The Old Testament Scriptures we accept as of equal authority with the New Testament, said Pastor Russell, because Jesus and the Apostles so accepted them, and indeed based all of their teachings upon them. The false impression which has gone abroad amongst Christian people, that the Old Testament Scriptures are obsolete, that their predictions have all been fulfilled, is very erroneous. This has greatly hindered Bible study, and has paved the way to grievous errors. It should be remembered that the Old Testament represents the only Divine revelation made to man during the 4158 years from the creation to the time when Jesus at His baptism was proclaimed “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”
In all the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi, not a single suggestion is offered of a change of nature from human to spiritual, nor of any other heaven than that which God had originally provided for man the Garden of Eden. The hopes inspired in Israel by the Divine promises pointed them forward to the time when God’s blessing would obliterate the curse of sin and death and uplift mankind from present degradation, back to the original perfection. The Seed of the woman, it was promised, should ultimately “crush the Serpent’s head,” destroying the evil that is in the world, and establishing a reign of righteousness instead of the reign of sin and death. Messiah, as Emmanuel, would bring these great blessings to Israel; and, through Israel, they would be spread amongst all nations by Divine power.
Paradise, lost through disobedience, will be restored by Messiah. Instead of expecting a change of nature from human to spiritual, the teachings of the Old Testament led the Israelites to expect that God would make no change from His original purpose. He made not the earth to be destroyed by fire nor to be perpetually under the cloud of sin and death (Ecc. 1:4). He formed it to be inhabited by a human race, in His own image and likeness, Adam in his original purity being a sample.
DAVID’S SOUL IN HELL
As the Old Testament tells nothing about a heavenly condition, likewise it tells nothing about a hell of fire or torment. Such devilish theories were invented by the heathen, from whom many Christians have since absorbed more or less of the false doctrines. The Law and the Prophets do refer to hell some sixtysix times, but the hell which they teach is the grave, the tomb, the state of death. From first to last all mankind, both good and bad, go to hell, sheol, the tomb. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the Prophets died without giving the slightest intimation of Purgatorial suffering for anybody, or a hell of eternal torture.
The writers of the New Testament were also Jews, and it might here be noted that nowhere did they describe the Hell and Purgatory which we Protestants and Catholics conjured up during the Dark Ages. The New Testament, written in Greek, is in full accord with the Old Testament, written in Hebrew the sheol of the latter is the hades of the former. Unfortunately our translators have, in the English Bible, mixed things up in a terrible fashion, giving us hell and pit and grave as synonymous interpretations of sheol and hades. “Orthodoxy” made hell fiery and thus our eyes of understanding have been darkened through the machinations of our great Adversary, “the Prince of darkness.”
But all this demoniacal misrepresentation of the Divine character and Plan is soon to be scattered. The morning is at hand; the Prince of Light, the Savior, Messiah and His glorious Church, will soon shine forth as the Sun in the Kingdom of the Father, while Satan will be bound for that thousand years that he may deceive the people no more. “Then all the blind eyes shall be opened and all the deaf ears shall be unstopped,” and “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall fill the whole earth;” and “to Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, to the glory of God.”
SLEPT WITH HIS FATHERS
All through the Scriptures natural sleep is used as a figure for death, as the present time of the reign of sin is represented as a night time, and the coming reign of Messiah is prophetically described as the morning of a New Day, a New Epoch.
“Weeping may endure for a night” wrote David. The night has lasted for six thousand years; the New Day is the sevenththousand, the Sabbath of the great week. It will be the awakening time, as the six thousand years of the reign of sin and sorrow are the time in which our race has been going down into death into the deep sleep from which none will come forth except by the call of Messiah.
The penalty of death upon our race would have blotted us out of existence like the brute beasts had not God’s mercy from the beginning made provision for a Redeemer and for His Church and Joint-heir; and for the Messianic Kingdom; and for the resurrection, the awakening of all mankind, through this Kingdom. It was in view of that hope of a resurrection of the dead that believers spoke of their deceased friends as falling asleep.
This expression is used frequently in the New Testament. St. Stephen fell asleep in death; St. Paul, having in mind the great work of Christ on behalf of the world and the eventual awakening of all, declared that believers need not sorrow as others over the death of their friends and neighbors, but might realize that all “sleep in Jesus,” and that eventually God, through Him, will bring to pass the general awakening of the dead, all of whom are yet to be brought to a knowledge of the truth.
Pastor Russell quoted the Scripture, “Abraham slept with his fathers,” and declared that Abraham’s fathers were heathen. He called attention to the fact that good and bad, kings and princes and others, are, in the Scriptures, declared to have fallen asleep.
So it was with David. These all slept in the Bible hell in the tomb. They are all unconscious; as the Scriptures declare, “The dead know not anything; their sons come to honor and theyknow it not; they come to dishonor and they perceive it not of them”; “There is neither wisdom nor knowledge nor device in sheol (hell, the grave) whither thou goest” whither all go (Job 14:21; Ecc. 9:10).
THOU WILT NOT LEAVE MY SOUL IN SHEOL
The Prophet David declared his faith in a resurrection of the dead when he wrote, “Thou wilt not leave My Soul in hell (sheol, the grave), nor suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption” (Psa. 16:10). St. Peter (Acts 2:25-31) calls our attention to the fact that the Prophet David did see corruption, and hence that this statement was not in regard to himself but Jesus that the soul of Jesus was not left in sheol (Greek, hades); and, additionally, the flesh of Jesus was not allowed to corrupt.
St. Peter was pointing out the fulfillment of this prophecy of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead on the third day, when he made use of our text, “David is not ascended into the heavens;… his sepulchre is with us unto this day.” St. Peter’s argument is that David was in his sepulchre and was still dead, but that his words were a prophetic reference to Jesus’ resurrection.
