Overland Monthly / OV259 - A Famine in the Land
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OV259 A FAMINE IN THE LAND
By C. T. Russell Pastor London and Brooklyn Tabernacles
"I will send a famine in the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord."—#Am 8:11.
TO-DAY this prophecy is fulfilled in our midst! Notwithstanding the fact that during the past century Bibles have been printed and circulated among the people by the million, and notwithstanding the fact that education has become general so that rich and poor, old and young, have the ability to read God’s Word, nevertheless, we are in the midst of the very famine specified by the Prophet. It seems almost incredible that we should be famishing now with Bibles in our homes, when our saintly forefathers did not famish, though education was limited.
The secret lies in the fact that increasing intelligence on every hand has awakened our reasoning faculties along religious lines, and the result is the gnawing of hunger in our hearts. Our hearts and our flesh cry out for a living and a true God—a God greater than ourselves—more just, more powerful, more loving. Feeling our own impotency, we more than ever feel our need of the Friend above all others with a love that sticketh closer than a brother’s.
Consequently we cannot find the rest and refreshment and comfort from the Scriptures which our forefathers derived. Consequently the young men and the purest of heart in the world are repelled by the religion of the past as represented in the creeds of all denominations. They are hungry for the Truth. They are thirsty for the refreshment which they need. Intellectually many are looking, wandering, from sea to sea, desiring the bread of life and the water of life. Scanning the creeds of all denominations, they find them practically alike as respects theories of eternal reprobation and damnation for all except the Elect, the saints. They are faint for lack of spiritual food and drink. They even look to the heathen and examine the Theosophy of India, the Buddhism of Japan and the Confucianism of China, seeking for some satisfying portion of Truth.
These are in some respects like the Prodigal Son—far from home. They perceive the swinish content with the husks of business, money, pleasure and politics, but their spiritual longings cannot be satisfied with the husks which the swine eat. They are thought peculiar because of their interest in spiritual things. They are misunderstood by their best earthly friends. They must learn that in their wanderings along the highways of science and world-religion they will never get satisfaction. There is a famine in every denomination, in every part of the world. No one thinks of looking to the Bible for refreshment and strength. The Higher Critics of all denominations have branded it unreliable. The professors in all the great colleges are reprobating the Bible and openly laugh at the thought of finding there either bread for the hungry or water for the thirsty.
This is the very picture given in our context. "They shall wander from sea to sea, from the North even to the East; they shall run to and fro to seek the Word of the Lord and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and the young men faint for thirst."—#Am 8:12,13.
The Bread of Life and Water of Life.
These hungry hearts must learn that there is only the one satisfying portion under the Sun—the living and true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent to be the Bread of Life for the world, and the message of grace from His lips to be the Water of Life. It is ours to call the attention of this Truth-hungry class to the Great Teacher who declared: "My flesh is
OV260 food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed; except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." (#Joh 6:55,53.) But scarcely will the intelligent of our day hearken to these words, so prejudiced are their minds by the fallacies which becloud their understanding. They see not, neither do they understand the goodness of God.
Why is this? Why are these Bibles in millions of homes, Catholic and Protestant, neglected? Because the people know not that the Bread of Life and the Water of Life which they seek are hidden therein. Why is this? We answer that conditions were very much the same in Israel at the time of our Lord’s first Advent. The explanation He then gave is applicable now. He said: "Ye do make void the Law of God through your traditions"—"the traditions of the ancients."—#Mr 7:13; #1Pe 1:18.
So now, the traditions handed down from our forefathers really make void, meaningless, ungracious, the message of God’s Wisdom and Love sent to us through the Lord, the Apostles and the Prophets. Those who still hold tenaciously to the creeds of the past are thoroughly blinded now to the true teachings of God’s Word, while, alas, the majority of the independent thinkers, in rejecting the dogmas of the past, have rejected the Bible also, believing that the teachings of the creeds truthfully represent God’s Word. These are wandering hither and thither, hungering and thirsting, looking for the Bread of Life and Water of Life, and finding it nowhere, because they seek not where alone it is to be found.
