Overland Monthly / OV014 - The Divine Program (IV. The Permission of Evil)
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OV14 THE DIVINE PROGRAM IV—THE PERMISSION OF EVIL
BY C. T. RUSSELL
PASTOR BROOKLYN TABERNACLE
This is the fourth article in the series by Pastor Russell of the Brooklyn Tabernacle.
These articles are attracting attention among a wide circle of readers, as is evidenced by numbers of letters that have come to the Overland Monthly from Pastor Russell’s followers throughout the country. In addition, the press has devoted considerable attention to the articles in the form of criticism and comment.—THE EDITOR.
NOTHING HAS done so much to foster unbelief in a gracious Creator as the fact and persistency of evil—a fact that is indisputable. The reasoning faculties of some will exercise themselves and refuse to be stifled, and the possessors of such minds are straightway in trouble, unless, under Divine Providence, they have the only rational solution of the question from the only possible source—the Bible. The best faculties of the best brains idealize the Creator as the very embodiment of Wisdom, Justice, Love and Power. They say our Creator’s character should be in harmony with these lines. Then, looking out upon the world and perceiving the sin and suffering everywhere prevalent, they conclude that the evidence is lacking that there is such an ideal God as they supposed. They reason that if he were just, he would not permit the child to inherit its parents’ weaknesses and depravities, and then hold the child accountable for its conduct under these influences. They reason that if he were wise he would have avoided such conditions as made our race a "groaning creation." (#Ro 8:22.)
They reason that if he were All-Powerful as they had supposed, he would never have permitted present conditions to come upon mankind. They reason that if he were All-Loving he would make an end of the present conditions of things one way or another. It may seem strange to many that our claim should be the very reverse of the foregoing, namely, that it is the very perfection of Divine Character that has made possible the present condition of affairs. It is because of the absolute perfection of our Creator that he permits evil in the world. Let us demonstrate this and show the philosophy of it. Granting an All-Wise Creator, just, loving and powerful, it is but reasonable to expect him to exercise his power, in harmony with his other attributes, not merely in the creation of inanimate things, but specially in the creation of beings of a highly intelligent order, and possessed of qualities and characteristics resembling his own. Such beings might properly be called "sons of God." The Scriptures declare to us several orders of these sons on various planes of existence. While revelation respecting the archangels, the cherubims and a lower order of angels is set before us in the Divine Word, comparatively little is told us respecting them and Divine dealings with them. However, a sufficiency has been told us, as we shall soon see, to enable us to comprehend
OV15 the operation of the Divine attributes in dealing with these. The Scriptures inform us that man was made subsequently to the above-mentioned spiritual beings, and that, . because endowed with moral qualities and reasoning faculties, he also, in his perfection, was styled a "son of God," made in his image, although at the same time declared to have been "made a little lower than the angels."—#Ps 8:5. Accepting the foregoing Scriptural statements, and giving them full weight, it will be admitted that for them to be in God’s image and likeness would mean that they must have liberty to do right or to do wrong—they must be free moral agents. If their Creator is a free moral agent and they were created in His image and likeness, this would mean their liberty to obey or disobey the Divine command to follow righteousness or sin. As their Creator is influenced in his conduct by principles of righteousness, but is not bounden or restrained, so with these. Consequently there would always be a liability of their falling into error of judgment or personal ambition or other sin, and thus stepping out of accord with the Divine Government. This is exactly what has occurred. The Creator, by the exercise of his power, could have kept his creatures shielded from temptation and continually prompt in obedience and adoration; but to have thus limited their sphere of reasoning and liberty would have been contrary to his noble designs respecting them. Moreover, "the Father seeketh such to worship him as worship him in spirit and in truth." Those who would not serve him loyally, intelligently, gladly; those who would develop in any degree a spirit of opposition to the Divine standards, and a love for sin should be manifested, should be known, should be dealt with accordingly. On the contrary, those found loyal under every test should be the more highly appreciated and blessed in their association with their Creator in his great Divine Program of the Ages.
Satan the First Rebel.
