“Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch no unclean thing.” (2 Cor. 6:17, R.V.)
When Abraham was ninety-nine years old ─ about the year 1900 B.C. ─ his encampment was at Hebron. There the Lord and two angels appeared to him as men. He knew them not, but entertained them, and they did eat and talk with Abraham. St. Paul, noting this, urges that the Lord's people should be hospitable to strangers, and reminds us of how Abraham entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2).
The one in this case called the Lord was doubtless the Logos, chief Messenger of Jehovah, who subsequently was made flesh that he might be man's redeemer and restorer. The Lord on this occasion told Abraham that Ishmael would not be the heir of the promise, but that very shortly Sarah would have a son, notwithstanding her advanced age. Isaac was born the next year.
It was as Abraham walked with his angelic visitors a little distance that he learned who they really were, and that the destruction of Sodom was imminent. Nobly and generously the heir of the promises petitioned God's mercy on the Sodomites, to spare them from destruction if there were fifty, forty, twenty or even ten amongst them doing as well as they knew how. The Lord gave assurance that if there were ten in the city thus righteous it would be spared.
THE WICKEDNESS OF SODOM GREAT
God's policy has been to allow mankind during this reign of sin and death to try their hand at self-government, etc. He has interfered to cut off with destruction only those whose iniquity became very pronounced and whose fond enjoyment of life's privileges would be injurious to themselves and others. Thus of the Sodomites and the antediluvians God made illustrations of the great lesson, “All the wicked will He destroy.” (Psa. 145:20)
We are to remember, however, that these are not illustrations of eternal torment, but illustrations of destruction. We are to remember, also, that these merely passed into destruction a few years sooner than they would ordinarily have done. We are to remember, further, that the death sentence was upon all of Adam's race from the time when he was cast out of Eden.
We are to remember, further, that Christ Jesus, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man; and that in him all the families of the earth will be blessed. This means that all of Adam's children, under the reign of sin and death and the weaknesses of heredity, will eventually come forth from the tomb through the merit of Christ's sacrifice. And that sacrifice included the Sodomites as truly as it includes any of us, as this lesson will show.
“AND DELIVERED RIGHTEOUS LOT”
The Apostle Peter informs us that Lot was not in sympathy with the evils of Sodom, in the midst of which he lived. (2 Peter 2:7,8) His family apparently had been all girls. These, except two, had intermarried with the Sodomites. Quite possibly it was the thought of marrying the daughters to prosperous husbands that, under the guidance of the mother, induced the family to settle in Sodom. How many others like Lot and his wife have made the serious mistake of claiming more for the physical and temporal interests of their families than for their intellectual and moral welfare! The story of the flight of Lot, his wife and two unmarried daughters is simply told in our lesson.
Geologists declare that the region of the Dead Sea, the former site of Sodom and Gomorrah, was a gas and oil and asphalt deposit, with a deep crevice which led down to subterranean fires; and that the connection established between these by an earthquake or by a lightning bolt would have resulted in the manner described as the experiences of Sodom. The gas, throwing burning oil and asphalt into the air, would have produced a rain of fire and brimstone ─ a death-dealing terror. But had there been no such reservoir of inflammables, the Lord would have been quite able to accomplish the same results by other means, or in such a case perhaps accomplished the destruction in another way.
The intimation of the 29th verse is that God's mercy toward Lot was because of his relationship to Abraham. This view is consistent with all the Bible statements. Adam's entire race was condemned to death because of his disobedience. Hence Divine justice owed nothing to any of them. Divine mercy entered into a special covenant of favor with Abraham, after he had demonstrated his faith, loyalty and obedience; but the covenant did not extend to any others except to his seed. There was therefore no reason why Lot should be considered more than others except as stated ─ that God would show favor to him because of his relationship to Abraham.
“THERE'S A WIDENESS IN GOD'S MERCY”
This does not signify that God is merciless to our race, but merely that, having provided a way, or channel, through which he will exercise his mercy, he will but rarely exercise it outside of that foreordained channel.
The channel of all of God's mercy is Christ Jesus, who declared, “No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Of Him also St. Peter said, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given amongst men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Since no one could be saved except through Jesus, it follows that no one was saved before Jesus came. To some this may at first seem astounding, until they perceive that it is the clear teaching of the Bible, and the key which unlocks the wonders of God's grace.
