THE BEST FROM A. P. ADAMS
COMPILED BY: GEORGE R. HAWTIN
TITLE and SUBTITLES
WE ARE GOD’S WORKMANSHIP
“All Things are of God”
PURPOSE in CREATION
THE PURPOSE of EVIL
DEFINITION of BIBLE TERMS
Natural, Spiritual, Carnal
WHAT IS MAN?
HEAVEN and EARTH
THE Loneliness of Christ
The Sacrifice and Death of Christ
Loneliness of Christ
For many years I have felt that the gems dug from the mine of eternal truth through the anointed ministry of A. P. Adams, who wrote from about 1885 to 1925, were far too rich to be allowed to be lost to the present generation. I consider it, therefore, to be profitable that I should take in hand the task of compiling some of these precious unfoldings of truth that thousands of others, who have never had opportunity to be edified by his works, may now be blessed by them.
God hath set in the church teachers; but like all other true ministries there are never more than a small handful of them at any given time. We are probably aware that many thousands of men profess to be teachers of the word of God, but in truth they are really merely “warming up” the traditions of the past as a housewife might warm up the leftovers of yesterday. There are many thousands of good musicians in the world, repeating the melodies of the great composers of the past, but they themselves are not composers. So it is with the theologian, if indeed there be such, who re-writes and re-hashes from his own study that which was taught by the ancients.
I have often smiled as I have wondered what the common theologian who lived in 1885 must have thought of the truth unfolded by A. P. Adams. I am sure many of them must have thought he was some mad heretic that w only leading mankind astray.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was received gladly by the common folk of His day. Let us never forget that fact. The publicans and sinners “heard Him gladly” and responded to His message, but the old systems and the old theologians contradicted and blasphemed and never were at rest until they had hung Him upon a cross. Let us always remember that. But truth does not die upon a cross. It lays down its life that it may take it up again in greater power than ever before.
Truth forever on the scaffold;
Wrong forever on the throne;
But that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadows,
Keeping watch upon His own.
It is with great pleasure that I present these few articles from the works of A. P. Adams that you may be blessed and edified as I also have been.
Sincerely in Christ Our Lord,
Geo. R. Hawtin
WE ARE GOD’S WORKMANSHIP
A great and important truth is contained in this declaration, and one, which practically most Christians deny. Perhaps this statement may seem too strong to some, but I think that I can show that it is correct. Theoretically all Christians believe that, in a sense, “we are God’s workmanship.” But in practice most of them deny it, and act as though they must make themselves and (in some cases) everybody else. In other words, most Christians live as though the responsibility of their own development and perfection rested entirely upon themselves; and in addition to this they oft-times act as though the responsibility of the world’s salvation also rested upon them. Understand that I am not speaking of the expressed belief of Christians, but of their practice. Now I desire to show in this article, from the Bible, that the declaration — “we are God’s workmanship” — is most absolute and literal and that we do not have anything to do with our own manufacture, so to speak, excepting to “yield ourselves unto God.” Rom. 6:13; also the remainder of the chapter
In the first place we must understand God’s plan of creation. We must know something of what “our Lord is doing.“ (John 15:15) God’s great work according to the scripture is the creation of a race of beings in His own image and likeness. When God said, “Let us make man in our image”, He meant not the first man only, but the race of man. God was speaking prophetically here. He was speaking of things that were not as though they were. The work then of creating a race of beings in God’s image began in Eden, and has been steadily carried on ever since and will be carried on to its completion without any check, hindrance, interruption or delay. The idea that most Christians have is that God created a perfect man and woman to begin with, intending that this perfect pair should be the progenitors of a perfect race. But Satan comes in and soils God’s work at the outset: he contaminates the fountain head; and the whole stream is befoulded, and God must delay His originally intended work until He repairs damages, so to speak — until He has counteracted and undone the devil’s evil work; in which endeavor He will only partially succeed according to the common view, and thus Satan will succeed in marring God’s original plan eternally. Of course, we cannot suppose that, when God created man innocent in Eden, He intended that any of his descendants should be eternally tormented; and yet some of them will be eternally tormented, according to the so called orthodox view. Hence the conclusion necessarily follows that Satan has succeeded in permanently disarranging God’s plan and has compelled Him to take a course that He would not have taken had it not been for the so called “fall of man”. But how can we accept such an idea as this? Thus we make God to be “altogether such an one as ourselves” (Psa. 50:21) I for one could never accept such a view. What is the alternative then? The orthodox view must be wrong. Satan did not disarrange God’s plan, nor compel Him to change it in the least; hence the “fall” was a part of the plan and a necessary step towards its accomplishment. I want each one to see this point clearly and positively; for, unless we thus understand God’s relation to the race as a whole, we cannot understand His relationship to us as individuals. I want each one to see that the above reasoning is absolutely inevitable. Either Satan, by the introduction of evil into the world with all its consequences, disarranged God’s plan, and partially, at least, thwarted it, or else the fall of man was a part of God’s plan, prearranged, provided for, and tending to the advancement of His purposes of grace and love. To my mind the former supposition is impossible; the latter one must be true. Do not stop now to think whether the Scripture is in harmony with this view or not. We will examine that by and by. Just use your own reasoning faculties and common sense and everyone must see that if, God is supreme, the introduction of evil into the world with all its consequences must be a part of the plan of God.
Perhaps I ought to say right here for the benefit of some of my readers that the idea that God has a plan may be to them a new one. According to the view of most Christians, God has no definite, prearranged plan, but is simply endeavoring to do the best He can through human instrumentality to repair the ruin that sin has made, and though thus far the majority of the race have been overwhelmed in that ruin, yet in the end truth will triumph and sin will be destroyed, or at least confined to an eternal prison house. To my mind such a view of God is very belittling and dishonorable. I cannot entertain it for a moment. The God of the Bible, the God that we can worship, and adore, and trust in, is Almighty and Supreme “He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will” “He doeth all these things, and known unto Him are all His works from the beginning of the world”. Acts 15:17, 18 “He doeth according to His will, in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth, and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” Dan. 4:35 God has a perfect, definite plan, embracing all the details and particulars of His work, and including in its sweep ages and worlds, past and to come. Paul announces this fact directly in Eph. 3:21: “According to His purpose of the ages”. See the margin of the Revised Version. Rotherham renders it the “plan of the ages.” There can be no doubt that God has a perfect, exact, prearranged, and absolutely changeless plan of creation.
I will notice also in this connection why I speak of the plan of creation, and not the plan of redemption, as Christians commonly speak. The view presented above makes this change necessary. When we speak of God’s plan of redemption, we seem to imply that redemption was an afterthought with God that it is simply a means of remedying an unforeseen, or at least, an unintentional and undesirable contingency; and that while redemption is being worked out, God’s original purpose must be delayed. We have already shown that this view cannot be accepted by anyone who believes in a supreme and all wise God; the so called fall of man and redemption as its consequent are a part of the original plan of God they are steps in the carrying out of that plan; in fact God controls and directs “all things” to the furtherance of His own counsels, and hence all things are tending toward the completion of the purpose announced in Eden the creation of the race in the image and likeness of God. Therefore we speak of God’s plan of creation, not of redemption. Redemption is only one of the steps in the process where by man is ultimately to reach the divine image. To speak of the plan of redemption is to take a narrow, unscriptural, ungodlike view of the situation. God’s plan of creation covers the whole ground from the commencement of the work in Eden to the completion of it in Eden restored, in the New Heaven and New Earth.
I am well aware that the foregoing view involves several very startling and we might even say staggering conclusions; such, for instance, as that Satan is one of God’s servants to help on His plan and that all evil, under God, shall eventuate in good, and that God in some sense is responsible for the introduction of evil into the world, etc. I cannot now stop to notice these points in detail; I have done so in other writings. I will now simply say that there is nothing in any of these conclusions contrary to the Scripture. Indeed, they harmonize and make plain the Word. The great principle set forth in the article “All Things are of God” makes this whole subject clear, and fully prepares us for all these otherwise startling conclusions. Let us not fear conclusions so long as we can feel the solid bedrock of truth under our feet at every step of our reasoning. Many a one has been enamored of the truth for a season, and has gone a little way in the ever brightening pathway, but suddenly perceiving how far from the old ruts they were diverging, and that they must diverge still further if they kept on, they have become frightened and turned back again to the orthodox thoroughfare. Such a timorous, cowardly spirit will not be found among those who climb the highest peaks of inspiration to catch the first glimpse of the coming dawn. “Ye are bought with a price; be ye not the servants of men”. “Then shall ye know if ye follow on to know. …” God has His “friends” to whom He tells His “secrets”. (John 15:15; Psa. 25-14). But if we would be “the friend of God”, we must be willing, like Abraham, the great pattern friend, to leave home, kindred, and country if need be, and go forth “not knowing whither”, alone with Him who is the source of all truth, and who will surely bring us into the Canaan of rest if we follow on.
We start out then in our investigation concerning how we are God’s workmanship with this truth, that God is creating a race of beings like Himself; this work began in Eden and has been steadily progressing ever since; Christ is the only human being thus far that has been finished — He alone reached the goal, likeness to God. The rest of the race are unfinished, the mass of them being in the crude, rough, “natural” state, having lived and died in this condition; a few in the past have had some finishing work done for them; and during this gospel age a class, “they that are Christ’s” (1 Cor. 15:23 and John 17:9) are being finished off, so to speak; and during the “ages to come” “all shall be made alive in Christ,” or finished, “but every man in his own order” (band or class). All this is entirely the work of the Father and the Son Let us make man and man has no more to do with it than Adam had to do with his own creation, or Eve with hers. What man has to do, and the purpose of it we will notice presently; but now we are speaking of the carrying out of the original purpose announced in Eden “Let us make man in our image.”
Now if we consider man in this light, as unfinished, half made “Ephraim is a cake not turned” Hosea 7:8 — then we shall be able to understand the true condition of things. We shall see how thoroughly and absolutely he is God’s workmanship. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.” “Ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” 1 Cor. 3:9 Surely the man cannot recreate himself any more than he could create himself in the first place. The beginning, continuance, and completion of the process of creation is entirely of God. Read Rom 9:9-33 and see how absolute is God’s sovereignty/The purpose of God according to the election stands not of works but of Him that calleth. “He raised up Pharaoh for the very purpose for which He used him, and “He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.” “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, “Why hast thou made me thus?” Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor?” Are there not “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction,” and “vessels of mercy before prepared unto glory?” No stronger language than the above could be used to show how absolutely man is God’s workmanship clay in the hands of the potter. And this view clashes not with the true idea of man’s freedom, but everything is harmonized and made clear when we see this truth. God is man’s proprietor, and will surely make the best of His property. This view is full of hope and comfort. If we are God’s workmanship, the work will surely be done, and done well. He speaks with the simplicity and quietness of conscious power — “Let us make man in our image” — as though it were the easiest thing imaginable to make a man in the image of God, and “hath He said and shall He not do it? Hath He spoken and shall He not make it good?” God’s own veracity is at stake here; His own reputation and credit, so to speak, is involved. For His own sake, He will complete and perfect His work; and so He speaks by His prophets. “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” Moreover, mark these blessed words: “Remember these, 0 Jacob and Israel; for thou art My servant; / have formed thee; thou art my servant. 0 Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me. I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins. Return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee.” Take notice that it does not read, “Return unto Me and I will redeem thee and blot out thy sins,” but “Return unto Me because I have redeemed thee and blotted out thy sins.” 0 blessed grace that reconciles a world unto God, not imputing their trespasses unto them (2 Cor. 5:18-21), “while they are yet sinners”, and “before they call”, and so is able to preface the invitation to come to God by the declaration of His finished work! Surely this is a gospel — glad tidings! No wonder that the prophet breaks out, “Sing, 0 ye heavens, for the Lord hath done it; shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains; 0 forest and every tree therein, for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob and glorified Him self (mark it — glorified Himself — made His own word good) in Israel. Thus saith the Lord, thy redeemer, and He that formed thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things, that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by Myself.” Isa. 44: 21-24 Read in the same line Ezek. 36:16 to the end of the chapter. First God charges Israel with their perversity and corruption and yet He has pity (verse 21) and makes them great promises (verses 25-30). Why? On what ground? Not for their sake; not because they deserved it; but for His holy name’s sake.” See verses 21-23, 31, 32, 36. See also Ezek, 20, the whole chapter, especially verses 9, 14, 22, 41-44. If we can only see this truth and get it well in mind, we shall have no fear of the final result of God’s creative plan. God’s own honor is at stake. His declared purpose — “Let us make man in our image” — cannot fail. For His own sake, if not for man’s, He will bring the work to a perfect completion, a faultless consummation; and a godlike race shall yet people the earth to the universal praise of God’s workmanship, and the honor and glory of Christ, God’s co-laborer.
The above, blessed truth explains also why man is so imperfect and full of defects and flaws and failures. He is only half made. He is “a cake not turned”. What can you expect of man in this crude, rough state? “He remembereth our frame; He knoweth that we are dust.”
“ALL THINGS ARE OF GOD”
There is no statement in the Bible that is more remarkable and even startling than this. When you think of it seriously, it seems as though Paul was very unguarded and careless in his language. We are apt to think that he ought to have modified and limited it in some way such as for instance, all good things are of God.
But no, Paul makes the sweeping, unqualified statement, “all things are of (literally, out of) God.” Furthermore, so important did Paul consider this truth that he repeats it over and over again. The direct statement is made no less than six times in the writings of the apostle. See Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6, 1 Cor. 11:12; 2 Cor. 5:18; Eph. 1:11, and Heb. 2:10. Now was the apostle careless and a little too bold in these utterances, or did he mean just what he said, and are they true, taken full strength? I say without hesitation, yes, to the two latter questions. The more we learn of God’s works and ways the more we shall understand that in a sense absolutely “all things are of God”; or in other words, as it has often been expressed, God is in everything. We will notice a few passages that will set forth the Bible teaching on this point.
Says Christ, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Matt.19:20, 30. In Luke 12:6 we read. “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God.” Do you realize, friend reader, the stupendous character of this statement? How many millions of sparrows think you are there in the world? And of course it is not sparrows alone that God cares for, but all creatures. Not one of them is forgotten, and even the hairs of your head are numbered. The great men of earth manifest their greatness by their close attention to so called great things — the affairs of state, national interests, business ventures involving the risk of millions, vast philanthropic schemes, and such like matters of world-wide importance. These men generally have very little care and pay very little attention to the common every-day affairs of life. But God, between whom and the greatest of all earth’s great ones there is an infinite disparity, displays His greatness by caring for what would seem to be the most trivial interests of His creatures, like the numbering of the hairs of their heads and taking notice of apparently the most unimportant events, like the falling of a single sparrow. Well may we exclaim with Faber in view of such greatness:
0, God! Thy loving greatness ever lies
Outside us like a boundless sea;
We cannot lose ourselves where all is home,
Nor drift away from Thee.
Thus doth Thy grandeur make us grand ourselves,
Thy goodness quells our fear;
Thy greatness makes us brave as children are
When those they love are near.
If you would see this thought of God’s universal providence carried out in every detail, read Psalms 104, 107, and 147.
See the case of Joseph for an illustration of how God is in affairs of greater moment than it would seem. His unnatural brethren decided to kill him. (Gen. 37:12, etc.) Being dissuaded from this, they sell him to the Ishmaelites, thus bringing upon him a cruel servitude, and upon their aged father a heartbreaking agony. A blacker and more, wicked deed could hardly be imagined; and yet in the sequel of the story, when Joseph is made ruler of Egypt and his brethren, coming down to buy corn, at last discover that he is their long-lost brother whom they had so cruelly wronged, he reassures and comforts them by saying, “Now therefore, be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither, for God did send me before you to preserve life. So now, it was not you that sent me hither, but God.” Gen. 45:5, 8. Could we have a more striking and positive illustration of how “all things are of God”? He is in everything, even in the crimes and cruelties of man.
Take another illustration not so prominent in the Bible but just as positive. See Judges 14:1-4. Samson becomes enamored of a Philistine woman and must have her for his wife. In vain his parents try to dissuade him from so improper an alliance as it would seem. Samson is completely bewitched and insists upon having her. Who would suppose that God had anything particular to do with this apparently foolish love affair? And yet it was of him, for the 4th verse reads, “But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the Lord, that He sought an occasion against the Philistines.” For another illustration see 2 Chron. 10:15, 11:4.
Another very striking example of how all things are of God is brought out in the case of the priestly house of Eli. Read 1 Sam. 2:30-33. Now see how the fulfillment of this prediction was brought about in 1 Sam. 22:18-20. A more cold-blooded, barbarous butchery was never perpetrated, and yet it was the carrying out of the purpose of God. In 1 Sam. 2:31 God says, “I will cut off thy father’s house.” According to the account in chapter 22 it was Doeg that did the awful deed, and yet it is plain to see how God was in it. Abiathar escaped the massacre; the denunciation was against the entire house of Eh. Abiathar must be banished from the priesthood. See how it is done in 1 Kings 2:26, 27. “So Solomon thrust out Abiathar from being priest unto the Lord; to fulfill the word of the Lord, which He spake concerning the house of Eli in Shiloh.” Is not this a very plain illustration of the great truth we are considering? The awful deeds of wicked men are “of God” in such a sense that He makes them conducive to the carrying out of His own plans and brings good out of them in the end. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise. Him; the remainder of wrath (that which He cannot turn to His praise) will He restrain.” “All are His servants.” Psa. 119:91 “Fire and hail, snow and vapor and stormy wind fulfill His word.” Psa. 147:8
The heathen king Cyrus is another illustration of this truth. See Isa. 45:1-7. Cyrus was God’s “anointed” to do His work. God used him as an instrument to accomplish a certain purpose, though Cyrus knew not that he was being thus used of God. See verses 4, 5. The case of the Assyrians is still more marked. God was using them just as the carpenter uses his tools. See Isa. 10:1-19, especially verse 15; and in the same connection see Jer. 51:19, 20. Again, see Josh. 11:15-20. Israel destroyed the Canaanites and made peace with none of them, except the Gibeonites. “For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle that He might destroy them utterly.” See also a very remarkable illustration in Psa. 105:25. God sent His people down into Egypt, having sent Joseph before them (verse 17; this verse confirms Joseph’s own statement that God, and not his wicked brethren, sent him) to prepare the way for them. God increased His people and made them stronger than their enemies (verse 24), and now mark, “He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal deceitfully with His servants.” What! Did God incline the hearts of the Egyptians to hate His own people, to deal deceitfully with His own servants? So the record reads. Truly “all things are of God”.
Take still another illustration from the New Testament. The crucifixion of Christ is always looked upon as the most awful crime that ever was committed, and the perpetrators of it are considered as deserving the most severe retribution; and yet they simply did what God’s hand and counsel determined before to be done. Acts 4:28. And Peter tells us that Christ “was delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” Acts 2:23. Thus we see how even this stupendous crime was of God, and since we know that He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will, (Eph. 1:11), we can readily understand from the illustrations cited how true it is that “all things are of God”. Thus is God’s universal sovereignty fully established by the plain teachings of the word. “He doeth according to His will, in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?” Dan. 4:35. See also Isa. 40, the whole chapter, and Rev. 17:17.
To the child of God this truth is most precious and reassuring. It teaches us how absolutely safe we are while we “abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” His power extends not simply to the smallest affairs like the hairs of our heads and the birds of the air, but also to greater things individuals, communities, states, nations, and world and no creature moves but by His appointment or permission. “All things are of God”; therefore I can understand how all things work together for good to them that love God, and how also all things shall yet turn for good to man, since God loves him. God uses the forces of the world, whether human or otherwise, just as one would move the pieces on a chessboard. They are so many instruments tools in His hands. “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? As if a rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself as if it were no wood.” Isa. 10:15
PURPOSE IN CREATION
In creation God gives outwardness, existence, to the archetypal (highest type) thoughts of His mind. Everything in creation expresses a divine thought; the divine thought is its spirit, that is, its real, true meaning in the economy of God, and to apprehend that spirit is to recognize God in His works, and to recognize or know God is life. Thus creation is always consummated in life. That is its end. Though it be but the creation of a mass of inanimate clay, the purpose of such creation ever and always, in the last analysis, is life. And since the highest life, or perhaps we can better understand it if we say the highest living is that of the Creator himself, hence all creation tends to bring us to the life of the Creator. Thus in an endless but ever-widening circle does God express Himself in creation that man may at the last receive His exact impress. It was only by going out of Himself, so to speak, that God could ever bring man into Himself. “That they all may be one” “perfected in one” in no other way, except in one, could we become perfect in God’s image and likeness.
I have said that everything in creation expresses a divine thought, and that this divine thought is its spirit or true meaning in God’s universe. In other words everything is a revelation of God, which proposition necessarily follows from the great truth we have already learned that God is in everything, or all things are of God. Everything in nature and providence reveals God every rock, every blade of grass, every plant, and the very weeds that grow in our gardens as well as the grander and mightier works of nature. I cannot think that anything is so small or so insignificant that its existence is purposeless. Whatever is, is for a purpose, and that purpose is God’s thought in its creation. And this is true, not only of the works of nature, great and small, but also of the events of God’s providence whether they come to us individually or to communities, states, nations, or the world at large all reveal God. There is something of God in all things, and that is its spirit.
So, too, all truth and knowledge is of God whether it be the truths of mathematics or of revelation, or whether it be the knowledge of how to tell the age of a horse by looking into his mouth, or the knowledge that fits the saint to “judge angels” as in 1st. Corinthians 6:3. Thus all truth is sacred. He who plies a mechanical trade, or worthily fills a school- teacher’s place, or honestly endeavors to alleviate the physical sufferings of his fellows, is engaged in a work as holy as he who preaches the gospel. All of truth in every department should be pursued with the object to “find out God.” Job 11:7. When it is thus sought the secular and the sacred will be blended into one and head and heart shall be united.
Pilate asked the question of him who is the truth, “What is truth?” But he did not wait for an answer because he was not “of the truth.” If I err not, an exhaustive answer to Pilate’s question would be knowledge of God. All truth, abstract or concrete, is knowledge of God in nature or in providence or in grace, the lowest and simplest truth as well as the highest and most profound. To the one who realizes this everything that comes to him and all things around him are a continual surprise and delight, a perfect transcript (so far as he can understand it) of the divine mind. He walks through the world with sandals removed, as treading on holy ground, everywhere stamped with the footprints of the Creator and with head uncovered as one who at any turn may meet God.
With many Christians their religion is something entirely external; it is not a life, but is simply a dress or a cloak. To such ones God is far off. He is not available for help and counsel and guidance in ordinary matters. He is a being that they must approach only at stated intervals, and with a solemn face and a particular attitude. The religious life of such a one is exceedingly strained and artificial. There is altogether too much self-consciousness and too much regard for the proprieties” of the occasion. We have read perhaps how the children of some earthly monarch visit their parents at stated times. A certain hour of the day or week is set apart for the ceremony. The royal parents are seated in state. The children, accompanied by their nurses and attendants and dressed with great precision, appear and, advancing to the king and queen, kneel and kiss their hands, and after a few formal words they retire, all the time preserving an air of great gravity and decorum. In about the same way do very many Christians hold themselves toward their heavenly Father. If their religion does not creep, it struts, and that is worse. Approach to God becomes an unusual and a state occasion. Certain ceremonies and solemnities must always be resorted to, and the whole affair is made a matter of form and conventionality.
Now all this simply shows how artificial and unreal their religious life is; or rather it shows that their religion is not life at all, but merely an outside garment to be put on for particular occasions, and, when the occasion is past, to be laid aside entirely until another such occasion. What then is the real life of such ones? You will not find out by calling upon them or by meeting them occasionally in a prayer meeting or a social gathering. On such occasions also they have a conventional garment, which completely disguises the real life. But go and live with them every day in the week for a year. In the kitchen, in the nursery, and in all the household cares and duties, or on the street, in the workshop, in the counting room, and amid all the intricacies and perplexities of business life. What for? To discover their faults and failings? Bless you, no. You had better not look for them, lest you be put to shame at their superiority over yourself, or lest you be deceived and puffed up with spiritual pride by the idea that you are better than they. All you need to know is how much they make of God. What place, if any, does He occupy in their lives? Thus you will perceive at once whether they have the life of God or not. When we look thus into the lives of very many people we find them almost entirely destitute of the divine element. “God is not in all of their thought”; they are practically god-less, “without God.”
Now how radically and materially different is the life of one who sees God in everything, who refers all things to Him, who receives all things as from him, and who admits no second causes, but recognizes only the first great Cause, like Job, who referred even “the works of the devil” to God, for he says, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” It was Satan who was bringing evil upon Job, but the old patriarch refuses to recognize him, but attributes it all (and rightly, too) to God. So “the man of God” consciously lives and moves and has his being in Him. He lives in his measure “the life of God”; that is to say, he lives after God’s style.
Perhaps the greatest mystery that presents itself to us in this world of mystery is the mystery of life. What is life? What is it in its essence? We do not know. All we know about it is its phenomena, its outward manifestations. What it is in itself is utterly unknown to us. Hence, when we talk about different kinds of life, what we really mean is different kinds of living. Of life in itself of any kind we know nothing, but in the manner of life we recognize great differences. When we say a sailor’s life is a dog’s life, we mean that their manner of life is hard and disagreeable. In the same way we say a soldier’s life is one of perils and deprivation; of a rich man we say, he lives the life of a prince; of a gay and frivolous woman, her’s is a butterfly existence; of a poor man, his is a life of toil and want, etc.
In all such cases of the use of the term life we are not referring to different kinds of life considered in its essence, but to different manners or styles of living. The Bible uses the word in the same way. For example, Jesus said, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness; for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” Again he says “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, neither for the body, what ye shall put on; the life is more than meat, and the body is more than the raiment.” Our Lord is not here speaking of life in itself, bare existence, but of a Person’s manner or style of living.
Now, when I speak of possessing the life of God, I mean that in some slight degree the believer may live after God’s style. He may in a measure have His peace; he may avail himself of God’s unchangeableness; he may by faith make God’s omnipotence his own (Mark 10:27 with 9:23), and, so hiding under the shadow of the Almighty, he may become a child of the Highest (Luke 6:35) in all kindness, mercy, forbearance, and love. In a word he may view all things from God’s standpoint, instead of from mans, and so in a measure live the life of God. We may come into such close relationship to Him as that our life in a great measure will run along in harmony with His. We shall live with God. His manner of life will be ours; His standpoint will be ours; His thoughts and feelings will be ours. We may even say His attributes will be ours; His peace, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, Himself will be ours. Our life will blend with His and His life will become ours. “For 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.” All this, of course, is not in its perfection, not in its fullness. It is not “what we shall be”. That “doth not yet appear”; and yet it is a real experience, a positive fact, that life of God begun here and now, although in the perfect and fullest sense we are not made alive unto “His coming” (1st Cor. 15:23)
Surely the advanced Christian is conscious of such a life begun in him “in the inward man”; and it is “being renewed day by day”. It is a secret, a hidden life, “which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it”. It makes him totally different from the natural man. Everything looks different to him from what it does to the one who is destitute of this life. The interpretation that he would put upon events and the conclusions he would draw there from are entirely different, and, in fact, oft times directly opposite to the worldly man’s interpretations and conclusions. Where the latter sees chance, or wicked men, or perhaps the devil, the former sees only God. Where the latter man feels fretted, perplexed, angry, indignant, rebellious, the former finds reason for praise, gratitude, and thanksgiving. To him “all things are of God”; hence all things are good, and will result in good. There is nothing that can possibly take place in all the wide circle of the universe that shall not in the end redound to God’s honor and glory, and the highest welfare of all His creatures.