According to the Scriptures, Satan was the first rebel against Divine authority. He is represented as being one of the highest order of the angels, a "covering cherub," glorious and beautiful. His name was Lucifer, which signifies bright morning star, and corroborates the thought that he was one of the chiefest of the angels, who are figuratively called stars or bright ones, as when we read, "The morning stars sang together." Satan’s ambition, which led up to the change of his name, is expressed in the words, "I will ascend above the other stars (angels.) I will be as the Most High"—an emperor, a ruler, having separate jurisdiction from that of the Creator. Lucifer is represented as first of all entertaining a disloyal and ambitious design, which for considerable time lay dormant, merely as an ambition, until in Divine providence the time came which seemed to Satan to be opportune for the realization of this ambition. Then came the test and his fall. This was when our race was created, represented in our first parents. In their innocency and perfection, they enjoyed their Eden home, nor even thought of disobedience to their Heavenly Father. Satan beheld in them a new feature of Divine creation, such as had not been conferred previously upon any of the orders of angels, namely, the power of propagating their own species. In them he beheld the highest order of animal creature and animal powers, combined with the image of God, moral and intellectual. Here was the opportunity for the gratification of his long-cherished ambitions. If he could bring over to loyalty to himself the first human pair, he could doubtless establish such a control over them as would bring him his longed-for separate empire. The method of procedure was a simple one. He would persuade them that he was their friend and benefactor, and that their Creator was tyrannical and desirous of keeping them in ignorance. God had furnished the opportunity for such a suggestion by putting our first parents upon trial for life or for death, the conditions being obedience. One special kind of fruit tree in Eden was selected for the testing. They were forbidden to eat of it. Satan, "that old serpent," endeavored to show them that the fruit of that tree was the most desirable of any in the Garden to give wisdom, to make them as gods. He assured them that the Divine Word, "In the day thou eat thereof thou shalt surely
OV16 die," was an untruth; that their Creator was a falsifier; that his motive was to deceive them, and that it was backed by an ignoble intention to hold them in slavery to himself—in ignorance. The sequel is briefly stated in the Divine record. Mother Eve believed the serpent and disbelieved the Creator. Thus she became a transgressor.
Father Adam, perceiving that his wife had come under condemnation, ate of the forbidden fruit, knowingly, willingly, that he might die with his beloved spouse, without whom life seemed not worth living. Thus the great catastrophe of Sin and Death was launched upon our race. We estimate, we believe reasonably, that twenty thousand millions of Adam’s posterity since born have been overwhelmed by this catastrophe and have gone down in sin and degradation and in death to the tomb—the hell of the Bible—the sheol of the Old Testament, the hades of the New Testament.
The Intelligent and the Unintelligent Tested.
Behold the wisdom of God in the method here pursued: One of the most glorious of the angels, long-experienced in fellowship with the Creator, finds his testing, his opportunity for sin, and in connection with the newest of God’s creatures. And the youngest of God’s sons found his trial, his testing, his temptation, at the hands of one of the oldest and by nature one of the most glorious of his brethren. Note another difference. The one of long experience and transgressor against great light was merely ostracized as respects heavenly companionship, while the one of little experience was subjected to the full penalty of the Divine Law, "Dying thou shalt die," "The soul that sinneth it shall die."—#Eze 18:4. Let us not hastily decide that our Creator was unjust in this arrangement, but rather with the poet say: "God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm.
"Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan his work in vain; God is his own interpreter, And he will make it plain."
The dying processes which from the time of disobedience took hold upon our race were not unjust. He who gave life originally had the full right to take it away when it was exercised in disobedience to the Divine command. Its infliction was in full conformity with the original declaration, "Thou shalt die." The dying began forthwith, and was consummated within the thousand-year day. "A day with the Lord is as a thousand years" (#2Pe 3:8.) Since then the same penalty has continued with Adam’s race. It has indeed been "a reign of Sin and Death"—and has had many sad features, even though entirely just. But our Creator informs us in the Scriptures that he purposes that all the present lessons given to our race respecting the exceeding sinfulness of sin "and the bitterness of its fruit shall ultimately prove valuable, assistful and educational to our race—before the Divine Program shall have finally ended. Meantime, in permitting Satan to seemingly thwart the Divine purpose in Eden and in permitting him still to live untrammeled, undying, the Creator gave opportunity to all the angels of Heaven to doubt the greatness of his power—to doubt his ability to cope with one of his highest creatures. We can imagine the wonderment of the angels and their queries respecting what their Creator would do with the arch-rebel who had thus defied him. Failure to visit condign punishment upon him could easily be misunderstood to signify weakness, deficiency of power, in the very place where omnipotence was supposed to reside—and really does reside.
The Angelic Hosts All Tested.
If only one of the angelic host failed along the lines of unbounded ambition, the Creator would extend a testing to all of the angelic hosts along various lines. Not that he would delight in the fall of any more, not that he would participate in tempting them, but he would permit such a reign of sin and such an apparent over-riding of Divine power as would encourage all of the angelic host who had the slightest tendency toward disloyalty to manifest themselves. Thus would the Lord test, prove, manifest, those who are in
OV17 heart obedience of love and loyalty and those whose obedience is of fear or ignorance. The occasion of testing of the angels presented itself during a period of time in which they were permitted to have free intercourse with humanity, ostensibly with a view to helping them back again into full harmony and fellowship with God.
