ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS AND CORRESPONDENTS
BY: A. P. ADAMS
ANSWERS TO QUESTION
CHURCH AND COMPELLING MESSAGE
PROBATION AND THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL HELL
ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS
CHURCH AND COMPELLING MESSAGE
A brother asks, “What do you think of the Salvation Army work? The most of our advent believers here are running after them: they have got it into their heads that it is the compelling message.”
Anyone who thinks that the fundamental church is giving the compelling message is very much in the dark, it seems to me. The “church” is doing some good, of course, and the members of it are for the most part, I suppose, honest, sincere, zealous Christians. And from their standpoint they are much more consistent than most of the churches; for surely if the impenitent are momentarily in danger of falling into endless hell, then the apathy and indifference of the majority of Christians is criminal, and the extravagant and grotesque zeal of the Salvation Army is mild in comparison to the intense earnestness that ought to characterize Christians in their efforts to seek and save the lost. If this doctrine of endless torment is true, then any measure however extreme; beating drums and tambourines, parading the streets with banners and songs, turning a prayer meeting into a circus, any thing and every thing that will attract the people and bring them under the influence of Christian teaching, might be justifiable and even commendable, and the churches instead of finding fault with this extravagant zeal ought to bid them God-speed, help them all they can and imitate them as far as possible.
To me however the Salvation Army appears to be in the same business as the rest of the Christian church, viz. “beating the air.” They are beating the air a little harder than some other Christians, but it is only beating the air after all. They make converts, and these converts are reclaimed from bad habits for the time being, and lead better lives, etc., and so far they do good; but what are these converts converted to? And what are they fed on after conversion? They are converted, not to an intelligent understanding of God’s truth, but to a notion, to a man-made system, to error; and they are fed on sensation, excitement, a vast amount of doing and very little knowledge. The life of a Christian is faith; (Gal. 3:11) the foundation of faith is knowledge; (Rom. 10:17). Knowledge of God, or the truth, is the only thing that will establish, and advance, and keep steady, a disciple of Christ. The Salvation Army, in common with the churches, does not possess this knowledge of God, hence the converts do not have it; hence though for the most part they are doubtless sincere, yet they are only pseudo-Christians after all, or at the best, mere “babes in Christ.” One fact, if nothing else, would indicate their lack of true knowledge of God, viz. their invariable method of endeavoring to frighten the unconverted into a profession of religion; the false doctrine of endless hell-torment is constantly made to do duty as a lash whereby to whip in the careless and indifferent. God is thus misrepresented, the truth is obscured, error is made prominent, and where a few feeble minded, timorous people are influenced by this sort of harangue, the majority are hardened by it all the more, and thereby driven away from, rather than drawn toward, God. No one can know God truly while they believe in this unreasonable, unscriptural and utterly hideous dogma of endless torment; and yet this doctrine is the principle stock in trade of the Salvation Army. Their publications, their songs and prayer meeting talks have more in them about the devil than they do about Christ,—more about hell than heaven, more about the wrath than the love of God,—and so the various clans of the nominal church fare on; pounding away, beating the air, mere “bodily exercise,” sweating and straining to do something great, and really doing nothing to any purpose, in ignorance and unbelief of the blessed truth of God, which did they but know it, would immediately give them rest and peace and quiet in Him. “For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His.” God is indeed using the Salvation Army, to further his own plans, just as he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” (Eph. 1:11) and yet it is a part of “Great Babylon” that is waxing so mighty in these last days, and is destined soon to fall to be “found no more at all.”
Several have asked questions concerning the Second Death. I have briefly considered this subject in the pamphlet, “Endless Torments not Scriptural,” beginning on page 27. It is a question that cannot be turned off with a few words, so I will not attempt to answer it further now; an article will perhaps appear in the paper soon on this theme.
Some of the readers of this paper are Seventh Day Keepers, and two or three of these brethren have written to me, not exactly asking questions, but rather lecturing me on this point, and taking it for granted that I believe certain things in regard to this and other questions, which they have no means of knowing whether I believe or not, and which, as a matter of fact, I do not believe. I will simply state my position briefly, and thus answer these brethren. There are three principle views upon this question. Some designate a particular day of the week as the Sabbath, either the first or the seventh. Some say there is no Sabbath at all in this dispensation. Some take the view that all the time is a Sabbath of rest, the rest of faith now, until we experience the “rest that remaineth” by and by. (Heb. 4:3-10. The latter view is the one I sympathize with. I readily concede to our seventh-day brethren that there is not the slightest authority for calling the first day, the Sabbath, or keeping it as such, excepting that of the Church of Rome. I think that if there is any particular day of the week that we should keep especially holy, that day is the seventh, and not the first; but I recognize no such special obligation. What is wrong for me to do, or say, or think Saturday or Sunday, is wrong Monday, and what is right and proper Monday is equally right and proper any other day in the week. I would refrain from doing certain things on Sunday that I would do other days, simply out of consideration for the feelings of others; and if I was living in a community of seventh-day Adventist or Jews, I would show the same respect for Saturday. I meet with those who love the truth for religious exercises on Sunday because that day is most convenient under existing circumstances; not because it has any claim to special sanctity; and so far as I am personally concerned I would just as leave it would be any other day in the week, as the first day. “One man esteemeth one day above another; another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). I’m of the number who esteem every day alike, every one of them a rest day (Psa. 37:7). The apostle says, “we are not under the law but under grace;” that he includes the Ten Commandments under the general term law as he uses it in his epistle to the Romans is positively evident from 7:7, where he quotes one of those commandments as a sample of the teachings of the law that he was talking about. The distinction that seventh-day believers make between the “Ceremonial,” and the “Moral” law, is convenient enough for purposes of reference, etc., but the Bible makes no such distinction but includes the whole law, ceremonial and moral, under the one general name of law. Paul declares that the law, which was “written and engraven in stones,” i.e. the Ten Commandments, was the “Ministration of Death,” and was to be “done away,” to give place to the “Ministration of Righteousness,” “which remaineth.” (2 Cor. 3:7-11) What is the “ministration of righteousness?” Not the law, “for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Gal. 2:21) Righteousness comes by faith, and “the law is not of faith.” (Gal. 3:12). “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:3-13). But I will not pursue this subject further now. I intend to consider it more at length soon in an article on “the purpose of the law.” Meantime let us endeavor to “fulfill all the law in this one word,” Love. (Gal. 5:14; Rom. 13:8, 10).\
PROBATION AND THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL HELL
Some of the readers of the paper are very much exercised over the doctrine of endless torment, and Probation after death. One person writes thus: “Why do you oppose endless punishment? if that goes, endless salvation of necessity goes with it. Why rob Christians of their hope for the sake of comforting and hardening sinners in their sins. The age is drifting away from all restraint and you will help it along. If endless punishment is not true, then 99-100ths of all God’s people have been mislead by Christ’s own words.”
