ZWT - 1898 - R2238 thru R2410 / R2319 (177) - June 15, 1898
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VOL. XIX. JUNE 15, 1898. No. 12.
Mean Christians and Noble
The Need of the Good Physician
The Law of Heredity Involved......................181
"The Testimony of the Lord is Sure,
Making Wise the Simple".....................182
"See that Ye Love One Another"....................183
Poem: "The Light of the Word".....................184
"The Waning of Evangelicalism"....................184
Solomon's Kingdom Divided.........................187
Elijah, the Prophet...............................190
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MEAN CHRISTIANS AND NOBLE UNBELIEVERS.
SURELY none will dispute the statement that there are noble characters amongst unbelievers as well as amongst Christians; neither will anyone of experience dispute that there are mean people amongst Christians as well as amongst worldly. But how shall we account for this? Should we not reasonably expect that the noble principles of true Christianity would attract all of the best minds of the world, and rather repel the meaner dispositions? Should we not expect that the doctrines of Christ, the spirit of his teachings, namely, meekness, gentleness, brotherly kindness, love, would attract all who have sympathy with these qualities, hence all of the nobleminded of the world? And should we not likewise expect that since the Scriptures and the spirit of the Lord condemn all anger, malice, hatred, envy, strife, backbitings, evil speakings, impurities, etc., that all those who have sympathy with such works of the flesh and of the devil would be repelled by the Gospel of Christ?
Whatever the tendency of our mental philosophy on the subject, the facts of the case prove to us that proportionately a larger number of the world's noble-minded children reject the Lord and his Gospel, and that a larger proportion of the world's ignoble children accept the Gospel of Christ. The still more interesting and perplexing question therefore is, how shall we account for this very peculiar condition which seems contrary to all and every expectation.
We account for it along the lines of our Lord's statement, that he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. True, there is none righteous, no, not one; all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; the fall of father Adam involved every member of his posterity; hence all are sinners and all need the grace of God in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins: but those who find themselves morally and intellectually less fallen than some of their neighbors are inclined to a self righteous feeling, even tho they would disclaim perfection. They are therefore the less inclined to acknowledge themselves to be nothing, unworthy of divine favor, and to bow themselves in the dust at the foot of the cross, and to receive, as an unmerited gift of God, the boon of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
THE NEED OF THE GOOD PHYSICIAN NOT REALIZED.
They feel that some of the more degraded of the race do need divine pity and forgiveness, and they feel glad that God has compassion for these, and will help them; but somehow they feel that they do not need the imputed robes of Christ's righteousness to cover them; they feel as tho they are so respectable that if God accepts anyone to a future life he will surely not exclude them. They look about them and compare themselves with Christians, and often with a large degree of complacency assure themselves that their ideas of right and wrong and of moral responsibility, and of benevolence etc., are higher, nobler, better than those of professed Christians: and say to themselves, God is just, and while I am not perfect I am a great deal better than the majority of Christians, and I am sure, therefore, that God in justice will take as much care of me as he will of others who I see are inferior to me in some of the good qualities of heart and mind. Like the Pharisee of old, they thank God that they are not as other men and
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neglect "the only name given under heaven or among men whereby we must be saved."
The class we are describing is a numerous class, more numerous than many persons would suppose until they reflect on the subject. And it includes many far from hypocritical who have never understood the gospel. Several of the presidents of the United States, have been men of this class,--reverent toward religion, moral in their course of life, just in their dealings-- for instance, Lincoln and Grant; and we merely mention these as ensamples of a class. Besides, many properly of this class are either Church attendants or Church members. They appreciate the fact that directly or indirectly the moral uplift of civilization is associated with Christianity and are pleased to take their stand on the moral and popular side, tho they have never accepted at the hands of divine grace the forgiveness of sins through faith in the precious blood of Christ.
We see their difficulty: it is that they do not recognize that the Lord is dealing upon principles of strict justice and law. Divine law and justice declare that all imperfection is contrary to God, that God's work was perfect originally in Adam, and that he
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never can accept to harmony with himself anything that is imperfect. They fail to see that under this law, whoever is guilty in that which is least, is nevertheless guilty; and comes under the same death penalty with him who is guilty of many and more serious offences. Since, then, all men are imperfect--none absolutely righteous--the one sentence of death grasps every member of the human family. And there is no door of escape from death, no door of entrance into life except the one which God has provided--Christ Jesus, the righteous, who became man's Redeemer by the sacrifice of himself. He who fails to go through the door never attains to life, however much he may strive against sin, and however closely he may approach to the door. Only passage through the door can mean an entrance into eternal life. "He that hath not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God [the sentence of death] abideth upon him."--`John 3:36`.
The same philosophy of the subject shows to us why it is that a proportionately larger number of the world's ignoble than of its noble children come to Christ. Only those who feel that they are sinners, who feel that they need relief from sin, appreciate the offer of forgiveness. Only the sick, who realize that they are sick, feel their need of the Great Physician. Many indeed seek the Lord's grace because they realize to some extent their own fallen, degraded condition, and that they are meaner people than others;--only this seems to awaken them to a realization of their position; only this leads them to cry out, "Have mercy upon me, thou Son of David." And this attitude of the realization of personal unworthiness of the divine favor is necessary to all who would accept the grace of God on the only conditions upon which it is offered.
Having thus found the philosophical basis of our subject, we proceed to inquire concerning the result. What is the legitimate result of acceptance of Christ? We answer, the inevitable result of a proper acceptance of Christ, under the terms of the New Covenant must be moral uplifting; because the condition upon which Christ receives anyone is, that he desires not only to be forgiven the sins that are past, but he desires also to forsake sin for the future. The lower he may be in the scale of morality the more radical will the change eventually be, but the less proportionately will he realize at the beginning of his conversion all the steps of purification, of word and thought and act, which lie before him in the Christian pathway. He will at first think merely of the reform of the grosser manifestations of sin, but step by step and lesson by lesson he will be instructed by the great Teacher, and brought onward in knowledge and in appreciation, and in character upbuilding, if he continue in the school of Christ.
The requirement of the great Teacher, through the Apostle, is that those who come unto him, in full consecration, after being accepted on the ground of faith, must at once begin to "put away all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit, perfecting holiness in the reverence of the Lord." Whoever will not make the attempt to do this will not be continued in the school of Christ, because he has not his spirit, and not having his spirit he is "none of his." "Whosoever practices sin [knowingly, willingly] is of the devil." (`1 John 3:8`.) Nevertheless it may require years of schooling and discipline under the Great Teacher before some of those who were deeply sunken in the mire of sin and selfishness, and many consequent meannesses of disposition, become even moderately or passably good, noble characters. Character is more like the oak than like the mushroom; it requires time for its development. Yet, as the oak might be quickly killed with an axe, so even a strong character might be quickly undermined, prostrated, overthrown by sin. In other words, upward development is slow, but downward tendencies may take effect rapidly, if permitted. Consequently many Christians can see that while the religion of Christ has done much to help them and their friends out of the miry clay of sin, and to put them on the Rock, Christ Jesus, and has cleansed them from many of the defilements of the flesh, and many of its meannesses of disposition, yet perhaps after ten, twenty or forty years of such discipline and perseverance, they may with surprise behold some unbeliever whom they
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must acknowledge to be their equal in moral probity, uprightness or generosity.
