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VOL. XIII. OCTOBER 15, 1892. NO. 20
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This very valuable work is for those who have a thorough, grammatical English education. It will enable such to form correct, grammatical ideas of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures; and thus gives to such an advantage above that enjoyed by the ordinary Greek and Hebrew scholar—for only a few of the latter have a grammatical appreciation of the Bible in its originals.
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THE NATURE AND METHODS OF GOD’S ELECTIONS
We have heretofore shown that election as taught in the Scriptures is not in opposition to, but in harmony with, the free moral agency of the elected classes. We have endeavored to show that, while during the Jewish age there was an election or selection of a „house of servants,” as, during the present Christian age, an election or selection of a „house of sons” (Heb. 3:5,6) is in progress, yet neither of these selections was or is arbitrary so far as individuals are concerned. God did arbitrarily fore-ordain and determine that these two classes should be selected, and arbitrarily set apart a limited period of time for the selection of each; and for aught we know to the contrary, he arbitrarily and unalterably fixed the number of each of these classes, so that not one more, nor one less, shall complete each of these elect classes, fore-ordained in this plan. But he did not, and in harmony with his own justice he could not, arbitrarily fore-ordain and elect that certain individuals must be of these classes regardless of their wishes and endeavors, and regardless of the operations of his own arrangements and regulations governing these elections.
But before any are able to look at the subjects of Election and Reprobation intelligently, they must first of all get rid of the false and blinding idea that election implies „selected to go to heaven,” and reprobation, „selected to go to eternal torture.” No such significance attaches in any way to the words. God not only applies justice to his creatures in the laws governing them, but he applies the same to himself; hence it would be as unjust and impossible for God to choose, select or elect an unworthy person to heaven as it would be for him to torture a righteous person. Furthermore, to be unchosen to a particular office or position does not imply that the unchosen one is wholly undesirable, but merely that he is not chosen to the particular office or position for which choice is being made.
Since God is good and all his plans are wise and beneficent, it follows that to be selected by him to perform any part of his plan is an honor and a favor. Thus God, having purposed in himself the redemption of mankind from the curse, and the consequent lifting up or restoration of all things (Acts 3:19,21), not only foretold it, but began preparations for that restitution. Accordingly, having also determined that this restitution should be accomplished by means of a „Kingdom of God” or a government of earth in harmony with his laws, and having predetermined that this Kingdom should be of two parts, a human and a spiritual, he began his preparation by selecting first the natural or human portion of the proposed, and as yet future, Kingdom.
Mark well that God fore-ordained these two classes, and the work for which he intended them, long before the individuals composing them had any existence. But how has this predetermined will of God operated in selecting the predetermined classes for the predetermined service of honor? Infinite wisdom
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made choice among the families of earth and chose Abraham and his family. Arbitrarily, and without reason for such a choice? Probably not: in all probability Abraham’s family was best suited to the divine purpose, the best adapted to the execution of the plan God had in view.
It was part of Israel’s difficulty that they supposed God’s election of their nation an arbitrary one, and thought it a sufficient guarantee of God’s exclusive favor to be able to say, Abraham is our father—we are, through him, the elect people of God. (Luke 3:8.) But this was a mistake; for though God had chosen Abraham’s family for a special service, and separated them by his law and favors from other nations, this was the extent of the favor they enjoyed—”To them were committed the oracles of God.”
But by reason of this national favor each individual of that nation had special knowledge and opportunities beyond those of other nations; and their faithfulness or unfaithfulness, obedience or disobedience, to this knowledge and favor decided which individuals of that called and chosen and favored nation were worthy of the position of future honor and service as members of the human or earthly phase of the Kingdom of God, which is to be established in ruling and blessing power „under the whole heavens.”
Which individuals, because of faith and obedience, were accepted as making their election sure to that future honor and service, we know only in part. The names of some of the most notable only are given by the Apostle. (Heb. 11:17-39.) These evidenced their worthiness of the favors of God held before them, by the sacrifices which they made of present honors and comforts, to obtain the future and lasting honors of heavenly promise. Therefore God will in due time honor them by manifesting them as his elect to the position and service to which he called them, and will give them a portion or share in the „heavenly city;” i.e., in the heavenly government or kingdom which he will establish—the portion promised them and to which they and all Israel were called or invited, but for which the great majority were unworthy. Yet the rejected Israelites are not to be cast off from all favor of God; rather, they will be blessed by and under the righteous dominion which Christ will establish, and in which their fellows are granted the earthly portion. They shall see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and they themselves unworthy of that honor.*—Heb. 11:16; Luke 13:28.
*Our Lord does not mention himself and the apostles as seen with Abraham and the prophets; because, though he and the apostles and all the overcomers of the Christian age will be in and of the same Kingdom, they will not be of the human phase or portion of it, but of the spiritual; and, like angels, invisible to mankind. Men will see only the earthly or human department of that glorious dominion.
The election of the full number for the human portion of the Kingdom ended about the time of Jesus’ baptism and anointing, when he began to bring life and immortality to light. Then began the selection of the class which God had predetermined he would select from among men for exaltation to the „divine nature,” and to constitute the spiritual phase of the Kingdom which will restore and bless the world. Of these Jesus was the first, the „forerunner,” the chief or captain. In the selection of this spiritual class, Abraham’s literal descendants, the Hebrews, have not been so exclusively favored as they were in the previous election; for instead of the light of truth (the „oracles of God”), through which the call is made, being confined to Israel, it has by God’s design and arrangement gone out into all the earth—calling all who have „an ear to hear” to justification, through faith in the blood of Christ as their redemption price, and, further, to sacrifice and glory—the „high calling.” The only pre-eminence given to Hebrews under this last call is that it commenced with them. (Luke 24:47.) The previous call was confined to them.
