Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
THE BROTHERHOOD OF CHRIST
"Love as brethren; be tender-hearted, be humble-minded, not rendering evil for evil, reviling for reviling, but contrariwise blessing. For hereunto were ye called, that ye should inherit a blessing."
It is praiseworthy that the founders of the city of Philadelphia named it as they did, the "City of Brotherly Love," thus implying the good intentions of their hearts, their love of peace, of brotherhood, of mutual welfare.
And who can doubt that the benedictions of those founders have to some extent exercised a beneficent influence in the affairs of this great city? Nevertheless, none of us can be unaware of the fact that unbrotherly words and deeds have wrought sorrow, bitterness, woe and death to many within its precincts. We may at first be inclined to wonder why this should be so, why sin seems to be so much more contagious than righteousness, and why as the Scriptures declare, our entire race is prone to sin as the sparks fly upward. Shall we suppose that those who gave the name were so much better, so much nobler, so much more God-like than their progeny of today?
We would not be disposed to make so sweeping a statement.
We believe that there are some today as good and noble and true as ever lived of Adam’s race. Nevertheless, we remember the words of the Apostle respecting our day and the end of this Gospel Age, to the effect that "evil men, and leaders astray, shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." (
.) Again he says, "This know also that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, lacking natural affection, truce-breakers and slanderers, without self-control, fierce, despisers of those who are good, traitors, headstrong,
puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof."—
The newspaper testimonies and the court records show a vast increase in the criminal tendencies which fully correspond to those prophetic statements; and naturally these conditions raise before the mind the query, Why should the world be giving such evidences of increasing depravity, whereas many have hoped that the spread of general intelligence and the multiplication of Bibles would by this time have converted the world?
It is just about a century since most of the large Bible and Tract Societies were organized, and missionary effort amongst Protestants was undertaken with fresh zeal and hope. The century past is notable in the world’s history for its religious zeal, its missionary effort and its general dissemination of the Scriptures, far in excess of any other. Yet today we find from statistics that, with the largest possible allowance for heathen professions and counting as Christians all who make any pretension toward civilization, regardless of their faith in Christ—still, where there were 600,000,000 of heathen a century ago, there are now 1,200,000,000. Where a century ago the colleges and theological seminaries of the world were almost without exception loyal to God, to the Bible and to Christ, there is scarcely an institution of learning today in which the doctrine of human evolution and the Higher Critical teachings in opposition to the Bible are not publicly taught, and even amongst the very few where these are not taught, we challenge the naming of a single one whose professors are all loyal to the Bible, so that they do not in private oppose the Word of God and the Divine Plan therein set forth. And it is in line with all these things that we behold so alarming an increase of selfishness and injustice, wickedness, crime.
"BECAUSE ALL ARE SINNERS"
The explanation of the situation is found in the
Apostle’s words, "By one man’s disobedience sin entered into the world and death as a result of sin, and thus death passed upon all men because all are sinners." (
.) For four thousand years this inward, downward course, has prevailed, carrying mankind in some parts of the world into very deep degradation, and as a result, as the Prophet says, "Darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the heathen." (
.) The light that was started by our Redeemer nineteen centuries ago conflicted with the darkness, and the children of the light overcame it, meanwhile spreading a refractive light and influence wherever the Lord’s saints reside.
But within the last half century, under the Lord’s providence, inventions have brought to the world marvelous machinery, which the Scriptures inform us belong to the "Day of His Preparation" for the on-coming Millennial epoch. These inventions have quickened the minds and bodies of those coming in touch with them, stimulating their ambitions for knowledge, for improvement of their temporal affairs and for the accumulation of wealth. While in many respects there has been a great benefit and blessing connected with these, the fact that they appeal to the selfish propensities of humanity, already over-developed, has caused the blessing to operate injuriously to many. The increase of knowledge, combined with the increase of selfishness and with the high tension at which people are now living, affects the increase of crime and the decrease of brotherly love we have already noted.