THE LAW OF HEREDITY INVOLVED.
The question arises, How is this? We answer that as moral deflection affects the children to the third and fourth generation, so moral attainments may affect the children to several generations. Hence parents who have been upright and Godfearing, who have endeavored to cultivate in themselves the graces of the spirit, not only benefit themselves, and approach more nearly than at first to the grand standard of perfection, but their children will be born with better natural qualifications as well as under conditions more favorable to righteousness and nobility of soul. For the heart attainments of the parents are reflected in the physical conditions of their children.
And this, by the way, proves conclusively that many professedly pious parents are less noble at heart than we could have hoped; for if, during the period of conception and gestation, parental thoughts, feelings, sentiments have been cultivated along the lines of nobility, purity, holiness, reverence, benevolence, justice and love, their children would show it; and results would be blessed both to the children and the parents. The natural qualities of the child were willed to it before its birth, chiefly by the mother, and the mother's ideals were considerably those of the father if they were well mated. Christian parents should awake to their responsibilities in the exercise of their procreative powers entrusted to them by the Almighty. It is a disgrace to our civilization that so many in civilized lands are low-born, even amongst those who recognize the laws of heredity and who carefully guard the breeding of their cattle and sheep and dogs and horses: it must be that the influence of the parental mind upon posterity is not recognized. Let these thoughts not only guard parents in respect to future offspring, but also make them very patient and painstaking with present children when attempting to train out of them blemishes of character which they helped to implant. The first duty of a parent to his child is to give him the most favorable start in life within his power.
The children of Christian parents, favorably bred, if they also become Christians and begin a warfare in their own hearts against moral uncleanness and sin, and against all the mean and selfish propensities of the fallen nature, may, by the grace of God, attain to a moral position higher than that attained by their parents, --through putting into practice the instructions of the great Teacher. But here comes in another side of the question: God does not accept the children of believers on account of parental faith beyond the period of their minority. So soon as years of accountability have been reached, a personal covenant with the Lord is required, if they would be his in any special sense; otherwise they are reckoned as being of the world and under its condemnation, and not under the justification which extends only to believers and their minor children. (`1 Cor. 7:14`.) God makes the entrance into his family and school an individual matter.
And here we find the secret of how it comes that some of the noblest men of the world are not the Lord's people. They are the children of some whose feet have been lifted out of the miry clay of sin; they have inherited through their parents a share in the uplifting which the teaching of Christ brought into the world, amongst those who follow his teaching. Thus we see that Infidelity has nothing to boast of in its noblest sons, for what they have that is noble and great came generally through the belief, the faith, of their ancestors. On the contrary, the tendency of unbelief is toward sin and its degradation. It may not come in one generation, or it may. The son of noble Christian parents who has inherited a more noble mind than the masses, may maintain that mind to some extent through life, and if he take pride in his morality he may, at least on the surface, keep up a good appearance, and may transmit some of it to his posterity. But eventually selfishness will undermine and destroy nobility, and we may as surely expect a degradation in the posterity of such who do not receive Christ, as we may expect an advancement on the part of all who do accept Christ.
ILLUSTRATED IN THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH.
The general operation of this law can only be appreciated as we look out over a grand scope of territory and over centuries of time. As we look back to the days of our Lord and the Apostles, we find that the Gospel laid hold upon the very class that we have here described, the publicans and sinners, the lower classes, while it was rejected by the worldlywise, the hypocritical and the pharisaical, who were morally and intellectually the superior class, and on this very account rejected Christ;--not feeling their need of a Savior. Looking intently at the Gospel Church, with its lowly beginning, in the poorest class, we find that whoever entered the school of Christ and was taught of him was uplifted by obedience to that Teacher. This higher teaching of the Master, to the effect that we should love not only one another, but should sympathetically love even those who hate us, who malign us and who persecute us, saying all manner of evil against us falsely, for his sake; and that divine blessing rests upon the meek, the patient, the humble, the peacemakers; and that the sum of all graces is love; became the standard among his followers. We find the
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very same teaching coming from the humble fishermen and publicans who accepted him, and whom he sent forth as the Apostles of his grace.
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For instance, we find the Apostle Peter saying, "Add to your faith patience, experience, brotherly kindness, love." We find the Apostle John saying, "He that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?" We find the Apostle James saying that all who are taught of the Lord should "show out of a good conversation [life] his works with meekness of wisdom, but if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not...Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Speak not evil one of another, brethren." "Hearken, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?"
We hear the Apostle Paul, who once was of the nobler, the Pharisee class, giving utterance to the same truth, and in all humility acknowledging that "there is none righteous, no, not one," and explaining that only as we accept Christ have we the forgiveness of sins or reconciliation with the Father; and explaining further that having put on Christ we should be new creatures in him; that old things should be past and gone, forever, and that we should walk thenceforth in newness of life, not according to the will of the flesh but according to the purpose of the Lord. Hear him exhorting those who have taken the name of Christ, assuring them that they must also take his spirit or disposition, and have the same mind [disposition] which was also in Christ Jesus our Lord, a mind in opposition to sin and meanness and selfishness, a mind in harmony with truth and goodness and purity and benevolence, love.
And he explains this, saying: "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor; love is the fulfilling of the law. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light; let us walk honestly. Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof. Recompense no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him drink."
He explained in particular the love which is the essence of the spirit of God, the spirit of Christ, which all followers of the Lord must have if they would be and continue to be his, saying: "Love suffereth long and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Love never faileth."
"THE TESTIMONY OF THE LORD IS SURE, MAKING
WISE THE SIMPLE."--`PSA. 19:7-14`.
It would be impossible for any class of people, however mentally and morally degraded they might be, to receive such instructions into good and honest hearts, without being uplifted by them, made more noble, more Christlike, more Godlike. It does not surprise us, therefore, to find that in the first century even, the Lord's people became noted for their high principles and morality, insomuch that the masses of the people "took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus and learned of him." Then we see how the adversary corrupted the truth from the simplicity in which it was presented by the Lord and the Apostles. We see forms and ceremonies, genuflections and masses, bondage to creeds and theories of men, taking the place of the pure gospel of Christ, and we note the result, that in proportion as the teachings of Christ were ignored, in the same proportion superstition came in, and the spirit of Christ was lacking.
Nevertheless, with all the corruption which came into the world with the second century, there was a sufficiency of the true spirit intermixed with the error to work a vast reformation in the savages of Europe, and to bring them into a condition of civilization higher than that of the rest of the world. And when in the divine providence the Reformation movement was inaugurated it lifted the same class of people immeasurably higher in moral tone. It restored much of the primitive purity of Christianity and of the spirit of Christ; and in proportion as the Word of God has been free amongst the people, and in proportion as they have received it gladly and have permitted its ennobling sentiments to germinate in their hearts and bring forth its fruitage, in this proportion we have seen the peoples which came under the direct influence of the Reformation lifted still higher than the remainder of the world.
