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VOL. XVII. JUNE 1, 1896. No. 11.
Special Items……………………………… 118
Venial and Mortal Sins……………………… 119
Poem: A Sermon for Children………………… 123
The Thief in Paradise……………………… 124
Questions and Answers……………………… 125
Bible Study: Warning to the Disciples…………………………… 126
Bible Study: Christ Jesus Crucified…………… 128
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VENIAL AND MORTAL SINS
ANY violation of divine law is sin; whether committed willingly or unwillingly.—1 John 3:4; James 2:10.
The terms “venial” and “mortal” as relating to sins are seldom used outside of the Church of Rome, the great counterfeit of the true Church; yet by the use of these terms two classes of sins are distinguished, properly and Scripturally, although in a way which the Church of Rome fails to recognize.
A “venial sin” is one which may be forgiven or pardoned—a pardonable sin.
A “mortal sin” is one which is not forgivable. It is a deadly sin: one incurring the penalty of death—everlasting death.
The apostle John (1 John 5:16,17) refers to both of these sins, saying,—
“There is a sin unto death [a mortal sin]: I do not say that he shall pray for it [to ask or expect its forgiveness]. … And there is a sin, not unto death [a venial sin].”
There is but one penalty expressed against sin by the Creator and Lawgiver. “The wages of sin is death.” “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Rom. 6:23; Ezek. 18:4.) But the great and just Judge never sits in judgment upon a case in which the one on trial has not a full and fair opportunity to know and do his duty. Thus it was in Adam’s trial: he was created a perfect man in his Creator’s image and placed amid a favorable environment where obedience was both possible and reasonable; and he was fully advised that the penalty of transgression would be death. (Gen. 2:17.) And thus in every case tried before the Supreme Judge of the universe and found guilty, the only penalty is death;—hence all sin is mortal sin at his bar.
But God purposed a redemption for Adam and his race through Christ. He therefore provided for the ransom-sacrifice—the sinless Jesus for the sinner Adam and the race condemned in him. Thus the race of Adam was bought by Jesus with his own precious blood; divine law was vindicated (Rom. 3:26), and the race by God’s will was in new hands for trial; for thus justly God committed the judgment of all to the Son (John 5:22; Acts 17:31), under the conditions of the New Covenant. All who come to know of the grace of God in Christ and the New Covenant, and who accept it, are reckoned as lifted out of the mortal sin of Adam and its consequences, and granted a new trial for life under the New Covenant, which takes cognizance of their fall and imperfection, and treats all their sins and shortcomings as “venial” or forgivable sins, except such as are committed intentionally or wilfully.
All true Christians will of course seek to avoid every form of sin, and in all things will seek to do that which is pleasing to the Lord. But all, soon or later, find that they have the treasure of the new nature, the new will,
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in an earthen vessel (2 Cor. 4:7); and that the imperfections of the earthen vessel (our human bodies) more or less mar all our efforts to please and serve God. Consequently, even the most devout find that they need to go repeatedly to the throne of divine grace, that they “may obtain mercy [forgiveness], and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb. 4:16.) And knowing that there are some sins that are not forgivable,
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it becomes important to all the saints to know just what is the difference; not that we may continue in (venial) sins that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1,2); for so to do would be to sin wilfully, which would change the sin from venial to mortal; but that we may be the more upon our guard against all sins; and that, on the other hand, those who have tender consciences may not unjustly accuse themselves of the sin unto death and become hopeless.
Because we are imperfect in our judgments by reason of the fall, we all need divine instruction and “the spirit of a sound mind.” Otherwise some would err in one direction and others in the opposite. For instance, some are of a humble, self-accusing mind, constantly disposed to judge themselves too harshly, and to forget that God “knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust”; and that, had it been possible for us to have commended ourselves to God by our works and words and thoughts, judged by his standard or law, then there would have been no redemption necessary, no sprinkling of our hearts with the precious blood, no imputing of the justification or righteousness of Christ, through faith. Of this class, usually, are those who are oppressed with a fear that they have committed mortal sin, while those who seem to commit the sin unto death are generally quite self-satisfied and have no suspicion of the penalty upon them. This latter class, like the Pharisees of old, have so much self-esteem and self-satisfied assurance that they often estimate their errors, weaknesses and imperfections as graces. Quite a few of them even go to the extreme of boasting perfection and believe, or at least profess to believe, that they have not for years come short of God’s perfect standard. Of course, in such a frame of mind they cannot come to the throne of grace to obtain mercy; for perfection needs no mercy. They, on the contrary, more and more, lose their appreciation of the redeeming blood; and when in course of time the Adversary sets before them the doctrine that Christ was not our Redeemer, but merely our pattern for holy living, many of them are ready to deny the Lord that bought them, to count the blood of the covenant a common thing, and to do despite to the spirit of divine favor and mercy—relying upon their so-called “perfect” works;—which really are “filthy rags” of unrighteousness, in God’s sight. Their trouble is that they have not before them the perfect standard by which to know their own imperfections.
It is therefore of great importance that we all should form our judgments according to the revealed mind of God on this subject, as upon all others.
Under the Law Covenant given to Israel, no such distinction obtained respecting sins: there were no venial sins; all sins were mortal sins. Hence the Apostle, speaking of that Law, and of himself as under it, says, “The commandment which was ordained unto life I found to be unto death.” Under that Law the wages of sin was death; and nothing short of that.—Rom. 7:10.
