Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
THE OATH-BOUND COVENANT
"God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs
of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it
by an oath."
Only those who have strong living faith in the Almighty God and His Son Jesus could have much interest in the words of our text. To the evolutionist these words have little meaning, as he is looking to a natural development rather than to any supervening power of God to bring the blessing which the world so greatly needs. To the Higher Critic, the Apostle’s reference to God’s dealings with Abraham is nonsensical, believing as he does that the statements of Genesis are foolishness, written hundreds of years after the death of Moses.
However, some of God’s true children, whose eyes of understanding have not yet been opened to a clear apprehension of the Divine Plan of the Ages, may be inclined to question what interest we could possibly have in God’s oath to Abraham—given more than 3,000 years ago.
Such are inclined to say to themselves, "That event was helpful to Abraham, but has nothing whatever to do with us or our day." It is our hope that an examination of this covenant, which God attested with His oath, as stated in our text, may be helpful to many of the Lord’s people today, enabling them to see that God had a Plan in Abraham’s day; that He is still working according to that Plan; and that its completion will be glorious—a blessing to His creatures and an honor to Himself.
The context shows distinctly that the Apostles and the early Church drew comfort from this Oath-bound Covenant, and clearly implies that this same comfort belongs to every true Christian down to the end of this age—to
every member of the Body of Christ. The Apostle’s words imply that God’s promise and oath were intended more for us than for Abraham—more for our comfort than for his.
Doubtless Abraham and all of his family, Israel after the flesh, drew a certain amount of blessing and encouragement from this covenant or promise; and the oath of the Almighty—which doubly sealed it—gave double assurance of its certainty of accomplishment. But the Apostle intimates in the words quoted that God’s special design in giving that covenant and in binding it solemnly with an oath, was to encourage Spiritual Israel—to give us a firm foundation for faith. God well knew that, although from His own standpoint 3,000 years would be but a brief space, "as a watch in the night," nevertheless to us the time would appear long, and the strain upon faith would be severe; hence the positive statement, and the still more deliberate oath that bound it. We cannot but wonder at such condescension upon the part of the great Creator—that He should stoop to His fallen creatures, and above all that He should condescend to give His oath on the subject. An upright man feels that his word should be sufficient in any matter, and, therefore, would hesitate except under special conditions to confirm his word with an oath. How much more might the Heavenly Father have so regarded the matter! But our text explains the reason for such condescension. He was "willing more abundantly to show the unchangeableness of His Plan."
It was not God’s purpose to show His Plan to everybody—to the world in general—nor has He done so. The world by wisdom knows not God, understands not His great and gracious operations which for thousands of years have been gradually unfolding, and which are now near of accomplishment. God wished to show the natural seed of Abraham something of His Plan; and hence they were granted an external glimpse of it; but the Apostle
points out that the clear showing of the matter was especially designed for the "heirs of the promise."
JOINT-HEIRS WITH JESUS
Our Lord Jesus was the great Heir of the Abrahamic Promise, and the faithful of His consecrated people of this Gospel Age are declared to be His joint-heirs in that promise, which is not yet fulfilled. For its fulfilment not only the Church is waiting, as the Bride or fellow members of the Body of Christ, to be participants with the Lord in the glories implied in the promise, but additionally the whole creation (the entire human family) is groaning and travailing in pain together, waiting for the great fulfilment of that Oath-bound Promise or Covenant.
Those who follow the Apostle’s argument and realize that we as Christians are still waiting for the fulfilment of this promise, will be anxious to know what are the terms of this covenant which is the hope of the world, the hope of the Church, and the object of so much solicitude and care on the part of God, in that He would promise and then back His word with His oath. We answer that every Christian should know what this promise is, since it lies at the foundation of every Christian hope. The Christian who cannot understandingly call to mind this Oath-bound Covenant or Promise evidently lacks information very necessary to his spiritual growth.
How can this hope be an anchor to our souls in all the storms and trials and difficulties of life, in all the opposition of the world, the flesh and the Adversary, if we do not know what the hope is, if we have not even recognized the promise upon which this hope is based?
Let us awake in time, dear friends, before the poisoned darts of infidelity strike us and wound us and poison our minds, and blind the eyes to the glorious things of God’s Word. Need I quote the promise—the one so repeatedly referred to in the Apostolic writings—the one which is the basis or anchorage of our souls? It was made to
Abraham and reads thus: "In thy Seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." It was the promise for the future and not for Abraham’s own time. The world was not blessed in Abraham’s day, nor did he even have a child at the time this promise was given. Isaac did not fulfil the promise; he was merely a type of the greater Seed of Abraham who in due time would fulfil it. Jacob and his twelve tribes, Fleshly Israel, did not fulfil the promise, but still looked for a greater Messiah to fulfil it, to bless them and through them all the families of the earth. The Apostle Paul referred to this very promise, declaring that the Seed of Abraham mentioned therein is Christ. All Christians agree to this, even though they have not distinctively and properly associated it with the declarations of the promise. But the Apostle makes clear to us that, in saying that Christ is the Seed of Abraham, he had in mind not only the Lord Jesus as the Head of the Body, the Head of The Christ, but also the overcoming saints of this Gospel Age as the Body of Christ. This he distinctly states in many places; for instance
. Here he declares the matter expressly, saying: "If ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s Seed, and heirs according to the promise."