THE WASHED SOW STILL CRAVES THE MIRE.
In all of this we observe the principle at first set forth; namely, that it is the spirit of Christ, the spirit of truth, the spirit of righteousness from the Word of the Lord, which is the civilizing, enlightening and ennobling influence which has wrought the marvelous
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changes of this Christian era and especially of this last century. Papacy and sectarianism hindered but could not thwart its influence. It still continues to take hold of the lower classes of society, and lifts them up; and the tendency is still observable, that when they are lifted up they are the less likely to be appreciative of the divine goodness. Thus it is that not many great, not many learned, not many wise according to the course of this world, hath God chosen; but the poor of this world, rich in faith, to be heirs of the Kingdom.
The broader and clearer our view of the situation, the more will we be able to sympathize with those of our brethren in Christ who by nature are mean, ignoble, selfish, lacking in benevolence of thought and word and conduct. When we realize that God has accepted them,--not because of their good and noble character, but because they admit its deficiencies and because they desire to become reformed, transformed, by the renewing of their minds--then all who have the Lord's mind or spirit will likewise receive them. In proportion as we have the mind of Christ, the holy mind, we will view them from the divine standpoint of sympathy for their weaknesses and ignoble qualities; and instead of condemning them and spurning them and cutting their acquaintance, because they do not come up to the noblest standards, we will desire all the more to help them up and seek kindly to point out to them the matters which they do not clearly see. We will be patient with them as we see them striving to overcome. We will realize that they contend against a mental disease that they have to some extent inherited, and which can only be gradually eradicated.
From this standpoint we will learn to view them and to think of them not according to their flesh, not according to their natural tendencies and dispositions, but according to the spirit, according to the intentions of their minds, according to their covenant with the Lord. Thus, as the Apostle declares, we know each other no longer after the flesh, but after the spirit. Each one who has accepted God's grace under the New Covenant, and become a partaker of the spirit of holiness, and is striving against sin in all its forms,--in thought and word and conduct,--all such are striving for the grand perfection of character of which our dear Redeemer is the only perfect illustration. All such confess themselves imperfect copies of God's dear Son and seek to grow in his likeness. All such are seeking to put away all the works of the flesh and the devil,-- not only the grosser evils (murder, theft, etc.), but also the more common elements of an ignoble, perverted nature, anger, malice, hatred, strife, etc. And all these are seeking to put on more and more the complete armor of God, and to resist sin; and to cultivate in themselves the same mind which was also in Christ Jesus,--meekness, patience, long-suffering, brotherly kindness, love.
"SEE THAT YE LOVE ONE ANOTHER."
Let us (Christians), then, take a broader view of matters, and especially of all who have named the name of Christ, and who give any evidence of seeking to walk in his footsteps. Let our love for them cover not only the little, trifling blemishes and differences from ourselves, but let our love cover also a multitude of imperfections in their flesh, so long as we see that their hearts are loyal to the Lord, and that they are seeking to walk not after the flesh but after the spirit: so long as they profess to be seeking to get rid of the meanness and selfishness and littleness of the fallen nature and to cultivate in themselves the nobility of character which belongs to perfect manhood, the image of the divine nature.
And let each one who has taken the name of Christ be on the lookout to apprehend and eradicate every trace of the meanness, selfishness, rudeness, dishonesty, which as members of the fallen race still cling to us and are become so much a part of us that we are often disposed to call them natural traits. Let us remember that, even if our Lord and our brethren in Christ overlook these blemishes (rightly distinguishing between the "new creature in Christ" and these contrary elements of his old nature reckoned dead), yet the world cannot so distinguish and will charge to the cause of Christ all the faults and imperfections they see in his professed followers. Thus that holy name is profaned among the Gentiles, daily, by many.
Let us remember, too, that ill-nature cannot be transformed to good-nature in a day; the transformation of mind and speech and conduct requires patience and perseverance; but it can be accomplished by those who have made the New Covenant and who are obedient
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to the commands of the Great Teacher. "See that ye refuse not [obedience to] him that speaketh from heaven." Whoever neglects his teachings, neglects the great salvation offered during this Gospel age at very least; for none will be amongst the elect except those who in their hearts at least are noble, true and good,--conformed to the image of God's dear Son.-- `Rom. 8:29`.
If all could fully realize the influence of our minds over our own bodies, as well as their less direct influence over the minds and bodies of others, a great Thought-Reform Movement would speedily begin in the world; and especially amongst God's consecrated people. Surely, such should cooperate with the inspired prayer--"Create in me a clean heart [will], O God; and renew a right spirit [disposition]....Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto Thee."--`Psa. 51:10,13`.
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"THE LIGHT OF THE WORD."
"The light of the Word shines brighter and brighter,
As wider and wider God opens my eyes;
My trials and burdens seem lighter and lighter,
And fairer and fairer the heavenly prize.
"The wealth of this world seems poorer and poorer,
And farther and farther it fades from my sight;
The prize of my calling seems surer and surer,
As straighter and straighter I walk in the light.
"My waiting on Jesus is dearer and dearer,
As longer and longer I lie on his breast;
Without him I'm nothing seems clearer and clearer,
And more and more sweetly in Jesus I rest.
"My joy in my Savior is growing and growing,
As stronger and stronger I trust in his Word;
My peace like a river is flowing and flowing,
As harder and harder I lean on the Lord.
"My praise and thanksgiving are swelling and swelling,
As broader and broader the promises prove;
The wonderful story I'm telling and telling,
And more and more sweetly I rest in his love."
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"THE WANING OF EVANGELICALISM."
"'WHAT remains but the teaching of catastrophe? 'The ax will be laid to the root of the tree.' In such a manner Richard Heath closes a striking article, bound to create discussion, in The Contemporary Review (May). It is an indictment of the Evangelical movement started by Law, carried on by Wesley and Whitefield, later by Finney, later still by Moody, Spurgeon, and 'General' Booth, for its neglect of a great opportunity, its failure to interpret God's message in history, its disloyalty to the masses, and its blindness to the great truth of the unity and solidarity of humanity. As a result of all this, it is a waning movement--rapidly waning. It has failed to hear the voices of the prophets--of Maurice and Carlyle and Ruskin and Tolstoi. 'What remains but the teaching of catastrophe?'
"Mr. Heath's article is divided into four parts, the first of which describes the rise and spread of Evangelicalism, the second arrays facts showing its decline, the third aims to dispel the idea that this decline is due to agnostic or skeptic views, and the fourth is an attempt to portray the real causes of decline. By Evangelicalism he means the movement that is really one in doctrine with the Methodist revival movement of the Wesleys, being based upon the fall of man, the sacrifice of Christ not only on behalf of man but in place of man, grace the sole originating cause of man's salvation, justification the sole instrumental cause, the need of a new birth, and of the constant and sustaining action of the holy spirit. These doctrines were already imbedded in the formularies of the Church of England and Nonconformist creeds when the Evangelical movement began. But the revivalists took them seriously and lived up to them. The movement has spread to vast proportions. Revivalism has been its most characteristic feature, but not its chief source of influence. Two hundred thousand sermons every Sunday--more than ten million a year--can be attributed to it. Thousands of missionaries have been sent out by it, great non-denominational and non-ecclesiastical societies have been formed by it, a vast number of churches and chapels have been built by it. It awoke English religion out of its torpor, has produced generations of remarkable pulpit orators, and attained such power that it may be called the English religion of the nineteenth century, and became a leading if not the leading fact in the history of English-speaking lands for two centuries.