I do not believe that there is another reader of this paper who would endorse the above sentiments. The writer evidently is not at all familiar with the controversy waging over this doctrine of future retribution at the present time, and has considered the subject very superficially. My answer to these sentiments I have already published in the pamphlet, “Endless Torments not Scriptural.” I insert the above not for the sake of arguing against it, but that our readers may see how utterly in the dark many sincere Christians are. It is indeed sad that this hideous and false dogma of an endless hell has so blinded the eyes and hardened the hearts of God’s dear children, that many of them have come to think that if there is no endless hell there can be no endless heaven, and in a spirit of utter selfishness, as unlike Christ as it possibly could be, they stoutly contend for the former doctrine for fear of weakening the evidences of the latter; they are sure to go to heaven, they think, and rather than have their pious complacency disturbed they are perfectly willing that, side by side with their heaven of eternal joy, there should be a hell of everlasting woe. May the time speedily come when this awful slander against God shall be obliterated from the hearts of all his “offspring!” (Acts 17:29). For my own part, I confess that I feel that even heaven purchased at such an appalling cost as the existence of an endless hell would be too dear; and I hesitate not to declare that it seems to me it would be better that there should be no future life at all, than that any soul should suffer eternally. I thank God that the Bible teaches no such doctrine. So far as “hardening sinners in their sins” and releasing them from “restraint” is concerned, I would ask what effect does the preaching of the doctrine of endless torment have? Does it soften the heart and restrain from sin? Does not everyone know that the preaching of this dogma hardens the heart, and makes the sinner reckless and defiant? Infidelity and godlessness would not be so rampant in these days as they are if it had not been for the preaching of this false doctrine; it is not too much to say that there would be no Col. Ingersoll to-day going about the country undermining the people’s faith in the Bible, if this doctrine had never been promulgated; and I for one, feeling sure as I do that the dogma is false, contrary to scripture, and an outrage upon reason and common sense, am resolved to do all I can to disabuse the minds of the people of this awful misrepresentation of God and his Word. In regard to the statement that 99-100ths of God’s people have been misled by Christ’s own words, I would say that there is nothing new in that, for God’s nominal people as a whole, in every age, have invariably erred from the truth. Those who have had the most advanced light, and the purest truth, have always been in the minority. So it was in Elijah’s day (1 Ki. 19:14, 18), so it was in Jeremiah’s (Jer. 1 & 2), so it was in the days of the first advent, “He came to his own and his own received him not.” So it was in the days of Martin Luther; and so also in this final, Laodicean phase of the gospel church (Rev. 3:17, 18). If you follow the majority of the church in any age (except it be, perhaps, during the lives of the apostles) you will be led into many and serious errors; whereas if you would find the truth you must seek it, not among the most popular and numerous branches of the Christian Church, but among the little companies, the faithful few who have “gone forth unto Him without the camp bearing his reproach,” (Heb. 13:13, compare Ex. 33:7), the “Comeouters” as they have been called, and well called too, for though the name has been used as a term of reproach, yet those who have thus applied it have thereby unwittingly borne testimony to the scriptural character of these “little flocks,” for even so hath the Lord commanded, “Come out from among them and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing.” The fact that the majority of the nominal church have accepted any particular doctrine would, according to ecclesiastical history, be a stronger argument against that particular doctrine than for it. However this tremendous doctrine of everlasting woe is not one to be decided by a majority. Our appeal must be to the teachings of the Bible, and we must be content to abide by that, whatever others, either few or many, may think. I am perfectly satisfied with its teachings. I thank God that the Scripture is not burdened with any such monstrous doctrine, but that from beginning to end it is in perfect accord with that golden declaration of holy writ that “God is love.”
Another brother writes a lengthy and very decided letter against the doctrine of Probation after death. I will give a few extracts from his communication to show how carelessly and thoughtlessly men read the Bible, and what flimsy, shallow talk is advanced and accepted by many as sound reasoning. The brother seems to be quite satisfied that he has presented a very formidable argument against the “foolish doctrine” (as he calls it) of posthumous probation; he says, “the texts I have given you will find very troublesome for you to deal with; and I deny that you can make them agree with your theory without quibble.” Now, although the brother seems to think that I shall be almost overwhelmed by the might of his logic, yet the fact is (and it is almost laughable) that many of the texts he quotes as against the truth he opposes, are the very ones that I have used again and again in my writings and preaching to prove that doctrine, and the brother misses the point because he has not studied close enough. Now for a few specimens of his reasoning.
At the beginning of his letter he says that although the word probation is not in the Bible yet its equivalent is there, viz.: trial. I accept this, and was intending that the next Supplement should be on this very subject; let the reader bear this statement in mind, that the word trial is equivalent to probation, as I shall have occasion to refer to it again.
The writer quotes from my article where I say that the sinner is already dead and lost, and then asks, “How dead and lost? Not literally surely, for Christ in addressing the same dead class says, “Ye shall seek me and shall die in your sins, and where I go ye cannot come.” To tell dead men that they should die is strange logic. From this sentence it is very clear that the brother does not understand the Bible teachings on the great subject of life and death (1-3-54). I would ask him, what did Jesus mean when he said to a certain one, “Let the dead bury their dead,” to tell dead men to bury dead men “is strange logic,” is it not? But I will not stop to notice this point further now.
The writer continues thus, “You make the bold assertion that the entire teaching of the Bible, both in its general scope and in its special precepts and declarations is in full harmony with the doctrine of posthumous probation. I deny it.” Yes, I do make this bold assertion (if it is bold) and I reiterate it, and thank God! No amount of denial can change the truth. But assertions do not amount to much one way or the other. Let us notice some of this brother’s proof against this doctrine. He says, “The doctrine that teaches that God will destroy people and then raise them from the dead and give them another chance to practice the same wickedness again, to my mind, is a very foolish doctrine; to punish men first and then raise them from the dead and make then holy and happy in his own image and likeness is to my mind monstrous in the extreme.” Strange language this! To raise people from the dead simply that they may practice the same wickedness again would be foolish. I know of no one who entertains any such foolish idea; if the brother does I hope he will do all he can to enlighten them. But would it be foolish to raise people from the dead to deliver them from their wickedness, and to bring them to a knowledge of the truth, would that be foolish? Whether such an idea was true or not, there certainly is nothing foolish about it. But the last part of the quotation is the most remarkable; to punish men first and then raise them from the dead and make them holy and happy in God’s own image and likeness seems to this brother “monstrous in the extreme; now to me it seems blessed in the extreme. I hardly think the brother read this sentence over after he wrote it or he would not have allowed it to have gone so. Why, does not the brother claim to be a Christian? And has not the Lord punished him some time? (if he has not then is he a bastard and not a son; Heb. XII. 8) and if he dies before the Lord comes, does he not expect to be raised from the dead and made holy and happy in God’s image and likeness? And is this monstrous? The brother says it is, “monstrous in the extreme.” But see again, he quotes, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to reserve the unjust unto the Day of Judgment to, have Probation? no, no. My Bible does not read that way it puts in the word punished and thereby spoils your theory.” Nay, it thereby sustains my theory, and makes it fact. This text is one of the strong ones in favor of Probation after death. Who does the Lord punish? And what does he punish them for? He punishes those he loves, (Heb. 12:6; compare Amos 3:2) and he does it for their good that they may be “partakers of his holiness.” (Heb. 12:10) I do not suppose that this brother knows that the word here rendered “punished” really means corrected, but such is the fact; the passage then would read, “to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be corrected;” compare Jude 14, 15. This passage properly understood is a positive proof of probation after death. The brother goes on to quote some passages that he thinks teaches that death fixes our eternal destiny. The first one he quotes thus, “Heb. 9:27; and as it is appointed unto man once to die and after this, Probation? No indeed.” I say yes indeed, that is just what it says, “after this probation.” The original word means trial, as well as judgment; trial would be a perfectly correct rendering of the word. But according to this brother, as we have seen, trial is equivalent to probation; hence the correct rendering is as above. This passage is one of the strongest passages in the Bible for a probation after death, because it expresses that doctrine in the plainest language possible. “It is appointed unto man once to die and after this PROBATION.” Here is the doctrine in just so many words; without any “inferences,” or “twisting,” or “quibble,” or anything of the kind, but the exact words the apostle used. I shall try to consider this subject fully in the next supplement.
Again to prove that death fixes our eternal destiny, the brother quotes Heb. 10:27; but this passage says nothing about death whatever, not a word. The question is this, is our eternal destiny irrevocably fixed at the moment of death? A passage that makes no reference to death at all, like the last one mentioned, surely can have no bearing upon this question, and to present such an utterly irrelevant passage shows the carelessness and superficiality of the writer. The next passage urged to prove the same point is Matt. 12:31,32; of this we say the same as of the one just considered, it says nothing about death at all; whatever it proves, or however it is understood, it does not touch the question under consideration, and hence proves nothing one way or the other concerning it. It was to guard against such carelessness as this that I wrote the paragraph in the last paper on page 77, beginning, “I would call attention,” etc. In that paragraph I say, “if you examine carefully, and adhere closely to the one point under consideration, you will see,” etc., and yet this brother quotes texts that do not make any reference at all to the point under consideration. After quoting this last passage he adds, “If death does not fix the eternal destiny or the blasphemer, then words fail to convey ideas.” But there are no words at all in this passage to convey any such idea; death is not referred to in the passage; again I say, the question is, does death fix our eternal destiny? How can a passage that does not say anything about death at all have any bearing on this question? O how blind and befogged men must be thus to talk round and round a point and never come any where near it! The brother goes on to quote again, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation and to reserve the unjust to be punished,” and then he asks, “Does punishment mean probation?” I reply, punishment is a very important part of probation, as I have already noticed, and can this brother deny it? Does not God always punish to benefit the one punished? Just as a good parent punishes his child. Is it possible that the brother is so ignorant of the Bible that he does not know that punishment is one of the most essential parts of our trial? “The Lord scourgeth EVERY son whom he receiveth.” (Heb. 12:7) The statement that certain ones were to be punished would be a proof that their period of probation had not expired, rather than the contrary (see also Psa. 119:65-72).