True, Israelites were granted a typical Atonement Day, on account of which sins were covered for a year; but the necessity for repeating their sacrifices yearly proved that the sin was not actually canceled, but remained. (Heb. 10:11.) Thus the penalty of the Law Covenant upon all Israelites would have been death, everlasting death, just as in Adam’s case, had it not been that our Lord, by the one sacrifice, did a double work. He not only redeemed the world by becoming Adam’s substitute, but he was born under the Law that he might [also] redeem those that were [condemned] under the Law Covenant.—Gal. 4:4,5.
As all the world were actually in Adam and could be redeemed by one sacrifice, so all Israel were represented in one man, Moses (1 Cor. 10:2), the Mediator of their Law Covenant; in order that in due time the antitype of Moses might meet all the requirements of the Law Covenant, and fulfil it, and supplant it with the New Covenant. Thus Christ is become “the end of the Law Covenant for righteousness to every one [every Israelite] that believeth.” (Rom. 10:4.) Thus Jews under the New Covenant find their unavoidable imperfections no longer mortal [deadly] sins but venial [forgivable] sins.—Heb. 9:15.
It is the Gospel, under the New Covenant, sealed with the precious blood of Christ, that speaks pardon and mercy to believing (and penitent) sinners in respect to all manner of sin and blasphemy, except one, which can never be forgiven; neither in the present age nor in the age to come.—Matt. 12:31,32.
The sins and blasphemies which may be forgiven are such as are committed in ignorance. The sins which cannot be pardoned are the wilful sins. Our race, because of the fall, is greatly under the dominion of weakness, ignorance, blindness, etc., inherited from Adam and augmented by all of our progenitors. And our Lord Jesus, having paid the penalty of Adam’s transgression, can justly remit and forgive for his people all responsibility for such defects as they do not endorse but are striving against.
The sins and blasphemies which cannot be forgiven are such as were not covered by the ransom. While God’s grace of forgiveness in Christ is for “many offences” (Rom. 5:16), it is because those many offences are directly or indirectly the result of the first offence—Adam’s disobedience—which was fully offset by the obedience and sacrifice of Christ on behalf of Adam and all his race. Hence, all those who come to a clear comprehension of right and wrong, righteousness and sin, and who then deliberately choose the sin, the wrong, not because of inherited weaknesses, physical,
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mental and moral, but of preference for unrighteousness,—such cannot claim that their fault was of ignorance, nor of heredity; and hence it would be a fresh and wilful sin like the first; and is not covered by the ransom which redeemed from the first transgression. It is therefore a fresh sin unto death (a mortal sin), for which Christ did not die; and “Christ dieth no more.” Only one redemption is provided. Such a sinner must die for his own sin; his life is forever forfeited; he can do nothing to recover it; and it is not God’s will that Christ or any other creature should redeem such again, seeing they chose sin, after they clearly comprehended its character and knew that they had been redeemed from its power. You need not pray for such, says the Apostle John. We must pray in harmony with the divine plan and arrangement if we would have our prayers answered.
Thus we have before our minds, in a general way, the fact that the only mortal sins are those committed against considerable knowledge, and of evil intention, wilfully. It is not, we think, unreasonable to suppose that, in comparison with the whole world of mankind, these intelligent, wilful sinners are now comparatively few; just as the saints are a “little flock”; and in part for the same reason,—because, as it requires the light of the knowledge of God to permit us to choose the right and accept Christ and be justified by faith, and to be sanctified through the truth, so it requires light to reject Christ and his righteousness and to choose wilful sin, unrighteousness. However, the fact that comparatively few during the Gospel age have had light and opportunity sufficient to permit them to be of the “little flock,” the “few chosen” to be the kings and priests in the Millennial Kingdom, and the fact that few for the same reason could commit full mortal sin, does not prove that only a few will ever commit mortal sin. When, during the Millennium, the conditions are favorable for all for the attainment of Everlasting Life, the same favorable conditions will make it possible for all to commit mortal sin, whose penalty is the Second Death. We have no assurance that the “sheep” will outnumber the “goats.” (And although in Europe and America the flocks of literal sheep do outnumber the goats, yet in the land of Palestine, where our Lord spoke the parable, their numbers even at this day are about equal.)
It is evident, therefore, that as the vast majority of our race (heathen and imbecile), dying and dead, have not yet been enlightened by “that true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9), they cannot have committed mortal sin, and hence are not under sentence of the Second Death, however ignorantly wicked they may have been; because under the New Covenant no sin is mortal (deadly), of which ignorance or inherited weakness is the cause. And this New Covenant was made available for all, “for every man,” and must be “testified in due time” to all. This opens before us the blessed thought that, though these heathen billions are yet in their sins, which cannot be blotted out except by faith, under the terms of the New Covenant, they are nevertheless not doomed to the Second Death. Their sins, judged by the New Covenant, would be venial and may be pardoned by their Redeemer; and themselves may be prepared for eternal life by certain experiences in purification in the great Purgatory—Christ’s Millennial Kingdom—so different from the unscriptural Purgatory of Roman Catholic theology. Praise God for the worldwide redemption from Adam’s mortal sin; and for the gracious provision that none of the ransomed race, except intelligent, wilful sinners, will be remanded to death,—the Second Death.