Now the movement is waning. In the Church of England, the Evangelical clergyman may say with the lonely worshiper of Jehovah:
"'I watch, and am become
Like a sparrow alone on the housetop.'
"According to the Bishop of Liverpool, 'the Evangelical clergy are to day but a small minority of the Church of England.' The great Evangelical institutions are burdened with growing deficits. The Evangelical denominations are declining in membership, or at least not keeping pace with the population. The Baptists (in England) just about keep pace with the population. The Wesleyans increased but 5 per cent. from 1888 to 1896, while the population increased 7-1/2 per cent. In Birmingham and Liverpool, while the church accommodations have been greatly enlarged since 1861, the attendance upon the services has actually decreased. In this country a similar waning of power is seen in the fact that the Congregational and Presbyterian bodies returned, in 1896, 3,000 churches which did not report a member added in the previous year by profession of faith. In Europe we find the same state of things, but much aggravated. The Huguenot, a monthly organ of the Reformed churches of France, declared in 1893 that the French Protestant churches are declining at the rate of one church (6,000 members) a year, and at this rate there will be no more Protestants in France at the end of the next century. In Berlin, it is said, only 10 per cent. of the population attend church and in Hamburg only 12-1/2 per cent. If these figures and facts are not convincing, Mr. Heath refers us to 'the voice of the people,'
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as heard in the letters from the working classes sent in 1897 to The Methodist Times, of London, in response to an invitation to them to tell the reasons for their non-attendance at church.
"Very briefly Mr. Heath dismisses the surmise that general agnosticism is to blame for this alienation of the people from the Evangelical churches. 'All who really know the people,' he asserts, 'know that they are quite as truly religious as they ever were, and those who have mingled freely with them must feel that it is not Christianity as taught in the New Testament, but as practically exemplified by the nineteenth-century Christianity, that they repudiate.'
"What, then, is the reason for the waning of Evangelicalism? Says Mr. Heath:
"Evangelicalism, coming into existence under an extremely individualistic and competitive order of things, has seen nothing in the Gospel but a plan of individual salvation. It has had but little idea of the common salvation, of the unity of mankind in Christ, and of the mutual responsibility of all men. It has hardly seemed to understand that a divine Helper was in the world, opening men's eyes to what is evil, gradually giving them higher notions of what is right, and a better judgment as to the real good and the real evil; and, failing to comprehend this, Evangelicalism has never understood the age in which it has run its course.'
"The attitude of the early Evangelical leaders, Wesley, Whitefield, Howell, Harris, Fletcher, and others, in condemnation of the French Revolution and the American Revolution, are cited in illustration of the above statement. Hannah More published with 'the approbation of the whole Evangelical party' her 'Village Politics; or, Will Chip,' ridiculing the notion of equality and fraternity. The power and energy of Evangelicalism have been centered upon the upper middle class, whose sole idea of life was to struggle upward, let the rest of mankind sink as they might. Its dependence on this class has made Evangelicalism 'shut its eyes more closely than ever to the great social revolution which, commencing in the last century, is still going on.' Mr. Heath continues his indictment:
"'Evangelicalism has denied God in history, has refused to recognize his providential government of the world, or if it has not formally taken up this infidel position, it has treated the question with a true English contempt for consistency. God was in the Reformation, but not in the Revolution. He came to judge Christendom in the sixteenth century, but not in the eighteenth. It is this indifference to truth, when truth interferes with prejudice and interest, that has done so much harm to Evangelicalism.
"'For this blindness to the great social sunrise which has lit up the whole century, and is gradually leading to the emancipation of the laboring classes in Europe and America, has lost Evangelicalism the opportunity it has desired--to be the herald to them and all the world of the great salvation. And still more this blindness has strengthened in it that hardness of heart and contempt of God's Word and commandment which characterizes the whole of Christendom, and which is one of the reasons why its official representatives have not only lost their hold on the masses, but have driven into antagonism so many of the more conscientious and finer souls in Europe and America.
"'This hardness of heart has not only appeared in the methods at times adopted by Evangelical revivalists, but more especially in the astonishing lack of Christian brotherhood displayed in all sections of Evangelicalism, even to the point of permitting those who have worked for the Gospel as their agents and representatives to sink into being recipients of parish relief or to die in the hospital or workhouse. And in that class which has afforded Evangelicalism such support, and whose families have been its peculiar domain, how many hundreds of merchants, traders, and farmers, of whom it has made much in their prosperity, has it allowed, when ruin overtook them, to die broken-hearted or in bitterness of spirit?
"'Contempt of God's Word and commandment is a serious charge, but can it be said to be too severe a description of a movement which has systematically and persistently ignored the main teaching of the Gospels? If in Christ, as Evangelicalism has always taught, 'dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily,' if he was in fact the divine Wisdom teaching men the
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true way of life, how can Evangelicalism be acquitted of contempt of God's Word when, in place of obeying his commandments, it has led its followers to regard the Sermon on the Mount as an impossible ideal which no sensible man could really think of taking as a rule of life?--causing men, therefore, to regard God's Word as something Quixotic and Utopian.'
"Because of this 'hardness of heart' Evangelicalism has failed to understand contemporary history, failed to see that revelation is continuous, failed to recognize the great truth of the unity and solidarity of humanity.
"The old Evangelicalism is waning; but this waning may precurse a new waxing:
"'As among the decay of a past summer we often see, ere winter is over, new shoots springing up which will be the glory of the coming year, so it is with present-day Evangelicalism--its spiritual life is already taking new forms. Efforts to do away with sectarianism and to repair the broken unity of the church, efforts to find expression in the church for the mind and soul of the coming generation, efforts to live the life
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which Christ himself enjoined on his disciples, efforts to share in the sufferings of the miserable, sunk in the sordid life of the slums, and to lift them out of it-- such efforts, and many similar ones, may indicate the coming of a new Evangelicalism.'"
--The Literary Digest.
* * *
We publish the foregoing for the sake of the truth it contains, and as a basis for criticism. Mr. Heath's views, briefly stated, are,--
(1) That the religion of personal salvation (by which is meant escape or "salvation" of a few from a hell of eternal torment to which the vast majority hasten and are "lost") has had its day and is on the decline. In this he is undoubtedly correct even to a far greater extent than his statistics show; for large proportions of those who are members of various "Evangelical churches," and of those who still flock to hear Moody, Jones and others, are in part or in whole persuaded that the theory of eternal torment is at least questionable, and hence the Evangelical salvation from it questionable also.
