I am pointing out to you, My dear disciples, is the way to life. It will cost you a great deal to be My disciples. But the Father will love you, and I will love you, and We will manifest Ourselves to you. And although you will have trials and difficulties you will have the peace of God ruling in your hearts. Then the disciples said they would leave all to follow Him.
WHAT CONSTITUTES GOD’S LOVE
The expression Word of God is sometimes used when speaking of the Bible, and sometimes when meaning a message of God. Our allegiance is due to the One from whom we have received every good and every perfect gift. There is an eminent fitness in the thought that the One who has given us life should have our attention to His Word, our obedience to it. Some are disposed to be self-willed; some disposed to regard the words of man, the creeds of man. Such do not pay sufficient attention to the Word of God.
God’s Word is the great Standard by which all of His people should regulate their lives. We might have some thought respecting the Divine Plan, or others might make suggestions to us respecting God’s will. But any suggestions, whether from ourselves or others, are all to be subject to investigation in the light of God’s Word. Of course, we are first to ascertain that the claim of the Bible to be the Word of God is supported by really good evidence; then we are also to notice whether various portions are interpolations, or additions, that we may have the Word of God as pure as possible. But having found the Word of God, we should keep it, in the sense of reverencing it and obeying it. We should strive to regulate our lives and all of our doings by that Word. Whoso keepeth God’s Word will as a result find that God’s Love is perfected in Him.–I John 2:5.
The question then arises, What is God’s Love? and in what sense can it be perfected in us? The Apostle John evidently refers to that love which is most perfectly represented in God–that love which is pure, free from all selfishness, from all stain–God’s Love, because it is the right principle, the very underlying principle of His character. And all those who are keeping God’s Word must have the same kind of love that He has.
At first we had a duty love. We knew that God had done great things for us, for which we should be very thankful. There was a debt of obligation on us in that respect. Then, too, we loved God because He has indicated that He will give His favor to those who love Him. Therefore a measure of selfishness would be in our love for a time. But we believe it is possible for us to have this perfect love of God. If it were perfect works of the flesh that were required, we might doubt our ability to have perfection. But since it is a matter of the heart, it is possible for us to attain it; for we can be pure in heart. So as our hearts become more and more free from selfishness and sin, more and more will this proper, high standard of Love be appreciated by us and perfected in us. Our minds will be influenced by this Love; and all of our conduct, our thoughts, will come under the same regulation.
To have, then, this Love of God perfected in us, would seem to indicate that we would have the very highest ideal –that we love as God loves. We love our neighbor–we realize that he has certain rights which we are glad to respect. We would rather help our neighbors forward than to do anything which might hinder their progress in any way. God is not an envious, jealous, hateful God, but the God of Love. God is the true God, and not the one who is set up in our creeds.
As we appreciate the Word of God, it gives us the necessary instruction and guidance. All sin is selfishness, and all selfishness is sin. As the child of God comes to see the character of God more clearly, as he is desirous of being taught of God, he will come under the influence of God’s Spirit. And he will study the Word and get clearer insight into it. Thus we grow in the knowledge of God. It is a progressive matter. God wishes all of His intelligent creatures to be animated by the spirit of His Word–Love.
LOVE BASED ON FAITH
We see that the love above described would not be a love based on ignorance. On the contrary, it is a love based on a clear knowledge of God, on an undissembled faith, a faith fully appreciating what He has said. For instance, one might have a certain love for God, and by and by a clearer understanding of God’s character might shake that kind of love. God’s intention is that mankind shall understand His arrangements thoroughly; and if they then appreciate His character, they will have the undissembled faith, and a love that appreciates all the features of His Plan.
We all see that in our experiences God gives us instruction respecting Himself. As we come to know Him, and to love Him because we know Him, we are proportionately getting this faith in Him of the undissembled kind. It is a faith based on a knowledge of God’s character and Plan. An angel may be said to have faith– a well rounded out faith. “The Father seeketh such to worship Him as worship Him in spirit and in truth.” And God wishes that all of His intelligent creatures shall worship Him from this standpoint of undissembled faith– a faith that is genuine, a faith that is well rounded out, knitted together, a consistent faith. Therefore God wishes to have all men come to the knowledge of the Truth.– I Tim. 2:4.
God’s arrangement is that we first make use of what truth we have, and thus have more appreciation; then more knowledge, and then more appreciation. A well rounded out knowledge is not yet possessed by any except the Church, and we do not have full knowledge. But it is God’s will that we shall all come to an appreciation of the Truth. It is not to be merely a knowledge, but a full entering into it that we may the more appreciate it. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee,” that we should become personally and intimately acquainted with the Lord. In order to this, it is necessary that we apply our hearts to this Wisdom, that we grow in grace, grow in knowledge, that we may know His Love.
This will also be the procedure in the next Age. The object of Christ’s Kingdom will be to bring mankind to a full, clear appreciation of God’s character. Such as attain this and sympathetically enjoy God’s character will appreciate the principles of Justice, Love and Mercy represented in Him. Only as one appreciates these qualities in his own heart can he appreciate them in God. Only those who appreciate them will have everlasting life. Even though such should enjoy the full thousand years, they still might not be of the class to whom God would give everlasting life.
THE END OF THE LAW IS LOVE
It is not merely faith that is necessary–not even the well rounded out faith–there must be a pure heart also. We could not get the well rounded faith unless we had a pure heart. A pure heart would be a fully consecrated heart–the whole mind given up to the Lord’s will. Such a condition is necessary before we can enter into and make progress in the Lord’s way. God would not accept us at all unless we had love and purity of heart. And even more than this is necessary. We must maintain it with a good conscience. Our consciences must be able to say, “I have not only a good wish respecting the right, but I have good endeavors.” We should not only be able to say, “I did right,” but our consciences should be able to say, “I did the very best I was able to do.” Anything short of this would not be pleasing to God.
So, then, the end, or intention, of the Divine Law is to develop in us this love–a love fully consecrated to the Lord, a love like His, a love that will be in accord with a good conscience and an undissembled faith–a faith that is well founded on the teachings of God’s Word, a faith that is anxious to know God’s will, and that searches the Scriptures and delights in God’s Law, and that can say as the Psalmist has expressed it prophetically, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God!” A man may discern the principle of justice and say, “There is the standard one must go by.” Another sees love, and says, “There is the best standard! Is not that grand? I wish to conform to that fully!”
A third recognizes that perfection is the standard of the Divine Law, and having consecrated himself unreservedly to do the will of God, says, “Thy Law, O God, is my delight.” This one delights in God’s Justice, he delights in God’s Love. He sees more than merely, Thou shalt, and Thou shalt not. He sees things from God’s standpoint. He sees the principles of God’s character which govern the universe. So all who will ever come to an appreciation of everlasting life must learn to view matters from the standpoint of Love.
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” — 2 Tim. 3:1.
REALIZING that we are now living in the very times referred to by the Apostle, some may inquire, How can this be? Are not these times, in comparison with times past, especially favorable to the prosperity of the Church? Time was when fire and sword and guillotine and rack were systematically employed to exterminate the true saints of God, when the Word of God was a book prohibited, and when the prison and the dungeon rewarded the faithful searching of the Scriptures. And is there not also more Truth due and understood now than formerly, as well as full liberty (if a man is pleased to exercise it) to believe and teach, either in private or in public, whatever he believes to be Truth?
Yes, such are the favorable conditions of our day. Never, in all the history of the Church, has there been a day of such privilege and blessing–such increase of knowledge and general intelligence, such facilities for the general diffusion of knowledge and such breadth of individual liberty–of conscience, of speech and of action –as today. The spirit of liberty is abroad in the earth, and though the wily enemies that once fettered and handcuffed and imprisoned it still live, and would fain imprison it as before, they regretfully realize that the soaring eagle is on the wing and may never be pinioned again. But hand in hand with all these advantages, strange to say, comes the Church’s greatest peril. True, there is little peril to physical life, or earthly property; but these, to the true saints, are of minor importance, for they count not their earthly life dear unto them if by any means they may attain the divine nature and glory to which they are called.
The peril of these times is to the spiritual nature of the saints and to their valuable inheritance in the exceeding great and precious promises of God, which are all yea and amen in Christ Jesus. Subtle influences are now at work seeking to dwarf and extinguish the spiritual life and to rob the saints of their glorious hope, to sap stealthily the very foundations of Christianity, and thus effectually to overthrow the whole superstructure of the Christian faith in the minds of many, causing them thus to stumble and lose their glorious inheritance as joint-heirs with Christ.
