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VOL. XIX. NOVEMBER 1, 1898. No. 21.
The Colporteur Work………………………… 314
“If God be for Us, Who Can be
Against Us?…………………………… 315
“The Light of the World is
A Question in re Justification……………… 321
Hezekiah’s Great Passover…………………… 322
Two Prayers and their Answers………………… 325
Another Defeat and Another
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THE COLPORTEUR WORK
God has been pleased to specially use and bless the colporteur branch of the service. Very largely through this instrumentality nearly a million copies of the various volumes of MILLENNIAL DAWN series are now scattered throughout this land of freedom and intelligence: and these are constantly coming to the attention of new readers, here and abroad.
“THE HARVEST IS GREAT, BUT THE LABORERS ARE FEW.”
“HE THAT REAPETH RECEIVETH WAGES AND GATHERETH FRUIT UNTO
This testimony is true now, as it was in the Jewish “harvest;” and hence we urge all who are so situated that they can engage in this work, to do so. It is one of the best opportunities we know of for preaching the true gospel: going from house to house all are reached—not only those who attend church services, but also those who do not; the latter class including some of the true “wheat” who absent themselves because they cannot there obtain the spiritual nourishment for which they hunger and thirst.
Do not think of this as a “book business;” for it is no such thing. It is “preaching,” “evangelizing,” “teaching” in the truest and best sense of those terms. The Colporteur is one with the books and tracts which he circulates, and their teaching is associately his teaching.
This work is open to both brethren and sisters who are not hampered by family obligations. It is not merely for those who are out of employment and know of nothing more profitable; it is specially for those who have talents and employment and who desire to sacrifice something for the privilege of being co-workers with God in the greatest and grandest work men or angels were ever privileged to engage in. “He that is ashamed of me and my word, of him will I also be ashamed,” said our Savior.
Write to us for “Hints to Colporteurs.”
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“IF GOD BE FOR US, WHO CAN BE AGAINST US?”
WHAT wonderful thoughts these words arouse! God for us! God on our side! It means almighty wisdom enlisted in our interest, almighty power to be exerted on our behalf, almighty love and infinite goodness watching over us and caring for and helping us. What immeasureable lengths and breadths, heights and depths of infinite grace are here so forcibly and so concisely set before the mind!
But, we notice a limitation: The Apostle’s suggestion is not that God is for every one, but for “us.” To whom does he refer by this word “us?” Is it possible that divine love and energy, wisdom and power are not being exerted on behalf of the world, but only on behalf of the Church in this present time?
Christian people are divided in their opinion respecting this matter. Our Methodist friends and generally Universalists and Unitarians hold that God is
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not for us, the Church, specially; but that he is for everybody, everywhere. They hold that he is today trying to save everybody, and that he has been so trying for the past six thousand years. They must of course admit, when making such a claim, that thus far the divine plan has failed of success for six thousand years; because, men are not saved, and only a small proportion have yet had the necessary opportunity for salvation; namely, a knowledge of the only “name given under heaven or amongst men whereby we must be saved.” They must realize that the logic of facts is against their contention, and against all hope that by present methods and arrangements the world would ever be converted; for, they are aware that while it is claimed in a general way that nearly a million heathen have been converted during the last century (and it is safe to say that a very large proportion of these are not as thoroughly converted as might be desired—that comparatively few of them could be termed “saints”), yet, during the same time it is estimated that the numbers of the heathen have increased, in a natural way, to the enormous sum of two hundred millions. How long would it require at this rate, at this ratio of conversion, one million converts to two hundred million births, to convert the world? All can see that such hopes are quite illogical. Nevertheless, we can sympathize with and greatly appreciate the warmth of heart on the part of many of these whose theology we now criticise. Many of them—at least the founders of the systems—were forced to such conclusions (namely, that God is doing the best he can do for the world), in opposition to the doctrine of election and foreordination, as it has heretofore been misunderstood.
On the other hand, the great majority of Christian people, namely, the various branches of the Presbyterian, the Episcopal, the Lutheran, the Baptist and the Congregationalist churches deny the theory that God has been trying to save the world for the past six thousand years and has failed of his purpose. They hold, to the contrary, that his purpose has been to select or elect out of the world a Church and that this work of election has been progressing and will finally be consummated; and that thus God’s Word through the prophets shall be fulfilled, “My Word that goeth forth out of my mouth shall not return unto me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isa. 55:11.) They hold that, since all of God’s purposes shall be accomplished, it can not have been his purpose either to have converted the world, or to have brought every creature to a knowledge of Christ during the past six thousand years; because neither thing has been accomplished, therefore neither thing could have been purposed.
We were about to say that we agree with the last
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mentioned numerous families of Christians in reference to the doctrine of election; but we cannot make so broad a statement. While we find in the Scriptures the declaration that an election is in progress during this age especially, and to some extent during all the past, yet it is not the kind of election to which such large numbers of our Christian friends hold. Their view of divine foreordination implies not only the election of a Church, but the damnation of all who are not elected; and here we must differ; for we find nothing of this kind in the Word of the Lord. We find nothing in it to imply that all the non-elect are hopelessly lost; but, on the contrary, the teaching that the election of the Church (Christ the head, the Church his body), during this Gospel age, is for the very purpose that they as the “seed of Abraham” may fulfil the divine plan as expressed in God’s promise to Abraham, namely, that in this seed (Christ and the Church—Gal. 3:16,29), as the heirs of the divine promise and benevolent intention, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Not only is the character of the Scriptural election a very different one from that which has generally been held by Calvinism, but the object of the election is as widely as possible different from their conception. We would use the same language as our Calvinistic friends in speaking of the “us” of our text, in that we would say that it refers to the elect Church, but we deny that the damnation of all others is either stated or implied.
In the preceding verses (29,30) the Apostle explains the character and methods of the divine selection of the elect Church: and we cannot do better than notice its details, because so much depends upon this point. If we can find in the Apostle’s description good and sufficient evidence to assure us that we are of this elect Church, then we shall have great cause for thankfulness, confidence and joy, in realizing that God with all his almighty power, and wisdom and love is enlisted on our behalf. A great difficulty with many seems to be, not that they doubt that there is such an election in progress, nor that they doubt that God is for some, but that they doubt that they belong to that elect class—doubt, therefore, that they are of the “us,” and that God is for them; and that he is causing all things to work together for good to them.
By reason of their natural constitution, some of the humble-minded of the Lord’s people lack the confidence which they should have, while in some instances others who have such confidence, have no real basis for it. Knowledge, therefore, clear knowledge of the Apostle’s argument, is essential to proper faith respecting this subject, and proper confidence in God’s care over those who have been adopted into his family and are seeking to make their calling and election sure. Our faith is made necessarily dependent to a large extent upon our understanding of the divine revelation on these subjects. Let us therefore critically examine the Apostle’s statement with reference to the various steps in this election, and note our own connection with the same, step by step, that we may know to a certainty whether or not we are of the “us” class which he mentions, on behalf of whom the Lord’s power and wisdom are and will be exerted.
The Apostle begins by asserting divine foreknowledge; a divine attribute which will not be questioned by any Christian. God not only foreknew the sin that would enter into the world through the liberty given to father Adam and mother Eve, but he also foresaw the fall that would take place as the result of his own sentence, and the mental, moral and physical degradation which have resulted. Moreover, he foreknew that in due time he would send his “Only Begotten Son,” our Lord, to ransom all from sin and its penalty, so that ultimately he might be the Deliverer of all who desire to return to harmony with their Creator. He not only foreknew the humiliation of our Lord, his First-begotten Son, from his condition of glory and spiritual nature to the lower conditions of human nature, but he foreknew his trials, and his faithfulness through them, even unto death, even the death of the cross. In all this he foresaw our redemption sacrifice. He foresaw also the glory which he designed to bestow upon our Lord Jesus following his obedience, as expressed by the Apostle Paul, saying, “Him hath God highly exalted, and given him a name [title, honor, etc.] above every name.”