In proof of this, note St. Paul's words respecting the salvation which God has sent to mankind through Jesus. He says, “Which salvation began to be preached by our Lord and was confirmed unto us by those who heard him.” (Heb. 2:3) Again, we read that Jesus “brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10)
Abraham and all the Hebrews had the intimation of coming blessing through the promises made to Abraham; but an intimation is one thing, and the blessing itself another. The promise said that the people's blessing would come through Abraham's seed (Gal. 3:16,29). Hence it could not come before. We should rid our minds of the thought that Abraham, Moses, David and others of the holy ones of the past went to heaven, and the remainder of mankind to eternal torture. The Bible most distinctly declares that the ancients, good and bad, were gathered to their fathers and slept with their fathers. They are sleeping still, waiting for the time when Abraham's seed will be complete, and will set up God's Kingdom in the earth, overthrow all the powers of sin and death, and deliver all the captives from the prison-house of the tomb.
THE FIRST, OR CHIEF RESURRECTION
The first resurrection began with our Lord Jesus and is not yet completed, because all of the faithful elect Bride Class are called to share in his sacrificial death, and to share also in his glorious resurrection to the Divine nature. All sharing in that first resurrection, the Bible declares, will reign with Christ a thousand years, and as the seed of Abraham, fully empowered, will bless all those redeemed by the precious blood of Calvary (Rev. 20:4).
St. Paul emphasizes this point in Hebrews 11:38-40, declaring that, while Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the holy ones of the past received indications of God's favor, nevertheless that favor can come only through Christ. Consequently they cannot reach perfection in the flesh and everlasting life until the Body of Christ, the spiritual seed of Abraham, shall be completed ─ “that they, without us, should not be made perfect.” Jesus also attested that the Ancient Worthies had not gone to heaven, saying, “No man hath ascended up to heaven.” (John 3:13) St. Peter specializes in the Prophet David's case, and declares, “David is not ascended into the heavens.” (Acts 2:34)
HOPE FOR THE SODOMlTES
The hope for the Sodomites is exactly the same as the hope for all the remainder of Adam's race, except a few who, during this Gospel Age, have come into relationship with Christ as members of the spiritual seed. The hope of all the world is the Messianic Kingdom, and the deliverance from the power of sin and death which it will effect. With the setting up of that Kingdom the work of salvation will begin, so far as the world is concerned, for the salvation of the Church to a heavenly condition is a separate salvation from that which God has provided for the world in general. The sacrifice at Calvary, however, is one sacrifice for all ─ the basis of all our hopes. We were all condemned to death through Adam; and justification to life can come to none except through the Redeemer.
Jesus tells us that it will be more tolerable for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment (the thousand years of His Messianic reign) than for the people of His day who heard His message and rejected it ─ the people of Capernaum, Bethsaida, Chorazin (Matthew 11:20-24). It will not be intolerable for the people who rejected Jesus; but it will be more tolerable, the Master said, for the Sodomites, because, He explains, “If the mighty works had been done in Sodom and Gomorrah, they would have repented,” and would not have been overwhelmed.
This shows us clearly that the eternal fate of the Sodomites is not sealed. When we turn to the Word of the Lord through Ezekiel the Prophet, 16:46-63, we have abundant testimony that the Sodomites will not only be awakened from the sleep of death, but when awakened will be brought to a knowledge of God and to an opportunity of obtaining everlasting life, through The Messiah, by willing obedience.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man's mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
(Pastor Russell, Reprints 5178-5179, February 1, 1913)
THE WORLD CALLED TO REPENTANCE
“God now commandeth men everywhere to repent; because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained.”
When God sentenced Father Adam to death He very properly said nothing about repentance, for He offered Adam no hope of a future life. If, then, no hope of a future life was known to Adam or revealed to him, why should God deal with him at all? Adam was sentenced to death, to destruction. There is no basis upon which to command a man to repent unless something is offered him as a reward for repentance.
God had put upon Adam the sentence of death, which could be removed only by the payment of a ransom price. God fully intended that some day all mankind should have an opportunity of coming into harmony with Him and of having another trial, or judgment, for life; but it was not His due time to explain His program. Therefore, Adam lived and died without any command whatever to repent. And so did his children.
The first intimation of what God might do was given by the Prophet Enoch. But the revelation made by Enoch was not a sufficient basis for offering hope to mankind nor for te11ing them to repent (Jude 14,15).