The brother goes on to refer to many other passages, every one of them as wide of the mark as those we have noticed; and then he undertakes to explain away the force of Ezek. 16:44-63. This part of his letter I will consider in the next number.
ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS
I have received many letters containing objections, suggestions and questions, which I shall endeavor to answer in due time. I am always glad to receive such letters, when written in the right spirit, as I do not expect that readers will accept everything that appears in the paper unquestioned, nor would I have them do so, but rather “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind;” not infrequently great light is brought out by questions or objections; the truth never can be harmed in this way; thorough investigation will expose error, but it will make the truth shine brighter and brighter. In the present number I shall only have space to reply to a portion of these communications; other answers will appear shortly.
I wish first to consider some objections contained in two long letters written by a Christian brother, a preacher of the gospel, against the idea of the plan of creation, purpose of evil, probation after death, etc., as set forth in past issues of this paper. These letters contain the fullest and best criticism of these views that I have ever met, and are written in a spirit of candor and Christian fairness that commands my respect and esteem, though I cannot accept the writer’s conclusions. I will notice some few points in these letters because they illustrate how the best of writers are led to contradict themselves, and take inconsistent and totally untenable positions, when they undertake to oppose the truths of God’s word and to sustain the orthodox view. I will quote from the letters and then answer.
“If your theory concerning the fall of man is correct, namely that it was in accordance with God’s will that evil should exist, and that likewise sin and evil were according to his purpose and plan, then it necessarily follows,
1. That it will prove in the end to be far better that our first parents entered upon an experience of sin, guilt and shame, sorrow, pain and death; than it would have been had they continued in a state of innocence, unrighteousness, purity and peace.
2. That, if man had always obeyed God, he (God) would have been unable, with all his store of infinite wisdom and power, to devise and carry out a plan which should secure the perfect welfare and happiness of the race.
3. That God, that cannot lie, did not really mean what he said, when he forbade Adam and Eve partaking of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; while Satan who is a liar and the Father of it, told them the truth.”
Now in reply to the foregoing I would say, first, that the proper way, as it seems to me, for our brother to have done in his criticism, was, not to consider if the theory were true, what the results would be, but whether the theory were true or not; let the results be what they may, is this system of theology true? Is the question he should have considered first at least, and if he was able to show the main system false on Bible evidence, then he could have gone on to have strengthened that conclusion by endeavoring to show that the consequent doctrines flowing from such a system were also false. But, this, the brother does not do; he leaves the main position unassailable, thus virtually acknowledging its impregnability, but, still clinging to the creed in which he has been educated, he will not accept these views because the conclusions flowing there from do not harmonize with the teachings of the creed. The great mass of evidence that so firmly establishes this grand system of “Bible Theology” is left untouched, but the system is nevertheless rejected because its issues cannot be harmonized with the nominal church theology. Suppose the church theology is all wrong (which it most certainly is; see the article on “Orthodoxy” in the preceding number), then of course the true theology, whatever it is and whoever may have it, would be entirely out of joint with the false church theology. The only standard is the Bible, “to the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this Word it is because there is no light in them.” We need not fear conclusions so long as we have the solid bed rock of truth under our feet at each step of our reasoning (1-2-28)
But now let us look at the consequences that seen to be so objectionable to our brother. To number 1, I would reply at once, and without reserve, yes. I have not a shadow of doubt but that it will be “far better” for man that he fell into evil than it would have been had he remained innocent in Eden; and I have given my reasons for this belief several times in the paper, (see 1-1-7,1-2-25, 1-8-169, &c.). My belief in God that he is supreme and all-wise compels me to this view: I cannot think that God would have allowed sin to enter the world (and of course he might have prevented it) had he not foreseen that it would have been for man’s good in the end.
To number 2, I would simply say that we have nothing to do with what God could have done, or could not have done, if circumstances had been different; it is enough for us that we know what he has done under existing circumstances; and since “all things are of God,” and “he worketh all things after the council of his own will,” it must be that he has done the right thing, and the best thing, and that the outcome will be for his glory, and the good of all his children; this we should know if we had no more scripture than that quoted above; but when we have abundance of Scripture to show how God uses all things, evil and sin included, to further on and carry out his own purposes and plans, how he causes the very wrath of man to praise him (Psa. 76:10), and that in the end “God shall be all in all,” then we can accept things just as they are, with the assurance that God will bring it all out right in the end.
In answer to number 3, I would say that God’s purpose lies not on the surface; we must dig deeper than the letter if we would understand God’s true meaning. He speaks, as we have abundantly shown, in type and figure, prophecy and symbol, parable, dark saying and allegory, and he who would understand even “parts of his ways” (Job 26:14), must “search as for hid treasures.” (Prov. 2:4) In regard to Satan, I would add that he also is God’s servant (Psa. 119:91), and must do God’s will, in a sense, like other servants, as I have shown in the article on “The Purpose of Evil” in No. 8.
The great trouble with this brother is the same as with all of those who are in sympathy with the popular theology, they start out wrong; they do not understand God’s Plan of Creation; they do not know that “All things are of God,” “The Purpose of Evil,” etc., etc., hence all their reasoning is wrong, and all their conclusions are wrong; and nothing looks so much like falsehood as truth, and nothing looks so much like truth as falsehood; and thus unwittingly they “call evil good, and good evil, and put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”
Now I will notice another extract from this brother’s letter; he says; “God’s plan concerning man will not fail; God’s plan was to create a beautiful world and people it with a race of holy, happy beings, who should rejoice forever in the goodness and glory of God their Father. If all men from the beginning had obeyed God perfectly the great plan would have progressed uninterruptedly and harmoniously to grand and glorious success, without a stain of sin or a shade of evil. Sin and evil are not a part of God’s plan, or by any means in harmony with it, but the direct results of nonconformity to it. Man, to be an intelligent subject of God’s government, must have an independent will; when God gave man the power to choose for himself, he no longer retained the power to choose for him. So the creature alone is responsible for evil and not the Creator. Man must be tried in some way, for God will have a tried people, therefore as long as sin and evil are in the world, he makes use of them to try and test his children. God’s work is temporarily marred and its progress delayed by evil, but when the earth is renewed, and the saints are all immortal, and the tabernacle of God is with men, and the whole earth filled with his glory, then will his beneficent designs be fully accomplished.”
It is a marvel to me that the brother could not see that in this passage, 1, he contradicts himself; 2, he makes God out to be less than supreme; 3, he involves the outcome of God’s plan in uncertainty and doubt, so that we know not whether good or evil will ultimately triumph.