Ho, Every One That Thirsteth, Come Ye.
Ho! Ye all that hunger for Truth Come ye. There is an abundance for us all in our Heavenly Father’s wonderful provision—in the Bible. Deserting all the creeds and traditions of men, let us gather at our Heavenly Father’s Board as His Family, as His Children. Let us prove the truthfulness of His declaration that "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that reverence Him." Let us seek and obtain the satisfying portion. Let us satisfy our longings at the table of Divine provision. Mark.the Lord’s words, and consider how truthful they are, "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."—#Mt 5:6.
It is this Truth-hungry class that we address. We know their heart-longings, for we had the same. We know the satisfaction they crave for we have received it and are therefore doubly glad to hand forth the Bread of Life and the Water of Life to those who desire it. There are plenty ready to serve the appetites of those who long for pleasure—ball games, society fetes, chess, travel, etc. We have not a word to say against these. It is not our thought that they are going to eternal torment; hence we do not frantically beset them, annoy them. Let them have their pleasure. Let them wait for the time to come when something may occur in their experiences which will put them into the class of the broken-hearted and contrite of spirit, and cause them to feel after God, if haply they might find Him as a satisfying portion.
In harmony with the Master’s direction, it is our aim to "bind up the broken-hearted; to comfort those that mourn;" to tell them of the Oil of Joy which the Lord is willing to bestow for their spirit of heaviness and sorrow for sin. (#Isa 61:1-3.) As the Master expressed no reproof of those engaged in any form of moral reform, even asceticism, so it is with us. We desire to oppose no one who is doing any good work, whether he follow with us in every particular or not. There are so many engaged in doing evil works, and so few engaged in doing good, that not one of the latter class can be spared from the ranks of the service of righteousness.
As the Master did not give His time to temperance reform, nor social reform,
OV261 nor political reform, but did give His time to the instruction of the people in the doctrines of the Divine Word, so let us be intent to follow His instruction in this matter, not teaching for doctrines the precepts of men, but the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever—expounding unto the people the Scriptures and assisting them to see the length and breadth of their meaning. Nevertheless, as the religious teachers of the Master’s day hated Jesus and His disciples for this cause, "Because they taught the people," and persecuted them because they did not walk in the beaten paths of their day, so we may expect also to be hated without cause; so we may expect that the scribes and Pharisees and Doctors of the Law to-day will be grieved because the people are taught, because the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ is presented to the people as an incentive to love and obedience, instead of the doctrine of eternal torment.
It matters not that all the educated ministry to-day well know, and would not for a moment deny, their disbelief in the doctrine of eternal torment, if cross-questioned.
Nevertheless, many of them hate us and oppose us, because we show the people the true interpretation of God’s Word, and lift before the eyes of their understanding a God of Love—Just, Merciful, Righteous altogether, and fully capable both in Wisdom and Power to work out all the glorious designs which He "purposed in Himself before the foundation of the world."
1. They perceive that the teaching of the doctrines of Purgatory and eternal torment has not had a sanctifying influence upon mankind in all the sixteen centuries in which it has been preached. They fear that to deny these doctrines now would make a bad matter worse. They fear that if the Gospel of the Love of God and of the Bible—that it does not teach eternal torment for any—were made generally known, the effect upon the world would be to increase its wickedness, to make life and property less secure than now and to fill the world still more than now with blasphemies.
2. They fear also that a certain amount of discredit would come to themselves because, knowing that the Bible does not teach eternal torment, according to the Hebrew and Greek original, they secreted the knowledge from the people. They fear that this would forever discredit them with their hearers. Hence they still outwardly lend their influence to the doctrine of eternal torture, which they do not believe, and feel angry towards us because we teach the people the Truth upon the subject, which they know will bring to them hundreds of questions difficult to answer or dodge.