And now mark! All this is part and parcel of the creative process, bringing the creature to the life of the Creator, which is the end of creation. There is no pleasure in lifeless things or things non-intelligent except as they contribute in some way to the enjoyment and development of life. Hence I repeat, life or “the life of God” is to the end of creation. We see also in this view how all things contribute to the perfection of creation, and how all things are so needful to that end. Everything gives God occasion and opportunity to reveal himself to man. For this purpose nothing comes amiss. All things to this end can be utilized, the evil as well as the good. The Bible is full of illustrations of this truth, that is, how God reveals Himself to man by means of all things, and, on the natural plane, especially by evil things.
For this purpose He manifested His power and wrath upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Ex. 7:5, 17: 14:4, 18), hardening his heart that he should not let the people go, that He might work all His pleasure upon that devoted people, “to the end that they might know the Lord”. Ex. 8:22. “Even for this same purpose did God raise Pharaoh up, that He might show His power in him, and that His name might be declared throughout all of the earth”. And “Who art thou, 0 man, that replies! against God? Shall the thing formed say to Him that formed it, “Why hast Thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” Romans 9 Here again is a very striking illustration of how “all things are of God”. He is the potter; man is the clay in His hands (Isa. 64:8). Also we see how “He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will”, and “none can stay His hands or say unto Him, What doest Thou?”
This case also illustrates how God controls and makes use of evil, and for what purpose. Surely this whole matter of Israel‘s slavery in Egypt was a great evil, and their haughty taskmasters were exceedingly wicked in their cruelty and injustice, and the king endorsed it all, and he and his subjects were justly punished. And yet the whole thing was “of God”. Centuries before God had foretold that His people would go down into Egypt and be afflicted for four hundred years. Gen. 15:13. When the time came, God sent them down there. Gen. 46:3. It was God also who turned the hearts of the Egyptians to hate His people and to deal deceitfully with them. Psalm 105:25. He it was who hardened Pharaoh’s heart that he should not let them go until He had wrought out all His mighty judgments upon them. Eleven times in this account is it said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Paul makes the statement general in Romans 9. “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom he will He hardeneth.” The apparent injustice of this entirely disappears in the light of the plan of the ages. From the standpoint of orthodoxism the account cannot be reconciled with justice, equity, and righteousness, but, in the light of the Bible teaching of the redemptive work of the promised seed in the future ages, all may be adjusted and readily explained, as the intelligent and thoughtful reader will doubtless perceive.
And, finally, the purpose of all this was that “all the earth” might know the Lord. It was an occasion especially prepared before hand (for this same purpose was Pharaoh raised up) to the end that God might reveal Himself, in certain aspects of His character, to man. If the reader will follow out this thought throughout the Bible (see the concordance on the word know), he will be surprised, if he has not studied it before, at the amount of scripture bearing this truth.
Thus God reveals Himself in all things makes Himself known. And to know God is life, and life is the end (purpose) of creation. Hence all things contribute to the creation of man. All things tend to bring us to God’s image and likeness. If all things make God known, as they certainly do, since He is in all things, then all things tend to life, since to know God is life, and this is the consummation of creation. Thus, if I err not, we arrive at the true idea of creation, and are able to perceive its process through the natural as well as the spiritual.
Thus, moreover, we may perceive how certain it is that the original plan of God, which has never been altered or disarranged in the least degree, will be carried out. It is because Christians fail to see that man is not yet created and that everything that is around him is part and parcel of the creative process that they practically make his salvation depend upon himself. According to the common idea, God started everything all right. It was by the sin of man that everything was made all wrong, and it is a great mercy on the part of God, entirely unmerited by man, that He has made any provision at all whereby even a portion of the race may be saved. If our theology is based upon such an error as this, it is no wonder it is still further vitiated by the idea that man’s salvation depends on himself.
But we have seen how false and misleading is this idea. We are God’s workmanship. We are God’s husbandry, God’s building, clay in the hands of the potter, that is, so far as the final accomplishment of the purpose of God is concerned. “I am the first, and I am the last”, saith the Lord, and all this is the creative process. If Christians could only see this, they would never think of such a thing as making man’s perfection depend on himself, for surely in His creative work God needs no assistance. If man’s salvation is a new creation the consummation of which is life, then surely it must be all of God, and every son and daughter of the race may rest assured that God’s purpose in them individually will be ultimately accomplished. I, as God’s offspring, (Acts 17:28 compared with Psa. 82:6) may be absolutely sure that my Father and my Creator will sometime bring me into harmony with Himself. For it is impossible to believe that any portion of His creation will be out of harmony or at variance with Him through all eternity. Especially so since He plainly declares that he will ultimately “reconcile all things to Himself.
I take it that God has a definite purpose in the creation of everything, a definite end in view and that end is certain to be reached soon or later. In other words, every feature ultimately fulfills the purpose of the Creator in its creation. For us to suppose otherwise would be to suppose a failure on the part of the Creator, which is unthinkable. The believer’s attitude toward God then might be thus expressed: God has created me for a definite purpose. That purpose I shall ultimately fulfill in His economy. It is a wise and good purpose, one with which I should be perfectly satisfied and contented if I only understood it all. Toward that end I am continually moving. All things tend to advance me in that one direction and I shall surely arrive. I shall surely fulfill the purpose of my creation, and all I have to do is to leave myself in His hands as clay in the hands of the potter to be fashioned according to His will.
It is a great satisfaction and pleasure to think of our relationship to God in this light. For God has something in His mind to make of me, and I shall surely become that something. And furthermore, since God is wise and good, that something will please and satisfy me perfectly. When I reach the place for which God created me, and for which He has fitted me, then I shall have no regrets that it is not another place. But I shall realize that it is my place and shall be satisfied, perfectly satisfied with the accomplishment of the ever blessed and good will of God in me.
I am a seed, destined to a certain result ultimately. The seed may pass through many vicissitudes in reaching that result, like the seed in the hand of an Egyptian mummy lying dormant for a thousand years, but still its end is fixed, and that end it will reach, and none other. I may frustrate the grace of God, as in Gal. 2:21, but I cannot frustrate. His will. He may say, “Let him alone; he is joined to his idol”, but “He will not cast off forever”. Sooner or later He will return, and have compassion, and cast all our sins behind our backs”. Again, “He turneth man to destruction and saith, Return ye children of men”. I may be disappointed many times in failing to be what I would like to be, and what I imagine I might have been, and so my experience will correspond to the poet’s words — “Of all sad words by tongue or pen, The saddest are these — it might have been.”
And this experience is a part of my training, and by it I continually being advanced toward what in the providence of God / am to be. And thus —
“Our place is kept, and it will wait,
Ready for us to fill it, soon or late:
No star is ever lost we once have seen;
We always may be what we might have been:
Since good, though only thought, has life and breath.
And evil in its nature is decay,
And any hour may blot it all away.”
Let no one say, “This is fatalism”. Nay, it is godism if I may reverently use such an expression. None need fear a fatalism that makes God supreme, absolute, almighty. In the foregoing remarks I am dealing with finalities. God is the first and the last and he has His way ultimately. He is able to subdue that is, to harmonize all things unto Himself. Himself is love, and love has only one way of subduing by harmonizing. This glorious consummation will be reached when all are gathered together in one (Eph. 1:10) and God is all in all.
Thus may the trusting child “rest in God” both for himself and for the “whole creation”, and with the utmost confidence he may commit all his interests unto Him as unto a faithful creator.
THE PURPOSE OF EVIL
There is probably no subject in all the range of religious thought so hard to deal with as that of the purpose of evil. Writers on Biblical lore have tried to account for the origin of evil; but it seems to me that the real difficulty is the bare fact of its existence whatever may have been its origin. The great question for theologians to wrestle with is this: How can you account for the existence of evil alongside a supreme, all wise, holy and benevolent God2 Think for a moment on the condition of things in this world. Evil exists on the earth to embitter and darken, to blight and curse everything else that exists on the earth. On it goes, like a huge Juggernaut car, rolling through the world, crushing its helpless victims on every hand, and (the saddest feature of all) crushing without distinction the innocent and guilty together in one common quagmire of sin, suffering and death; and God allows it to go on when he might at any instant stop it, and on it has gone for six thousand years. Take an example in the concrete, the horrible September massacre of the French Revolution when during a period of one hundred hours, from Sunday afternoon, Sept. 2, 1792, until Thursday, the helpless inmates of the seven crowded prisons of Paris were, after a mock trial before a self-constituted tribunal, hurled to a howling mob of human wolves and fiends and butchered in cold blood. Men and women, young, middle-aged, and gray-haired, shared the same fate, and for no other crime than that, as Carlisle expresses it, they were “suspected of being suspected”. And all this was enacted under the canopy of heaven where sits the God of infinite power and love! How can we believe it? Add to this the years of horror of that same revolution. Add the slaughter of the Waldenses and the Albegenses. Add the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Add the unspeakable cruelties of the Spanish Inquisition. Add the decades, centuries and millenniums of butchery and blood that have cursed the world from fratricidal Cain down to the present time, and then try to reconcile all this with the existence in the same universe of god of infinite power and love! Can you do it? Rather does not the contemplation of this vast sea of human suffering cause one to shrink back with horror from the ghastly vision and almost (and sometimes quite) doubt that there is a God? Alas, how many there are that are troubled by this problem! Can you help them? The Word can help them.
First let me say that there is no help out of this trouble in orthodoxy. In regard to this subject orthodoxy is hopelessly contradictory and utterly absurd. Thus it speaks: “It was not in God’s original plan that evil should exist, but evil has come into existence and done incalculable harm; yet God’s plans cannot be thwarted nor disarranged in the least, because he is all-wise and almighty. Evil being in existence before man was created, God allows it to come into contact with the man He created when He might have prevented it, knowing full well what the result would be; yet He is in no wise responsible for the consequences of evil. In fact, it is blasphemy to entertain any such idea. Evil having come into existence contrary to God’s will, he cannot put it out of existence, but it will continue as long as he exists, an eternal blot on His otherwise perfect universe and a perpetual offence unto all the purified; yet His will is absolute and sovereign and the redeemed will be perfectly happy. Thus God is in no wise responsible for either the origin, existence, consequences or continuance of evil; yet He can have everything as He pleases, and is the Creator of all things.” And so Orthodoxy goes on, stultifying common sense, throttling human reason, and stupidly expecting that intelligent, thoughtful men and women will accept its idiotic patter as the infallible utterances of divine inspiration. Cannot everyone see that the entire orthodox view is contradictory and absurd in the extreme, and hence self-destructive and untenable?
Now I hold that the following proposition is self-evident. Given a God of infinite power, wisdom and goodness, He is responsible ALL things that exist. And this also follows from the wisdom and goodness of God: All things that exist are for an intelligent and benevolent end. These conclusions are inevitable from the premises; they cannot be modified except by modifying the premises. For instance, if you say that some things exist contrary to God’s will, then it follows that God is not all-powerful; and you cannot escape this conclusion by bringing in the orthodox doctrine of man’s free moral agency, for whatever a free moral agent may do, He is responsible for it who made him a free moral agent. If God made man a free moral agent, He knew beforehand what the result would be, and hence is just as responsible for the consequences of the acts of that free moral agent as He would be for the act of an irresponsible machine that he had made. Man’s free moral agency, even if it were true, would by no means clear God from the responsibility of His acts since God is His creator and has made him in the first place just what he is, well knowing what the result would be. If God’s will is ever thwarted, then he is not almighty. If His will is thwarted, then His plans must be changed, and hence He is not all wise and immutable. If His will is never thwarted, then all things are in accordance with His will and he is responsible for all things as they exist. If he is all wise and all good, then all things, existing according to His will, must be tending to some wise and benevolent end. Thus we come back to my proposition again: If God is infinite in power, wisdom and goodness, then He is responsible for all things that exist, and all existing things are tending toward some wise and good end. He who cannot see that this proposition is absolutely inevitable as much so as a mathematical axiom must be very deficient in logic and reason, and it would be useless to argue with him. He who does see the truth of this proposition will also see the truth of several corollaries dependent upon it; absolute evil cannot exist because God is absolutely good. The absolute is the unconditioned and unlimited. If there were absolute evil, then the good would be limited, and hence not absolute, and hence again God would not be absolutely or infinitely good. But God is infinite in goodness; hence evil is not infinite. Therefore it is relative, temporary and limited, and therefore again endless evil is impossible unless you make God less than infinite. Thus it is seen that the doctrine of endless torments is as contrary to reason as it is to scripture.
We have arrived then purely by reasoning to the somewhat startling and yet perfectly scriptural conclusion that “all things are of God”, or God is in all things, or is responsible for all things, including all so called evil things as well as good things. Is not such a position as this very dangerous? Is it not a fearful thing to say that evil is of God? I answer there is nothing dangerous or fearful about this view unless the truth is dangerous and fearful. We have seen that reason compels us to this position whether we will or no, and everyone familiar with the Bible ought to know that this view is positively scriptural. That “all things are of God” is declared over and over again in the Bible. The prophet Amos goes so far as to particularize evil as “of God” when in his question he makes an implied statement which from an orthodox standpoint would be blasphemous: “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6) But what is still more to the purpose we have the direct positive statement that GOD CREATES EVIL.
“I form light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things.” Isa. 45:7 This passage is most strange and unaccountable on the ground of any of the current orthodox creeds. God creates evil! It cannot be! But here it is in the word. What will you do with it? “We must explain it somehow,” says Orthodoxy, “and yet save our creed. How shall it be done? Suppose we say that the evil here spoken of is not moral evil, sin, or wrongdoing, but physical evil, famines, pestilences, tornadoes, etc., which God controls and sends upon mankind as punishment for their wickedness.” It will not do! The word here rendered evil is the one commonly used throughout the Old Testament to denote wickedness, sin, wrong doing. In some five hundred passages 11 is so used. For example see Gen. 6:5; Num. 14:27; Deut. 31:29; 1 Kings 11:6; 16:30; Psa. 34-21. The very same word in the original is also rendered “wicked” and “wickedness” more than a hundred times. See for example Gen. 6:5, 13:13; Psa. 94:23; Psa. 101:4; etc. Suppose that instead of trying to explain this passage in harmony with some cut-and-dried creed, we let all creeds go and see if we can find out what the passage really means, and then, if the creed does not harmonize with that meaning, throw the creed away and form another one that will harmonize with it. At any rate here is the statement in the word and we will be brave enough to receive it as truth and trust the same One who made it to explain it. Since God is infinitely good and wise and evil is one of His creatures, it must be that evil shall ultimate in some good and wise end, as we have already seen. But how can that be? And, if we can by any means understand how it can be, the next question would be what can it be? What can be the end, good and wise, toward which evil is tending?
We can understand how all evil tends to good from the fact that we know from our own experience how some evil tends to good, and in the Bible and in the world around us we see the same thing illustrated again and again. Now if God has done this in some cases, and if, as we know, He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11), then it surely is not difficult to believe that He over-rules all evil for good. In fact, this must be so, for it is only on this ground, i.e., that all evil tends to good in the end, that we can harmonize the existence of evil at all with the existence of a God of infinite power, wisdom and love. It is not necessary for us to understand how in each particular case evil is overruled for good in order to believe that it is so over-ruled. The subject is made still clearer, moreover, from the fact that we can see and understand what some of these good ends are toward which evil conducts us, and thus we come to know something of the purpose of evil. We see furthermore that this purpose is grand and glorious and in perfect harmony with the character of God and that it fully accounts for the existence of evil. How could God ever reveal Himself to man in His mercy, suffering, and compassion if it had not been that evil had put us into a position to call for the exercise of these tributes in our behalf? And especially how could God manifest to us His love in all its intensity and greatness except by such an opportunity as evil furnishes? As it is written, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because God sent His only Son into the world that we might live through Him” there could have been no such manifestation of the Father’s love if there had been no such thing as evil. We might believe that a friend loved us even though his love had never been especially tested, but we never could fully appreciate his love unless circumstances transpired to give him an opportunity to exhibit it in all its strength and fullness. So, too, we never could understand fully the love of God (and hence never could know Him fully — 1 Cor. 13:12 — for God is love) had it not been for our lost and wretched condition furnishing the Father with an adequate opportunity for its manifestation. It was “when we were yet without strength” that Christ died for us. “God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” It was because we were in such an evil case, without strength and sinners, that the love that sent the deliverer is so marked and readily appreciated. Hence “hereby perceive we the love of God because Christ laid down His life for us.” How should we have been able thus to perceive that love in its so great plenitude if we had never come under the power of evil so as to need this extreme manifestation of it?
Furthermore, as evil gives God an occasion to reveal himself to us so that we may know Him, so it gives us the opportunity to exercise the attributes of God so that we may become like Him. The existence of evil in the world gives the child of God the opportunity for the exercise of the godlike attributes of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, forbearance, meekness, and gentleness and thus he becomes like God; for, if ye do these things, ye shall be the children of the highest; for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust, and is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” Thus we see something of the purpose of evil in the blessings of mankind.
In addition to all this we have other direct testimony from scripture that evil is one of God’s ministers for good. It is clearly intimated again and again that God uses evil for the accomplishment of His plans, which, of course, are always good. See, for instance, Judges 9:23. Read the context and you will see that Abimelech by a most atrocious crime had obtained the ruler ship of Israel, and to punish Him “God sent an evil spirit between him and the men of Schechem”, and the result was the punishment of all the guilty parties. See the same idea in 1 Sam. 16:14. “The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” This evil spirit did not come from the devil nor from hell, but from the Lord to do his bidding. See also 1 Kings 22:23 where the Lord is represented as using a “lying spirit” in order to deceive wicked Ahab for his own destruction.
The case of Job is one of the most striking and perfect illustrations of this wonderful truth. The Lord speaks of him as “My servant Job there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil.” Thus it appears that Job was a remarkably good man, and this is confirmed by Ezek. 14:14, 20. Now then, what does God do but deliberately hand over this perfect and upright man into the hands of Satan to do his worst upon him, only that he should not touch his life. How could we have a more perfect illustration of how God uses evil as an instrument for good? Although Job suffered intensely, we know that in the end he was greatly blessed by his hard and bitter experience. If God thus uses Satan, the embodiment of evil, as a minister for good in the case of one individual, is it hard to believe that all evil is over-ruled of God for good in all cases?
The New Testament teaches the same truth. Did you ever notice how strangely the evangelists Matthew and Mark speak of Christ’s temptation? The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, and he was there with wild beasts. What a strange statement! The Holy Spirit of – , drives the sinless Jesus into the wilderness among the “Id beasts to be tempted of Satan, the arch enemy of all good, a murderer from the beginning, and the father of lies! Truly God creates evil and uses it, too, for His own purposes and glory! The apostle Paul fully understood this great truth and practiced it himself. Hence he writes to the Corinthians “to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus”, and he declares in his letter to Timothy that he himself had delivered certain ones unto Satan “that they might learn not to blaspheme.” It would seem also that the apostle knew something of this kind of discipline himself, for he says, “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” All this clearly proves that God over-rules evil for good, that even Satan’s work shall result in blessings for God’s children.
Finally, we will notice one more passage more remarkable, if possible, even than those I have cited. In the 20th chapter of the Revelation we have an account of the total restraint of the devil and consequent suppression of evil for a thousand years. What a blessed era of peace and righteousness that will be and how desirable that it should continue and that evil should never again curse the earth! But, lo, wonderful to relate, at the end of the thousand years Satan is loosed out of his prison, and again goes out to deceive the nations, and peace is banished from the earth, and war and slaughter ensues with terrible suffering and destruction. According to the orthodox idea of the origin and final effects of evil, there would seem to be some terrible mistake here. Either Satan was not watched closely enough, or his prison was insecure, or there was treachery; some awful blunder or more awful crime has been committed to let the devil loose when once he was well secured surely it would seem from the orthodox standpoint. But so it is not. All is plain when we see the great truth I have tried to set forth in this article. Satan is God’s servant to carry out His plans. He is just as much under God’s control and works just as truly under His direction as does the angel Gabriel. God now leaves him free to work out his mischievous will among the children of men. He is the “prince of this world”, “the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience.” The time will come when he will be bound and put under total restraint and so remain through the Millennium. Then he will be loosed because God has something more for him to do, and he will finally be disposed, but we have seen that evil is needful and beneficial in the end. It is one of God’s creatures and His servant, and is conducive to the accomplishment of His gracious plans, as are all other things.
Thus the Word untangles this great mystery of evil for us and shows us clearly that it is not an interloper in God’s economy. It is not a foreign substance in the delicate fabric of God’s great plan, obstructing and disarranging its intricate mechanism; nay, it is a necessary part of that plan. It rightly belongs to the marvelous congeries of forces that under the control and guidance of the one supreme mind works and inter-works steadily and without interruption or delay to the glorious end of creating a divine and god-like race. Thank God that on this, as in all other things, He will be glorified and man, in the end, be blessed!
Now another thought. There are some who say that they could accept the foregoing position if it were not for one thing, the great injustice there is in the world. They can see how God can over-rule evil for good in the case of the guilty. Those who deserve punishment are benefited by it, but the evil of this world falls with equal weight upon the innocent as upon the guilty, and even in many cases with greater weight upon the former than upon the latter. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. The innocent and helpless suffer most keenly on account of the viciousness and brutality of others, and thus the most outrageous injustice is perpetrated continually around us in the world. How can all this be permitted in the dominions of a God of absolute justice and boundless love? And how can all this be conducive to good? Is there an answer to this tremendous problem? Two considerations if I err not, will help us to a solution.
We have seen that one of the purposes of evil is to develop in our characters attributes akin to God: pity, mercy, compassion, charity, gentleness, etc. Now suppose we lived in world of absolute justice where no one suffered except what they strictly deserved to suffer, where the innocent never suffered, but only the guilty, and they suffered just so much no more and no less as was due to their transgression and as would be beneficial to the transgressor. Suppose we lived in such a world as that. At first thought it would seem as though it would be a very nice kind of world; but how could we in such a world develop the god-like attributes above referred to? There would be no room for heavenly compassion and sweet charity and pity in a world of absolute justice. We would not be likely to pity very much a person who we knew was receiving only the punishment due his fault and that in the end would be for his benefit and blessing. Is it not plain that just this kind of evil, i.e., the evil of injustice, is needed in order that those crowning attributes of God, the tender and loving qualities of our Father in heaven, may be developed and perfected in His human children? Furthermore, so far as the injustice goes, that may be only temporary and apparent. Who shall say that in future cycles which God’s plan has yet to run all the apparent injustice of this present time may not be perfectly adjusted, taken into account, and made right? Surely no one has any right to say it will not be so; and it is perfectly reasonable and probable that it will be so.
But there is still another consideration that fully confirms all the foregoing and still further explains the whole subject. We should always endeavor to discover the underlying principles of God’s actions. Nothing that God does is arbitrary or capricious, but every one of His movements has an adequate and righteous cause. He always acts from principle. The outward act may change under different circumstances and toward different individuals, but His principles of action never change. See this whole subject set forth in Ezekiel, chapter forty-three. Hence, in order to become acquainted with God, to know Him more and more, we must endeavor to understand, not simply what God does, but why he does it. To know merely what God does is oft times very puzzling and inexplicable. To know why He does it makes all as clear and luminous as noonday. What we need to know, then, in order to know God are the reasons for God’s actions the purpose, “the end of the Lord” (Jas. 5:11), the causes and principles of His movements and operations in His dealings with mankind. We may always be sure that there is a just and righteous reason for all God’s ways, and our endeavor should be to know and understand that reason. Now let us apply this to the subject we are considering. Evil exists a thing that seems utterly antagonistic to God and His ways, but which we are sure from the foregoing considerations to be in some sense of God, in harmony with His will, and conducive to the furtherance of His plans. Now then, is there any principle of action, just and righteous in itself that will account for the existence of evil and indicate its ultimate result? There certainly is such a principle, thus: It is a recognized principle in law, equity and morals that it is right and just to inflict or permit temporary evil for the sake of an ultimate and permanent good. This principle all will see is certainly correct, it is upon this principle that all punishment of any kind is justifiable, and it is only on this principle that it can be justified. Punishment is an evil, but it is an evil that may ultimate in good, and, when it is inflicted for such a purpose, it is right and just. Now we know from numerous examples, many of which I have given in this article that God acts upon this principle. He uses evil as an instrument for good. Admit that this principle is correct and that God acts upon it, and all is at once accounted for and its final result indicated. This sweeping conclusion may not at once be clear to all, but a little thought will show that it is fully justified. If it is right to use evil as an instrument for good, and if God acts upon this principle, the principle fully explaining and justifying the act, then is it not reasonable to conclude that all evil is so justified? We cannot enter sufficiently deep into God’s plans to be able to explain the how and the why of each individual case, but, once admitting the principle, and seeing numerous examples of its application that we can understand, the conclusion is fully warranted that this principle applies to all cases.
Of course, no one could accept this conclusion that believed in endless torment. The above principle will not explain or justify unmitigated and eternal evil. I have already shown that such evil really dethrones God, or at least shares His throne with Him, which is equivalent to dethroning Him. To say that evil is absolute and eternal is to fully invest it with attributes peculiar to Deity and thus to make it “equal with God”, at least in some respects; but this cannot be. At that rate there would be two gods, a good and a bad one, and each of them would eternally exist and be eternal foes. To such a frightful conclusion does the doctrine of the eternity of evil lead us. Let those believe it who can. But, if we take the Bible teaching on this subject, the principle enunciated fully accounts for and explains the existence and purpose of evil. It may seem to some that this principle cannot apply to all evil. They are able to see how some evil may be over-ruled for good, but that all the terrible forms of evil can be so overruled seems to them impossible. But such a question is simply one of degree. If God can make some evil conducive to good, can He not so make all evil of whatever form or quantity: If it is true that God uses evil for good at all, how can we tell, not knowing perfectly God’s plans and methods, just what kind of evil and just how much evil God will so use? We must conclude that all the evil we see about us in every horrifying form and in all its vast amount comes under the same category of part and parcel of the great plan that rough sin, corruption, chaos and death is moving on to holiness, purity, order and life eternal.
Furthermore, the final outcome of God’s plan so clearly revealed in the scripture, fully confirms the foregoing view and, in fact, irresistibly drives us to that view. All the details and every particular of the plan in all its length and breadth are not revealed, but the result is revealed. And that result, the final outcome, is a perfect and absolute triumph for goodness, truth, and justice. “Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall give praise to God.” “The whole creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption.” “All things in heaven and earth shall be gathered together in Christ.” “Death shall be swallowed up in victory.” “There shall be no more anything accursed.” “Every created thing shall praise God.” This is the outcome! Thank God, it is good enough! To this final result all things are tending. To such a universal victory we are traveling on. We can see it by faith afar off.
I cannot doubt that good shall fall
At last — far off — at last to all.
If this is the outcome, then all things, evil included, are to eventuate in good, and thus we arrive at the same conclusion that we have reached in so many other ways in this article. Evil must be done of God’s servants for good. It must eventuate in good, for nothing but good is the final result.
Thus does reason and the Word set forth the purpose of evil. My feeble powers of expression are altogether inadequate for the full presentation of the great truth, but these thoughts will suggest the solution to the problem and will help the lover of truth to a deeper and fuller apprehension of the unique and wonderful ways of God. “Lo, these are parts of His ways; but how little a portion is heard of Him, and the thunder of His power who can understand!” Job 26:14
DEFINITION OF BIBLE TERMS
NATURAL: SPIRITUAL: CARNAL
In a discussion a great deal oftentimes depends on the definition of a term. Parties may dispute for a long time and finally discover that the only difference between them is that they have been using the same term in different senses. Bible terms are often used in a very loose and careless way. If we wish to arrive at the truth, we must be careful how we use Bible terms. The best way that I know of to get the true meaning of a word in scripture is to trace it through the Book and notice in what sense the sacred writers used it. Collate all the passages where the word occurs, and then from these passages and the context the meaning (or meanings, for some words are used in more than one sense) of the word may be readily and surely gathered. I shall endeavor to set forth the meaning of some of the important Bible terms in this way.