He tells us that “God’s plan will not fail;” then he goes on to say that “God’s plan was to create a beautiful world and people it with a race of holy and happy beings who should rejoice forever in the goodness and glory of God their Father;” and he further tells us that if there had been no sin this plan would have been carried out “uninterruptedly to grand and glorious success.” Thus the brother contradicts himself; he tells us first that God’s plan will not fail;” then he goes right on to tell us how it has failed; He might say perhaps that it has only partially failed, and that It will ultimately be carried on to a partial success; and this indeed is what he does say, viz.: that “God’s work was temporarily marred and its progress delayed by evil,” which he still further tells us is “no part of God’s plan.” Here surely is a partial failure of God’s plan; instead of the world being “peopled with a race of holy, happy beings, rejoicing forever in the goodness and glory of God,” it has been peopled with a race of sinful, wretched creatures who know not God, nor care for his glory; this was “no part of God’s plan;” God’s work is thereby “marred” and “delayed,” but this damage will ultimately be partially repaired and the original plan carried out. How contradictory and inconsistent is all this! And how it belittles God’s power and wisdom. Evil which is “no part of God’s plan” comes in, in spite of God and contrary to his plan, to disarrange and delay his work and at least to partially destroy it, though after a long struggle and much loss, God will triumph, and a remnant of the race share in the benefits of the original plan. According to this view God cannot be supreme or infinite, for if he was, no power would be able to mar his work in the least degree, or delay his plan for one single moment, and his success would not be partial but complete and absolute. Furthermore if this view of our brother were correct the future would be shrouded in uncertainty and gloom; if events have taken place to mar and delay God’s work in the past, contrary to his will and plan, then such events may occur in the future. “Evil and sin is no part of God’s plan,” and yet evil and sin got into God’s world, and disarranged his plan and postponed his triumph, putting God to great trouble, so to speak, to repair damages, and causing the destruction of a portion of God’s works in spite of all he can do; if this has happened once may it not occur again? If God could not have prevented it then, how can we tell that he will be able to prevent a similar disastrous occurrence at some future time, and so his work be still more marred and the final success still further delayed. If you say that God could have prevented it, but that he chose to allow evil and sin to enter the world, then you yield the whole point and come at once upon the ground advocated in this paper, and (as I believe) in the Bible. For if God allowed sin to enter the world when he might have prevented it then he is certainly responsible for it, and since he is good and wise it must be that it was allowed for some good and wise purpose. And since he can see the end from the beginning it must be that evil and sin is a part of his plan, foreseen, provided for, and working together, like all other things, for good. We cannot escape these conclusions by bringing in the orthodox doctrine of man’s free moral agency; on this point I need only refer the reader to previous issues; see 1-1-10 and 1-8-170.
In order to show the reader that I have not exaggerated this brother’s position I will quote one more extract that clearly shows how far out of the way one may get and yet apparently be unconscious of it, when they undertake to oppose the truth, and to support error; the extract is as follows:
“Although God is supreme, he cannot control the will of an intelligent creature and at the same time leave him free to make his own choice. Because God permitted the fall and made provisions accordingly, is no proof that it was the best way; but it was best under the circumstances that is after the introduction of sin. God always does the best he can for everybody under the circumstances. It was much better that the world be peopled with a race of holy, happy immortals, even at the expense of much sorrow and suffering, than to give up the plan and let all go back to nothing, infinitely better. But it were still better by far had God’s plan been followed from the beginning.”
O dear! What an imperfect weak God this brother has! “He always does the best he can under the circumstances!” Why, you might say that of any well meaning, conscientious Christian; they do the best they can under the circumstances. But a being of that kind will not satisfy me for a God; nor does it measure up to the Bible presentation of the Most High. “Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his Redeemer the Lord of Hosts, I am the first and I am the last; and beside me there is no God: and who, as I, shall call and shall declare and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people, and the things that are coming and shall come, let them shew unto them.” (Isa. 44:6, 7) “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is none else, I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stank, and I will do all my pleasure; yea I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” (Isa. 46:9-11) “This God is our God forever and ever.” (Psa. 48: 14) A god that “always did the best he could under the circumstances” might command our respect and some degree of love, but we could not put much confidence in him not much more than in a well meaning man, for we should never know what circumstance might arise to hamper his operations, disarrange and delay his plans, and cripple his strength. No, no, such a God as that would not do for the head of this universe; and I am thankful that “our God” is not such being as that. But He is a God that makes and controls circumstances; He is never “under” any circumstances, but always above them all, and He “worketh all things after the council of his own will,” saying “My council shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” I cannot admit for a moment that God was compelled by circumstances to choose a second rate method to carry out his plan. All things are part and parcel of his plan; and that plan is being carried out without the least disarrangement or a moment of delay by the originally appointed and very best of means; and “none can stay his hand, or say unto Him, What doest thou.” (Dan. 4:35) Let it be noticed also how this brother contradicts himself again by implying that God’s original plan was not carried out. He says, “It was much better that the world be peopled with a race of holy, happy immortals, even at the expense of much sorrow and suffering, than to give up the plan and let all go back to nothing, infinitely better. But it were better by far had God’s plan been followed from the beginning.” Note here, first, that it is implied that after sin entered the world, the best way to carry out God’s plans was lost, and now God had two alternatives presented to him; he must either “give up his plan and let all go back again to nothing,” or he must carry out that plan (partially) “at the expense of much sorrow and suffering.” The latter was the lesser of the two evils and so God chose that. “But it were better by far,” our brother says, “Had God’s plan been followed from the beginning.” Then God’s plan was not followed from the beginning, some other plan was followed which took into account evil and sin, which was no part of God’s plan” our brother says again; and yet he also declares, that “God’s plan cannot fail.” Either evil and sin was as a part of the plan of God, or else God must have changed his original plan far another plan entirely different, for surely evil and sin have a very intimate relation to the plan of God as now revealed in the Bible; the whole plan of redemption is the means whereby man is delivered from the bondage of corruption, and Christ’s special mission is to “save his people from their sin,” and to “destroy the works of the devil.”
But we will not pursue this line of thought any further. I have introduced these extracts and remarks in order to show how crooked and inconsistent are the ways of error. The writer I have been reviewing is, I have no doubt, an earnest, intelligent Christian preacher; and yet in his reasoning he contradicts himself, as we have seen. He takes positions that are inconsistent and unreasonable, and (all unconsciously) belittles and degrades the wisdom and power of God to the level of mere expediency, “he does the best he can under the circumstances,” about the same as a good natured, well disposed mortal might do. How strikingly in contrast with all this snarl and tangle are the simple grand truths of God’s word as set forth in his “Purpose of the Ages”! (Eph. 3:11, N.V.*margin). These truths are harmonious one with another, and with the entire word; they are reasonable and consistent throughout, and they magnify the wisdom and love of God, so as to fill our hearts with joy and praise, putting us under no necessity to defend his character or to apologize for his dealings with the children of men. I would adopt in this connection the beautiful and (what is better) truthful words of Holland in his “Bitter Sweet,” and say that these wonderful truths of God:
ANSWER TO QUESTIONS AND CORRESPONDENTS [A. P. Adams] 1
“Do save some very awkward words
That limp to make apology for God,
And, while they justify Him, half confess
The adverse verdict of appearances.
I am ashamed that in this Christian age
The pious throng still hug the fallacy
That this dear world of ours was not ordained
The theater of evil; for no law
Declared of God from all eternity
Can live a moment save by lease of pain.
Law cannot live, e’en in God’s inmost thought,
Save by the side of evil. What were law
But a weak jest without its penalty?
· · · ·
We may suspect the fair smooth face of good;
But evil that assails us undisguised,
Bears evermore God’s warrant in its hands.
· · · ·
I sorrow if I shock you, for I seek
To comfort and inspire. I see around
A silent company of doubtful souls;
But I may challenge any one of them
To quote the meanest blessing of his life,
And prove that evil did not make the gift,
Or bear it from the Giver to his hands.
The great salvation wrought by Jesus Christ
That sank an Adam to reveal a God
Had never come but at the call of sin.
No risen Lord could eat the feast of love
Here on the earth or yonder in the sky,
Had he not lain within the sepulcher.
‘Tis not the lightly laden heart of man
That loves the best the hand that blesses all;
But that which, groaning with its weight of sin,
Meets with the mercy that forgiveth much.
God never fails in an experiment,
Nor tries experiment upon a race
But to educe its highest style of life,
And sublimate its issues. Thus to me
Evil is not a mystery, but a means
Selected from the infinite resource
To make the most of me.
Thank God for light!
These truths are slowly dawning on my soul,
And take position in the firmament
That spans my thought, like stars that know
their place Like the hand
Of a strong angel on my shoulder laid,
Touching the secret of the spirit’s wings,
My heart grows brave. I’m ready now to work
To work with God, and suffer with his Christ;
Adopt his measures, and abide his means.
If, in the law that spans the universe
(The law its Maker may not disobey) ,
Virtue may only grow from innocence
Through a great struggle with opposing ill;
If I must win my way to perfectness
In the sad path of suffering, like Him
The overflowing river of whose life
Touches the flood-mark of humanity
On the white pillars of the heavenly throne,
Then welcome evil! Welcome sickness, toil,
Sorrow and pain, the fear and fact of death.
· · · ·
God loves not sin, nor I; but in the throng
Of evils that assail us, there are none
That yield their strength to Virtue’s struggling arm
With such munificent reward of power
As great temptations. We may win by toil
Endurance; saintly fortitude by pain;
By sickness, patience; faith and trust by fear;
But the great stimulus that spurs to life,
And crowds to generous development
Each chastened power and passion of the soul,
Is the temptation of the soul to sin,
Resisted and re-conquered, evermore.