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MIXED SINS—PARTLY WILFUL
If it were merely a question of wilful or not wilful sins, it would be comparatively easy to decide respecting our own shortcomings and those of others; but it is a more difficult question. The Christian may be considered in some respects a dual being: he not only has his natural body, depraved by inherited sins and weaknesses, and his natural mind also depraved, and in sympathy with the weaknesses of the flesh, but he has also his renewed mind or will, which desires to serve the law of God. These two minds or wills are contrary: they cannot be harmonized; and the man who endeavors to recognize both, and to make the two joint-rulers of his mortal body, is the “double-minded man,” “unstable in all his ways,” described by the Apostle James (1:8). The “lukewarm,” neither cold nor hot, neither for sin nor against sin, are failures in every sense of the word. (Rev. 3:16.) God wants positive characters, and others will not be approved or accepted.
In every case, then, the new mind must be in control, and the depraved, fleshly mind must be subjected to it for destruction. But here comes the difficulty. The natural mind (“heart”) is deceitful above all things, and desperate as well as wicked (Jer. 17:9), and the various members of our bodies in their depravity sympathize with the natural mind and favor it; so that when the new mind battles with the old mind and pursues it to destroy it, the latter feigns to be dead, and hides quietly for a time, only to come forth more craftily later.
So then, with the Apostle, we can realize that even when the new mind is enthroned as the ruler of these mortal bodies, the old mind or will, favorable to sin, although dethroned and reckoned dead, is not actually dead, and will not be as long as our mortal bodies are
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defective—i.e., until death. Hence we must daily mortify [deaden] the will and deeds of the flesh. But sometimes the deadened will of the depraved flesh (selfish, or impure, or in any event despicable to the new will, “the mind of Christ”), encouraged and helped by the influence of the “spirit of the world” or by the devil (perhaps as a messenger of light to deceive), rises up to ensnare and destroy the new will and its new hopes and aspirations. In such cases how many have suffered at least partial and temporary defeat, until they have remembered to call for reinforcements of strength from Him who has promised to never leave nor forsake us, and to give grace and strength for every time of need. Then we realized that greater is he that is on our part, than all them that be against us,—within and without.—Rom. 8:23,31.
And when such a battle is ended, and the new will sits down to reckon the damage inflicted by the raid of the old will, there must be some self-crimination—”Oh! why was I not more watchful? I knew from experience that I was quite vulnerable at the point from which the attack came. Nor did I repel the attack with proper diligence. I almost fear that I was willing to have the attack, and that I encouraged the enemy, Sin; and if so, was it not disloyalty to the Lord? And was it not also a wilful sin, since the new will did not repel it with sufficient energy?”
Was this a venial or a mortal sin?
Such a case as we have described would not be a mortal sin. This is shown by the fact that the new will eventually holds the field of battle, and that so far from having pleasure in the wreck of good resolutions and hopes and prayers, etc., etc., it feels chagrin, shame and contrition for failure to have done all that could have been done to oppose the depraved will. On the contrary, those who have sinned wilfully and with full intent, and whose sin is mortal, do not feel penitent; but afterward approve their sin, and boast of it, generally as greater light and liberty. (See Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26-31.) In the latter text (verse 27), the “fearful looking for of judgment” does not refer to the wilful sinner, who is bold, defiant and self-satisfied, but to the people of God, who realize the fearfulness of the position of those who “count the blood of the Covenant a common thing,” despising God’s favor therein extended, and preferring to stand in the filthy rags of their own unrighteousness.
But such a sin as we have described would not be wholly a venial sin if the will consented to it in any degree;—if only to the extent of not resisting it. If there was anything that could have been done and was thought of to resist it, but was not done, preferring to taste again “the pleasures of sin” only for a brief season, it would seem to contain a measure of wilful sin. Such is a mixed sin. Chiefly it originates with the weakness of the flesh and inherited weakness, aggravated by outside temptations, all of which are elements of venial sin, forgivable upon repentance, confession and restitution to the extent of ability, through the merit of the sin-offering presented by our great High Priest. “If any man [in Christ] sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”; “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 2:1; 1:9.) But to the extent that the will consented to sin, even for a moment, it was unforgivable; and for that measure of responsibility we must expect to suffer “stripes”; i.e., chastisements. This is dangerous, too, for every such raid by the old nature encourages and strengthens it for fresh attacks, and weakens and discourages the new nature, and tends to grieve the holy spirit whereby we are sealed; and, if encouraged, the new will would soon expire, the old will obtain complete mastery, and soon we would be walking after the flesh and not after the spirit; and “the end of those things is death”—the Second Death. It is evident, therefore, that the tendency of mixed sin is toward mortal sin.
Whenever we find that we have been overcome of evil, we should “judge ourselves:” we should scrutinize our own course, and not only feel contrite toward God, and resolved to be more vigilant and more faithful in the future, but we should right the wrong to the extent of our ability, and humble ourselves before the Lord. The Apostle says, “If we would judge [reprove, correct] ourselves, we should not be judged [reproved, corrected, by the Lord]; but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord [punished with “stripes”], that we should not be condemned with the world.”—1 Cor. 11:31,32; 1 Tim. 5:24.