But our Heavenly Father foreknew and foreordained still more than all this,—the selection of the Church to be the “body” of Christ, the “bride” of Christ, his associate, not only in the sufferings and trials of the present life, but also in the subsequent glory, and great work of “blessing all the families of the earth.” This is distinctly stated by the same Apostle in his letter to the Ephesians (1:4), where he declares that “God hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” The same foreordination is distinctly stated by the Apostle Peter, who writes to consecrated believers, addressing them, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God, the Father, through sanctification of the spirit,” etc.—1 Pet. 1:2.
But the predestination of this verse (Rom. 8:29) is not at all what has generally been understood: it is not said that God predestinates that some should go to heaven and others to eternal torment. That is where false human reasoning has corrupted the testimony of God’s Word and made it of none effect, or worse—of bad effect. The Apostle’s statement is very clear, that God predestinated that all who shall be of this elect,
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foreknown and foreordained Church in glory must first be “conformed to the image of his Son“—or, as the literal reading would give it, “copies of his Son.” How reasonable this predestination, how unreasonable the false view! God is calling a number of sons to “glory, honor and immortality,” and has made Christ Jesus the Only Begotten, faithful in every trial, the Head or Captain of this foreordained company, whom he has since been calling, testing and preparing for the foreordained glory. And as it was but a reasonable thing that God should determine that if our Lord Jesus would be faithful he should receive the highest exaltation, so it was equally right and proper that the divine will should be forcibly asserted and that he should predestinate that none could be of that glorified “body of Christ,” except as they would become imitators of Jesus, who is the firstborn among these his “brethren.”
Having thus stated the matter concisely, the Apostle proceeds to apply it to the Church individually, and to show the steps which God is taking during this Gospel age for the purpose of finding amongst men this class which he has foreordained shall be found. The Apostle gives the particulars in the following verse (30); and altho it is simply stated, it has very generally been stumbled over, not only by believers in general, but also by theologians, because of two things.
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(1) The last word of this verse translated “glorified” should be translated “honored;” and should be understood to refer to the honor conferred upon all who, during this age, are brought to any knowledge of Christ—the true light. This honor went first to the Jews, and selected a “remnant;” but when that nation proved unworthy of this “honor” it was turned to the Gentiles, to gather out of them a peculiar people, a holy nation, to bear the name of Christ. (Acts 15:14.) (2) The reader naturally expects the Apostle to begin with present conditions and trace them up to the grand result—the glorified Church,—while on the contrary the Apostle very properly begins at the other end, and traces the results downward. He does not begin, as is generally supposed, by saying, God honored you with the knowledge of the Gospel of Christ, and when you believed he justified you, and after you were justified he called you, and if you are faithful to your calling he will by and by exalt you to the condition which he foreknew. Indeed, it would not be possible to state the matter truthfully from that side; because, many are honored with a knowledge of the Gospel of Christ who are never justified (because they do not accept the knowledge—do not accept Christ), and of those who do accept Christ and who are thus justified, it would not be true to say that they will all be sanctified; nor would it be correct to say that all who once are sanctified will reach the condition of glory; for “many are called but few chosen:” few “make their calling and election sure.”
But the Apostle argues the matter from the only proper and logical standpoint: having stated that God has foreknown or fore-intended the election of the Church, he steps forward to the time when God’s purpose and intention will have been completed, accomplished—the time when the election will be finished and the Church accepted to glory. From that future standpoint he indicates the various steps which led up to it, saying,—All those of the foreknown ones, glorified, will previously have been called; because it is a matter of grace, and no man taketh this honor unto himself, but “he that is called of God;”—as the “Head of the body,” so each member of the body. And, says the Apostle, every one thus “called” will previously have been “justified;” because God calls no enemies, no unreconciled sinners, to this high position. It was for this reason that Christ died, that through faith in his blood repentant believers might be “justified” and might be thus prepared to be “called.” It is thus evident that the high calling to this glorious position of joint-heirship with Christ is a very different thing, indeed, from the calling of sinners to repentance. Sinners are called to repentance anywhere and everywhere and at any time. And when they repent, the Lord engages that in due time he will point them to
“The fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
Where sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.”
When they have lost their guilty stains, through repentance and faith in the Redeemer, they have reached the condition of justification, and are ready to be “called” to sonship and joint-heirship. But the Apostle is still going backward in the argument and, having told that the foreordained class would all be “called,” and that they would all previously have been “justified,” he declares that the justified ones would all previously have been favored or “honored” (not glorified): honored or favored with a knowledge of the truth, a knowledge of the gospel.
Perhaps only a comparatively small number of Christians have realized what a great honor was conferred upon them in the first knowledge brought to them of the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. This “honor” has been so widely dispensed that many forget that it is a special honor, a special favor, just as they forget to recognize as special blessings the sunshine and the rain. But this “honor” is not yet as common as some other of God’s blessings. “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust,” throughout the whole world: but not so the gospel
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sunlight and the spiritual showers. These blessings have been general only in certain quarters.
“THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD IS JESUS”
When Christ as the “Great Light” arose in Palestine, and when on the day of Pentecost the Church was illuminated by him, as a light for the world,—that light was not sent Southward into the darkness of Africa: the Africans were not “honored” with having the gospel of Christ. Neither was it sent Eastward through India to its hundreds of millions: India was not “honored” with the gospel of Christ. Neither was it sent still farther East to the hundreds of millions of China: China was not “honored” with the gospel of Christ. But it was sent Northward and Westward through and to Europe and America. These lands were “honored,” these peoples “have seen a great light,” and with that light have received a great blessing. But how comparatively few have really seen this light, even when it shone around them on every hand. Alas! like the partly cured blind man of old they see a brightness and can discern something, but see nothing clearly. The Apostle explains their case, saying, “The god of this world hath blinded the eyes of them that believe not.”—2 Cor. 4:4.
Having followed the Apostle’s reasoning, we are enabled to see clearly each step of divine providence taken in connection with the divine purpose and foreordination.
(1) We see that first of all, to a certain extent, God was “for” us, for the people of Europe and North America: he was for them or favorable to them to the extent of “honoring” or favoring them with the light of grace “as it shines in the face of Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
(2) In a still fuller sense God was “for” or favorable towards those who accept the light of truth, those who through repentance and faith in the precious blood are “justified” from sin, through his grace.
(3) He was yet more “for” these justified ones, to the extent that he “called” them,—to suffer with Christ during this Gospel age, and by and by to share his glory.
(4) In a still fuller sense he is “for” all those who accept the call and who are seeking to “make their calling and election sure.” God is in an especial sense “for” all these who are so running as to obtain the prize which he offers. “They shall be mine, in that day when I make up my jewels.”
It is to this called and faithfully running class that the Apostle speaks as “us.” He and those whom he addressed (“called to be saints”—Rom. 1:6,7) had first been “honored” with the light; second, they, by repentance and faith, had accepted it and been justified; third, they had been “called;” fourth, they had accepted the calling and given themselves wholly to the Lord. And with the Apostle and the early Church all who to-day can recognize themselves in this same position, as having taken these same steps, may properly apply to themselves the Apostle’s words and say, God is for us. Who can be against us!