The present besetments, being of this subtle character, are the more calculated to delude and ensnare, so that if one allows himself to be for a moment off his guard, the agencies of the Adversary will gain an advantage and use it to entrap the unwary one. And God will permit such snares because only those who are loyal and faithful, and therefore ever watchful, are counted worthy to escape their strong delusion. “Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” –Matt. 21:36.
MANNER OF APPROACH OF THESE TIMES
The Apostle forewarns the Church, not only of the certainty of such perils, and of their character, but also of their manner of approach. On one occasion he said, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. (Such were the great and destructive papal powers.) Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29,30.) Some of these Paul and the early Church encountered in their day.
Paul was often in peril among false brethren who, concerning the faith, had made shipwreck, and who greatly withstood his words–his efforts to build up the Church in the most holy faith. (2 Cor. 11:26; I Tim. 1:19; 2 Tim. 4:14-17.) And he shows that from such false brethren, brethren who have erred from the Truth and become teachers of false doctrine, will come the Church’s greatest peril in these last times. (2 Tim. 2:16-18; 3:5.) And in order that we might recognize and beware of them, he very minutely described them, though the clear significance of the warning is somewhat beclouded by a faulty translation, which reads as follows:–
“For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,* truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good; traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the Truth.”
The description as here translated, the reader will observe, is incongruous; for men of such villainous character could have no form of godliness. Read the description again and consider, How could a proud, covetous, boastful blasphemer, a truce-breaker, a false accuser, incontinent and fierce, a despiser of those that are good, a heady, high-minded, pleasure-loving traitor, have any form of godliness whatever, or deceive anyone in this respect? Such a fierce character and bold blasphemer could not possibly palm himself off as a child of God; nor would he attempt it. The fact is that our translators did not fully comprehend the Apostle’s language, and in rendering it into English they put the heaviest possible construction upon the Greek words, and thus the picture of these persons is overdrawn. Thus, for instance, the Greek word here rendered “blasphemers” (V. 3) is blasphemos, which signifies one speaking injuriously, or an evil-speaker.
Now, judging merely by the word, regardless of the context, we would not know whether in this instance the evil-speaking is carried to the extent of revilings or not; but as it stands related to the context–in view of the after statement that these have a form of godliness (V. 5), though lacking its real power–we must conclude that those milder or more subtle forms of evil-speaking, which would be consistent with hypocritical forms of godliness, are referred to, and therefore that our English word blaspheme, though it means evil-speaking, is too strong a term by which here to translate the Greek word blasphemos; for the full and generally understood significance of the English word blaspheme is–“To speak of the Supreme Being in terms of impious irreverence, to revile or speak reproachfully of God, Christ, or the holy Spirit–to speak wickedly of, to utter abuse or calumny against, to speak reproachfully of.”–Webster.
So also the word apeithes rendered “disobedient,” signifies not persuaded; and the expression “disobedient to parents” would consequently signify not of the same persuasion, or not of the same mind as were the parents. The word anosios, rendered “unholy,” which signifies unkind, or unholy, would likewise, in view of the context, be better rendered by the milder English term, unkind. The word aspondos rendered “truce-breakers” (V. 3), signifies irreconcilable or implacable–i.e., stubborn or constant in enmity. The word akrates, rendered “incontinent,” signifies more properly, without strength, or without self-control. Though this thought is also in the English word “incontinent,” a coarser meaning generally attaches to the word. The word anemeros, rendered “fierce,” signifies not mild, savage. That is, it may be a great or a small lack of mildness, amounting in some cases to savage bitterness. But, again, the fierce or savage idea is not compatible with any pretentions to godliness, as intimated in verse 5. The word aphilagathos, rendered “despisers of those that are good,” would thus be better rendered not friendly to the good.
Thus revised, the Apostle’s language reads as follows: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves (selfish), covetous, boasters, proud, evil-speakers, not of the same mind as were their forefathers (i.e., devisers of new doctrines), unthankful, unkind, irreconcilable, false accusers, without self-control, not mild, not friendly to those that are good–traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God (i.e., preferring their own will or pleasure to the will or pleasure of God); having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; ever learning, and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
“MEN OF YOUR OWN SELVES SHALL ARISE SPEAKING PERVERSE THINGS”
It should be observed also that the word men, in verse 2, is emphatic in the Greek text, as shown in the Emphatic Diaglott, thus indicating that a particular class of men is here referred to, which, according to the description, can be none other than those mentioned in Acts 20:29,30, viz., men “of your own selves (men of your own company, men whom you have hitherto regarded as members of the Body of Christ, and who still claim to be such), who shall arise speaking perverse things (perverting the Truth.
But why, you ask, should any one who had once received the Truth desire to pervert it? The Apostle answers that their object is) to draw away disciples after them.” And for this purpose, of leading away disciples after them, they keep up the form of godliness, although they deny its power–the only power by means of which any of the fallen race can be reckoned godly or righteous in God’s sight, viz., the power of the precious blood of Christ, which cleanseth us from all sin, as long as we appreciate and accept this salvation through faith in his blood.
Well may we inquire, as we realize that we are living in the last days here referred to, Is there such a class of enemies to the Truth and to the Church actually in existence today? Truly, the voice of prophecy has never set up a false alarm, or foretold an uncertain event. The perilous times have come and the foretold perils are all about us. Side by side in the same communities with the humble, faithful, consecrated saints–in the same little assemblings together of those who have escaped from the bondage of Babylon, in the same households, and often at the same table of the Lord, there has also been developing a class who are “lovers of their own selves (selfish), covetous (of honors and distinction and the praise of men–ambitious), boasters (as though the credit of the Truth now due and received were in some way due to them, and as though they had a right therefore to alter and amend it at their pleasure), proud” (of that knowledge which should be received with only humility and thankfulness, and which can be retained only under these conditions).
Because the light of the newly unfolding Truth has dawned upon their pathway, they, in common with the faithful saints, no longer are of the same mind as were their parents; but the goodness of God thus manifested to them, instead of cultivating in them a spirit of thankfulness and co-operation, which is its design, seems to arouse a spirit of pride and ambition, which does not long hesitate to make merchandise of the Truth for ambitious ends, however trivial and foolish those ends may be. And in pursuance of the ambitious policy, by degrees they become “evil-speakers (against the doctrine of Christ and those who believe and teach it), unkind, unfriendly to those that are good (who hold fast the Truth in righteousness), and false accusers” (of such). As they proceed in this way they seem to lose all former strength of Christian character. They become irreconcilable to the Truth, so that neither Scripture, nor reason, nor the example of the faithful, has power to restore them. Loving their own wills more than the will of God, they grow more and more proud and boastful of their attainments– high-minded and heady. Not submitting themselves to the Head of the Body, Christ Jesus, they are ambitious to head new factions themselves, and thus they turn traitors to the Truth.
They claim, too, to be very earnest students of the Word of God; and so they are, but they never come to a knowledge of the Truth. They are after something new, some new and peculiar “find” in the mine of God that will attract the wondering gaze of many curious disciples. But, alas for their purposes! There are no such real curiosities in the blessed Word of God; but the zeal of these ambitious ones is equal to the emergency, and one after another the actual truths are beclouded, distorted and perverted to this ignoble end and presented as newly-found truths. And the unwary receive them as such, not recognizing at first that they are subversive of the entire system of Divine Truth. Thus their faith in the truths already learned is unwittingly undermined; they are caught in the snare of the Enemy; and as they continue to give ear to these seductive influences they become more and more entangled, until, having lost their anchorage, they find themselves adrift on a vast sea of unbelief, floating they know not whither. Like their leaders, they may retain the form of godliness, but have lost its power.
THEIR POLICIES SHALL BE VERY SEDUCTIVE
But there is another feature of the description of these false teachers, whose ambitions place so many perils in the pathway of the saints, which should not be overlooked. Verses 6 and 8 describe, or rather illustrate, the manner in which the influence of such teachers will be brought to bear upon the Church. Their opposition is not expressed in bold, defiant terms, and emphasized and enforced with vehemency. As here intimated, their policy is crafty, deceitful, sly, under pretentions of godliness, love of truth and zeal for the truth. Their influence will be exerted somewhat after the manner of a vile class mentioned in verse 6, who “creep into houses and lead captive silly women, laden with sin, and led away by various inordinate desires.” Not that such will be the actual immoral character of these teachers, but that their policy will be similarly seductive.