THE SIN AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT
A brief definition of sin or blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would be,—Any transgression, or words of evil disdain, against the light of truth, the spirit of truth, when clearly discerned. Such a sin contains at least a measure of wilfulness, and that measure cannot be forgiven. It must be expiated. If there were no extenuating circumstances, of weakness, blindness, temptation, etc., its expiation would cost the life of the transgressor, and constitute his share in the Second Death. But if, as generally now, there be extenuating circumstances, the transgressor, by availing himself of the terms of the New Covenant, may have forgiveness to the extent of the ignorance or other extenuation, and may expiate the wilful elements of the transgression by suffering “stripes,”—chastisements. These chastisements
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may consist in the natural consequences of a wrong course, or in special retribution or discipline by means of adversity, sickness, etc.
Sometimes the light may be very clear and the wilful wrong-doing very pronounced, as in the case of the Pharisees who heard the Lord’s teaching and saw him cast out a devil, and said, He casteth out devils by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of devils. They were at least partly blinded by Satan and ignorance (Matt. 15:14; Acts 3:17); hence had they rejected Jesus and denied that he was the Messiah promised by the Lord through the prophets, had they called him a fraud and a hypocrite, all this might have been attributable to their blindness, and might have been forgivable as venial sin, under the gracious terms of the New Covenant. But when they blasphemed the holy power, the holy spirit of God, operating through Jesus, to good works and never to evil works, they were overstepping their ignorance, and stating wickedly, wilfully, what they could not have believed. To that extent, therefore, they were guilty of more than venial sin. Because of this wilfulness their blasphemy became a sin which could never be forgiven, “neither in this world [age], neither in the world [age] to come.” No provision has been made (nor ever will be made, as we understand the divine plan), for forgiving any wilful sin, except Adam’s first transgression. All other wilful sins must be punished.
But as the blasphemy of the Pharisees was more than a venial sin, so it was less than a mortal sin, because they did not sin against a clear understanding: they were “blind leaders of the blind,” as our Lord testified (Matt. 15:14); and they did considerable in ignorance, as Peter testified. (Acts 3:17.) This unpardonable sin of the Pharisees, therefore, was one of the “mixed sins” which must needs receive a just penalty, proportionate to its wilfulness, in the Millennium, when the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of his glory and judge the world in righteousness.
It would have been a very different matter, had these Pharisees been disciples, and had they witnessed all of his mighty works and heard all of his precious words, and had they been privately instructed as were the twelve Apostles (Matt. 13:11), and with them made partakers of Christ’s holy spirit, so that, in his name and power, they themselves cast out devils and healed diseases. In this respect—that they sinned against partial, not complete, evidence—consists the difference between
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their sin and the sin of Judas,* by which his and not theirs was mortal sin.
*See “Judas’ Case a Hopeless One,” in our issue of Apr. 15, ’96
Their case differed, too, from that of the enlightened, consecrated and spirit-begotten sons of this Gospel age. Because of our greater enlightenment and clearer perception, such a sin on our part would mean more wilfulness because of greater intelligence. It would probably mean mortal sin to us. Even in their case the Lord saw such a wrong condition of heart that he said, “Ye hypocrites, how can ye escape the condemnation of Gehenna [symbol of the Second Death].” The intimation clearly is, that many of them, having developed such perverse characters, so out of accord with righteousness, will, even when blessed with the fuller light and opportunity of the Millennium, be likely to come under the sentence of death. The lesson to us is, that even those who are not of the Church, now on trial, if they have come in contact with the light, have thereby come under some responsibility. Each one is either preparing and building a character or destroying one, getting more ready or less ready to benefit by the Millennial reign of righteous judgment. Our Lord’s judgment (in the day of judgment,—the Millennium), as between those who knew and those who did not know his will, was expressed pointedly when he declared that, it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for the city that rejected the Gospel messengers; because they sinned against greater light.—See Matt. 10:15.
Whoever has heard something of the Truth has a great responsibility. Whoever has opportunity to learn more, whether he uses it or not, has greater responsibility. He who sins (with wilfulness) against a little light shall suffer some “stripes” or punishment. He who sins with wilfulness against more light or more opportunity for light will receive “many stripes.” He who sins with complete wilfulness against a clear understanding of the truth has committed a full sin in the full sense of the word, and will receive the full penalty of sin—death—the Second Death.
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A SERMON FOR CHILDREN
The roses are in bloom to-day!
Come, children, from your games away
A while to listen in the bower,
And learn from every blooming flower
Truths golden that shall evermore
Be garnered with the heart’s rich store!
Within the garden meet our view
Roses of varied form and hue,
Unfolding now their graceful bloom,
Lading the air with sweet perfume;
From tiny buds to full blooms sweet,
They bend in clusters round our feet.
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Some robed in white are here displayed,
And dainty ones in pink arrayed;
Some in their golden glory shine;
Some wear the crimson hue of wine.
Charmed by their grace and beauty rare,
We cull some buds and blossoms fair.
Some that were once as fair and gay
We see now fading fast away.
Within the garden’s blooming space,
Can we not here a semblance trace?
And read in this, the rose-crowned rod,
The love and power of nature’s God?
Only a few short months ago,
The roses lay in death below;
In glad springtime the sun and rain
Aroused from sleep to life again;
Triumphant, they arose to bloom
In beauty o’er their winter tomb.