All the “saints” throughout the whole world, who have taken the afore-mentioned steps, are probably altogether not a great multitude; but rather, comparatively, a “little flock:” yet each one of these may say to himself, and realize to the very bottom of his heart as applicable to himself, these wonderful words,—God is for us. He may endeavor to grasp the significance of these words, but he will surely fail of getting all of their wonderful meaning. It is not possible for the human mind to grasp the riches of divine grace and love and power. We cannot comprehend them, we can merely apprehend them. If God be for us, with all of his infinite wisdom and power, it implies also that Christ is for us, for he is one with the Father; it implies also that all the angels, Cherubim and Seraphim, and all the heavenly powers of our knowledge and beyond our knowledge are for us;—all enlisted upon our side, to do us good, to help us, to succor us in time of need, to uphold us in time of temptation, to strengthen us to do the Father’s will. “All things are yours, for ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”
The view granted to Elisha’s servant, of countless horses, chariots and horsemen of fire or like fire, was of course merely a vision, nevertheless it represented a truth,—that divine power is round about God’s people on every hand for their protection and their deliverance. “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that are his and delivereth them.” “Are they [the angels] not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb. 1:14.) Our Lord expressed the same thing, saying, of his faithful followers: “Their angels [messengers] do always behold the face of my Father.” It matters not whether we shall understand this to signify that spirit beings continually surround those called to be the “elect” of the Lord, to guide and shape their interests for their highest good, or whether we shall understand it to be merely a figure of speech, signifying that divine power surrounds God’s people; for the results would be the same, it matters not by which means the Lord would deliver them from the evil and help them in trial and adversity. The fact that God is “for us,” and that he is making all things to work together for good to those who love him, is the central thought, the essence, the strength of this message to “us.”
How wonderful is all this! Let us cast our minds
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for a moment over the world with its fifteen hundred millions of inhabitants. Let us remember that they
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are all under the “curse,” under the sentence of divine displeasure, except the few who have heard of the redemption—of the Way, the Truth and the Life—and who have by faith and obedience “escaped the condemnation that is on the world” and come back into harmony with the Father and into fellowship with his Son. Let us imagine, if we can, this “little flock” of the “honored,” “justified” and “called,” heaven-led and heaven-blessed, scattered here and there amongst the fifteen hundred million fellow-creatures. O, what joy, what comfort, what peace, what strength the thought must bring to each one who can realize that he has taken all of these steps thus far, and that he is still pressing along the same line “for the mark of the prize of our high calling!” And this joy is not dimmed, but is greatly enhanced, by the thought that soon, in conformity with God’s gracious foreordination, all the “elect” may have a share in the great work of blessing, with the knowledge of the True Light, the masses who are yet in darkness, “without God and having no hope” in him. For altho a redemption has been provided for all, the knowledge of God’s grace has not yet reached any but the favored or “honored” minority.
As the Apostle declares in this very same chapter (Rom. 8:22), it is indeed a groaning creation; it has been groaning ever since the sentence of divine wrath was expressed in Eden, and it must continue to groan until the great Deliverer shall have established his Kingdom, and shall have rolled back the “curse” of death and depravity. Oh, what riches of grace have come to “us” through Jesus Christ, our Lord! And yet, as the Apostle says, altho we have all this blessing and favor, we have also with it certain trials, difficulties and painful experiences, which the Father sees necessary for our development in order that we may come up to the terms of his predestination, “copies of his Son.” And in consequence of this, as the Apostle declares, “We ourselves also [as well as the whole creation] groan within ourselves [while suffering with the world we suppress the groan,—”We lay our burdens at his feet and bear a song away”] waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body”—”the body of Christ,” the elect Church.
The word if in this text does not signify a doubt or question on the subject; but quite the reverse. The Apostle has given the evidence that God is for “us,” in the preceding verses, and now uses if as tho he said,—If I have proved that God is for us, then who can be against us!
“WHO CAN BE AGAINST US?”
Who can be against us, if God is for us? The Apostle does not mean that, having God on our side, none would dare to oppose our way. Quite to the contrary, we have bitter enemies and relentless foes. Who are against us?—Their name is legion. The devil is against us, as the Apostle declares, Our adversary, the devil, goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. The same Apostle assures us that we must contend against “the wiles of the devil.” Our Lord declares that we must “resist the devil.” The Apostle informs us that Satan is cunning and deceitful, as well as desperately wicked; and says that therefore we must have a battle, and as good soldiers we must have on the armor of God, and use it faithfully. Thus we are to resist the devil, and he will flee from us. We are to “quench all the fiery darts of the adversary” in open attacks, and yet to remember that we battle not with flesh and blood, but with a demon host; with “principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places.”—Eph. 6:12.
Nor is this all: we have a great enemy in ourselves;—the “carnal mind,” “the old man,” reckoned dead, which must be kept in subjection. Perhaps the greatest battles and the greatest trials, which we are called upon as “new creatures” to endure, are these battles of the new self, the mind of Christ, against the old fallen self, the mind of the flesh.
Furthermore: we have the “world” as “children of darkness” arrayed in opposition to us. They love the darkness and consequently hate not only the light, but also the “children of the light.” This our Master declared, saying, “Ye are not of the world, for I have chosen you out of the world.” “Marvel not if the world hate you; you know it hated me before it hated you.” “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but now ye are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” And the world’s hatred is not conducted along honorable lines of warfare. It would be ashamed to declare that it loved darkness, and ashamed to declare that it hated us because of the light. Its policy, rather, guided by the great adversary, is, to “put light for darkness, and darkness for light:” to misrepresent our best efforts to be evil and selfish, and to misrepresent its own selfish efforts as being honorable and good. “Marvel not, if the world hate you.” “The darkness hateth the light.”
Nor are these great adversaries the only ones to oppose us: we must expect to endure from still another quarter. As our Lord declared, “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Those whom you have dearly loved of your own family circle, and with whom you have had Christian fellowship, may turn against you and hate you for the truth’s sake. Nor will this always be because of wickedness of intention: sometimes at least the persecutions will come conscientiously; as for instance, Saul of Tarsus (who afterward
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became the great Apostle Paul) was once a persecutor of “this way,” and ignorantly did many things against Jesus and those who loved him. He himself tells us that he obtained mercy because he did it ignorantly, thinking that he did God service. And so doubtless it has been with much of the persecution that has come to the Lord’s faithful ones in every age. Much of it has been inflicted conscientiously. It is quite remarkable, too, how the Adversary succeeds sometimes in deceiving those, who once knew better, into thinking that anger, malice, hatred, strife, bitter words and slander (“works of the flesh and the devil”) are “duty.” Alas, how blinding is the spirit of the Adversary!
All these adversaries must be resisted, unto blood, unto death, if need be,—must not be permitted to hinder our walking in the footsteps of him who set us an example,—must not be permitted to prevent us from becoming copies of our Lord and thus making our calling and election sure. But while resisting them with all our might, we must avoid carnal weapons and not render railing for railing; rather, so far as possible, we should use the sword of the spirit, the Word of God, and Michael-like say, “The Lord rebuke thee.” God is “for us,” and declares that in his due time he will right present wrongs and falsehoods, saying, “Vengeance is mine, I will render recompences.” Indeed, toward the class who war against us ignorantly and conscientiously we should feel no bitterness, but rather sympathy, love and an earnest desire and effort for an opening of the eyes of their understanding.
The Apostle was not ignoring all of these great adversaries which, like “roaring lions,” would terrify us, and if possible arrest our progress in the path of consecration and sacrifice, which leads on to glory. This is not his thought when he says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Quite to the contrary, his thought is, that notwithstanding all these things which are against us, we may realize that God is for us, that he has predestinated a Church in glory and has justified and called us to be members of it, and brought us on the journey thus far, through all of these various steps. And if we can realize that God has thus been leading us up to the present time, to bring us to share his glory, and that all things thus far have been working for our good, this is our assurance that all wisdom, power and love shall be exerted on our behalf down to the very end of the racecourse, if we continue to abide in Christ, faithfully.