A TESTING TIME FOR CHRISTENDOM
Various Scriptures point out the present and immediate future as a time of severe testing upon Christendom.
It is the time for the ushering in of the Millennial Kingdom of God’s dear Son, not along the lines anticipated by many, the conversion of the world, but along contrary lines, the completion of the Church, her glorification with her Lord, the Bridegroom, as His Bride, and
then the inauguration of a Reign of Righteousness, justice, equity, for the blessing and instruction of the world, and for the uplifting out of sin-and-death conditions of all who will hearken to the message of that glorious Day for which the world has waited so long.
As suggested, the new era will be inaugurated in a manner totally unexpected by Christendom; and hence her testing at this time will be the more crucial. It will be here with Christendom as it was with the Jews in the time of our Lord’s First Advent, of which our Lord Himself said, "Ye know not the time of your visitation." (
.) If Christendom today would awake and realize the true meaning of present conditions, it would mean a great change to the comparatively few who have made full consecration to the Lord—but others would not be able to believe or receive the lesson; for it is written, "None of the wicked shall understand."
As for the consecrated, as the Scriptures declare, the New Dispensation is coming upon them as a thief in the night. Only such as are living up to their consecration vows will be granted Divine assistance in the understanding of the present situation. The others of the consecrated will go on in partial or complete ignorance until brought to their senses by the complete collapse of present institutions, political, social and religious, which the Scriptures show will precede the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom. As for the world in general, and particularly the educated, they are rapidly dropping the thought of a personal God and a Divine Plan in respect to human affairs. They are rapidly reaching a rationalistic standpoint of thought—worshiping Mammon, wealth, station, education, etc., with merely a form of godliness without its power.—
In these words the Scriptures call our attention to the fact that while the great Millennial Morning of blessing for all mankind is nearing, there intervenes a dark period, a short season of terrible trouble and anarchy. This
comes as a just retribution upon those who, having had a knowledge of God and His righteousness, appreciated more the things of Mammon. The lesson to them will be a very severe one, but in the Lord’s providence, a very profitable one eventually, as the trouble of that awful period which is nearing will plow deeply their hearts and prepare many, we trust, for the blessing of the Millennial Kingdom, which will follow.
Already we see a great struggle between the nations, between capital and labor, between the Word of God on one hand and the creeds of the Dark Ages and the various forms of new theology and agnosticism on the other.
Everywhere the Scriptures predict that the crash will be with terrible force; but with equal plainness they assure us that following that awful experience God will turn unto the people the pure Message, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord to serve Him with one consent. (
.) They assure us that when the judgments of the Lord are abroad in the earth the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. (
.) If Divine Wisdom says that this is the best manner for giving mankind the needed lessons preparatory to the introduction of the Kingdom of Light and Blessing, all of God’s consecrated ones will say, "Amen! True and righteous are Thy judgments, Lord God Almighty!
Who shall not come and worship before Thee when Thy righteous acts are made manifest?"—
#Re 15:4; 16:5
CHURCH NOMINAL—CHURCH REAL
Considering Christendom, or the civilized portion of the world, as the Church of Christ in name—including all denominations and all associated or connected directly or remotely—we have seen that the difficulty on account of which the great trouble is coming upon them is that love has given place to selfishness. There was enough selfishness in all by nature, but it has been enormously exercised and enlarged in influence amongst the civilized in recent years; and the terrible anarchy in which the
present age is about to close will be the fruitage of that selfishness. The Scriptures point this out, not only in these passages I have just quoted, but in others which declare in so many words that in the coming trouble every man’s hand will be against his neighbor and against his brother—everyone for himself. But now let us turn from this view of the Church nominal and the trouble coming upon it and seek for that true Church hidden in the nominal mass that bears the name of Christian.
Christendom nominal is estimated at 400,000,000 and represented by several hundred creeds and organizations.