A SUGGESTION OF HOPE FOR THE WORLD
So years passed by until the time of Abraham. Then God told Abraham that He would reveal a secret to him, because Abraham was His friend. That secret was not a message to be preached, but to be believed by himself and by those who would be heirs of that promise, which was not yet applicable to any outside of Abraham's descendents. The secret was, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 28:14) I intend to bless the world, Abraham. If you are obedient to my instructions, your seed will get the blessing and transmit it to the world in general. It was only by implication, therefore, that Abraham had any suggestion that a life of repentance would be rewarded.
In due time God called the children of Israel and dealt with them through Moses. Practically he said, “Do you wish to be my people? If so, come now, enter into a covenant with me; I will be your God and you shall be my people.” (Lev. 26:12)
Israel was not commanded to repent, nor were any of the rest of the world. It was an invitation, not a command. God was ready to make a covenant with them. That covenant was that they were to obey the Law, and that by their obedience to the Ten Commandments and the spirit of their covenant they would become God's people. But when they tried to keep the Law they found that they could not do so, because of inherited weakness. Hence there was nothing more to be said to them along that line. They had had their opportunity and they had failed.
THE CALL TO REPENTANCE
When Jesus came he kept the Law, and inherited all the promises of the Law Covenant. Then He offered a share of the Kingdom which God had promised to set up (Dan. 2:44), and blessing, honor and glory to as many of the Jews as would come into harmony with Him, as many as would walk in His steps of self-sacrifice and thus have God's favor (John 1:12). In substance He said, “This is the way. Trust in Me and walk in My steps. Thus you shall be My disciples. You shall share in My sufferings now, and by and by in My glory and Kingdom.”
In due time, after a certain number had been gathered from the Jews, this message was extended to all the Gentiles who were in the right condition of heart. The Gentiles not having indicated their desire to come back into harmony with God as the Jewish nation had done, God then commanded them everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30) This He did through those who were the representatives of His teaching, the Apostles and the Church. In proportion as they understood the plan of God and were in harmony with it, they cou1d tell their neighbors that a new condition had been established and that God would deal henceforth with the Gentiles.
THE RANSOM THE BASIS OF HOPE FOR THE WORLD
Why should God deal with the Gentiles now, when he had refused to deal with them before? The explanation of this new condition is that Christ had died, and God's great plan had now matured enough to be made applicable to all men everywhere. God had appointed a day in which to judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:30,3). That great day is the next age, the day of Christ, the day of Messiah's Kingdom. God has made this provision for the redemption of all through the death of Christ. Mankind were all under the death sentence, and God could not deal with them until that sentence was lifted, or until provision was made for lifting it. He has not annulled the death sentence, but has provided a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6).
Whoever knows of this plan of redemption knows that God intends to give every individual of Adam's race an individual trial for life. That trial will not be merely to determine whether mankind w1ll try to do right and battle against all the evil influences of the world, but God will subdue sin and uplift all of Adam's race who are desirous of being uplifted.
God has declared that no member of Adam's race need die. Everyone who will may return to God through the great Atonement to be effected by the Redeemer. He has not completed this work yet, but to those who have an ear to hear, the word has gone out that there is to be a future trial, and that the manner of one's life now will have a bearing upon that trial. It is proper to tell this now, because the provision has been made through Christ's death.
THE PRESENT MESSAGE TO THE WORLD
Prior to the Gospel Age it was of no use to tell the people to come into harmony with God. But now the whole world is to be brought into a trial to help them and not to condemn them ─ a trial to see whether they are worthy to have the everlasting life that God will provide for them and assist the willing to attain. Wherever people are willing to hear, the message is, Repent! repent! Cease from sin, and this reformation of character will have an influence upon your everlasting life.
If one is not of the Church class he is not on trial for life or death. But it will be to his advantage to live uprightly, for there is a time of reckoning coming. God has provided for this day of trial in the death of Christ. Beforehand, however, the Lord is selecting a Church class. The Lord is thus preparing a great class of missionaries who will do everything possible to assist men out of sin and degradation back to harmony with God.
In times past God acted as though He did not notice when sin was committed ─ unless it was a grievous sin. Then he merely took the lives of the sinner, under unpleasant conditions ─ they went to sleep. The Prophet Ezekiel says that God took all of the Sodomites away as he saw good (Ezek. 16:50). After the Church's trial, or judgment, shall have been finished and the overcomers shall have been found worthy, then, in that time of the world's judgment, the Sodomites will have an opportunity as had the Jews who heard Jesus at the First Advent. And it will be much more tolerable then for the people of Tyre and Sidon and Sodom and Gomorrah than it will be for the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, etc.; for the latter had had opportunities of knowledge, against which they sinned; they therefore had more wilfulness in the matter than did the Sodomites. (See Matt. 11:21-24.)