Their actual course is more particularly described in verse 8 thus: “Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the Truth–men of corrupt minds (corrupted or turned aside from the Truth), reprobate concerning the faith.” Thus we are shown that the opposition to the Truth will be manifested in a subtle, deceptive course similar to that of those opposers of Moses. They opposed Moses by doing something similar to what he did, thus confusing the people. God had given Moses power to do certain miracles in order to prove to Israel that Moses was his Divinely empowered agent. And Satan forthwith empowered his agents to duplicate those miracles, which they did to some extent, not perfectly, thus endeavoring to confuse the minds of the people and to unsettle their confidence in Moses and his leading and teaching.
Just so it is today. The studied effort of false teachers –false brethren developing in the very midst of the Church–is to offset the Truth by plausible forms of error, to unsettle confidence both in the Truth and in all teachers of the Truth, thus to lead away disciples after them and their theories. And in consequence of the allurements of these false teachers, and of the unfaithfulness of many to the love and service of the Truth which they have received, a class in the midst of the Church will give much encouragement to the ambitions of these false brethren; “for,” says the Apostle (2 Tim. 4:3,4), “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own desires (desires for something new) shall they gather to themselves teachers, having itching ears (for new and strange things); and they shall turn away their ears from the Truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
Nor will this class be only a small minority; for, in order that the faithful may not be discouraged when brought face to face with these things, they are forewarned (Psa. 91:7) that, before this conflict ends, a thousand shall fall at their side and ten thousand at their right hand. Thus, realizing that God foreknew it all and that the accomplishment of his glorious purposes is not in the least endangered thereby, they may still have confidence and joy in view of the glorious consummation of his Plan, and of their promised position in it.
“FROM SUCH TURN AWAY”
But how shall the faithful believers act towards these false brethren in their midst? Shall they take them by the hand, as formerly, and bid them God-speed? Shall they recognize them as brethren in Christ? Are they owned of God as sons? Shall we indeed walk with them and be guiltless? What does the Apostle say we shall do? He says, “From such turn away.” (V. 5.) “Be not ye partakers with them; for ye were formerly darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light…and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Eph. 5:6-11.) And the Apostle John (2 John 11) emphasizes Paul’s counsel, saying, “If there come any unto you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed; for he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
Such “evil men,” says Paul (V. 13), “shall wax worse and worse (more and more bold and aggressive, as they receive encouragement from that rapidly increasing class who will no longer endure sound doctrine), deceiving (others) and being deceived” (themselves–becoming more firmly intrenched in the snares of their own weaving, so as to make it impossible to extricate them). But, nevertheless, the time is coming when they shall proceed no further; for their folly shall be manifested unto all men, as was the folly of Jannes and Jambres, who could not forever withstand the teachings of Moses, the servant of God.– V. 9.
Then Paul proceeds to call attention to the ground of Timothy’s confidence in himself as a faithful teacher of Divine Truth, saying, “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured; but out of them all the Lord delivered me.”– Vs. 10,11.
Such are always the marks of a true teacher. His doctrine will be that which the most thorough investigation of the Scriptures most clearly proves and establishes beyond all peradventure. His manner of life will be consistent both with his faith and with his consecration to the Lord. His purpose will be the building up of the Church in the most holy faith. His faith will be positive and clear–not mere guesswork, but knowledge based upon the sure Word of God, with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning. And his great love for the Church will be manifest, as was Paul’s, and as was Moses’ love for Israel, by long-suffering, patience and meek endurance of persecution, both from an opposing world and from false brethren arising in the midst of God’s people. And in such persecutions no true teacher will be lacking; for “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (V. 12.) Such has been the experience of every true teacher that God has ever raised up to deliver and guide his people. Witness Noah, Moses, Paul and Luther.
But, Beloved, our advice to you in these perilous times, when error is taking on its most baneful and deceitful forms, and when it is finding its most active agents amongst false brethren and sisters in your very midst, and when fidelity to Truth, therefore, occasions the severing of some of the tenderest social ties you have ever known, even among those with whom you once held sweet converse as you walked together to the house of God–yes, in these times let us again urge the counsel of Paul– “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them”; for it is written (John 6:45), “They shall be all taught of God.” Whoever the human agent may be that God has made use of to bring you to a knowledge of the truth, he was simply an index finger to help you trace it for yourself on the sacred page; and in humility and faithfulness he made no greater claim than this, assuring you that the holy Scriptures to which he ever and continually pointed are indeed “able to make you wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”; and that “all Scripture, given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
THE PRECIOUS TRUTH IS GOD’S MESSAGE
Therefore, dearly beloved, what you have learned concerning God’s glorious Plan of the Ages, and concerning your privileged place in that Plan, as heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, his Son, and concerning the conditions upon which you hold this precious promise and may finally realize it, and concerning that great foundation doctrine of our redemption from sin and death through the precious blood of “the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all,” upon which fact rests the whole superstructure of the wondrous and glorious Plan, hold fast these things, knowing of whom you have learned them. This precious Truth is God’s message to you, not man’s. No such high and glorious hope could ever have entered the mind of mortal man had not God revealed it by his Spirit, as he has done through faith in his Word, in his own due time. It is all in that Word. Search and see for yourselves; and be not faithless but believing. It comes not to you on the miserable authority of vain imagination, or dreams, or doubtful visions, but on the authority of God’s most holy and authentic Word. True, it is almost too good to believe, but is it not just like our God? Does it not gloriously illustrate the breadth of his mighty mind, the scope of his marvelous wisdom and power, and the depth of his love and grace?
Continue, therefore, in the things which thou hast learned, and hast been assured of (having proved them yourselves from the Scriptures), and be not of them who turn away their ears from the Truth and are turned unto fables. And observing those who have a form of godliness, but who, nevertheless, by their false teachings deny the power thereof, “from such turn away,” and “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
We cannot serve two masters; we cannot espouse the cause of Truth and the cause of error as well; nor can we retain the friendship of God and of the advocates of error also. Who is on the Lord’s side? Let them rally around the Lord’s standard. All told, they will be only a “little flock.” Like Gideon’s band, the company now gathered by the proclamation of the harvest-message of Truth must be tested and sifted until only the loyal, faithful, true-hearted, brave and valiant soldiers of the cross remain; and to these, though their numbers be small, will the laurels of victory belong when Truth and righteousness finally prevail. Let no man boast of numbers now when the highest interests of the elect of God are all bound up with the faithful few, to whom it will be the Father’s good pleasure to give the Kingdom.
*The Sinaitic, the oldest and most reliable MS., omits the words, “without natural affection,” they being no part of the original text.
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” – Luke 11:9.
APPARENTLY Jesus usually prayed alone. We read that on some occasions He spent the entire night in prayer to God. How inconsistent that would have been if He Himself were the Father, who for a time was with men and outwardly appeared as the “Man Christ Jesus”! But how consistent is the thought of Jesus’ prayer to the Father when taken in connection with His own declaration: “My Father is greater than I” (John 14:28); “I came not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38); “Of Mine own self I can do nothing; as I hear [of My Father], I judge.”–John 5:30.
Instead of being the Father masquerading as a man, Jesus was the Logos, the Word, or Message of God, whom the Father had sanctified and sent into the world to be the world’s Redeemer, and who by and by is to be its King, to deliver it from the power of Satan and sin, and to restore the willing and obedient to the Divine likeness, the Father’s favor and everlasting life.–Isaiah 25:6-8; Romans 8:21.
Realizing the importance of His mission, Jesus kept properly in touch with the great Author of the Plan of Salvation, His Heavenly Father. His prayers were not mockeries; they were sincere. He worshiped the Father in spirit and in truth, as He declared all must do who would be acceptable to the Father.
No doubt the disciples noted the Master’s frequency in prayer, and the blessing which He seemed to receive therefrom. Instead of urging them to pray, Jesus by His example taught them to desire the privilege and blessing of prayer. In due time they requested instruction, saying, “Lord, teach us to pray!” It is well that we inquire who may pray, and for what things we may petition the great Creator, else we might be praying without authority, or praying amiss, as St. James declares some do.
There is a difference between worship–adoration, homage–and prayer. Any one may offer homage to the Lord, bow the knee or express thanks and appreciation. But as for making requests of God, prayers, this privilege is distinctly limited. The Jews were privileged to offer prayer, because they as a nation were in typical relationship with God under the Law Covenant, as a “House of Servants.” But the Gentiles had no privilege of approaching God in prayer until after the Jewish favor had ended–three and a half years after the crucifixion of Jesus.