In this number we will briefly discuss the correlative terms, natural and spiritual. A strict definition of these terms is needful in order to understand the important rule laid down in 1 Cor. 15:46, that God’s order is first the natural and afterward the spiritual. A study of the New Testament in the manner indicated above will give us such a definition. But first I will give the meaning of the words in my own language and then notice the scriptural proof.
Natural means pertaining to this fallen state, earthly, fleshly, and corrupt. Spiritual, being opposed to the natural, means pertaining to the restored (or resurrection) state, finished, perfect. Both words refer to human beings; they are never applied to spirit beings, to God, or angels, or demons. Now let us look at the Bible and we shall find these statements confirmed. On the word natural see James 3:15 and Jude 19.In both these passages the words rendered “sensual” are the same in the original as the word rendered “natural” in 1 Cor. 15:46. The context clearly shows that natural pertains to the fallen man as “earthly, sensual, devilish”. The spiritual, being the opposite of the natural and coming after it according to God’s order, may now be readily identified. The natural, as we have seen, refers to the fallen, corruptible condition; the spiritual, then, must refer to the restored, incorruptible state. In other words the natural refers to the process of creation, the spiritual to the finished result.
It should be understood by all that the great work that God has in hand is the creation of a race of beings in His own image and likeness. This work was begun in Eden, has been finished in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ as the pattern man of God’s creation, and will be finished in the race of man in the “ages to come”. All this will appear plainer after reading the article on the two accounts of the creation. Now we refer to it simply for the purpose of bringing out the meaning of this word “spiritual.” If we understand that the perfect or finished man is “God’s workmanship” (Eph. 2:10), and that the work is a process made “perfect though suffering” (Heb. 2:10) then we shall understand what is meant when it is said that the natural refers to the process and the spiritual to the finished result. The gospel dispensation might very properly be called the finishing off age of the first “order” (1 Cor. 15:23) of God’s creation. Previous to the gospel age no man was ever finished or perfected. Unfallen Adam was not a finished man, as we have shown in the article referred to above. Christ was the first, and thus far the only man finished, at the beginning of this gospel age, as the “Head” of this first “order”, the “firstfruits”, or “the church of the firstborn”, and during this age the perfecting work, the finishing touches, so to speak, are being accomplished for those who belong to this first order. Hence the spiritual, i.e. he finished, begins to appear. The Old Testament gives “s the letter; the New Testament brings out the Spirit. (See, for example, Rom. 2:28, 29). Hence in the New Testament this idea of the spiritual occurs for the first time, and we read about spiritual gifts, spiritual meat and drink, a spiritual body, spiritual blessings, spiritual songs, etc. There is nothing of this kind in the Old Testament. In that portion of the Bible man is presented in the rough as raw material, so to speak crude and undeveloped, and no intimation is given of the finished, perfect, or spiritual state except in type and shadow. A portion of the race is being finished off during this gospel age; hence the spiritual is in order, and the New Testament brings this out.
Now in the light of this explanation see I Cor. 2:6-16, especially verses 13-15. The last clause of verse 13 should read “comparing (or explaining) spiritual things (neuter plural) to spiritual men (masculine plural)”. Now the two following verses “But the natural man (Man in the crude, rough state) 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 (being finished off) discerneth (margin) all things, yet he himself is discerned of no man.”
From these considerations we can understand the meaning of the natural and the spiritual. The natural is the corruptible, crude, rough state of man. The spiritual is the finishing work. When that work is complete, then are we fully spiritual, or perfect; this will we be when we “awake in His likeness”.
Now look at the third chapter of first Corinthians for one more thought in this connection, namely, that indicated by the word “carnal”. We have been studying the significance and correlation of the spiritual and the natural. Here it is the spiritual and the carnal. What is the import of this last word?
We have seen that the natural man is the man in the rough, the mere animal man, who has received no spiritual development whatever The terms natural and spiritual are mutually exclusive; one cannot be natural and spiritual at the same time. But one may be spiritual and carnal at the same time. Many Christians have some spiritual development, and yet the carnal, the fleshly, still predominates. They are, as Paul says “babes in Christ”, not mature and advanced, but mere infants. We know that after the spiritual begins to be developed we are still in the flesh and more or less fleshly. Says Paul, “The life that I now live in the flesh (still in the flesh, but living a higher life), I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Again we read, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other.” If in this conflict between the flesh and the Spirit the flesh predominates, we are babes in Christ and carnal. If the Spirit is paramount then we may be called spiritual, as in 1 Cor. 2:15 and Gal. 6:1.
Now read this third chapter of first Corinthians with this explanation in mind, and the carnal Christian will at once be apparent — a perfect type of many a Christian in these days. The sectarian spirit is perhaps the most hateful manifestation of this carnality. “I am of Paul; I am of Apollos”. So in these days we hear, “I am a Methodist to the back bone”, “I am a Baptist dyed in the wool”, “I am a Congregationalist true blue”, and thus these infantile disciples go on in their clannish professions, little thinking that thus they are demonstrating their own carnality and spiritual babyhood. 0 Lord, help us to “crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts” and “press on to full growth”. Heb. 6:1 New Version translation (margin)
Still further on these words we have been considering see Rom. 7:14, and 15:27; 1 Cor. 10:3, 4 and 21:1, also 15:44; 2 Cor. 1:12 and 10:4; Eph. 6:12; Heb. 7:16; I Pet. 2:11.
There are several different words in the original New Testament that are translated in the common version by this one English word, world; the two principal ones are aeon and kosmos. Though both of these words are usually rendered world, yet they are really very distinct and different in their meaning and ought to have been rendered respectively age and world. We shall have space in this number for the consideration of only the former word, aeon, i.e. age.
Our knowledge of God’s “plan of the ages” depends upon a correct understanding of the meaning of this word; and without a knowledge of that plan we can understand but little of the truth. Hence we can see how very important is the study of this word.
There are only two places in the common version where, word aeon is rendered, as it should be in every case, age; but these two instances are significant, because they show of themselves the meaning of the word. In Col. 1:26 we read of “the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations but now is made manifest to His saints”. In Eph. 2:7 we read that “in the ages to come God will show the exceeding riches of His grace”, etc. Now these passages plainly indicate two things in regard to this word. (1) The ages are limited by periods of time. Several of them have run their course and come to an end in the past, and there are yet more to come. (2) The “ages to come” are to be richer in the manifestation of the grace of God than the present or past ages. In other words it appears that God’s grace broadens and His plan develops as the ages roll, mysteries that have been hid in past ages are made known, and the future ages are to witness the “riches of His grace” to an extent “exceeding” that of any previous age. These points are clear from these passages; but we could not determine from these whether the ages are definite periods of time or not — whether Paul refers to the centuries, or whether he uses the word in a loose, indefinite sense as it is sometimes used at the present time, or whether he refers to specific and definite periods in the past and the future. To determine this point let us look at other scripture.
Heb. 9:26 ‘Wow once at the end of the ages (N.V.) hath Christ been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” It plainly appears from this passage that, when Christ came to suffer and die, it was at the end of a series of ages; this is positive. 1 Cor. 10:11 (N.V.) “These things were written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages are come.” This peculiar expression, “the ends of the ages”, is clear when we understand that the apostle and they to whom he wrote lived during the transition between the two ages. The Jewish age was closing and passing away; the gospel age was beginning. Hence the “ends of the ages” had come upon them. That this is the meaning here is still further confirmed when we understand that the word here rendered “are come” literally means “are met”, thus bringing out the idea of the meeting of the two ends of the two ages. Furthermore it is apparent from many scriptures that the time from the first to the Second Advent is called an age. For example, see Gal. 1:4, “this present evil age”; Tim. 2:12, “this present age”; Also 1 Cor. 2:6, 7, 8; 3:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12; 1 Tim. 6:17; and many other passages. Now, to still further confirm this point, see Matt. 24:3. “What shall be the sign of Thy coming and the end of the age?” From this passage it is evident that the end of “this present evil age” is synchronous with the second coming of Christ, the gospel age extends from the first to the second advent of Christ, and then what”! Then comes eternity most Christians think. This is a mistake, however! Then comes another age, and beyond that more ages, even “ages of ages”. In proof of this see Luke 20:34-36. “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage but they that shall be accounted worthy to obtain that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage”, etc. This passage plainly teaches three important points: (1) At the close of this age the resurrection takes place. (2) Then comes another age. (3) Some will obtain “that age” that will not obtain the resurrection.
Jesus is plainly talking here of two ages, “this age” and “that age”, and at the meeting of these two ages he locates the resurrection (if I err not, “the first resurrection”). Then comes, not eternity, but another age, “that age”. Some will obtain “that age” and the resurrection from the dead; some who do not obtain the latter will obtain the former and will be living here on the earth in “that age” after one “order” has experienced a resurrection. I cannot now go into a full explanation of this passage. I only briefly notice it in order to show how it establishes the three points mentioned above, which I think it does very clearly.
Very many more passages might be noticed to still further explain this word had I space, but lacking this, I will refer to only one more point. This word aeon occurs in the New Testament in so many peculiar and varying forms as to make it certain that it expresses some deep and important meaning well worth searching out. First we have the simple word many times repeated, both in the singular and plural. Then we have the word in combination with several prepositions: from the age, Luke 1:70; from the ages, Eph. 3:9; out of the age, John 9:32; before the ages, 1 Cor. 2:7; before times of ages or before age-times, Tim. 1:2, the purpose of the ages, Eph. 3:11 (N.V. margin); the age to come, Heb. 6:5; the ages to come, Eph. 2:7; the end of the age; Matt. 24:3; the end of the ages, Heb. 9:26; the ends of the ages, 1 Cor. 10:11; Furthermore in connection with the preposition unto we find the following remarkable changes:
1. Unto the age. Mark 3:29.
2. Unto the ages. Luke 1:33.
3. Unto all the ages. Jude 25.
4. Unto the age of the age. Heb. 1:8.
5. Unto all the generations of the age of the ages. Eph.3:21.
6. Unto the ages of the ages. Rev. 1:6.
7. Unto the day of an age. 2 Pet. 3:18.
Can any one suppose that these peculiar forms have no special meaning? Is all this a mere play upon words? Simply purposeless repetition? Remember, God by His Spirit is the real author of the inspired Word. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit”. Is it not certain, then, as I have said, that these varying forms, so peculiar and striking, hide some spiritual mystery? And would it not have been more respectful to the Word if the translators of the common version had rendered these expressions literally, even though they did not know what they meant’ rather than to obscure the sense altogether with capricious renderings? These translators have handled this word apparently without any respect whatever to its real meaning. They have rendered its various combinations in thirteen ways, viz.; age, course, world, eternal, since the world began, from the beginning of the world, ever, forever, forever and ever, for evermore, while the world standeth, world without end, and, with a negative, never. These are not translations but paraphrases, and look to me like “handling the Word of God deceitfully”, albeit it may have been unintentional. We might expect that this unaccountable capriciousness of rendering would be corrected in the New Version, but such correction would have endangered the creed. It would have set some Christians (those who read their Bibles) to thinking, and there is nothing that the upholders of shaky creeds dread so much as to have the people think for themselves. It seems as though these creed-bound revisers thought, “We must not open this subject; we must not disturb the tradition of the elders by translating these expressions correctly; better leave them just as they are and then the people will not be unsettled, and the creed will remain intact.” Whether they thought this or not, they certainly did not correct this glaring fault of the common version (although, according to their own representation, to correct such faults as this was the very purpose for which the New Testament was revised), but perpetuated it. Hence we have the same confusion in this respect in the New Version as in the old, and thus God’s wonderful “counsel” is “darkened by words without knowledge”. To my mind it is positive that this word must be connected with some great truth, and it seems to me that we may be sure of this even though we may not be able to tell what that truth is. But the scriptures reveal something of this mystery to those who search. God’s “plan of the ages” makes this truth apparent. God, through ages past, present, and to come, is working out a glorious “purpose”. The accomplishments of this purpose progresses through these ages, as is prophetically typified in the first account of the creation, grandly and majestically, until it shall be complete, and man shall be made in the image of God.
In a preceding number of the paper I have explained the word, age, the original of which is aeon. In this article I will explain the word rendered eternal or everlasting, the original of which, derived from aeon, is aeonios. It is very important to understand the meaning of the word, for, as it is commonly understood, it is the main pillar of the orthodox, doctrine of endless torment. That tremendous dogma stands or falls according to the meaning put upon this word.
Some people are very suspicious if you present anything scripture that they cannot find in the common English version. The original and other translations and versions they do not know anything about, and they are unwilling to accept them as authority. An advent brother of considerable prominence in his church wrote to me once that he could not accept anything as scripture that was not contained in the so called King James version, or common English Bible. Of course, such a declaration only manifests the ignorance and bigotry of the person making it, and yet there are many who feel the same way. In these days we have many helps to Bible study, and any Christian who does not, so far as is possible, avail himself of these helps to understand the “wonderful words of life” is “willingly ignorant”. (2 Pet. 3:5.)
We will endeavor to determine the meaning of this word aeonios, according to its origin, and also according to the sense of the passages where it occurs. The word, as I have already intimated, is an adjective derived from the noun aeon, age, just as we form the adjective hourly from the noun hour, or yearly from the word year, or eternal for eternity. I have already explained aeon, whence the meaning of this derivative may be gathered. A derivative word cannot properly mean any more than the word from which it is derived. If aeon means eternity, then aeonios might mean eternal and not otherwise, but we have seen that aeon as used in the Bible does not and cannot mean eternity (the strongest upholders of the doctrine of endless woe make no claim that on means eternity); hence aeonios does not mean eternal. There are several passages wherein everyone can see that aeonios does not mean eternal. In Philemon 15 the word rendered forever is from aeonios, and it is very plain from the context that it does not mean endless. So apparent is this that in the New Version, although everywhere else this word is rendered eternal, yet in this passage, as a single exception, they are compelled to render it “forever”, as in the Old Version. This passage shows conclusively that aeonios does not of itself mean endless. Another passage is in Heb. 6:2 where we have the phrase “eternal judgment.” No one could think that the word means endless in this connection unless they believed the judgment is to be endless. It is clear, then, from these passages that the word does not of itself mean endless. If it is ever to be taken in that sense, it must be because of the connection, and this is really the argument of those who defend the orthodox position. It is not claimed that aeonios of itself means absolutely endless, but it is claimed that the connection in which the word occurs indicates endlessness, For instance, the word is used of God whom we know is eternal; hence it is argued that the word must mean eternal when so applied. Again in Matt. 25:46 the phrase “aeonial punishment” (I will use this anglicized form of the original word since we have no single English word that exactly expresses its meaning) is set over against that of “aeonial life”. The latter is supposed, of course, to mean endless life; hence the former must mean endless punishment.
In a former issue of the paper I have noticed briefly the true meaning of the word when applied to God. I will now add in the same line that an understanding of God’s “plan of the ages” will make the meaning of the phrase, aeonial God, clear to us. As I have shown in previous papers, the ages are periods of time during which God is working out His great plan of creating man in His own image The ages are God’s times (Acts 3:21; 1 Tim. 6:15; Eph. 1:10) during which He does His work (see John 5:17); Eph. 2:10; Psa. 74: 12); hence God is called the God of the ages, the King of the ages, or the aeonial God. (1 Tim. 1:17 N.V. margin; Rev. 15:3, N.V.) The adjective aeonial has no more reference to duration, either long or short, than it has to color. It denotes a quality, a characteristic, not a quantity. It is not a time-word like eternal, annual, daily, etc., but a descriptive word like autumnal, vernal, or dispensational. God is absolutely eternal. From everlasting to everlasting He is God, but this is not the meaning of the word aeonial. This is not a word expressing God’s duration, but simply expressing a characteristic of him, as I have explained above. That this is the true meaning of this word will still further appear as we consider the next point.
Matt. 25:46 reads, “These shall go away into aeonial punishment but the righteous into life aeonial”. It is argued that aeonial life is endless life; hence aeonial punishment is endless punishment. It is further argued that, if the punishment is limited, the life must be limited; the duration of each being expressed by the same word, and thus a disbelief in an endless hell destroys the doctrine of an endless heaven. The two stand or fall together. All this seems very conclusive to the majority of Christians. In fact, it seems to them absolutely unanswerable, and hence they feel compelled to believe in an endless hell in order to preserve their belief in an endless heaven; and yet this whole argument is flimsy, shallow, inconclusive, unscriptural, and false. I will try if I cannot let the light of God’s truth in upon it, so that some may see that it is not born of the light, but of darkness, and that the pillars of heaven do not rest upon the pavements of hell.
In the first place the conclusion is not correct even if the premises were true. It can be clearly shown from scripture that, though it were true that aeonial life means endless life, it would not necessarily follow that aeonial in the other phrase meant endless. We have another passage in the New Testament where the word aeonial occurs twice, and where, from the orthodox standpoint, it would certainly mean endless in one case, and from a common sense standpoint just as certainly not mean endless in the other. The passage is Rom.16:25, 26- In the Old Version the words “since the world began” and in the New version “times eternal” are translated from original words that literally mean simply aeonial times or the times of the ages. Thus it is rendered in the Phatic Diaglott, Young’s Bible Translation, and Rotherham‘s translation. The rendering of the New Version noticed above also indicates the same meaning. In the same passage we read also of “the aeonial God”. Now from the orthodox standpoint this latter phrase must mean the eternal God, the God without beginning or end. I have already shown that in this connection aeonial does not have the meaning of endless, but, supposing it had, it could not mean endless in the former phrase, for everyone must see that to talk about endless times is as flat a contradiction of terms as it would be to talk about a full vacuum, or a something nothing. I do not hesitate to say that the rendering in the New Version is utterly meaningless. The definition of time is duration having beginning and end, i.e. limited duration; the definition of eternal is without end, never ending, i.e. unlimited duration. Now let the reader tell me what is the meaning of “eternal times”. An unending end! An unlimited limit! An infinite finite! Nonsense! Common sense is better than learning or man-made theology, and more likely to lead us to the truth than the ipse dixit of creed-bound “divines”. We have, however, a still more senseless rendering in the New Version in 2 Tim. 1:9 and Tit. 1:2. If the phrase “times eternal” is meaningless, what does “before times eternal” mean? Before a limited period of eternity! It is marvelous how blind and stupid bigotry and prejudice will make the wisest and most learned men! Here are passages surely where it is certain that aeonial does not mean endless. If you insist that the aeonial God means the Being who is without beginning or end, then to be consistent you ought to hold that “aeonial times” is time without beginning or end. But that is too foolish for anyone but an idiot to urge; hence you are compelled to admit that the same word used twice in this passage has two different meanings. Hence it may have two different meanings in any other passage where it occurs twice. Thus the argument drawn from Matt. 25:46 in favor of endless torment is shown to be faulty, even from the orthodox standpoint. But the orthodox standpoint is not the true one; hence the view from that standpoint is not true. This view is shallow. Let us look deeper for the truth.
There is no doubt in my mind that the word aeonial wherever it is used in the New Testament has a uniform meaning. It does not mean endless in some connection and something else in others. God’s word is not thus self- contradictory and confusing. The word has one general meaning. What is it? I have already answered this question. I have explained what I understand to be the meaning when applied to God. He is the aeonial God or the King of the ages, i.e. the Being who through aeonial times is working out His wonderful plan. The word aeonial has the force of belonging to or in connection with the ages. Anything that is peculiar to these age times and stands in connection with them is said to be aeonial, as, for example, aeonial salvation, aeonial redemption, aeonial inheritance, aeonial fire, etc. (See Heb. 5:9; Heb. 9:12, 15; Jude 7.)
In regard to the last verse of Matt. 25 I would say that I have given a full explanation in the pamphlet already referred to. I will only add now that the whole difficulty with this passage lies in the fact that Christians are ignorant of what aeonial life is. It is not mere endless existence. The adjective aeonial has no such meaning as endless; it never has that meaning in any scripture; it describes the kind of life, not its duration. Jesus gives us a definition of aeonial life in John 17:3: “This is life aeonial, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Does not this satisfy you? Christ’s own words? As plain and direct as can be? Knowledge of God and of Christ is life aeonial; that is to say, the life of the ages, God’s work days, in its final result will be a universal knowledge of God. “All shall know him from the least to the greatest.” It has not been so in past ages, to be sure, but it will be so as the ages roll on. The “age times” have scarcely begun; there are yet “ages of ages” in the future; and, as their cycles roll, God will come to be known more and More until “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” This is the life that shall yet characterize God’s “age times”; this is life aeonial. I have no doubt but that life thus attained to in “the ages to come” by a re-created race will continue on and on forever, for we are to be like God, deathless, immortal, “neither can they die any more”; but this fact of the endlessness of that life is not implied in the word aeonial, but is plainly taught in other scripture. Aeonial describes the kind of life as explained above. Even those who hold the orthodox view must admit that aeonial life is something more than mere endless existence. They believe that the damned in hell have that. Aeonial life, they must think, is an endless life of a certain kind of bliss and enjoyment and perfect happiness and this is true; but they fail to understand wherein the happiness and enjoyment consists, in a perfect knowledge of God. The highest enjoyment of which we are capable comes from knowing God. Nothing else will give us true happiness; nothing else will give us peace. This is life; all else is death. This and this alone is man’s perfect heaven.
Having thus determined the nature of aeonial life, it is comparatively easy to understand what aeonial punishment is. Not endless punishment! Such an idea is senseless as well as unscriptural. The purpose of punishment is not only the protection of society and the restraint of the offender, but also for his reformation. This latter should be the main purpose of punishment. Any punishment that is not conducive to this end is wholly unjustifiable. It is simply an attempt to overcome one evil with a greater evil. Now, to talk about endless punishment is nonsense as much as it would be to talk of endless correction or endless reforming. You might speak of endless torture or endless suffering, but endless punishment is not a proper collocation of terms at all. I will add that the original word here rendered punishment signifies a punishment for the correction and bettering of the individual; hence it could not be endless. We have seen the true meaning of aeonial. Apply that meaning here and we have the correct idea of the phrase. ‘Aeonial life, we have seen, is that kind of life peculiar to God’s age-times; so aeonial punishment or correction (which would be a perfectly correct translation) is that kind of punishment that God will make use of in future ages to correct mankind. As of aeonial life so of aeonial punishment. It is not a punishment of a given duration, but of a certain kind — of such kind as will in the end work the reformation of the offender. According to this explanation, everyone can see that there is not the slightest ground in this passage for the false doctrine of endless woe, and the strong point in this explanation is that it rests on the express statement of our Lord Jesus Christ. Had Jesus given us no definition of aeonial life, we could have plainly inferred its meaning from other scripture, but such inferences would have been open to strong objection on account of their being inferences and not the direct teaching of the Word. But when Christ gives us a formal, precise definition of the phrase, when He tells us exactly what aeonial life is, of course no Christian can object, and the question is settled. The whole force of the orthodox argument depends upon the meaning of the word aeonial. If it means endless, then the argument is sustained and the orthodox view is established. If it does not mean endless, the argument falls to the ground. The whole question, then, is: Does aeonial mean endless or not? To this question there can be but one answer in view of the scriptural testimony I have presented above. Jno. 17:3. As we have seen, there are three passages in the New Testament where aeonial is connected with the word time, and in such combination the adjective could not possibly mean endless, unless there could be such a thing as an unlimited fragment. Then we have the Saviour’s definition of aeonial life, which settles and fixes the meaning of the phrase by all the power of the divinity of the incarnate word. If in the face of this evidence anyone can still say that aeonial means endless, then he is either mentally deficient or else by bigotry, prejudice, ignorance, or something else of that nature, he is beyond the reach of reason and must abide in his dearly beloved falsehood until God shakes him out of it. As I have already said, aeonial life, when fully reached, will be an endless life, but the endlessness of that life is not indicated by the epithet aeonial, but plainly taught in other scripture. No one need fear that, by denying an endless hell, he weakens the evidence for an endless heaven. The latter is fully assured by many passages of the plainest scripture, but we have no such evidence in favor of the former.
The meaning of aeonial, then, is belonging to, peculiar to, or characteristic of the ages. It has no relation to duration, but to kind. It is certain that the word does not mean endless or eternal, as I have shown above. It does not even mean age-lasting, although it is sometimes so rendered for want of a better English word whereby to express it. Strictly speaking, however, the word does not mean lasting throughout the age any more than it means lasting throughout eternity. As Canon Farrar has said, “Even if aeon always meant eternity, which is not the case either in classic or Hellenistic Greek, aeonial could still only mean belonging to eternity, not lasting through it. The word by itself, whether adjective or substantive, never means endless.” As we have no single word in English that properly expresses its meaning, it seems to me best to incorporate the word right into the language just as we have baptism, hades, etc. The form then, aeonial, I think is best, used in the sense explained in the foregoing.
WHAT IS MAN?
This question is so important that it is five times asked in the Bible; first in the book of Job 7:17, “What is man that Thou shouldst magnify him, and that Thou shouldst set Thy heart upon him?” Again in Job 15:14, “What is man that he should be clean, and he that is born of woman that he should be righteous?” Also in Psa. 8:4, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou visitest him?” Again in Psa. 144:3, “Lord, what is man that Thou takest knowledge of him, or the son of man that Thou makest account of him?” And, finally, in Heb. 2:6 the same as in Psa. 8:4.
It must be that this question is important or it would not be so many times repeated and with such variations. We will search for an answer. If we should answer the question according to a matter of fact view of the condition of things in the world today, we should say that man, considered as a whole, is a poor, miserable creature. He appears to be a failure, a wretched abortion. He is a beast of burden, an oppressed slave, a toiling, ill-requited, downtrodden bondservant, degraded, ignorant, godless, corrupt, and wicked. I am speaking of the masses. Of course we should judge of the race by the majority of its members, and the above is a truthful description of the race of man as a whole. Those who do not come under this description are exceptions and not the rule. Take mankind as a whole, civilized, heathen, barbarous and savage, and the above description is not by any means as dark as the reality. If you want to see a word picture of the race drawn out in all its awful hideousness by an inspired pen, read the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans; also Rom. 3:9-19. Truly “man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” “He drinketh iniquity like water” and is “soon cut down like the grass.” Such is man as we see him today “like the beasts that perish.” In regard to this humiliating view of man it is sufficient to reply that man is in the rough, not yet finished, and hence uncouth, defective, and ill-developed.
There is another reply to this question, “What is man?” It is the orthodox answer, the prevailing view among Christians. It is about as follows: Man is a dual being, composed of soul and body (some make him triune, mind, soul, and body). The body is simply the house, the perishable tenement of clay, in which the deathless soul, the real man, dwells. He was created perfect in the beginning, an immortal soul in a perfect body. He fell, and now is liable to death, physical and eternal, unless he repents and believes on Christ; that is, his body will die, but his soul will live forever in bliss or woe. Of this false and unscriptural view I have only space at present to notice briefly the immortal soul part. I will just glance at the account of man’s creation and see if from that we can draw any evidence that God put an immortal soul in man when He made him. The simple account is as follows: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.” The phraseology here has given some the impression that, after God had made man’s lifeless body, He put into it as the vivifying power an immortal soul, but the passage says nothing of this kind. Even from the imperfect translation that we have here in the common version no immortal soul doctrine can legitimately be drawn. The language implies that man was a dead soul before the breath of life was breathed into him, and that when he received that breath he became a living soul. The idea of immortality, or the distinct identity of the soul, or that the soul is the real man and the body is only a casket for it — neither and none of these notions are hinted at in the most distant manner. In fact, the account rather favors the view that the body, the part that was made of dust, is the real man, for it reads, “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils (the man’s) the breath of life …”. It seems that the man was formed before the breath of life was breathed into his nostrils. Certainly this passage favors this view more than it does the view that the immortal soul is the real man.