The buds seem like to childhood’s day,
When happy children laugh and play;
The half-blown rose an emblem seems
Of youth, when life is sweet with dreams;
Youth slow expands in grace and power
Till, like the glowing, full-blown flower,
It zenith gains; then age draws on,
And soon the span of life is gone.
The roses spring to bloom their day,
Are early culled or fade away;
So, soon or late, all yield their breath,
Beneath the cruel hand of Death.
The God who clothes the roses fair,
Does he not for his creatures care?
Ah, yes! they’ll rise from out death’s gloom.
He by whose law the roses bloom
In love devised a wondrous plan
To save from death his creature, man:
His Son for all a ransom gave;—
Suffered e’en death our souls to save,
And rose to life on high again
Eternal life to give to men.
He holds the key of Death’s closed gates;
The due time only he awaits.
In all of nature’s wide domain,
There law and order ever reign;
Just so within the realm of grace:
For all things there’s a time, a place;
When, as around its seasons roll,
They bring a springtime for the soul,
Christ will unlock their silent tomb,
And bid them rise again to bloom;
Then all who love the right and truth
Shall flourish on in fadeless youth.
Here let us pause. Again behold
The roses—how their leaves unfold:
The bud, unfolding hour by hour,
At length displays the perfect flower;
Slowly its petals all unfold;
Then do we see the heart of gold.
So, too, unfold God’s plans of grace;
His scheme, deep-laid, no man could trace,
Till time the mystery unsealed;
The hidden riches stood revealed.
The roses their sweet sermon preach,
Graving it deep as any speech.
Does not each glorious blooming flower
Proclaim the wisdom and the power
Of Him who, from his throne above,
Watches o’er all his works in love?
MARY E. PENNOCK.
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THE THIEF IN PARADISE
“He said to Jesus, Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And he [Jesus] said to him [the penitent thief], Indeed I say to thee this day, thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”—Luke 23:42,43.
THOSE who consider salvation to be an escape from everlasting torture to a paradise of pleasure, and dependent only on accidental circumstances of favor, see exemplified in this narrative the doctrine of election—that our Lord Jesus, pleased by the consoling words of the one thief, elected him to heaven, and equally elected that the other should suffer to all eternity, unpitied and unrelieved. Truly, if God has made salvation such a lottery, such a chance thing, those who believe it to be such should have little to say against church lotteries, and less against worldly ones.
But this is not the case. This Scripture has been much misunderstood. To get its true import, let us take in the surroundings and connections.
The Lord had just been condemned, and was now being executed on the charge of treason against Caesar’s government, in saying that he was a king; though he had told them that his kingdom was “not of this world.” There, upon the cross above his head, written in three languages, was the crime charged against him: “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Those about knew of his claims and derided him, except one of the thieves crucified alongside. Doubtless he had heard of Jesus and his wonderful character and works, and said in his heart: This is truly a strange and wonderful man. Who can know that there is no foundation to his claims? He certainly lives close to God. I will speak to him in sympathy: it can do no harm. Then he rebuked his companion, mentioning the Lord’s innocence; and then the conversation above noted took place.
We cannot suppose that this thief had correct or definite ideas of Jesus—nothing more than a mere feeling that as he was about to die, any straw of hope was better than nothing. To give him credit for more would be to place him in faith ahead of all the Lord’s apostles and followers, who at this time had fled dismayed, and who, three days after, said: “We [had] trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.”—Luke 24:21.
We can have no doubt as to the import of his petition:
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he meant that whenever Jesus reached his kingdom power, he desired favor. Now note our Lord’s answer. He does not say that he has no kingdom; but, on the contrary, he indicates by his response that the thief’s request was a proper one. The word translated “verily” or “indeed” is the Greek word “amen,” and signifies “So be it,” or “Your request is granted.” “I say to thee this day [this dark day, when it seems as though I am an impostor, and I am dying as a felon], thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” The substance of this promise is that, when the Lord has established his kingdom it will be a Paradise, and the thief will be remembered and be in it. Notice that we have changed the comma from before to after the word “today.”
This makes our Lord’s words perfectly clear and reasonable. He might have told the thief more if he had chosen. He might have told him that the reason he would be privileged to be in Paradise was because his ransom was then and there being paid. He might have told him further that he was dying for and ransoming the other thief also, as well as the whole gaping and deriding multitude before him, the millions then entombed, and the millions yet unborn. We know this because we know that “Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man,” “gave himself a ransom for all,” that all in due time might have opportunity to return to the Edenic condition, forfeited by the first man’s sin, and redeemed for men by Christ’s righteous sacrifice.—Heb. 2:9; 1 Tim. 2:5,6; Acts 3:19.
As already shown, the garden of Eden was but an illustration of what the earth will be when fully released from the curse—perfected and beautified. The word “paradise” is of Arabic origin, and signifies a garden. The Septuagint renders Gen. 2:8 thus: “God planted a paradise in Eden.” When Christ shall have established his kingdom, and bound evil, etc., this earth will gradually become a paradise, and the two thieves and all others that are in their graves shall come into it, and then by becoming obedient to its laws they may live in it and enjoy it forever. We doubt not, however, that the kind words spoken in that dark hour to the suffering Savior will no more lose a special and suitable reward than the gift of a cup of water, or other small kindnesses, done to those whom this King is “not ashamed to call his brethren.”—Matt. 10:42.
