Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
"WHO, THEN, SHALL BE SAVED?"
"If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"
The words of our text are solemn, from whatever standpoint they may be viewed. But for our friends of various denominations who hold that death marks the end of hope these words should be not only solemn, but terrifying in the extreme. They note the death of friends and neighbors, and know from statistics that ninety thousand fellow-creatures die every twenty-four hours; and they well know and would not dispute that a very small number of these could by any stretching of language or any allowances be considered righteous or even to have had righteous intentions. If these dear friends would take seriously their teaching that all but the righteous, all but the saintly, go to a never-ending hell of torment, from which there is no hope of alleviation of suffering, it would be sufficient to unbalance their minds. Fortunately for them, therefore, they do not take too seriously their own unreasonable and unscriptural views on this subject.
Apparently a great many people would scarcely be willing to be saved, just as they are scarcely willing to forsake sin. We have heard people tell us that they would be glad to creep into some little, obscure corner of Heaven and enjoy its glories and blessings if they could only escape the miseries of which they have been mistaught.
We are sorry for such poor creatures. They can enjoy neither the present life nor the future prospect. Instead of hoping for glory, honor and immortality, as the Apostle suggests we should do, these merely hope to escape torture by the skin of their teeth—a poor, unsatisfactory hope, quite contrary to the one set before us in the Gospel.
It is the same Apostle who urges the Church to pursue
a course that would be pleasing to God and who assures us that "so an entrance shall be administered unto you abundantly into the everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (
.) It is proper that we inquire why in these words an abundant salvation is suggested, while in our text it is declared that the righteous shall scarcely be saved. Let us examine our text more particularly; it seems inconsistent as generally viewed. It seems out of harmony with what we might expect for their eternal welfare by our Heavenly Father, who is rich, wise and powerful beyond all compare.
TO WHOM DOES OUR TEXT APPLY?
We inquire first who are the righteous referred to in our text? We reply that the Apostle is not referring to any class of people, but merely in a general way referring to a principle of the Divine Law which declares that he that doeth these things shall live, and that any failure to do the perfect will of God would be sin, and that "the wages of sin is death." (
.) In other words, the Apostle is speaking of God’s arrangement. God has promised eternal life only to the righteous. If we should take one hundred as representing the standard of righteousness, it would be impossible for any one to have one hundred and one points; for he could not be more than righteous. And if he lacked anything of being up to the hundred mark, he would not be righteous. With a hundred as the standard the man possessing the ninety-nine points of righteous character would still be an unrighteous man; and, according to Divine Law, he could not have everlasting life. So, then, God’s Law makes no allowance for sin, but condemns it and declares that all unrighteousness is sin.—
This is the basis of the Apostle’s statement that a righteous person could be no more than saved under the Divine Law. He could not say, as some teach, "Lord, I have done more than was required of me; I have been
more than righteous. On the score of my righteousness I could claim Thy promise of eternal life, but having been more than merely righteous I have a reserve of merit which I can apply for others." This, to some extent, is the theory of our Catholic friends. On the strength of this they pray to Mary, the Apostles and certain others of the saints whom they believe to have laid up for them a surplus of merit. The Apostle’s words are in contradiction to this thought, assuring that no one could be more than righteous and that consequently God’s offer of salvation to the righteous could not be more than made. The righteous would scarcely be saved; that is to say, would have nothing of left-over merit, nothing of surplus. It would require his every effort to comply with the standard of righteousness.
From this standpoint the Apostle’s words are very clear, very meaningful, very reasonable; and we see at once the significance of the latter part of our text, "Where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?"—What show would they have? In other words, his thought is that if the Divine Law has provided eternal life for only those who are absolutely perfect in God’s sight, what chance, what show, would there be for any sinner condemned for either many or few transgressions; and as for the ungodly—those failing to recognize their responsibility to the Almighty—where would they appear, what show would they have? The inferential answer is, None!
God’s Law would condemn them, sentence them.