But now let us have the correct reading of the verse. I will quote from Young’s translation. “And Jehovah God formeth the man dust from the ground, and breatheth into his nostrils breath of life, and the man becometh a living creature.” Now look at verse 19. “And Jehovah God formeth from the ground every beast of the field, and every fowl of the heavens, and bringeth it unto the man to see what he doth call it; and what ever the man calleth a living creature that is his name.” Beasts are called the same as man, living creatures. The phrase is exactly the same in the original in both cases. From the account there is just as much evidence that beasts have immortal souls as that man has one, especially so if we compare with these verses chapter 7:22 where we learn that “the breath of life” is in the nostrils of the beasts as well as in man, and, if it means an immortal soul in the one case, it must in the other. The fact is that no such doctrine as immortal soulism is taught in the Bible, either here or elsewhere. It is altogether man-made. It is Babylonish in its origin and is founded on the falsehood of the father of lies “Ye shall not surely die.” Man is destined to become immortal when he is finished, but that is the crowning glory of his creation and hence is the last step, the putting on of the cap-stone of perfection. To make him immortal to begin with would be like trying to make a chimney by commencing at the top and building down. If we see the truth set forth in the preceding article, we shall understand how absurd as well as unscriptural this immortal soul doctrine is. In God’s building (1 Cor. 3:9) he does not lay the capstone first, but the foundation. Immortality is the final goal, not the starting point. It is the crown of the “perfect man” (Eph. 4:13), not the swaddling bands of his infancy. I would say very emphatically that all our theology will be wrong if we start out with this great overshadowing error of all Christendom, the immortal soul. As the phrase itself is utterly unscriptural, so is the idea, and no less is it contrary to scripture than to common sense and reason. When man was first created, he was just what the scripture says he was “a living creature”, and from that mere natural condition, he will be developed into a “perfect man” in the likeness of God, incorruptible and immortal.
Now we return again to the main question, “What is man?” We have answered this question according to present appearances and according to the traditions of men. Let us now see what the Bible says. In the context of the passages we have noticed there is no answer except in Psalms 144:3, 4 where we are told that “man is like to vanity; his days as a shadow that passeth away”, an answer that applies to the present unfinished condition of man, and in Psalm 8, quoted more fully in Heb. 2. In Psa. 8 things that are not are spoken of as though they were. The as yet unfulfilled purpose of God is spoken of as though it were already accomplished. We are sure of this because Paul makes it clear in Heb. 2, where the Psalmist is quoted and explained. This latter passage we will now notice particularly. Commence at the fifth verse. “For unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little (margin, for a little while) lower than the angels; Thou crownedst him with glory and honor, and didst set him over the works of Thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.” In this last clause we have enunciation of the same principle as in Rom. 4:17. The Psalmist quoted speaks exactly as though man had already received dominion, but Paul says, “Not yet.” Why then speak as though the work were already done? Because God “calleth those things that be not as though they were,” and herein is infinite comfort. These declarations of universal dominion for man “all in subjection under him” seem almost too good to be true, especially when we compare them to his slavish condition now; and yet so sure are they of ultimate realization that God speaks of them as already accomplished. They must surely come to pass, and man, instead of being the slave, shall be the master of God’s creation.
But now let us read on a little further. “We see not yet all things put under him, but we see Jesus.” Well, what of that? What has Jesus got to do with the question, what is man? Jesus was pure, immaculate, unsinning. It is right that he should have dominion. He is worthy of it; but what has that to do with corrupt, fallen, sinful man? Just this: Jesus is the pattern man of God’s finished creation. He is the sample, the standard, after whom all the redeemed are to be fashioned. Hence we see the significance of this reference to Jesus. We see not yet all things put under man, but we see Jesus, the pattern man, and hence we can tell what man will be when he is finished. Suppose a man had the rough material to make a great number of machines. He first finishes off one of the machines and gets it perfectly adjusted in every part as a pattern to go by in finishing the rest. You go into his factory and see this great mass of material, and you ask, “What are you making?” The artisan replies, “All this that you see is only rough material; come this way and I will show you what I am making,” and he takes you to the machine he has just finished off. “There,” he says, “that is what I am making.” You would have no difficulty in understanding what he meant. You would see at once that the finished machine was a sample or pattern of what the others would be when the material was all worked up. So the apostle points to Jesus in just the same way. “What is man?” A poor, wretched slave of sin, corrupt and tending to corruption! Yes, that is true; but God intends to make him a noble lord of creation, perfect and complete in the image of God. But now we see not yet this great work accomplished except in the case of one individual, Jesus Christ. He has passed through the entire process of creation, and has been finished, perfected; hence He is “the beginning of the creation of God.” Now if you wish to know what man is that is, what is his destiny look to Jesus, the finished man, the only finished man, and you will see a perfect pattern of the “perfect man”. To me there is blessed comfort in this. I am glad that the apostle points us to Jesus when we ask, “What is man?” Sad indeed would be the answer if we had to make it up from the degraded condition of man today. Not much better would it be if we had to accept the answer that modern orthodoxy gives — man is a being made perfect and immortal, but he lost that perfection, and now his destiny is an endless heaven or an endless hell with the chances thus far in the history of the race about a hundred to one against the former and in favor of the latter. Such a view is sad in the extreme, and it looks as though man’s maker had made a terrible mistake somewhere. But how blessed to turn from all this confusion and just “look to Jesus” for an answer to the question! “What is man?” i.e., mankind, the race. The answer is Jesus. He is the representative man, the forerunner, the beginning, the first fruit, and if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy; and, if the root be holy, so are the branches.
Thus the ever-blessed Book gives us a grand and cheering answer to this greatest problem of life — what is man? It is an answer that at the same time brings comfort and hope to the believer, and reflects honor and glory upon the Creator. Jesus is the pattern. He partook of flesh and blood because the “children” (Heb. 2:14) were in this fallen condition. He passed through all the experiences of sorrowing humanity that, “having suffered being tempted”; He might be able to succor them that are tempted. He was made in all points “like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.” Heb. 2:17 His perfection is the type of our perfection, for “we shall be like Him.” His triumph is the pledge of our victory. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” 1 Cor. 15:22 “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men unto condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” Rom. 5:18 The human race is God’s masterpiece, the crowning glory of His creation, and, as the sculptor takes a piece of marble and first gives it to an ordinary workman to block out the statue in the rough, and then with his own skilful fingers fashions the stone into a figure that almost seems to breathe and speak, so God, the Great Master Workman, gets man out in the rough first, using many agents to hew and hack the obdurate material; then he finishes with an infinitely skilful hand, molding and fashioning him until he makes him the facsimile of Himself, and pronounces him “very good”. To use another figure every human being is a rough jewel. God is the great Lapidary; and as in the laboratory of nature the black, unsightly carbon is transformed into a radiant, flashing diamond, so in the laboratory of grace sinful, fallen man under God’s manipulation comes at length to shine in all the glory of the divine image. “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Man can reduce the diamond to carbon, but he cannot transform the carbon into diamond. God by His natural laws alone can do that. So man can degrade and debase himself, but to lift himself he has no power. He must cry out in utter self-despair, “0 wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?” Then God lifts him from the horrible pit and brings him at last to “walk upon high places.”
But let me add that God is not obliged to wait until we are willing for Him to work in our behalf. Even when we are stubborn and disobedient, God is dealing with us for our own good, although we do not know it. Our very sins are made in the end the means of our training and discipline. Every Christian knows this by experience. It is also a clear teaching of the Bible. Read Jer. 2, Notice how God charges Jerusalem with their wrong doing. Notice how He pleads with them (verse 9) and sets forth the “two evils” they had committed. Then he asks, “Why is Israel spoiled?” and gives the answer in verse 19, “Thine own wickedness shall correct thee, and thy backslidings shall reprove thee.” How wonderful is God’s way with man! Man by his perversity changes blessings into curses, but God alone in His goodness and might can transform curses into blessings. And so the work of God shall go on in spite of all opposing forces, for by God’s power all opposition will not only be neutralized so that it shall not retard the divine purpose, but it shall be transformed into co-operation so as to advance His designs. Thus “all things” shall help toward the glorious consummation — the creation of man in the image of God, and the time shall come at last when “there shall be no more anything accursed.” Rev. 22:3. N.V. margi
WE SEE JESUS
In the last paper we discussed the Bible question, “What is man?” and we found that the Bible answer is — Jesus. He is the pattern man of God’s finished creation. The study of Jesus, then, in every phase of His character is important and interesting because of His intimate and blessed relationship to man. He is the Adam of the regenerated race, and “in the dispensation of the fullness of times God will gather together in one all things in Christ both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him.” Eph. 1:10 Now then we ask, Who is Christ? What is He? How did He enter into the world and for what purpose? Why did He die? What is the significance of His resurrection. How did He make an atonement? etc., etc. Questions numberless and momentous clamor for solution as we turn to this wonderful personage this unique and supernatural character, the Lord Jesus Christ. Standing at the confluence of the ages, four thousand years after the creation of man, He appears in majestic and awe inspiring grandeur, a lone, solitary figure, unparalled and unapproached by any other created being since the world began. Who is He? “We would see Jesus.” John 12:21. “What think ye of Him? Whose son is He?” Matt. 22:42. “What shall we do with Him?” Matt. 27:22. The apostle says, “We see Jesus.” Where? Not now, as of old, among the hills of Judea and along the shores of Galilee, but in the “scripture of truth” (Dan. 10:12) Let us seek for Him here until from our hearts shall go forth the glad announcement, “We see Jesus.”
First let us turn to the Bible for light in regard to the pre-existence of Christ. I understand that the Bible plainly teaches that Christ pre-existed as the “Word” before His incarnation as the “Son.” I do not intend to go into this thought very largely, for I suppose that all the readers of this paper fully accept this truth, but this naturally comes first in the consideration of the subject before us, so we will notice it briefly. I understand that Christ had a personal pro-existence as the Logos, the Word; that he was with God in the beginning when he said, “Let us make man in our image.” All we know of Him in this pre-incarnate state is dim and obscure, but that he really had such an existence is plain and positive. On this point see John 1:1; 6:62; 8:58; 17:5; Col. 1:17; Phil. 2:5-8. Also see as one of the strongest passages on this point 2 Cor. 8:9. (I shall have occasion to notice this passage again.) Of course, these passages can be explained away and perverted by those who deny the pre-existence, but that they clearly teach that doctrine I think must be apparent to any unprejudiced mind. There are other considerations that still further confirm this truth that I shall notice as I proceed.
We come now to the incarnation of Christ. The simple Bible declaration is, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Before His incarnation He was simply the Word. When He was born of a woman, He became the Son of God by creation, as was Adam. See Luke 3:38. At His resurrection he became “the Son of God (in the full, spiritual sense) with power, according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” Rom. 1:4. Let us notice these points in detail.
We are sure that Christ is known as the Word in His pre-existent state; but was he not also the Son of God as the creeds absurdly put it, the eternal Son of God? It seems to me that the scriptures teach that the appellation “Son of God” is not applied to Christ until His incarnation. He became the Son of God when He became the Son of man. In proof of this see Luke 1:35; Gal. 4:4. When the angel announced to Mar;’ the birth of Jesus, and she asks, “How shall this be?”, the angel answers, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore (notice this therefore) that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called a Son of God.” The definite article the is not in the original, but is put in without authority by the translators, both of the common and of the new version. It should read as above, “a Son of God”. Christ is the first born among many brethren.” Rom. 8:29. He is one among many sons. Heb. 2:10. He became a Son of God at His birth by creation as Adam was a Son of God.
Now we will notice the force of the “therefore” in the text we have quoted above. Read the text over again and you will see that the meaning is that because Christ was brought forth by the “power of the Highest”, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” and under the overshadowing influence of the Holy Spirit, therefore He is called a Son of God. This plainly implies that before He was thus brought forth He was not called a Son of God. If the manner of His incarnation was the cause of His being called a Son of God, as is clearly taught in this passage, then of course He was not called a Son of God before His incarnation. “What was He, then, before His incarnation?” someone asks. I reply I do not know. It is not revealed any further than that He was the divine Logos, possessing unspeakable glory (John 17:5), and unbounded riches (2 Cor. 8:9), and in the form of God (Phil. 2:6). We cannot tell the import of these declarations in regard to the pre-existent Word. They stand as the merest hints of the mysterious fellowship of God and the Word before the world was. Out of the wondrous depths of that glory that He had with the Father before the world was, even God’s own self (John 17:5), the Word comes, is made flesh, and dwells among us. Then, and not till then, “we behold His glory”; we begin to know Him, and through Him to know God, and thus to obtain life eternal. John 17:3.
We pass on now to notice briefly another thought in connection with the incarnation. How was the Word made flesh: I reply, “By the creative power of God and by natural generation.” The difference between the creation of Adam and Christ was that the former was created an adult in full possession of the faculties and functions of mature manhood, although as yet undeveloped, while the latter was created in embryo, a mere life germ in the womb of Mary, and then generated and brought into the world in the natural way. In proof of this see the passage we have already quoted from Luke 1. Mary asks, on being told that she should bring forth a child and call His name Jesus, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” The answer is, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore . . .” Now turn to the prophetical account of the creation in Genesis, and we read that the “Spirit of God moved upon (brooded over or overshadowed) the face of the waters” and the outcome is the creation there set forth in mystic prophecy. Now Christ was the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy. He is the real Adam of whom the first Adam was only a “figure” (Rom. 5:14), and so “when He cometh into the world”, it is by the brooding of the Spirit and the overshadowing of the power of the Highest, and therefore is He a Son of God by creation as was Adam.
This view is reasonable as well as scriptural and does away with the absurd, popish dogma of the so-called immaculate conception, and it also explains how Jesus is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, “a child born” to the race of man in our own condition and estate, and yet He is “the beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14), the beginning of a new beginning, “the first born of every creature”. Had he been wholly the product of God’s creative power, He would not have been of our race at all, but of another human race. Had He been begotten “of the will of man” and “born of a woman”, he would have been no different from the rest of the fallen race of man, but simply “altogether such an one as ourselves” and the “beginning” of no new order of things. But, being the joint product of God’s creative power and of natural generation, He is at the same time a Son of God and Son of Man, a veritable member of the human race and yet the “beginning of the creation of God”, a “new creation”, so that we can say with the prophet, “Unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given.” Isa. 9:6. 0 wonderful “mystery of godliness”! Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, and yet “He was made like unto His brethren in all things!” Heb. 2:17 He is God manifest in the flesh; human and yet divine; divine and yet human. Such, as far as I can express it (for these deep things of God are hard to be uttered), is the mystery of the incarnation, a glorious and blessed manifestation of the “manifold wisdom of God” and of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Eph. 3:8, 10
The next point is the sacrifice and death of Christ. The common idea is that the sacrifice and death of Christ was His life of self-denial while here on earth and His cruel death upon the cross, but neither of these was the real sacrifice He made or the real death He suffered. These were a part of His sufferings and the believer shares in them, filling up the measure (Col. 1:2) that he may “also reign with Him.” 2 Tim. 2:12. So far as these deprivations and physical sufferings were concerned, it would be hard to say how Christ sacrificed or suffered any more than many a martyr. Indeed, such a view of Christ’s sacrifice and death falls far short of the truth and really belittles both. Paul clearly sets forth the sacrifice of Christ when he says, “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” 2 Cor. 8:9. This passage positively teaches the pre-existence of Christ and clearly sets forth His sacrifice. The sacrifice he made was not after His incarnation, but before. He left the “glory that He had with the Father before the world was” and His boundless “riches in glory” and entered into this fallen state, being “made in all points like unto His brethren.” With this view in mind we can understand the Saviour’s words in John 10:17, 18, “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” What life is Jesus talking about here? The natural life, most Christians would think. But there is nothing in scripture to show that Christ laid down his physical life in any sense different from what any martyr might be said to have laid down his life. We read that “He was cut off out of the land of the living”, that the Jews “killed” Him, “slew” Him, etc. To be sure he gave His life voluntarily, but many a martyr has done the same. Paul, for example, did as much. Moreover we are sure that He did not Himself take up His physical life again, for we are repeatedly told that God raised him from the dead. Christ had no power to raise Himself any more than any human being has power to raise himself. We have positive evidence to this effect in 1 Cor. 6:14; “God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise us up by His own power.” Thus does it appear that Christ neither laid down His natural life in any special sense, nor did He take it again; and yet He says, “I lay down My life of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again.” What life? Not His natural life, but His pre-existent life, even that “glorious” existence that he had before he entered into man’s fallen estate. This is the life He laid down, and this was the life He took again after that “God raised him from the dead.” Now this view is confirmed by the tense of the verb in the passage we are considering. According to the margin of the new version the passage reads, “I lay down My life; no man took it away.” According to this rendering the life that Jesus was talking about was a life He had already laid down. The Sinai tic and Vatican Manuscripts, two of the best authorities, also confirm this view by rendering the passage “No man hath taken it from Me.” Thus it appears very certain that the life Jesus laid down was His pre-existent life, a life He had already sacrificed a life fully in His own power to lay down and take up according to the “commandment” of His Father. These considerations constitute also a very strong additional argument in proof of the pre-existence of Christ. Those who deny the pre-existence would have great difficulty in explaining what life it was that Jesus laid down and took up again, and why the verb, as we have noticed, should be in the past tense. But all this is in perfect harmony with the view presented above.
And now, having seen the real sacrifice that Christ made and the true life that He laid down, we are prepared to understand the death He suffered. When Jesus left the glory and riches of His pre-existent state and “was made flesh”, what sort of a condition did He enter into? Was it another life? No, it was death. When Jesus became incarnate, He entered into a condition of death and remained in that condition all His earth-life; hence the death He suffered was thirty-three and a half years long, even all the time He tabernacled in the flesh. And this was as it should be. When a person lays down his life, he enters into death. When Christ laid down His preexistent life, as we have seen, He entered into death, this fallen state. He had, of course, a natural existence, but He had nothing in Himself (John 6:57) that the scriptures recognize as life. According to the Word death is alienation from and ignorance of God; life is harmony with and knowledge of Him. “To be carnally minded is death,” says Paul, “but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Why? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Rom. 8:6, 7 Here is a positive Bible definition of death. Now see a definition of life. “This is life aeonial, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent.” John 17:3. From these Bible definitions we can easily gather the meaning, the Bible meaning, of death and life. Death is enmity against God; life, then, is harmony and union with Him. Life is knowledge of God; death, then, is ignorance of him. And in this sense the whole race of mankind is dead — not only sinful and guilty and corrupt, but dead, as it is written, “if one died for all, then were all dead.” 2 Cor. 5:14 All the life that even the Christian now has is by faith. Says Paul, “The life that I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Again to the Colossians, “Ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Thus all mankind, including even the believer, are as yet lifeless. “Let the dead bury their dead,” says Christ, as though all were dead together, the corpse in the shroud and those who were bearing it to the sepulcher. This is an important point. We refer to it in order that each may understand the real death that Jesus suffered — not the few hours of agony on Calvary, or the three days’ “sleep” in Joseph’s tomb, but the thirty-three years and a half of His sojourn among the lost. From the manger and swaddling clothes of His infancy to the cross and linen winding sheet of His passion it was death, death, death — the same dark and terrible charnel house as that which imprisons fallen man. We cannot imagine the unspeakable horror of this death to Christ, for we never knew that life is. But, coming as He did from “the bosom of the Father” into this dark pit of corruption, His life-long death must have been terrible beyond all human expression or comprehension.67
HEAVEN AND EARTH
“For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the Day of Judgment and perdition of ungodly man. … Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” 2 Pet. 3:5-7, 13
In this passage each of three worlds are referred to as three distinct heavens and earths. There are the old world, the present world, and the new world, embracing respectively the heavens and earth “which were of old”, “the heavens and earth which are now”, and “the new heavens and new earth.” Now what is meant by a heavens and earth? It appears very plain that these terms are used symbolically, in some spiritual sense, and not in a material; for no change in the material heavens and earth was effected by the flood. Furthermore Peter tells us in the last part of this chapter that Paul, speaking on this subject, utters “things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures to their own destruction.” We must have a care then that we do not stumble here over the letter, but that we find the true spirit of the Word. Looking through the Bible, we find the terms heaven and earth used symbolically for power, authority, rule, or to represent the c/ass that has the power or authority in their hands, the ruling class. Thus the word is used with reference to God: “Sing unto God, ye kingdoms of the earth; to Him that rideth upon the heavens of the heavens, which were of old; lo, He doth send out His voice, and that a mighty voice,” (Psa. 68:33) i.e. to Him who is high above all other authority, who is supreme, as when he read of Christ, “He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all heavens, that he might fill all things;” i.e. far above all other power and authority. Again we read of “the exceeding greatness of God’s power to us-ward who believe, according to the mighty power which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenlies, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” Eph. 1:19-21 Again God says, “The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool” (Isa. 66:1); i.e. heaven represents the ruling element, the throne; earth represents the element ruled over, under subjection, the footstool. As it is written again of Christ, that “after he had offered one (enduring) sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool”, (i.e. put in subjection under Him). All this very clearly indicates the symbolical use of the words heaven and earth. To the same effect see Dan. 4:11, 22, 26 and Heb. 77:26. Still further on earth see Mic. 1:2 and Psa. 96 and many other passages showing that the term symbolizes the masses of the people ruled over and governed by the heavens — the ruling class; or the word sometimes refers to the general condition of affairs pertaining to the masses under any particular rule, as, for example, Isa. 24:1-12. Read this passage and see what a wretched condition the earth (the masses) may get into under misrule and bad government — and evil heavens. From all the foregoing we readily gather the meaning of these two terms, heaven and earth; the former refers to the government, the latter to the governed.
Now with this meaning in mind we can understand why each world is spoken of as comprising a heavens and earth. Each Kosmos exhibits some particular form of rule (the heavens) and the effects of that rule on the masses (the earth). In the old world before the flood, “the sons of God” (the fallen Adamic race), were the ruling class, the heavens of that Kosmos, and under their sway “the earth became corrupt before God; and the earth was filled with violence; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.” Gen. 6:1-13. The earth and all flesh mean one and the same thing, the masses; that world being overflowed with water, perished. In the present world, from the flood to the second advent, we still have an evil heavens and earth; Satan is the prince of this Kosmos. John 14:30. Under him are the wicked spirits of the heavenlies (high places), (see Eph. 6:12, margin), i.e. in the place of authority and power. See also Eph. 2:2, 1 Pet. 5:8. Under these “rulers of darkness” are the corrupt, wicked, and godless governments of the world, so oppressive, tyrannical and cruel that they are represented in the Bible by savage beasts, Dan. 7:1-7. This is the present heavens. What is the present earth? What else could it be under such heavens but just what it is a scene of disorder, strife, misery, corruption and death, a chaos of disorder and ruin? “The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate.” Isa. 24:4-6. How fitly does this language express the state of affairs in this earth! Now notice how Micah describes the present heavens the corrupt, godless, tyrannical governments of this world. “Woe is me! for I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grape-gleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat: my soul desired the first ripe fruit. The good man is perished out of the earth: and there is none upright among men: they all lie in wait for blood, they hunt every man his brother with a net. (How true!) That they may do evil with both hands earnestly, the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward; and the great man, he uttereth his mischievous desire: so they wrap (hush) it up. The best of them is as a brier; the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge; the day of thy watchman and thy visitation cometh; now shall be their perplexity.” Mic. 7:1-4. Does not this language exactly describe the conditions of things in this world, especially with reference to those in authority, the prince the judge, and the great man? And is it not true that the day of God’s watchman and His visitation cometh, and already the perplexity foretold is racking the brains of thoughtful men, especially of those who hold the reins of governments? Who cannot see that, looking at it from a human standpoint, the entire fabric of the human society is wrong, a colossal blunder, already tottering to its fall and destined soon to come tumbling about the ears of those who in their pride and variety have reared it — a second Babel — with bricks (man made) for stone, and slime (a makeshift substitute) for mortar? (Gen. 11:3.) This “great Babylon” (Dan.4:30) must fall. The “city of confusion” (Isa. 24:10; Babylon means confusion) shall be “thrown down and shall be found no more at all.” (Rev. 18:21)
The trouble with the present heavens and earth is that it is all wrong. Many vainly think that society can be mended, reformed, patched up, and so cured; and they have remedies to this effect co-operation, communism, international congresses, civil service reform, anti-monopoly movements, etc., etc. But every remedy will fail. “For thus saith the Lord, thy bruise is incurable, and thy wound is grievous. There is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up; thou hast no healing medicines.” Jer. 30:12, 13 If things were tolerably correct generally, and wrong only in certain particulars, then there might be some hope of correcting those particular wrongs. But what will you do when “they know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course”? Psa. 82:5. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Psa. 11:3. Nothing but to tear down and build again. Hence it is written: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” Psa. 2:9. If a person is diseased in some particular member, but has vigor and vitality in other respects, the physician undertakes his case with a good hope that he can effect a cure. But what will he do if “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint”? (Isa. 1:5) If “from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores”? Death in such a case would be a desirable and happy release, and every one would feel that the sooner the loathsome carcass was hid away under the ground the better. Such is the condition of the body-politic of today; “the heavens and the earth which are now” are corrupt and wicked. Hence they are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the Day of Judgment and perdition of ungodly men. Therefore the heavens and earth are being shaken. God is shaking them, as it is written: “Speak now to Zerubbabel (those scattered at Babylon) governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.” Hag. 2:21, 22. See also Heb. 12:25-29. And this shaking and destruction is in connection with the coming of the “desire of all nations.” God’s voice (compare Psa. 29) shall yet once more shake not the earth only, as at Sinai, but also the heaven. “And this word, yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things that cannot be shaken may remain.” I believe that we are living in God’s great shaking time. I am sure that we are living in a shaking time, for certainly everything is being shaken, unsettled, and stirred up in these days as never before; and I have no doubt but that this is the very time referred to in the above prophecies. And the result will be “the removing of those things that are shaken” that only the things that cannot be shaken may remain. We have seen and are seeing the “signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars”; and there certainly is “upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves (the restless masses of the people) roaring”; and moreover “men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things that are coming on the earth”; and “the powers of heaven”, the governments, are being shaken. (Luke 21:25, 26.)