But have we a right to change the comma? Certainly: the punctuation of the Bible is not inspired. The writers of the Bible used no punctuation. It was invented about four hundred years ago. It is merely a modern convenience, and should be so used as to bring out sense, and harmony with all other Scriptures. This harmony and sense are obtained only by the punctuation we have given above. As usually punctuated, the passage would teach that the Lord and the thief went that day to a place called paradise, a statement contrary to the following Scriptures, which read carefully:—Luke 24:46; John 20:17; 3:13.
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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Question.—I am a news agent, and as such have calls for vile novels and newspapers giving novels as supplements. What do you think, from a Christian standpoint, of my dealing in such papers?
Answer.—You ask a straightforward question, and no doubt desire a straightforward answer. We reply that we cannot see how saints can do a general book-business under prevailing conditions. We would consider the dealing out of poisonous mental food about as bad as the selling of spirituous liquors, and much worse than dealing in adulterated natural foods. We believe that the mind is the most important part of the man, and our conscience would be extremely sensitive as to what we would put before our fellow creatures, or in any manner induce them to use to their injury.
This advice, we fear, will be very far reaching in its relations to your business; but your candid inquiry demands it.
Question.—Please explain 1 Cor. 15:29.
Answer.—The word “for” in the Greek signifies “on behalf of.” The thought of the Apostle seems to be that our immersion into death is made on behalf of the “dead,” not those who are in the tomb, but those who are nominally alive, though under sentence to death because of sin, “dead in trespasses and sins,” dead in God’s sight, condemned in Adam. We would not need to sacrifice anything were it not for the dead and dying
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condition of the world, and it is on their behalf (to bring them to Christ or to serve them after they are brought to Him, and to shine as lights in the world, reproving sin) that it is necessary for us to lay down our lives. Therefore, while our sacrifice is no part of the ransom price, it is, as Paul expresses it in his letter to the Colossians (1:24), a filling up of “that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ for his body’s sake.”
Question.—Please harmonize 1 Pet. 3:19,20 and 1 Pet. 4:6 with other Scriptures stating that the dead “know not anything.”
Answer.—For explanation of the former passage see TOWER for July 15, ’94. With this 1 Pet. 4:6 has no connection. It refers to the preaching of the Gospel to men resting under the Adamic penalty. In the Lord’s estimation the entire race is dead, even though some have a measure of what we call “life.” So our Lord expressed it when he said to one, “Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59,60.) We do not understand by this that our Lord required the disciple to absent himself from the funeral of his own father; but the young man was already a disciple (Matt. 8:21), and his thought probably was to leave the Lord’s service and serve his father until his death. Our Lord knew that if he served
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his father for several years, other business or pleasure would crowd upon him, and he might never return to the higher service.
Those of the “dead” who hear the Gospel and accept it are reckoned as passed from death unto life, as translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. Thenceforth, though men continue to judge of them according to the flesh, and by the outward appearance, they are judged by God according to the intents of the mind, here rendered “spirit.”
Question.—What did the Lord mean when he said, “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”
Answer.—Nicodemus was no doubt acquainted with the fact that John the baptist had conducted a ministry, calling upon the people to repent of their sins and reform their lives, and that those who accepted his teaching were immersed in water as signifying that change of life. Our Lord and the apostles seem to have continued the arrangement to a considerable extent, preaching likewise, Reform ye, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. This water baptism became, therefore, to the Jews a symbol of reformation of heart and life. As only a mere fragment of the conversation with Nicodemus is reported, it is fair to suppose that the entire teaching and custom of our Lord with reference to the conditions for entrance into the Kingdom He preached were discoursed upon. In this conversation our Lord seems to bring out the fact that such a baptism unto repentance was not sufficient to insure entrance into the Kingdom, but that as the baptism symbolized a reformation, and thus the birth of a new character, it must needs be supplemented with the begetting of the spirit before the Kingdom privileges could be claimed. Hence it was that they were exhorted not only to be symbolically begotten and born to a reformed life, by baptism in water, but also to seek the begetting and birth of the spirit to the spirit nature.
In this connection it is well to remember that the Jews addressed by John and the disciples of Jesus were already God’s people by covenant, and were already reckonedly justified; but that on account of disobedience to their covenant they needed to reform, and to return again to harmony with God in order that they might be fit subjects for the privileges and liberties of the Gospel age; namely, to become sons of God through begetting of the spirit now, and through birth of the spirit in the resurrection.
For other suggestions on this conversation see DAWN, VOL. I., pp.277-282. On the subject of baptism see TOWER, June 15, ’93.
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WARNING TO THE DISCIPLES
—JUNE 7.—Luke 22:24-37.—
Golden Text—”Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”—Phil. 2:5.
ALTHOUGH the twelve apostles had been for three years in very intimate association with Jesus and had been greatly benefited and blessed by the association, they had yet many things to learn, and one of the last lessons that Jesus endeavored to impress upon them was that of humility and self-forgetful service of others. The occasion of this lesson was furnished by a little discussion among them on the evening of the last supper, as to which should be greatest. The context seems to indicate that the discussion originated with Peter; for while they all seem to have been involved, or at least interested in the discussion, and all were addressed in the Lord’s reply, a pointed portion of the answer was addressed specially to Peter. Peter was one of the most prominent and active of the apostles, and by his zeal and energy he naturally became a leading one, as he himself probably realized in a measure, and the others doubtless conceded.