But nothing in the Scriptures indicate that the Divine Law would sentence them to an eternity of torture.
Rather the Divine Law is that "the wages of sin is death." "The soul that sinneth it shall die." (
.) Eternal life is the gift of God (
), and will be given only to those who have His approval, only to the righteous. And since the wicked will not receive this gift from the Almighty, and it would be impossible for them to get it from any other source, it is apparent
that they cannot live, either in torture or otherwise, that they shall be punished with everlasting destruction.
WHO ARE THE RIGHTEOUS?
Coming now to a still fuller examination of the subject, we inquire, Who are the righteous amongst men?
The Scriptures answer, "There is none righteous, no, not one." (
.) They again declare that our Lord Jesus was the only righteous One, and that He died, the Just for the unjust, for our reconciliation to the Father.
But now the question arises, If God’s Law is so strict that only the full one hundred per cent would have His approval and be granted eternal life, what hope is there for our race, the majority of whom, instead of being ninety-nine per cent perfect or righteous, could not be claimed to be more than twenty-five per cent, with an exceptional person, perhaps, able to stand the test of forty or fifty per cent and some of the poor race, born in sin and shapen in iniquity, as low down as ten per cent, with consequently ninety per cent of unrighteousness in their natural makeup? Where is the hope under God’s Law for either the best or the worst of our fallen race?
Ah, we answer, right there lies the key to the Gospel of Christ, which assures us that as we all inherit our imperfections from our parents and they from theirs, and thus originally all from Adam, so Christ Jesus, having given Himself as a Ransom or corresponding price for Father Adam, having laid down His life for Adam’s sin, has a corresponding merit represented in the value of His death as a Sin-offering. This, from the Divine standpoint, is the full offset to Father Adam’s transgression, and hence is not only sufficient in value to cancel his debt and condemnation but sufficient in value also to offset the influence of his sin and condemnation as it has contaminated the twenty thousand millions of our race. Here behold the Wisdom, Love and Justice of God in combination!
His Wisdom permitted the arrangement of the plan by which His Justice would be fully visited upon
Adam, the sinner—and indirectly upon his race through him—and yet leave abundant room that in due time Jesus by His sacrifice for all could make satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. For if all were condemned in one it would be equally just on God’s part that all should be justified or forgiven through the merit of the one Redeemer, so that the cancellation of sin through the merit of the precious blood of Jesus affects not only Father Adam, but all of his children, who shared with him his condemnation.—
Whoever sees clearly the foregoing argument not only sees that there are none righteous, no, not one member of the race, but also sees that Jesus, by the virtue of His sacrifice, is prepared to justify or cover over and excuse and set aside all the unrighteousness of the world.
But since it is not God’s purpose to favor unrighteousness, ignorance, etc., He has arranged that only those who intelligently accept Jesus and renounce sin and turn away to righteousness to the extent of their ability—only these shall have the full benefit of His arrangement, which in the present time is called justification by faith, or making righteous by faith.
Accordingly, we perceive that there are some righteous in the world according to this reckoned arrangement, although there are none actually righteous according to the strict standard of the Law. But still we cannot claim that there are many righteous, even according to this benevolent arrangement which God has made; for comparatively few of our fallen race have yet heard of the only name given under Heaven and amongst men whereby we must be saved. Not having heard thereof they cannot believe therein, and not believing they could not be justified through faith in His blood, for faith cometh by hearing—the hearing of the message of the Lord. These righteous ones (righteous or justified through faith in the blood of Christ) are referred to by the Apostle and their relationship to the Divine Law clearly shown by his statement,
"The righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh [with its sinful, depraved tendency] but after the Spirit [after the perfect standard of God’s Law, as nearly as possible up to its real meaning, coming short only where our imperfections and weaknesses of the fall render obedience impossible on our part]." For, as the Apostle again says, "We cannot do the things that we would."—
The believer in Christ who has devoted himself to the Lord and the service of righteousness and who has been begotten of the Holy Spirit is counted a New Creature, as separate and distinct from his flesh, in which the motions of sin may still prevail to some extent contrary to his new mind, new will, righteous intention of heart. With his mind he can serve the Law of God perfectly; in this respect he must not come short one jot or tittle; from the heart he must love righteousness and hate iniquity. But even so, though his flesh be gradually brought into subjection, he cannot hope to have the full victory over it until it is totally dead, until he, as a New Creature, begotten of the Spirit, shall be born of the Spirit in the First Resurrection.