At that time God had sent no command to the Sodomites to repent. So God merely “winked at” (overlooked) the ignorance and sin of that time (Acts 17:30). He neither threatened nor did anything else in the matter. He merely blotted the Sodomites out of existence. Their fate served as a foreshadowing, as the Apostle says, that God will not forever permit mankind to remain in sin, but that he will destroy the sinner. None shall be destroyed, however, until first he shall have had the opportunity for everlasting life, secured for every member of Adam's race, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
JESUS' RESURRECTION THE ASSURANCE OF GOD'S FAVOR
The Apostle recognizes the fact that the judgment had not begun in his day. He points forward to the day of Christ and declares that God's assurance now set before the world of mankind is that there will be a future time of judgment. Through Christ's sacrificial death the opportunity for everlasting life will come to all. All mankind have already been condemned in Adam. They could not have another trial until the condemnation of the first trial was lifted. Therefore, not until God had provided a Redeemer would he command any to repent. The Apostle says that God's assurance to mankind in this matter is based upon the fact that He had raised Christ from the dead (Acts 17:31).
When God had raised Jesus from the dead it became a testimony that His was a sacrificial death, an acceptable offering. And Jesus' ascension was a still further demonstration that this One whom the Father had raised from the dead by His own power, was to be the great King to rule, the great Priest to succor, assist and instruct, and the great Judge to direct and order the affairs of the world and to give proper rewards in the great day of God.
Whoever therefore hears about Jesus' death and resurrection should understand that this was God's redemption arrangement. They should also be informed that mankind are all sinners and that death is the penalty of sin. If any should ask, How does Jesus' death affect humanity? we show that God has highly
exalted Him to be a Savior. In God's due time, as soon as the elect class shall have been completed and the reign of six thousand years of sin and evil shall have ended, then He will grant redemption from sin to all ─ to the Jews first and afterwards to the Gentiles.
As many as hear now should repent; but as many as do not hear in the present time are not commanded by God to repent. St. Paul's thought seems to be, Repent now and thus influence your future conditions, even if you do not wish to become a member of the Body of Christ. Thousands of millions of mankind have gone down into death. When they are awakened during the period of Messiah's reign, this will be the great message ─ “God has opened up a fountain for cleansing from sin and uncleanness. Whosoever will may partake of the blessing and reconciliation with God and thereby attain everlasting life.” (See Zech. 13:1; Rev. 22:17.)
At present the god of this world hath blinded the world's eyes of understanding (2 Cor. 4:4), but soon their eyes will be opened. The time is coming when all shall see and hear, and when none, from the least to the greatest, will need to say, Know ye the Lord, for all shall know him. Then when they know, each will be responsible. At the end of the Millennial Age when they shall have received their full blessing through the Mediator they will be required to do God's will on earth even as it is done in heaven (Jer. 31:33,34).
FUTURE LIFE INFLUENCED BY PRESENT CONDUCT
It is a very important feature of our work to let our light so shine that men may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven ─ not their Father, but our Father (1 Pet. 2:12). The present time is not the worlds, but the Church's visitation. God is seeking the people who are in a voluntary condition of righteousness. This is not the time for dealing with the world, but for God's people, as burning and shining lights, to reprove all sins. In proportion as the light shines out it will reprove darkness.
If we speak at all about a future age it is a special part of our duty to make clear to our hearers that the conduct of life at the present time will have a bearing on the future life. To say that there are two chances ─ a chance now and a chance by and by ─ is wholly wrong. We say to them that during this Gospel Age there is only one chance, and the only way to get that chance is to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.
But for those who are by and by to be under the Mediatorial Kingdom it is proper to tell them that a life of obedience to God in harmony with the principles of righteousness will be a blessing to themselves in the present, and also in the future. There are a great many people who are living upright and honorable lives and who are doing a great deal of good in this present time. If they thought they were not doing good, they would be discouraged. An incentive to a high standard of life would be taken from them; for they believe that righteous living now has a bearing on the future. In this they are right. But their standard is not so high as that set forth in the Scriptures for the Church. That standard is necessarily high; for Saints, and Saints alone, are to be joint-heirs with Christ and members of the Bride class.