What shall we fear? What could oppose our way so as to hinder it, if God be on our side? This reminds us of the adage, “God with one is a majority.” So, God with us, and for us, and leading us, makes us mighty indeed, stronger than all these adversaries with all their arts and wiles and perversity, and able through his grace to come off conquerors, yea, more than conquerors through him who loved us and bought us with his own precious blood.
We urge that each reader mark the various steps of progress through which divine grace has already led him, and that, whatever he finds to be his present standpoint, he go on as the Lord leads,—not content with anything short of “the whole counsel of God.” The reader has been “honored” with a knowledge of the grace of God in Christ: if he has not yet accepted, let him quickly accept this grace by repentance for sin and with faith in the ransom. If he has done this and has received the grace of justification, and, as the Apostle expresses it, has “joy and peace through believing,” then let him remember that still there’s more to follow, and that the justified are “called.” Not called to glory merely, but called to obedience, called to present their bodies living sacrifices to God in his service, holy and acceptable through Christ.
Alas! how many who have received the grace of justification stop there: they hear the call to suffer with Christ for the truth’s sake, they hear the invitation to stand up for Jesus, in their thoughts and words and deeds, but heed not. They perceive that such a full consecration would necessarily mean not only the giving up of sinful pleasures, but also the giving up of some not sinful, that they might devote their words and thoughts and deeds as far as possible as he did, doing good to others. But of those who hear the call to present themselves, how few obey it, how few surrender themselves to him who bought them with his
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own precious blood! Yes, many are called; tho few are chosen. All the justified are called to self-surrender, full obedience, full trust in the Lord and full submission to his will. And of those who do accept the call and who have made the covenant, and who are therefore of the “us” class mentioned by the Apostle, how many become “overcharged with the cares of this life, or the deceitfulness of riches,” or the perplexities of poverty, and so fail to obtain the fullness of heart-obedience, and consequently will fail to make their calling and election sure.
We are not now discussing what will be the fate of those who fail to be victors and to gain a crown and to sit with Christ in his throne; we are considering, rather, the privileges of those who have been “honored” of the Lord and led step by step up to present attainments of knowledge and privilege. We are seeking to bring before our minds at least a faint conception of the wonderful provisions of divine grace, and the full ability of every one so called to make his calling and election sure by laying hold of this grace of God, provided in Christ, by which, to them, all things shall work together for good, because they love God and are the called ones according to his purpose.
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A QUESTION IN RE JUSTIFICATION
DEAR BROTHER RUSSELL:—There is some difference of opinion amongst the friends here respecting a point of Scripture teaching, and we request your aid in its solution at your earliest convenience and, if you think proper, in the columns of the WATCH TOWER. Briefly stated, it is this:—What is the faith taught in God’s Word, by which the sinner is justified in God’s sight?
With Christian love,Yours in our Lord,
G.W. A__________. and J. B__________
IN REPLY:—It is faith in “the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,” that justifies the sinner. But this implies much more than appears on the surface—much more than many suppose. It implies:—
(1) That the sinner recognizes his own condition of imperfection, sin, separation from God, and his sentence, even if he does not understand fully and correctly what the penalty for sin is—death, destruction. It implies this, because to admit that God has provided a redemption implies that there was need for redemption on the part of the sinner, and that a condemnation rested upon the sinner justly, because of sin.
(2) Faith in this redemption implies that the sinner discerns at least something of the sinfulness of sin; and that he desires to escape, not only from the extreme penalty of sin (death, destruction), but also from the other features; viz., his own imperfections and his alienation from the divine mind. Such a faith, therefore, implies repentance—a desire to return unto God and to righteousness. It means, therefore, dissatisfaction with sin, and a longing desire for righteousness, which is willing, yea, glad, to avail itself of the divine provision in Christ. This faith, therefore, implies not only a desire for the forgiveness of “the sins that are past through the forebearance of God,” but also a desire to live godly, righteously, soberly, and to henceforth avoid all sin, so far as possible.
(3) This faith is said to justify us in the divine sight: that is, God, through the merit of the great sacrifice, can be just in recognizing those who, altho still blemished by sin, and unworthy actually of his notice, have thus, by his appointed way, through the merit of the redemption, come back to a condition of mind, of heart, which he can thoroughly approve.
(4) It is called justification by faith, because it is not an actual justification. An actual justification would mean that the sinner was made absolutely perfect or correct, but a justification by faith signifies that, altho actually imperfect, still he is now accepted of the Lord, and treated by him as tho he were perfect, because his heart or intentions are now perfect, and the sacrifice for sins, in which by faith he has shared, is reckoned as covering all his past shortcomings.
(5) This new condition of justification, having been entered upon, implies, therefore, as we have seen, a determination upon the part of the justified one to live in thought, word and deed righteously, to the extent of his ability. At first this may seem to him to be a comparatively easy thing—simply to do right, and to avoid doing wrong. But whoever tries to do this will shortly find that it is no easy task, that the weaknesses and tendencies of his own fallen nature, and similar weaknesses in those with whom he daily and hourly comes in contact, have a tendency to oppose his resolves for a life of righteousness, justice, equity, toward God and men. He finds the necessities of life and the conditions of the world, socially and financially, to be a strong current, to be against which would imply much more than he had at first thought. As he looks the question squarely and honestly in the face, he finds that neither his own flesh, nor the world in general, are friends to grace to help him on to God, and that the only thing to do is either to join with the majority in unfaithfulness to the highest sense of righteousness, truth and love, or else to reckon himself dead to the world—a living sacrifice to God and his righteousness.
(6) This is a turning-point in the pathway of all the justified during the Gospel age. There is no escaping it. They must either go onward to a full consecration to the Lord (Rom. 12:1), or they must retrograde from the standard of righteousness, and be content to avoid the grosser sins, and to live on the common plane of nominal Church worldliness. This the majority seem to do. So far as we may be able to judge, they, in thus compromising themselves, lose their position of justification, which was reckoned to them at the
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time of their earliest faith and resolves to follow righteousness, justice and truth. Their justification remained so long as they were conscientiously doing this. Their justification would seem to lapse from the moment that, coming to the place where they realized that obedience to righteousness in this present time would mean self-sacrifice, they turned back and followed no further in the footsteps of him who has set us an example that we should walk in his steps.
(7) Some, yea many, stop when they reach the point of decision: unwilling to compromise righteousness, and yet unwilling to bear the reproaches and losses or sacrifices demanded by a life of full consecration. These show that they have the spirit of the truth, tho not in overcoming measure,—not in the measure of sacrificers, “priests.” These the Lord bears with patiently for a time, peradventure under his disciplines and the instructions of his Word they may see their privileges and learn that the things they would sacrifice are but loss and dross as compared with the glory, honor and immortality they would gain. If these do not learn the lesson and make the sacrifice they will ultimately be forced by divine providences to the point of decision
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with its reward of everlasting life or its punishment of everlasting death.
But such as need to be forced are not to be counted amongst the overcomers, the “elect,” the “little flock,” who will sit in the throne with the Lord. No, they are represented in the undetermined number who will come up to spiritual conditions through great tribulation.—See Rev. 7:9-17.
If we have not fully answered your question, it is because we have failed to get at its point, and if so, please state it again.
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HEZEKIAH’S GREAT PASSOVER
—NOV. 6.—2 CHRON. 30:1-13.—
“Yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary.”