Nor should we overlook the fact that, though in the process of selecting these two classes certain individuals were elected or chosen to do a service in connection with the calling of these classes, this in no way implied their election to one of those classes. Thus Jacob, like Abraham, was chosen to be a father of the favored nation, and Moses, Samuel and others were chosen to a service in the first selection, as Paul and the
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other apostles, and others since, have been chosen and selected for special service as God’s agents in the selection of the spiritual class; yet their being elected to this service was in no way an infringement upon their free moral agency, and in no way decided for them the question of their final election to the class to which each was called.
Thus Paul, after telling us that God chose him and prepared him for this service in early life (Gal. 1:15), also assures us that he knew full well that the call to this service, and the fact that he was used as a servant in announcing the „heavenly calling” to others, by no means proved that he would attain the prize of his high calling.
To be called to such special service as Paul and the other apostles were called to was a special honor which they must appreciate to use; to have a call to the heavenly and the future service is a still greater honor; and the worthiness of the apostles, and of all who will attain it, is, during this age, being tested by the measure of their love and gratitude to God, as shown in their obedience, and proved by their self-denials.
That Paul understood that obedience or unfaithfulness to the present opportunities was to prove whether he was worthy or unworthy to be a member of the already elect or predetermined spiritual class—the „body of Christ”—is clearly evident from his many statements to this effect. For instance, he says, „I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection [I do not allow my human appetites, or ambitions, or hopes, to govern my course, but I permit the new mind, begotten of God’s promises, to rule], lest that by any means, when I have preached to others [of the great prize for which we run and sacrifice], I myself should be a castaway”* [Rejected as unworthy a place in that choice company which God has predetermined shall be composed of „overcomers„] (1 Cor. 9:27.) „Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended [or grasped the prize to which God called me, and for which I, with you, am running]; but. … I press along the line towards the prize of the high calling.” (Phil. 3:11-15.) And in the preceding verses
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he tells us in what way he was running or pressing along the line to win this great prize which God has already predetermined to give to the class whom he would select for it. He tells us that he was casting away former hopes, and ambitions, and honors, as though they were worthless and vile, and spending every effort to win a place in the body of Christ, and to secure a share in the chief resurrection (to spiritual being).
*”Castaway,” here, is from the same Greek word elsewhere translated „reprobate,” and signifies rejected—not accepted.
He well knew that, because redeemed, „all in their graves” would in due time „come forth:” but he knew, too, that only the elect „little flock” would be raised spiritual beings like their Captain and Forerunner; and he was willing to sacrifice everything (as Christ also did) to obtain a place in that elect class. The Apostle knew also that from the moment of consecration he was reckoned a member of that chosen „body” or „bride” of Christ, and that his name was „written in heaven” (Heb. 12:23); and though he had full assurance of faith each moment, because of full knowledge that he was daily a living sacrifice, yet he also knew that for him to turn back, or even to „look back” (or desire to recover that which he had sacrificed), would prove him unworthy of the kingdom position. He well knew that he who wrote his name in heaven, when he consecrated and started to run, could blot it out; and that the condition upon which it would not be blotted out was, faithfulness to the end of the race. (Rev. 3:5.) And not until his faithful course was closing with martyrdom did he write, „I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up [Reserved securely] for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”—2 Tim. 4:7,8.
Yet, while remembering that God has made the deciding of the matter, whether or not we shall be members of the elect company to which he called us, to depend upon our faithfulness to the end—”unto death”—we should
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ever bear in mind, as Paul did, that the prize is not offered to us because of our worthiness of it, but of God’s grace or favor; and that our running is acceptable only because of God’s „mercy” in imputing to us the merits of Christ, our Redeemer, as the covering of our inherited weaknesses and imperfections.—Rom. 9:16.
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SOME TEXTS OF SCRIPTURE
SHOWN IN THE LIGHT OF THE FOREGOING
(1) „Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”—1 Cor. 10:12.
(2) „Give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things ye shall never fall.”—2 Peter 1:10.
(3) „Whosoever of you are justified by the Law, ye are fallen from favor.” „Christ shall profit you nothing.”—Gal. 5:2,4.
(4) „For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, … if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.”—Heb. 6:4-6. (a) „Him that is able to keep you from falling [stumbling], and to present you faultless.”—Jude 24.
(b) „I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, … nor things present, nor things to come, … shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 8:38,39.
(c) „My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life. And they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My father which gave them me is greater than all; and no one is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”—John 10:27-29.
In the light of the foregoing statement of the doctrine of election as deduced from Scripture, the above and similar texts cease to seem contradictory, and become clear, harmonious and reasonable. To show the harmony we have selected some of those apparently most contradictory and positive, which will serve to illustrate how all similar statements are in harmony. The first four show the possibility of falling from grace or favor; the last three seem to many to teach that to fall from God’s favor is an impossibility.
It is a mistake to suppose that favor and love are synonymous, for though the favor of God always implies his love, yet the withdrawal of favor does not imply hatred. To illustrate: When God created our race representatively in Adam, he placed it in a position of favor, and when it afterward fell from that favor by disobedience to the conditions, God so loved the race (fallen from his favor), while yet sinners, as to provide a ransom for all, that thereby he might in due time restore all to the original favor, thus giving another or second opportunity to enjoy life as his favor, everlastingly.
Every act must be in harmony with his justice, love and wisdom: not with one alone, but with all of these divine attributes must every act of God conform. Hence in dealing with us, should we fall from his favor, whatever happens to us will be in full harmony with God’s character—whatever his justice, wisdom and love indicate to be best. Let us keep this well in mind.
To fall from favor implies that those who fall had first been lifted up, given a vantage ground for present or future possibility and advantage. The seriousness of the loss by a fall from favor depends upon the greatness or amount of the favor spurned or left.