A part of their privilege was materialization, by which they were enabled to appear as men amongst men. The exercise of this power was fully set forth in the account of Genesis, Sixth Chapter. It is related that the special angel or messenger of the Lord and two others of the Heavenly messengers appeared to Abraham in broad daylight.
He knew them not from men. They ate with him and talked with him and subsequently revealed their identity, the two inferior angels (messengers) going down to Sodom for the deliverance of Lot. According to the Divine Plan and Word it was not possible for the angels to lift mankind out of sin and condemnation back to Divine fellowship. But if the opportunity had not been granted, the angels might have supposed to this day that the redemption which God purposes through Christ was not the only possible one, but that they, if permitted, might have accomplished wonderful results for mankind. God not only demonstrated that they were not competent to save mankind, but at the same time He brought a test upon the angels themselves, which at first they little suspected. As they beheld sin in humanity and realized something of the "pleasures of sin," the test came to them whether they would prefer the pleasures of sin for a season or would remain absolutely pure and loyal to God—whether they would retain their original state as angels, or, failing to appreciate this, would desire to live as men and to participate in human affairs and sinful propensities. A considerable number chose to "leave their own habitation"—the spiritual realm—and to live as mankind and with men. These were probably emboldened to this step by the example of Satan, whose disloyalty to the Divine will had not been punished with death nor with any diminution of his power. The suggestion was that there were limitations to Divine power which they had not at first suspected, and this belief made them free to exercise their own volition and to choose sin. It is in harmony with this that we read, "The sons of God (angels) saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose....There were giants in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God (angels) came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men, which were of old, men of renown." —#Ge 6:2-4. This very plain record of the Old Testament is also substantiated by the inspired writers of the New Testament. Both St. Peter and St. Jude refer to the matter of those angels quitting their own habitation or plane of existence and preferring the lower human plane and its intercourse with humanity. Thus we read: "The angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation (preferring the human), He hath reserved in everlasting chains of darkness, unto the judgment of the great day." (Jude 6.) "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to Tartarus (our earth’s atmosphere), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment."—#2Pe 2:4
The Earth Filled with Violence.
The distinct intimation of Genesis is that the posterity of the angels amongst men possessed greater virility than Adam’s race, which had been fallen through sin and its death penalty for fifteen centuries. Selfish ambition threatened to utterly destroy with violence the race of Adam and to leave the earth in full possession of Satan and the fallen angels and their human offspring. This would have been going too far—would have been frustrating the Divine Program. Every feature of it, however, was foreknown and had all been permitted to come to pass of angelic volition and human volition at the most appropriate time—at a time when the last of earth’s Saturn-like rings was ripening for collapse, as a flood of water to destroy every living creature on the face of the earth, saving only Noah and his family, who
OV18 were specially provided for and cared for in the ark. That flood of waters drowned the giant descendants of the angels and the members of the human family who had come under their influence willingly and unwillingly. The justice of the destruction, so far as the progeny of the angels is concerned, cannot be questioned. They were exercising life rights and privileges which the Almighty had never authorized nor countenanced. Consequently no provision would ever be made for them no redemption, no resurrection. As for those of Adam’s race who perished in the flood, they were no worse off than if they had perished by some other means, famine or pestilence, or what is sometimes designated "natural death." Their lives were already under sentence of death. No injustice was done. We shall see, however, in due course that the Divine Program includes certain privileges and opportunities of blessings for those and for all of Adam’s children involved in his condemnation to death and subsequently redeemed from the power of death by Jesus the Son of the Highest.
Noah Perfect in His Generation.
Noah as the son of Adam was partaker of his condemnation and inherited his weaknesses. Therefore he was not a perfect man, nor is such the intimation of the words used in describing him, namely, "Now Noah was perfect in his generation."
His generation or birth is the particular point in this observation. He and his family were not polluted, contaminated by the improper, angelic intercourse. Thus we have in few words the assurance that our entire race is of Adamic stock, and that we, therefore, were of those condemned in Adam, for whom provision was made for justification through the sacrifice of Christ. As for those angels who sinned, St. Peter declares that they were thereafter restrained of their liberties of materialization in chains of darkness—restrained from manifesting themselves to humanity in the light, in the open. We have reason, however, for believing that the mercy of God has not yet utterly forsaken those fallen angels. The basis of this thought is found in St.