The first Gentile whose prayers were received, according to the Bible, was Cornelius. And even his prayers were not acceptable until he had been instructed respecting Christ and His redemption work and had become a follower of Jesus. Then his prayers and his consecration were acceptable to the Father, and he was received into the family of God as a son. Then as a son he had the right or privilege of prayer.–Acts 10:25-48.
So today while any one may offer worship and reverence to God, none is privileged to pray unless he has become a consecrated disciple of Jesus, except it be the immature children of such consecrated persons. All over the world today’s lesson will be misinterpreted. Jesus’ words, “Our Father,” will be misinterpreted to signify the “Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.” The context will be ignored. The fact that these were consecrated disciples, and not mankind in general, who were instructed to pray “our Father,” will be ignored.
There is a general tendency to ignore personal faith in the redeeming blood–to ignore the fact that no man cometh unto the Father but by the Son. (John 14:6.) Adam indeed was created a son of God; but his disobedience and death sentence cancelled the relationship, which cannot be restored except in God’s appointed way–through Christ. Prayer is a wonderful privilege. It is not for sinners, but for those who have been justified by the great Advocate whom the Father has appointed–Jesus.
“AFTER THIS MANNER PRAY”
The model prayer which Jesus gave His followers is grandly simple. It is devoid of selfishness. Instead of “I” and “me,” the prayer is comprehensive of all who are truly the Lord’s people, in any class–we, us, our. It is unselfish, too, in that it is not a prayer for earthly blessings. Only one petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” can be construed to apply to even the simplest of earthly blessings. And this may also be understood to signify more particularly spiritual nourishment.
The prayer opens with a reverent acknowledgment of the greatness and sacredness of the Heavenly Father’s name, or character. Next comes an acknowledgment of the present condition of sin in the world and an acknowledgment of faith in the promise that God has given, that eventually His Kingdom shall be established in the earth, and shall overthrow the reign of Sin and Death which has prevailed for six thousand years, and will bind Satan, “the Prince of this world.” (Rev. 20:1-3.) The petition, “Thy Kingdom come,” not only manifests faith in God and in His promise to abolish sin and establish righteousness in the earth, but it means more; namely, that the suppliant is in his heart in sympathy with God and His righteousness and out of sympathy with the reign of Sin and Death.
The next petition is, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is done in Heaven.” This signifies full confidence in the promise of God that His Kingdom when it shall be established will not be a failure–that Satan will be bound; that the reign of Sin and Death will end; that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God will fill the whole earth and triumph, destroying all wilful opposers, until finally every knee shall be bowing and every tongue confessing, to the glory of God.
It is an expression of confidence that the Kingdom will effect the full restoration of the earth to its Edenic condition and of man to his primeval perfection in the image of his Creator; for not until such conditions prevail will it be possible for God’s will to be as perfectly done on earth as it is now done in Heaven. An included thought is that when sin and death shall thus have been effaced, the world of mankind will be as happy in God’s favor as are the angels now. This Jesus clearly expressed later, assuring us that eventually there will be no more sighing, crying or dying, because all the former things of sin and death will have passed away.– Rev. 21:5.
The request for daily bread implies our realization that our sustenance, both temporal and spiritual, must come from God. And the failure to specify any particular kind of food implies not only a hunger and desire on our part, but a full resignation to the provision of Divine Wisdom.
When the justified pray, “Forgive us our trespasses,” they do not refer to Original Sin; for they were freed from that condemnation in their justification. By trespasses are signified those unintentional imperfections which appertain to all, and which all the followers of Jesus are striving to overcome. The request that we shall have forgiveness of our blemishes as we are generous and forgiving toward those who trespass against us is a reminder of the general terms of our relationship to God. We cannot grow in grace and abide in the sunshine of God’s favor except as we cultivate the spirit of love, which is the spirit of God–a forgiving spirit, a generous spirit, in our dealings with others. God thus purposes to favor more especially those who particularly strive to exemplify His gracious mercy.
“Abandon us not in temptation” indicates that we are aware that we are surrounded by the powers of evil, and that as New Creatures we would be unable to withstand these successfully except as we should have Divine aid. “Deliver us from the Evil One” is a recognition that Satan is our great Adversary; and that we are on the alert to resist him, and yet realize our own insufficiency, our need of Divine aid. “We are not ignorant of his [Satan’s] devices.” (2 Corinthians 2:11.) “We wrestle not against flesh and blood [merely], but against wicked spirits in high positions.”– Ephesians 6:12.
“SEEK, KNOCK, ASK–AND RECEIVE”
In the concluding verses of the Study, Jesus admonished that the prayer should be with fervency or earnestness, and not merely lifeless, formal words. He gave the illustration of the man who at first refused to be disturbed, even by his friend, but was finally moved by the earnestness of his friend’s petition. So when we pray for God’s Kingdom to come and His will to be done, as it delays long, we are not to think that our prayers are unheeded. We are praying in harmony with the Divine promise, and although we are not hastening the Kingdom by our prayers we are entering into a blessing of rest through faith, by continually bringing before our minds these promises of God, and thus waiting upon the Lord for the fulfilment of His promise.
What God really wishes to give to His people is His Holy Spirit. Because of the imperfections of the flesh none of us can be filled with the Spirit at first, as was our perfect Master. But as we come to God desiring to be filled with His spirit, desiring to be in harmony with Him, desiring to be in His character-likeness, by the seeking we find, and to our knocking the door is opened.
Nor should we be afraid that our Heavenly Father would give any bad answer to our requests. Would an earthly parent give to a hungry child a stone when it asked for bread; a serpent when it asked for fish; a scorpion when it asked for an egg? Surely not! We are to know that our Heavenly Father is much better than we, much kinder, much more just and loving, and that He delights to give His good gifts, His Holy Spirit, to those consecrated disciples of Jesus who earnestly seek it.
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.—Psalm 42:1
The beatitudes define the steps that lead individuals into the body of Christ. Each beatitude can be seen to specifically identify a definite character trait in those who have the grace of God.
The first beatitude speaks of spiritual poverty: “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). The second speaks of repentance: “Blessed are they that mourn” (Matthew 5:4). Repentance is an essential element of the character of one who possesses this grace. The third beatitude speaks of meekness: “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5). The fourth beatitude speaks of spiritual hunger and thirst: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6).
Hunger and Thirst
We have all felt a gnawing feeling in our bellies when we skip a meal. To some degree we know the sensation of thirst and the longing for water especially after expending a lot of energy. In the heat of summer when our bodies perspire, they cry out for more fluids, for cold, liquid refreshment. But few of us know famine, the kind that bloats our bellies and leaves us helpless. Few have ever been in the desert without water to the point of serious, life-threatening dehydration; few know the real pain of thirst or a craving for water like Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness of Beersheba (Genesis 21:14).
Such cravings are the result of our human makeup; it is the way we were created. For our body to function properly, it must be nourished. Food and drink strengthen us. God created the earth specifically for human habitation. Hungering and thirsting is a powerful metaphor. It expresses the inward cry of every creature for its very life. The Master takes an experience from everyday life—the painful experience of hungering and thirsting—and uses it as an illustration to elucidate the longings of the soul for meaningful contact with God and discerning his will in one’s life.
Those who lack physical food and drink are more likely to be aware of the prevailing injustice in this world. Their hunger or craving to see righteousness triumph can be all the more compelling. The righteousness of which Jesus spoke refers to the quality of propriety that fully conforms to God’s will and commandments. Expressing a thought similar to that of our Lord, the psalmist spoke of himself as being “crushed with longing” for God’s righteous judicial decisions (Psalm 119:20, NASV; compare Isaiah 26:9,10).
Whom Was Jesus Addressing?
Luke’s account of Jesus’ words read: “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled” (Luke 6:21). When reading from Luke, one would suppose Jesus spoke of those who longed for physical food. However, Matthew’s account makes it clear that the Lord spoke of those with a strong craving for righteousness. Jesus was speaking to his disciples. They were not lacking food or drink, but they were hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Not all who hunger and thirst for material things get filled. Such hunger often leads to frustration and starvation. It is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness who receive what Jesus promised; they are filled.