A brother takes exceptions to the statements in 1-3-52, concerning the death of Christ. He says “You say that Christ laid down his pre-existent life and entered into death, this fallen state; and that he was in this condition of death for thirty-three and a half years. You then say that according to the word death is alienation from God, ignorance of God and to be carnally minded is death. All this would imply if I understand you right, that Jesus was alienated, ignorant of God; also that he was not spiritually minded. When you speak of Christ’s thirty-three and a half years’ existence on earth being a living death, I am puzzled to know what you mean. Can we cease to exist and yet exist? I know we may be in a dying condition, we may be dying and yet be living, but we cannot be dead and at the same time alive. We are counted dead, reckoned dead, but as long as one spark or measure of life remains we are not dead. ‘Dying thou shalt die’ was the sentence. Adam was in a condition, after being cast out of the garden that would lead to death, and we (condemned in Adam) are in that same condition.”
In answer to this I would say, first, that it is certainly a Scriptural position that this fallen state, this condition of “enmity” and alienation from God, is called death, (1-3-54) “If one died for all then were all dead,” says the apostle; and even Christians are spoken of as destitute of life; “Ye are dead,” says Paul to the Colossian Christians, “and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Col. 3). Says Paul again, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.” “They that are Christ’s,” will not be made alive until “at his coming.” “Now the just shall live by faith;” but “faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen:” “We are saved by hope; but hope that is seen [possessed], is not hope; for which a man seeth [has in his possession] why doth he yet hope for? but if we hope for that we see [possess] not, then do we with patience wait for it.” All must see from these Scriptures, and many more to the same effect that might be quoted, that this fallen state is in the Bible called death, and that even the Christian has as yet, life only by faith, and not in actual possession. Death then, in this Bible sense, is this fallen condition of “enmity” (Rom.8:6, 7), alienation and ignorance, (for if knowledge is life, John 17:3 ignorance is death) in to which man has been plunged by sin. Now then it is also certainly Scriptural that Christ entered fully into this fallen state. “He was made in all things like unto his brethren,” “tempted in all points like as we,” partook of flesh and blood just the same as “the children” partake (Heb. 2:14) and was “made sin for us.” Hence it necessarily follows that Christ was in a condition of death during his sojourn here in the tabernacle of corruptible flesh. He had nothing, only the hidden life, just as the believer has now. (John 6:57; compare Col. 3:3). But now comes the question, if Christ was in a condition of death while here in the flesh, was he then alienated and ignorant of God? And was he “carnally minded”? To this I would reply in the same way as I would to one who should ask me if Christ was a sinner? Christ entered voluntarily into all the experiences of the sinner, although he was sinless. He took the sinner’s place, assumed all his debts, all his disabilities, and shared in all his experiences, so that “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” If you ask me to explain just exactly how Christ was “made sin” I should have to say I did not know, any more than I know how “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” But I am nevertheless very sure that he was “made sin,” as I am sure that he was “made flesh,” and I am also sure that he was “made in all things like unto his brethren,” he entered into this fallen state, and this fallen state is a condition of death, hence Christ was in a condition of death for three and thirty years even all the time he tabernacle in the flesh. In 1-5-101, I have spoken of several particulars wherein Christ differed from the rest of the human race, but these differences were in addition to his humanity, which humanity was like that of all “the children,” a poor, weak, fallen humanity as I have shown in the articles on the humanity and divinity of Christ in numbers four and five. All this Christ did as companion, Forerunner, and “Captain of our salvation.”
I suppose that every Bible student knows that the word death is used in several different senses in Scripture; and one may be alive in one sense and dead in another; hence I spoke of Christ suffering a “lifelong death,” supposing that the context would prevent any one from being led astray by the apparently contradictory expression. When Paul says, “if one died for all then were all dead,” he certainly does not mean that all had ceased to exist when Christ died, but they were dead in the Bible sense of alienation and ignorance of God. When Christ said, “let the dead bury their own dead,” he used the term “dead” in two different senses in the same sentence. So when Paul says, “I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me,” and again to the Colossians, “Ye are dead”. We cannot rigidly bind the term death down to the one meaning of non-existence, extinction of physical life. This Bible subject of life and death is a great deal larger than such a narrow condition would make it. If our brother will thoroughly examine the subject throughout the Bible he will find, I think, that he must give to the term death several significations in order to compass the whole subject.
The penalty for disobedience, literally, rendered, was “a death thou shalt die,” and in harmony with this rendering, taking the Bible idea of death, in the very day that Adam sinned, that same literal day he did die “a death;” what death? not physical death we know, for he lived 930 years; but spiritual death, the death we have been considering, and it plainly appears from the account that this was the death that Adam died when he sinned. Paul says to be “carnally minded is death, because the carnal mind is enmity against God.” Now we see from the account that before sin entered into the world Adam and his Maker were on very intimate and familiar terms, they walked and talked together in the garden like Father and son; but as soon as Adam had sinned, he ran away from God, he hid himself when he heard his voice. Here we see clearly the alienation, estrangement and enmity, the product of the “carnal mind,” springing up at once between God and man as soon as sin entered into the world, and this is what the Scriptures call death; as it is written; “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” (Rom. 5:12) This is a Bible explanation of the sentence, “In the day thou eatest thereof a death thou shalt die.” Adam did die “a death,” in the Scriptural sense, the very day he disobeyed God, as is clearly shown by the account. The common explanation (based on the marginal reading, “dying thou shalt die,” which is not strictly literal) that Adam began to die the day he sinned, or passed into a dying condition, will do tolerably well and yet it is somewhat forced and strained; with this explanation, physical death is meant, and it is rather straining the truth to say that Adam was in a dying condition physically after he had sinned. We know that in our day a person’s physical vitality increases up to a certain point, “the prime of life,” as we say, then it seems to remain stationary for a number of years, and then gradually declines until physical death ensues: it can scarcely be said that a person in the prime of physical life as Adam doubtless was when he was expelled from the garden, was in a dying condition. He is in a condition where it is certain that he will die sooner or later, if you please, but that is not the way the margin reads: “In the day thou eatest thereof dying thou shalt die;” the only way this can be explained, if we make the dying physical, is to say that Adam began to die at very day though his complete death did not occur until he was 930 years old; but this, as I have already noticed is not strictly true. There is still another possible explanation of the passage, by understanding the “day” referred to as a thousand-year day, according to 2 Pet. 3:8; this view is fairly tenable and I think is preferable to the one that makes Adam in a dying condition physically for 930 years; but for myself I prefer the one I have given above; “In the day thou eatest thereof a death thou shalt die;” this is the literal rendering of the original and implies that there are several kinds of death, as we know there are according to scripture, and that Adam was to die a death in the day he disobeyed, but it does not say what death, but other scripture explains the death, and the account fully harmonizes with that explanation, as I have noticed above; it seems to me also that this view is confirmed by the fact that physical death is the result of the sentence pronounced upon guilty man after the fall, “Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return;” this dread decree fully accounts for the universal prevalence of physical death, and is referred to by the apostle when he says, “it is appointed unto men once to die.” Whereas spiritual death, the death “in sin,” alienation and ignorance of God, is meant by the penalty affixed to disobedience before the fall, “In the day thou eatest thereof a death thou shalt die;” and this death is referred to when the sacred writer says, “Adam begat a son in his own likeness, after his image, and called his name Seth.” (Gen. 5:3) So in the Psalms the same truth is indicated when David says, “Behold I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” It is sometimes said that “man is born to die;” in this Scriptural sense it may truthfully be said that man is born dead; and this saying, as strange as it may sound, is fully confirmed by the apostle when he says, “If one died for all, then were all dead.”
That Christ was in a condition of death while he was here on earth is fully confirmed by scripture; (see 1-3-54, 64 & 65). Now I wish to notice another point that still further confirms this view.