Peter’s words, to the effect that our Lord’s death and his resurrection from death by the Father’s power constituted a sermon to those fallen angels, demonstrating to them the power of God and his faithfulness to his obedient Son and his generous mercy to sinful humanity in the redemption thus accomplished. This sermon of Divine mercy coming to fallen angels would signify that there might be, eventually, mercy for them also. This thought was further supplemented by the Scriptural declaration, "Know ye not that the saints shall judge angels?" (#1Co 6:3.) Since the holy angels will need no judging, disciplining or trial, it must be the fallen angels who are thus to be judged by God’s saints in due time, and judgment or trial implies an opportunity for repentance and reconciliation to God. In view of this, we may reasonably assume that while all of those disobedient angels are restrained from liberties and separated from the holy angels, there are two classes of them—the one desirous of returning to harmony with God, the other delighting in sin and under the Prince of Demons, Satan, evil workers amongst men, operating through spirit mediums and obsessed persons and others less thoroughly given over to their control.
Walk by Faith, Not by Sight.
During the four thousand years since the deluge, this earth has been subject to what the Scriptures term "A Reign of Sin and Death." Humanity, struggling under these adverse conditions, has been subjected additionally to baneful influences from the fallen angels, so that the Apostle declares, "We wrestle not with flesh and blood (merely), but with wicked spirits in influential positions." (#Eph 6:12.) The degradation of man, originally made in the image of his Creator, has been dreadful in some quarters of the world, reducing him almost to the level of the brute. All this has certainly been a great trial of faith to the holy angels. Well might they inquire, "Why does the Almighty permit such conditions of imperfection to continue? What purpose has he in this permission of evil?" Meantime Satan has, through various agencies, sought to turn the hearts of men away from the Almighty, and from the revelation he has made of himself. These
OV19 agencies have sought to represent him as base, vindictive, loveless, unjust and powerfully vicious. During this time God has, through the stammering lips of humanity and his prophets and evangels, proclaimed to the world a time of coming blessing through Messiah and a Messianic Kingdom. Nevertheless, all who so believed were required to "Walk by faith and not by sight." To outward appearances the Divine Program miscarried and Satan won the day. Only those who would exercise faith have been enabled to endure as seeing the invisible and believing in a grace not yet made manifest in full measure. Doubtless it was a trial to the holy angels and to the fallen ones, but specially to humanity.
Holy, Harmless, Undefiled.
More than four thousand years after the reign of Sin and Death began, God sent forth his Son to be man’s Redeemer, to recover him from the fall. Yet here again the outward evidences seemed to believe the facts. The Son of the Highest, miraculously born, was thought to be illegitimate. Instead of appearing in regal, heavenly splendor, he appeared as "The man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," and died as a blasphemer and malefactor. Yea, and since then, those who have followed his footsteps most closely have corroborated his words that the friendship of God means the opposition of the world and the Adversary. What is the secret of Gospel Age, since Pentecost obscures Divine dealing? We reply that during this time the Creator has been selecting from amongst the redeemed sinners special classes to have association with himself and his Only-Begotten One in the work of blessing all the families of the earth. The Divine object in requiring all of these to walk by faith and not by sight is that thus he may find a select "Little flock" full of faith and zealous of good works.
The Grandeur of the Climax.
As the century plant develops very slowly its bloom, and then suddenly bursts forth most gorgeously, so, we hold, will the Divine Program ultimately show forth the Wisdom, Justice, Love and Power of the Creator. The poet caught this poetic thought and expressed it in the words:
"Deep in unfathomable mines Of never-failing skill, He treasures up his bright designs, And works his sovereign will.
"His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour; The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower."
By the permitted reign of Sin and Death, Divine Justice has been permitted to display itself in a manner which would not otherwise have been known to either angels or men, and in the Sacrifice of the Cross, Divine Love manifests itself to a degree never previously understood nor appreciated. When this age shall have accomplished its work of selecting an "elect" church, to be the Bride and Joint-Heir with Messiah in his Millennial Kingdom; when that Kingdom reign shall have brought blessings and glorious opportunities to all of the human race, and Divine Power shall have been manifested, even to the utmost limit of the Resurrection of the Dead, the Divine Purpose as a whole will be resplendent with the Wisdom of God.
In a word, then, evil has been permitted in order to manifest the Divine Attributes to obedient creatures and in order to test and prove the loyalty to God and the principles of his righteousness of both angels and men. The Grand Outcome will be satisfactory to all—that ultimately all not in heart harmony with God and his righteousness will be utterly destroyed, while all truly his will share his love and blessing eternally. Then every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth shall be heard praising him that sitteth on the throne, and the Lamb, forever.