Few today hunger and thirst for righteousness. However, the context shows these words have their primary application to those who are heirs of “the kingdom of heaven,” those who hope literally to “see God” (Matthew 5:3,8.) These who hunger and thirst for righteousness follow three basic steps which result in a condition of well being where their hunger and thirst are satisfied.
Justification: The First Step to Righteousness
The necessary first step is to approach the Lord’s table and its provisions of spiritual “fat things” (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 22:4). It requires a high regard for righteousness and truth. We must recognize our own unworthiness, our sinfulness, and our need for Jesus as our personal savior. Acceptance of his redeeming work, his life, death, and resurrection are essential to approach God’s throne of grace.
The repudiation of sin and the acceptance of Christ as our sin-bearer and advocate before the heavenly Father brings us to the condition which the Scriptures describe as being “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:16). These are the ones who find comfort in knowing that despite their imperfections, they have peace with God. The heavenly Father is willing to accept such and their endeavors as though they were perfect. Such perfection is “reckoned,” not “actual.” Although we have been invited to partake at the Lord’s table as “holy and acceptable” (Romans 12:1), we nevertheless realize that all invited still have weaknesses of the flesh and fight battles within (Romans 7:25).
The Scriptures figuratively describe those who have taken this step toward the heavenly Father’s table as wearing a white robe of righteousness; they are covered with the merit of Christ which is imputed to all who believe in his ransom sacrifice and who seek to walk in his footsteps. All who approach the Father through the son, all who accept the terms of the upward call made during this Gospel age, are said to be on common ground; all sinners are covered and justified by the merit of Christ.
Consecration: The Second Step to Righteousness
Although the first step of justification is an important one, there is more to follow. The second step is one of full consecration to the Lord, a full denial of one’s own will. We recognize our imperfections, our sin-laden ways, that we are imperfect creatures with inherited weaknesses and surrounded by temptations. When we make a full consecration to the Lord and fully accept his will instead of our own, we are inducted into the family of God. We have the privilege of being called “sons of God,” “heirs of God, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 8:14,17; Galatians 3:26; 4:6).
The position we hold within the family of God as sons and daughters has been made possible through the Lord as a result of our righteous hunger. We are given the privilege to feed at the Lord’s table to full satisfaction. We therefore can say with the apostle John: “But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7,9).
Cultivating an Appetite: The Third Step to Righteousness
The apostle Peter says that believers should be like newborn babies in their desires, craving the pure spiritual milk of the word so that by it they may grow up into their salvation, now that they have tasted that the Lord is good. Consecrated believers must not stop growing toward spiritual maturity. They need the sincere milk “of the word,” the unadulterated word of God, which produces continuous growth until the spiritual inheritance is gained. None should be content with only a small taste; they should crave it constantly and keep growing (1 Peter 2:1-3).
How does one cultivate an appetite for spiritual things? It is done just as a physical appetite is cultivated: guidance. Those who hunger for spiritual things know they are lacking and should seek to eat in the same way one satisfies physical hunger. Nothing is more contributory to alleviating spiritual hunger than approaching the throne of heavenly grace. Such hunger should stimulate us to search the Scriptures, and select from among this storehouse the exceedingly great and precious promises by which we may be filled.
When we become faint and discouraged from opposition and the daily trials of life, we do well to partake of such promises, remembering the words of the Lord, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When discouragement sets in due to our failures and shortcomings, we do well to remember these words of comfort, “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust”; and that he “was in all points tempted as we are”: that he is our high priest and advocate (Psalm 103:14; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
If we feel discouraged and overwhelmed by the opposition of the world and the great adversary, we need to remember that “all things work together for good to those who love God,” and that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:28,31).
If thoughts of depression or unworthiness set in, if we ever feel that God is no longer interested in us or our endeavors to walk in the narrow way, we should remember that our heavenly Father so loved the world while we were yet sinners as to give his son for our release from sin and death. He loves us even more now since we have hungered and thirsted after righteousness and approached his table through his instrument of salvation, Christ Jesus (John 3:16).
In following the course outlined in the Scriptures, the Lord’s consecrated ones receive their fill in this present time. As we study his word there is more filling, and with each filling comes the growth of our hearts, our capacities, and our appreciation. Our course as children of the most high God is a progressive one from start to finish. But the finish will not be in this life, it will be when we are changed in the “first resurrection.” Then we shall be like our Lord and Redeemer, and “see him as he is” and share his glory (Revelation 20:6; 1 John 3:2).
“Give Them Something to Eat”
Righteousness is a study in contrasts—justice and injustice, truth and error, holiness and sin. To be careless in discerning these is to be lacking in all. Whoever hungers and thirsts after righteousness in one of these areas will surely hunger and thirst for all. Whoever loves justice and righteousness will surely love the truth; whoever loves the truth will surely love righteousness and justice. For as the Lord states: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13).
Our Lord’s miracle in feeding the multitude illustrates the lesson of hungering for righteousness. The supply of food was so inadequate for the thousands of hungry and tired individuals: just two loaves of bread and five small fishes. The disciples were about to send the people away hungry, but our Lord said to them, “Give them something to eat.” As the account tells us, the portions increased and were more than sufficient to feed them all.
In like manner, the world of mankind hungers for righteousness, yet only the Lord’s consecrated, his brethren, know of the food which really fills to satisfaction. His message to us is, “give them something to eat” that they too may be satisfied. Those of us who attempt to do so now are richly blessed.
We thank God for his precious promises that our now reigning Lord will put an end to the adversary and his evil influence, that he will open the blind eyes of all mankind to an appreciation of the truth and show them clearly that the only table at which spiritual hunger can be satisfied is the table of the Lord. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” There is no doubt that the many who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled and that comparatively few will then starve to death (Habakkuk 2:14).
Unrighteousness cannot fill any man. There is, however, a filling power in righteousness. Let us not deceive ourselves and go along idly day after day, year after year, looking for satisfaction, comfort, rest, peace of heart, and joy in earthly things. Let us realize that all these are found only by those who find the Lord. It is to these, because of the new joy which comes into their hearts, who receive new experiences. To these the beauty of every flower, bird, and every noble song is enhanced in value; to these the only things lost are the things not worth having, the things belonging to sin and selfishness.
Let us have a passion when it comes to longing for “food” from God, to hear his voice, and desire that he create in us a righteous heart. Let us, dear brethren, hunger and thirst for righteousness, cultivating our appetites in every sense of the word that we may receive God’s ample supply knowing the Master’s assurance that our satisfaction shall be complete. Already it satisfies our longings as nothing else can do, and eventually we know we shall be fully satisfied when we awake in his likeness (Matthew 6:33).
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”–Phil. 4:7.
PEACE is defined to be a state of quiet, or tranquility, freedom from disturbance or agitation–calmness, repose. Such a state of mind our text affirms of God. His is a mind tranquil, calm, undisturbed, never agitated, nor even wearied nor perplexed by any of the cares of His vast dominion. Yet this perfect peace of God, the Scriptures show, is due neither to the fact that there are no disorders in His vast domain, nor yet to any stoical indifference to pain or pleasure, but rather to that perfect poise of His glorious attributes which makes Him Master of His situation as Sovereign of the whole universe.
Have we admired the coolness and calm self-possession of a great general, such as Grant or Napoleon, in the midst of the confusion and smoke of battle? or of a great statesman, such as Gladstone or Bismarck, in the midst of national perplexities and perils? or of skilled physicians or others in critical times and places? These are only faint illustrations of the peace of self-possession and self-confidence which rules in the mind of God. He is never confused, bewildered, perplexed, anxious or care-worn, nor in the least fearful that His plans will miscarry or His purposes fail, because all power and wisdom inhere in Him.
The scope of His mighty intellect reaches to the utmost bounds of possibility, comprehends all causes and discerns with precision all effects; consequently, He knows the end from the beginning, and that, not only from philosophical principles, but also by intuition. As the Creator of all things and the originator of all law, He is thoroughly acquainted with all the intricate subtleties of physical, moral and intellectual law, so that no problem could arise the results of which are not manifest to His mind. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”–I John 1:5.
God, the Creator of all things, is also the competent Sustainer of all things. In silent grandeur, from Age to Age, the whole physical universe fulfils His will, without a suspicion of disorder or mishap; and the same Power is pledged for its sustenance throughout the eternal future.
Thus from His own vast, inherent resources of Power and Wisdom, springs the peace of God. But not from this source alone is the Divine peace; for peace is the certain concomitant of inherent goodness. God is the impersonation of every virtue and every grace; and consequently He has the blessed satisfaction and peace of conscious moral perfection as well as inherent Wisdom and Power.
