“I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than
burnt offerings,” says Hosea 6:6. This subject of knowledge, especially so with
the “knowledge of God,” has been bandied about by all classes from the least
unto the greatest; and a little reflection readily makes evident that it must
be embellished with copious qualifications if it is to be retained in proper
balance. Almost every virtue becomes a vice when overdone; therefore, almost
every virtue requires a companion virtue if it is to be maintained in good
perspective. This is certainly true of knowledge, because St. Paul says, “knowledge puffeth up, but
love buildeth up.” The great Apostle is not here putting a slur on knowledge,
because no one can have too much knowledge if that knowledge is given proper
balance by the grace of love.
“The spirit of a sound mind” implies that such a person has all four of the Divine attributes in reasonable proportion ─ each companion to the other three prorated to its correct position. Knowledge is acquaintance with fact, clear perception of truth: and wisdom is the correct application of knowledge. Thus, a man who is gifted chiefly with knowledge may be said to be an intellectual man; one with knowledge and power, an austere man; one with knowledge, power and justice, a righteous man; and one with knowledge (wisdom), power, justice and love is a “good man.” And to one possessing these four the promise is sure and certain that his “steps are ordered of the Lord.”
We often hear the remark that “knowledge is not the essential thing”; but this statement is only a half truth, and ─ “Half truths are more misleading than whole errors.” St. Paul does indeed say that love is the principal thing ─ that “love is the bond of perfectness.” (Col. 3:14) And none with that “bond of perfectness” will ever be rejected by the Lord; will never fall from the Class in which he finds himself. No Saint ever lost his crown so long as he retained that “bond” and no Youthful Worthy will ever fall from his Class if he has and retains that bond. As Brother Johnson has so well stated, it is not required of Youthfuls that they develop Agape love; but they should certainly do so if they have the capacity. Some may not be able to do this; but it should be readily evident that if they can and do acquire it, then they have also the “bond of perfectness,” which none can give nor take away ─ the possessor of that “bond” can never encounter shipwreck in his walk by faith.
Above we quoted St. Paul’s statement that love is the principal thing, but here also qualification is necessary, because no one ever developed Agape love without patience, and none can retain it without that adorning grace. It is of such importance that St. Paul mentions it last in Titus 2:2 in his admonition to be “sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.” Jesus had perfect love, but this He retained only through His perfection in patience ─ “He steadfastly [in full patience] set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) But we must go beyond patience in our qualification of Agape love. Before patience must come faith; and before faith must come knowledge ─ “the knowledge of God.” This is emphasized in Romans 10:14-17: “How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard [received sufficient knowledge to enable them to believe]? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent... So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
Clearly, then, in the primary sense the “knowledge of God” is the principal thing; without that knowledge there could be no faith; without faith “it is impossible to please God,” and without faith none could possibly gain that principal thing ─ Agape love. It has been our observation that those who would discount the virtue of knowledge ─ “not the essential thing” ─ are those who possess very little of it; and their contention is simply a lame alibi for their glaring incapacity ─ “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6) We are instructed to “study to show thyself approved unto God”; and we are to account those elders “worthy of double honor... who labor in word and doctrine [the knowledge of God].” (1 Tim. 5:17)
And with such servants abides the assurance of faith, they know that they know, nor need such assurance “puff up” if that knowledge is moderated by Agapè love. If such knowledge is not moderated by Agapè love, such people will lose it as prophesied in 2 Thes. 2:10,11― and God will send them “strong delusion that they should believe a lie [errors and false doctrine].” A proverb of Omar Khayyam was: “He who knows, but knows not that he knows, is timid, encourage him. He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is ignorant, teach him. He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool, shun him. But he who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise, follow him.” Surely, the last two Principal Men knew, and knew that they knew. The Scriptures specifically state of one of them that he was “wise”; and our trust was well placed as we followed them. Also, it was prophetically written of the Epiphany Solomon (1 Kings 3:12): “I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.” Therefore, those who recognize Brother Johnson as the good Epiphany Solomon will proceed most cautiously before attempting to dispute any of his faithful Scriptural teachings. Neither of the Laodicean “stars” deemed it essential to be “as the actors,” to use the tricks of oratory, or the flummery of the stage, much of which is simply humbug. A pleasant anecdote is related of Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist: Some neighborhood boys attempted a prank upon him by catching a grasshopper, tearing off its wings and long hind legs, then substituting the wings of a wasp and parts of several other bugs. They then showed him their artifice, asking him if he could tell them what kind of a bug it was. “Did it make a humming noise when you first caught it out in the field?” he asked. “Oh, yes; it made a very loud humming noise when we first grabbed it.” “Then,” replied Mr. Darwin, “it’s a 'hum'-bug.”
