“Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:31)
While it is not considered the norm in modern society to worship images, in a certain sense it is still common. Idolatry is still prevalent to a great extent in the civilized world, but in a different form from that of ancient times. We no longer bow before outward images, but before inward images – the ideal images of our minds, our mental aspirations. With some the images may be wealth and fame; with others, ease and pleasure; and with still others, the belief idols of our forefathers – miserable misrepresentations of the true God.
St. Paul on Mars Hill preached Jesus and the resurrection – Jesus as the Redeemer from the death sentence, making possible the resurrection of the dead by satisfying the demands of divine law against the sinner – the resurrection as the means by which the blessing of the Savior’s death will reach Adam and all the families of the earth. As we follow St. Paul’s thought we shall surely be blessed by his view of the Gospel.
Addressing the Gentiles, the Apostle explains that for a long time God “winked at” (overlooked) polytheism and image worship; however, God “now commandeth all men every where to repent.” (Acts 17:30) How did God “wink” at sin and idolatry? And does He still “wink” at it? And why did He change and when did He begin to command all men to repent?
For four thousand years idolatry prevailed and God “winked” at it, took no notice of it. He did not “wink” at the idolaters dying in their ignorance, and say to the devils, “Take these poor creatures who know no better! Roast them to all eternity!” Nothing of the kind. Our forefathers merely imagined that, and by false reasoning convinced themselves, and twisted some texts of Scripture which they did not properly understand in support of this theory; and then they handed it down to us to our confusion and to the testing of our faith.
God “winked” at idolatry and sin for four thousand years in the sense of not noticing it, making no comment on it, sending no reproofs, leaving the heathen in their ignorance. The only exception to this was God’s dealings with the little nation of Israel. To the Jews He gave a Law Covenant which offered eternal life on the condition of their thorough obedience to the divine law, the measure of a perfect man’s ability, which they were unable to comply with; hence they died the same as did the heathen. All went to the Bible hell, to the tomb, to sheol, to hades, the state or condition of death, an unconscious state, a “sleep.”
JESUS THE REDEEMER
God was in no hurry, however. Over four thousand years elapsed before Jesus was born, and thirty years more before He began His ministry. Had it been true, as some assert, that millions for all those centuries were blindly stumbling into eternal torture for lack of a divine revelation, we may be sure that our gracious God would not have left them without it. Who can think of a just and loving God as winking at the going of millions of His creatures to eternal torture? But since they merely “fell asleep” in death, He could very well “wink” at the matter in view of His future plans.
The fact is that no release from death could possibly be made until the redemption price had been provided for the original sin under which they were condemned to death. This is the Apostle’s argument, viz., that now God commands all men everywhere to repent. The now implies that He did not command men previously to repent; and the reason why He did not do so is obvious: all the repenting they could do and all the righteous living possible to them would not have saved them. They would have died anyway. Hence there could have been no message sent to them; for if the messenger had come and had said, “Repent, and live contrary to your fallen tastes and appetites,” the people might properly enough have said, “Why? For what reason should we practice self-denial, self-restraint? Would it bring us any blessing of everlasting life or harmony with God?” The truthful answer would have been, “No, because you are already under a death sentence and alienated from God as sinners.”
Hence God merely overlooked or “winked” at the ignorance and superstition of the period from Adam to the death of our Redeemer. But as soon as Jesus had died, “the just for the unjust,” to make reconciliation for iniquity, the message immediately went forth. God offered forgiveness and reconciliation to those who would believe in Jesus and would accept the divine terms. Such have their sins forgiven. Such may come back to fellowship with God. And, in the next age, such may eventually attain full human perfection by restitution processes, regaining all that was lost in Adam and redeemed at Calvary. (John 3:16-17)
GOD’S APPOINTED DAY
Note what the Apostle says about God’s appointed day for judging the world: God’s command to repent now goes forth to all men everywhere because God has appointed a day in the future in which He will judge the world. The Apostle does not refer to that day as already begun, but as merely appointed or arranged for in advance. God arranged that “Jesus … by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Heb. 2:9) God arranged that every individual might have a judgment or trial to determine if worthy of the opportunity that Jesus’ death provided for them. The day was future in St. Paul’s time, and it is still future, because God has other work which He purposes to accomplish before the world’s day of judgment or trial begins.