(2) That there is an astonishing lack of Christian brotherhood--lack of interest in the temporal welfare of the world or even in the temporal welfare of the "saved" brotherhood. The recent tendencies toward social uplift are credited not to Evangelical salvation theories, but rather to their decline. He credits these evidences of "good will to men" to the broader and more benevolent views of modern Christianity, which is now taking shape in efforts toward the social-uplift.
Is there not considerable truth in this charge? Is it not true that the teaching that the vast majority of mankind is hastening to a hell of eternal torture, and that those who do not become saints richly deserve this fate, has a tendency to harden the heart and to dull all the finer sentiments? Surely those considered worthy of eternal woe could not be considered worthy of much consideration or mercy in the misfortunes of the present life.
And in proportion as the real spirit of love is lacking and fervor for denominational progress in "saving souls" takes its place, everything not of utility to the one object is likely to be neglected. Hence, those able to render aid are esteemed for their usefulness rather than loved; and when they cease to be useful they are in danger of neglect.
(3) In Mr. Heath's judgment, from the roots of dying Evangelicalism is sprouting a new and better Christianity which recognizes "the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man" and whose gospel is civilization, social-uplift, good citizenship, on the basis of the Golden Rule, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
While bound to admit the fact here claimed, respecting the trend of Christianity, we cannot endorse the conclusions. We dissent.
The tendency of human thought seems to be to go from one extreme to another; hence the need of a divine revelation to guide our judgments,--especially on religious subjects. "To the law and to the testimony, --if they speak not according to this rule, it is because there is no light in them." (`Isa. 8:20`.) The Scriptures make the entire subject plain and harmonious and satisfy our longings as nothing else can do. They do indeed show us a personal salvation, but not from eternal torture. They show us that "the wages of sin is death [not torment] but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." They set before "believers" a great prize to be sought during this age, and to be won by a "little flock." They also set before us a mark or standard of life endeavor necessary to be attained by all who would gain that prize. That mark is the spirit or disposition of self-sacrificing love, which rejoices not in iniquity but rejoices in the truth--in doing "good unto all men as we have opportunity, especially to the household of faith." This is the personal salvation of the Scriptures, misinterpreted by so called "Evangelicalism."
Nor are the Scriptures silent respecting the much needed social uplift. God has not been unmindful of the poor world's necessities. In the next age--the Millennial age--he will uplift the world to a degree that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man--but which he has revealed to his faithful in his Word.
God's Word is full of promises respecting the glorious epoch, the golden age, when "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord" (`Isa. 11:9`; `Hab. 2:14`); when "every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid" (`Micah 4:4`); when "they shall not build, and another inhabit," but when home ownership shall be general (`Isa. 65:21-23`); when every high one shall be humbled, and every lowly one shall be lifted up (`Luke 1:52`; `Matt. 23:12`) when "the Lord shall pour out his spirit upon all flesh." (`Joel 2:28`.) The Apostle Peter speaks of that epoch as "times of refreshing" and "times of restitution," and declares that every holy prophet since the world began prophesied of that time, and that it would begin at the second advent of our Lord Jesus Christ.--`Acts 3:19-21`.
Thus the Bible-taught Christian finds in the faith once delivered to the saints all the aliments for spiritual nutrition. He has before his mind the straitness of the narrow way and the necessity for heart religion and full personal conversion and consecration to God without hardness and bigotry and uncharitableness
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toward others. Indeed, his sympathies for men become more and more deep, as he realizes that all are fallen from the image of God and are by heredity weak, and that Satan, the god of this world, is persistently deceiving them.
Furthermore, the hope for the world in the next age--its mental, moral and physical uplift--is indissolubly united to his hopes and personal salvation; because the very hope set before him in the gospel is that, by personal victory and salvation and the attainment of the mark of the prize of his high calling, he shall become a sharer in the great work of uplifting humanity during the Millennium--helping whosoever then will to return through Christ and the New Covenant to fullest divine favor, including life everlasting.
Such cannot agree to the common fatherhood of God and the common brotherhood of men; for they well know that only those who have the Father's spirit are "sons of God." (`Rom. 8:14`.) They know to the contrary the meaning of our Lord Jesus' words to some evil doers of his day, "Ye are of your father the devil, and his works ye do."--`John 8:44`.
But while distinctly identifying the two fathers' families--the children of God and the children of the devil, and pointing out the mistake of confounding the two, we, nevertheless, are able from the divine Word and standpoint to see that many of Satan's followers and children are deceived, and we look forward with joy and expectancy to the time when Immanuel shall take his great power and bind Satan that his deception of mankind should cease, and that all may be brought to a knowledge of good as well as of evil, of truth as well as of falsehood,--a knowledge of the Lord, whom to intelligently accept is life eternal.
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SOLOMON'S KINGDOM DIVIDED.
--JULY 3.--`1 KINGS 12:16-25`.--
"A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger."--`Prov. 15:1`.
SOLOMON'S wonderful reign was not an unmixed blessing: in it we see much of divine providence and guidance, such as Solomon had requested at the beginning of his reign, but in it also we see many marks of human imperfection and unwisdom. In so far as Solomon respected God, and sought to exercise his kingly office in harmony with the principles of the divine law, his reign was a success; but in so far as he followed his own judgment and sought to be cosmopolitan and to fashion his kingdom after worldly ideals, it was comparatively a failure from the divine standpoint, altho this made it the more renowned from the worldly standpoint.
Solomon was a man of broad ideas, and like other men of similar good mold in this respect, he was the more susceptible to the temptation to think the Lord's ways and methods narrow; and to seek to be more
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broad and liberal than the Almighty. His error along this line is particularly shown in his recognition of foreign religions, which, according to God's law, had no right to be recognized in any sense or degree, in Israel.
Women have always exercised a potent influence in the affairs of the world, and Solomon's deflection, and the consequent deflection of his kingdom, were due in large measure to his foreign wives and their natural attachment to the false religions of their fathers. Mismarriage was one of the first of Solomon's steps in the wrong course: it was taken, no doubt, with a view to a closer relationship with surrounding nations and royal families. It was a worldly-wise step, but an unwise one from the standpoint of the Lord, who desired Israel to be his elect, holy, and peculiar people, separate and distinct from all the families of the earth.-- `Amos 3:2`.
Yes, from a worldly standpoint Solomon's reign was a marvel of success. At the time of his death he dominated and collected tribute from a territory nearly seven times the size of Palestine; his capital city had become enormously wealthy, so that the war shields of some of his soldiers were made of gold, while the record is that--"the king made silver in Jerusalem to be as stones for abundance." (`1 Kings 10:27`.) While he lived, his wisdom and fame and the glitter of his success held the entire nation loyally to him, notwithstanding the fact that his methods, by which these brilliant results were achieved, were in a considerable measure oppressive to the people. This was especially the case with those of his people who resided at a distance from the capital city, and who did not so particularly share in the wealth there accumulated, but more particularly shared the general burdens of taxation and conscription of service, by which the wealth was amassed. Consequently, at Solomon's death, when the glitter faded, his kingdom, established not upon the loving loyalty of the people, but upon his own magnetic power and wisdom, was ready to disintegrate.