GOD’S EMOTIONAL NATURE
Yet we find this peace of God coexisting with much of disorder and trouble. As a Father He shows us that He bears a father’s love to all His intelligent creatures –“the whole family [of God] in Heaven and in earth”– and that for His “pleasure they are and were created.” (Eph. 3:15; Rev. 4:11.) He created them in His own likeness–with the same mental and moral attributes, so that He might have communion and fellowship with them as sons, and they with Him as a Father, that thus, in mutual fellowship and communion, the Creator and the creature might find pleasure, happiness and delight.
This likeness of God includes in all not only the same mental faculties, but also the free exercise of the same in the formation of character. A creature incapable of thus forming character would not be in God’s likeness. And for the purpose of developing character, the alternative of good and evil must be placed before him. The right and the wrong principles of action must be discerned and the individual left free to his own choice in the matter, that the pleasure of God may be realized in the virtuous character resultant from the free choice of righteousness.
Since the love of God for His newly created and innocent creatures is akin to, but much stronger than, the love of an earthly parent for an innocent infant; and since that loving interest and solicitude does not grow cold as the creature advances in years, but earnestly watches for the development of the principles and fruits of righteousness, it is manifest that, like an earthly parent, God experiences the sense of either pleasure or pain, according as His free, intelligent creatures choose the right course or the wrong. Of this we are fully assured, not only by thus reasoning from the fact of His Fatherhood, but also by all of those Scriptures which speak of some things as abominable, displeasing, hateful and despicable to Him and as giving Him no pleasure; which say that His anger burns against them, and that His indignation and wrath wax hot, even to their destruction. Other Scriptures speak of His pleasure, love, joy and delight in pleasing things–in the principles of righteousness and those who obey them–the appreciation of pleasurable emotions of an opposite character, for pain and pleasure may properly be considered the ebb and flow of the same emotion.
These exhibitions of the mind of God indicate clearly an emotional nature in the Divine Being, of which fact we might also judge from the realization of our own emotional nature, since man was created in God’s image. No, dear friends, God is not a God of stoical indifference, insensible to the emotions of pleasure and of pain; but the perfect poise of His attributes preserves the equilibrium of peace under all circumstances, whether of pain or pleasure.
GOD’S PEACE UNBROKEN BY EXTERNAL DISCORD
With this thought, then, let us consider the circumstances under which the marvelous Peace of God has been perpetually maintained. The deep-laid Plan of God in all His creative works required long aions [ages] for its accomplishment. Across the vista of ages He saw in His purpose the glory of an intelligent creation in His own likeness, established in righteousness and worthy of His gift of eternal life. He therein saw the mutual pleasure of the Creator and the creature, and with a peaceful patience He resolved to wait for the glorious consummation.
As the Plan developed and time rolled on, the free moral agency of His creatures, misused by some, was enabling them to develop evil characters. By this means discord was introduced into His family–“the family [of God] in Heaven and in earth”–all His creatures, angels and men; and the family was divided, some holding to righteousness and some choosing to do evil. But such a contingency was one of the foreseen necessities of the far reaching Plan, the glorious outcome of which, was, in the Divine judgment, worth the cost of all the trouble and loss which He foresaw.
What a dreadful thing is family discord! How a prodigal son or a wayward daughter often brings the gray hairs of the human parent down with sorrow to the grave! Ah, the Heavenly Father knows something of such sorrow; for He saw Satan, one of His sons (Isa. 14:12), an angel of light, fall as lightning from Heaven. (Luke 10:18.) For six thousand years, at least, that son has been in open, defiant rebellion against God, and most actively and viciously engaged in inciting further rebellion and wickedness. He saw many of the angels leave their first estate (Jude 6) and become the allies of Satan, and then He saw also the whole human race fall into sin. Did ever any human parent find such a conspiracy–so virulent and hateful–spring up in his family? Surely not!
Then God found it necessary to perform the unpleasant duties of discipline. In His Justice He must disown the disloyal sons and deal with them as enemies. Though all the while His Fatherly Love was preparing to bless the deceived and fallen ones when the purposes of redemption should restore the repentant to His favor, Love must be veiled, while only stern, relentless Justice could be manifested. This has been no happifying duty, nor has the attitude of the sinner been pleasing to Him.
Consider the Love against which these recreants sinned. Though from God cometh every good and perfect gift, His favors have been despised, His love spurned, His righteous authority conspired against and defied, His character maligned, misrepresented, made to appear odious, hateful, unrighteous and even despicable. Yet, through it all the peace of God continues, and for six thousand years He has endured this contradiction of sinners against Himself. And still, O wondrous grace! His Love abounds; and it is written that He so loved the world, even while they were yet sinners, that He gave His Only-Begotten Son to die for them; and that through Him judgment (trial) is also to be extended to those angels that fell, with the exception of Satan, the leader and instigator of the whole conspiracy–the father of lies.–John 3:16; I Cor. 6:3; Jude 6; Heb. 2:14; Rev. 20:10,14.
GOD’S PEACE COMPATIBLE WITH SORROW
This gift of Divine Love was another indication of the cost to our Heavenly Father of His great and marvelous Plan. Not only did He behold the fall into sin of a large proportion of His family, but their recovery cost the sacrifice of the dearest treasure of His heart, and the subjection of this beloved One to the most abject humiliation, ignominy, suffering and death. Again the illustration of a parent’s love assists us in comprehending the cost of this manifestation of Jehovah’s Love. With what tender and yearning emotions of Love must He have made this sacrifice of His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased! In addition to all the graces of character manifested since the very dawn of the being of the Logos, was now added the further grace of full submission to the Divine will, even when the pathway pointed out was one of humiliation and pain.
Ah, did the Father let Him go on that errand of mercy without the slightest sensation of sorrowful emotion? Had He no appreciation of the pangs of a father’s love when the arrows of death pierced the heart of His beloved Son? When our dear Lord said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,” and again, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt,” did it touch no sympathetic chord in the heart of the Eternal? Yea, verily; the unfeigned love of the Father sympathetically shared the Lord’s sorrow.–Matt. 26:38,39.
The principle taught in the Divine Word, that true love weeps with those that weep and rejoices with those who rejoice, is one which is also exemplified in the Divine character. The immortal Jehovah could not Himself die for us, His Divine nature being proof against death. And even if He could have died, there would have been no higher power to raise Him out of death. Thus all creation would have been left forever without a Governor, and only disaster and ruin could have ensued. But God could and did sacrifice at great cost to His loving, fatherly nature, the dearest treasure of His heart; and thus He manifested (I John 4:9) the great Love wherewith He loved His deceived and fallen creatures. If this sacrifice cost Him nothing, if it were impossible for His mind to realize any painful emotion even under such a circumstance, then the gift of His Son would be no manifestation of His Love; for that which costs nothing, manifests nothing.
Our Lord Jesus also manifested His great sympathy for the Father in the misrepresentation of His character which He has so patiently endured for ages. It was the one effort of His life to glorify the Father and to rectify among men the false impressions of His glorious character –to show to men His goodness, benevolence, love and grace, and to lead them to love the merciful God who so loved them, even while they were yet sinners, as to seek them out and to plan for their eternal salvation.
GOD’S PEACE SELF-CENTERED
Yes, there has been great commotion in the disrupted family of God–commotion in which the Lord declares He has had no pleasure (Psa. 5:4); but, nevertheless, the Peace of God has never been disturbed. In the full consciousness of His own moral perfection, His unerring Wisdom, His mighty Power, and with the fullest appreciation of Justice and the keenest and most ardent love of the beauty of holiness, patiently and peacefully, and even joyfully in the midst of tribulation, He has endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself for six thousand years.
But during the seventh millennium, according to the Divine purpose, it will be the joyful privilege of our Lord Jesus fully to manifest to all creatures in Heaven and in earth the Father’s glorious character. Then will the Father rejoice in the grandeur of His finished work and in the everlasting peace and happiness of His family in Heaven and on earth, “reunited under one Head.”–Eph. 1:10. –Diaglott.
This blessed consummation will not be realized, however, until the incorrigible fallen sons of God, disowned and disinherited because they loved unrighteousness and would not be reclaimed, shall have been cut off. This will be the last unpleasant duty of the Creator and Father of all, who positively declares that it is a sad duty, yet nevertheless one which He will have the fortitude to perform in the interests of universal righteousness and peace. Hear Him: “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?”–Ezek. 33:11.