The world’s trial day, or period of judgment, or testing as to worthiness or unworthiness for everlasting life, will be one of the thousand-year days mentioned by St. Peter, who said, “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years.” (2 Pet. 3:8) The same period is called elsewhere the “day of Christ,” the day or period of Messiah’s glorious reign. By the righteous ruling of His Kingdom, by the suppression of Satan and sin and the scattering of darkness, ignorance and superstition, by the shining forth of the Sun of righteousness with healing in its beams, that glorious day will bring blessing to the world in general – opportunity for each individual to come into judgment or trial, the result of which will be either the reward of life everlasting or the punishment of death everlasting: “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” (2 Thes. 1:9)
The Apostle’s words regarding the condition of mankind as it waits for that great thousand-year day are still true: “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” The whole creation “waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:22,19) If the twenty centuries’ delay in the introduction of this great day seems long, let us not forget that it is less than half as long as the period which preceded it prior to the coming of Jesus and His death, “the just for the unjust.” (1 Pet. 3:18)
Nor is the entire period long from the divine standpoint; for as the Prophet declares: “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” (Psa. 90:4) The six great days of a thousand years each, in which sin and death have reigned, are to be followed by a great Sabbath of rest from evil – a thousand years of refreshment, reinvigoration, rebuilding, restitution. (Acts 3:19-23)
“THE MYSTERY OF GOD”
The purpose of the Gospel Age, the time between when Jesus died as man’s Redeemer and the time when He will take His Throne as the restorer of Adam and his race, is spoken of as a “mystery” because the great work of grace accomplished therein is largely hidden from the world. Faithful Jews do not understand it; they expected Messiah’s Kingdom and their own national exaltation would have come long ago. They do not know why they were outcast from the divine favor for eighteen centuries. It is a mystery to them.
The Scriptures tell us who may see and understand this mystery and when it will be finished: “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant.” (Psa. 25:14) They tell us that “in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished.” (Rev. 10:7) St. Paul refers to this mystery thus: “Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.” (Col. 1:26) He explains what the mystery is: namely, that the Church would be fellow-heirs and of the same nature with our Redeemer. (Eph. 3:3-6; Col. 1:27)
This means that the entire Church class, referred to as “the body of Christ” and “the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” is to share with the Redeemer in the sufferings of the present life and in the glories of the future. (Rom. 8:17; Eph. 4:12; Rev. 21:9) The purpose of the Gospel Age, therefore, has not been to give the world its trial for everlasting life or death; it has been for the selection and testing of the Church, preparing her to share in her Lord’s resurrection, the first resurrection. (Rev. 20:6)
In the past we have seriously misunderstood the divine purposes. We assumed without Scriptural authority that the whole world is now on trial for eternal life, failing to see that it is only the elect Church that has been on trial during the Gospel Age. We reasoned as though the Church were part of the world and, therefore, that the trial of the Church meant the trial of the world. But notice what Jesus said to the Church: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:19)
TWO DIFFERENT REWARDS
While the reward offered to both the Church and the world will be everlasting life, there will be a wide difference between the two. In both cases this everlasting life will mean full harmony with God, because “The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.” (Psa. 145:20) And again we read: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36) So the attainment of everlasting life, either by the Church or by the world, will mean coming into full harmony with the Heavenly Father and with the Lord Jesus, by the merit of Christ’s sacrifice. It will mean a full turning away from sin and a full devotion to God and to righteousness.
The difference between the reward of everlasting life for the Church and that for the world will be its nature. The world will receive everlasting life on the earthly, human plane, living in a worldwide earthly paradise or Eden. Mankind was not created in a spiritual or heavenly condition and therefore did not lose that condition through Adam’s disobedience, nor in any other manner. Never having had a spiritual nature or a right to it, he could not lose it. He was made man, “a little lower than the angels.” His crown of glory and honor was an earthly crown. His dominion was over the birds of the air, over cattle and over the fish of the sea. This was what he lost; this is what Jesus redeemed at Calvary. These things that were lost are the very things that Jesus and His elect Bride will restore to mankind during the thousand years of the Messianic Kingdom: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Gen. 1:26; Psa. 8:4-8; Luke 19:10)
The reward of the Church, eternal life, perfection and harmony with God, will be on the spirit plane – wholly different from the human. Man in perfection will again be a little lower than the angels; but the Church, as the Body of Christ, will share with her Lord in His exaltation, “Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named” – the divine nature. (Eph. 1:21) This reward comes to the Church under a special covenant of sacrifice. (Psa. 50:5)
The Church however, like her Lord, must sacrifice the earthly nature, earthly interests, hopes and aims, and must be begotten of the Father to a heavenly, spiritual nature, in order to be a sharer in the first resurrection; and she must enter into her reward before the Messianic Kingdom can be established for the blessing of mankind in general – the saving of the human race from sin and death.
Thus the Apostle Paul wrote that the groaning creation waits for the manifestation of the sons of God. (Rom. 8:19) Speaking to the Church, the Apostle John said, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be [how glorious, how great]: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him.” (1 John 3:2) The resurrection change of the Church will make them like the Savior; as it is written, “We shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” because “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 15:50-52)
Note St. Paul’s words: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1) He does not say that God commanded the Church to sacrifice; for if sacrifice were a command it would cease to be a sacrifice. Nowhere are God’s people commanded to present their bodies living sacrifices, nor to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, nor to take up the cross and follow Him. To the saintly these sacrificing features are set forth as a privilege – as an opportunity. If they do these things the divine arrangement is that through the imputation of Christ’s merit their sacrifice will be holy and acceptable to God, and they will be granted a share with the Redeemer in His high exaltation – the reward of sacrifice, of self-denial, of loving, voluntary service to God, the Truth and the brethren.