DIVINE STANDARDS UNLOWERED
Not only is the Christian religion the only one which presents God as loving and merciful to the sinner, but it is the only one which presents the thought of mercifully saving the sinners without in any degree breaking or bending the Divine Law, the standard of righteousness.
God does not say to the sinner, "You have but twenty per cent of character; I will blot out the requirement of the other eighty per cent and treat you as perfect." Nor does He make a similar proposition to the one professing fifty points of character. God’s Law still requires of each one the full one hundred per cent, but makes it possible for all to attain that full perfection. How? By a double process: (1) To the man of but twenty per cent of character the lacking eighty per cent is imputed or reckoned
as his share of the merit of Christ’s Sacrifice for Adam’s sin. To the man possessing the fifty per cent of character, the lacking fifty per cent is reckoned or imputed in a like manner. (2) But it is required of both that not only shall they maintain what they have, but that their hearts shall be at the full one hundred standard; that they shall be willing and attempting nothing less than perfection.
They will be reckoned and dealt with according to the standards of their hearts and minds and will, and not according to imperfections of their flesh.
Meantime it will be expected of them that they shall stand tests, trials and difficulties which will be allowed to come upon them to prove the genuineness of their faith and to establish it, to prove the sincerity of their love for righteousness and their opposition to iniquity, and to strengthen their determination to keep their covenant with the Lord. If they fail in these tests they cannot be acceptable in the class that is now being called, the saints, the Royal Priesthood, the "Little Flock," to whom it is the Father’s good pleasure to give the Kingdom.
Thus their standing of reckoned righteousness is dependent upon their degree of heart-loyalty to the Lord and not dependent upon their actual qualities. Where much is possessed much is required; where little is possessed less is required as respects the flesh, provided the heart is up to the standard of one hundred per cent loyalty to God and to righteousness. In this picture which we have given we have illustrated the Apostle’s words, Where sin abounded, grace did that much more abound. (
In an individual in whom sin had abounded to the extent of destroying eighty per cent of his character, leaving only twenty per cent, sin abounded more than in the person in whom it had destroyed fifty per cent and left fifty per cent. And the Apostle’s message is that God’s grace in Christ, forgiving and justifying or counting as righteous, is in the same proportion. That is to say, the one in whom sin abounded most can have the
more favor to abound in his case. In other words, the Lord takes us just as we are according to the flesh; and, if we have accepted Christ and given ourselves fully to Him, we are judged not according to the flesh but according to the spirit, intention, will.
"WHERE ARE THE SINNER AND THE UNGODLY?"
What then shall we say of the sinner and the ungodly; where shall they appear? Let it be noted that the Apostle does not say that they shall appear in hell shrieking in torture! He did not say, as did Brother Jonathan Edwards, that the righteous will look over the battlements of Heaven and see in eternal torment their friends, neighbors, brothers, sisters and parents who died without accepting Christ. The Apostle’s question is, Where shall they appear? or in more modern language, What show will they have? We answer that they have no show.
Those who are not justified through faith in Christ according to the Divine arrangement have no show at all with God at the present time. They are unjustified. They are, as the Apostle declared we once were, "children of wrath, even as others" (
); or, as he again says, "without God, having no hope in the world."