But the Lord realized what the apostles evidently did not, that even a very little prominence may become a dangerous snare unless it be coupled with great humility. Hence the warning to the disciples, and especially to Peter, against the ambition for self-exaltation and preferment. The warning lesson was given by an apt illustration, Jesus himself, their Lord and Master, performing for them the most humble service, washing their feet. (Compare Luke 22:1,24; John 13:1,13-17.) To the illustration he also added his words of counsel, showing how different must be the disposition among his disciples from that which characterizes the godless world.
“And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.” Thus he called attention to the fact that the disposition of the world is toward tyranny on the one hand, and servility on the other; the one class becoming arrogant and self-assertive, and the other class dependent and truckling, both of which are ignoble traits of character which he desired to see entirely eliminated from all of his disciples. “But ye shall not be so [Ye shall not cultivate in yourselves a spirit of arrogant pride, by seeking to lord it over others; nor shall ye cultivate in others a spirit of truckling servility, unworthy of noble manhood], but [on the other hand, cultivate in yourselves the spirit of humility and loving service, “in honor preferring one another”; and thus, also, by example, show others how becoming and beautiful is true worth of mind and heart linked with loving, self-forgetful humility] he that is greatest among you [he that has superior ability of one kind or another, let him not allow his talent to be offset by a corresponding
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weakness of character which tends to self-glorification, and is easily intoxicated with the spirit of pride and selfish ambition, but let him think soberly of himself, realizing how far short he is of actual perfection], let him be as the younger [very meek and modest]; and he that [by qualifications and providential circumstances] is chief, as he that doth serve.” “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”—Matt. 20:27,28.
Peter, while considering the question of superiority with some measure of self-complacency, little knew how great a trial would in a few hours put the metal of his character to the test. Nor did the other disciples comprehend the critical hour to which they had come. But the Lord fully realized it, and endeavored to prepare them for it; and to Peter he solemnly said, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat [this is no time for considering questions of superiority and self-exaltation; it is a time for sober thought and for humble watchfulness and prayer]. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not [under the coming trial], and when thou art converted [from this disposition, to a sober humility, then] strengthen thy brethren.” The other brethren would also need strengthening, and Peter’s hopefulness and fervent devotion and leading characteristics would be of great service to them; but not until he himself should first come into the proper attitude. But Peter, still unconscious of his weakness and his need, though full of loving loyalty to the Lord, replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee into prison and to death.” But Jesus knew his weakness, and said, “I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me”; and it was so. So great was the trial that all the disciples were in dismay, and though they loved the Lord, yet in fear they all forsook him and fled (Matt. 26:56); and while Peter, loth to leave him, followed him afar off, yet by and by his devotion succumbed to his fears so that he openly denied him.
How much Peter needed the Lord’s prayer and warning, and how graciously the Lord considered his need! But while we thus view Peter’s error and Peter’s need, as well as the needs of all the disciples, let us not forget our own; for we also are men of like passions: a very little exaltation, a very little success or praise or preferment, often serves to engender a pride of heart
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which becomes manifest to others in unbecoming self-inflation and self-exaltation. Let us guard against these tendencies by prayer and by the cultivation of humble, sober thought, remembering always the inspired teaching, “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth”; and with the apostles, let our rejoicing be this,—”the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom [the wisdom of this world which depends on self and takes credit to self], but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.”—2 Cor. 1:12.
While the words of warning were solemnly given, the Lord did not forget to give them also words of encouragement, pointing them to the glory to follow the present scenes of suffering and humiliation, saying, “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me, that ye may eat and drink at my table and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Yes, the end of all the humiliation and cross-bearing and suffering according to the will of God in this present time was to be the glory of the kingdom and joint-heirship with Christ. But none can gain that glory except by the way of present humiliation and cross-bearing. “And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” “And whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”—Luke 9:23; 14:27; Matt. 10:38.
This present Gospel age is the appointed time for this cross-bearing, when all the true members of the body must “fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of the Christ”; for the body, as was also the Head, must be subjected to the discipline of suffering and thereby be proved worthy to reign with him. It is important, therefore, that we realize this; for if we turn aside from the path of humiliation and daily cross-bearing, and strive for present exaltation and preferment, we are forgetting the very conditions upon which the future exaltation depends, and seeking instead the mean rewards of the present.
In verses 35-37 the Lord indicated that the disciples would henceforth meet with changed conditions in their work. Hitherto he had sent them out without purse or scrip or shoes (Mark 6:7-11) to preach the gospel of the Kingdom to a covenant people whose duty it was to receive and entertain the messengers of the Lord, and whose receiving or rejecting of them would be a test of their fidelity to God as his covenant people. In receiving the disciples of Christ they were to that extent receiving Christ, and the Father also whom he represented—”He that receiveth you receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.”—Matt. 10:40.
In thus going forth under the Lord’s direction, and as his representatives, the disciples had lacked nothing, and great success attended their labors; for the common people heard them gladly, and were greatly moved by their teachings and their works. But henceforth they would find all this changed; “for,” said he, “I say unto you that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me. And he was reckoned among the transgressors; for the things concerning me have an end [the prophecies concerning me are about to be fulfilled in my crucifixion].” Israel as a nation had now rejected Jehovah’s Anointed, and were about to crucify him; and henceforth the name of Jesus would be a name of reproach, and his disciples would be hated and despised, and their teachings denounced.