OUR LAST lesson respecting Isaiah’s vision and his commission, to announce the fall of Israel, was “in the year that King Uzziah died.” (Isa. 6:1.) The wicked king, Ahaz, succeeded Uzziah in the throne of Judah, and reigned wickedly, in neglect of God and his law, for sixteen years. It would appear, however, that he had an excellent wife, Abijah, under whose careful training their son, Hezekiah, was prepared for the kingdom, and became in many respects a model ruler, and a faithful servant of God. It is even supposed that the Prophet Isaiah, who was related to the royal family, was Hezekiah’s tutor, and helped to guide him into right ways of thinking and doing. The fact that so good a son could come of so evil a father is an evidence to us that under divine providence it is not necessary that we should inherit all the evil traits of our ancestors. Altho we cannot overcome them completely, so that none of the fallen race of Adam can ever hope to regain perfection as a result of personal effort and of training, nevertheless, we see that favorable conditions, religious training, etc., lead to a vast improvement in those who are rightly exercised thereby.
And here we get a suggestive hint of the methods which the Lord will employ in the world’s blessing and uplifting during the Millennium. The human family is unable to lift itself out of the degraded condition in which it is, because of shortness of life, and because of the general prevalence of evil; hence, the power that will lift mankind must be a power from the outside, uncontaminated by the fall. Moreover, under the terms of the divine sentence, the penalty of man’s sin must be cancelled, his penalty must be paid for him, before he can be fully released from its condemnation and weaknesses. It is this redemption or purchase which has already been accomplished for mankind: the deliverance out of sin and its consequences, mental, moral and physical depravity, is a future work, made possible by Christ’s great sacrifice. And, gracious thought, it is he who redeemed mankind, and who has been highly exalted to power and great glory, who is shortly to use this power on man’s behalf, in uplifting to righteousness and perfection whosoever will accept his grace, of all the families of the earth. The uplifting, nevertheless, will be along lines of instruction, chastisement and correction in righteousness, in which the individual will be obliged to cooperate in order to the attainment of full “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:19-21.
That Hezekiah was already well instructed, and thoroughly consecrated to the Lord, at the time of his father’s death and his own entrance to kingship, is evidenced by the fact that he immediately began, in the first month of his reign, to inaugurate reforms of the character noted in our lesson,—the restoration of the worship of Jehovah, as divinely appointed. Had he not been consecrated to the Lord, and thus in the proper attitude of heart, his accession to power would have had an influence the very opposite of this: it would have led to self-gratification and personal vanity.
His first public work was to open and prepare the Temple of the Lord, which had been closed and out of repair for years, and in which had been permitted to accumulate a vast amount of rubbish, etc. The king called to his aid the proper assistants for this work—the divinely appointed tribe of Levi. The cleansing of the Temple proceeded according to the law of Moses, and when completed the first thing in order was a great sin-offering. King Hezekiah was broadminded, and gave special instructions that the offering was to be, not only on behalf of the people of Judah, the two tribes, but on behalf also of their separated brethren—”for all Israel.” He recognized properly that the nation was still in some respects one, in the sense that the divine promises were made to all the seed of Abraham: whoever, therefore, of all the tribes would recognize the Lord God and seek his face was properly to be esteemed a brother-Israelite.
It was the time for the Passover Feast, in commemoration of the Lord’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt; typical of the deliverance of Spiritual Israel from the bondage of sin and Satan; and typical also of the ultimate deliverance of those who love righteousness, and desire to serve the Lord, from Satan’s bondage, by his complete overthrow during the Millennium. It was determined that this Passover Feast should be properly observed that year, for, altho, from the account, it had evidently been kept by a few Israelites, yet the general
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religious disorder was such, that apparently it was not observed by the nation, nor with all its appointed particularity by any. This time the king determined that its proper observance should be reinaugurated, preceded by all the proper arrangements of the law respecting the cleansing of the people (Exod. 12:15-20) and the putting away from their houses of leaven, a symbol of sin: thus, in figure at least, typically, the people were sanctified, in order that they might properly keep the feast. But all this required time—to issue the decrees, to succeed in stimulating the zeal of the people, and on their part to perform these works, symbolizing holiness to the Lord and separation from sin. The nation being thus defiled, the time was too short to be ready to observe the Passover on its appointed day, the 14th day of the first month, and hence the 14th day of the second month was observed instead—as the Lord had given permission.—Num. 9:10,11.
The same breadth of mind and heart which characterized
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Hezekiah’s instructions that the sin-offering should be on behalf of all Israel, still controlled him, and led him to desire not only a reformation of “Judah,” but also amongst their separated brethren, known as “Israel.” Accordingly, special messengers were sent, from Beer-Sheba, the most southern town of the land of Israel, to publicly invite all Israelites of every tribe to return to the worship of Jehovah, and to specially come up on the occasion of this feast. The postal system of the present day was not in vogue, and hence a special postal arrangement was made for the carrying of these letters.
The time for such an invitation was most favorable, for the prophecy of Isaiah respecting the carrying away of Israel into captivity was already in progress: the ten tribes were at this date paying tribute to Assyria, and the carrying away of many of the people had already actually begun. Thus, the Lord’s arrangement served to draw attention of any who might be “Israelites indeed” to the fact that their captivity was a punishment for their rejection of the Lord, and thus to incite those who had any faith and zeal to return to the Lord’s worship. King Hezekiah’s letters, briefly summed up, were an exhortation to remember the past and to return to Jehovah: “Be not ye like your fathers and like your brethren, which trespass against the Lord God of your fathers, who therefore gave them up to desolation, as ye see. … Yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, … that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you.”
The exhortation held out the suggestion, not only of present deliverance, but also of the return of their brethren already deported. But the postmen who bore these messages were laughed at in the northern kingdom. In proportion as the people were far from the Lord they were proud and vain, as is always the case; and it was in large measure, no doubt, their pride that was leading them on to destruction as a nation. All who are in harmony with the Lord are humbleminded, and only such receive the Lord’s gracious messages with appreciation or love and well entreat the servants who bear the messages. We may note also that their obedience under such circumstances would imply considerable faith and devotion to Jehovah, for they would be the subjects of the scoffs and scorns from the unbelieving masses, as well as the messengers who invited them. Some, but not many, we are told, yet in all a fair number, humbled themselves and came, from the tribes of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulon, and of course got the blessing which God always grants to those who humble themselves and are obedient. In addition to this mention in verse 11, we find another, that “many” came also from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulon. (Verse 18.) Thus, at least five of the ten tribes were represented more or less numerously, and of the remainder two were already in captivity,—Reuben and Gad. We are to remember, furthermore, that some from the ten tribes had already allied themselves with the kingdom of Judah, because of the idolatry prevalent in their own land and of the better religious opportunities in Judah.—2 Chron. 15:9.
Throughout Judah the invitation to the Feast of the Passover seems to have been well received: “The hand of God was to give them one heart to do the commandment of the king and of the princes by the Word of the Lord.” In consequence there was an unusually large assemblage of the people at Jerusalem that year. The record is, that no such Passover had been observed since the days of Solomon,—over two hundred and fifty years. The Feast was observed with great joy and gladness, singing and praising God; and so imbued did the people become with religious fervor, that it was by their own proposition that the Passover week of praise and sanctity to holy things was prolonged for an additional week.—Verses 21-26.
We break from our topic here, to call attention to the fact that the true faithful Israelites were gathered out of the ten tribe kingdom into the two tribe kingdom at that early day. After the later captivity of Judah the division of Israel was lost sight of. The decree of Cyrus permitting return from captivity ignored any division and was to all Israel: and the faithful of all the tribes who returned were unitedly recognized as Israel, and are subsequently so referred to in the Bible. Use a concordance and note the New Testament references to Israel. It was the remnant of Israel and not merely of Judah that was gathered into the Gospel age, while the remainder were “blinded” and broken off from the covenant promises, until after the Gospel age shall have
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selected the “elect,” Spiritual Israel.—See Rom. 11:7,25-32.