And what is the remedy for all this trouble, and the hope of the world in the terrible pass to which things have come? I answer, nothing short of the advent of Christ to destroy the present evil heavens and earth, and to establish the “new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness”. Let no one deceive himself by supposing that something else will heal the festering sores of the body politic. Read the fifth chapter of the epistle of James and see the present times described, and the remedy indicated. Notice the various counts in that awful indictment against society in these “last days”. The useless hoarding up of gold and silver; and the rust of them that shall be a witness against the rich, and shall eat their flesh as it was fire. It is not the gold and silver that shall be a witness against the rich, but the rust of them, i.e. the disuse of them; hoarding money simply for accumulation and not to use for God’s glory and the good of others. Think of the millions of dollars lying idle in banks today while millions of human beings suffer for the necessaries of life. Another count is the keeping back of “the hire of the laborers by fraud”; labor troubles are among the most serious characteristics of these troublous times. Other counts are the wanton living in pleasure, excess in every direction, injustice and oppression. And now the apostle comes to the remedy. Thank God there is a remedy! What is it? “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto” — what? Unto the time when education, art, and science shall civilize and elevate the world and cure these evils? Is that what we are to wait for? Not so speaks the apostle. Does he tell us to be patient unto the time when the nations shall reform themselves, when the relation between labour and capital shall be amicably and righteously settled by governments, legislatures, co-operative societies, or political parties? Does he tell us to wait until the church wakes up from her sleep of religious ease and worldly comfort and in the strength of God puts down these crying evils, and establishes peace in the earth? Thank God, the apostle tells us to wait for none of these. If we did, we should wait forever, for all of these are but parts of the whole, and each of them just as corrupt as any other part. Once more we would ask (promoted by a desire to warn the “little flock” against the “lying wonders” of these degenerate times), does the apostle tell us to be patient unto the time when the world shall learn that matter is but a modification of mind, that sighs and tears and groans are not the product of sin and disease and crime, but merely the indications of a distempered mind, a misdirected imagination, or unto the time when the much vaunted “mental philosophy” shall impart to everyone the power to will himself an archangel if he please, and “metaphysical healing shall drive sickness from the planet”? Have we found at last in the “Mind-Cure” system the philosopher’s stone that is to transform all the dull dross of this sin stricken world into the pure gold of the kingdom? Alas, alas, this boastful science, falsely so called, is but another Babel tower, built with brick and slime, whereby to climb to heaven without the help of the ladder that Jacob saw (Gen. 28:12), which is Jesus Christ (see John 1:51), and is destined to end all such human schemes in confounding and scattering more and more. “Vain man would be wise, though he be born like a wild ass’s colt”. Job 11:12 But the wisdom of such wise ones shall perish and be brought to nothing. 1 Cor. 1:19. “The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the Lord; and what wisdom is in them?” Jer. 8:9. How pitiful is the pride-puffed blustering of puny man during his little brief span of life, with schemes great and mighty wherewith to accomplish — nothing. Loud is his bruit while he lives, but soon he “lieth down, and riseth not until the (present) heavens be no more.” Job 14:12. “Like sheep are they laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning.” Psa. 49:14. Thank God there is to be a morning. But again we ask how shall it be ushered in?’ Surely not by the fitful, fleeting flashing up of man’s rush-light luminaries, but by the rising of the “Sun of Righteousness.” Hear the apostle — “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” This — this is the great event that constitutes not only “the blessed hope” of those who “look for Him” (Heb. 9:28), but also the only hope of the groaning creation. Therefore, brethren, “be ye also patient; establish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not against one another, brethren, lest ye be condemned; behold, the judge standeth before the door.” God be praised for this bright promise, streaking the darkness of the eastern sky, blessed harbinger of the coming “perfect day”. My soul goes out in most earnest longing as I pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus, not only for the deliverance of Thine elect, but also, and more if anything, for the deliverance of the whole creation.” “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Isa. 40:4, 5
Let the present heavens and earth go, then; the sooner the better. Let the heavens (wicked governments) pass away with a great noise and the elements (Gal. 4:9) melt with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein be discovered (see Luke 12:2) and burned up (2 Pet. 3:10) with the “fierce fire of God’s jealousy. Zeph. 1:14-18, 3:8, 9.
“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” And here is the promise: “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come to mind.” Isa. 65:17 Let us notice some of the things that the Bible reveals about this new heavens and new earth, first, in regard to the new heavens, i.e. the new government of this new world, the new ruling class. At the head of this government will be Christ, and associated with Him as kings, priests, judges, and saviours are the saints. Satan and his wicked crew are bound and shut up in the abyss “that he should deceive the nations no more.” Rev. 20:1-3 Hence “the whole earth is at rest, and is quiet; they break forth into singing.” Isa. 14:7 Under these chief rulers, Christ and the saints, will be subordinate rulers of every grade, righteous, just and incorruptible. Read Isa. 11 and 12 for a description of the new order of things. Of the King we read that “the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord; and shall make Him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; and He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins.” Isa. 11:2-5. Both Isaiah and John speak of the new heavens and new earth and give descriptions, the difference between them being that Isaiah describes the new earth and John describes the new heavens. That is, John describes the ruling element of the new order of things, while Isaiah describes the condition of the people under that rule.
In the last two chapters of Revelation John describes the new heavens under the symbol of a magnificent city, the New Jerusalem. This wonderful city we are told is “the bride, the lamb’s wife”, Rev. 21:2, 9-11, and the description that follows sets forth to the utmost extent of human language the grandeur and beauty of the glorified bride, represented by this great city. The glowing description of this city indicates the excellency and perfection of that new heavens. Its jasper walls and pearly gates, its foundations of precious stones and golden streets are only representations faintly symbolizing he transcendent majesty of that new and perfect government. Every blessing for mankind is represented as flowing out of this grand city. The Lord God almighty and the Lamb are the temple and the light of it; “and the nations of them that are saved shall walk in the light of it; and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it; and the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there is no night there.” Rev. 21:24, 25. This is no selfish orthodox heaven with narrow gates all fast upon a handful of saved, and myriads of the lost eternally wailing around its outer walls; this is a great city with twelve gates, each one wide enough for a regiment to march in abreast, and never shut, thank God! The river of the water of life has its source in this city and flows through it and out of it to give health and life wherever it flows (compare Ezek. 47:1-12), and on either side of the river was there the tree of life with its monthly fruitage for meat, and its abundant leafage for the “healing” of the “bruises and sores” of the nations.
All this describes the goodness and benevolence of the new heavens, the government of the new Kosmos; and now what will be the condition of the people, the new earth under such a government? What else could it be but blessed and glorious? Just so sure as the present evil heavens produces a sin-and-sorrow-cursed earth, so that future righteous heavens shall produce an earth filled with the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Heb. 12:11
Isaiah describes this new earth (Isa. 65:17-25) when there shall be no more sorrow, wrong or injustice, but “all shall know the Lord” and “all shall be righteous”. Isa. 60:21. “The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” War shall be no more; crime shall cease; “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain (kingdom).” Joy and beauty shall bud and blossom on every hand. “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.” “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree; and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the falling together; and a little child shall lead them.” Everything animate and inanimate is represented as being in harmony and rejoicing in this state of things. The psalmist exclaims, “0 worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; fear before Him all the earth. Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth; the world (the new Kosmos) shall be established that it shall not be moved; He shall judge the people righteously. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar and the fullness thereof. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together. Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein; then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice before the Lord, for He cometh — he cometh to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth.” Psa. 96:9-13. If you wish to read other descriptions of this new order of things, see Psalms 67, 72, 97, 98, and many other passages. I do not mean to be understood as saying that this perfect condition of the earth will be effected instantaneously, but this will be the ultimate result under the sway of the godlike heavens — Christ and His saints. God speed the joyful day when “this present evil world” (Gal. 1:5), shall pass away with all its sin, misery, corruption and death, and give place to that bright era of glory and blessedness when “mercy and truth shall meet together and righteousness and peace shall kiss each other; when “truth shall spring out of the earth and righteousness shall look down from heaven, and the Lord shall give that which is good, and our land shall yield her increase, and righteousness shall go before Him, and shall set us in the way of His steps.” Psa. 85:9-13
I have thus endeavoured to set forth the meaning of these terms heaven and earth. I think I have given the Bible teachings on this subject, and with the foregoing explanation in mind we can readily understand the apostle when he speaks of the “heavens and the earth which are now”, and the “new heavens and the new earth”. We can understand that a world (kosmos) is a system, arrangement, or order of things embracing a distinct heavens and earth; i.e., having a particular form of rule or government, and exhibiting a certain condition of the people under that rule. We can also understand how that each world includes several ages, during which that particular heavens and earth holds sway, and God’s plan as it pertains to His people is being developed. “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that we look for such things let us be diligent that we may be found in Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”
This subject is creating a great sensation in the religious world just now. Independent of all creeds and traditions let us consider what the bible teaches concerning it. What is Probation? The word probation does not occur in the bible, nor does the idea that is commonly attached to it. The prevalent theological idea of probation is as follows: It is assumed, to begin with, that all mankind are under sentence of eternal death, which according to the orthodox view, means endless life in misery; all are hell deserving and in danger of being lost forever; during this life, judgment is suspended and an opportunity is offered to escape the execution of this impending sentence, by repentance and faith in Christ.
This is man’s probation, a brief chance to escape hell and secure heaven; If he fails to improve this opportunity, and dies impenitent, the sentence is irrevocably executed and the man is eternally lost. No such teaching as this, either in outline or in detail, can be found in the bible; it is entirely human tradition. In the first place no such thing as “eternal death” is ever spoken of in the bible; the phrase, or the idea, and no where does it occur in the sacred writings. Secondly, the truth is not that man is under the sentence of death, and in danger of being lost, but he is already dead and lost, and Christ comes to seek and save the lost, and to give life to the (dead) world. John 6:33. “If one died for all then were all dead.” 2nd Cor. 5:14. Mark it well, dead, not in danger of death, or liable to it, but dead already. See John 6:53; Romans 8:6-7; 1st. John 5:11-12. Thirdly, no such ghastly view of life as this is anywhere presented in scripture. According to this view, this life, if we make the best use of it possible, is simply a race from hell to heaven; as the hymn put it:
Nothing is worth a thought beneath,
But how I may escape the death
That never, never dies!
My sole concern, my single care,
To watch, and tremble, and prepare
Against that fatal day.
What an utterly hideous conception of life! A constant struggle to keep out of perdition, this, the sole concern, the single care, and yet very many Christians have no higher conception of the purpose of our present existence, than the above. Their highest idea of salvation is salvation from the consequences of sin, and endless hell. This unworthy view is inculcated and fostered by the practice of the churches in working upon the fears of the impenitent to induce them to make a profession of religion. The great plea always is, shun perdition! Prepare to die! Neither of these motives is ever urged in the bible to induce to holy living, and yet these are the main, and oft-times the sole exhortations to the uncovered.
Now the scriptural view of probation, if I err not, is as follows. Man’s probation is the period of his discipline; training, instruction, development, and perfecting, perfected through suffering, as was the Lord Jesus Christ. (Compare Heb. 2:10 with 1st. Peter 5:10,1 have already noticed in previous articles in this paper the purpose of God, as set forth in scripture, in the creation of man, that he is creating a race of beings in his own image and likeness; a work that was begun in Eden, has been finished only in the case of one individual thus far, the Lord Jesus Christ, and will be completed in the remainder of the race of men in God’s “due time.” 1st. Tim. 2:3-6.
Now with this idea of probation, that it is a period of training and education, we proceed to inquire what proportion of the human race have had such a probation thus far in its history? We are obliged to answer that so far as we know only a very small minority. The great mass of mankind have been born, lived, and died in the most absolute and total ignorance of God, and his truth; and such moreover is the condition of the race today. The words of the prophet and of the apostle apply now to the condition of mankind as a whole, as they have always been applicable thus far in the past. “Darkness covers the earth, and gross darkness the people.” “The whole world lieth in wickedness.” Now according to the common view that death ends probation, consigning the individual to endless happiness or hopeless despair, all these millions of human beings are now in heaven or hell. Surely they did not die fit for the former place; have they all gone to perdition then? This is the necessary conclusion according to the common view. But how can we accept it? A few hundred thousands perhaps, gone to heaven, while thousands of millions, and even billions have gone to hell, there to remain eternally. Just think of it for a moment. How appalling and horrifying is the thought! And yet there is no logical or scriptural escape from it according to the orthodox view. It is a sad and significant fact that most church members are entirely indifferent to these great subjects. “I don’t know what God will do with the great masses of mankind,” say they (and many, if they told the whole truth would add, I don’t care). “He will do right; I leave it all to him.” And thus with an assumption of pious submission which for the most part is heartless selfishness, they summarily dismiss the whole subject.
But there are some who feel the burden of this awful doctrine their souls revolt at the conclusions to which it leads. Such ones have resorted to various makeshifts to escape these conclusions. I will notice one of these. It is said that although it is true that the great mass of the race have thus far died in sin, yet it does not follow that they have been lost; for if those who are unavoidably ignorant live up to the light they have, they will be saved; and thus many Christians think the majority of the heathen will be saved. To support this view, Romans 2:11-15 is referred to. Now read this passage over and see if there is any such doctrine taught as that heathen who live up to the light they have will be saved. In the first place there is not one word said about salvation any way in the whole passage. Secondly, verse 12 says “they that have sinned without law shall perish without law.” Thirdly the central idea of verses 13-15, etc. is that some heathen are far more moral and therefore commendable than some who have the light of gospel truth and profess to walk in it; and this thought the apostle goes on to fully amplify and illustrate in the remaining part of the chapter. But there is not the most distant hint that anyone will be saved by living up to the light they have.
Furthermore think of some of the strange conclusions that would follow from this view. If the majority of the heathen world are to be saved by living up to the light they have, it follows that more will be saved without the gospel than with it. We know as a matter of fact that in so called Christian lands where the people are gospel enlightened, the majority reject the gospel and must, according to the orthodox view be inevitably lost; whereas in heathen lands it is said the majority will live up to the light they have and be saved. Hence the majority of heathen will be saved, the majority of the gospel enlightened will be damned.
According to this view if you are born in a heathen land the chances are that you will be saved. If you are born in a Christian land, the chances are overwhelmingly against your salvation. Still further according to this view, all missionary work is a stupendous mistake, and on the whole a curse to the heathen world. Leave the heathen alone in their darkness and ignorance and the majority will be saved by living up to the light they have. Send them the gospel and we know from past experience that the majority of them will reject it and be lost forever. These conclusions are inevitable. You cannot escape them while you entertain the idea of the majority of the heathen being saved by living up to the light they have.
But again, suppose this theory were true; even admitting that those who live up to the light they have among the heathen will be saved, very small comfort could be derived there from, for it is a notorious and universal fact that no class of human beings have ever lived up to the light they had. Is it not true of all mankind, Jewish, Heathen or Christian that our practice is far below our knowledge and advantages? Does not all history, ancient and modern, teach us the nations have not increased in virtue and morality as they have advanced in civilization and learning, but on the contrary they have become more and more wicked and depraved, until time and again the most highly cultivated and enlightened nations have perished in their own corruption. Read the first chapter of Romans and see how forcibly Paul confirms this view by clearly setting forth the awful failure of the heathen world, “the Gentiles,” to live up to the light they had; and in our own day, in this respect, history is repeating itself. Thus this way of salvation, “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the one way for all mankind, “Jew or Gentile, Barbarian, Sythian, bond or free,” and so that Apostle teaches, “The scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen by faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” Galatians 3:8
But now comes a great difficulty. How are the heathen to be justified by faith, since “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God?” The masses of them never have had any opportunity to hear; they know not God, nor Christ; hence they could not “believe in him of whom they have not heard,” they have no faith, without which it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6. They have lived and died in this condition; the masses of mankind are still in the same state, “without God and without hope in the world.” Is this promise of justification of the heathen by faith only for a very few, the rest being hopelessly lost? Does this wretched, short, beastlike existence of the masses of the race in the past (and the same condition of things still prevails), determine for each one his eternity? How utterly unreasonable such an idea appears! And yet this is the prevailing belief among Christians.
The common idea is that death seals our eternal destiny; as we are at death so will we be forever and there is no possibility of a change of moral condition after death, but simply an intensifying of the same condition. The saved in heaven eternally growing better, the damned in hell forever growing worse. But what is there in common sense or in scripture to substantiate this view? On what ground of reason can we claim that death is the mordent that eternally fixes the moral color of human character? Is it not more reasonable to conclude that, since in this life there is on the whole, so little of development and instruction, the great mass of mankind dying as they live, like “natural brute beasts.” 2nd. Peter 2:12; Psalm 49:20, there must be a chance for change and advancement in the future world? That since man has so poor an opportunity here, and the majority no opportunity at all, they must have some opportunity there? That since the advantages are meager now, and so unequally distributed, and since God is a God of justice and no respecter of persons, there must be a more impartial distribution then? These conclusions I think are reasonable; far more so than to claim that all whatever be their condition here, will determine their future eternity by this present life.
But reason cannot decide this question for the one who is a Christian. The final appeal must be to the bible. However reasonable the foregoing view may be, we could at best only hold it as a possible explanation of the difficulties of the orthodox position, if it were not plainly in harmony with the Word. But it is in harmony with the Word. 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 post-humous probation; not a second probation, as some say, but the only probation that the great majority of mankind ever have. To the scriptures then we turn for the main argument that establishes this glorious truth of a “restitution of all things,” Acts 3:21, in the “ages to come,” Ephesians 2:7.
I would call attention first to the fact that there is absolutely no scripture against this view. Let the reader stop and think if he can, of any passage of scripture that teaches that death fixes our eternal destiny. Where is it taught in the bible? Some passages may occur to you that seem to teach it; but if you examine carefully and adhere closely to the one point under consideration, you will see that they can teach nothing of the kind. The question is, does physical death end probation? Does it render our moral character changeless? Does it irrevocably fix our eternal destiny? Not one passage can be found answering these questions in the affirmative. If any reader of this paper thinks there are any such, I shall be very glad to have him point them out to me.
Now on the other hand there are many passages that teach, both by positive inference and by direct statement, that death does not end probation. I have not space to notice all of these passages but will only cite a few of the plainest of them. We will notice in the first place some of these scriptures that teach a probation after death by positive inference.
Take God’s promise and oath to Abraham. “In thee and thy seed, shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” This is repeated again and again throughout the bible. See Gen. 12:3; 22:18; 28-14; Gal. 3:8. This promise is confirmed by an oath, “that by two immutable things (the promise and the oath) in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” Heb. 6:18 This promised “Seed” in whom “all the families of the earth” are to be blessed is (not Isaac, but) Christ. Gal. 3:16. Now how are “all the families of the earth” to be blessed in Him? Let Peter answer; see Acts 3:25-26 “Ye are the children of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed, Unto you first God, having raised up his Son Jesus, sent him to bless you, in turning every one of you from his iniquities.” Here then is a positive answer to the question, how are “all the families of the earth” to be blessed in Christ, the promised Seed? By being turned, every one of them, from their iniquities. Now we ask further, has this promise ever been fulfilled in the past? Why, certainly not. Not one in a thousand of the earth’s population thus far have even so much as heard of Christ, much less been blessed in Him by being turned from their iniquities. Will the promise be fulfilled? It would be blasphemous to ever doubt it; for the one thus doubting would thereby “make God a liar, because he believed not the record that God gave of his Son.” 1st. John 5:10
But now let any one tell how this promise can be fulfilled without a probation after death. The positive, inevitable, unavoidable inference from the foregoing considerations is that there must be a probation after death, or this great promise of all promises cannot be fulfilled. Do you say that the promise will be fulfilled in some future period to “all the families of the earth” then living, but that those who have died in the past without such blessing, are not included among those referred to in the promise? That their destiny is sealed for weal or woe without sharing in this universal blessing.
I reply that this promise of God is a divine affidavit, doubly immutable, sworn to and signed by the Lord God Almighty, who has further declared, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” If this promise is uncertain, indefinite, and equivocal, not meaning what it appears to mean but something far inferior to it, then my faith in all God’s promises is shaken; I cannot tell what they mean; I do not know how much they are to be discounted, and such “paper” would be of but little value. In a human court, if the sworn statement of a person were found to be no nearer true than the above view would make God’s oath, he would be indictable for perjury. I would say again as I have said in a former issue of this paper, that God’s promises are not at a discount, but at a premium. Any explanation of a scripture that belittles it, that seems to fall short of the language used, so as to make it mean less than is said, may safely be considered incorrect, and rejected at once, for the reality of God’s truth is not below, but far above the power of human expression.
The conclusion then to which we are inevitably led from all the foregoing, is that this promise and oath of God must be fulfilled after death, to those who die without sharing its benefits in this life. This view is confirmed by other scripture, which I will notice very briefly. Passing over many more passages that might be cited from the Old Testament, I will call your attention to a few from the new.
The angel’s song, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people,” Luke 2:10 This plainly implies a probation after death, for how else could this good tidings to be to all people, since the great mass have died and are still dying without any knowledge of this blessed news, this glorious gospel of the blessed God? 1st. Tim. 1:11. This same may be said of John 1:9; Jesus “was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Very few comparatively have thus far been enlightened by this “true light.” If every man is to be enlightened it must be in some future age, beyond the grave. Furthermore those passages that speak of Christ as the Saviour of the World imply the same doctrine. See John 1:29; 3:17, 6:33; 1st. John 2:2; 4:14.
Take these passages in connection with 1st. Timothy 2:3-6. “God our Savior will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth; for there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.” Jesus is the Savior of the world; all are to be saved and come to a “knowledge of the truth.” The great mass has died without such knowledge, but they are all to have it. When? In God’s due time. “He gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified (to all) in due time.” Will the great mass of mankind die and be lost, never having come to a “knowledge of the truth?” Never having heard about this universal ransom? It must be so, or they must come to this knowledge and hear of this ransom after death. Though there are many other passages to this same effect, I must pass them by and close the present article by noticing just one more passage, which directly teaches a probation after death.
In Ezek. 16:44-53 we have first, a comparison made between the wicked cities of Jerusalem, Samaria and Sodom. The Lord declares that the first was far more wicked than either of the other two. He goes on to tell why He destroyed Sodom, verses 49-50, and then declares in plain and unmistakable language that He purposes at some future time to restore Sodom to her former estate, and when He does this, He will restore Jerusalem and Samaria to their former estate. Now it is plain that by Sodom is meant the people, the Sodomites, verses 49-50, and it is certain that if the Sodomites are ever to be restored to their former estate, it must be from the dead, for they were all destroyed without a single exception; See Luke 17:29. And it is further clear that they are thus to be restored that they may be benefited and blessed. See verses 60-63. I have not time to dwell upon this remarkable passage, nor is there any need of further explanations. It must be plain to all that a probation after death is positively and directly taught here; no other interpretation can be put upon the passage, except it be forced upon it.
And the truth is still further confirmed by the fact that we are taught that our nations are to be restored in the latter days, that is, Moab, Ammonand Elam. See Jeremiah 48:47 and 49:6 and 39. And finally David makes this restoration of the nations universal when he says, “all nations whom thou hast made, shall come and worship before thee, 0 Lord, and shall glorify thy name; for thou are great and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone.” Psalm 86:9-10 See also 22:27-28; 66:4; 72:11, 17; 19; 113:3 and 138.4. Look these scriptures out and see if they do not fully harmonize with the broad and glorious view presented in this article.
Thus does it appear that, though thus far in this world’s history evil has seemed to triumph over the vast majority of God’s “offspring,” (Acts 17:29) and they have gone down to the grave in darkness, ignorance and sin, yet it by no means follows that this sad triumph is eternal. For we see a big hope for the race in the ages to come, when God will show the exceeding riches of his grace, Eph. 2:7. Well may we exclaim in view of such a glorious purpose of the ages as in Eph. 3:11, “Glorious and marvelous are thy works, 0 Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages. Who shall not fear, 0 Lord, and glorify thy name? For thou only art holy; for all the nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy righteous acts have been made manifest.” Revelation 15:3-4 from the new version.
In the article Failure Mr. Adams has briefly but vividly shown that man in all ages is by God’s intention and ordination a complete failure. Through many years of meditation and walking in the light of truth I have come to the conclusion that to know God’s purpose for the ages and to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17) is the very foundation and basis of a truly spiritual life.
There is purpose in trial. There is purpose in temptation. There is purpose in sorrow. There is purpose in pain. There is purpose in sickness and infirmity. There is purpose in suffering. There is purpose in failure. There is purpose in light and darkness. There is purpose in good, and there is purpose in evil. Without this understanding all the work of God in all ages becomes a hit and miss, trial and error affair unworthy of omniscience, immutability, and omnipotence.
When the believing mind grasps the indisputable fact that man, to be in God’s image, must know evil in order to know good, then for the first time in his life he becomes aware that there is a divine purpose in the abounding evil all about him. The darkness of misunderstanding gives place to the wisdom of God. Good without the knowledge of evil can scarcely be called good at all. Who could possibly speak of the day if night had never been known? There was no first day until there was evening and morning. Gen. 1:5. What could we possibly know of light if there were no darkness^! What could we know of life if there were no death? What would we know of health if there were no sickness? What would we know of wealth if poverty had not spread its spectra upon the earth? No man can be trusted until he has been tempted or declared strong until he has been tested for weakness. Nor can he be an overcomer until he has faced the fearful foe. Those who are worthy to slay their Goliaths must first have slain their lion and their bear, which I think are both typical of the beast nature within them.
With the knowledge in our hearts that God is bringing man into His own image during these six days of his seemingly fruitless labor and travail, and that man’s failure in all dispensations is the pre-arranged purpose and the ordination of God, we can better understand the wisdom of the discourse that follows. Though A. P. Adams wrote in the nineteenth century, one could certainly believe he was writing in our days.
“0 Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help.” Hosea 13:9. “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” Psa. 90:3 “Ye must be born again.”
The history of mankind is one of continuous and unvarying failure. The reason is that the human race as yet is only in the first stage of its development. The regular cycle of man’s life includes two stages: first the natural, afterwards the spiritual — two planes. 1st Cor. 15:46. The metamorphosis from the lower to the higher has not yet taken place except in a few cases. God never intended that the animal or physical man should succeed. He must wait until after the change comes. Then he shall have good success. Joshua 1:8.
I do not intend in this present paper to undertake to prove the foregoing. I only notice briefly a few points for the benefit of new readers. When I speak above of success, I mean on the higher plane. Man’s achievements have been most notable and marvelous, but always on the lower plane, These achievements have always failed to bring the blessings they might because of his perversity, greed and selfishness, and, notwithstanding all psychic progress, no permanent status of righteousness and justice has ever been attained.
Remember secondly that the new birth is a biological necessity as inevitable and certain as is growing old. Physical death has no more to do with our progress than natural sleep. After the interval of death, whether long or short or instantaneous, the individual picks up the thread of his development and goes on to finish whatever it may be in God’s plan precisely as after an interval of natural sleep. As long as one is on the natural plane, his normal, intended advance is one of blundering, hesitation, and failure. He is advancing all the time, but in a very erratic and apparently round about way.
God utilizes all things, good and bad, to the furtherance of His plans concerning each individual as well as the whole great macrocosm (universe). Hence failure on the physical plane is man’s normal status. This is illustrated in the primal failure through which Eden was lost. Listen! “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: (He had advanced so far in his creation); and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.” Gen. 3:22, 23 The insertion of the word “also” shows us that as yet man had not partaken of the tree of life, and God did not intend that he should and so live forever in a state of failure. “So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubim’s, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” Gen. 3:24. Man must be excluded from the tree of life until he is fit to approach and to partake of it; but meantime the way to it must not be lost, and so Cherubim and flaming sword (the law and the gospel, Old and New Testaments) are placed on guard to keep the way for man until at last he shall enter into the life that is life indeed. The partaking of the tree of life is the crowning work of man’s creation and, of course, cannot be realized until the second stage of his progress, for first the natural and afterwards that which is spiritual.
I said to a neighbor today, “It’s a good thing to be alive.” He had just remarked upon the beauty of the day and the pleasure of knowing that warm weather was approaching. I responded to his cheery greeting and made the above remark, to which he replied, somewhat to my surprise, “Well, I don’t know. This is a hard world, full of disappointment and sorrow.” We had a little talk. I told him the world was not finished yet. Neither were we, and we would not like to have our world criticized and disparaged before it was complete. Wait until the Maker of all has finished His work; then we would see that all was well done and everyone satisfied. I don’t know how much my neighbor got out of this talk, or whether he got anything at all, but afterwards, speaking of the conversation to my wife, I said, “Probably the reason for Mr. P. speaking in such a gloomy way is because he has not yet begun to live at all.” “He that hath the Son hath life: He that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” 1 John 5:12
To have the Son is to possess the divine life as saith the apostle Paul, “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.” Gal. 2:20. Christ, our life, and living it through His faith: Col. 3:4. He that hath not this life has no life (John 6:53-57) and knows not the joy of living.
The next failure after Eden culminated with the flood. Read the first dozen verses of the sixth chapter of Genesis and note what a terrible failure that was. And was it not disgraceful, too? Disgraceful to the Creator, I mean? I once listened to a lecture by a so-called infidel in which he criticized the matter of the flood about as follows: He said that, according to the Bible, God created man, the first pair; and the first thing they did was to disobey their Maker and get turned out of Eden. Then the first male child that was born became a murderer, a fratricide. Then, as men increased, they grew worse and worse until they became unspeakably wicked and corrupt. So the Creator was sorry that he had made man, the race, and finally He had to drown them all but one family, and begin all over again with that family. But the utter foolishness of the whole procedure is shown by the fact that the race was started again after the flood by a family that was no better than those that had drowned, for the first thing Noah did was to get drunk. During his debauch one of his children grossly insulted him so that, when he became sober, he put a perpetual curse upon Canaan, the son of Ham, and forthwith the world began to grow as bad as ever. This declension culminated at the tower of Babel and was punished by the confusion of the tongues and the dispersion. End of infidel’s words.
