Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
A COVENANT WITH DEATH
"Ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell [Sheol, the grave] we are at agreement....
Your covenant with death shall be disannulled and your
agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the overflowing
scourge shall pass through, then shall ye be trodden
down by it."
The Prophet, in the language of our text and its context, gives us the Divine foreview of present-day conditions and their results. In the preceding verses he has pictured symbolically a description of intoxication with false doctrines to such an extent that the teachers of Christendom are represented as being all out of the way, confused, confounded, and disposed to vomit forth the various creeds and theories of the Dark Ages which have produced this intoxication. This is in full accord with the declaration of Revelation that all nations would be made drunk with the doctrinal wine from the cup of the woman who sat upon the beast. (
.) The fulfilment of the prophecy is with us. Confusion prevails amongst religious teachers of every denomination. They loathe their doctrines, and fear to discuss them, as well they may; for although their doctrines contain some elements of truth, yet the mixtures as a whole are an abomination to reason, to justice, to love, and in violent opposition to the proper understanding of God’s Word.
As if looking about amongst the people of our day, the Lord inquires through the Prophet, "Whom shall God teach knowledge? Whom shall He make to understand doctrine?" The answer is given, "Them that are weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts." In a word the difficulty with Christendom today is that a large proportion are not and never were Christians in the real
sense of that term, are not and never were believers in Jesus as the Redeemer of the world, through whom alone is forgiveness for sin, are not and never were consecrated followers of Him, earnestly desiring to know and to do the will of the Father—
And even amongst these comparatively few who are true Christians through faith and consecration, few have gone beyond the infantile stage of development. As the Apostle says, "For when for the time ye should be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk, and of strong meat." (
.) The Lord points out (v. 9) that none may expect to understand His doctrine, the Truth, except those who will progress from the position of babes in Christ, that they may become strong men in Him; and that the course of procedure to attain this development is a feeding upon the Truth of the Divine Revelation.
Let us, dear friends, be of this class who will not be satisfied with babyhood in Christ, but who will go on to perfection and to a realization of the privileges that are ours, both in the present life and in that which is to come.
STAMMERING LIPS AND FOREIGN TONGUES
The Lord proceeds to show how and why the Divine Revelation has been given in its present disconnected and broken form in the Scriptures. He informs us that He has a two-fold purpose in this: first, that His true people may the more particularly learn to depend upon Him and be strengthened through their search for the Truth, here a little and there a little, line upon line and precept upon precept, with stammering lips and in a foreign language, instead of plain statements in our native tongue. These conditions are really helpful to those who are of the right attitude of heart in that they learn lessons which otherwise might escape them. And in the end the harmony of the fragments of Truth from Genesis to Revelation,
often disconnectedly stated, becomes a demonstration and power to those who come to see their relationship, harmony and beauty. To such they have perhaps a greater strength, which would not come through a more plain and direct statement. The Lord tells us that this arrangement which He had made is quite sufficient to cause all the weary to rest and to be refreshed. And all of the proper class, all of the Lord’s "little flock," we may be sure, will rest in these promises and will be refreshed by them.
Secondly, the matter was stated in this fragmentary form, so that all others than the Israelites indeed (
) might be confused, might fall away, might be stumbled, broken, ensnared, entrapped, just as the Lord says here in Verse 13. The Word of God contains a bountiful provision of milk of the Truth and of strong meat of the Truth, covering every knowledge necessary to the man of God that he may be thoroughly furnished unto every good word and work.—
But these things are not intended for all. As our Lord declared to the disciples, "Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear" (
); and again, "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; but to others [outsiders] in parables; that seeing, they might not see, and hearing, they might not understand." (
.) But to outsiders, to all not Israelites indeed, the precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little, served not for their upbuilding, but for their ensnarement with error, that they "might go and fall backward and be snared and taken." (v. 13.) Thank God, this breaking and snaring do not mean that they will be turned over to eternal torment at the hands of demons! No! It refers merely to the present life, and indicates how those who profess Christianity, but have not the spirit of it, will in this Harvest time, the end of this Age, become ensnared in errors which will both separate them from the Truth
and the Israelites indeed, and cause them great perplexity in the Time of Trouble now begun.
THE DEAD MORE ALIVE
The secret of the deflection and stumbling which is now due and already considerably begun, lies in the false teaching respecting the death penalty that rests upon our race. A wrong view of this subject has done incalculable injury, while the pendulum swung to one extreme and then to the other, passing the central truth and scorning it. Satan, the father of lies, has been at the back of the systematic delusions respecting death which have troubled humanity in all ages and in all climes. This first step in the delusion was to contradict the Almighty by telling Mother Eve in Eden that there is no death, and that God’s declaration that a death penalty would come upon Adam and herself if they should eat of the forbidden fruit, was a falsehood. Satan declared, "Ye shall not surely die," whereas God had already instructed them that disobedience would bring upon them death—"Dying thou shalt die." Subsequently, when the dying process had set in and the race was becoming weaker and shorter-lived, the Adversary, pursuing the line of his original lie declared to humanity that when they seem to die they do not really do so, but become more alive than when they were alive. Strange to say humanity of every grade and language has accepted Satan’s deceptive statement, and thus the old Serpent, the Devil, Satan has deceived practically all who dwell upon the earth.