It is not their privilege, as some would have us believe, to claim God as their Father and Christians as their brethren. On the contrary, we take our theology from our Redeemer, who said that some are of their father the Devil, for his works they do (
), and the Apostle’s statement where he declares that Satan now works in the hearts of the children of disobedience (
), who certainly are vastly in the majority, while the saints who walk in the footsteps of Jesus are the small minority, going contrary to the course of this world. We take the Apostle’s words further where he declares that the "god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of those who believe not." (
.) We have nothing therefore, to say respecting the ungodly and the sinner
at the present time. We have no hope to hold out to them that they can be saved in ignorance, any more than they can be saved in rebellion. God has but the one way of salvation, and that is through faith in the precious blood of Christ and through an endeavor to come into harmony with His righteous Law through the merit of the Savior.
What then? Is there any hope for the ungodly and the sinner? We answer, Yes, there is a hope. God’s Word clearly portrays this hope, telling us that in due time all the families of the earth shall be blessed; that in due time every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, to the glory of God; that in due time when His righteous dealings are made manifest, all things that God has made shall come and worship before Him; that in due time Christ, who tasted death for every man, shall take unto Himself His great power and shall reign, and shall bring to every member of the race the blessing of knowledge with the opening of the eyes of their understanding, now closed by Satan, the god of this world, through ignorance, superstition, etc.—
Our dear Redeemer assures us that these children of wrath, without God and without hope in the world, blinded by Satan, led captive by him through their fallen natures, have not been dropped down into a place of eternal torment but are merely asleep in death, in their graves, waiting for the time when God shall establish His Kingdom of righteousness under the whole heavens, the time when His Millennial Kingdom shall control the world, the time when Satan shall be bound and be no longer permitted to deceive the nations; and that then not merely will the living of that time receive the blessing of His instruction and assistance, but all that are in their graves shall come forth—not come down from Heaven, nor come up from hell, nor from purgatory, but from THEIR GRAVES.—
How strange that we were so long deluded, that we heard the voice of man instead of the voice of
the Son of Man! What peace comes from His Message that the wicked have ceased from troubling and the weary are at rest, asleep in the tomb, in Sheol, in Hades, in the grave!
How glad we are that He assures us that not only the Little Flock of His faithful ones, partakers of the First Resurrection, shall come forth, but also that the great mass of mankind not approved of God, who went down to the grave children of wrath, shall come forth also! And He tells us for what purpose. His words are somewhat mystifying because of the poor translation of our Common Version, the Revised Version making them more clear, saying that they "shall come forth unto a resurrection [a raising up out of sin and death conditions] by judgments"—chastisements, corrections, with reward for every good endeavor.
Thus during the Millennial Age the ungodly and wicked of this present time shall have a much more favorable opportunity than they now have of coming to know God and Jesus Christ whom He sent; and by obedience to the knowledge then granted to them they may, if they will, attain to life everlasting and full restitution, perfection on the human plane with the earth as their Paradise. —
#Isa 11:1-11; 35:1-10
"SOME BETTER THINGS FOR US"
Some one may say, "We admit that when Christ comes and Satan is bound and the true knowledge of the Lord is filling the earth and it is as easy to do right as to do wrong, these conditions will make the Millennial Age more favorable to the ungodly and sinner than is the present age. But would not this view imply an injustice on God’s part in that He has made the way now so narrow, so difficult?
Would it not imply that He is partial, and that He has given to those most zealous for righteousness severer trials, tests, persecutions, etc.?"
We answer that this view is the result of an imperfect understanding of the Divine Program. It ignores the
Lord’s declaration that those being selected by Him during this Gospel Age, who are called upon to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in the narrow way and who are to sacrifice their earthly interest, are to have a much higher reward, a much grander salvation than that provided for the world in general. Man was of the earth earthy, the earthly image of God and adapted to the earth, flesh and blood, etc. His sin losing for him perfection as a man, his redemption and restitution would restore him to the perfection of manhood in harmony with God. But this would not make of mankind spirit beings nor fit them for a Heavenly condition. God’s proposition is the return of the race in general to human perfection in an earthly home, which He declares shall "abide forever." (
.) But the Divine reward for the Church is that this "little flock" is accepted as the Bride of Christ and His Joint-heir in the glorious Millennial Kingdom. They shall sit with Him in His Throne. They shall be made partakers of the Divine nature with Him, and thus shall share His glory, honor and immortality.