Such is much the case with a large part of our present-day estimation of the “knowledge of God.” A very prominent Evangelist recently said to his audience, “Coming to Christ is not dependent on understanding. I don't understand the digestive system, but I eat.” The superficiality of this statement is readily apparent. The Evangelist himself may not understand his digestive system; but other human beings do understand it, and this enables him to go on living. Had the human race not learned early in history that some of our vegetation is deadly poison that would destroy the digestive system, none would have survived unto this day. The Evangelist’s physician understands the digestive system, and he hires that physician to keep his digestive system in proper condition. And by the same rule of measure the preacher should understand what he is feeding the flock, and should feed them the true “knowledge of God,” if he would save them from spiritual indigestion. Presumably, they are paying him to do just that, just as the Evangelist pays his doctor to keep him physically well.
In our courts of law it is a fundamental rule of interpretation that “Ignorance of the law excuses no one”; and it requires no great insight to realize that if this were not true bedlam would prevail in all quarters. However, the rigidity of human law is not always operative in God’s law under present undone conditions. We are specifically told in Acts 17:30 that “this ignorance God winked at”; that is, He made due allowance for the inherited and acquired frailties of the human race, who through ignorance knew not God. But this should not be seized upon as an overall excuse for violation of the Divine order of affairs. Brother Russell has stressed that we are held accountable for what we have opportunity to know; howbeit, of him that hath little shall little be required.
In Parousia Volume Six there are two chapters devoted to Order and Discipline in the New Creation and The Law of the New Creation, which are there for a purpose. They are pungent with the “knowledge of God,” provided by God during this Harvest time for the guidance of His people and binding upon all of us who claim to be in “Present Truth” ─ regardless of the laxities practiced by those about us. Of the Jews it was written (Zech. 7:12): “They made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law... therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts,” the same being a shadow before of the conduct of spiritual Israel during this Gospel Age, and especially so in the end of the Age. “He that hath an ear to hear – let him hear.”
Of course, the tendency of the times is to discount the “knowledge of God” ─ it doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you are headed in the right direction. Therefore, take no exceptions to your neighbor’s beliefs; they are just as good as yours. We know this to be a direct contradiction to St. Paul’s teaching that there is but “one faith.” In E-9-512 (bottom) there is this: “The Lord does not despise knowledge and talent, as some mistakenly think, but, if sanctified, uses them advantageously for His cause, yet He certainly does not put the main emphasis on them, which main emphasis He lays upon characteristics of the heart.” Yet St. Paul so often remarks, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren.” (1 Cor. 12:1) Also, “By His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” (Isa. 53:11) It was by His knowledge that He explained the types and shadows of the Old Testament and “brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” (2 Tim. 1:10) And at the very time He was doing this the critical statement was given to the Jews, “Israel hath a zeal, but not according to knowledge.” (Rom. 10:2)
Knowledge of things past often helps us accurately to diagnose present events, and to arrive at proper interpretations of difficult Scriptures. Many have been the attempts of critics to condemn the Bible because of its statement, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated [loved less]” (Rom. 9:13); but, knowledge of the custom then prevailing that the elder son must fast while the younger feasted upon the birthday of a prominent ancestor offers a clear and reasonable explanation of the matter. “The law of the Lord is perfect... making wise the simple.” (Ps. 19:7)
In Detroit at present there is a reciprocal understanding among many of the ministers of the different sects regarding “mixed” marriages to this effect: If, say, a Lutheran comes to his minister to be married to a Methodist, the Lutheran minister performs the service; then advises them to determine both to attend the same church. If the bride doesn't like the minister who has just joined her in wedlock, or if she cannot accept the Lutheran faith, then the minister advises his own member to follow his bride to the Methodist Church, or vice versa. Thus, in the overall figures, all is balanced up and everyone is happy. This means there is no longer controversy over what is the “knowledge of God.” If there be any conflict, it is now chiefly over personalities ─ “there is no live coal to warm them,” no living doctrinal Truth in its purity to stir their icy spiritual blood (Isa. 47:14). “They are shepherds that cannot understand; they all look to their own way, everyone for his gain, from his quarter.” (Isa. 56:11) Don't expose my ignorance, and I won't expose yours, they say; and each of us will prosper in our own bailiwick. (See Berean Comments on Isa. 56:11)
But, if we would be better used of the Lord, it is essential that we have a certain amount of knowledge, although some with limited knowledge and inherent wisdom (the proper application of knowledge) often accomplish more than others with great knowledge but endowed with less wisdom. Therefore, Solomon says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” (Prov. 4:7) Companion thoughts are excellently expressed by both Star Members in the May 14 Manna Comments:
“What is it to grow in grace? It is to grow in favor with the Lord through an intimate personal acquaintance and fellowship of spirit with Him... To grow thus in grace and not grow in knowledge is impossible... If, therefore, we love and obey the Lord and desire to grow in His favor, His written Word is our daily meditation and study; and thus we grow in knowledge.”