The next step in the delusion was to tell humanity that not only are the dead more alive than they were before they died, but that the vast majority of them are in torture. At first it seemed to the Adversary that there was danger of making this doctrine of devils too strong for the human mind to receive; and hence not only with the heathen did he make a succession of heavens and of hells, with opportunity for passing from one to the other,
but also amongst Christians he first introduced the subject of future punishment by a purgatorial place of torment, in which practically all of the human family would suffer untellable torture according to the will of God; teaching that since only a mere handful were so saintly, so finished, so ripe for eternal life in glory as to be permitted to go to Heaven, all the rest must necessarily get their chiseling and polishing and preparation for Heaven in the flames of Purgatory. Upon this erroneous doctrine, that the dead are alive, the doctrine of Purgatory is built, and upon the doctrine of Purgatory rises as a superstructure the doctrine of masses for the dead, of prayers for the dead, etc.
Later on the Protestant arose, rebelling against the doctrines of Purgatory and protesting in general against the theories and claims and works of Papacy. Then a change became necessary to suit the new conditions, and we can almost fancy with what a smile of sarcasm the Adversary concluded that he would try upon boastful, intelligent Protestantism the sternest doctrines, which he had previously feared to present even to the heathen mind. To these he declared that they are quite right in supposing that only the finished saints will attain the glory and that there is no Purgatory, but assured them that all the remainder of the race, except the little handful fit for Heaven, are destined to an eternity of misery without hope of ever escaping therefrom, in a place called hell, the location of which he did not think it necessary even to lie about.
It must have been to Satan’s surprise that intelligent people should accept this, the grossest form of his great deception; that they would so far lose their balance of mind as to suppose that a God of Justice, Wisdom, Love and Power would have created a race of thousands of millions, had He nothing better in store for the innumerable mass than an eternity of suffering; and that the joy of the handful of the Elect who would reach the
Heavenly glory would be no just compensation for the suffering of the multitudes of their kith and kin. Surely surprised at the success of his most extreme venture, the Adversary next so twisted certain texts of Scripture to the minds of some of these Protestants that they believed and taught that the Almighty Creator had created hell before He created mankind; and that He had predestinated that merely a handful should go to glory and that the great mass should go to eternal misery, predestinated this before Adam’s creation. It is no wonder that under these circumstances death and the grave have such terrors that many noble Christians on their death beds are in agony to know whether or not they are of the Elect and whether or not their loved ones were of the same class.
AN AGREEMENT WITH THE GRAVE
In the long ago people attended funeral services largely with the view to hear what hope the minister would hold out in respect to the deceased; and many were the anxious inquiries as to whether or not the deceased had given any manifestation of the peace of God in his heart during his dying moments. But all this is changed. It has become the custom, within the last forty years, for ministers to comfort all the friends of the deceased, and indirectly if not directly imply that he is much better off in the spirit-land. It is often indeed stated that he is present; and that if he could speak he would say, "Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I am far better off." What means this change, except as explained by our text? The pendulum has swung to the opposite side. Rationality has in some degree asserted itself and declared monstrous and unreasonable many of the doctrines presented in the Protestant creeds.
The doctrine that the Lord predestinated that 999,999 out of every million of the race should go to eternal torment, and that one alone should go to glory, is now properly considered too horrible for acceptance by any rational mind. The doctrine is quietly buried; and without
a qualm or quiver the very reverse is taught by implication; namely, that nearly everybody is going to Heaven, regardless of what kind of life he or she may have lived in the present time. Do not the flowers on the coffin imply this? Do not the presence of the minister, the singing of the hymns, the discourse and the prayer all teach it? Is it ever known that any except occasionally a murderer is otherwise treated amongst Protestants? The gates of eternal torment are considered closed and the gates of heaven flung wide open. From the one extreme the Adversary has led them to the opposite extreme. But both positions are thoroughly untenable, not even so reasonable as the Roman Catholic purgatorial one, which also is quite unscriptural, as we shall see.
The views of Protestants, the most intelligent people on earth on other subjects, are the most incongruous, unjust, unreasonable that well could be imagined. Instead of the old theory that all the heathen and nearly all of the civilized pass directly at death to eternal torment irrevocably, they now tell us that comparatively few of even the most vicious and villainous of our race go there; that all the remainder go to Heaven. What must be their conceptions of Heaven? Surely not that glorious presentation which the Scriptures give us of a place in which God’s will is absolutely done! How could the heathen, the idiotic, the insane, the undeveloped in mind and morals, the unprincipled masses of mankind—how could they do God’s will in Heaven? How could they be fit companions of the saints or of the angels?