As we have already pointed out* the original organization of Israel was practically that of a republic, in which the heads of the tribes exercised a sovereignty similar to Congress or Parliament. When the people desired a king like unto the nations around them, and God let them have their way, they nevertheless
*MILLENNIAL DAWN, VOL. I., Chap. 3.
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still clung to some extent to their original tribal custom. Hence it was, that upon the death of Solomon there was a meeting of these heads of tribes at Shechem; and Rehoboam, already recognized by the heads of his own tribe, Judah, presented himself at the meeting, expecting, as a matter of course, that he would be accepted as king by these representatives of all the other tribes. To his surprise, he was requested to state himself respecting the policy he would pursue if accepted as king; and it was clearly intimated to him that the rigor of his father's reign, which accumulated wealth in the capital city at the expense of the remainder of the nation, would not be tolerated from him.
King Rehoboam took three days to consider the matter with his counsellors. He first consulted the elders--probably the chief men of the tribe of Judah, who already had acknowledged him, and who probably had accompanied him to this council. Their counsel was wise, in that it advocated at least an outward deference to the just claims of the people; but, recognizing the fact that the young king was full of ambition to be as great as or greater than his father and to have no diminution of the revenues of the kingdom, they probably meant him to understand that their advice was that he should merely promise reforms, until he should have the endorsement of all the tribes and be fully established in the kingdom, when he might do as he pleased.
But Rehoboam also consulted the young men-- his wealthy companions and friends, with whom he had grown up. Their advice was that to make promises of reforms would imply a weakness on the part of the king, and make the discontented people more self-assertive and more rebellious than ever; and that now was the proper time to state himself strongly, to put down his foot with authority, and to dare the people to cross his will. Probably proud of heart, and vain-glorious, this last foolish advice was most in accord with the king's sentiments. And it was followed. He gave in substance the message of the young men: "My little finger shall be thicker than my father's loins; and now, whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions" (`1 Kings 12:10-14`.) The reference to whips and scorpions should be understood: it was the custom then, and is still the custom to a considerable extent in the far East, for the kings to draft the people to do service in the building of public works, kings' palaces, etc.; and these drafted men were treated for the time as the veriest slaves, being under taskmasters, who kept them up to the notch of diligence with whips. The scorpions referred to were scorpion whips, which differed from other whips in that they had a stinger at the end of the lashes, consisting of a sharp-pointed piece of lead.
No wonder that king Rehoboam is noted as the foolish king; his unwise, boastful, vainglorious language, which no doubt was the abundant overflow of a heart in similar condition, which meant all that it boastfully said, caused him the loss of more than two-thirds of his dominion and subjects. The chiefs of the ten tribes promptly declared that Judah and Benjamin might have Rehoboam for their king, but that he was not acceptable to the remainder of the tribes. They accordingly chose one of their number, Jeroboam, who had once been one of Solomon's conscripts, and because of his natural ability as a manager of men had been made an overseer of a department of the government. It was he whom the Prophet Ahijah had already anointed to be king over the ten tribes, prophesying that he should yet occupy that position.--See `1 Kings 11:29-38`.
Some one has said, "Solomon had a thousand wives but only one son, and he was a fool." His folly consisted in seeking advice from a wrong quarter. Had he recognized, as did his grandfather David and his father Solomon, that the throne of Israel was "the throne of the Kingdom of the Lord," his course should have been to seek counsel of the Lord, as did his father and his grandfather. But the fact is that Rehoboam's folly was really a part of his father's folly, for his mother was Naamah, an Ammonitess and idolater, for whom Solomon built, adjoining the Mount of Olives, and opposite the Temple of God, a temple to Moloch (a heathen divinity), the site of which is still pointed out to the traveller and known as "The Mount of Offence." Did not Rehoboam come by his folly honestly? Could we expect more of the son of a heathen mother, and of a father who, while worshiping the true God himself, was so lacking in firmness and principle in the conduct of the religious interests of his home?
Rehoboam's unwise decision in his affairs is but an illustration of the many unwise decisions by mankind in general in respect to various questions of life, far reaching in their results. All cannot lose a kingdom, in the same sense, but each may win or lose another kingdom, in the sense signified by the poet, when he said:
"My mind to me a kingdom is."
Questions come before every intelligent person, at the threshold of maturer life, the decision of which, one way or the other, will have a bearing on all the remainder of the present life, and perhaps also a strong influence upon the interests of the life to come, provided for through the atonement. Happy and wise will be the choice, if the counsels of the Lord are sought and followed--less happy will be the conclusion
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if the wisdom of the world is sought and followed-- disastrous will be the conclusion if the wisdom of the unwise and inexperienced be followed.
We have the Lord's word for it that the division of Israel into two parts or nations--the ten tribes, known by the original national name, Israel, and the two tribes thereafter known as Judah--was of his foreknowledge and arrangement. In some way the Lord saw that such a division would work favorably for the development of his purposes. We may, perhaps, surmise how it would be. The entire nation, while still loyal to Jehovah, had become permeated with what would to-day be termed "liberal views on religion"-- views which tolerated, if they did not countenance, idolatry; and which gradually were undermining its interests in the special hope which God had set before that nation, that it, as the seed of Abraham, should be a peculiar people, separate from all the other nations and ready at the coming of Messiah to become his associates (his Bride) in the work of blessing and enlightening the world, and establishing them in the ways of righteousness and in the knowledge of the true God.
It was because this hope had grown faint, that the ten tribes were so ready to break the bonds of relationship which connected them with the tribe of Judah; from which tribe the prophets of the Lord had declared that Messiah, their great King, should ultimately come. The loss of this faith meant the loss of cohesive power in that nation, and it does not surprise us that when the ten tribes had organized a separate government, had cut themselves loose from the royal tribe and family, and from the Temple and the opportunities of approach to the Lord through it--it does not surprise us that under these conditions, and the preparation of "liberal views on religion" which led to these conditions, the ten tribes speedily drifted into idolatry, and became more and more like the nations round about them.
So also it is with the Gospel Church: in proportion as the second coming of Messiah and the promises of a share in his Kingdom are kept in mind, and the
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contrast between the Church and the world is sharply drawn, so long will practical and vital Christianity prosper.--"He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself even as He is pure."
As the example of a drunken father sometimes proves a most salutary lesson to his son, and as the gross corruption of Papacy led to and developed the Reformation movement, so the division of the Kingdom of Israel and the rapid progress of the ten tribes toward irreligion and idolatry had the effect, by contrast and suggestion, of awakening the people of Judah to a greater and more intelligent appreciation of the Kingdom hopes and divine blessings of which their kingdom was the representative. And the further the ten tribes went into idolatry the more the two tribes seem to have been quickened in religious fervor in upholding the sublime truths of which they were the representatives. This thought is the more forcibly impressed upon us when we remember that the ultimate decline of Judah--the two tribes--into idolatry, prior to their captivity, was after the ten tribes had gone into captivity a considerable time.