Thus we see that the Peace of God is compatible with great commotion and with sorrow and pain of any kind; for it is not dependent upon outward circumstances, but upon the proper balancing of the mind and the conditions of a perfect heart. Such peace–the Peace of God–was enjoyed also by our Lord Jesus in the midst of all the turmoil and confusion of His eventful earthly life. And this brings us to the consideration of our Lord’s legacy to His disciples, when He was about to leave the world, as expressed in His own words:
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth [in stinted measure or in perishable quality], give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”–John 14:27.
OUR LORD’S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
Thus with abounding compassion and tenderness, did our Lord, on the last night of His earthly life, bestow upon His beloved disciples His parting blessing, His legacy of Peace. It was the richest legacy He had to bequeath, and was one of priceless value. It was the promise of that tranquility of soul, that rest and ease of mind, which He Himself possessed–the Peace of God. It was the same peace which the Father has Himself always enjoyed, even in the midst of all the commotion which the permission of evil has brought about; but it was not derived from the same source. In Jehovah this peace was self-centered; He realized in Himself the omnipotence of Power and Wisdom; while the peace of Christ was centered, not in Himself, but in God, by faith in His Wisdom, Power and Grace. So also if we would have the Peace of God, the peace of Christ–“My peace” –it must, like His, be centered in God by faith.
Yes, the peace of Christ was a priceless legacy. Yet how quickly the stormcloud of trouble, which was even then growing very dark, burst in its fury upon the heads of those very disciples to whom the words were directly addressed. It followed almost immediately the gracious bequest, and struck consternation, bewilderment, confusion, to their hearts and shook their faith from center to circumference. Then, where was the peace? While the Lord was speaking the words, the foul betrayer, Judas, was out on his murderous errand. Then followed the agony in Gethsemane, and the terror and consternation among the disciples as they began to realize the fate of their beloved Lord. Soon their almost breathless suspense deepened into more fearful forebodings as He stood alone before His merciless accusers and persecutors in the Hall of Pilate and the Court of Herod, while they were powerless to shield Him. Then came the tragic end–the horrors of the crucifixion.
WHAT HAD BECOME OF THE PEACE?
Where was the promised peace under such circumstances –when, overcome with fear and dread, they all forsook Him and fled; and when St. Peter, although anxious to defend Him, was so filled with fear that three times he denied his Lord and with cursing declared that he never knew Him? The explanation is, that the peace had not yet come; for as the Apostle Paul tells us, “Where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament [a bequest] is of force after men are dead; otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.” (Heb. 9:16,17.) But as soon as the tragic scene was over and the cry, “It is finished,” fell upon their eager ears, strange as it may seem, there is evidence that peace began to steal into their grieving hearts. The darkened heavens, the quaking earth, the rending rocks, the torn veil of the Temple–all spoke to them a message of comfort which the world could not receive.
To the world (Jews and Gentiles, both participating in the crime) the language of these events was that of Divine wrath and indignation against them. And as fear fell upon the people, and the clamor and excitement of that awful day died away, they smote upon their breasts and returned to their homes. The Roman centurion and they that were with him, fearing greatly, said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
But to the disciples of the Lord these events spoke a very different language. The cause of their blessed Master was their cause and it was God’s cause. To them these supernatural demonstrations were evidences that God was not regarding this matter with indifference; and though through the veil of darkness they could not read His bright designs, in these events there was to them a whisper of hope.
Three days later hope was revived by the news of our Lord’s resurrection, confirmed to them by His appearance in their midst. Again forty days later hope was strengthened by His ascension after His parting counsel and blessing and promised return, and the instructions to tarry in Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of adoption, not many days thence–at Pentecost. Then the peace of Christ, the Lord’s rich legacy, began to be realized, and the tarrying days of prayer and expectancy were days of abiding peace–peace which flowed as a river. But when on the day of Pentecost the promised Comforter came, the river of their peace found a deeper bed; and their joy knew no bounds!
“Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious in its glad increase.
Perfect; yet it floweth fuller every day;
Perfect; yet it groweth deeper all the way.”
OUR RICH LEGACY OF PEACE
But not alone to the early Church was this legacy of peace bequeathed. It is the blessed inheritance of the entire Church, even to the end of the Age. The Lord showed His thought for us all on that very day, when in His prayer He said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for all those who shall believe on Me through their word.”–John 17:20.
The peace promised, observe, is not the short-lived peace of the world, which is sometimes enjoyed for a little season–while fortune smiles and friends abound and health endures, but which quickly vanishes when poverty comes in and friends go out, when health fails and death steals away the treasures of the heart. “My peace,” the peace of God which Christ Himself by faith enjoyed, who, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor, who lost friend after friend, and in His last hour was forsaken by all of the few that remained–His peace endured through loss, persecution, scorn and contempt, and even amidst the agonies of the cross. This peace is something which none of the vicissitudes of the present life can destroy, and which no enemy can wrest from us.
What richer legacy could the Lord have left His beloved people? Suppose He had bent His energies during His earthly life to the accumulation of money; and that in so doing He had amassed an immense fortune to leave in the hands of His disciples wherewith to push forward the great work of the Age when He should be taken from them; money to pay the traveling expenses of the Apostles and to defray the numerous expenses incidental to the starting of the work in various places, such as the renting of lecture rooms, the payment of salaries to traveling brethren, etc., etc. How soon would it all have vanished, and how poor would be our inheritance today! “The Man of Sin” would surely have gotten hold of it in some way, and not a vestige of the legacy would have reached this end of the Age. But, blessed be God, His rich legacy of peace still abounds to His people!
The peace promised is not such as the world can always recognize and appreciate; for the possessor of it, like the Lord Himself, and like the Heavenly Father as well, may have a stormy pathway. Indeed, that it must be so to all the faithful until the purposes of God in the permission of evil are accomplished, we are distinctly forewarned, but with the assurance that through all the storms this peace shall abide–“In the world ye shall have tribulation, but in Me ye shall have peace.”
FAITH THE BASIS OF PEACE
If we would know the foundation and security of this abiding peace which is able to survive the heaviest storms of life, we have only to look to the teaching and example of the Lord and the Apostles. What was it that held them so firmly and gave them such rest of mind while they suffered? It was their faith–their faith in the Love, Power and Wisdom of God. They believed that what God had promised, He was able also to perform, and that His righteous and benevolent Plan could know no failure. By the mouth of His Prophets He had declared, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure….Yea, I have spoken it and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” “The Lord of Hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it?” (Isa. 46:9-11; 14:27.) On the assurances of God they rested. In Him their faith was anchored; and it mattered not how fiercely the storms raged or how they were tossed by the tempests of life while their anchor still held fast to the Throne of God.
The language of our Lord’s faith was, “O righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee; but I have known Thee.” He had been with the Father from the beginning, had realized His Love and His goodness, and had seen His Power, and had marked His righteousness and His loving kindness and Fatherly providence over all His works. And so it is written, “By His knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa. 53:11.) The knowledge which He had of the Father gave to Him a firm footing for faith in all God’s purposes concerning the future. Hence He could and did walk by faith. And that faith enabled Him to overcome all obstacles and to secure the victory even over death.
So also it is written for our instruction–“This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith”–that faith in God built, in our case, upon our Lord’s testimony of the Father; and again it is written that, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” It is only through steady, unwavering faith that the peace of God–the peace of Christ–will abide with His people. While the Lord was with His disciples, and they saw in Him the manifestation of the Father, their faith was strong and they had peace in Him, as He said, “While I was in the world I kept them.” But not until after He had left them was their faith anchored in God. After Pentecost they experienced the same peace that Christ had enjoyed–the blessed peace that came from a knowledge of the fact that God acknowledged them as sons and heirs, and joint-heirs with Christ, if they would continue faithfully to follow in the steps of the Redeemer.
CULTIVATION OF UNWAVERING FAITH
Herein is also the basis of our peace. No matter how fiercely the storms of life may assail us, we must never let go our anchor and allow ourselves to drift, but always remember that “the foundation of God standeth sure”; that “His Truth is our shield and buckler”; that “what He has promised He is able also to perform,” notwithstanding our human imperfections and frailties; that covering these we have the imputed righteousness of Christ, our Surety and Advocate; and that “the Father Himself loveth” us, “He considereth our frame and remembereth that we are dust,” and so has compassion for the sons of His Love and is very pitiful and of tender mercy. Indeed, “What more can He say than to us He hath said,” to assure our faith and to steady and strengthen our hearts to patient endurance in the midst of the trials and conflicts of the narrow way of sacrifice.