Two of the three above-mentioned texts (a,b,c) assure us that God will not withdraw from us any favor he ever bestows; he will never cast us off or cause us to fall. And, more than this, his love is so great that he will not permit others to separate us from his favor contrary to our own will. And since his love is so great and his power all-mighty, we have full confidence that no power in earth or heaven can forcibly separate us from his love and the favors granted us in and through our Redeemer. Here rests our full assurance of faith—none can pluck us from our Father’s favor and protection:
„In God I have found a retreat,
Where I can securely abide;
No refuge nor rest so complete,
And here I intend to reside.
„Oh! what comfort it brings,
My soul sweetly sings,
I am safe from all danger
While under his wings.”
But is there then no danger? There is no danger of others plucking or forcibly separating us from God’s favor, or turning his love away from us: the only danger is in our own doings. We can despise or lightly esteem the favors of God, and thus forfeit our privileges under those favors, and fall from them; but
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we cannot forfeit all favor, except by direct and open apostasy. God will not force his favors upon any, but decides that those who do not appreciate the favors, when made fully aware of them, are not worthy of them.
Text number 1 guards us on this very point. Our safety is in a vivid realization of our own helplessness and dependence upon God’s favor. To realize our own imperfection and inability to justify ourselves is the safeguard against that self-righteousness which spurns justification as the favor of God, through the ransom given by our Lord Jesus. True humility and dependence upon God accepts his favor of justification in the way he provides it—through Christ’s ransom—and thus prevents its possessors from spurning, and counting a common or ordinary thing, the sacrifice of Christ—”the blood of the covenant.” (Heb. 10:26-29.) In harmony with this is the text marked a. God is able to keep us from falling or even stumbling over his favors; and he is so willing to aid us and keep us, that he has in his Word made every provision for our assistance, and assures us that the Scriptures are able to make us wise regarding his favors, so that we shall be able to avoid falling from them, and to obtain them.
Here text number 2 applies, and shows that while God has supplied every necessary aid to keep us from falling, he has left the matter in such a way as to make our earnest desire for the promised blessings a condition of our not falling from or failing to secure the favors offered us. We must give diligence and attention to the assistance and directions he has provided.
A difference in the extent of the fall and the seriousness of the consequences is shown in texts 3 and 4. The former shows a Jew who had trusted in his ability to keep the Law, who afterward came to see in Jesus his Redeemer, and became his follower, and thus reached and laid hold of justification, God’s favor granted through the ransom. Under false teaching he had been led to the erroneous conclusion that though Jesus was a good example of holy living, yet all must still be justified, if at all, by perfect obedience to the Law. Paul addresses this one and all such in this text (3), and assures them that by such conclusions they renounce and reject God’s favor, and place themselves again just where they were before they heard of Christ—under the Law, which could never justify them.—Rom. 8:3—margin.
Their conclusion that Jesus was merely an example and teacher was fallacious. There were, and had been, many noble exemplars and good teachers, and in thus regarding Jesus they were rejecting all that was specially valuable in him. Our Lord’s example and teachings
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could never give us everlasting life, unless his Ransom-sacrifice had first justified believers. Regarding Christ as an „example” would be of no everlasting profit or advantage: nothing could thus advantage them until past sins were canceled, and they reckoned justified through the shed blood (the death) of Christ.—Rom. 5:9.
This fall from grace, though serious, in that it would hinder their progress and keep them on the level of the Jew and the unjustified world, would not necessarily be an everlasting loss or fall, because, if they perceive not their error sooner, the time will come when „every hidden thing shall be made manifest.” Then a correct knowledge of the Lord shall fill the whole earth, and „none shall need to say unto his neighbor, Know thou the Lord! [or understand thou of the ransom for sin] for all shall know him from the least to the greatest;” and then, if not sooner, these and the prejudice-blinded Jews and all others shall see clearly and enter gladly upon the favor from which the Apostle tells us these were falling.
But the other text (4) tells of a fall from favor that is a far greater loss, and one which can never be regained in this or any other age. The Apostle assures us of those who thus fall away, that „it is impossible to renew [or restore] them again.” Why is it thus—why the difference in these fallings? We answer: Because those of the class here referred to (Heb. 6:4-6) have had fuller knowledge; and by having gone along from favor to favor, their fall is without excuse and indicates deliberation, a wilfulness, wholly inconsistent with their knowledge. While the others (text 3) were but deceived „babes,” these (text 4) were matured and advanced in knowledge beyond first principles. And any who have not advanced to
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the point of favor here indicated could not fall from it; and from such state of favor only is it possible to fall so utterly as to be beyond hope—in the second death.
But notice carefully the conditions of such a fall—the height of the multiplied favors, from which if any fall it is impossible to restore or renew them. They must have been „once enlightened,” brought to discern sin clearly, its penalty, and the ransom price given for the sinner. They must have „tasted of the heavenly gift:” not merely heard of Christ’s sacrifice, etc., but tasted in blessed experience the results of that ransom in realizing sins forgiven, and communion and fellowship with God restored, through „the blood of the Lamb.” They must have been „made partakers of the holy Spirit,” coming into heart fellowship with God’s plans, and for a time at least being co-workers with him—begotten by the Spirit to fuller appreciation of the truth and to new hopes and aims. They must „have tasted of the good Word of God,” by experiencing the pleasures of the appreciated fulfilment of some of the statements and promises thereof, and by recognizing a grandeur and beauty in the as yet unfulfilled portions. These must also have tasted, experienced or come to appreciate „the powers of the coming age,” realizing from the good Word of God the blessings and powers that will then be brought into exercise for the blessing and restoring of mankind, all as the fruit and result of the ransom.
Should such as have seen, tasted, experienced and enjoyed all these favors then fall away to the extent of „denying the Lord having bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1—Diaglott), denying the ransom—the very foundation of all those hopes and blessings seen and experienced—they would be treading under foot the Son of God, in rejecting the blood of the covenant, wherewith they were sanctified (and in which they had trusted, and on account of which they had been privileged to grow in grace and knowledge). If they thus count that blood an unholy (ordinary) thing, and despise the favor of God in providing the sacrifice for our sins (Heb. 10:25-29), there is no forgiveness for them further; no restoring from such a miserable fall from such heights of favor and knowledge. And who, except those who thus „fall away,” would dispute the righteousness of this, our Father’s decision? The expression of his justice and wisdom, in full harmony with his character of love, is that such shall „be as though they had not been” born. The prolongation of such lives could not be a profit or a pleasure to God, to themselves or to their fellows.