“COMMANDETH ALL TO REPENT”
But God issues a command to the world in general: Repent; turn from sin; come back to Him; seek His face; seek to know and do His will. (Acts 17:30; Psa. 105:4; Ezek. 18:21) The basis of this command is the divine declaration that God’s grace has provided redemption in the blood of Jesus, a reconciliation through His blood, and that in due time the whole world will be on trial for life or death everlasting, in a great day of trial, which God has ordained and over which Christ and the Church will supervise as judges. (1 Cor. 6:2-3)
Whoever comes to a knowledge of this great divine arrangement through Christ has an incentive to live righteously, soberly and godly in this present time. Whoever hears and heeds this command is laying up for himself a good treasure of character and preparation for his life or death trial in the great Judgment Day of the Messianic Kingdom. Whoever ignores this knowledge and “sows to the flesh” will find himself reaping to the flesh further weakness, further degradation and severer stripes or punishments in that great thousand-year Judgment Day. (Luke 12:47-48)
(Based on Pastor Russell’s Sermons, page 148, March 10, 1912)
REGARDING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
Many Christian people make the very serious mistake of not noticing the difference between the covenant which God made with fleshly Israel and the different covenant and regulations He made with spiritual Israel. They have improperly fallen into the error of trying to follow the course of natural Israel. Although it was perfectly right for the kings of natural Israel (such as Asa, King of Judah – 1 Kings 15:11-13) to interfere with other religions in the land under their control by overthrowing false worship, burning idols etc., it would be entirely wrong for any Christian king, president, governor, mayor, or anyone in a position of authority to attempt to likewise interfere with the religious arrangements of others today. The duty of the spiritual Israelite is to worship the Lord according to the dictates of his own conscience, and to leave everyone else free to do the same, not molesting him, his institutions or arrangements in any manner whatever.
The only way a Christian is permitted to influence others is by preaching, by making known to others the true God and the true worship. Even in this he has no privilege to intrude upon others without their consent; he may merely make known the good tidings to those who have “ears to hear,” to those willing to be taught. The failure to recognize this different law over spiritual Israel led to much of the religious persecution of the Dark Ages.
Those who now recognize religious liberty as proper, however, often fail to understand why anything other than religious liberty could have been proper at any other time. Such are inclined to look upon the Bible as out of date, as condoning bigotry, persecution, etc. As long as they regard the matter from this standpoint they are in great danger of becoming agnostic and unbelieving. Let us understand clearly, therefore, why the actions of Asa, king of Judah, were approved and blessed by God, but similar actions today in any nation of Christendom would not be approved by God.
The explanation is this: Israel, as a nation, entered into a special covenant with God at Mount Sinai, by which every individual of that nation, including the children, became bound to God, nationally and individually. They were bound to be His people; while God bound Himself to them to be their God, their king, their protector. In the compact or covenant the people further guaranteed that they would neither have, nor make images of, nor worship any other god. That covenant is what constituted Israel as God’s peculiar people; they became His typical Kingdom; He was their recognized King, and so it is written, “Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father.” (1 Chron. 29:23)
It was God’s throne all along; earthly representatives merely sat upon it. Hence, so long as that nation was preserved as a kingdom, it was bound by the will or law of its King, the Lord God, who specifically demanded that all idolatry be put away. God separated this one nation from all other nations of the earth, in order that He might make of them a typical nation or kingdom, foreshadowing in them the “holy nation” of spiritual Israelites to be gathered out of every nation and people, organized under Immanuel, to be the Kingdom of Heaven, ruling over and blessing all the families of the earth. (1 Pet. 2:9-10; Luke 12:32)
It would be entirely improper now for the people of the United States, for instance, to attempt to define false worship and to abolish it, or to interfere in any way with absolute religious liberty, because the people of the United States are not God’s Kingdom as Israel was God’s kingdom. God has never recognized any nation other than Israel (Amos 3:2); nor has He made covenants with other nations. The present governments of earth are all deemed “kingdoms of this world,” distinct from the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Anointed.
While the heavenly Kingdom is not yet set up in glory, each “Israelite indeed” has entered into a covenant with the Lord that he will have no other gods, and that he will render worship to no other, but will serve the Lord with all his heart, with all his mind, with all his being, with all his strength. As the nation of Israel was bound by its covenant to abolish all idols, so each individual Christian is obligated by his covenant to destroy every idol from his heart, and to worship the Lord only.
Although the heart of Asa was loyal to the Lord, his judgment was not always sound. For instance, when near the end of his reign the king of Israel (the ten tribes) manifested some hostility, Asa sent a present of gold and silver to the king of Syria to obtain his aid against Israel. This ordinarily would be termed shrewd statesmanship, but it was an error on his part. The Lord pointed this out to him through the Prophet Hanani, who said to him, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.” (2 Chron. 16:9)
Thus we see that the statement that his heart was right before God does not at all signify that he was right in the sense that we would use the word in connection with the Lord’s people during the Gospel Age. The expression that his heart was right evidently signifies merely that he honestly, conscientiously, sought to do the Lord’s will, as the king of Judah, in the putting away of idolatry, and in the enforcement of the Mosaic Law. The use of the same expression with regard to the Lord’s consecrated people of the Gospel Age would mean a great deal more – a full consecration in thought, and, so far as possible, of word and deed.
(Based on an excerpt from Reprint 2362)
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