Chagrined at the failure of his policy, and full of haughty determination that he would prove to them the weight of his little finger, Rehoboam hastened to his capital, and summoned his army, a hundred and eighty thousand chosen warriors: but the Lord sent a special message to him and the people of Judah that they should engage in no such war against their brethren and that the matter was of his ordering.
Disappointments are more likely to lead to humility than are successes, and so it was in this case. Rehoboam's first folly having become apparent to him, he was more humbleminded, and the more ready to hear and to obey the divine command. Thus blessings sometimes come to us through lessons of our own imperfection and lack of wisdom: if our disappointments and extremities lead us to look for counsel in the proper direction, to which we should have looked at first. To the true Israelites the blighting of their popularity and national greatness in the sight of the world, and the consequent lessons of humility, were evidently beneficial. And thus with us who belong to spiritual Israel, the holy nation, the peculiar people, splits and divisions of the nominal mass will work for good to the Israelites indeed; but splits in the nominal mass, and the resulting benefits, do not justify splits or differences amongst those who are loyal and faithful to the Lord. As the Apostle says, there should be "no schism in the body"--of Christ. The true members of the body of Christ are held together by their common hopes, builded upon the exceeding great and precious promises of the Lord's word, and held together by the bonds of love. And those who have not these bonds of love are not true Israelites--"if any man have not the spirit of Christ [the bond of love] he is none of his." "They went out from us because they were not all of us."
"A SOFT ANSWER TURNETH AWAY WRATH."
Our Golden Text is excellent advice.
(1) It is good policy for anyone--Christian or worldling--to learn to give soft answers, even under anger-provoking conditions. Business people study this as a matter of policy: it means custom, sales, profits, wealth, and to ignore this rule in business is to be considered foolish.
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(2) But that which is merely an outward form, policy, and often hypocritical in worldly people, is to abound much more in the child of God, begotten of a new mind. In him it is not to be put on for policy's sake, but to be the outgrowth or fruitage of the holy spirit or disposition which rules him as a "new creature in Christ Jesus."
Any other answer than "a soft answer" is incompatible with the holy spirit of Love--with its meekness, gentleness, patience and brotherly kindness. If the truth must needs be spoken and if under the circumstances the truth be severe, hard, nevertheless and indeed all the more the hard thing needs to be stated as softly as possible. This evidently is the thought of the Apostle when he recommends "speaking the truth in love."
This advice is nowhere more needed than in most of home circles. Each unkind, ungenerous, hard word or deed, is a testimony in opposition to our professions to be the Lord's people and to be begotten of his spirit. "Put away all these, anger, malice, hatred, strife," etc.
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ELIJAH, THE PROPHET.
--JULY 10.--`1 KINGS 17:1-16`.--
"And the barrel of meal wasted not, and neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord."--`1 KINGS 17:16`.
OUR preceding lesson in this series dealt with the division of Solomon's Kingdom, after his death. Our present lesson has to do with the ten tribes division and Elijah's mission as a prophet to them. The elders of the ten tribes which refused to recognize King Rehoboam chose Jeroboam, who had been at one time an influential officer in matters relating to their province during Solomon's reign: the same who had been anointed before Solomon's death by a prophet of the Lord, with the information that he should be the king of the ten tribes. Following this announcement he was obliged to flee for his life, as he would have been considered an enemy of the kingdom. Upon Solomon's death, however, he had returned, finding favor with the elders of the ten tribes.
We saw, in the previous lesson, that the course of King Solomon had tended to break down the boundaries and barriers between true and false religion, between the worship of God and the idolatry of surrounding nations, Solomon having to some extent at least countenanced the worship of heathen gods by some of his wives, and the representatives of heathen nations at his court. This, which would be considered by many, a proper, liberal course, was out of harmony with the Lord's instructions on the subject, and did great injury to Israel--leading those whose religious instincts were on the lower levels to regard all nations as more or less right, and on a religious parity.
Jeroboam, fearing that the people by going to Jerusalem to worship the Lord at the Temple, as previously, would become alienated from him as their king, and become attached again to Rehoboam and the line of David, took advantage of the fact that the people had become indifferent to the true religion, the worship of the Lord, and for the sake of establishing his kingdom and perpetuating the separation from Judah, he established idolatry, casting two golden calves, and saying to the people, "These be thy gods, O Israel, that brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." These two golden calves were set up in different parts of the land, one at Bethel and one at Dan, so that some could go to worship one, and some the other, a part of his pretext being that the former custom of worship at Jerusalem was too difficult for the people. Moreover, still further to separate the peoples, he instituted feasts and sacrifices at different dates from those appointed of the Lord through Moses, and still practiced in Judah. It has been suggested by some that these calves were originally set up as representatives of Jehovah; but we think not. A calf was chosen as the symbol for God, probably because the people while in Egypt were accustomed to the worship of the sacred bull Apis, of Egyptian mythology, and quite probably the Israelites had joined in that worship to some extent during their bondage. Their tendency toward bullock or calf worship is illustrated also by the fact that this was the form of idolatry to which they naturally took when Moses was absent from them for forty days in Mount Horeb, receiving the Law. The King himself had just returned from exile in Egypt to take the throne: he had therefore been several years under the influence of Egypt's idolatry.
During the twenty-two years of Jeroboam's reign Israel made great progress away from the Lord and into idolatry; and to the more thoroughly accomplish this end the king built altars to these bullocks and instituted a new order of priesthood that, so far as possible, he might cause the people to entirely forget the true God, and his Levitical priesthood as well as his Temple at Jerusalem. Jeroboam seems to have appointed himself the chief priest of the new religious institution, for he offered the incense at the altar.
Following the death of Jeroboam there was a period of repeated insurrections against king after king who took the throne of Israel, until Ahab, of whom it is written, "Ahab, the son of Omri, did evil
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in the sight of the Lord, above all that were before him." Ahab's wife, Jezebel, was seemingly still more wicked than himself, and really instigated most of his evil deeds. It is a well recognized fact that a good wife can be a great help to her husband: the history of Jezebel shows that a wife's influence for evil may be even more potent. It was during the reign of Ahab that as the Lord's servant and prophet Elijah delivered the messages and did the works recorded in this and several succeeding lessons.
The work of establishing a new religion, which Jeroboam began, was ably carried on by his successors: and Ahab, influenced by Jezebel, his wife, seems to have out-done his predecessors not only to establish the new religion, but to exterminate the religion of Jehovah. He and his wife openly established the worship of Baal and slew the prophets of Jehovah,--the first religious persecution on record. Not only the out-spoken prophet of the Lord who delivered the message, but all the true Israelites who had respect to Jehovah, were obliged to hide from Jezebel's wrathful zeal for the worship of Baal.
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Under divine direction, Elijah appeared in the presence of King Ahab and delivered a message, saying, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth [whom you seem to think is dead] before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word." At first, probably, the matter was considered a foolish boast, but when the dew and rain ceased and scarcity and famine resulted, the full purport of the judgment began to be understood, and the King sent hither and thither, everywhere, to find Elijah; presumably to induce him, either by entreaty or by cruelty, to lift from the land what he probably considered to be an evil spell or curse. But God had directed Elijah where to hide, in a place where he could himself be supplied with water, and where he could be fed by ravens.