CHRISTIAN BAPTISM, i.e. water baptism, is a symbol of death, burial and resurrection; Rom. 6:3-5: Col. 2:21; 1 Pet. 3:21. Christ is our Forerunner; when was he baptized? He was baptized of John in the Jordan at the commencement of his ministry, would be the ordinary answer. But John’s baptism was not Christian baptism at all, as I have shown in 1-3-55 & 56. Was not Christ then baptized at all, as a pattern to His followers? Yes. Jesus experience the real baptism of death, burial and resurrection, of which water baptism is the symbol; He passed through the real, hence He needed not the symbol. But when did Jesus experience His real baptism? Not merely when He died upon the cross and was buried in Joseph’s tomb, etc., but He was under going this baptism at the time He was here in the flesh; it began when He laid down his pre-existent life and entered into this fallen state of death, thus making his grave with the wicked” (see explanation of Isa. 53:9, in 1-3-64), and it was not finished until “God raised him up for the dead now no more to return to corruption;” Christ’s incarnation, deliverance “out of death” (Heb. 5:7, N.V., margin), and resurrection, was his baptism, the real thing, of which water baptism is only the faint symbol and figure. The fact that Christ was in a condition of death while here in the flesh, and that he did thus “make his grave with the wicked,” (as he “made his grave with the rich” when he was put into Joseph’s tomb) was saved out of this death, this fact, together with the symbolical meaning of baptism, death, burial and resurrection, these facts would indicate what was the true baptism that Christ experienced; but we might hesitate about accepting this view perhaps if we did not have Christ’s direct statement to the same effect. These statements we will now notice. He speaks twice of this terrible baptism that he was undergoing. The first time in Mark 10:38. The sons of Zebedee made a request, and “Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask; can ye drink of the cup that I am drinking (present tense) or undergo the baptism with which I am being overwhelmed.” (see Emphatic Diaglott). Both verbs are in the present tense, and denote present action, and indicate that Christ was at that time undergoing his baptism, he was being baptized even then, and the baptism was not finished until Christ was “declared to be the son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead;” now this latter fact is clearly indicated in the other reference that Christ makes to his baptism. See Luke 12:50. “I have a baptism to be baptized with and how am I straitened till it be finished.” The last word means to complete, finish, end, etc. In the Emphatic Diaglott, interlinear translation, the word is rendered “finished;” in Rotherham’s translation it is rendered “ended;” in Young’s we find “completed;” the same word is rendered “finished” in several instances in the common version; e. g. Matt. 13:53; 19:30; 2 Tim. 4:7, etc. All of these renderings indicate the great truth that Christ was then undergoing his baptism; but he was rapidly approaching its consummation and he would be “straitened,” “distressed” (E.D.) until its completion in his resurrection. Thus was Christ baptized. The waves and billows of human suffering went over him (Psa. 42:7), out of the depths he cried (Psa. 130:1), “unto him that could save out of death and was heard in that he feared;” and all who follow in his footsteps must drink the same cup and be baptized with the same baptism, even as Christ declared; this does not of course mean that all the followers of Christ are to be crucified, nor indeed does it mean that they are all to die physically, for we know that “we shall not all sleep,” and this in fact is another proof that the real baptism is something more than mere physical death, but all must pass through the same experience of suffering, reproach and shame as the apostle says, they must “die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31) “crucify the flesh” (Gal. 5:24) “mortify (i.e. put to death) the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13, N.V., margin), and thus we “always bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10); thus in a measure we “know the fellowship of his sufferings, and are made conformable unto his death,” (Phil. 3:10) and we shall know the consummation in its fullness when “this corruptible shall put on incorruption.” The symbol of all this is water baptism. “For if we have been [by symbol and by faith] planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Thus we drink the same cup, and are baptized with the same baptism; thus we fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ;” thus we “are made partakers of Christ’s sufferings that when His glory shall be revealed we may be glad with exceeding joy.” Sharing in this experience with our exalted Head, we may say with Paul, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified, unto me, and I unto the world. Henceforth let no man trouble me for I bear branded on my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:14, 17, N.V.)
This same brother thinks that the sacrifice that Christ made was of his flesh life on the cross, and this was the ransom price he paid for man’s redemption. He says, “What did Jesus give for the life of the world? Answer: His precious blood, his flesh life, his humanity. If he purchased us with his pre-existent life, and then after being in death thirty three and a half years, God gave him back the price paid, the transaction would look to me like a pretense or farce.”
I do not know as I can add much to the evidence already given in No. 3 that perfectly satisfies me that the sacrifice Christ made was of his pre-existent life, and that that was the ransom. That evidence is full, abundant and conclusive, and I can only refer the brother to a review of that evidence. Can he break it down? Can he explain those scriptures and facts brought out in harmony with his own view? Certain it is that, (unless the pre-existence of Christ is denied altogether) Christ did make a sacrifice when he gave up that previous life, that “glory” and those “riches,” “and was made in the likeness of man,” sinful, corrupt, fallen man. Here was a sacrifice, without any doubt, and a sacrifice infinitely greater than that of his flesh life on the cross. Now whether this was the great sacrifice and the great ransom price of man’s redemption, or not, the brother must determine for himself from such light as he may possess; in my own mind there is no doubt at all upon this point. If the brother says that this was not the sacrifice and the ransom for man’s redemption, then what will he do with it? He cannot deny (unless he deny the pre-existence) that there was a great sacrifice here, far greater that any other that Jesus made, (in fact I have no doubt but that Jesus was glad to give up his flesh life; that was to him a release and a deliverance) has he any place for this great sacrifice in his theology?
If further proof were needed as to what the ransom price was, Christ’s own words in John 6 ought to suffice. Verse 51; “The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Did Jesus mean his lateral flesh? No indeed, unless we choose to say that he immediately contradicted himself; for he makes the statement a few verses further on, “It is the spirit that quickeneth (giveth life); the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life;” they are life just in so far as we “discern” (1 Cor. 2:14) the spirit of them; “the letter kills.” If Christ gave his flesh life as the ransom price for the life of the world then surely it could not be said, “the flesh profiteth nothing;” neither could Paul say, “We are the circumcision, [compare Rom. 2:28, 29] which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Surely the flesh would profit a great deal if it was the ransom price “for the life of the world;” and our whole “confidence” would be placed in the flesh if that was the means of our redemption. Man is indeed “redeemed by that precious blood [life] of Christ,” but let us beware how we make that “precious blood” stand for his flesh life, lest we thereby are found guilty of “counting the blood of the covenant [the new covenant] an unholy [i.e. common, see N. V., margin] thing.” (Heb. 10:29) The life that Christ sacrificed, and thereby ransomed fallen man, was not the flesh life, common to all humanity, and to bulls and goats as well, but it was a much more precious life, as we have shown; and this Paul still further makes clear in Heb. 9 He tells us, first (verses 1-10) that the Jewish tabernacle with its rites and ceremonies, its “meats, drinks, divers washings and carnal ordinances,” was simply “a figure for the time then present in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect.” “But (verse 11) Christ being come an High priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building, neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy places, having obtained eternal redemption.” Now from the above passage it is plain that the life (blood) wherewith Christ entered into the holy places was the life that was sacrificed, as it is the sacrifice that Paul is talking about. With what life did Christ enter into the “true tabernacle”? Not with his flesh life surely, that according to our brother and others who take the same view was sacrificed never to be taken up again, and yet he entered in with the same life that he sacrificed.; is it not plain then that it was his pre-existent life that he sacrificed; is it not plain then that it was his pre-existent life which he laid down when he made the sacrifice, and took up again when he entered into the true, holy places. The remaining part of this ninth chapter still further confirms this view, especially verses 22-24. “Almost all things are by the law purged with blood, and without shedding of blood is no remission; it was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these; for Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” The sacrifices of the pattern tabernacle was the common flesh life of goats and calves; but the “better sacrifices” are the “spiritual sacrifices,” (1 Pet. 2:5), (not fleshly sacrifices) beginning with the great sacrifice of Christ’s pre-existent life, which was not taken from him, like his flesh life (see Acts 8:33), but was voluntarily laid down and was taken up again (1-3-53) when, after having passed through his terrible baptism, he was “saved out of death,” and entered into the true “heavenly places.” In this connection I would say a word in reply to another remark that the brother makes. He says, “If Christ purchased us with his pre-existent life and then God gave him back the price paid, the transaction would look to me like a pretense or farce.” If the brother had clearly in his mind the true idea of the atonement he would not make the above remark. I have given in the present number what I believe to be the true meaning of the various terms used in connection with the doctrine of the atonement, and among the rest, “Purchased” and Bought.” I do not understand by these terms that Christ actually paid over to God some thing as the price of man’s redemption, which thing Christ has eternally forfeited, and God will eternally possess; such an idea is exceedingly gross and unscriptural; and yet the brother must have some such idea or he would not make the above statement. Let it be noticed also that whatever the life was that Christ laid down, it was taken up again; this Christ expressly tells us, but the transaction was not therefore a pretense nor a farce; this fact however is another proof against the idea that the ransom was Christ’s flesh life which he laid down and never took up again. This whole subject, however, illustrates again how important it is to start right in our theology. If we have erroneous ideas concerning fundamental truths, such as the atonement, the sacrifice of Christ, the resurrection, etc., then all our theology will be wrong and every doctrine will be tainted with error. Often do men reason with tolerable correctness, starting from certain premises and arriving at certain conclusions, and then insisting upon those conclusions with great positiveness because they seem so clearly to follow from the premises and hence to bear the certain impress of truth; they seem never to imagine that the premises themselves may be wrong; if the starting point is erroneous, no matter how correct the reasoning, the conclusion must be false also. I think that this is really the great trouble with the popular theology of the day. “The foundations are out of course” (Psa. 82: 5), hence the structure no matter how well built, must be shaky. “If the foundations be destroyed what shall the righteous do”? Nothing, but to tear down to the solid bed rock of truth and build all over again, foundation and superstructure. “Let every man take heed how he buildeth.” (1 Cor. 3:10)