Consequently the instruction he would now give them would be the very reverse of that formerly given;—viz., that henceforth they should go out in no wise dependent upon the people to test their loyalty to God which had already been disproved; but they should provide for themselves such things as they should need, and thus, being independent of the people, show them that self-denying zeal for God which would gladly espouse an unpopular cause with no hope of earthly gain, and for it endure reproach and persecution that thereby they might recover some from the blindness and sin into which the nation had stumbled.
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The instruction to provide themselves with swords, and the statement that two were enough, was probably merely to show that though there were at hand these weapons of defence he would not permit their use, but that he gave himself up a free-will offering for the sins of the world. When he was betrayed he sought not to escape, but, knowing the plot beforehand, he deliberately went to the place where they would seek him; when he was falsely accused, he opened not his mouth; when Peter unsheathed the sword in his defence, he ordered it to be put away, and immediately healed the wound of his enemy; and while twelve legions of angels were at his service for the asking, he asked not. Thus he freely gave his life a ransom for many; and though in him was no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, yet he was numbered with the transgressors, condemned as a law-breaker, and crucified between two thieves.
The golden text of this lesson is aptly chosen,—”Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Amen, so let it be.
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CHRIST JESUS CRUCIFIED
—JUNE 14—Luke 23:33-46.—
IN these days when the theories of the self-styled higher critics, and all who entertain theories of salvation by evolution, are making advances in every direction, we are glad to see the “International Lessons” drawing the attention of Bible Students frequently to lessons like the present one, summed up in the Golden Text,—”Christ died for our sins.”
The greatest transaction ever made, the purchase of all (over fifty billions) of the slaves of the great task master, Sin, was not appreciated in its day, and has not been appreciated since, except by the very few—in all a “little flock.” The masses of mankind since have been doing just what the people did upon the day of our Lord’s crucifixion. Some looked, but sympathized little, and appreciated not; others derided and blasphemed; others made sport of it, and still others with rude jest gambled over his raiment. They knew him not; they knew not the value of the work which he performed on their behalf. They appreciated his life to some extent, though very imperfectly, but as for value to his death, they could see none in it. The Apostle, by inspiration, calls attention to their condition, saying that the god of this world had blinded their minds, so that they could not see. False theories, false expectations, false reasonings, and a lack of true consecration to the Lord, have blinded the eyes of many since, not only of the world, but also of those professing to be disciples of Christ.
But to all who do see the real value of the ransom sacrifice “finished” at Calvary and whose eyes have been opened to see the wonderful results which must ultimately flow from that great transaction—to all these the Master’s words apply forcibly: “Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for verily I say unto you that many prophets and righteous persons have desired to see the things which ye see and have not seen them and to hear the things which ye hear and have not heard them.” Such as do see this “great light” which illuminates the entire plan of God have certainly great cause for thankfulness; for such have been translated out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. We can thank God, too, in the light of the cross, not only for the blessings which have reached us, his Church, who truly believe in his great sacrifice; but also for the assurance that in “due time” this gracious message of redemption through the precious blood will be made known to all, and that all the deaf ears shall be unstopped! In due time all shall see the real significance and merit which were in the great atonement sacrifice given once for all; for it is written concerning the blessed Millennial Day—”Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped”; and “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”—Isa. 35:5; 11:9.
Aside from the weeping of the disciples, the penitent thief’s conduct is the only mark of appreciation of the Lord’s righteousness found in this picture. It is suggestive, too, of the fact that, as then, so in every age, many of the chief priests and scribes and Pharisees have crucified the truth without sympathy or appreciation; often the only sympathizers have been some of those apparently deeply degraded.
But if human hearts were unsympathetic and unappreciative of the great transaction, nature was not, for she, as a witness to the wonderful scene, vailed her face in darkness and trembled. The rending of the vail between the Holy and the Most Holy would seem to teach symbolically that a way into the Holy of Holies had been opened. The Apostle seems to interpret it thus in Heb. 10:19-22.
Our Lord Jesus, faithful and trustful to the last, commended his spirit in his dying moments to the Heavenly Father, whose promises supported him during his eventful life, and now were his strength in his dying hour. Nevertheless, from another account we have the record that at the very last moment the Heavenly Father withdrew from our Lord this support, and left him, probably but for a moment, alone; and his last experiences were those of utter loneliness and complete separation from the Father. This we may know was not
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because of the Father’s displeasure; for he had the full assurance that in all things and always he pleased the Father, and the Father subsequently testified to this in raising him from the dead, as said the Apostle Peter. (Acts 17:31.) That experience was necessary, however, because he was taking the place of the sinner. The sinner, Adam (and we all in Adam), had forfeited not only our rights to life, but also to fellowship with the Father; and in being our ransom-price in full, it was necessary that our Redeemer should not only die for us, but that he should die as a sinner, as a felon under sentence of death; and it was appropriate also that he should taste of the proper experiences of the sinner in being fully cut off from the Father’s favor and communion. This last experience would seem to have been the most trying through which our dear Redeemer passed. It was then, as on no other occasion, that his soul sent forth the agonizing cry, “My God! my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”
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