We ask you, dear readers, Were you constrained to become children of God and to render to the Lord the homage and the obedience of your lives through fear or through love? We are not asking you whether you never have feared; but we are asking you what brought you to the point of consecrating your life to God? Surely that was not fear.
We are aware, of course, that there is a proper, godly fear, reverence, and that the Scriptures declare it—"The fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." (#Ps 111:10.) But this is not the fear of eternal torment which tends to drive out love.
How could we love or esteem or truly worship a God purposing the eternal torment of His creatures from before their creation?
We could give you many proofs of the power of love over the human heart, in contrast with the ungodly fear of the error. God says to us in so many words, "Their fear toward Me is not of Me, but is taught by the precepts of men." As an illustration: At a Bible Students’ Convention not long ago in Ohio, a well dressed gentleman in attendance told us of how his heart had been touched with our presentation of the "Love Divine, all love excelling."
OV262 He said, "For years I have been a member of the Presbyterian Church without being really a Christian at all. Occasionally I went on sprees, sometimes I gambled and drank, etc. Not until I received a knowledge of the true character of God as set forth in ‘Studies in the Scriptures’ did my heart ever come to the proper attitude of surrender to the Lord. Then I was glad to give Him my little all, and wished it were more." The next day, passing from the hotel to the auditorium to a question meeting, this gentleman put a slip of paper in our hand, which we supposed was a question. On the platform we drew it forth as one of the questions to be answered, and, to our astonishment, found it was a check for $1,000. The man had not been asked for one cent; but the Love of God had captivated his heart and gotten control—not only of it, but of his pocket-book and all. He wished to show the Lord his appreciation of the Love Divine, the length and breadth and height and depth of which he now comprehended as never before.
Another case: We met with a Convention of Bible Students in Chattanooga some years ago. A gentleman attended who introduced himself, saying that he was from Mississippi, and that he had become deeply interested in our presentations of the harmony of the Word of God. He said in substance: "I will not attempt to tell you how wicked a man I was before I got your literature. My dear wife here, an earnest Methodist, said to me, ‘John, John, you will surely go to hell!’ I replied to her: ‘Mary, I know it! I know it! And, Mary, I am determined that I well deserve all that I get. I am not going to hell for nothing.’ One of your papers came to my desk in my store. I said that this was different from anything that I ever understood respecting the teachings of the Bible. It seems more Godlike and more rational. I sent to you for various Bible Students’ Helps. The result is that the Love of God has constrained me, has conquered me, in a way that the doctrines of devilish torments could not influence me. Now I see the true teaching of God’s Word. I can honor Him and worship Him and take pleasure in laying down my life in His service. I have made a full consecration of everything.
For a time I sent you a $50 check every month; but that was in the nature of conscience-money, because the most profitable feature of my store trade was the sale of liquor to the Mississippi negroes. Those checks stopped, because, as the grace of God more and more filled and overflowed my heart, it brought me to see that I must love my neighbor as myself, and do injury to none; and now my whole life is devoted to the service of God and my fellow-men."
Three murderers confined in the Columbus, Ohio, Penitentiary, had from childhood been trained in the doctrines of eternal torment in different churches and yet committed murder. Those men, under God’s providence, received some of our literature—"Studies in the Scriptures"—and were cut to the heart when they learned of the Love of God, as expressed in the Divine Plan of the Ages. To be brief: A knowledge of the Love of God made such a change in the hearts and lives of those three murderers that the prison-keepers took knowledge of them that they had "been with Jesus and had learned of Him." By and by they were paroled—and to-day two of them are preaching the Gospel of the Love of God, seeking to bring their fellow-men out of the condition of darkness and sin into the glorious sunlight of Divine Love and Truth. Having tried the Gospel of fear and damnation and torture for sixteen centuries; having seen that under this teaching there is more blasphemy and general wickedness than even in the heathen world, is it not due time to give the True Bread and Water of Life to the hungry and thirsty ones who, for lack of it, are searching the earth and many of them falling into Higher Criticism, infidelity and other delusions peculiar to our day?