In this great mass the Lord’s faithful few, styled the "little flock," may be rather difficult to discern. We are to look for them everywhere—in all denominations and outside of all. We are to remember that the Lord has not left Himself without a witness, but today it would be true as in Elijah’s time when the Lord said to the Prophet, "Yet I have seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal." (
.) We may surely hope for a still larger number who are not bowing either to sectarianism or to the golden calf of Mammon. How shall we know these true followers of Jesus, of whom it is written, "The Lord knoweth them that are His"? What are some of their characteristics?
In what are they peculiar and different from the nominal mass? By what name are they to be known?
Are they a coterie of the rich or of the learned or of the great? The Scriptures answer, No! and assure us that amongst them will be found not many great, not many wise, not many learned, but chiefly they will be of the poor of this world, rich in faith, heirs to the Kingdom.
We must look then for some other sign, some other characteristics by which we may know them.
"BY THIS SHALL ALL MEN KNOW"
Our Redeemer’s words give the key suggesting the characteristics for which we should seek. He says: "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye
have love for one another." (
.) He emphasizes this, saying, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you." (
.) Ah, we get the thought that the Church is a blessed brotherhood of all those who not only love God supremely, so that they delight to do His will, even at the cost of self-interest, but who also love one another as Christ loved them, which signifies to the extent of willingness to lay down their lives for one another! We look in vain for such an organization amongst men. We perceive various bundles or organizations under various names, all professing love, but none of them even dreaming of union with such bonds of love. We are not forgetting the Masons, the Odd Fellows, the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the Roman Catholics, etc. But none of these claim to be such a brotherhood as our Lord has described. They do indeed claim to give special attention to each other’s interests, and to have certain reverence for God, but not to the extent that our Master intimated—not to the extent of laying down their lives in doing the will of the Father and in their love for the brethren.
The Apostle Peter in our text points out that the Lord’s followers should love as brethren—as proper brethren—as true brethren ought to love. He points out to them that this will mean tender-heartedness, humble-mindedness and forbearance to resent injuries and revilings.
That the proper brotherly love would not only submit to all this without retaliation, but on the contrary would return a blessing. Oh, such love—such a high standard of love! How many of us, how few of us, have ever realized the standard of brotherly love that would be appreciated by our Lord—the standard that He demands as a condition of our being His brethren, the standard He implies in the prayer that He taught us, saying, "Forgive us our transgressions as we forgive those who trespass against us"!
The same Apostle points out that to be of the Lord’s true disciples not only means an exercise of faith in God, and in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the forgiveness of our sins through Him, but that it means more than this. "Seeing that ye have purified your souls in your obeying of the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." (
.) Ah, there it is, dear brethren! We not only believe and receive forgiveness of the Lord, but we receive a knowledge of the Truth, a knowledge of His will; and then it is for us to put that knowledge into practice, to weave it into our thoughts and words and doings, to obey it to the extent of an unfeigned love for the brethren. This is to be before our minds as the proper, grand outworking of the Truth which the Lord grants to us. The Truth is designed to sanctify, as our Lord declared, "Sanctify them through Thy Truth; Thy Word is Truth." As this Truth gains control of our words and thoughts and doings, it will cast out the spirit of selfishness from our desires and create in us new ambitions, desires, and love for the Father, for the brethren, including our Elder Brother, Jesus, and that will gradually become more and more fervent. It will not be merely an outward courtesy, a feigned love, but an inward heart sentiment.
Hearken to the Apostle John on this subject. He says: "Marvel not, brethren, if the world hate you." We are not to expect any special sympathy from the world, but rather that they will misunderstand us. But we are to expect something different from amongst the brethren, as the Apostle proceeds to show: "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren." Whoever then does not love the brethren cannot be sure that he has passed from the death condition to the free condition of mind and heart. How anxious we should be to be able to have this testimony of the Apostle corroborate our hopes that we are New Creatures
in Christ, that we have passed from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, and from a condition of condemnation and death, to a condition of justification to life. But the Apostle continues, "He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." Crucial words these for the brethren! Let us not lose their import, their value, let us test our hearts, our standing with the Lord, by our love or our lack of love for the brethren, as the Apostle here by inspiration directs. But the Apostle is not through with this subject; he caps the climax by saying: "Hereby know we love, because He laid down His life for us, and we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."—
WHO ARE THE BRETHREN?