Now I do not hesitate to admit frankly that from the psychic plane the contention of the infidel is well taken. The whole affair seems to be a sad reflection on the wisdom and power of the Creator, a disgrace to Him and a miserable fizzle; and yet he who understands the mystery of the pneumic (spiritual) can know that there was no failure and no disgrace. It was simply just as God intends, perfectly normal and fully provided for. That which is perfect is not yet come. This is fully confirmed and illustrated in the history of God’s ancient people, the children of Israel. This is the history of another wretched failure, and one particularly humiliating and disgraceful. God Himself admits this.
You see, it was something like this. Apparently Jehovah started out to make something extra fine of this people, as in Exod. 19:5, 6 and Deut. 14:2, but instead of that the people became worse than the worst of the heathen (Ezek. 16), and He declares that His holy name was profaned among the heathen on their account (Ezek. 36:16; 23). Paul says of this same people that God’s name was blasphemed through them. The culmination of Israel‘s failure was in the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus, and then they were cast off as the natural branches of the good olive tree, and the grafting in of the branches of the wild olive was accomplished in the call of the Gentiles during this present dispensation now ending.
But this Gentile church was also to be a failure; that is, the nominal Christian church. This is declared in several places in the New Testament, notably in 2 Thess. 2 where the great apostasy is set forth. That apostasy had already commenced in Paul’s day, and now in our day it has culminated. “Let him that readeth understand.”
But before we notice further this last, let us consider how constant and universal failure is indicated in worldly matters and in the lives of people. The history of nations is a history of failure. We need only mention the names of ancient nations and cities to prove this to anyone familiar with history. Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome all stand for failure, decay, and ruin. So also with human organizations of every kind — political, religious, commercial, or any other.
So it was in the individual lives of the so-called great reformers, philanthropists, religious leaders, statesmen, etc. They have always failed to effect those changes they attempted. Some good has been accomplished. Local improvements have been brought about. Temporary advantage has been gained. But in the run of years conditions have dropped back into the same old ruts, and not in a few instances the last state has been worse than the former. Take, for instance, the so-called social evil. The most strenuous efforts to abolish this evil have been made in all civilized countries from time almost immemorial down to the present, and yet the evil was never more rampant and uncontrollable than now. The evil is ingrained in man’s nature and can never be eradicated except through the new birth. This brings us again to present times and conditions.
In the foregoing brief summary I am not trying to prove the proposition with which I started out, i.e., that man’s way is downward, universally and inevitably leading to failure. I write for those who are familiar with this fact and accept it. The point I want the reader to notice is this: Such failure is normal and intentional on the part of the Creator, a part of the process of creation and always leading up to the new birth as a pathway to a grand and eternal success. In this success God is the one chiefly interested and responsible. Its non-attainment would involve His discomfiture and defeat — an outcome that is unthinkable. Temporary and intermediate failure as a means to an end is explicable and admissible, but final and eternal failure is impossible, because the ultimate issue depends on Him and on no other. “I am the first and the last,” saith God.
Now let us consider the present aspect of this question. Are we living in a time of universal failure? Yes, most surely. I have no controversy with those who think otherwise. I write not for those who have no eyes to see and no mind to perceive and understand. We are living in a time of the greatest failure in all human history, and never again, thank God, will this colossal declension and deception be duplicated or paralleled. This may continue for quite a long time with variations, for there has always been failure in the past, and there will be more failure in the future. This is the crisis — not the zenith, but the nadir (lowest point) of man’s moral status to which he has been descending in all the past ages, and from which he will begin to ascend as soon as this crisis is past.
The outlook is by no means pessimistic, notwithstanding the dark era into which we have already entered, even very dark and no light in it. Amos 5:20. On the contrary the brightest and most pronounced optimism may be indulged, for following the night comes the morning, the dawn, leading on to the perfect day. Today darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the people, and this is true of the great mass of God’s people as well as the world at large, for “who is blind, but My servant? or deaf, as My messenger that I sent? Who is blind as he that is perfect and blind as the Lord’s servant?” Isa. 42:19 The world has been led into a great darkness so it may see a great light. Isa. 9:2. To Zion it shall be proclaimed, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee”. Isa. 60:1 Meantime, blessed are the eyes that perceive the present darkness as well as the oncoming light, but woe unto them that put darkness for light and light for darkness. These are they that say, “We are rich and increased in goods and have need of nothing, and know not that they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
This is the present day nominal Christian church. We need not be surprised or very much disturbed that the world is deceived and led astray, but, when God’s people reverse the truth in utter blindness and delusion, then woe to the inhibiters of the earth, for the city set on a hill that should be their light is sunk into the universal gloom and is itself become darkness. How then shall anyone be enlightened? There is a famine in the land not of bread and water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. The people are hungry for spiritual food, but for bread they get a stone and for an egg they get a scorpion. The few who have the truth and could minister to the hungry in spiritual things are discredited by those in religious authority and have not the ear of the people, while those who do have the ear of the people and are looked up to as teachers are mere blind leaders whom the blind are following to the pit.
Mind you, all this is of God, for He has sent them a strong delusion that they might believe a lie. 2 Thess. 2:11. This is the mystery and the wonder of it all. All things, absolutely all things, work together for good. The ruin that man brings upon himself is made the occasion and the means of his extrication from that ruin. As it is written, “Thine own wickedness and thy back sliding shall reprove thee”; and again, “0 Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help.” God’s way to light is through darkness. God’s way to perfection is through error, defeat, and deterioration. God’s way to life is through death.
Now, if you have eyes to see this, it will affect all your observation and thought. For instance, you will know that there is no such thing in the world today as institutional Christianity, that is to say, no such thing as a visible Christian organization. There are Christians in the world, thank God, a vast multitude of them, mostly uninstructed and ignorant, babes in Christ, carnal and not spiritual, and yet in Christ. But this body of true Christians has no outward visible organization. They belong to no one particular sect or branch of a nominal church, but are partly included in them all and partly outside them all. There is no body of believers of which it can truthfully be said, “This is the body of Christ, or the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” All ecclesiastical and religious organizations and institutions are based on worldly principles, maxims, and practices, and thus bear the “mark of the beast” that is characteristic of this present evil world.
When you read in these days about Christianity or hear it talked about, you may know in the great majority of cases that it is psuedo-Christianity that is referred to, false, apostate Christianity. So, when the question is asked, “What will be the religion or church of the future”, you may answer confidently, “Christianity”, and it will be a brand new religion so far as the masses are concerned. All the Christianity the world knows anything about is the counterfeit. For many centuries there has been no visible Christian church and the world has lost the knowledge of it. The organization began to deteriorate in the first century of its existence, and the declension has continued until our day. The ecclesiastical organizations of the entire nominal Christian church constitute “the mystery of iniquity”. Notice what I say. I am writing of the ecclesiastical organizations of all branches of the nominal Christian church, including Protestant, Roman Catholic, the Greek church of Russia, and all the sects and denominations, for they all come under one head as apostate, blind, and darkened in their church governments and religious systems, copying after the world and not after Christ.
There are many mysteries in the New Testament, sacred secrets revealed to some and withheld from others. Matt. 13:11. The chief of these mysteries are the two contrasting ones, the mystery of God and the mystery of iniquity. The former is God’s secret purpose in this dispensation of free grace to take out a people for His name, the body of Christ, the promised seed in which (seed) the rest of mankind are to be blessed and regenerated in the ages to come. The latter mystery is the essential apostasy of the nominal Christian church. The mystery of God is good in the form of evil. The mystery of iniquity is evil in the form of good; and the mystery of it is that all but the very elect are to be deceived in both, calling darkness light and light darkness.
Now notice how this present day failure and deterioration is manifest in the world in general. I speak very briefly and only in outlines, and again I say that I am not trying to prove the matter or to convince any who imagine that everything is going on prosperously and that all the future is rosy and comfortable. Such ones are hopelessly deceived and cannot receive instruction. But there are a few who see and such are to be further enlightened by having their attention called to a few of the significant signs of the times.
We are living in a time of universal degeneracy or decay. Every nation and all human affairs manifest the seeds of dissolution and collapse. Rampant avarice in all commercial and political affairs indicate this — the prevalence of graft, corruption, bribery, and fraud, the universal practice of falsehood and every form of lying, the monstrous and obscene manner of dress, especially among women, the extreme and fanatical notions that prevail, such as, for example, that in order to maintain and insure peace the nations must continually prepare for war, thus loading down the people with intolerable burdens that must lead eventually and inevitably to world-wide disaster and ruin. The craze for immoral dances, which amount simply and solely to public exhibitions of sexual instinct, the inveteracy and bitterness of class hatred between wealth and labor, the criminal wastefulness and all-around imbecility of social functions, the childishness and folly of popular sports — all this, and much more that might be enumerated in the same line — emphasizes and accentuates the general degeneracy and the downward trend of all human affairs.
One other characteristic of the times might be considered — namely, the inextricable muddle and jumble or snarl that everything seems to be in. International affairs, domestic affairs, religious matters, commercial, social, personal, or any other relationship — everything seems to be hopelessly mixed and in a most bewildering tangle, defying all efforts of extrication like an intricate knot that grows worse and worse the more one tries to unite it. As an illustration of this take the numerous investigations that have been carried on of late years into various conditions and are still being conducted. Strike troubles are the worst in history. The way our law courts are being conducted is attracting wide attention. Even our constitution, which was constructed by men inspired with a noble purpose of giving us a government in harmony with the golden rule, is being down-graded by some who oppose the free press and religious freedom, though we don’t dare to say so in so many words.
All we can do is to watch, fearing nothing. Here we repeat: All we can do is watch, fearing nothing, but rather with uplifted head and with joyful heart wait for the desire of all nations to appear. Meantime, we need not be surprised at anything that might take place, neither need we fear. Our Father is in full control. “The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea.” Psa. 93:4 “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Psa. 91:1
My readers have doubtless noticed that I frequently use the words orthodox and orthodoxy, and I suppose all understand the sense in which I use it, viz., to express the generally received faith among all classes of Christians. For instance, endless torment is an orthodox doctrine; i.e., it is held by the great mass of professing Christians throughout the world; so of the Trinity, substitution, immortality of the soul, etc. these are all so-called orthodox doctrines, being embraced in the faith of the majority of Christendom. This is the sense in which I have used the word. Strictly speaking orthodoxy is a word that applies only to the truth; its etymological meaning is straight doctrine, i.e., true, correct doctrine. In this sense the writer claims to be orthodox. But the word has come to have a technical sense with the meaning already explained. In this respect it is like the word evangelical, which appellation a branch of the Christian church has sought to monopolize. The use of the term orthodox by those who claim the exclusive right to use it is really absurd since, as a matter of fact, the standard of orthodoxy shifts and changes from generation to generation, from decade to decade, and almost from year to year. That standard in Protestant churches in the days of Jonathan Edwards was very different from what it is today even in those denominations that are most conservative and non-progressive. In these days, too, we have what is called the new orthodoxy, or the new departure, which is so widely different from the old orthodoxy as to give rise to this anomalous and paradoxical condition of things, viz., the existence of two orthodoxies, widely different and decidedly opposed, and yet both of them orthodox, i.e., correct, since the new as well as the old orthodoxy is held by prelates and divines high in authority and influence in Protestant churches. Thus does this word, which ought to denote something fixed and permanent, really signify that most changeable of all terrestrial things — human opinion; and the various branches of the nominal church really make themselves ridiculous in their lofty claims of orthodoxy, and appear hypocritical in their oft times vehement condemnation of heresy, though at other times, for reasons of expediency, they condone it. The fact is that no church has a right to set itself up as a fixed standard of religious truth. It is simply impudent presumption to use these terms orthodox and evangelical in the manner in which they are used by certain of the sects, and it shows a sad lack of the Spirit of Christ and of that charity that “covereth all things”. (1 Cor. 13:7) “Who art thou that judgeth another man’s servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth; yea, he shall be holden up, for God is able to make him stand.” Rom. 14:4
In former writings I have not hesitated to refer in very plain terms to the absurdities and monstrosities of the popular theology. I make no apology for these criticisms; if I could, I would make them more emphatic, for to me it appears that the prevalent religious beliefs are to a very great extent horrible caricatures of the truth, contradictory, senseless, and, in some cases, actually blasphemous. I would make no compromise with these dogmas that outrage reason as well as scripture, that “put darkness for light and light for darkness”, but would rather do all I can to root up these noxious plants that our heavenly Father has not planted. (Matt. 15:13). In the light of scripture as well as the actual state of things around us the entire outward visible organized church is plainly a poor, fallen, corrupt institution. Like the Jewish body politic in the time of the old prophet “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint; from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment.” Isa. 1:6 There are many in the church who see this wretched condition of affairs and denounce it unsparingly, but still they think that the church may yet be saved, i.e., the organization, saved. To me this seems impossible; disintegration is inevitable; Babylon must come down. In the Revelation we have a degenerate, fallen church represented by a woman seated on a beast. Rev. 17:1-6 That representation is today the shameful symbol of the entire body of the organized, nominal Christian church, Greek, Roman, and Protestant. I think that a brief consideration of that symbol will fully warrant the above sweeping statement. In Bible symbolical language God’s people have always been represented by a woman. Thus the children of Israel were represented, and God was their husband. See Ezek. 16 for example. Thus the gospel church is represented as the bride of Christ. (Eph. 5:22-32). A beast is the symbol of world power. (Dan. 7:1-7, 17).
Now what would a woman seated on a beast symbolize? What else could it signify but the church supported by the world? And is not that the exact situation of all Christendom today? There can be no doubt in the mind of any Protestant that that is the situation with the Greek and the Roman churches and with all the other state church organizations. All such iniquitous and unholy alliances (compare Lev. 18:23) are manifestly well represented, according to Bible symbology, by a woman seated on a beast, the church supported by the world. But does not the same symbol apply with equal force to the great body of Protestantism? Is not the church as a whole world? Does it not use every means, many of them very questionable, many of them not questionable at all, but disgraceful, to obtain the support of the world? Are not the rich courted and flattered in order to obtain their support, no matter how irreligious they may be, while the poor are snubbed and neglected though they may be as the salt of the earth for piety and devotion? (Jas. 2:1-10). Could the church maintain its present status of magnificence and luxury cushions, stained glass, gilt, frescoed and polished wood, costly music, and a still more costly pulpit orator, with its “church parlor” and “church kitchen” with all the furniture pertaining thereto I ask, could the church maintain all this if all outside, worldly help were withdrawn? Is it not true, rather, that the world is the principle supporter of this outward show and luxury? And, furthermore, is not the same true of many of the professedly religious operations of the church? Does not the church to a very great extent look to the world for support in these operations, i.e., in missionary work, church building, current expenses, etc., etc., and does not the church use every means such as fairs, festivals, oyster suppers, amateur theatricals, etc., in order to draw the dimes and dollars out of worldly pockets for the above purposes? Finally, is not all this nothing more nor less than the church seeking the support of the world, rightly symbolized by the woman seated on the beast? The reader must be blind indeed if he cannot see that Christendom as a whole is apostate, that the church as an outward, visible, human institution is a wretched failure, Babylon, the Mother of harlots and her daughters. I say the church as an outward, visible, human institution! God has a people in the world as truly as in the days of Elijah the prophet (1 Kings 19:14, 18), the true “ecclesia”, the kingdom of heaven in embryo. These are God’s jewels (Mal. 3:17), scattered throughout the land, some nominally in every branch of the Christian church, some outside of all of them. They have no outward organization, no visible bond of union, but the “unity of the Spirit” binds them together in inseparable fellowship “until they shall all 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 God.” Eph. 4:13 We may be sure that, whatever human institution may fail, “nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His.” (2 Tim. 2:19) But what of this outward, visible organization called the Christian church? I believe that it is beyond repair and that its ruin is close at hand. “The judge standeth at the door.” We are living in the last stage of the decadent, degenerate, apostate church, the Lacodicean stage.
If I had space in this paper I would examine those seven messages to the typical churches of Asia of Rev. 2 and 3 as they apply to the seven stages through which apostate Christendom has passed during this gospel age. I will, however, briefly mention the stages. Ephesus represents the church during the apostolic age, the purest and best period of the church. Smyrna represents the church during the pagan persecutions under the Roman emperors. Pergamos (which means exalted, lifted up) represents Christianity exalted to the high position of the religion of the Roman world under Constantine at the close of the third century. This period extends from the beginning of the fourth century for two or three hundred years. Thyatira represents the church of the so-called dark ages; Sardis, the church of the Reformation;
Philadelphia, the missionary church bringg us down to near the beginning of the present century when all the great missionary and Bible societies had their origin. And the Laodicean stage is the one in which we are now living, which is very near its end and is close to the coming of Christ, even as that seventh message declares, “Behold, I stand at the door.” Read over the message to the Laodicean church. Read it carefully and see in it a description of the nominal church of Christ in the days in which we live. Read it, and, if you have any spiritual insight at all, you can hardly resist the conviction that this is the spirit, the real meaning, of this portion of the Word.
I cannot further follow out this train of thought now. It is not a pleasant subject. Denunciation is never agreeable to a soul that is at all imbued with the Spirit of Christ; and yet God’s watchmen have sometimes this unpleasant task to perform, and then they must do it faithfully, “whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.” See Jer. 23:28, 29. I will pass on now, however, to notice some of the particular forms of error, most prominent and harmful in the nominal church.
One chief cause of the church’s present condition is that they have wandered away from the plain path of truth into the winding and devious ways of error. “They have rejected the word of the Lord, and what wisdom is there in them?” They “have committed two evils; they have forsaken God, the fountain of living water, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Jer. 2:13. In previous writings I have noticed many of these serious and misleading errors of the nominal church, and I would again call attention to these errors that exactly reverse the truth, “putting darkness for light and light for darkness”. These may be called theological reversals. I will briefly mention a few more of this same class of errors.
The very foundation principle upon which the Bible is interpreted by the church is the reverse of the truth, and this error leads the church in the way of death and away from the way of life. We are told that the Bible is written in plain, simple, easy language, and that the correct meaning of a passage is that which lies upon the surface, the most obvious and apparent sense. For instance, a celebrated preacher, formerly of Boston, thus enunciates this error: “The sense which naturally suggests itself in the exposition of the scriptures is the sense to be preferred.” Now, so far from this being true, the truth, I think, is just the opposite. The Bible is written, as the Word incarnate spoke, in “parables and dark sayings”, in types, allegories, shadows and figures, that the truth might not be seen except by those to “whom it was given”. Matt. 13:10-16. I know that this statement will sound strange and erroneous to some, but it is nevertheless the plain, simple truth, capable of abundant verification from the Bible. I have previously given many proofs of this point and will not give more now, but will simply add that a knowledge of the “plan of the ages” makes it plain why God should thus hide the truth in a book that is yet a revelation of the truth. “Even the mystery, which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but is now made manifest to His saints; to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1:26, 27 Wonderful “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hid in the written Word as in the Word incarnate, and he alone will find them who “searches for them as for hid treasure.” Prov. 2:1-9. The systematic rules by which God works — “first the natural and afterward that which is spiritual”, “every man in his own order“, the “first fruit” and afterward the great ingathering (Rom. 11:16), etc., etc. — these rules, connected with the gradual development of His plan, age after age, explain why God should give light to some and withhold it from others. The “first fruit”, of course, are first to be attended to and afterwards other of the great human harvest; and so on until all are gathered together in Christ. Eph. 1:10.
Now the great majority of Christians know nothing of this great principle of scripture revelation; hence they are building upon and resting in the letter of the Word, which brings, not life, but death. Hence also are the most innumerable opinions, sects, and contradictions that divide and disgrace the Christian world, causing the people to stumble and God’s name to be blasphemed. Words are facile vehicles of thought, easily twisted into almost any shape and made to answer almost any end. This is shown in the framing of laws when, notwithstanding the utmost care, the legal formula is found to be capable of several different meanings, giving rise to oceans of talks and endless complications to puzzle judges and to defeat the ends of justice. Thus it is also with the letter of the Word. It is oft times capable of various meanings and in the absence of any authoritative standard of interpretation one man’s opinion is as good as another’s, and hence discord and strife rend the church into many factions instead of there being “one fold and one shepherd.” For example, a certain skeptical writer refers to this changeable character of the Bible thus: “Nothing is plainer in the Bible than that there is nothing plain in the book. There is not a heresy, theory, dogma, creed, proposition or tenet, however monstrous, however cruel, however pernicious, however childish, silly and absurd, that may not be substantiated or refuted, driven home or kicked out of doors, by reference to that marvelous compilation.” Every honest thoughtful Christian will admit that there is reason for this sweeping criticism. There is truth in it, too. By handling the Bible as it is usually handled by the various sectarian leaders, it may be made to prove or disprove almost any proposition that man may possibly imagine or conceive. The great mistake in all this is that men are disputing about the letter that kills. The key to the unraveling of all this tangle, the one talismanic (wonder-working) word to bring order out of all this confusion is the spirit of the Word — the spirit that giveth life. But* the spirit of the Word is hid away under the letter, purposely hid, so that some shall not understand. Hence the ignorance of the great majority. “He that hath ears to hear let him hear.” In studying the Bible, we should seek the full truth, not on the surface, but down deep under the letter, like precious stones and metals hidden in a mine. I would add right here, since I have been misunderstood on this point, that I do not mean to say that the spiritual meaning of scripture is always something entirely different from the letter; oft times it is so, but not always, by any means. The spirit of the Word is its real, true, full meaning, whatever that may be. Sometimes that true meaning is properly expressed by the letter, but in order to get the full meaning you must take other scripture in connection with it. You must perhaps refer to Old Testament types or allegories or prophecies. Bible truths run into one another and all are harmonious with one general plan. We need to study these truths, not only to learn what they signify in themselves, but what are their connections with other truths, and what their relation to the plan. In this way we get somewhere near the full truth. Partial truths, with a great deal of error mixed in to fill up, are the curse and bane of modern orthodoxy; the spirit of the Word saves us from this curse. I would not have anyone understand that I teach that under every word, phrase, and sentence of scripture there is hidden away some mystic sense entirely different from the letter that we must endeavor to dig out. I do not say that this is so; neither do I say that it is not so, for, knowing how wonderfully the letter hides (as well as reveals) the true meaning, that meaning being something entirely different from the letter, I would not dare to put my finger upon any sentence, phrase or word of scripture and positively declare,
“This has not a mystic sense.” However, what I do say is this: He also expects to saunter carelessly through the fields of Bible lore, picking up the rarest and most valuable gems of truth upon the surface as one might pick up pebbles on the beach, will find a great deal of his building material wood, hay, and stubble in that day when “every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” 1 Cor. 3:13
As this point is important, and as it lies in the direct line of the purpose of this paper, i.e., to bring out the spirit of the Word, and, moreover, since the prevalent view is so utterly wrong in this respect, just the opposite of the truth, I will add a few more thoughts.
We read that “Jesus spake unto the multitudes in parables, and without a parable spake He not unto them.” (Matt. 13:34), not to make the subject plain and easy to be understood as I have heard orthodox authorities positively declare, but in order that the subject should not be plain and easy to be understood. See Matt. 13:10-13; Mark 4:11, 12. “And with many such parables spake He the Word unto them, as they were able to hear it; and when they were alone, He expounded all things to His disciples.” Mark 4:33, 34 Does it not seem strange that Jesus should give these explanations when alone with His disciples, and not in public so that all might have the benefit of them? He spoke to them in parables that they might not understand, and then gave the explanation in private. Does it not look as though Jesus did not want them to understand? The simple explanation of all this is that to the disciples it was “given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but unto them that were without it was not given.” Christ worked according to the great plan — first, the promised seed must be perfected, Christ and they that are Christ’s (Gal. 3:16-29; 1 Cor. 15:22-23); then, through that seed, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” “in the ages to come”, but “every man in his own order”.
Take Christ’s conversation with the Jews as recorded in John 6 as a further illustration of the same truth. In that conversation Jesus seems to bewilder and confuse His hearers by the strange statements He makes. He says, “I am the bread of life that came down from heaven”, and “the Jews murmured at Him and said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He saith, I came down from heaven?” Now we should expect that Jesus would explain to them what He meant, but no; He gives them a still harder nut to crack by telling them, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” Is it any wonder that they did not understand Him? Was not His language calculated to completely baffle the wisest among them? Did not His statements seem like dark enigmas and riddles? But does He explain? No! He still further staggers them by making the bald assertion, without a particle of explanation, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you. As the living Father hath sent Me and I live by the Father, so he that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me.” It would seem that this statement was too much even for the disciples, and they began to murmur and to say, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” Now notice how Jesus helps them, but not a word of help for the multitude. “When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples murmured at it, He said unto them, Doth this offend you? It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life.” (His word is life to us just in the proportion as we discern the spirit of it.) Here was a hint to intimate to them that they were not to take His words in the letter, but in the spirit, and yet in this helpful hint there was a flat contradiction to the statement he had previously made.
He had said before, “The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”. Now He says, “The flesh profiteth nothing”. If His flesh was to be given for the life of the world, it would seem as though it would profit a great deal! Why then say it profiteth nothing? A flat contradiction in the letter, calculated still further to hide the truth. No wonder, as we read, “from that time many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.” Does it not seem passing strange that Christ should apparently drive His followers away from Him thus, and make no effort to justify His language or to remove their misapprehension? According to the common belief such conduct is wholly unaccountable and seems cruelly unjust. If it were true that people were at that time having their only chance to obtain eternal life, and that, failing in that chance they would drop into an endless hell — if this were true, how can you explain the Savior’s conduct?
It will not help the matter any to say that Jesus knew that it would do no good to explain unless we take the ground that none of Christ’s hearers could ever be benefited by an explanation, for this was Christ’s invariable method of public preaching. “Without a parable spake He not unto them.” How can we account for His adopting such a method of discourse? It would seem as though it was a method surely calculated to defeat the object of His preaching, the enlightenment of His hearers. Christ speaks in parables and obscure and strange figures that His hearers might not understand lest they should understand and then, when He knew that they had entirely misapprehended His meaning, He leaves them in their mistake without the slightest effort to undeceive them. “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” was the apparently indifferent conclusion to His teaching as though (one might think) He had little care whether He was understood or not. There is absolutely no way of accounting for this invariable practice of Christ on the basis of the orthodox view. What i want the reader to see is that, since this was Christ’s uniform method of preaching to the people, it indicates a set purpose. It was something more than a temporary expedient justified and explained by the requirements of a special occasion. It was a constant practice; hence it indicates a previously arranged plan, and the question, What is that plan, becomes a very important and interesting one.
We search the creeds and standards and prevailing religious opinions in vain for any explanation of this practice of our Lord or any intimation of the plan upon which it was based. In fact, this practice is utterly opposed to the common theology and is one of the strongest arguments against it. Christ preached in such a way that only a few were able to receive it. Matt 19:12 His method excluded the multitude and culled out a few choice spirits suited to His purpose; thus it appears that selection or election was certainly a part of the plan upon which He acted. Hence He says, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” “To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them that are without it is not given.” “No man can come except the Father draw him.” And finally that most remarkable, and most unaccountable upon any orthodox basis, of all His utterances in His wonderful prayer recorded in John 17, “I pray not for the world, but for those that Thou hast given Me.” Pray not for the world! Why not? Christ died for the world; He tasted death for every man; He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world; why should He not therefore pray for the world? In this again we see the unmistakable evidence of a plan, a prearranged order and system, according to which all Christ’s actions are regulated. Christ knew that the mystic body must be made one; the promised “seed” must come before the world, “all families of the earth,” could be blessed and this is what He intimates in His prayer. He prays for the unity and perfection in one of a certain class — those whom the Father had given Him — in order that the world might ultimately be blessed through them, “that the world may believe” and “that the world might know.”