Nor did the revival of true religion inaugurated by Hezekiah stop with that Passover. While it filled the people with zeal for the true worship of the Lord, to give liberally for the support of the priests and Levites, the maintenance of the sacrifices, etc., it led also to a strong movement against every form of idolatry throughout Judah, extending even throughout the land of the ten tribes: as a consequence, there was a general destruction of idols out of the land, a cutting down of the obscene high places, devoted to the licentious worship of Baal, etc. The result of this proper turning of the people to the Lord brought to them and to their king great earthly blessings, in harmony with God’s covenant made with that nation. The king became very rich, and the people also, so that their tithes and offerings to the Lord were not only sufficient for the supply of the priests and Levites, but far in excess of this, so that store-houses had to be built to receive them.
Looking for analogies in Spiritual Israel, we find several. (1) All true religion is identical with order and cleanliness, as the Apostle intimates, saying, If any man defile the Temple of God, him God will destroy, and correspondingly we may say that whoever attempts to cleanse the Temple of God, and to bring it into accord with the divine arrangement will be blessed now, as were Hezekiah and his kingdom, only we should remember that the rewards promised to Spiritual Israel are spiritual and not temporal blessings. As heretofore noticed, the congregation of the Lord in the present time may be considered nominally his Temple, tho the real Temple is the Church triumphant, not yet completed. Nevertheless, it is proper also to apply this lesson to our own individual hearts; for, as the Apostle also points out, each Christian is a temple of the holy spirit, and the Church in general, therefore, may be properly considered, even in its present imperfect condition, a temple of the holy spirit, devoted, consecrated, to the Lord. So then, each individual Christian, justified and sanctified by the great atonement of our High Priest, should seek to keep himself (and, so far as possible, all others associated with him, and imbued by the same spirit) free from all worldly contamination, if they would have the Lord’s blessing in spiritual things. All of the Lord’s people need to remember the necessity for cleansing from worldly defilements, not only those of the past, but also those which are ever present in the world. We remember the Apostle’s words, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”—2 Cor. 7:1.
Not only should the cleansing be done, but it should be done according to the divine arrangement. As Hezekiah and the priests and Levites cleansed and sanctified “according to the law of Moses,” the mediator of Israel’s covenant, so we, who belong to the house of sons, are to seek cleansing and sanctification in strict accordance with the law of Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, under which “we are accepted in the beloved.” As there was a formal ritual to be observed under the law, so there is a form of faith, of sound words and of obedience, to be observed under the Gospel. Our cleansing is not with the blood of bulls and goats, but through the merit of the more precious blood of Christ, which does not call for vengeance upon us because of his death, but on the contrary calls for mercy, pardon, grace, to all those who come unto the Father by him.
(2) There is a lesson for us also in Hezekiah’s broad conception that all Israelites who were willing to join in the worship of the Lord were to be esteemed as brethren, and to be invited so to do. Nor would it have been sufficient that he should have broad and liberal and Scriptural ideas on this subject: it was his duty, as well as his privilege, to make sure that there were no fences of separation between any of the Lord’s people, and the arrangement for the Lord’s worship in the Lord’s house, the Temple. So with Spiritual Israelites, there should be a realization that all “Israelites indeed” are one in Christ Jesus, and all are to be esteemed and treated as Israelites indeed who trust in the precious blood of Christ, as the great sin-offering of atonement, and are consecrated to the service of the Lord. Such a general recognition of Christian character is, we are glad to believe, greatly on the increase during the last half century. But more is still to be done along proper lines: sectarian fences should all be pulled down and sectarian names and creeds all be abolished, and true Christians (all who trust in the precious blood, and are fully consecrated to the Lord, to obey the instructions of his Word as best they can understand them) should mingle together, and be one people, without other distinctions than that some may have attained to greater knowledge and sanctification than others—all, however, seeking to “come to the full stature of manhood in Christ Jesus.”
(3) There is a lesson for us also in the fact that such a message of true fellowship to the true Israel, and in the promises of God, made alike to all, and ignoring
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all creeds and parties, would not be popular to-day, as it was not popular with many at that time. Now, as then, the majority are disposed to “laugh with scorn,” and to mark as visionary enthusiasts those who advocate the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus, as taught in the Scriptures, and practiced in the early Church. Nevertheless, now as then, some are attracted by what they realize to be the proper message, the truth. Many will hear the message, no doubt, who will not have sufficient
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courage to act upon it, as no doubt there were some in Israel. A few, nevertheless, from almost all sects and parties and creeds will be attracted; and they will be found to be the meek, those ready and willing to humble themselves. The proud will stand up for sectarianism and for the honors and dignities which go therewith, and will fail to get the divine blessing, “Blessed are the meek.”
(4) A true revival of religious sentiment toward God, and his worship in the beauty of holiness and in accordance with the directions of his Word, will imply now, as well as in Hezekiah’s day, a general breaking up of idols. And Oh! how many idols there are which the Lord’s people should be zealous in overthrowing. They are many in form and feature, but one in general character. One of these idols, before which thousands upon thousands prostrate themselves in the dust, is Sectarianism; another is Money; another is Lust; another, Selfish Ambition; another, Pride; another, Ease; and on the whole, they are legion, with the one family name, Selfishness. Whoever has come into a condition of full consecration to the Lord through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whoever has come to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, will readily realize the abominable character of these idols which the great Adversary has induced him, through sin, to bow down to and worship. And in proportion to our zeal for the Lord, in proportion to the measure of his spirit in our hearts, will we be zealous in putting down all these idols, and bringing not only the words of our mouths and the acts of life, but also our very thoughts, into subjection to the will of God in Christ.—2 Cor. 10:5.
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TWO PRAYERS AND THEIR ANSWERS
—NOV. 13.—2 KINGS 19:20-22,28-37.—
“God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.”—Psa. 46:1.
HEZEKIAH, king of Judah, is one of the most notable characters of Old Testament history, and our present lesson relates to him. The preceding lesson showed us the beginning of his reign, accompanied by a great religious reformation and revival amongst the people. The present lesson shows him under severe trials, and how they developed and manifested his faith in the Lord, and the Lord’s responses to his trust and prayers.
The Assyrian king, Sennacherib, had invaded the northern or ten-tribe kingdom, and carried its people captive, and had placed peoples of other nationalities in the land in their stead; and eight years after that conquest he determined upon an invasion of the kingdom of Judah. Already, one after the other, the Assyrians had conquered various nations, and were now evidently bent upon conquering Egypt, but first were disposing of the intermediate kingdoms, and Judah was the last of these which lay on the route between Assyria and Egypt. Bent upon conquest and mastery, rather than upon destruction, Sennacherib, while laying siege to some of the intermediate countries, first sent letters and subsequently his representative and general, Rabshakeh, with an armed host to Jerusalem, demanding the full surrender of the kingdom, that the people might be deported to other lands, as the people of the ten tribes had been.
These letters and the message were full of boastings of the power of Assyria, and the conquests already made, and promised the people of Judah homes and circumstances similar to those then enjoyed, the object, apparently, being to establish the Assyrian empire on a firm basis by obliterating as far as possible the feelings of patriotism in the various peoples conquered. Not only did these messages boast of the power of Sennacherib, as exemplified in other wars, but taking cognizance of the fact that Israel trusted in Jehovah, they first declared that the Assyrians were sent there by Jehovah for the very purpose of overthrowing the kingdom, and taking the people captive, and secondly declared that their trust in Jehovah was vain, because the various nations which had been conquered trusted severally to their own gods, and yet all alike failed; and that Israel’s God, Jehovah, could do nothing more for them than could the other gods for the other peoples, against the mighty power of Assyria, which was rapidly becoming a world-empire.