If by their fruits we shall know them, there are not many brethren of this kind in the world. The early Church showed some noble examples of such brotherhood, Jesus Himself being the Elder Brother who laid down His life on our behalf. The Apostles and many in humble stations followed closely in the Master’s footsteps; and some we believe all the way down through the centuries have similarly been found; and some today, we also believe, are to be found in all denominations and outside of them who have this general character-likeness—but they are few. The Apostle comments of our Lord, "He is not ashamed to call them brethren." (
.) Like Him they have consecrated their lives to the Father’s business, the service of the Truth.
Recognizing that God is now taking out of the world people for His name, it is their chief concern in life to be co-laborers together with God in the finding of this elect class and in assisting them to make their calling and election sure. Neither time nor influence nor money is too precious for these to spend in this service—yea,
life itself with them as with the Master and the Apostles is being gradually used up along this line—"This one thing I do." These brethren indeed must eat, sleep, and to this end must not be slothful in business; but their chief employ and joy and fervency of spirit is in serving the Lord by serving the brethren.
True, some of these brethren, with loving hearts and noble desires, striving to follow the Pattern, fail to copy it perfectly because of "weakness of the flesh." St. Paul, one of these, declared what is true of all, "I cannot do the things that I would." Our ideals and our standards are superior to anything to which we can attain.
We continually find that the meanness, the selfishness, which is a part of our old nature, still lurks in the crannies of our mortal flesh and requires to be dealt with and sometimes takes advantage of us; for to will is present with us, but how to perform the will of our new minds is another matter. Hence, with some of the most loyal of the brethren there is occasionally a necessity for humiliation in confessing that in an unguarded moment a word or act had misrepresented the real sentiment of the heart. But even such a failure and confession may be overruled of the Lord for a blessing and the experience may prove to be valuable in strengthening the mind, in guarding the lips for the future and in developing also the meekness and humility which in God’s sight are characteristic elements of great value.
"WHAT MANNER OF PERSONS!"
The Apostle urges the importance of our new relationship of brethren in Christ and sons of God, and impresses it upon our minds, saying: "What manner of persons ought we to be in all holy living and godliness—looking for and hasting unto the day of Christ!" (
.) How true! When we remember our own imperfections and blemishes and how much the Lord must overlook and forgive in us, how generous it should make us in our sentiments toward the brethren who are with us seeking
to walk contrary to the course of this world, a self-sacrificing, self-denying life! How their weaknesses should appeal to us! How their struggle should call forth our sympathy and words of encouragement! How we should realize that they, like ourselves, have the opposition of the world, the flesh and the Adversary! And how we should resolve that by the Lord’s grace they should have amongst the brethren everything to console and uplift and encourage the new nature and nothing to discourage it! How kind our words and deeds, how thoughtful for their welfare this should make us!
Let us more and more approximate this glorious standard set before us in the Gospel. And let us remember furthermore that while this love of the brethren is specially emphasized and specially to be considered a criterion for the Lord’s Household, yet there is another step just beyond; namely, to love our enemies, to do good to them that despitefully use us and persecute us. Indeed, some of the strongest of our difficulties sometimes come from brethren—more or less blinded and deluded by the Adversary, who sometimes take such a position as Saul of Tarsus before his eyes opened to the facts of the case.
We must have such a love of the brethren that if they say all manner of evil against us falsely we will still not render evil for evil or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing, as our text directs. To follow this Divine instruction will bring to us polishing such as could come from no other quarter, no other experience, such as will make us more and more conformed to the image of God’s dear Son, who had such experience at the hands of His brethren according to the flesh and the professed Church of God, and in those experiences he was followed by the faithful ones of the early Church.
And similarly today let us not marvel if the trials and persecutions and opposition come chiefly from those who have named the name of Christ—some of them nominal brethren and some of them doubtless true brethren.