The sentence is manifestly just. It is wise, because if these have thus seen the grand outline of God’s plans, and despise and repudiate the divinely-appointed foundation of it all, then moral force, the force of truth, is seen to be unavailing upon them, and God sees that thereafter it would be impossible to renew them or to make them recognize the beauty of his way. Therefore divine wisdom has decided that all thus out of harmony, without possibility of reformation, shall be utterly destroyed as thorns and briers are destroyed, and for the same reason.—Heb. 6:7,8.
And this same principle will obtain in the next age as well, when the full opportunities of that age of favors are enjoyed by all the world. Those who wilfully reject and despise the precious blood, spurn forgiveness through it, and thus crucify Christ afresh, will thereby fall hopelessly; because, after having enjoyed the blessings secured by the ransom, they spurn and reject it. Christ dieth no more. The one sacrifice once fully appreciated and wilfully rejected leaves the rejectors in the same state as though no ransom had ever been given. It remands them again under the original penalty, death, extinction. And, because they had once been redeemed from it as the Adamic penalty, and had thus again come under it of their own will and act, it is called the second death.
Thus may not all see clearly God’s election of classes for future service, and of nations and individuals for present service, and yet recognize that God leaves his creatures free to exercise their own wills in accepting or rejecting his arrangements and favors? He seeks such to worship and serve him as serve from the heart—in spirit and in truth; and such preeminently are the classes selected in this and in the preceding age for the Kingdom’s positions and honors.
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THE PRODIGAL’S RETURN
[LUKE 15:11-32.—EXAMINED BY REQUEST]
Many have applied this parable to Jews and Gentiles, assuming that the Gentiles are illustrated in the prodigal son. To us, this interpretation is not consistent with facts and Scripture; for up to the time of the giving of the parable, and for years afterward (three years and a half after Pentecost), the Gentiles were not recognized as sons of God, but as „strangers,” „aliens,” „foreigners,” „having no hope, and without God in the world.” (Eph. 2:11,12.) From the time of the fall none but the one line of Adam’s children had divine favor—the line of which Noah and Abraham and Israel and Christ came—the line of Seth. (Amos 3:2.) All of this line, as the record shows, were accepted through the mediation of typical sacrifices of atonement for their sins—except Christ, whose life was from another father than Adam, and who himself became the true antitypical sacrifice of atonement for Adam and all who lost life in him.
Gentiles, consequently, cannot have been meant or illustrated by the prodigal son of the parable, for they had never been sons, and could not have left the father’s house when they never were in it. We must look elsewhere for the class represented.
Others have suggested that the two sons represent, the elder the „overcomers” and the younger the „great company” of the Gospel Church: that those who fail to live up to their covenant are represented in the prodigal and may be said to be wasting their spiritual privileges, with figurative publicans and harlots, in the enjoyments of worldly favor, and in immunity from the reproaches which fall upon the faithful covenant-keepers who are „dying daily” in the service of the Master according to their covenant. But it should be noticed that this exposition reverses the order of the parable, makes of the prodigal the one free from the reproaches and opposition of the world, and represents those who suffer with Christ for righteousness’ sake as the elder son who suffered nothing. In the parable it was the elder son that had the good things, the plenty of food and clothing and every comfort; and it was the prodigal son who was ragged and hungry and barefoot and suffering and outcast with the swine.
The application of the parable most reasonable and most fitting, all phases of the parable and the facts considered, is as follows:
In the parable the elder brother represented the Pharisees, and the younger brother the publicans and sinners. The context shows that our Lord’s willingness to receive the „lower classes” of the Jews, those who were living sinful lives regardless of God’s laws and of their covenant, had excited the anger of the Pharisees. The latter were strict observers of God’s Law, and in this respect commendable; but they were blameworthy in that they were proud of their religion, and boasted of their goodness; and because they despised and spurned and would not recognize, nor speak to, nor eat with, the irreligious class; and the more so because in their pride they failed to acknowledge the fact that, when doing their best to fulfil God’s law, they came far short of perfect obedience.
Our Lord’s strict observance of the Law [for, being born a Jew, born under the Law, he was bound to and did respect every legal requirement up to the day of his death—which ended that Law covenant] no doubt made him at first a favorite with the Pharisees: accordingly we find him occasionally the guest of some of them.
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(Luke 7:36; 5:17; John 3:1,2.) But when they found that he received sinners and ate with them, they began to realize that his righteousness was of a different sort from theirs, and, as darkness is opposed to light, they hated him. Moreover, soon they began to see that his teachings reflected against them, severely reproving their claimed and yet very imperfect sanctity. So it was in this parable and the others of the same discourse: they were spoken to the Pharisees as a reproof, because they had murmured at him for teaching or having anything to do with the disreputable backsliders.—See Luke 15:1-3.
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Originally all the Jews entered into covenant relationship with God, and thus became, typically, his sons. Although they were a „house” of servants as contrasted with the Christian Church, called the „house” of sons, yet we must remember that they typified the house of spiritual sons, and that as Adam was a human son of God before he sinned, so all who obtain forgiveness and return to harmony with God are again sons, either of the earthly or the spiritual family. So, then, as in this parable, all Israelites under the Jewish covenant were treated as (human) sons of God. The beginning of this relationship dated from the Covenant at Sinai.
At first all sought to abide in God’s favor at „home,” fulfilling the relationship of obedient sons—the original or eldest son of the parable, represented most prominently in our Lord’s day by the Pharisees. But another class developed, who, after having received God’s favors, wandered off into the ways of sin and forgetfulness of God, and his love and care, and into dissipation—the younger son of the parable, represented in our Lord’s day by the publicans and sinners.