There is nothing which puts the Christian at greater disadvantage in the presence of his foes than for him to let go, even temporarily, his grip upon the anchor of faith. Let him do so for a moment, and of necessity darkness begins to gather round him. He cannot see the brightness of his Father’s face; for “without faith it is impossible to please God”; and while he grapples again for the anchor, the powers of darkness fiercely assail him with doubts and fears. These attacks are generally based upon his human imperfections, which he should ever bear in mind are covered by the Robe of Christ’s righteousness.
If we would have the peace of God reign in our hearts, we must never let go our anchor, “nor suffer Satan’s deadliest strife to beat our courage down.” The language of our hearts should always be, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” With this faith the peace of God, the peace which the Master bequeathed to us, ever abides. Thus “the peace of God which passeth all understanding will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”; for it is written again, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.”
In the midst of the Christian warfare let our hearts be cheered and our minds be stayed, not only with such assurances that all the Divine purposes shall be accomplished, but also with such promises of personal favor as these:
“Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him; for He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child?…Yea, they may forget; yet will I not forget thee. Behold I have engraven thee upon the palms of My hands.” “The Father Himself loveth you,” and “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” “Such as are upright in their way are His delight.” “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart”–the peace of God, even in the midst of storm and tempest.
Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. —Matthew 4:17
There is no doubt about the continuing theme of the book of Matthew. It is captured in the words “kingdom of heaven,” a phrase that’s used thirty-two times (King James Version). No other book of the Bible uses this expression. The other gospel writers use “kingdom of God.”
Most Bible expositors believe the phrases “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are synonymous. In parallel gospel accounts the terms are used interchangeably by the writers themselves (see Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15; Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:28,29). Matthew himself uses the phrase “kingdom of God” five times (Matthew 6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31; 21:43).
John the Baptist began his preaching work admonishing those around him, “Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Our Lord began his ministry with those same words (Matthew 4:17) and he taught his apostles to do the same when he sent them out to preach (Matthew 10:7). Not only was this kingdom the main topic of our Lord’s ministry, for most practical purposes it was his only topic!
In our Lord’s mountaintop sermon in front of the multitudes, “He opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:2,3,20).
The subject of the “kingdom of heaven” permeates our Lord’s earthly ministry as well as the ministry of the twelve apostles, who were both instructed and commissioned by our Lord.
What is the Kingdom of Heaven?
Some scholars believe “kingdom of heaven” is a reference to heaven itself, and that the message preached by the Lord and his apostles was heaven and how to get into it.
Others say the “kingdom of heaven” is a reference to a spiritual condition in the hearts of men which results in the transforming of lives and eventually even the society in which we live. They say the Lord and his apostles were preaching about the need for repentance and letting God reign in the hearts of men. If all did so, God’s will would be done in earth (Matthew 6:10).
These are but two of the commonly accepted ideas as to the meaning of the phrase “kingdom of heaven.” However, such thoughts are at odds with what the Scriptures declare. A careful search reveals that the “kingdom of heaven” is not a reference to heaven itself, or to some spiritual reigning of God in the hearts of men, but rather to the Messianic kingdom of peace foretold by the prophets and promised by God himself to the nation of Israel (Daniel 2:44,45; Isaiah 2:2-5; Micah 4:1-5).
In Genesis we read of a covenant relationship between Jehovah God and Abraham. Accordingly, the nation of Israel was to be a “great nation” in which “all families of the earth [shall] be blessed” (Genesis 12:1,3). The arrangement was to give land to Abraham where he and his descendants after him would forever dwell as this “great nation” and provide for the blessing of the world and administer God’s dominion over it (Exodus 19:5,6).
In prophesying about this event, Isaiah proclaimed: “It shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people” (Isaiah 2:2-4).
This nation under God would provide the way for the world of mankind to walk in the paths of God. The will of heaven will reign and rule on the earth by way of the kingdom of Israel.
God raised up prominent ones to lead his people. History shows that despite God’s plans, Israel rebelled. In view of her rebellious ways and failures, God raised up king David and made a covenant with him and his descendants: “When thy days be fulfilled and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever” (2 Samuel 7:12,13; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14).
Isaiah rejoiced in this future day and proclaimed to Israel: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6,7).
Daniel in a vision saw the end of Gentile dominion over Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promises to the nation: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:44).
Israel’s covenanted kingdom was to be established through her Messiah, the promised seed of David, in accordance with the Davidic covenant. He would redeem his people and set up his kingdom dominion in Zion. This is what God’s covenant with Israel called for and this is what the expression “kingdom of heaven” refers to.
When is the Kingdom of Heaven?
Jesus was born for a purpose. The angel announced to Mary that Jesus’ God-given mission was to fulfill the Davidic promise: “Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31,33).
Jesus, the only-begotten son of God, left his heavenly home, was born of a woman, and became the promised seed of David, to sit on the throne of David and establish his kingdom on earth. The “kingdom of heaven” was “at hand”!
Not only was the promised Messiah on the scene, he was right on schedule as the prophets had long foretold (see Daniel 9:24-27). The establishing of the kingdom of heaven was nearing completion which prompted our Lord to tell the people as he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
This was the Divine Plan of the Ages. The long-awaited Messiah, the promised seed of David, the King of Israel, had arrived to announce that the covenanted kingdom of heaven was at hand. The work to be done was to prepare the way. Jesus taught the people the beatitudes in view of this kingdom (Matthew 5:1-12). He taught how to gain an entrance into it (Matthew 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; 19:23; 24). He expounded on who would be the “least” and the “greatest” in it (Matthew 5:19; 11:11; 13:32). He even told his closest disciples of their special positions in it (Matthew 19:28). And finally, he warned about the destructive judgments he would execute upon the nations prior to fully establishing the kingdom (Matthew chapters 24 and 25).
The apostles eagerly looked for the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). They proclaimed to Israel the arrival of her “last days” (Acts 2:1,36) as spoken of in the prophets, and exhorted the people to respond positively to the offer of the kingdom (Acts 3:12, 26).
It is evident that the “kingdom of heaven” has not yet been established on the earth. None of the prophetic pronouncements concerning its establishment have been completely fulfilled. Yet when our Lord was on earth, the “time” was “fulfilled” and so it was preached as being “at hand.” What happened? Why hasn’t “the God of heaven” fully set up that promised kingdom?
Though many have tried to explain, God’s own explanation concerning what he has done and what he will yet do is what needs to be understood and appreciated.
The apostle Paul tells us why there is a delay in establishing Israel’s kingdom. God has temporarily set aside his plans for Israel and has ushered in a new age. In Romans Paul writes that when Israel “stumbled” at the testimony of Christ, God “blinded” the nation and turned to the Gentiles: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Romans 11:25; compare John 12:37-40; 2 Corinthians 3:14).
God “blinded” Israel and put his plans and his special dealings with that nation on hold. God turned his attention to the Gentiles and has provided an age of grace. Paul writes: “For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; … which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Ephesians 3:1-6).
This time of grace is what God is now supervising. God has “not cast away his people,” has not discarded them. Her “fullness” is yet to come. Since her “blindness” is “in part until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in,” Paul goes on to say: “So all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (Romans 11:1,26,27).
Israel’s “fullness” is yet to come, and when it does, “the LORD shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one” (Zechariah 14:9).
As Isaiah declares to the redeemed and the delivered of Israel in that day, “Ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: … For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:6,11).
One Kingdom, Two Phases
The literal kingdom will not find Jesus sitting on a literal throne on earth. The kingdom of heaven is a spiritual kingdom, unseen by the human eye, but its influence will be worldwide. When asked about his kingdom, Jesus replied: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation, neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you [NASV: in your midst]” (Luke 17:20,21).
Israel will be the earthly representative of that heavenly kingdom and its ancient patriarchs of old will be its rulers. Jesus and his church will constitute the heavenly phase of that kingdom.
Israel’s promised kingdom is yet to be established. God’s word is sure, for he cannot change or alter his promises (Psalm 89:34). However, God’s plan for Israel is still in abeyance. God is working out “the mystery of Christ” in this “dispensation of grace” and is preparing a “new creation,” the church, the body of Christ, made up of both Jew and Gentile, for his purposes. When that work is complete, “all Israel shall be saved” and their promised kingdom will be fully set up. Through them “all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”