Errorists and superficial teachers offer just the reverse of the foregoing to their devotees. When the Church of Rome was in its heyday it is well stated that its motto was: Reading is doubt; doubt is heresy; and heresy is Hell. That is, any who endeavored to inform themselves doubted the infallibility of their leaders; and such must certainly be only the course of the heretic. This was indeed the “doctrine of Balaam... the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.” (Rev. 2:6,14-15) Such are the antitypical Baal worshipers, who endeavor by sleight-of-hand and great oratorical shouting to overawe the “unstable and the unlearned.” It should be noted that Baal was the Sun God ─ Lord of the Day ─ a fitting type of power-graspers and clericalists. At night the Heavens are filled with millions of stars, many of them much larger than our sun; yet they are all completely obscured during the daytime. They are still in their respective places, of course, but they are not visible to the human eye because of the daytime splendor of the sun. And such is much the condition of Gospel Age power-graspers. They have outshone the true Star Members, have “cast their brethren out” and built up Great and Little Babylon. Yet the promise is sure to all the fully faithful ─ “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their father.” (Matt. 13:43) And this exaltation will be one without end!
In this connection, be it noted that the orbit of the sun is from the East to the South to the West. But those who follow Baal cannot ever receive any exaltation from the true God. Therefore, it is written, “Promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south” (Psa. 75:6) ─ that is, no promotion from God to those who follow the course of Baal. In 1 Kings 18 is recorded the experience of Elijah with Jezebel’s prophets of Baal ─ one against 450. There had been a long drought in the land; the country was blistering under the unrelenting rays of the burning sun. Therefore, Elijah gave those prophets of Baal every possible advantage when he told them to try their hand first ─ to kill their bullock, put it on the altar, and call upon Baal, their Sun God, at high noon to ignite the wood under their sacrifice. Well did they realize the mockery that would come upon them if they failed under such advantageous circumstances, which prompted them to callout, “O Baal, hear us... And it came to pass at noon that Elijah mocked them... And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their manner with knives.” (vs. 27, 28) Then, when they were forced to admit failure, about three o'clock in the afternoon (v, 29), “the evening sacrifice,” Elijah then instructed that twelve barrels of water be poured upon his offering, after which fire came from Heaven and consumed his sacrifice. “Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob... and built an altar in the name of the Lord,” (v. 31) which altar was typical of the Fully Faithful of the Gospel Age spiritual Elijah, twelve being a Little Flock number ─ just as was true of the altar constructed by Joshua (Josh. 4:5,9).
While the Gospel Age Elijah has always had the assurance that “Thou hearest me always” (John 11:42), fortified as they have been by the knowledge of God, which gave them a “mouth and wisdom which none of their adversaries were able to gainsay nor resist” (Luke 21:15), they seldom were given the spectacular outward approval which came to the Prophet Elijah in his encounter with the Prophets of Baal that fateful day. In fact, in many instances during this Gospel Age the Baal worshipers (power-graspers) have gained the ascendancy as instance, the victory of Calvin over Michael Servetus, etc.; yet the fully faithful have striven with the strength of Samson and the skill of the warrior David in their use of the knowledge of God. It should not be expected, of course, that all would demonstrate the ability of the Star Members in the use of this knowledge ─ although many have assumed they could do so. We recall the occasion when a gainsayer gave us the argument that Christ died and rose again “according to the Scriptures” ─ that this proved it was not actually true, but was only “according to the Scriptures,” which were unreliable in their records.