The Apostle declares that God "has provided some better things for us" (the Gospel Church) than He provided for the Ancient Worthies of past times. They will be the first to reach the perfection of the human nature, while to us the promise is given of a participation with Christ in the Heavenly nature, which flesh and blood cannot inherit. When, therefore, the difference of reward is considered, and the difference of salvation borne in mind, it will be seen that those who are now drawn and justified and called to sacrifice the human nature and to receive the Divine nature, have much advantage every way over the remainder of the race in that to them is counted the very cream of Divine riches of grace and loving kindness.
Nevertheless, the blessing to the world of mankind will be so great as to leave nothing to be desired. During the Millennial Age all the willing and obedient may return to human perfection in a world-wide Eden.
"MADE TO BE TAKEN AND DESTROYED"
We should not be understood to be teaching Universalism, except in the limited sense that the Bible teaches it; namely, that there is a universal redemption and that there shall be a
for salvation that will apply to every member of Adam’s race, either in the present life or in the future, under the provisions of the Millennial Kingdom. As in the present time the Apostle, speaking of the Church, declares that if we sin wilfully after we have received a knowledge of the Truth, have tasted of the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come, if we should fall away, it will be impossible to renew such to fellowship with God and the blessing of eternal life. The same principle will apply to the world of mankind in general when they shall be on trial for eternal life during the Millennial Age. Whoever then shall enjoy the blessings of that glorious time and not be moved to loyalty to God and to righteousness and brought to a developed character will not be permitted to go beyond the limits of the Millennium into the eternal future, but will be utterly destroyed. The same Apostle Peter, speaking of this, says, "The soul [individual] who will not obey that Prophet [the great Preacher, Messiah, during the Millennial Age] shall be destroyed from amongst the people." On the contrary, all who do hear or obey will be guided in the right way and will gain eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.—
But such as are unworthy of life during this present Age, as well as those who will be found unworthy of eternal life in the Millennial Age, will not be preserved by Divine Power to all eternity to be tortured. On the contrary, the Apostle declares that such will be treated like "brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed." (
.) As St. Paul says, "Whose end is destruction" —not preservation in torture. (
.) This is in full harmony with the Scriptural declaration that he who has the Son has life; but he who has not the Son
shall not see life, but the wrath of God (the sentence of God) abideth on him; and through failure to accept Christ he will die the Second Death.—
Let me clearly emphasize in this connection that the Scriptures show that the degree of our knowledge measures the degree of our responsibility in God’s sight.
Infants and idiots, who have no knowledge whatever, have no responsibility whatever, and will evidently deserve no stripes or punishment during the Millennial Age. And as for the heathen and for those in civilized lands, each one has some measure of knowledge and some measure of conscience; and the responsibility of each is in proportion as he has discernment of right and wrong and obeys or disobeys his conscience. The more light, the more intelligence, the more knowledge the world may have, the greater will be its responsibility and the more will be the stripes in the event of unfaithfulness.
We are not now speaking of the Church, whose members are to receive their stripes in this present life, so that, as the Apostle says, they may not be condemned with the world in the future, in the world’s Judgment Day, the Millennial Age. We are speaking of those who have more or less light of conscience or light from the Divine Word, but who make no use of their light, who in greater or less degree live in violation of their conscience.
Let such know assuredly that in proportion as they disregard the light they have they are laying up for themselves stripes, punishments in the future, and that in proportion as they see and do right they are making the pathway of the future smooth. This is the principle which the Lord enunciated, saying, He that knew his Master’s will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes, while he who knew not and did things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes.—