Sin always brings misery in some form, and often in many forms: and one can fancy that the publicans and sinners, as they heard the story of the young prodigal beginning to feel his lack, would realize their own miserable condition therein pictured. Before the Master had finished telling how the prodigal „came to himself,” and how the father „saw him a long way off” and ran to meet and greet him, no doubt many of the hearers’ eyes were wet with tears, and many of their hearts swelling with emotion and sympathy and the desire similarly to get back from the service of the devil to God’s favor and love.
And how true to facts was the picture of the Pharisees standing around and objecting to his telling those poor prodigals anything about the love of God and his willingness to forgive them, and to welcome them back home again. The elder son of the parable was „angry, and would not go in:” the self-righteous Pharisees were angry, too, and refused to enter the Kingdom, then nigh at hand, and first offered to their nation according to divine promise. Our Lord said to them upon another occasion, „Woe, unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13); and again he said, „Verily, I say unto you that publicans and sinners shall go into the kingdom before you.” (Matt. 21:31.) Poor, self-righteous Pharisees! To this day they are jealous and will „not go in.” As a class they refused the Kingdom on the conditions offered, until the offer and opportunity were taken from them entirely (Matt. 21:43), and given to a class whom they esteemed still less than the publicans and sinners—even to the Gentiles whom they esteemed as „dogs,” from among whom, strangers and aliens and not then sons, members for the Bride and Kingdom of Christ are being selected.
We who have been accepted by God from among the Gentiles to be his sons—joint-heirs with Christ—can perhaps enter as fully into the spirit of this parable as did the publicans and sinners who heard the gracious words from the Redeemer’s lips. We, who were strangers and aliens, learned that the Father prepared a great sacrifice for the sins of all condemned in Adam. We have heard and tasted of his loving welcome into his family—we who were dead in trespasses and sins, but who are now alive toward God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. We received the „best robe,” the robe of Christ’s righteousness, replacing the filthy rags of our unrighteousness; we received the ring, representing the witness of the spirit that we are sons and heirs; we received the sandals, preparing us for the sharp contact often to be experienced from the beggarly elements of the present evil world; and above all we received the kiss, the seal of our reconciliation, the mark of our adoption into the divine family. Nothing in this parable shows the necessity for the ransom as other Scriptures show it. This, however, is not out of harmony but consistent with our interpretation of the parable; for Israel as a whole had been typically atoned for in the typical sacrifices by which their covenant was introduced and renewed
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yearly. It is therefore evidently a picture of the return of a backslidden son, and not that of the redemption of a condemned stranger and alien.
The lesson of this parable to the Pharisees is one widely applicable in its principles—viz.: that all who are in harmony with God should, nay, all who have the spirit of holiness will, rejoice to see sinners returning to divine favor. Any other spirit will surely work injury, as it did to the Pharisees, who, as a class, were unfit in their selfishness to share the blessings God had or ever will have to offer. Thank God, the time for removing blindness will soon be here. (Isa. 35:5.) Let us trust that under the new conditions many more will learn and practice the spirit of love, who now are ruled by selfishness. How hardly shall a selfish man enter the Kingdom! Let us beware of selfishness, and embroider our wedding-robe with flowers of humility and love.
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„Return, return!” thy Father’s voice is pleading,
„Tho’ far astray, I bid thee turn again!
Thy robe is rent, thy tender feet are bleeding,
Thy heart is faint and sick with famine pain:
Return, my child: a welcome here awaits thee;
No longer in the distant country rove;
Resist the cruel tempter that belates thee,
And keeps thee from my dwelling and my love.”
Return, return! Thy Father’s loving-kindness
Thou long hast scorned, and done his grace despite;
Yet in his touch is healing for thy blindness,
And he can turn thy darkness into light.
Return in all thy rags of sin’s defilement;
Return with all thy want and sore distress;
Thy Father’s voice bespeaks his reconcilement:
Flee to his breast, and there thy guilt confess.
Return, return! Thy substance hath been wasted—
Thou hast not aught to bring but thy poor heart;
Yet art thou longing for the bread once tasted,
And for his paths of peace, and faith’s good part?
Return, for why shouldst thou delay the pardon
Thy Father’s great compassion waits to grant!
Arise and go, before thy doubts shall harden
The homesick yearnings of the penitent.
Return, return! Leave thou the swine and famine
And seek again the plenty of thy home!
Why dost thou toil among the husks of mammon,
When to his rest the Father bids thee come?
Return thou to his arms, his kiss, his blessing;
Accept the robe, the sandals, and the ring;
And there, thy sinfulness and guilt confessing,
Thou shalt be found, lost treasure of the King!
Return, return! The angel-hosts bend o’er thee—
They wait to bear the tidings’ joyful sound.
They have beheld the Savior dying for thee,
And will rejoice to sing, The lost is found!
Return, for he will heal all thy backsliding—
Will love thee freely, and will thus forgive;
Come, weary soul, rest in his love abiding.
Thou hast been dead—arise to-day and live!
F. G. BURROUGHS.
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GROW IN GRACE
„Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.”—2 Pet. 3:17,18
There is a touching tenderness in the Epistles of the aged Apostle Peter to the household of faith, showing that, while he realized that the time of his departure was drawing nigh (2 Pet. 1:14; John 21:18,19), his solicitude for the growth and development of the Church was increasing. Accordingly, he writes two general epistles, not so much to advance new truth, as to call to remembrance truths already learned and fully received (2 Pet. 1:12-15), and to counsel all to faithfulness and to growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the preceding verses he has been calling to mind some of these truths, and he recognizes the fact that those addressed are already established in them; but, in view of his knowledge that false teachers would arise to pervert the truth, he counsels special watchfulness against being led away from their present steadfastness by the error of the wicked. That this counsel of the Apostle has a special fitness to the Church in the last days, our days, and
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was evidently so designed by the Spirit of God, is clear from verse 3—”There shall come in the last days scoffers,” etc.