Hezekiah’s first move was to placate his adversary, by becoming his vassal, and paying annual tribute, and as a preliminary step in this direction he sent Sennacherib a present of great value, gold and silver, ivory couches, etc.,—even stripping the gold and silver ornaments from the Temple for this purpose. Herein we believe he greatly erred, and it would appear to have been as a consequence of this failure to at once recognize Jehovah as the almighty ruler and preserver of his people and typical kingdom, that the Assyrians were permitted to assail them, and to destroy many of the outlying smaller cities, and to besiege Jerusalem, the capital city, with fortresses, etc. Nevertheless, when it came to the extremity, Hezekiah’s faith in the Lord increased in proportion as the power of the Assyrians was manifested, and the condition of his own city and people became the more critical. Then it was that he did what he should have done at the very beginning—he, with Isaiah, the prophet (his faithful friend and adviser and supposed
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tutor in earlier years), joined together in prayer to the Lord (2 Kings 19:1,2,14-19), in the Temple, laying before the Lord the letters received from the haughty Sennacherib, and recounting his boastful words, beseeching the Lord to have mercy upon his covenanted people, who now, more than for centuries, were seeking to please and serve him, and to grant them deliverance from their enemies, when there seemed no hope from any other quarter.
It was in answer to this prayer that Isaiah sent to Hezekiah the message of our lesson: “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, that which thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib, king of Assyria, I have heard,” etc. The remainder of Isaiah’s message was evidently intended to be the answer which Hezekiah should send to Sennacherib, through Rabshakeh, that the people of Jehovah laughed to scorn his boastful message and ultimatum. The answer calls attention to Sennacherib’s boastful pride and his blasphemy of the only true God, the God of Israel. The threat of the hook in the nose and the bridle in the mouth is figurative, representing the manner in which bullocks and horses are controlled: thus would the Lord control the Assyrian army. “Isaiah said unto him, Thus shall ye say to your master [Hezekiah], Thus saith the Lord, be not afraid of the words which thou hast heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria has blasphemed me. Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumor, and shall return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own hand.” (2 Kings 19:6,7.) The message calls attention to the success of the Assyrian monarch previously, and points out that it was because the Lord had so permitted, designed and foretold, but points out, also, that Sennacherib is equally under the divine power, and on the present occasion, having blasphemed Jehovah, would be unsuccessful, would be turned back, while his people, Israel, and their king Hezekiah, would be heard and succored.
Spiritual Israelites may draw valuable lessons from the foregoing. We should beware how at any time we lose sight of the Lord’s power on our behalf, no matter how threatening or great or dark the evil which assails us. A proper faith will look up to God, under such circumstances, and relying upon his promises will seek his aid, rather than seek to purchase deliverance from the great adversary, Satan, by any compromises. But how many, on the contrary, are disposed to do as Hezekiah did, purchase peace with things consecrated to the Lord,—to compromise the truth: for instance, if threatened with the disfavor of friends or neighbors or employers, how many are willing to conciliate such adversaries by a more worldly course, by subtracting from the time, influence, means, etc., consecrated to the Lord, considerable portions to be given to worldly service, or to secure domestic peace or social advancement, or commercial prosperity. So surely as the Lord’s consecrated people do this, we may expect that the Lord will permit to come upon them the very difficulties which they dread and seek to avert by unholy compromise.
They need just such a lesson; and as a faithful father will give needed chastisements and corrections to his son, so the Lord deals with those who have been adopted into his family. But with the world in general matters are different; God’s special dealings and special corrections are the manifestations of his special care for those whom he is now selecting from amongst mankind for a great future work, for which they need to be prepared, and for which unlimited faith and trust in the
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Almighty are absolutely essential. As David expressed it, “Before I was afflicted I went astray:” in other words, it was because he went astray, and because he was a consecrated servant of God, therefore, instead of permitting him to go far astray he was corrected in order to bring him back. So with all who have entered into the New Covenant, and accepted the call to joint-heirship with Christ; they are not permitted to go astray and make compromises whose tendency would be to lead them further and further astray from faith and trust in the Lord. Therefore they are chastened, and happy it is for all of Spiritual Israel who, like Hezekiah, permit the divine chastisements to develop more and more of faith and obedience.
It required great faith and courage on the part of Hezekiah and his princes, and the people of Judah in general, to resist the great power of Assyria, and to send to Sennacherib such a reply as the Lord had indicated, yet evidently their faith and trust were developed in proportion to the difficulty; and shortly they beheld the fulfilment of the Lord’s declaration respecting the Assyrians. Rabshakeh returned to meet Sennacherib, and to give him Hezekiah’s answer, and then, apparently was fulfilled the catastrophe upon Sennacherib’s army, referred to in our lesson.
In one place this is called “the blast of the Lord,” from which some have supposed that it was a simoon, or sandstorm, not uncommon in the vicinity of the Arabian desert. In the lesson it is spoken of as the smiting of the angel of the Lord, and others have assumed from this that it was a pestilence which broke out in Sennacherib’s army and destroyed in one night one hundred and eighty-five thousand of his warriors; because elsewhere pestilence is spoken of as being the work of a destroying angel or messenger. (See 2 Sam. 24:16,17.) Jewish tradition ascribes the destruction to a pestilence. The word “angel” here, as often elsewhere in the Scriptures, does not necessarily refer to a member of the angelic order of beings, but simply signifies “messenger;” and God is as able to use winds or waves,
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lightnings or sandstorms, or pestilence, as any other agency in the execution of his will. “Who maketh the winds his angels, and flaming fire his servants.”—Psa. 104:4.
Egyptian history contains an account of the remarkable departure of Sennacherib’s army, and ascribes its retreat to an invasion of field mice, which gnawed the quivers and bowstrings and the thongs by which their shields were managed. But some have suggested that this is the Egyptian figurative way of speaking of a pestilence, because with them the mouse was a symbol representing pestilence. There are many other notable instances in history in which, apparently, divine providence has similarly intervened and protected those whom it was not the divine will should be further injured. For instance, the notable case of the Spanish Armada, designed to work great havoc upon the people of Great Britain, and apparently well qualified to do the work, was destroyed by a remarkable storm. Similarly, Napoleon’s army, which had invaded Russia, and was encamped at Moscow, was, it is said, forced to retreat because of a heavy fall of snow, which is said to have caused the death of 20,000 of Napoleon’s horses, and compelled the retreat which involved the almost complete destruction of his army, numbering over a quarter of a million. In the churches of Moscow the narrative of the destruction of Sennacherib’s army is read on the anniversary of the retreat of the French from their city, as marking a similar interposition of divine providence.
As the Israelites accepted the overthrow and turning back of Sennacherib’s forces as of divine interposition, altho the sceptically inclined might view it differently, and ascribe it to natural causes, so Spiritual Israelites often find that God’s answers to their prayers, and fulfilments of his promises are of such a kind that the trustful may see in them the hand of God, while those living less near to the Almighty will see in them nothing but the casualties of nature. Thus it is that our own spiritual condition has much to do with our joy in the Lord, and our appreciation of his care over us, and of the fulfilment of his promises. All of the divine leadings are along this line, namely, “According to thy faith be it unto thee.” He who will not exercise faith in God cannot have the joy and peace which come to and are intended for believers only. It is the proper thing that as the Lord’s people we should not only trust him for his goodness and providential care, and call to mind his promises, and plead them before him in our supplications, but it is also equally proper that we should seek to see at every step of life’s journey how divine providence is directing our way, and causing all of life’s affairs to work together for good to those who love God. Such expectations of divine care, and such waiting for it and looking for it, are evidences of true faith, and pleasing to the Lord. Accordingly, he assures us that without faith it is impossible to please him and again he assures us, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith.”