And if they are there for schooling in a kind of probationary school, then who shall say that to go to Heaven means an eternity of bliss and happiness, and who may know what to expect for himself or anyone else? Is it not a fact that Protestants, repudiating the Purgatory of Roman Catholics as an antechamber to hell, have made a purgatory in Heaven as an anteroom to eternal bliss? And is it not true that neither the Catholic
nor the Protestant view of Purgatory finds any ground whatever in the Scripture?
In harmony with what we have just seen of this great change of Protestant teaching, which lands practically everybody in Heaven at death, is the statement contained in our text. With death they are at agreement. They tell us that it is an angel sent to bear us to the Lord. The office of the minister is to instruct the people that they need not sorrow for their dead, but must rejoicingly think of death as being the work of the Lord; that they must rejoice therein so far as they are able and consider that their friends are better off; and that they should seek to join them, and be glad when their death comes.
A CAUSE FOR SUICIDES
This false doctrine, this agreement with death, this teaching that the dead are so much happier and better off and more alive than before they died, this bestrewing the casket with flowers, this weeping tears of sympathy and joy on their behalf, is inducing the great tide of suicide which is spreading over the whole world and which, as statistics show us, is rapidly increasing year by year.
From press reports we have every reason to think that the poor deluded creatures came under this worse form of Satan’s delusion, which has held Protestantism; and that they all expected to better their condition by death. Therefore they hastened to end their unhappy lives.
Notice that one extreme error generally and naturally leads to its opposite, and hence that the false doctrines respecting eternal torment have worked a double injury:
(1) By representing God as the very devil of devils and the worst foe that humanity ever had; and
(2) by now misrepresenting Him reversely as being pleased to take to Heaven and Himself all sorts and conditions of humanity in all their various gradations of mental, moral and physical degeneracy and obliquity. Before examining the truth respecting this subject, let us point out
that the vicious character ascribed to God by our forefathers was not only a blasphemy against the true God and His true character of Justice, of Love and Wisdom and Power, but also a great injury to the minds of men; for rarely can a man’s mind rise higher than, superior to, his own conception of a god. Because our forefathers believed that God had made great preparation for the eternal torment of the race, they thought it proper to copy Him and to begin the tormenting in the present life.
Indeed they tell us that they were striving to copy God and to prevent heresies which would carry others to an eternity of torture. As that picture of God was unsatisfactory, so the more modern picture is equally reprehensible and unsatisfactory—a God without principle, without justice, without character Himself, who does not insist upon having character development in those whom He would bless.
TRUTH ABOUT DEATH AND THE GRAVE
The Scriptures nowhere represent death as a friend, but as an enemy. Thus it was death that our first parents were threatened if they were disobedient; and this was the sentence which God pronounced against them when He had them cast out of Eden. Not a word in the record refers to a place of eternal torment after death; but the Scriptures everywhere declare that all mankind go into this death and that the dead know not anything. (
.) "There is neither wisdom nor knowledge nor device in the grave"—in the state of death,
" whither all go." (
.) In harmony with this the New Testament also declares that a redemption from death was necessary; that Christ died for man’s sin in order that the claim of justice against the race might be satisfied; and that thus a resurrection of the dead be made possible. The Scriptures consistently tell us that the resurrection of the dead is the real hope, and assure us that if the dead rise not, all our faith and hope and teaching are vain.—
The Scriptures assure us that except Christ had died for mankind, had given His life as the offset or Ransom-price for the life of Father Adam, man’s death condition would have been as hopeless as that of the brute. They assure us that God’s mercy was afterwards manifest in sending His Son to die, the Just for the unjust, to bring us back into harmony with God and to the eternal life which God is pleased to give to all His intelligent creatures in harmony with Him. They tell us that the time for this resurrection of the dead is fixed in the Divine purpose; and they call it the New Day, the Day of Christ, the Millennial Day of a thousand years. They assure us that during this epoch Immanuel shall reign, Satan shall be bound, the powers of darkness shall be overthrown, and the whole world shall be flooded with the light of the knowledge of God and His goodness and His truth. Christ and His elect "little flock" are pictured as this Sun of Righteousness, which shall heal the world’s troubles and chase away all of its shadows and darkness.
This is the good hope of the Gospel of Christ. It does not compromise with death and the grave. It plainly states that death is an enemy, and that the "grave is cruel." But it assures us that the Lord has laid help upon One who is mighty to deliver us from the power of death and of the tomb. (
.) Of our Lord it is written, "He shall reign [in His Millennial Kingdom] until He shall have put all enemies under His feet [in full subjugation]. The last enemy to be destroyed is death."—
So, then, dear friends, we have no Gospel to preach that is in common with that which is preached today.