Let us observe the manner in which the Apostle would have us guard against being led away by the error of the wicked. Is it by a careful investigation of all the claims which every new false prophet that arises may intrude upon our attention, thus giving heed to every seducing spirit (1 Tim. 4:1)? No: that would be quite contrary to the teaching of „our beloved brother Paul,” to whom Peter so affectionately refers, and whom he so fully endorses; for Paul had given no uncertain counsel on this subject, saying, „Shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a canker;” and „I entreat you, brethren, to mark those who are making factions and laying snares contrary to the teaching which you have learned, and turn away from them; for they that are such are not in subjection to our Anointed Lord, but to their own appetite [for honor and praise among men, as great teachers—1 Tim. 1:6,7]; and by kind and complimentary words they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. … I wish you to be wise with respect to that which is good, and harmless with respect to that which is evil.”—2 Tim. 2:16,17; Rom. 16:17-19.
Peter felt the force of Paul’s wise and earnest counsel, and with emphasis re-echoed the same sentiments. To give heed to such seducing doctrines, contrary to the doctrine which we have already received from the Lord and the apostles, argues a lack of faith in those doctrines. Such a one is not established in the faith. And indeed there are those—and such is the general sentiments among the teachers of false doctrine—who think that it is not either necessary or advisable to be established in the faith. To be established is to be a bigot, is the idea they advance. And so it is, if one is so unfair in mind as to accept and tenaciously hold that which he has never proved either by sound logic or Bible authority. But he is not an unreasoning bigot who, in simple faith, on the authority of God, accepts the Word of God. And such, and only such, as do so are established in the truth. The difference between the strong and steadfast Christian and a bigot is that the one is established in the truth, while the other is established in error. The former knows the truth, and the truth has made him free from all doubts and misgivings, and from all desires to delve into the muddy pool of human speculations. To all such Paul says, „As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught [by us, the apostles], abounding therein with thanksgiving.”—But, „Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”—Col. 2:6-8.
With these sentiments of „our beloved brother Paul,” Peter’s counsel is in fullest harmony, his advice being, not to waste valuable time in investigating „the errors of the wicked,” but, on the contrary, to endeavor the more earnestly to „grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” who is the way, the truth and the life. The more thorough our knowledge of the Lord, and the more intimate our acquaintance with him, the more secure we are in our own steadfastness.
But what is it to grow in grace? It is to grow in favor with the Lord through an intimate personal acquaintance and fellowship of spirit with him. It implies, first, a knowledge and recognition on our part of our redemption through his precious blood and a personal faith in and dependence upon all the promises of the Father made to us through him, and then an intimate communion with him in our daily life of prayer, and of observation of his will and obedience to it. If such be our constant attitude of mind and heart, there must be a constant ripening of the fruits of the Spirit, rendering us more and more pleasing and acceptable to our Lord. A sense of the divine acceptance and favor is given to us from day to day in increasing measure, in fulfilment of that blessed promise of our Lord, „If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”—John 14:23.
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This, as nearly as words can express it, is what it is to grow in grace; but the full and blessed understanding of it is best appreciated by those who from day to day walk with God in faith and obedience and love.
To grow thus in grace and not grow in knowledge is impossible; for the very object of such communion is to build us up in a more perfect knowledge and acquaintance with the Lord—to bring us into closer fellowship with the divine plan, and to give us the privilege of being co-workers together with him in executing that plan. If, therefore, we love and obey the Lord and desire to grow in his favor, his written Word is our daily meditation and study, and thus we grow in knowledge: not, however, by finding out each year that what we learned last year was false, but by adding to what we learned last year, by putting on more and more of the armor of God until we realize its glorious completeness in the full discernment of the divine plan of the ages. We are then ready to do valiant service for the cause of truth in withstanding the encroachment of error (Eph. 6:10-13), being established, strengthened and settled in the faith. (1 Pet. 5:10.) But even to those thus established in the faith there is abundant opportunity to grow in knowledge; for while they will see nothing new or different in outline or design, they will be continually charmed and cheered with newly discovered lines of harmony and beauty in the divine drawings of the wonderful plan of the ages. As pupils we may ever study the master workmanship of the Divine Architect.
„And still new beauties shall we see,
And still increasing light.”
Our beloved brother Peter, zealous for our growth in knowledge, endeavors to inspire us thereto, by calling our attention to the wonderful events and the close proximity of the day of the Lord, saying—
„The day of the Lord will come as a thief [unobserved by the world], in the which the heavens [present ecclesiastical powers] shall pass away with a great noise [tumult and confusion], and the elements [the various parties and sects composing it, split and torn by discordant views] shall melt with fervent heat [the heat of public discussion and investigation]: the earth also [society as at present organized under civil and ecclesiastical authority] and the works that are therein shall be burned up” [destroyed, in the strife and friction caused by increasing knowledge combined with selfishness. This will not be a literal fire, but, as described by the prophets, the fire of divine jealousy—Zeph. 1:18; 3:8]. (2 Pet. 3:10.) Already the noise and tumult, which shall thus eventuate in world-wide anarchy, are distinctly heard in every nation; for the day of the Lord has indeed begun, and the heat of human passion is growing more and more intense daily, and the great time of trouble is very near.
„Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved [seeing that present arrangements and institutions shall all go down], what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens [the present ruling powers] shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” Let us indeed lay to heart this solemn question, for we stand in the very presence of the Judge of all the earth. These words, while addressed to God’s people eighteen centuries ago, and serving a purpose for good all along down this Gospel age, are specially meant by the Spirit for us, who are living in this very Day of God.
„Nevertheless we [we who have come into covenant relationship with the Lord—we, unlike the rest of the world, know of the divine plan and], according to his promise, look for new heavens [the Kingdom of God—to be established in power and great glory] and a new earth [a new organization of society under the rulership of Christ and his glorified bride, the Church] wherein dwelleth righteousness.” Blessed assurance! how favored are we above the people of the world who have not this knowledge!
„Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” And Jude (24) reminds us that the Lord, in whose grace and knowledge Peter desires us to grow, „is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” Amen.
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STUDIES IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
—INTERNATIONAL S.S. LESSONS—
SUGGESTIVE THOUGHTS DESIGNED TO ASSIST THOSE OF OUR READERS WHO ATTEND BIBLE CLASSES, WHERE THESE LESSONS ARE USED; THAT THEY MAY BE ENABLED TO LEAD OTHERS INTO THE FULLNESS OF THE GOSPEL. PUBLISHED IN ADVANCE, AT THE REQUEST OF FOREIGN READERS.
THE FIRST CHRISTIAN MISSIONARIES
IV. QUAR., LESSON VII., NOV. 13, ACTS 13:1-13
Golden Text—”That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations.”—Luke 24:47
VERSE 1. The Church at Antioch had grown and prospered under the instructions of Barnabas and Saul, who, after spending a year with them, went to Jerusalem at the time of the famine and must have returned again to Antioch and resumed their work of teaching and strengthening them in the faith and hope of the gospel. The occasion of this lesson was probably about a year after the famine. Not only had the Church there increased largely in numbers, but in their midst had developed both prophets and teachers. The view of this band of Christians is truly a refreshing one. Here Jews and Gentiles were made one in Christ Jesus, and mingled together in ardent devotion to the recognized Messiah. They were full of love and zeal; they were earnest students of the Word of the Lord as expounded by Barnabas and Saul; they were prompt in sending relief to other Christians in time of famine. And now, having themselves grown strong spiritually through the knowledge of the truth and humble submission to its teaching, the missionary spirit began to develop.
VERSE 2. As the prophets and teachers continued in the good work with fasting and prayer, the holy Spirit indicated in some way that Barnabas and Saul should be released from the work in Antioch and sent elsewhere, to the work whereunto God had called them—the work among the Gentiles—to which Saul had been appointed by a voice from heaven, and Barnabas by the circumstances which had drawn him into this work and by the ability he manifested in carrying it forward. We are not informed as to the manner in which the holy Spirit indicated this, whether by some miraculous means, or whether by a simple consensus of opinion regarding the matter, in view of the ability of the Church at Antioch now to dispense with their services.
VERSE 3. In a most solemn manner—with prayer and fasting and the laying on of hands—the dear brethren at Antioch bade Barnabas and Saul God-speed on their mission. The laying on of hands cannot be understood as conveying authority to these brethren to preach the gospel; for they had been preaching the gospel for several years: and, besides, these brethren who laid their hands on them were not bishops or great ones in the Church; but, like all the others, they were simply brethren in Christ. The laying on of their hands we understand, therefore, to signify that they wished the new converts abroad to recognize these two as representatives, not only of the Lord, but also of the Church at Antioch, who, in parting with them and foregoing the advantage of their services, thus manifested their disposition to bless others with the same good tidings which had so refreshed them. And doubtless they paid their expenses and pledged them the support of their sympathy and prayers, and their means, if need be. Thus Barnabas and Saul went forth in the name of the Lord, and of the Church at Antioch, who thereby shared in the enterprise. In the symbolic services of the Tabernacle, this same significance attached to the laying on of hands. Thus Aaron, the high-priest, in laying his hands upon the head of the bullock to be sacrificed, declared that the animal represented him (Lev. 8:14) and thus typified Christ Jesus, our great high-priest who gave himself a sacrifice for our sins.
Thus we see that there was no apostolic succession indicated in this simple ceremony; for, as a matter of fact, it was brethren who were not apostles who laid their hands on one (Saul) who was already an apostle chosen and ordained of God.—1 Tim. 2:7.
VERSES 4,5. Being thus sent forth by the holy Spirit, they began their work in the synagogues of the Jews, because the Jews, having a knowledge of the prophecies and of the events, etc., connected with the life and tragic death of Jesus of Nazareth, were best fitted to receive the truth. Just so now the truths of the new, Millennial dispensation belong to Christians first, and the testimony should be borne to them before going to the world in general. This being our custom, we are often confronted with the query, Why not go rather to wicked people who never go to church? We reply, Because this gospel is sent to the meek (Isa. 61:1), and because „Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.”
But the temples of the nominal church today do not offer the same advantages for the
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presentation of the truth as did the synagogues of the Jews. The former are so hedged about with restrictions and formalities that there is almost no opportunity to present the truth there, while the Jewish synagogues, on the contrary, were open to any one who would read or expound the Scriptures. So also were the assemblies of Christians in those days of primitive simplicity, which have been so widely departed from by the nominal church of these later days.
VERSES 6-12 show how God worked with Barnabas and Saul and manifested his power through them. As they sought to make plain the way of truth to an earnest inquirer an enemy appeared who endeavored to withstand their teaching; but the power of God exercised through Saul promptly silenced the opposer, and the truth had free course.
Here the question naturally arises, Why does such power not exist in the Church to-day? On every hand the foes of truth and righteousness arise and flourish, and there is no power to withstand them save the power of the truth. We answer, it was not God’s purpose thus to defend the Church from her foes all through the age. It was his purpose, on the contrary, to let „the mystery of iniquity” work and prosper, and to let the Church develop under the trial; but in those early days, in order to let truth have a start on a fair footing it was necessary for a time to restrain the power of the adversary, as in the case of Elymas the sorcerer. The difference between that time and this is that that was the seed-sowing time while this is the harvest. And therefore God now permits false teachers to increase and multiply more and more, and to have such liberty that, if it were possible, they would deceive the very elect. Even these enemies serve a purpose in testing and in sifting the true children of God from the false.