In those days wars were not accomplished so quickly as at the present time, and the Israelites might well have been fearful that the retreat of Sennacherib’s army was only temporary, and that he would come upon them again, and hence the Lord gave them a sign; viz., that altho they had been hindered from planting their crops that year they should have a sufficiency of food from that which would spring up of itself, and likewise the year following. The sign was fulfilled, and the people understood that they were effectually delivered: and altho Sennacherib lived for some twenty years after his retreat, he did not again attempt to conquer the land of Judah, and subsequently was assassinated by his own sons, as was set forth in the Lord’s prophecy.—Verse 7.
Assyrian history records, on tablets and cylinders of baked clay (the books of those days), Sennacherib’s many victories, but they make no mention of this disaster which the Lord brought upon him, just as upon Napoleon’s tomb in Paris are inscribed the various battles of his wars, but Waterloo is omitted. The first features of Sennacherib’s victory over Judah are described in these words, on what is known as the “Taylor cylinder,” now in the British Museum: “Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my yoke I came up against him, and by force of arms, and by the might of my power, I took forty-six of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller towns, which were scattered about, with the march of a host and surrounding of a multitude, with attack of ranks, and force of battering-rams, and mines and missiles, I besieged and captured a countless number. From these places I took and carried off 200,150 persons, old and young, male and female, together with horses and mules, asses and goats, sheep and oxen, a countless multitude, and Hezekiah himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his capital city, like a bird in a cage, building towers round the city, to hem him in, and raising banks of earth against the gates, so as to prevent his escape. … Then upon this Hezekiah there fell the fear of the might of my arms, and he sent out to me the chiefs and the elders of Jerusalem, with thirty talents of gold, and eight hundred talents of silver, precious stones, of large size, couches of ivory … woods of every kind—an abundant treasure … all these were brought to me at Nineveh, the city of my dominion, Hezekiah having sent them by way of tribute, as a token of submission to my power.” Thus Sennacherib boasts of Hezekiah’s mistake, but wholly omits Hezekiah’s subsequent victory, through prayer and the manifestation of divine power.
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ANOTHER DEFEAT AND ANOTHER VICTORY
In consequence of this marked deliverance of Judah from the superior power of Assyria, we read, “And many brought gifts unto the Lord at Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah, King of Judah; so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from henceforth. … And Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and honor, and he made himself treasuries for silver and gold, and for precious stones, and for spices, and shields, and for all manner of desirable instruments,” etc. (2 Chron. 32:22,27,30.) But prosperity is often a severer test of character than adversity, and hence we read, “But Hezekiah rendered not again, according to the benefit done unto him, for his heart was lifted up. Therefore there was wrath upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem. Notwithstanding, Hezekiah humbled himself for the pride of his heart, both he and the inhabitants in Judah, so that the wrath of the Lord came not upon them in the days of Hezekiah.”—2 Chron. 32:25,26.
“In those days Hezekiah was sick unto death.” It was somewhere in this period of time, we may not be certain exactly when, but evidently the sickness had somewhat to do with Hezekiah’s prosperity and consequent pride; but his sickness, in the midst of various great projects for the advancement of his country, and the welfare of his people, was a sore disappointment to Hezekiah, and led him to the Lord in prayer. Doubtless he realized from the nature of the message delivered to him by Isaiah, that his sickness and premature death were penalties for his failure to render unto the Lord according to the multitude of his blessings. And so realizing, the king prayed most earnestly for forgiveness and help, promising that henceforth “I shall go softly all my years. … We will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord.” Isa. 38:9-22 records, in poetic form, Hezekiah’s resolves, and is evidently the embodiment of his previous prayer, with thanksgiving for his deliverance: for the Lord was gracious to him, accepted his prayer, covered his sins, and healed him. The prophet
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was sent back to him with the message of his recovery.
The king, anxious to assure himself that he was indeed the subject of a divine miracle, requested a proof of the increase of his life fifteen years. Isaiah proposed that the proof should be that the sun’s record on the sun-dial should be suddenly advanced ten degrees, but Hezekiah thought it would be a still greater miracle if it should be turned back ten degrees, and his request was granted. The possibility of such a miracle has been questioned by many, who have insisted that it could in no way be possible, that it would involve not only stoppage of the motion of the earth upon its axis, but an impossible retrograde movement, to be accomplished in a moment of time. However, Professor Garbett, writing for a magazine called Knowledge, declares that he knew of an afternoon some years ago when, on many sundials in Southern England, there occurred exactly the wonder described in the book of Kings.
Asked by Astronomer R. A. Proctor to describe it, he writes as follows:—”The shiftings of the shadows on the dial, that Isaiah predicted to sick Hezekiah, are liable to occur at any place, when these two circumstances occur: (1) That the upper atmosphere is in that condition which causes two bright parhelion or mock suns to appear on opposite sides of the sun; and (2) that the lower air contains drifting clouds, massive enough to hide often two of the three [apparent suns]. When the real sun and eastern mock sun are hidden, there is only the western [mock sun] to cast shadows, which then coincide with what the sun would cast an hour and a half later; but if the cloud shift so as to hide the west parhelion, and disclose the eastern, the shadows instantly become such as the sun cast an hour and a half earlier. … On March 29, 1858, these effects occurred, had any one been looking, on every dial of Portsea, and very probably of much of Hampshire besides. The parhelia were present and bright enough at about 11 A.M. and still better at 1 P.M.”
But the fact that Joshua’s long day can be accounted for by the reflected light of the sun in clouds of a peculiar kind, and the fact that the turning back of the shadow for Hezekiah can be accounted for somewhat similarly, as above, by no means lessens either of these as miracles; because they were not accidental, but specially given as proofs of divine power. The fact that we may learn how the divine power acted in the fulfilment of the divine prediction subtracts nothing from the miracle, just as in the case of Hezekiah’s recovery the fact that a fig poultice was applied, and that God thus made use of a means to an end, detracted nothing from the miraculousness of his recovery. As children of God, this is an important lesson for us to have deeply engraven upon our memories: God still uses natural means for the accomplishment of the exceeding great and precious promises of a spiritual kind, which he has bestowed upon us. Has he not promised us grace to help in every time of need? It is not necessary that we should suppose that this grace will come to us without a channel; it probably will come through a human channel. Has God promised to us meat in due season to the household of faith? It is reasonable for us to expect that it will come to us, as his other mercies and blessings have come, from his Word, and through the helpfulness of the fellow-members of the body of Christ, whom the Lord will make use of in serving the meat to the household of faith.—Matt. 24:45.
Hezekiah’s experiences in respect to the Lord’s remarkable answers to his two prayers seem to have wrought in him a commendable faith and trust, so that subsequently, when servants of the king of Babylon visited him with a present, and to congratulate him upon his recovery from sickness, and to view the wonderful aqueducts and evidences of engineering skill which he had accomplished, and when Hezekiah unwisely had shown these foreigners the great wealth of his treasuries, etc., and Isaiah was sent to reprove him for this, and to tell him that the king of Babylon would ultimately come and despoil the city of its treasures, etc., but not in Hezekiah’s day, he said, with prompt resignation to the divine will, “Good is the word of the Lord, which thou hast spoken.” He said, moreover, “For there shall be peace and truth in my day.”—Isa. 39:3,8.
Similarly all who are learning to trust the Lord, or who have tasted that he is gracious, should more and more be coming to this attitude of heart and mind: to a recognition of the fact that all God’s ways are perfect, so that they can say, “Tho he slay me yet will I trust him.” “I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.”
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