Thus spake the Word incarnate, in parables and dark sayings, in strange figure, puzzling symbol, and apparently impossible metaphor. And thus, if I err not, speaks the written word, in type, pattern, allegory, prophecy, parable, symbol, figure, image and shadow, hiding away the most important and the full truth underneath the letter, so that only he who has a veritable passion for the truth and really eats God’s words (Jer. 15:16), only such ones will “understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God”. Prov. 2:5. And that one who accepts the church’s teaching upon this point and expects to find the great truths of life lying in plain sight upon the surface of God’s revelations will surely be led astray. In this connection look up and carefully read and ponder the following scripture, noticing how God is represented as “a God that hideth Himself amidst clouds and darkness”, and whose thoughts and ways are as different from and as much higher than ours as the heavens are different from and higher than the earth. Psa. 36:5-7; 77:19; Isa. 8:13-17; 28:8-18; 45:15; 5:8-13; Hos. 14:9.
It remains for me to add a word in answer to the question, which very naturally will arise, why is the truth thus hidden under type and shadow and figure in God’s revelation. I have already partially answered this question. Because God has a plan, because there is order, to every stage in it; because there are “first fruits” and later fruits, “first born” and later born, a first resurrection and a second resurrection, a “special salvation” (1 Tim. 4:10) and a “common salvation” (Jude 3), and every man is to be dealt with “in his own order”, i.e., when his turn comes. Hence God hides the truth from some whose turn has not yet come and reveals it to others whom he is finishing off for the perfect state. But furthermore God’s ways and methods are a part of our training and education and not simply means to reach a certain end. God makes the means a blessing to us as well as the end. The form in which the truth comes to us is beneficial and educational as well as the truth itself, and all tends, not only to the acquirement of so much truth, but, what is more valuable, to the development and perfection of the spiritual man. 1 Cor. 2:14, 15. So it is with mental training, the education of schools. The young man that goes through the various steps of education until he graduates from a university should seek, not so much to store his mind with just so many items of knowledge, just so many facts of science, philosophy, and literature, memorized from books if this is all he gets, he has fallen short of one-tenths of the real value of an education but he should seek to train and develop and perfect his mental faculties so that, when he leaves the schools and goes out into the world to fight for himself, he may be able to continue his research into truth in every department through all his future life without the help of text book, school or tutor. So in the realm of spiritual truth. God gives us the truth in such a form so that the studying of it out is of more value to us in the way of training and spiritual development than is the truth itself after we have arrived at it. The object of our training is not that we should know so many things, but that we may “come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God unto the perfect man.” God might have given us truths so that we could store them away in our minds just as you would put so many parcels in a chest, but the mind would not be developed and trained by such a process any more than the chest would. Spiritual education is a growth and gradual development into the “perfect man.” We are to go on from the condition of “babes in Christ” (1 Cor. 3:1) unto “full age” (Heb. 5:11-14), “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Hence the form of the Word is such as to promote this growth. If everything in the Bible were plain and simple like a child’s primer, it would require no effort to receive it, and hence, though we might obtain a certain number of truths, there would be but very little spiritual training. An order of men is now being fitted and trained to be the kings and priests of the “ages to come,” the promised seed in whom all the families of the earth are to be blessed; the sons of God for whom the whole creation waits (Rom. 8:19), and this order must reach the perfect man condition by a gradual growth and development, and the form of the Word is one of the principal means to effect this growth and development. To them it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; but to those who do not belong to this order it is not given, because they do not need to see these deep things of God yet. But they shall see in the judgment age when the inhabitants of the world shall learn righteousness. (Isa. 26:9). Thus taking God’s plan into consideration, the apparently dark, puzzling, and mysterious character of the Word is fully accounted for and clearly shown to be but another manifestation of that “wisdom and knowledge of God”, the depths of which are unsearchable and past finding out. Rom. 9:33.
In conclusion I will mention two or three more theological reversals. For the sake of having them together I will repeat the one just considered.
1. The common view is that the great truths of the Bible lie upon the surface and are set forth in plain, simple language, but the truth is they are hidden away under the letter in parables and dark sayings, in mysteries and hard sayings, in order that they may not be understood, except by certain ones at certain times, “according to the plan of the ages”. Eph. 3:11. See also this scripture in the Emphatic Diaglott.
2. The church teaches that Christ is God and that when He was here on earth, He performed His mighty acts of power in His own strength, when, in fact, He could do nothing in His own strength. John 5:30.
3. We are also taught in the popular theology that there is no probation after death for any, when in fact there is no probation at all for the great majority until after death. (See Present Truth Vol. 1, No. 4.)
4. According to the prevailing view, the Day of Judgment is to be a time of awful and almost universal doom, when in fact it is the period of the world’s probation and salvation.
5. The nominal church tells us that, when Christ comes, it will be to “wind up affairs”, to bring the work of redemption to an end, thereby fixing irrevocably man’s eternal destiny; but the truth is that the great work of man’s salvation and regeneration (Matt. 19:28) is to be after the second coming of Christ in the ages to come: hence Christ comes not to end that work but to begin it.
There is not space to notice more of these theological reversals now, but these are sufficient to indicate the present condition of so-called orthodoxy and to demonstrate scripturally that those who make the exclusive claim of orthodoxy are very far from holding straight doctrine, but on the contrary are exceedingly crooked in their faith, which is in fact the very opposite of the truth.
These errors are part and parcel of the life and soul of the nominal church. They are the warp and woof of the entire fabric. They are woven into its creeds and standards, its preaching, Sunday School instruction, social meeting talk, its hymns and songs, into the entire body of its literature, its rituals and litanies, and they are ingrained into the thought and feeling, the mind and heart of every one of its members, so that to remove them would be like drawing out the nerves and tendons of the human body, an operation that would inevitably result in the body’s total destruction. The church is all wrong in these things. There is no soundness in it. Hence the only thing that can be done is to tear down and build over new; and this is just what will be done, and that very soon. Christ’s kingdom, the true church, “the church of the first born”, will be established on the earth, and He that sits upon the throne shall say, “Behold, I make all things new . . . it is done.” Rev. 21:5, 6
THE LONELINESS OF CHRIST
After a good deal of thought and consideration, I felt it to be the mind of the Lord to publish the article, The Loneliness of Christ, by the author par excellence, A. P. Adams. We publish all articles by authors other than myself as Present Truth. For that reason this volume is a Present Truth Edition,
For many months correspondents have written of the ever-increasing loneliness they feel in these final hours of the age, this often being accompanied by great heaviness of spirit almost to the point of depression. Having had a desire to minister concerning this spiritual phenomenon, I felt assured that no article I could write would be so clear and beneficial as that written nearly one hundred years ago by the saintly scholar, A. P. Adams, whose writing and teachings have blessed countless thousands. In my opinion, A. P. Adams had a grasp upon the truth seldom found among men. Though he lived before the present incredible declension in the world system and the church system, his vision was abundantly clear and his understanding of spiritual truth remarkable.
To those saints who are experiencing great spiritual loneliness in this trysting hour, I would point out that your experience is not unusual, but is in reality both a normal and a healthy Christian experience. The prophets of the Old Testament and the saints of the New Testament were all misunderstood and lonely men. That is because the world and the vast majority of believers live in the outer court of spiritual experience in their relationship to God. In spite of all their noisy profession, they inhabit that realm where the natural man understandeth not the things of the Spirit of God. Deep spiritual things are foolishness unto them; neither can they know them, for they are spiritually discerned.
I exhort you to read this article again and again. It is well worth the effort. The experiences arrayed here were the experiences of Jesus Christ our Lord. Lay it aside and read it a month later and you will discover the wonderful newness of its message. This should be done with all the messages written in THE PAGE.
May God bless this inspired article on the loneliness of Christ to your spiritual man that you may be led into the love of God and the patient waiting for Jesus Christ.
Geo. R. Hawti
THE SACRIFICE AND DEATH OF CHRIST
The common idea is that the sacrifice and death of Christ was His life of self-denial while here on earth and His cruel death upon the cross, but neither of these was the real sacrifice He made or the real death He suffered. These were part of His sufferings and the believer shares in them, filling up the measure (Col. 1:24) that he may also “reign with Him”. 2 Tim. 2:12. So far as these deprivations and physical sufferings were concerned, it would be hard to say how Christ sacrificed and suffered any more than many a martyr. Indeed, such a view of Christ’s sacrifice and death falls far short of the truth and really belittles both. Paul clearly sets forth the sacrifice of Christ when he says, “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” 2 Cor. 8:9 This passage positively teaches the pre-existence of Christ and clearly sets forth His sacrifice. The sacrifice He made was not after His incarnation, but before. He left the “glory that he had with the Father before the world was” and His boundless “riches in glory” and entered into this fallen state, being “made in all points like unto His brethren”. With this view in mind we can understand the Savior’s words in John 10:17, 18 “Therefore doth My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
What life is Jesus talking about here? The natural life, most Christians would think, but there is nothing in scripture to show that Christ laid down His physical life in any sense different from what any martyr might be said to have laid down his life. We read that “He was cut off out of the land of the living”, and that the Jews “killed Him”, “slew” Him, etc. To be sure He gave His life voluntarily, but many a martyr has done the same. Paul, for example, did as much. Moreover, we are sure that He did not Himself take up His physical life again, for we are repeatedly told that God raised Him from the dead. Christ had no power to raise Himself any more than any human being has power to raise himself. We have positive evidence to this effect in 1 Cor. 6:14. “God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by His own power.” Thus does it appear that Christ neither laid down His natural life in any special sense, nor did he take it again, and yet He says, “I lay down My life of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again.” What life? Not His natural earth life, but His pre-existent life, even that “glorious” existence that he had before He entered into man’s fallen estate. This is the life he laid down and this was the life He took again after that “God raised Him from the dead.”
Now this view is confirmed by the tense of verb in the passage we are considering. According to the margin of the New Version, the passage reads: “I lay down My life; no man took it away,” etc. According to this rendering, the life that Jesus was talking about was a life He had already laid down. The Sinaitic and Vatican manuscripts, two of the best authorities, also confirm this view by rendering the passage “No man hath taken it from Me.” Thus it appears very certain that the life Jesus laid down was His pre-existent life, a life He had already sacrificed, a life fully in His own power to lay down and take up according to the “commandment” of the Father. These considerations constitute also a very strong additional argument in proof of the pre-existence of Christ. Those who deny His pre-existence would have great difficulty in explaining what life it was that Jesus laid down and took up again, as it is certain he did not lay down nor take up His physical life, and why the verb, as we have noticed, should be in the past tense. But all this is in perfect harmony with the view presented above. And now, having seen the real sacrifice that Christ made and the true life that He laid down, we are prepared to understand the death He suffered.
When Jesus left the glory and riches of His pre-existent state and “was made flesh”, what sort of a condition did he enter into? Was it another life? No, it was death. When Jesus became incarnate, He entered into a condition of death and remained in that condition all His earth life. Hence the death He suffered was thirty-three and a half years long, even all the time He tabernacled in the flesh; and this was as it should be. When a person lays down his life, he enters into death. When Christ laid down His pre-existent life, He entered into death, this fallen state. He had, of course, a natural existence, but He had nothing in Himself (John 6:57) that the scriptures recognize as life. According to the word of God, death is alienation from and ignorance of God; life is harmony with the knowledge of Him. “To be carnally minded,” says Paul, “is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Why? Because “the carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Rom. 8:6, 7 Here is a positive Bible definition of death. Now see a definition of life. John 17:3. “This is life eternal (aionian) to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” From these Bible definitions we can easily gather the meaning, the Bible meaning of death and life. Death is enmity against God; life then is harmony and union with Him. Life is knowledge of God; death then is ignorance of Him. In this sense the whole race of mankind is dead not only sinful and guilty and corrupt, but dead, as it is written “If one died for all, then were all dead.” 2 Cor. 5:14 All the life that even the Christian now has is by faith. Says Paul, “The life that I now live I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Again to the Colossians, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Thus all man kind, including even the believer, is as yet lifeless. “Let the dead bury their dead,” says Christ, as though all were dead together the corpse in the shroud and those who were bearing it to the sepulchre. This is an important point. We refer to it in order that each may understand the real death that Jesus suffered, not the few hours of agony on Calvary or the three days’ “sleep” in Joseph’s tomb, but the thirty-three and a half years of His sojourn among the lost. From the manger and swaddling clothes of His infancy to the cross and linen winding sheet of His passion it was death, death, death the same dark and charnel prison house as that which imprisons fallen man. We cannot imagine the unspeakable horror of this death to Christ, for we never knew what life is. Coming as He did from “the bosom of the Father” into this dark pit of corruption, His life-long death must have been terrible beyond all human expression or comprehension.
And now we are prepared to consider another sadly interesting feature in the life of Christ, one that will still further show the awful reality of the three and thirty years’ death that he suffered.
THE LONELINESS OF CHRIST
Man is social in his nature; loneliness is a horror. Men have been driven mad by simply being left alone for a long period. Persons wrecked on lonely islands and left alone for years have lapsed into savagery and become virtually wild beasts. But everyone knows that it is not necessary to be alone in order to feel lonely. The worst kind of loneliness is oft-times felt when multitudes are around us but no acquaintance, friend or relative. But still further we may be lonely, and keenly so, from the lack of sympathy and spiritual communion even when surrounded by our relatives and friends. Many an isolated lover of the truth knows what it is to be lonely from this cause and to long for communion with some kindred soul that this hunger of the spirit might be appeased. Now Christ knew what it was to be lonely from all these causes, and especially the last. That we may know something of His interior life, let us study this subject prayerfully.
We might begin with His birth. Jesus was born a perfectly unique and lonely being. There never was one like Him before or since. He began His earth life lower down than Adam. The latter was created an adult, innocent and sinless, and in possession of the faculties and functions of maturity. Jesus came into the world an infant in this respect as in all others “made like unto His brethren” and thus knowing all the helplessness of humanity. He was “made of a woman”, hence a member of the fallen race, “made sin for us”, and as Jesus thus began a lonely being, so all His life was lonely.
His childhood was lonely; no one understood Him; no one could sympathize with Him, not even His mother, though she hid His strange and wonderful sayings in her heart. The story of His talking with the doctors when He was twelve years old shows this. How strange that Jesus should distress His reputed parents by thus staying away from them! And, when they find Him and mildly chide Him for His truancy, His answer is, “Did ye not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” No, they did not know it; they could not even understand His words then uttered. “They understood not the saying which He spake unto them; and He went down with them to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” (Luke 2:49-51), a lonely and homesick child.
Next we come to His baptism. Here He was misunderstood, and He has been misunderstood ever since. Why was Christ baptized of John? John’s baptism was for “repentance and remission of sins”; but Christ had no sins to repent of and none to be remitted. The common view is that Christ’s baptism was for the sake of the example, since all Christians must be baptized. But Christ’s baptism of John could not be an example to Christians, for John’s baptism was not a Christian baptism at all, as we are well assured from the fact that Christians who had received only John’s baptism had to be baptized “into Christ” just the same as though they had never been baptized at all. See Acts 29:1-7. Some think that the baptism of Christ was in the fulfillment of the law regarding the initiation of the high priest into his office. Ex. 29:4
So Christ, when He entered upon His priestly office, as is supposed, at the beginning of His earthly mission, was “washed” in fulfillment of the law. But all this is a mistake for the one reason that Jesus was not a high priest at all while he was on earth. See Heb. 8:4. Jesus had no right to the priestly office while on earth. “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood.” Heb. 9:13. This is decisive and hence it could not have been in fulfillment of the law that Jesus was baptized. Why was it then? What was the true reason? It was a part of His humiliation; it was one of the “points” wherein He must be “made like unto His brethren.” Although Jesus was not a sinner, yet he was “made sin.” He took the sinner’s place and hence must begin as low down as the sinner has to when he comes to God. “Repentance toward God” is the first step in the sinner’s upward course. So Christ, although He had no sins to repent of, submits to the humiliation of the baptism of repentance because “thus it became Him to fulfill all righteousness”, that is, since He is our “forerunner”, it was necessary that He should tread all the course, from the very beginning to the end, of that way that leads to the “righteousness which is by faith.” Hence we can understand John’s words to Christ when He came to be baptized. John forbade Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?” as though he said, “You have no sins to repent of; this is not a baptism needful or fitting for you.” “And Jesus, answering, said unto him, Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered Him.” How significant is this “now”! It was the period of Christ’s humiliation. He that was to ascend far above all heavens must first descend to the lower parts of the earth. Eph. 4:9, 10 And so Jesus the immaculate, the undefiled, takes His place at the commencement of His earthy ministry with the corrupt, guilty and condemned sinner, whose first step toward God is repentance. He identifies himself in this with that “generation of vipers”, with grasping publicans, hypocritical Pharisees, cruel soldiers as though He was one of them in need of repentance like the others, although in reality. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners”. But none of them understood it then and few understand now how low Christ stopped and “God in Christ” to reconcile the world unto Himself.
We shall measure and appreciate the love of God as “manifested” in Christ (John 4:9) just in proportion as we realize the depths to which Jesus descended to redeem us. How fitting and comforting it was of the Father that in this first public manifestation of the humiliation of His Son He should bear witness by a voice from heaven to His perfect satisfaction and pleasure in Him! “And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water, and lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him; and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is My Son, the Beloved (N.V.), in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is the true David of whom the Psalms and other scriptures speak so often. David means beloved; hence the Father says, “This is My Son, the Beloved:” My Son because manifesting My nature, love; the Beloved because he is the great anti-type, the true David, the Man after God’s own heart, of whom the shepherd king of Israel was only a shadow. And let it be remembered, too, that in all this Christ was our “Forerunner”, our Leader and “Captain”. Those who will follow in His footsteps will also come “in due season” to the “perfect man”, God’s beloved because in God’s image. They, too, shall at last come to opened heavens, the dovelike Spirit and the approving voice. The way to life and perfection is through humiliation, suffering, self-crucifixion and death; and the Father takes care that we are not tempted above what we are able to hear, but gives us encouragement and blessing in the way so that we are enabled even to “glory in tribulation” in the midst of the trial as well as in the prospect of final deliverance.
Let it be noticed also that in this descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ we have another instance of His loneliness. When the Holy Spirit came upon the church, it was in the form of “tongues of fire”, but upon Christ, and upon no other, He came in the form of a dove. The dove is the symbol of harmlessness and mourning innocence. Matt. 10:16; Isa. 59:11. Christ alone of human beings could be said to be “holy, harmless, undefiled”; He also was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, although perfectly innocent. Hence the Spirit descends upon Him in the form of a dove. Fire a symbol of purification and transformation. It consumes the dross and tin of sin, the wood, hay and stubble of ignorance and folly. “The fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” Every one shall be salted with fire, baptized in fire and in the Holy Spirit. Hence the Spirit came upon the disciples in a fiery form because they needed purification, purging and transformation. But Jesus had no need of such baptism as He “knew no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” The dove was the proper symbol for the Spirit to assume when he descended upon Him, the meek and lowly, gentle, tender and unresisting Jesus. Thus far Jesus had been alone, absolutely alone in this respect. But soon others shall “come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto the perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”; and then they with Christ shall subdue and tame the race until at last all shall be imbued with the loving Spirit of Christ, and “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them”; for “except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven”, and “the kingdom of heaven is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
We pass now to consider in this same connection the temptation of Christ. Here again He was alone, literally so, having no other companions than “wild beasts.” Mark 1:13. Why must Jesus be tempted alone? Let us ask first, why was He tempted at all? You will notice in the account that it says that, “Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” This temptation then was under the direct guidance of the Spirit and hence was, of course, necessary and important. What was the reason of it? We have already indicated it in our consideration of the baptism of Christ. It was needful that He should be “tempted in all points like as we are”, for only after being “tempted and tried” shall we receive the “crown of life” (Jas. 1:12), and this is no less true of the “Head” than of the “members” of the elect body. Jesus was made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10), even as “they that are Christ’s” are perfected (1 Per. 5:10), and now, “in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.” But why must He be tempted alone? Because He was the only one in all God’s universe who at that time was undergoing the finishing process by which He was to reach the “perfect” condition. Jesus was “the beginning of the creation of God”, the pattern man after whom all the rest are to be fashioned; hence, of course, He must pass through the process alone, but the rest of the race “every man in his own order”, band or class. Ah, who can tell the horror of that forty days alone in the desert “with the wild beasts”, exposed to all the power and malice of “the prince of this world.” The temptation of Christ was no farce, as some theologians would have us believe, but an awful reality; a fiery, fierce ordeal for the lonely Son of man. In Smith’s Bible Dictionary we are told that, “Christ’s temptation was the trial of one who could not possibly have fallen.” If Christ knew this to be true, then He was not tempted at all much less “tempted like as we” any more than you can tempt a person to fly or to any other impossibility. Not thus do the scriptures teach. This trial at the commencement of His ministry, and the continual trial all the way through, was to Jesus a dread reality, fearful in its progress and uncertain in its result. We may be sure of this from what Paul says of Christ in Heb. 5:7-9. “Who in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him out of (N.V. margin) death; was heard in that He feared; though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered, and, being made perfect, He became the author of eternal (aionian) salvation unto all them that obey Him.” Surely this passage shows us something of the awful reality of the trial of Jesus. He knows, as all believers know, what it is to offer up prayers and obedience through much suffering. This passage also shows another thing, confirmatory of a truth we have already noticed, that Christ was in a condition of death while here in the flesh. The Father saved Him, not from death, but out of death, a death in which He was already involved and out of the depths of which He offered up His prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears, “fearing” lest He should never be delivered from the bondage of corruption. Acts 13:34 But God “made known to Him the ways of life” and “saved Him out of death”, “anointing Him with the oil of gladness above His fellows” and constituting Him a “priest forever after the order of Melchisedek”, so that now “he ever liveth to make intercession for us.” “Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today, and for the ages.”
Many other instances in Christ’s history show His loneliness. In His heart experience and inner life he was alone, absolutely, so far as any human companionship was concerned. There was no one who could sympathize with Him; His disciples could not understand the import of His plainest speech. See, for example, Mark 8:31-33. Jesus told them how He was to suffer many things, and be rejected and killed and the third day rise. “And He spake that saying openly (plainly). And Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him.” But Jesus turned and looked upon His disciples and rebuked Peter, saying, “Get thee behind Me, Satan; for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men.” Why was it that the disciples did not believe what Christ told them? It was not because they did not understand what He said, nor was it because they mistrusted His word, but they thought Him mistaken, downcast “blue”, as we say, and that he was only talking that way because he felt depressed and discouraged. Peter’s rebuke was meant not so much to chide Him as to cheer Him up. “Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee,” as though he should say, “0 no, you must not talk so, Lord. Nothing so awful as that will happen; it will come out right.” They could not enter into His feelings or sympathize with His experience or even accept what he said. And Jesus could not explain it to them; they were not able to bear it. He must bear His isolation as best He could alone, with no companion but His Father.
Sometimes He seemed to chide them for their dullness, as, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken”; or, as He said on another occasion to the twelve, “Are ye also yet without understanding?” It seems as though Christ longed for some human friend to whom He could open all His heart, and spoke as above, not impatiently, but sorrowfully and regretfully as time and again He was disappointed. Not even the beloved John understood the Lord or could enter into His feelings. On one occasion this disciple was very angry with some who did not receive Christ, and he said, “Lord, wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them even as Elijah did?”
But Jesus turned and rebuked him, and said, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of, for the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” How little of the mission of Christ did these disciples understand! How little of His Spirit did they possess!
Truly Jesus was alone. There was no one to share His joys and hopes and fears, or to help and encourage Him by counsel, advice or sympathy. The only companion He had was His Father. He indicates this when He says, “I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent Me.” John 8:16 Again he says, “And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” John 16:32 He speaks as though He would have been alone had it not been for the Father; as though He were His only companion; and we can see that such was the literal fact.
There was absolutely no being in God’s universe, excepting God himself, who could be a true heart companion to the Lord Jesus Christ, because there was no other being like Him, none who ever had the same experience or knew anything about it. His disciples, even the most loving of them, were of another spirit and knew nothing of the interior life of Jesus. The only relief from this absolute isolation that Jesus had was communication with His Father. Hence we read that “in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place and there prayed.” Again we read that “He withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed,” and yet again, “He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.”
Were not these lonely seasons of prayer in the solitary places, in the wilderness and in the mountain, while yet the world was sleeping, were they not the times when into the ear of the eternal Father, the only sympathizer and companion He had, Jesus poured His supplications with strong crying and tears?” Ah! Who can fathom the depths of agony that Jesus endured from this sense of utter isolation? No wonder that, notwithstanding His weariness from His constant travel and toil, He was gladly willing to forego His sleeping rest for a few hours’ converse with His Father and only friend. And let me ask the reader at this point, would you know more of Christ’s interior life? Do you sometimes wonder what these tearful prayers and supplications were that Jesus offered up?
Would you like to know what he actually said? Very few Christians know that these intense petitions of Christ some of them at least are recorded, and yet such is the fact. They are in the book of Psalms. Yes, they are recorded there, many of them. The Psalms of David are prophetical of Christ. The personal pronoun I in many of them refer not to the typical but to the anti-typical David, the true Beloved. See for example Psa. 18:16-24, 43, 44, Psa. 40 and 45. and many others. In many of these Psalms the prayers of Jesus are recorded, laying open the heart, the interior life of the lonely Son of man. See for example Psa. 22:1-8, 14-31; (with verse 22 compare Heb. 2:12); Psa. 69:1-3; 7-9, 13-26; (with verse 26 compare Isa. 53:10; Psa. 88 and especially Psa. 118). Read these Psalms, noticing how they are referred to in other parts of the Bible and applied to Christ and you will recognize that they are the inspired prophecies of Christ’s heart experience, the record of His prayers, supplications and fears, when alone with God. Is it not blessed thus to know something of Christ’s inner experience and to see how truly He was tempted in all points like as we?