Elijah's prediction of a famine was not merely a prophecy; rather, it was the declaration of a divine judgment upon Israel. The object of the famine was to bring the Israelites to their senses--to show them that they were leaving the true God to trust in idols. The force and appropriateness of this particular kind of a judgment may be recognized, when we remember that the claim made for Baal was that he was specially the god of the forces of nature: his worship was presumed to bring increase in the home and in the field. The drouth and consequent famine would be a contradiction, therefore, of these claims made in the name of Baal, and would shatter faith in him, and prepare Israel to recognize and worship again the true God, Jehovah.
Meantime, Elijah, following the directions of the Lord, lived for about two years at the brook Cherith, drinking of its waters, and fed there by the ravens. Various efforts have been made to discount the miracle implied in the statement that the ravens brought Elijah bread and flesh morning and evening. Some have claimed that the word translated "ravens" might, with a little different accent, be translated "Arabian," or signify the inhabitants of a village called Orbo. But, in addition to the fact that God is abundantly able to work such miracles as are necessary to his plans, we know that the raven of the East is in many respects a peculiar bird, which exhibits not only extraordinary intelligence but sometimes also sympathy. For instance, Bishop Stanley, in his "History of Birds," relates that a gentleman who had been driving ran over and bruised the leg of his Newfoundland dog, and says: "While we were examining the injury, Ralph, the raven, looked on also. The minute the dog was tied up under the manger of my horse, the raven not only visited him, but brought him bones, and attended him with particular marks of kindness."
A missionary in India says, respecting ravens in general, and these which fed Elijah in particular-- "While I do not claim to know where the ravens got the bread and meat, a residence of thirty years in the East helps me to guess where they got it. My own little children have often come crying into the house, their hands scratched and bleeding from the claws of kites and crows [the raven is of the crow family] that had snatched from them the food they were eating. Our nurse was one day preparing a fowl to be grilled, for my sick wife, and standing in the doorway, plate in hand, she called the cook to come for the fowl. When the man came, the nurse discovered that her plate was empty; a kite or crow had carried away the fowl without her knowledge. Meat sellers are obliged to be on the alert to prevent crows and kites from robbing them. I do not profess to know anything about it, but it is my firm conviction that those ravens [which fed Elijah] stole the food from the bazaars of Jerusalem or Jericho."
In any case, the lesson to us is one of the divine care and providence over those who are devoted to God's service. He who sustained Elijah can equally sustain us. The important question with each of us should be, Am I the Lord's servant, in the place and doing the work which he has directed? If so, our bread and our water shall be sure, and no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly.--`Isa. 33:16`; `Psa. 84:11`.
"Nor is it a singular case--
The wonder is often renewed,
And many can say to his praise
He sends them by ravens their food.
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"Thus worldlings, tho ravens indeed,
Tho greedy and selfish their mind,
If God has a servant to feed,
Against their own wills can be kind.
"Thus Satan, that raven unclean,
Who croaks in the ears of the saints,
Compelled by a power unseen,
Administers oft to their wants.
"God teaches them how to find food,
From all the temptations they feel,
This raven who thirsts for my blood
Has helped me to many a meal."
Next Elijah was directed to a widow of Zarephath, across the border, in the Kingdom of Zidon. Our Lord refers to this, and incidentally confirms this entire piece of history respecting Elijah, the three and a half years of famine, and his visit to Sarepta.--`Luke 4:26`.
Considering that the drouth and famine extended also into Zidon, it would seem to have been a bold request of the prophet, to ask the widow woman for water to drink, and bread to eat. Her willingness to share with him was remarkable under the circumstances. It suggests to us a fact that with all our increase of civilization and wealth, the people of to-day are far less hospitable and less generous. A writer familiar with the customs of the East, says that there the gift of water to the thirsty is regarded as a sacred duty, saying: "Never yet, during many years' residence in Syria, and many a long day's travel, have I been refused a draught of water by a single individual of any sect or race. The Bedouin in the desert has shared with me the last drop in his waterskin." The Lord's people have great need to cultivate a large generosity, not only of thought, but of deed; and the blessing which came to the widow of Sarepta as a result of her generosity to Elijah, should serve to impress this lesson upon our hearts.
Furthermore, altho the woman was a Gentile, she had respect to Jehovah, and in some manner evidently recognized the Prophet as one of his servants. This, no doubt, had to do with her willingness to share her last morsel of food. Indeed, the intimation of our Lord is that this poor Gentile widow was more worthy of divine care than many of the widows of Israel. She explained to Elijah that her barrel, or rather stone jar, of meal was about exhausted; and that she was preparing for herself and her son what she presumed would be her last meal before they would die of famine. The Prophet's demand that he should have a small cake from it first was not because of greed or selfishness on his part, but as one feature of the lesson of faith which the Lord wished to inculcate. If the woman had the faith necessary to obey, then she would be esteemed worthy of the Lord's assistance through the Prophet; if she did not exercise the faith, another widow might have been found who would. Thus it is with us,--at various steps in the journey of life the Lord brings us to the place where he tests our faith. If we exercise the faith we will get the blessing; if we do not, we will lose it. "Without faith it is impossible to please God." Nevertheless the woman was not asked to exercise this faith without being first given a definite promise from the Lord; and so with us--we are not to be blindly credulous respecting the words and promises of men, and to consider this to be faith in the Lord; but when we recognize the word of the Lord, we are to trust it implicitly, and to act accordingly.
Not always, or even often, does God deal with his people after this manner of miraculous provision for their sustenance. Nevertheless, we are to recognize him as the author of all our blessings--"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights." His promised provision is not for weeks and months and years in advance, but "daily bread"--bread for each day--"thy bread and thy water shall be sure." Nor are we to expect or ask for the luxuries of life, but to remember that our "Father knoweth what things we have need of"--what things would be for our highest welfare and best interests.
The meal, the bread, of that time might fitly be considered as a symbol of the bread of truth, of which we are privileged to eat, and of which our supply is continued from day to day. The olive oil, used by the ancients much as we use butter, is frequently used in the Scriptures as representing divine grace and the holy spirit; and so we, as the Lord's people, are not only supplied with the bread of truth, but also with the spirit of truth, which helps to make it nourishing and profitable to us. Another prophet speaks of the experience of the world during the dark ages, saying, "There shall be a famine in the land,--not a famine of bread nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord."--`Amos 8:11`.
We have elsewhere shown that this famine of Elijah's day and the period of its duration, as well as the Prophet and his experiences with Jezebel, etc., were typical of God's dealings with the Church, and her experiences during this Gospel age.*
Note here also the beautiful poem by Mrs. Charles, found in POEMS AND HYMNS OF DAWN, page 127. It suggests a very profitable thought respecting the Lord's blessing upon the widow of Sarepta, and shows how an application of its lesson may be made by all who are the Lord's people.
"Is thy cruse of comfort failing?
Rise and share it with another."
*See MILLENNIAL DAWN, VOL. II., Chap. 8.