It has been contended by some in our midst that the Truth has always come first, then followed by error. This is only a half-truth, and half-truths are more misleading than whole errors. In the broad sense, the Bible, which is the Truth, has been first, of course; but Micah 5:5 clearly states that “when the Assyrian (the errorists) shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise up against him seven shepherds and eight principal men.” This is in keeping with Prov. 24:16 ─ “A Just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.” The “just man” of this Gospel Age has been the fully faithful justified Christ Company, which fell into obscurity as much error sprang up about them after the death of each Star Member. We need only look at the Lutheran Church, the Methodist Church, the Adventists and others to note the force of this contention. If Martin Luther, Miller, et aI, came back they would be unable to find their teachings in those organizations that now claim to be their followers. In our time we have the instance of Brother Russell, and with what speed the falling occurred after he died. Jehovah’s Witnesses bear no more resemblance to the truths he espoused and the organization he set up than does a vulture to a swan. The measurably faithful made quick havoc of his good work ─ just as uncleansed Levites are doing all about us ─ some more, some less. And, as we observe this state of affairs, it behooves us all the more to equip ourselves with “the knowledge of God” to the extent of our natural and acquired providential circumstances. The world in general, of course, “knows not God”; and the great mass of Christian believers quite evidently have very little of the “knowledge of God.” There is the constant and irrepressible conflict, the battle of darkness against light, and the darkness hateth the light because it is reproved by it (John 3:20).
But the “knowledge of God” is for “the children of light,” who zealously try to pass it on to others, although with very limited success against the opposition of the “god of this world.” Therefore, it confers its greatest blessing upon its possessor; hence, the words of Solomon, “Buy the Truth [the knowledge of God], and sell it not.” (Prov. 23:23) To such, and to such alone, applies the promise of Psa. 91:10 ─ "Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” Such are the members of that “one Church, which in its entirety is the steward and administrator of the Truth [the knowledge of God], to preserve and defend it from error and to administer it for the benefit of the responsive.” (E-8-253) And such will be in full agreement with the slogan on Brother Johnson’s letterhead as respects the Knowledge of God ─ “The noblest science; the best instruction.” To which we would add, “that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), and “He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.” (Isa. 57:2)
(Brother John J. Hoefle, Reprint No. 506, June 1999)
KNOW OF THE DOCTRINE
“If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17)
We are living in a day when the very word doctrine seems to be offensive to the majority of Christian people. Each denomination realizes that its own system of doctrines is imperfect, unsatisfactory, and indefensible. And the same is believed in respect to all other doctrines. Hence by mutual consent Christian people seem disposed to henceforth and forever ignore doctrines; for they believe that, if after nineteen centuries they are thus confused the matter never was clear and never will be clear to anybody
All this is a great mistake; the doctrine of Christ, as presented by the Great Teacher and his apostles, was a great message, of which none of them were ashamed. The difficulty with the Lord’s people today is that we gradually fell away from those doctrines, we little by little put darkness for light and light for darkness, and thus step-by-step got into the spirit of Babylon, and into the spirit of bondage to human traditions and creeds. Instead of shunning doctrines, we should realize that they are the very things needed to cause the scattering of our darkness and superstitions, and to draw all of God’s people nearer together.
The doctrines of Christ and the apostles is what we need to inspire us to break down all our creed fences, which so long have separated us as God’s people, the one from the other, in various denominational folds, all of which are contrary to the Divine arrangement; for God has but the one fold for all his “sheep” of this age, as he will have another fold for the restitution “sheep” of the next age – the Messianic Kingdom Age.
“ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, ONE BAPTISM”
Can we doubt that if as God’s people we put away sectarianism and the creed spectacles of our forefathers, and if we go with pure, sincere hearts to the Lord and his Word, we will there find again the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father over all, and one Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” and “one church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven”? (Eph. 4:5,6; Heb. 12:23) Let us hearken to the words: “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward,” “But remember the former days, in which ye endured a great fight of afflictions; partly whilst ye were made a gazing stock both by reproaches and by afflictions; and partly whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.” “For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” (Heb. 10:35,32,33,36)
The time seems long to all of us, even though we remember that “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.” When we think of the fact that it is thirty-nine hundred years since God’s promise to Abraham, that his seed should bless all the families of the earth, when we think of the fact that Israel did not receive that great privilege of being the spiritual seed from which primarily that blessing should go forth, and that the “elect” are receiving it; when we think of the fact that God has been nearly nineteen centuries in selecting the “elect” from Israel and from all nations, it is enough to stagger our faith unless we hold firmly to the Divine promise and remember that God confirmed it with an Oath. By these two immutable, unchangeable things, the Divine Word and the Divine Oath, we know that the seed of Abraham is to be developed, and that eventually it is to bless all the families of the earth. It is the Divine will that we allow our faith in this great promise of God to be “an anchor to our souls, sure and steadfast, entering into that within the veil.” (Heb. 6:19)
THE DOCTRINES OF CHRIST
What we all need as God’s people is to put away human theories and other gospels and take hold afresh on the Gospel of Christ. These other gospels are other messages of hope, aside from the one, which the Bible presents. For instance, Theosophy is one of these; Evolution is another; New Theology is another. These all hold out a different gospel from that which Jesus and the Apostles presented; the one that was given to use for our sanctification, and through the holding fast of which, and the obedience to The Faith, we are to be saved and given a share with Messiah in his glorious empire of the world.