Now notice especially Matt. 14:22-27. Seeking for needed rest and quiet, Jesus had departed into a desert place, but the people, eager to hear His word and to receive His good offices, persistently followed Him, and “Jesus was moved with compassion, and healed their sick” and taught them all day. When evening came, He miraculously fed them and sent them away, also sending His disciples away by ship across the sea to the other side. Then “He went up into a mountain apart to pray, and when the evening was come, He was there alone.” How sadly suggestive is all this! It appears that Jesus was desirous of being left alone. The clamor and noise of the multitudes were distressing to Him, though He endured it that He might minister to their wants. Even His disciples with their carnal ambitions, their strifes as to who should be greatest and selfish aspirations after the highest places in His kingdom, would become at times “an offence” unto Him. He sends them all off; then, retiring to a solitary mountain, “a mountain apart” as though He would seek the deepest solitudes of inanimate nature as well as relief from the noisy strife of men He is alone in prayer. How intensely pathetic and touching are the surroundings, a desert place on the shores of a restless sea, a solitary mountain, night, the toil-worn Savior of mankind alone in prayer! 0, blessed Lord, Thou wast ever ready to comfort and help the needy and suffering, but who, 0 who, could comfort Thee, Thou Man of sorrows? Nearly the whole night He remains alone and then hastens to join His disciples. Passing down the mountain and across the intervening desert shore, He comes to the margin of the sea. Without a moment’s hesitation He steps upon the liquid element and passes on as though on solid ground. Again how striking the situation! The wind was high (Verse 32). The waves were rough and boisterous. The sky was dark and lowering; and yet Jesus presses calmly on over the tumultuous waves, stepping from crest to crest, straight across the pathless waste to the little ship containing His beloved disciples, struggling with wind and waves in the far distance. As Tennyson, when a school boy, said of Christ’s miracle of changing the water into wine, “The conscious water knew its Lord, and blushed”, so in this instance we may well imagine that the conscious water knew its Lord, Lord of the elements even in His humiliation, and though all around the waves ran mad and foaming, yet around the Saviour they hushed their tumult, kissing His toil worn feet in loving reverence as though dumbly acknowledging His divine supremacy. That lonely walk on the dark water amid the tumbling, storm-swept billows fittingly symbolizes Christ’s entire earth life. Alone amid the darkness of a living death, He walked among the restless children of men, a King of kings, and yet the servant of all; Master of all forces, and yet resisting none;
Possessor of all power, and yet in self-forgetful love using that power only for the good of others. And now He nears the ship and is dimly described by the toiling disciples, who, thinking that they see a phantom, cry out with fear; but quickly from the loving Savior comes the cheerful assurance, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid — always cheerful and comforting to others no matter how sad His lonely hours might be. Then He entered into the ship and “the wind ceased; and they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God.” “Yea, verily!” our hearts respond, “Thou art the Son of God. In glad homage we bow before Thee, as ultimately ‘every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Thou art Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ “
There are many other instances in the life of Christ that indicate His loneliness, especially those passages that show how He was misunderstood by others, even by His own disciples. For example, see Matt. 11:13-19; Mark 4:36-41 and 8:13-21; John 6:59-71, etc., etc. Jesus very seldom made any attempt to explain for the simple reason that they could not understand. See John 12:36-41. But we have not space to notice these points further. We pass to the most striking illustrations of the thought we are considering as brought out in Christ’s passion. Gesthsemane, Gabbatha, Golgotha were the final witnesses of the cumulative intensity of His loneliness.
Christ was alone in the Garden. All His disciples accompanied Him thitherward on that dark night of His arrest; and now notice how strangely the Savior acted, as though longing for human sympathy and reaching out for it, although at the same time He knew it was not for Him. On entering the garden, He leaves eight of His disciples as though conscious they could not help Him; but still longing for human sympathy He takes with Him Peter, James and John, the three who came the nearest to being companions to Him, and retires to a distant part of the garden. Then, instead of taking these three disciples into His confidence and telling them what was on His mind and praying together, as one would suppose was His intention, He seems again to realize how vain it is to look for human help, and, simply commanding them to watch, He leaves them to pass through His agony alone. No human ear heard His agonizing “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” No human eye saw His anguish, the bowed form and the bloody sweat. As He had been obliged to drink the cup of death alone during His entire ministry, so now He must wring out the bitter dregs alone. His disciples could not even watch with Him one hour, but stupidly slept while Jesus wept and prayed, and, when His enemies came and arrested Him and carried Him off to His mockery of a trial, they all “forsook Him and fled.” Alone He must meet the hatred of the scribes and Pharisees; alone He must stand before timorous, faint-hearted Pilate; alone He must bear the insults of Herod and his men of war. The spitting and scourging, the crown of thorns and purple robe, the mockery and shame must all be borne by Him alone as best He could without human help or sympathy. But on the cross Jesus touched the lowest depths of His agonizing loneliness. We have seen that during His ministry His only companion was His Father. This was the one solace of the Savior’s earth life — to get alone with His Father; but on the cross His Father deserted Him so that Jesus was more absolutely alone for that one supreme moment than ever being was before or since, or ever will be. Can you not perceive the awful significance of the Savior’s cry, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” — as though He would say, “I have been alone, excepting Thee, for these three and thirty years, and now in the hour of My direst need Thou hast forsaken Me.” This awful experience was the bitter dregs of the cup that Jesus drank from in the garden, crying out, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me.” But it was not possible; He may not be spared this fierce trial. He must be made “in all things like unto His brethren.” Their natural condition is expressed by such scriptures as “far from God”, “without God in the world”, “God is not in all their thoughts”, etc. Jesus must know this experience that, being “tempted in all points like as we, He might be able to succor them that are tempted.” And so on the cross there is a total separation for a time between the Father and the Son, and the agonizing loneliness of Christ reaches its culmination.
0 blessed Jesus! We may not be able to fathom the depths of Thy sufferings, but our tears may fall at the remembrance of them. Our hearts may throb in sympathy now that we can appreciate something of their significance, and with gladness we may fill up that which is behind of Thy afflictions, (Col. 1:24), that, thus being made in some small degree “partakers of Thy sufferings”, we may by and by become “partakers of the glory that is to be revealed.” 1 Pet. 4:13 and verse 1
Is it not a sad pleasure thus to see something of the interior life of Christ, and so to creep nearer to His heart of love and to enter more fully into “the fellowship of His sufferings?” Shall we murmur if, following in His footsteps, we sometimes feel a keen sense of isolation and loneliness as we are made to realize the truth of Christ’s saying, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world”? Should we not rather count such an experience all joy? Jas. 1:2. 0 ye scattered children of God, His jewels, take these thoughts for your comfort and you will be able to rejoice even in your loneliness, knowing that thereby you are made “partakers of His sufferings, that when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” 1 Pet. 4:12, 13
Is it not plain also that Christ’s three and thirty years on earth was a living death, the real death He suffered after sacrificing His pre-existent life? And out of that death (Heb. 5:7, N.V. margin) He was not delivered until God raised Him from the dead, now no more to return to corruption. Acts 13:34 When was Jesus in the corruptible state? Not while He was in the grave, for we are expressly told that He “saw no corruption” there. Acts 13:37 Yet He was in the corruptible state at some period of His earthly career, for He was raised from the dead “no more to return to corruption.” He was in the corruptible condition all the while He tabernacled in the flesh, in the “bondage of corruption” like the “whole creation”, for He was “made sin” and a “curse” for us. 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13 and this was the corruption, the corruption of this fallen state that He was raised from, now no more to return thereto.
In conclusion I will notice one more passage that, incidentally, confirms the above view. Read Isa. 53:9 and notice the margin on the word death, that it is plural deaths. Is not that rather curious? “In His deaths”! Did Christ die more than one death? Yes! We have seen that He entered a condition of death when He laid down His pre-existent life and became incarnate, and He also died physically. Now the passage above cited would not be true if it referred only to His physical death, for He did not make His grave with the wicked in His physical death. He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a “good man and a just”, “who also himself waited for the kingdom of God“, and was one of Jesus‘ disciples. Luke 23:50, 51 and Matt. 27:57. Yet He made His grave with the wicked and with the rich in His deaths. How clear this passage is in the light of the view presented above! When He laid down His pre-existent life and entered into the charnel house of this fallen state, “He made His grave with the wicked”, and when He died physically, He was laid in the tomb of the wealthy Arimathaean and thus made His grave “with the rich”. Thus the deeper we dig, the more carefully we search, the more firmly is the truth established. We need not be afraid of the most thorough investigation if we are seeking the truth. The smallest particulars, as well as the more weighty propositions, will equally be found to be in the most perfect accord with any individual truth, and each separate truth will strengthen every other truth.
In former writings I have tried to set forth the scriptural view of faith and its relationship to works. In this article I desire to bring the subject right down to our every day life so that each reader may trust the Lord more fully. There is a difference between faith and trust. We may have faith in a person and yet not be willing to trust him very much. We might believe a person to be very honest and upright and yet not be willing to trust to his keeping our property or worldly reputation. Trusting a person implies committing to his care something of our own, and the strength and fullness of our trust will be indicated by the value of the thing committed. We would trust a child with a few pennies to buy some small thing at the store, but we would not trust him with a large sum of money to transact important business. We might trust our neighbor with some small commission, say to buy us a dollar’s worth of goods in a neighboring city, but we would hesitate to trust him further. The merchant might trust his confidential clerk with important business matters involving the risk of immense sums of money, and yet not be willing to trust him in some other things. Sometimes we have a friend whom, so far as his honesty and good intention is concerned, we could trust to any extent with property, business, honor, and life itself if need be. Such a friend is of priceless value, and one who has such a friend is rich indeed. But even such a friend you cannot trust in all things. There will be some lack of judgment, perhaps, or knowledge, or experience, or self-control, or some other defect that, while you have the most perfect confidence in his fidelity and good intention, prevents you from trusting him in all things. What a wonderful thing it would be, how grand and glorious if one had a friend that he could fully trust in all things, one who he knew would not fail him in any circumstance, either in good will or in ability! Ah, what a prize such a friend would be! How safe would be the possessor of such a friend! How comfortable, happy, and secure! He would know that, whenever trouble or difficulty came, all he would have to do would be to refer it to his friend, leave it in his hands, and then stand by and see him manage it. Would not that be grand? 0 would that we all had such a friend as that!
Well, have we not such a friend? Tell me, Christian reader, can human tongue find language wherewith to clothe a being with all the qualities of a perfect friendship and not find that ideal friend overtopped and infinitely surpassed by the great, loving Friend of all, the Father of the human race? “No,” you say, “of course not”; and yet there is a lack about this divine friendship that every human heart feels. It seems intangible, far away, unavailable, and inoperative. We have a theoretical, intellectual belief in God, but “in works we deny him,” that is to say, many a man who would resent with indignation being called an infidel, and many a nominal Christian, too, is yet practically an atheist for the simple reason that the existence of God, with all His attributes of goodness and mercy, crowned with unchanging love, is to him only a religious dogma and not a living, every day reality. They would know how to appreciate and how to use a true friend of flesh and blood, but how to make any good out of the friendship of God is entirely beyond them, though intellectually they do not doubt that friendship. “With the heart (not with the head) man believeth unto righteousness,” but few have got so far along as that in their relation to God. Their faith in Him is merely intellectual. There is but little, if any, heart trusting.
Now why is this? Why do we not trust God? For the very same reason, I answer, that we do not trust strangers because we are not acquainted with Him. The great prerequisite to a perfect trust is a perfect acquaintance — a thorough knowledge of the person to be trusted. Everyone will see this truth at once. And furthermore, we must become acquainted with Him for ourselves. No second-hand knowledge will do however exact and truthful it may be. No mere introduction or verbal description of His excellences will satisfy us. We must know Him for ourselves and know Him long enough to make sure that we can trust Him. This is most certainly true in our relationship to one another. It is no less true of our trust in God. Intellectually the Christian believes that God is his best friend. So other Christians have told him. So the Bible plainly teaches; and so they profess to believe and would think themselves ill used if anyone should doubt that they believed it. And yet they do not trust God. They have some little faith in Him; they believe in Him after a fashion, but they do not trust Him, that is, they do not commit themselves and all their interests to Him and rest in the assurance that He will manage all things well for the simple reason, as I have already said, that they are not acquainted with Him. They have some slight knowledge of Him. They know something about Him, but they do not know Him. Reverently I would say they are not personally acquainted with the Father. 0 it is no use! You cannot trust anyone you do not know. If you know not God, if He is not a real personal presence within and round about you at all times, as set forth for instance in the 139th Psalm, if God to you is not all this and more than my weak words or any words can express, then you do not trust Him, and you cannot trust Him, for as yet He is a comparative stranger to you, and we do not trust strangers however much we believe in them. Get acquainted with God and trusting Him will come as natural as breathing.
But now a practical question. How shall we get acquainted with God? How can we come to know Him so as to fully trust Him? I will try to answer this question. The only way we can know God is through the truth. Christ is the truth (John 14:6). He is the living Word, and “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” He is flesh and blood then. He is human. We can get near Him, for He is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh and through Him, “the way, the truth, and the life,” we shall at last get to God, for “no man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal Him.” But we have Christ no longer among us in the flesh. It seems as hard to get to a risen and ascended Jesus as to God Himself. What shall we do then! Turn to the best embodiment of the truth that still remains to us — the Bible. The Word incarnate is absent from us. Turn we then to the written Word for the light that we need to lead us to God. We know that the one great central idea of all Scripture is the Christ. He is the fulfillment of all the law; the antitype of all types; the substance of all shadows; the theme of all prophecies; the subject of all Bible history; the center of Christian life and experience as set forth in Old and New Testament example, precept, and exhortation. Studying the Scriptures then will be studying Christ, and learning of Christ is learning of God, since the former is the express image of the latter. Here then is the solution of our question, “How shall we get acquainted with God?” Through the truth as set forth in the written Word. Not but that God reveals Himself to us in other ways than through the Scriptures, for “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.” Also “the Lord is known by the judgment which He executeth,” by His providential dealings with mankind. Happy is he who can see God in all things, as He most certainly is, since “all things are of God.” The heavenly bodies, the solid earth, rock, hill and dale, tree, flower and shrub, lofty mountain and rolling ocean, the tiny blade of grass, and the pebble on the shore, the city full and the country waste — as well as all events great and small in our own experience or in that of others, whether individuals, communities, states, nations, or the world — all these, each and every one, speak of God, million tongued, and he who has eyes and ears to see and hear the divine in the human, the Godlike in the commonplace, he shall realize how wonderful is the truth of God’s ubiquity (omnipresence); and, instead of asking with Job, “Oh that I knew where I might find Him” (Job 33:3), will rather say with David, “Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy presence? ”
But such power of seeing God in everything comes not except by long practice in the way of truth. It is an experience that we must grow up to by gradual development. We can no more jump into it at once than a child can leap at once into man’s state.
“They needs must grope who cannot see;
The blade before the ear must be.”
The written Word comes first, then, as a means whereby to know God. It is a revelation of God’s will to man; it interprets His thoughts, His purposes and methods, and thereby makes God known to us. But we must need to have a true interpretation of that Word. The great mass of Christians does not know God so as to trust Him, not only because they do not have the truth in regard to Him, but also because they believe many lies about Him. Their blind leaders lead them astray. It is a wonder that Christians trust Him as much as they do, when by their horrid ideas of Him they make Him out to be anything but a God of love, worthy of trust. Believing as the great majority profess that by a perpetual miracle He will eternally keep alive myriads in hell for the sole purpose that they may suffer, believing also that God forgives the sinner not simply and solely because He loves Him, but because, His justice (!) having been satisfied by the sufferings of an innocent victim and His wrath being thereby appeased, He is now reconciled to man (just the opposite to the way the Bible puts it), and is willing to forgive him if he repents and believes on Christ, believing these things and many others equally absurd and unscriptural, it is a wonder, I say, that they have any love at all for the monster their theology makes God to be; and as for trusting such a being, the idea seems impossible. With such a faith one might trust Christ and love Him, but the only feeling toward God possible under such a system of religion would seem to be one of dread and apprehension. Fortunately most Christians’ hearts are better than their heads, and so with the happy inconsistency, not because of, but in spite of their theology, they love and trust God a little, though far beyond what anyone would suppose possible, knowing what they profess to believe of Him. But how would their love and trust be augmented from a smoldering spark to a glowing blaze could they but see and understand the real truth concerning “Our Father in Heaven!”
The purpose of this paper has been from the first to set forth those truths of God’s Word essential to such a knowledge of Him as will make us willing to fully trust Him. How wonderfully, for instance, does the great truth that “all things are of God” help us to trust Him! If some things were not of God, that is to say, if some things took place independent of His will, or without His notice, or contrary to His plans, then, though we might have perfect confidence in His good intention, we could not trust Him fully because we should not know what might happen to thwart or disarrange His plans. But, when we know that “He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will,” that all things “fulfill His Word” (Psa. 148:7-12), that “all are His servants” (Psa. 119-91), and that He makes even the wrath of man to praise Him when we know all this and realize it as a living truth, then we are ready to trust Him with all our interests because we see that He is worthy of our trust that as He cannot fail from lack of kindness and love, or from lack of wisdom and knowledge, so He cannot fail from lack of power and authority. He who controls all things orders all things, and, when such power is directed by infinite wisdom and boundless love, we have a Being who is worthy of the fullest trust and who is sure to receive it from all who know Him.
With most people their happiness and comfort depend on their circumstances. Hence, since circumstances are very changeful and for the most part entirely beyond our control, our happiness is very precarious, and the happiness of such ones, even when surrounded by the most favorable circumstances, will be more or less marred by the ever haunting fear of possible impending calamity. If there was any way whereby we might rise superior to circumstances so as to be perfectly independent of them, then we should have no such fear and our happiness would be unalloyed. But there is only one Being who is thus superior to circumstances, who is the maker of circumstances, the director and controller of all things. What shall we do then, puny little cock-boats as we are, tossed on the wide sea of life by ever contending influences, driven hither and thither by ever shifting circumstances, knowing not what a day may bring forth nor how soon the red wine of our enjoyment may be turned into the bitterest gall of blasted hopes and thwarted purposes? What can we do but coldly wrap around us the mantle of a stolid indifference and, reckless of the future, enjoy the present as we may? Ah, but there is something better than that we may do! We may take our place under the shadow of God’s wing — ay, creep into the bosom of His love and be as independent of circumstances as He is. How? By simply considering that every circumstance is the expression of His will, that is, the expression of His wisdom and love and so most certainly a blessing, whether in disguise or otherwise. I want the reader to particularly notice this point as, if I err not, it is the only secret of a restful, happy life. We can never be happy until we triumph over circumstances. We cannot control circumstances, but if we have perfect trust in Him who does control them, we can triumph over them through that trust as completely as He triumphs over them by His power. But such a trust, and consequently such a triumph, depends upon knowledge of God, acquaintance with Him, and can come only as the outgrowth of such knowledge. I will try, then, to help the reader to the knowledge that he may ultimately possess the trust and the consequent peace and joy.
Probably everyone has had the following experience. Events have occurred in their lives that have seemed at first very great calamities but have afterwards proved the greatest of blessings. We have complained and wept and been bitterly disappointed and perhaps rebellious over something that has afterwards proved to be one of the greatest blessings we ever had so that we look back upon it in after years with joy and thanksgiving that we ever had such an experience. Thus in our own lives we have been convinced that troubles and sorrows and seeming calamities sometimes, at least, blossom into heaven’s richest blessings, ultimately laden with “the peaceable fruits of righteousness.” Now suppose we could be absolutely assured that this was the case always that no matter what occurred, however dark and calamitous if might appear, however grievous and distressing it might be, in the end it would prove a blessing, something that we should greatly rejoice over and be exceedingly glad that it had happened. If we could only be perfectly assured of this so that we had no doubt of it, then we should be independent of circumstances, for we should know that nothing could take place to our ultimate detriment. Let it be remembered that all of us have had the experience, as the above, where seeming terrible misfortunes have been turned to ultimate blessings where what at first has caused us sorrow has ultimately given us joy.
Now we only have to extend this experience to all events, have all things work together for our good, in order to be in a position where we should feel perfectly independent of circumstances. Come what might we would be sure of being benefited in the end, and hence, of course, we should fear no event. Now I need not tell any reader of the Bible that in the foregoing I have simply been describing the possible experience of all “them that love God.” All things, absolutely all things, work together for their good. “All things are for your sakes; that the abundant grace might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God.” This is wonderful! And it makes the one who fully receives it master of the situation. It is a triumph of faith, claiming complete dominion of God’s universe, counting it ours on the strength of God’s Word, and rejoicing in it as though we actually had it in possession just as by faith we reckon ourselves “alive unto God,” “risen with Christ,” and already “seated in the heavenlies.” Such a life is a life of trust. One leading such a life can say with Paul, “/ know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” 0 the holy presumption and divine recklessness of such a trust! How sturdily and fearlessly it strides forward to meet the future! If things pleasant come, they are accepted, not with the surprise of unbelief, but as a matter of course. If things for the present grievous befall, they are received with a smile of ultimate triumph, even though the cheeks be wet with tears and the heart wrung with agony from the stinging pain of the chastening rod, for trust shall be the gainer in the end. No other issue is possible. Though all the forces of evil in the universe were let loose upon one trusting soul, they could but shower ultimate blessings upon him and hurry him on to his coronation. 0, it is grand thus to be able through the omnipotence of faith to defy all enemies, sure, not only that they cannot harm you, but that they can do nothing but bless you!
Now let us take another step in our effort to draw near to God and to know Him, who to know is life eternal. The Christian’s home is the will of God. I would have every reader of this paper realize something of the unspeakable preciousness of God’s will. Most Christians are afraid of His will. It seems to them something fearsome, so strict and severe and uncompromising, but this again is because they do not know Him. When we come to know Him and trust Him, His will, will be sweet to us because we shall then realize it is the expression of His love, and just the thing we would choose ourselves.
“Could we but see
The end of all events as well as He.”
As another has said, God’s will is not a burden to carry, but a pillow to rest on; and mark this also: Whatever comes to us it is according to His will and hence for our good. Nothing can happen contrary to His will. Is God’s will done on earth? Yes, most assuredly. Why then do we pray, “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” If His will is done on earth, why pray that it may be done? God’s will is not done on earth as it is in heaven, and yet we know that God’s will is done on earth in some sense, for we are told so in just so many words. “He worketh all things after the counsel of His own will,” and moreover we should know it from reasoning, for if God’s will is not done on earth, whose is? The devil’s will? The will of wicked men? And if you say yes, then I ask is God’s will then thwarted or resisted in whole or in part? Are there any creatures than can override the will of the Creator? Nay, verily! Such a condition of affairs would throw us back into “chaos and old night,” and leave us uncertain who was ultimately to triumph, God or the devil. No middle ground can be taken. If God is God, His will is never thwarted; therefore all things must be in accordance with His will and hence tending to the fulfillment of His purposes of grace and love. It must be, as the Bible declares, “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, ‘What doest Thou?’ God’s will, then, is done even now. It cannot be otherwise; but it is not yet done as it is in heaven, voluntarily and from the pure motive of love. But it shall be so, so sure as Christ’s prayer cannot go unanswered. Here again we see what full ground we have for trusting God. All that comes to us is by His appointment and for our good. Of every trial and vexation, great or small, that we meet from day to day we may say, “This is the will of God; the Father presses this cup to my lips; He puts this thorn in my way; He appoints this storm, this trouble, this sorrow, and in so doing He says, ‘Take this bitter medicine, my child. It is not pleasant, but it is needful, and therefore, because I love thee, I cannot withhold it.'” How foolish we are to resist! Like the sick child that struggles against the loving ministrations of his mother! Rather should our attitude be as expressed by David, “I was dumb; I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.”
Thus a knowledge of these glorious truths brings God near to us, makes Him known, and trust springs up spontaneously. If we thus understand something of God’s ways and purposes and thereby get acquainted with Him, we shall surely trust Him, not only in the seemingly great matters of life, but in all the little everyday affairs. Here is where many fail. They do not see that God stands by to help them in all things, in their common household affairs, cooking, cleaning, or minding the baby in business matters, on the farm, in the counting room, the work shop or the study. Do you know, reader, how to take a care to the Lord and leave it?
Many take their cares to the Lord, but keep on bearing them just same, and the Lord lets us stagger along under these needless burdens because so shall we the sooner learn to cast them on Him. How wonderful is the promise, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord and” He will bear it for thee! That is what we should expect it to say, and that would be blessed, but it says more than that. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee.” See Psa. 55:22. He will carry thy burden and thee, too; and yet many of His children are so distrustful that they will not even let Him carry their burden. This is a real, practical truth. Our burden is that which frets and chafes us not the hard work, but the constant worry. That is our care and that is what we are to cast upon the Lord and leave with Him, at the same time letting Him take charge of ourselves.
Let me say further that there is not the slightest occasion for any anxiety or laborious exertion to know God’s will. A brother wrote to me a few days ago that he was “earnestly waiting upon God to know His will.” From the drift of the letter it was evident that the brother was anxious to do a certain thing, but the Lord did not seem to open the way so that he could do it, and he was earnestly waiting upon God, not so much to learn His will as in hopes that he would open the way. There is not the slightest need of such exercise. Be free with thy Father. If He gives you no special intimation of His will, do what you can or what seems best according to your own judgment; or do nothing, which is usually the hardest thing to do, and yet sometimes it is the only thing we can do. “Having done all, stand.”
“They also serve who only stand and wait.”
If it is God’s will, to do nothing, to stand and wait then in so doing you are just as perfectly following out the will of God as though you were engaged in the most active service. Some Christians act as though they believed that if they did not keep constantly doing “working for the Lord,” they call it the Lord’s cause would immediately begin to lose ground. With the most strenuous and unintermitting efforts they just barely manage to keep “the car of salvation” moving on. Should they relax their exertions, that vehicle would not only stop, but immediately begin to slide back. These ignorantly zealous (Rom. 10:2) persons think altogether too much of themselves. According to their idea it would seem a marvel how ever the Lord got along before they were born, and almost a dead certainty that He will have to suspend operations after they are dead. To all such ones the Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God!” They do not keep still long enough to find that out in the sense intended here, for the verse goes on to say, “I will be exalted among the heathen; I will be exalted in the earth.” What! The Lord be exalted in the earth if they keep still that cannot be, they think. Let me assure you, my dear perspiring brother or sister, that the Lord’s cause will not suffer in the least, and you will be a great gainer, if you will give over your air-beating (1 Cor. 9:26) for a little while and take time to cultivate the Lord’s acquaintance. Study the Word. Search the Scriptures. Learn something of His methods and plans, and then you will begin to see how foolish is the greater part of your sweating and straining, and how thoroughly “all things are of God.”
And instead of thinking and talking so much about your own work, you will be able to say with the Psalmist, “Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through Thy work; I will triumph (not in my own work but) in the works of Thy hands. 0 Lord, how great are Thy works and Thy thoughts are very deep; a brutish man knoweth them not, neither doth a fool understand this.” Psa. 92:4-6 It is the knowledge of this truth that God is “working salvation in the midst of the earth” Psa. 74:12 that gives calmness and tranquility and confidence while others are in a perfect fever of excitement. Those who know God will trust Him, and such will enjoy the “peace of God,” and, while others fret and fume and tug and strain, working hard but to no purpose because through their ignorance they are out of God’s order, they shall be resting in the Lord and waiting patiently for Him. “When He giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” Job 34:29.
I would have every Christian see that God is managing in this world as well as in “the army of heaven,” and without the least interruption or hindrance His plans are being carried out, always an by all things, so that there is not the slightest occasion for worriment or anxiety on that score. “As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is tried. He is a buckler to all those that trust in Him.” Psa. 18:30. So far as we ourselves personally are concerned, as we get acquainted with the Lord and come to know Him better and better, we shall trust Him more and more fully, realizing that our experiences, whether for the present joyous or grievous, must be in accordance with God’s will and hence sweet and good and precious. Oh the blessed will of God! Who would fear it, knowing that it is always the expression of His love? Take refuge, then, tried and weary soul, in this great truth: God’s will is being done even now in you, toward you, and around you in the world. “All are His servants,” whether voluntary or involuntary, and no creature shall move a ringer except as the Creator wills. Hence thou canst fully trust Him without fear, knowing that thy hardest trials are thy greatest blessings, as thou shalt fully realize in the end. Make His will thy home then, and hasten on to the glad hour when His will shall be done in you and in all even as it is in heaven.
I worship thee, sweet will of God
And all thy ways adore;
And every day I live I seem
To love thee more and more.
I love to kiss each print where thou
Hast set thine unseen feet;
I cannot fear thee, blessed Will,
Thine empire is so sweet.
When obstacles and trials seem
Like prison walls to be,
I do the little I can do
And leave the rest to thee.
I know not what it is to doubt;
My heart is ever gay;
I run no risk, for come what will,
Thou always hast thy way.
I have no cares, 0 blessed Will!
For all my cares are thine;
I live in triumph, Lord, for Thou
Hast made Thy triumphs mine.
He always wins who sides with God;
To him no chance is lost.
God’s will is sweetest to him when
It triumphs at his cost.
Ill that he blesses is our good,
And unblest good is ill;
And all is right that seems most wrong,
Since it is His sweet Will!
BEST FROM A. P. ADAMS, THE [A. P. ADAMS Compiled by George R. Hawtin] ~ BOOK 1