Many Christian people repeat every Sunday what is styled the Apostles’ Creed, which declares the crucifixion and death of Jesus and His descent into hell into hades and that “God raised Him from the dead on the third day.” All intelligent Christians understand that the hell to which Jesus went was not Purgatory nor a place of eternal suffering, but the grave, sheol, the tomb, the state of death. This is proved to be the Apostle’s thought by the words, “God raised Him from the dead, for it was not possible that He should be holden” of death.
DAVID WILL NOT GO TO HEAVEN
King David will not go to heaven, said Pastor Russell, and he will not desire to go to heaven, for the same reason that a fish has no desire to perch upon the limb of a tree nor a bird to make its home under the water. As these animals have natures distinct and are adapted to the conditions which God has provided, so the nature of man, even when brought to human perfection, will enjoy and appreciate more the earthly blessings which God has provided for him than he would enjoy the heavenly blessings which God has provided for the Elect “little flock”—”the Church of the First-Borns” (Heb. 12:23).
The reason for this is plain when we remember the Apostle’s words. He declares, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know (appreciate) them, for they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Only those who have been begotten of the Holy Spirit are enabled to understand the deep things, the spiritual things of the Divine promise, and to rejoice therein as the Apostle explains (1 Cor. 2:9, 10).
And even when thus Spirit-begotten and with their affections set on things above, the Lord’s consecrated “little flock” experience difficulty in keeping their affections of the Heavenly things and off of the earthly things, because the latter appeal to them continually through all of their earthly senses. They are therefore exhorted to “look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are unseen,” which “eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the great things which God has in reservation for those that love Him” love Him more than they love houses or lands, parents or children, or self.
We can plainly see, then, that without this begetting of the Holy Spirit, which belongs, of course, to the servants and handmaidens of God during this Gospel Age, none are able to appreciate the things unseen. And hence the world of mankind in general, brought back to perfection and all the way back, appreciating human perfection will be willing not to sacrifice their earthly nature to obtain a heavenly, but will enjoy the earthly, under perfect conditions, in a Paradise restored (Isa. 35; Ezek. 37).
DAVID WAS A PROPHET
On a previous occasion we saw the teaching of the Scriptures to be that the first to be blessed by Messiah’s Kingdom will be the Ancient Worthies Enoch, Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets and that these will be made Princes in the earth. As one of these Princes, the Prophet David will have a very glorious station. His long career, his “ups and downs,” said the Pastor, show us the lights and shadows of the Prophet’s character more particularly, perhaps, than in the case of any other Bible character. And they show us a noble character, despite David’s human weaknesses and the frailties of his flesh, augmented in power by his kingly office and the misconceptions of kingly prerogatives which prevailed in his day.
The beautiful traits of the character of David on account of which he was declared to be, not a “new creature,” not a “son of God,” not an “heir of God and joint-heir with Messiah,” but “a man after God’s own heart” these traits were his loyal obedience and his repentance of everything which in any degree was displeasing to God and interrupted the fellowship Divine.
God’s Spirit-begotten children may not, therefore, take the Prophet David or any of the Ancients as their pattern. Only Spirit-begotten ones can serve as examples to the Church. They should walk in the footsteps of Jesus, and may even take the Apostles and other faithful brethren for examples. The Apostle, however, suggests that the Church may look back with profit upon the Worthies of the past, to note their degree of faith in God and their obedience to that faith. St. Paul, however, explicitly reminds us that God has provided some better thing for us the Church that the Ancient Worthies, without us (members of the Messiah), cannot be made perfect (Heb. 11:38-40).
JOINT-HEIRSHIP WITH CHRIST THE BETTER THING RESERVED FOR CHRISTIANS
The “better thing” reserved “for us” who are called of God during this Gospel Age is the joint-heirship with Christ, Jehovah’s Only-Begotten Son and Heir of all things, the partaking with Him in all His future work for the blessing of God’s intelligent creation. Therefore it is, as the Apostle states, that the reward of the Ancient Worthies tarries until first the overcoming Gospel Church is exalted to the throne with Christ in the dawn of the New Dispensation, now so close at hand.
As soon as the spiritual phase of the Kingdom is established in power the setting up of the human phase will begin. In humble recognition, therefore, of the Divine purpose and order in the superior exaltation of the Gospel Church, we repeat the Apostle’s statement that “they (those noble, loyal, righteous, faithful Ancient Worthies) without us shall not be made perfect.” But as to whether we shall be numbered among the “us” depends upon our successful running of the race set before us. Surely, no less faithfulness and nobility of character can be expected of us than of those who ran for the earthly prize. And since all the blessings of God’s Plan the exaltation of the Ancient Worthies, the liberation of the whole world from the bondage of sin and death and the final judgment of angels await the manifestation of the spiritual sons of God, the Gospel Church, therefore the Apostle (chapter 12), in forceful metaphor, points us back to those Ancient worthies as a stimulus for faith and zeal, saying:—
“Therefore also we, being compassed about with so great a cloud of martyrs (Greek marturon who so nobly witnessed for God and righteousness), let us (emulate them and) lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the (higher, heavenly) race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Jesus, our Ransomer, is also our Forerunner and Pattern in this race. He ran successfully, and, in consequence, is even now at the right hand of the throne of God, whither we also may go to Him.
Jesus’ way to the crown was the way of the shameful cross, and He said, If any man love Me, let him take up his cross daily and follow Me; the servant is not above his Lord, etc. Persecution and shame and grief and loss are our portion in this present world, but exaltation and glory will follow in due time, if we faint not. Therefore we are urged to consider His example and teaching lest we be weary and faint in our minds under the trials of faith, patience and endurance of this “evil day.”