Several have asked questions concerning the Second Death. For the present I will refer them (as in 1-5-113) to the pamphlet “Endless Torments not Scriptural,” page 276, etc., where I have given very briefly what seems to me to be the real “spirit of the word” upon this subject. This theme may not be “present truth,” and hence perhaps it is not perfectly understood, for we read of no second death until, way on in the future ages; it is, however, intimately connected with the present, inasmuch as a thorough investigation of the subjects of life and death, the resurrection, “restitution of all things,” etc. which are “present truth,” would ultimately lead us to a consideration of the second death. I have given in outline my own view in the pamphlet above referred to and will not at present go any further into the subject, because it seems to me there are Bible subjects more important to consider now. As I have said in the pamphlet, (page 34) ) I do not care to press my view upon this subject on anyone, for, though I am fully persuaded in my own mind that this is the true “spirit of the word,” yet I am also sure that “A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven.” (John 3:27) The most we can do is to “bear witness of the truth,” and then “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” There is not the slightest good in trying to force what you think is truth upon another; if it is truth, and the other is “of the truth” (John 18:37) he will see it in God’s “due time.” In any case “ye can do nothing against the truth but for the truth.” (2 Cor. 13: 8)
i.e. New Version; refers to The English Revised Version of 1881-1885 (RSV)
A sister asks, “What do you think about Satan? I have long disbelieved in his personality, but I judge you deem him a fallen spirit; please explain.”
I think the Bible clearly teaches that Satan is a personality; and I have no difficulty in accepting this view, seeing, as I believe I do, the true purpose of evil. Satan is one of God’s servants to do his will like the unfallen angels, as I have shown in 1-8-169. If I accepted the orthodox view if for instance I believed as the brother does whom I answered in the preceding paper (page 224), then I should endeavor by all means, if possible, to destroy the personality of the devil; for if he is a person, according to that view, he would be a powerful rival of Jehovah, and in some respects equal and even superior to Him; but with the true idea of God’s plan, the purpose of evil, etc., I can accept the personality of the devil as readily as the personality of God or the angels. By the way, I have never seen an argument against the personality of Satan that would not, if logically carried out, destroy the personality of God, of angels, and of all spirit existences. If the word devil is simply a modification of the word evil, and only an imaginary personality, then is not the word God a modification of the word good, representing no personal existence whatever? If some one will send me an argument that Satan is not a person, that does not destroy also the personality of other spirit beings I shall be glad to consider it.
In this connection I will notice another criticism from a brother in reference to the pre-existence of Christ; in opposition to that truth, and in criticism of 1-3-49, he makes this remark, “The Preexistence of Christ! Something pre-existed, but not a personality.” The brother must have read my article very carelessly if he thinks that I hold that Christ had an impersonal pre-existence; to my mind such an idea is the same as saying that he had no pre-existence at all. I believe the Bible most positively teaches that Christ had a personal pre-existence; but it tells us very little about that pre-existent state, hence we must leave the details of that condition among “the secret things that belong unto the Lord our God. (Deut. 29:29)
A brother takes exceptions to the statement made in the paper that all scripture has a spiritual meaning; he says, “I utterly deny that all scripture has a hidden meaning;” and then he goes on to say that the Old Testament prophecies have a hidden meaning and should be taken in their most obvious sense; “this is a general rule,” he says; and he continues, “we have no right to suppose another hidden meaning in the prophetic writings beneath the meaning brought out by the preaching and writing of the apostles.”
I have already referred to this brother’s objection and partially answered it in 1-9-211, q.v. I refer to it again, in order to bring out one or two other points in connection with it. This principle of the spiritual import of Scripture is by far the most important of all the rules of Bible interpretation; and as the elucidation of this principle is the specific object of the paper, I shall take occasion to introduce the subject very frequently.
To the last statement quoted above I would fully agree; when the New Testament explains Old Testament scripture it is final; and yet the explanation cannot be understood without spiritual discernment. It is not true, however, as this brother declares in substance, that though the Old Testament has a hidden meaning the New Testament has not, but must be taken in its most obvious and surface sense as “a general rule.” In regard to Christ’s teachings he himself expressly tells us, “It is the spirit that giveth life; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” And we know that he spoke in parables and figures in order that the majority of the people might not understand the deepest truths, “the mysteries of the kingdom.” In the apostles’ writings we find the same principle plainly apparent and expressly declared, as in the case of the Lord Jesus. Read 1 Cor. 2. In this chapter the apostle declares that his teaching and preaching had a spiritual or “hidden” meaning. He says, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect, yet not the wisdom of this world; but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom.” He goes on to tell us that the “things which God hath prepared for them that love him” are revealed to us “by the spirit,” which searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God; which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the holy spirit teacheth, interpreting spiritual things to spiritual men [N. V., margin]; but that natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual, discerneth (understands) all things [compare 1 John 2:20, 27], but he himself is discerned (understood) of no man; for who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” If this passage does not teach that there is a spirit to the apostle’s words, as there was to Christ’s, that there is a “hidden” meaning “the wisdom of God in a mystery” in his writings, then I know not how that idea could be expressed in human language. Why is it that the apostle’s words, spoken according to “the wisdom which the Holy Spirit teacheth,” could not be understood by the “natural man”? (1-1-4) the apostle himself answers the question; “Because they are spiritually discerned.” There is a “hidden wisdom” to these words that only the “spiritually minded” can comprehend. Furthermore, Peter, referring to Paul’s writings on the subject of Christ’s second coming, says, “Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him [the hidden wisdom] hath written unto you; as also in his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” If we look over Paul’s writings and notice what he has given us on the subjects to which Peter refers we shall not find anything very “hard to be understood” if we take only the letter; any one could understand the words and the literal sense without any trouble at all. But there is a “mystery” to Paul’s writings, a “hidden wisdom,” and it is this that the “unlearned” cannot comprehend; the “unlearned” are those “that have need of milk and not of strong meat, being unskillful in the world’s righteousness, for they are babezxfgus.“ (Heb. 5:11-14) “Whom shall the Lord teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts.” (Isa. 28:9; read the whole chapter). Milk is good for babes, “But strong meat [the Spirit of the Word] belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Now a word further as to what is meant by the spirit of the word. The spirit of the word is the intended meaning in contradistinction to the apparent meaning or meanings. We use the same expression in regard to a law; we speak of the letter of the law and the spirit of it, and sometimes it is said that a certain person has broken the letter of the law but not the spirit, or vice versa. Now I will give an illustration; I remember reading once that many years ago a colossal statue or column was to be erected; it had been wrought out of solid stone, at immense expense and prodigious labor, and now it was finished and was to be erected upon its pedestal; it was a great undertaking; extraordinary preparations were made for its successful accomplishment; a lofty and ponderous derrick was set up with blocks and falls and every precaution taken taken to insure success; the architect was very anxious about the result, as his reputation was at stake, and as a final precaution a law was made that no one of the vast multitude who had assembled to witness the operation should utter a single word or sound on pain of a very severe penalty. All things were ready at last and the important work began in the midst of the almost breathless silence of the assembled throng; everything proceeded well and the enormous mass rose steadily inch by inch until it was nearly erect, when, to the dismay of workmen and spectators, the hoisting blocks came together and the statue could not be raise another inch. The rope used was new, and not enough allowance had been made for its stretching, and there the enormous mass hung in momentary danger of falling, as it seemed. What was to be done? a murmur of horror arose from the multitude which was sternly suppressed by the officers in charge; the architect was almost n despair, while the workmen looked on in blank dismay, when suddenly a voice rang out on the startled multitude, “Water!” a sailor in the audience had been an intensely interested spectator up to the time of the unexpected interruption; he it was who made the cry; the hint was at once taken; water was brought and thrown upon the ropes and their shrinkage under this treatment was sufficient to bring the statue to an erect position; and now what was to be done to the sailor who had uttered the one word that had probably averted a terrible disaster, but in so doing had broken the law and was liable to the severe penalty? The authorities decided that although the man had broken the letter of the law yet he had not transgressed its spirit, i.e. its real intention; the law had been made in order to facilitate the accomplishment of the important work, and to guard against any possible distraction, delay or confusion that might be occasioned by outcries from the spectators; its real intention and purpose of the law the sailor had advanced more than any other person, hence, although he had broken the law in its letter he had contributed more to the carrying out of its spirit than all the rest; the penalty, therefore, was remitted, and instead thereof the man was munificently rewarded. In this historical incident we have an illustration of the letter and the spirit as applied to human laws and regulations; the letter is the outward form, the spirit is the inward substance, the real purpose and intention expressed under that form; the form is of minor importance, and may be changed or modified to any extent, provided the real purpose is carried out.