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„OUT OF DARKNESS INTO HIS MARVELOUS LIGHT”
DEAR FRIEND IN CHRIST:—I received your card, the Tracts and two numbers of „Zions Watch Tower,” for which favors please accept thanks. I did not know that there was any such line of thought in publication, until I acted as scribe for a friend in ordering „Millennial Dawn;” but I have been reading the Word very studiously for some years, with the heart and will surrendered to God, and the body presented a living sacrifice. I sought to know God only in this search after truth; for Jesus, in his beautiful prayer, said, „And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
I have read many publications, getting some food from each and all; but I have never found the liberty which you advocate, and which undoubtedly is of God, made practical; and I can accept nothing less than the liberty wherewith Christ has set me free. What need have we of man’s sanction or ordination, since to come under man’s dictation is to cut off spiritual communication with God. My continual aspiration to God is, Fashion me as the potter fashions the clay. Fill me with the knowledge of thy will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. I am glad that I may be his child without subscribing to any rules according to the wisdom of man, which is foolishness with God. I am sure we may have Jesus dwelling in us, we may be baptized into his death (and so put on Christ), and his life may be sustained in us, as we eat of his broken body and drink of his shed blood.
Praise the Lord, O my soul; be glad in the Lord, and rejoice! Oh, how unkind not to believe him and live; for he delighteth not in the death of him that dieth. Yes, he died to deliver us from death. He took the flesh, that through his death he might destroy him that has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver us.
Enclosed please find five dollars for the TOWER, Tracts and „Dawns.” I would rejoice to do all that I can in disseminating the truth.
Yours very truly in the love of the truth,
H. M. WHITE.
TOWER PUBLISHING CO.:—I received the three volumes of „Dawn” and several numbers of the Tower. They are indeed a helping hand to one who has been struggling to get into the light but dimly seen, standing outside of the Babel of confused tongues for nearly twenty-five years, and waiting for the Lord’s coming since 1844. I now stand on the verge of three score years and ten, and pray, „Thy Kingdom come;” and with the ardent desire of the souls under the altar I inquire, How long, O Master, how long?
How almost overwhelming is such a flood of light as the Lord is now giving through you and others of his chosen messengers! How inexpressible and exultant the joy of such light!
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I have often remarked that wherever there is an earnest, persistent seeker of the truth, it will finally come to such an one; and that if there should be no other way, a special messenger would be sent.
I am thankful for the opportunity now offered to do some little service for the Master, by circulating your publications wherever I find a hearing ear or a waiting soul. Our Lord said, „Ye are my witnesses;” and I fear that I have not been a faithful witness, although I taught many of these truths privately for some years. Standing outside of all human organizations, and in a very dark corner of the earth, and knowing nothing of the TOWER movement (or work), I felt alone and fearful. But my moral courage is now greatly strengthened by the knowledge of the fact that there are so many and such strong laborers in the field. May the Lord ever guide us, and teach us when and what to speak, and when to be silent.
Yours in him, S. G. KERR.
TOWER PUBLISHING CO.:—I received the third volume of MILLENNIAL DAWN, and I was well pleased with it, as with the first and second volumes. They have given me great light on what seemed dark and mysterious passages of the Bible; and they have created in me a new interest in the study of the Old as well as the New Testament—not for mere curiosity, but because I see a new beauty in all their teachings, in all God’s plans and purposes. We are made willing or unwilling instruments to accomplish his will. What a blessed thought, to be willing workers in his vineyard, and to be waiting with glad hearts for the Master’s return to secure his own.
I have loaned the books with the hope of enlisting others in the spread of the truth in this community.
Fraternally, yours, W. D. HONENS.
DEAR FRIENDS:—I am sincerely grateful for the generous gift of the WATCH TOWER. I enjoy it beyond my power to express, and I read it, as I do the DAWN, with the Scriptures open beside me. The beauty and value of your publications lie in the fact that every statement is so completely fortified by Scripture references. I sometimes read the whole chapter, where one verse or more is referred to, and I am conscious of a much clearer comprehension of Bible teachings than I ever had before; for I was much troubled by skepticism. I did not then know how to study the Scriptures, as many of my teachers were also partially blind.
I am very thankful that our blessed Savior so ordered the late events of my life that I was permitted to obtain some of the true light, and I trust some of that wisdom that maketh wise unto salvation. I believe it was his grace that caused some Tracts to be sent to me, and that led me to obtain Volume I. of DAWN. By the time that I had carefully read Chapter vi. of that work, all my skepticism and doubts disappeared. To me the Scriptures are not contradictory, nor is our loving Creator unjust, unwise, or lacking in power. Yea, he is infinite in all his attributes.
I intend to use all means and opportunities in my power to aid in spreading the light that has so mercifully been extended to me. I desire to consecrate all my abilities, and the remainder of my life, to the circulation of literature that tends to a knowledge of righteousness, the truths of Scripture, the wonderful plans of our Creator, our Father, and his infinite love, wisdom and justice. May the Lord grant abundant success to our labors for the spiritual help of mankind. Gratefully yours in the Lord, B. G. BARTO.
The following letter, just at hand, indicates that there are some truth-seekers in the pulpits too: a fact that one might be inclined to doubt, from the number of ministers who seem determinedly opposed even to investigating anything approximating „good tidings of great joy for all people”—hating the light, neither coming to it; but, like their prototypes in the Jewish „harvest,” stopping and in every way hindering all who are longing for the dawn of the Millennial morning. Let us not despair of the ministers: there are some honest ones among them. Let us remember that it costs them more than others to embrace present truths. One of them (a Presbyterian minister in Pittsburg), after admitting privately that he believed much taught in the Dawns, was asked, Why
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then do you not preach it? His candid reply was: „My bread is not buttered on that side.”
BRETHREN:—If you have anything Biblical in „The Plan of the Ages” which will lift the awful load of depression from mind and heart, and harmonize natural and „revealed” religion, in the name of mercy send it to me by return mail. Find thirty cents inclosed.
Pastor First Congregational Church.