A great mistake was made in the past when Brother Calvin declared that the non-elect were to be roasted to all eternity. On the contrary, we find the teaching of God's Word to be that the non-elect are to be blessed by the elect with the opportunity for reconciliation to God ─ blessed with an opportunity for life on the earthly plane. God will use the elect class for the purpose of blessing the world of mankind. God has a loving, sympathetic plan for all of His creatures, which will be revealed to them in His own due time.
(Pastor Russell, Reprints 5083-5084, August 15, 1912)
THE FIRE OF THE DAY OF THE LORD
“The earth… and the works therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)
If this text were the only one bearing upon the subject of the fire of this Day of the Lord we would conclude that it should be considered as literal; but it is not the only Scripture. Many other Scriptures which refer to this same fire show clearly that it is a symbolic fire of destruction that is coming. We can see that fire is very properly a symbol of destruction and is so used throughout the Scriptures ─ the lake of fire, for instance, “which is the second death.” (Rev. 20:14) We find that many Scriptures refer to the coming Time of Trouble. Some refer to it as a whirlwind of trouble; others as a tempest and flood ─ a flood shall sweep away the hiding places; mountains shall be removed and carried into the midst of the sea, etc. ─ as though there would be great earthquakes and sinking of the earth and flooding of the whole world. Yet other Scriptures speak of it as a burning fire. Manifestly it cannot be all three of these in a literal sense. Then there are other Scriptures which show that these expressions are used in a symbolic sense; for instance (Zeph. 3:8,9), “Wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey; for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger; for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.” This seems to be a literal pouring out of something and a consuming of the earth with literal fire. But that it is not literal fire is proven by the very next sentence, which declares, “Then will I turn unto the people a pure language [message} that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.” Evidently the people would not remain if the earth is to be consumed with literal fire. But if, as the Scriptures show, the fire be symbolic, it is plain that people will still be here after the trouble. Then the Lord will, according to His promise, turn to them the pure message.
THE BABEL OF VOICES IN CHRISTENDOM
At the present time the message that the people receive is represented in many creeds, probably hundreds in all; hence the message is a very indistinct one and the Scriptures represent it as “Babel,” or confusion. One tongue or voice cries that the message of the Lord is free grace; another tongue or voice says it is election; a third says that only a few will get salvation; while another declares salvation will be universal; a fifth informs us that election is with water and that without the water no one will be saved. So a variety of voices is heard, and the poor world is not able to determine which is the truth. As a matter of fact they all have so much error that they condemn themselves in the minds of all reasonable people who have not been born in prejudice and steeped in error. When the Lord will turn this pure message to the people, Babylon will no longer be. She will have come to her end. The voice of the Lord will be known through the glorified Church, “And the Spirit and the bride shall say, ‘Come’! And whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely!” (Rev. 22:17) The Bride class are now on probation that it may be determined which will eventually be of that class. When the marriage of the Lamb shall have taken place, it will be the work of the “Spirit and the Bride to say ‘Come’… and whosoever will may take of the water of life freely.” This wil1be after the “burning” time is over; hence it proves that the fire refers to a Time of Trouble ─ a time of destruction against iniquity. The Lord's anger will burn against all kinds of injustice and iniquity. Wrong doing, and wrong-doers will then be punished.
The Apostle's statement respecting the Church implies that this judgment, or testing or fiery trial will begin with the church and extend to the world. If it “begin first with us” what will the end be to those who make no pretense of following the Gospel message? The Apostle again states that the “fire of that day shall try every man's work of what sort it is.” (1 Cor. 3:13) This we understand to refer especially to the Church. Everyone in the church is to be tried; his work is to be tried. However, in great measure it will be a trying time for all the world as well; all iniquity and injustice will be exposed, reprobated and destroyed. We see increasing instances of this of late ─ in the number of fire insurance presidents, for instance, who have been ex- posed. Fiery trails come upon them as the result of exposures etc. Some of these men undoubtedly hastened to the tomb, “burned” to death, we might say, by fiery trials. And a great deal of burning, heart-burning, and headaches and prostration are caused today by various exposures of one kind or another as the time advances. No doubt that Day will bring forth further developments and trouble until the prophecies respecting it shall have been completely fulfilled ─ until the picture of utter destruction of everything evil, both root and branch, is carried out (Mal. 4:1).
(Pastor Russell, Reprints 4627-4628, June 1, 1910)