One more illustration in order to make this point very plain to everyone. A general was sent off with a division of an army to occupy a certain position; in his route was a river, over which was a bridge, and his written instructions were that he should cross this bridge; but when they arrived at the river the engineers pronounced the bridge unsafe for the passage of the army with their heavy wagon train of ponderous artillery; not far from the bridge, however, a place was discovered where the river was readily fordable, and where the surroundings were such as to make it perfectly feasible to take the whole army across; the general accordingly took the responsibility of disobeying the letter of his instructions, took his army across the ford and proceeded on his way. Afterward he was called to account for this infraction of discipline, but was entirely exonerated on the ground that he had perfectly obeyed the spirit of the command of his superior; the real intention of the order was to get the army across the river; this intention the general in command carried out perfectly and wisely though he transgressed the letter of the command.
Here then we have letter and spirit illustrated. Now apply this to God’s law, God’s book of instructions, and we shall find that the letter and the spirit is the same in their nature and their relation as in human law. The letter is the outward form of the word, its dress, its surface meaning, its “most obvious sense,” its apparent significance. The spirit is the substance, its real meaning, purpose and intention, and this of course is the most important; the letter is important because it is through the form that we arrive at the substance, but it is important on no other account; the letter is a means to an end; if we stop at the means and never arrive at the end, of course we fail to derive the benefit intended through the letter, and thus “that which is good, [if properly used] is made death unto us” because of our misuse; “the letter kills.”
Now if in reference to any portion of God’s Word we can learn what God’s intention was when he spake thus by the Holy Spirit, then we have the spirit of that word and may proceed to carry it out accordingly. There may be a half dozen or more possible ways of understanding a passage; each one may be able to harmonize it with their particular creed, no matter how contradictory the creeds may be, But the real lover of the truth will not seek to harmonize the passage with a creed, or to prop up thereby come preconceived notion, but his sole inquiry will be, “What is the mind of God in this passage?” If he can only learn that, he disregards all other possible explanations and acts entirely on the spirit of the word. If a monarch should make a law, and those whose duty it was to carry it out should find that the wording of the law was obscure or capable of several meanings, they would refer to the king in order that he might explain his real intention; and when that explanation was received the officers would proceed to carry it pit without troubling themselves further about any other construction that might be put upon the verbal expression of the law; they know what the king’s real intention was when he made the law; this is the real purpose or spirit of it, and no matter though the wording might be so ambiguous as t be capable of a dozen other meanings, they have nothing to do with anything but the spirit of the law. So with the word of God; the spirit of that word is the all important thing, that is to say, we need to learn God’s thoughts, his mind, his intentions and purposes, “the end of the Lord” (Jas. 5:11).
Now another thought. The letter of the word sometimes expresses the spirit as near as it can be expressed in human language; and sometimes the spirit of the word is something altogether different from the letter. I have already referred to this point in 1-9-211, and refer to it again now simply because I wish to call attention to an important difference between God’s word and man’s laws and regulations. Men usually try to make their laws plain and clear so that there may not be any possibility of a misunderstanding; they do not always succeed in this endeavor but this is what they strive for. On the other hand God’s word is purposely obscure and ambiguous. The truth is given in parables and dark sayings, hidden away under figures, allegories and types, in order that it may not be understood except by the chosen few to whom “it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom.” That this is so is the plain teaching of the word, as has been noticed again and again in this paper. That it should be so seems strange and unaccountable to many Christians: but that is because they do not understand “God’s plan of creation,” or the purpose of probation. God’s plan of creation is to bring mankind to his own image and likeness through various ages, “the times of restitution,” and in different “orders” (1 Cor. 15:23). By means of Christ and the saints, “the promised seed,” which is the first order or “first fruit,” other orders of the race will be saved in “the ages to come.” During this age this first order is being perfected; hence to them it is given to understand the mysteries; others do not have this light, not because God is unjust and impartial, but because, so to speak, their turn has not yet come. “God will have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth;” “but every man in his own order;” others will have the light in due time. The purpose of probation is not to give man an opportunity to escape hell, as very many Christians seem to believe; but it is for training, discipline, education; hence things are so arranged that those who are undergoing their trial shall get this training and education. It is not so important in this time of probation that we should get a certain amount of truth, as it is that we should be trained, disciplined and developed in spiritual things, until we come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to the perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” and one of the means that God uses for this training and development is the spiritual character of the word (see 1-9-214); the effort we must make in order to “find” the truth (Prov. 2:1-9) covered up and his away as it is, and with all the adverse influences of error around us, is the one great means that God uses for our spiritual development.
I will illustrate. A farmer has one hundred and fifty sheep; neighbor Jones has fifty sheep; the farmer’s little boy knows how many sheep his father has but he does not know how many Mr. Jones has, so he asks his father “How many sheep has Mr. Jones?” The father replies, “If neighbor Jones had half as many more sheep as he has, he would then have half as many sheep as I have.” The boy is puzzled; he does not like the answer; he would rather his father would tell him in plain language; but the father says, “Figure it out, figure it out,” and leaves him. The boy does figure it out, after much thought and study, and, with the air of a conqueror shows the correct result to his father, who is proud of his boy and says, “Well done.” Now the benefit that boy has received from the studying out of the problem is far greater than any he could derive from simply knowing how many sheep neighbor Jones has. Had the father told the boy directly he would simply have had the information he asked for. But the father told him in such a way that in addition to that information the boy gets something that is far more valuable, viz., a certain amount of mental training and development. So in God’s economy the truth is hidden away, and the obstacles in the way of its possession are numerous and great, so that the spiritual training we obtain in overcoming these obstacles, and in searching for this “hid treasure,” is very potent to advance us on in the divine way; and this spiritual training is after all the main purpose of our probation. It is not the amount of truth we have that will save us, but it is “the love of the truth” (see 2 Thess. 2:10); and it is this love of the truth that will incite us to search for it, and in the search we receive that spiritual development that shall fit us for “an abundant entrance into the æonial kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Thus “all things are for your sakes” (2 Cor. 4:15); the trials and afflictions, the reproaches and shame, the pain and the suffering, the obstacles and difficulties, the straitness of the gate, and the narrowness of the way these are the very things that God uses to bring you at last to the condition of the Perfect Man. “All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours; and ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.”
ANSWER TO QUESTIONS AND CORRESPONDENTS [A. P. Adams] 1