The doctrines of Christ mean those doctrines presented in the Bible by Jesus and His mouthpieces, the Apostles. These doctrines relate to the Church and to the world, and God’s blessing for each; these doctrines relate to sin and its forgiveness; the terms of that forgiveness, the basis of that forgiveness ─ the death of Jesus ─ and the hope of that forgiveness, release from Divine condemnation, fellowship with God, and everlasting life obtained through resurrection of the dead. See Hebrews 6:1-3.
A PREREQUISITE TO KNOWLEDGE
But some one will inquire. Why is it so difficult to understand the doctrines of Christ? Why are there six hundred different denominations of Christians? Why do they all so misunderstand the matter ─ that these different denominations have resulted from the differences of theory respecting the teachings of the Bible? The simple explanation is that, shortly after the death of the Apostles when the Church began to be in a measure of prosperity, the adversary came in and sowed the seeds of false doctrines, using human lips and human pens in his service, through pride and ambition. The darkness became so great that, looking back today; we speak of the period as the “dark ages.”
The various denominations of Christendom are evidences of honesty, perseverance and love of the Truth, because our forefathers, who made these creeds, were each trying to get more and more out of the dark and back to the “True Light.” They all made the mistake, however, of holding too much to the creeds and theories of the past. Let us not make the same mistake; let us cut loose entirely from every authority outside the Word of God. Whoever can help us understand God’s Word, we should be glad to have his assistance; but we cannot acknowledge as inspired or authoritative the teachings of the “Fathers” of the early times, however conscientious they may have been, because we cannot recognize that there were any such authorized successors to the apostles.
God, who foretold through the prophets this long period of darkness, and who has blessed and guided his saintly children throughout it, without removing all of their blindness, has promised that with the end of this age will come a great blessing and enlightenment upon his people, when the “wise virgins” will find their lamps burning brightly, and be able to understand and appreciate the deep things of God: “The wise shall understand, but none of the wicked shall understand.” In the end of this age the curtain was to be drawn, and the “true light” was to shine forth, scattering all the darkness. We are in the dawning of this new age today, and therefore may see much more clearly than did our forefathers, the Divine character and plan for human salvation.
WILLETH TO DO HIS WILL
This is a message from the Master’s own lips. He gives his plan and us the key to a clear knowledge of his doctrines, namely, that the student must be fully consecrated to God and fully desirous of knowing his will. In order to see light in God’s light ─ to see the truth, from the Divine standpoint of the Divine revelation, we must draw near to God in the spirit of our minds, consecrated in our heart. We must will to do his will.
But what does this mean? What is it to will to do his will? God’s will represents actual perfection of thought and word and deed, toward God, toward our fellows in the body of Christ, and toward all mankind. This is the Divine standard set up, but we are no more able to fulfill its demands than were the Jews. As St. Paul declares, “We cannot do the things that we would.” Weakness of the flesh, frailty and imperfection, we all have with the world; the best that we can do is to will to do right, and to the best of our ability carry out that covenant with the Lord to do his will. At the very best all will come short of perfection.
But for those who have come into harmony with God, through Christ ─ for those who have made a covenant with him by sacrifice ─ for those who have Jesus for their Advocate, a provision has been made, whereby the willing, all desiring to do the Divine will, and manifesting endeavors so to do, are counted as righteous ─ as though they did the Divine will perfectly. This class, in the Scriptures, is known as the “saints”; they are the prospective members of the body of Christ. It is to these that the promises of our text apply, that they shall know to do the Divine will, shall know whether Jesus merely made up these teachings of himself, or whether he was the active agent of Jehovah in what he did and in what he taught.
At the close of the year, and on the threshold of another, shall we not determine to give our hearts, our wills, fully to the Lord ─ determine in our wills to do God’s will? If so, following the instructions of the Word of God during the coming year, we shall doubtless be blessed and enabled fully to know, to appreciate, to understand, the doctrines of Christ ─ the deep things of God, which are revealed to this class by the Spirit of God. Blessed are all who put their trust in him!
(Pastor Russell Reprints 5136-5137, November 15, 1912)