We cannot tell you that the dead are more alive than when they were alive. We must tell you the message of God’s Word—that the whole race is dying; and that this condition was caused by original sin and the original sentence upon Adam. We must tell you, however, that the glorious hope of a resurrection of the dead is true.
We must tell you that the words and conduct of humanity now will have their bearing or influence upon their future, whether they be of the few called during this Gospel Age to be of the Heavenly class of the Elect, or whether they belong to the masses of mankind. There is no injustice with God. He will neither over-punish nor under-punish.
A "just recompence of reward" is what the Apostle specifies and what appeals to our judgments.—
In proportion as much light or little has been given, much or little will be required in the resurrection. Hence it is to the advantage of every one to have in mind God’s provision of a future life, and to reflect that his present course in the use of light, knowledge and opportunity has a very practical bearing upon his future welfare, and is helping him either upward or downward as respects character, and that no one will reach the place of life eternal and full perfection as he shall under the Lord’s guidance be developed in heart and ultimately changed by resurrection power to the likeness of God.
"THE OVERFLOWING SCOURGE"
The Apostle points us to the great Time of Trouble with which this Age shall end and with which the New Era of the Millennial Kingdom shall be introduced.
Everywhere throughout the Scriptures this is specially indicated as a time of very severe trial, not only to the world, but to the Church. Who shall be able to stand, queries the Prophet and also the Lord, the hour of temptation which shall come upon the whole world to try all them that dwell upon the face of the whole earth? (
#Re 6:17; 3:10
.) This epoch of trouble the Prophet in our context declares shall take hold upon and cause tribulation to all those who have made a covenant with death and an agreement with the grave, and in so doing are doing violence to their own reason as well as to the Word of God. And this he declares will continue until they learn doctrine, until they shall understand and accept the truth of the matter that the dead are dead;
and that the only hope of consciousness and life is by resurrection through the power of the Redeemer.
We believe that one of the most serious aspects of this overwhelming scourge will be the power of the evil spirits, the fallen angels. For six thousand years having operated with their prince, Satan, in deceiving humanity and perpetuating his lie in various ways throughout the past through witches, wizards and necromancers as well as by obsession and mediumship, these angels have confirmed Satan’s lie that a dead man is more alive than when he was alive. They have personated the dead, have answered for them, and in every way sought to deceive and delude humanity and to contradict the Divine sentence, "The wages of sin is death."—
These demons have been restrained from the liberty of materializing and appearing as men for more than 4,000 years, by Divine decree; as the Apostle says, "Restrained in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great Day." (
.) Now, however, through spirit-mediums, who are as deceived as the remainder of mankind and know not that they are mediums of the fallen angels, the demons are telling that shortly they will have power to materialize, as of old. There are reasons, too, for thinking that when they do regain this power many of them again will use it in an immoral manner, as they did before the Flood, as recorded in
. Of that time we read that these angels, sons of God, materialized, and "saw the daughters of men that they were fair and took them wives of all that they chose." As a result of this illicit intercourse children were born that became giants on the earth, men of renown; and on this account the Flood came and swept away all these. The Lord made sure that none of the mongrel race should escape that destruction; and in harmony with this fact we read of Noah and his family that "he was perfect in his generation"—that there was no admixture of this angelic stock in him and his.
If now it be true, as several Scriptures seem to indicate, that these will regain a considerable measure of their former liberties, it will indeed mean an overflowing scourge upon humanity. But alas, how poorly are mankind prepared for that scourge! Speaking of that time the Apostle says that the Lord will permit strong delusion to come upon men; that He will allow them to believe a lie because they have no pleasure in the Truth. (
.) As an illustration of how the lie may operate to generate confusion we note the fact that a Methodist sister of good reputation and doubtless of honest intentions has reported that a child has been born to her after the same manner that Jesus was born, without an earthly husband, and that the spirit being who is the father of her child so presented the matter to her, and in support of the contention, even quoted Scripture "Thy Maker is thy husband." Another has reported that the father of her child is her dead husband, who appeared to her when she went to put flowers upon his grave.
These are but two of several instances which have come to our attention, but they are suggestions to show what an overwhelming scourge may be before us through the neglect of the Truth on this subject that the dead are dead and through the general acceptance of Satan’s lie that they are alive. If it be true, as the Scriptures seem to corroborate, that these fallen angels, demons, will obtain special liberties within a few months, it is high time that as many as have an ear to hear should be made aware of the difficulty and should be safeguarded with the Truth that all such manifestations are of the evil spirits and are merely deceptions as respects the dead, who cannot be resurrected until after the Gospel Church shall have been fully developed and glorified in the First Resurrection.