THE SEED NOT COMPLETE
The Seed of Abraham is the Gospel Church, with her Head the Lord Jesus, as the Apostle states again, saying: "We, brethren, as Isaac was [typified by Isaac], are the children of promise." (
.) It follows that the Seed of Abraham mentioned in the promise is not yet complete, for the Gospel Church is not yet complete and will not be until the full close of this Gospel Age, the Harvest time of which we believe we are now in. But what a wonderful thought is involved in this plain interpretation of the Divine Word. It is big with hope for Spiritual Israel, the Spiritual Seed, and no less it seems a blessing to the natural seed, Fleshly Israel, and ultimately
the Millennial blessings to all the families of the earth. Let us examine these three hopes: The hopes for these three classes center in this Oath-bound Covenant.
Let us thus obtain what the Apostle tells us was the Lord’s intention for us; namely, strong consolation—strong encouragement.
All through the prophecies the Lord foretold the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow; nevertheless the glories to follow have been granted much more space in the Divine Revelation than the sufferings of this present time. The implication suggested by the Apostle is that when the glories of the future shall be realized, the trials, sufferings and difficulties of the present time will be found not worthy to be compared. But those glories and blessings have been veiled from our mental vision, and instead a great pall hangs over the future in the minds of many of the Lord’s people. With some it is merely a mist of doubt and of uncertainty; with others it is the smoke of confusion, blackness and despair as they think of their own friends in connection with an eternity of torture, and the probability that a large majority of those whom they love will spend an eternity of horror in torment—from the Dark Ages.
OURS IS THE CREAM OF THE PROMISE
Now, what hope and interest has the Church of Christ in this promise made to Abraham? To us belongs the very cream of the promise, "The riches of God’s grace."
The promise implies the greatness of the Seed of Abraham—which Seed is Christ and the overcoming Church.
This greatness is so wonderful as to be almost beyond human comprehension. The overcomers of this Gospel Age, who "make their calling and election sure" in Christ, are to be joint-heirs with Him in the glorious Millennial Kingdom, which is to be God’s agency or channel for bringing about the promised blessings—the blessing of all the families of the earth. How great, how
wonderful, the exaltation of the Church is to be beyond human conception. As the Apostle declares, "Eye hath not seen, neither ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man [the natural man] the things that God hath in reservation for them that love Him"—that love Him more than they love houses or lands, parents or children or any other creature—more than they love themselves—and who show this by walking in the narrow way, in the footsteps of their Redeemer.
Again, the Apostle John speaks of the great blessings coming to the Church as the Seed of Abraham: "It doth not yet appear what we shall be [how great we shall be made in our change], but we know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him." (
.) The Apostle Peter has a word on this subject of the greatness that shall belong to the Church, the Spiritual Seed of Abraham, saying, "God hath given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might become partakers of the Divine nature." (
.) To whatever extent we are able to grasp the meaning of these wonderful promises, they speak to us of blessings, favors, "exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ask or think."—
PROMISE TO THE JEWS
The second class to be blessed under this Abrahamic Covenant is Fleshly Israel. We are not forgetting that the Jews were a rebellious and stiff-necked people; that they slew the Prophets and stoned the Lord’s ministers and caused the crucifixion of our Redeemer. Nevertheless, the Scriptures clearly hold forth that after they have had a period of chastisement, which they have been undergoing as a nation since the Lord’s crucifixion, and after Spiritual Israel shall have been glorified in the Kingdom, then a blessing from the Lord will come upon Natural Israel. They shall be saved or recovered from their blindness, and as the Prophet declares, "They shall
look upon Him whom they have pierced and mourn for Him," because the eyes of their understanding shall be opened. We rejoice, too, that the promise is clear and distinct that the Lord will pour upon them the "spirit of prayer and supplication."—
The Apostle Paul elaborates this subject. In Romans 10-11, he points out how Israel failed to obtain the special blessing of this Abrahamic Covenant by rejecting Christ—how only a remnant received the great blessing and the mass were blinded. In Chapter 11 he proceeded to explain that their blindness is not to be perpetual, but only until the Church shall have been gathered out; and that then the Lord’s blessing will come to fleshly Israel, saving them from their blindness and granting them mercy through the glorified Spiritual Israel. I trust that every hearer will feel interested enough in this feature of the Divine Plan to examine carefully
The Lord will do this for the natural seed, not because of their worthiness, but because of His promise made to the fathers: "For this is My Covenant with them, when I will cancel their sins."
But if God is to have mercy upon the Natural Israelites, whom He declares to have been stiff-necked, hard-hearted and rebellious, would it surprise us that the Divine, benevolent purpose should be to bless others than the Jews—others who had not in the past the favors and privileges of this favored nation, and whose course, therefore, was less in opposition to the light?
It should not surprise us, and so we find in this great Oath-bound Covenant a blessing for all nations—all peoples.
Let us look at the promise again—remembering that our Heavenly Father made it deliberately and subsequently bound Himself to its provisions by an oath, so that we might not only be sure that He could not break His word, but doubly sure that He could not break His oath, and therefore without peradventure this promise shall be fulfilled. It reads: "In thy Seed shall all the
families of the earth be blessed."—
#Ge 12:3; 22:17,18
What is the blessing so greatly needed by all mankind?
It is the very blessing that Jesus declared He came to give, saying, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Ah, yes!
Life! Life! Life! It is life that the whole world needs, and our Lord Jesus declares Himself to be the great Life-giver. Indeed, in the Syriac language, in which probably our Lord discoursed, the word Life-giver is the equivalent to our word Savior. Jesus came to save man from sin and from the penalty of sin—namely, death. It is a human invention of the Dark Ages to attach eternal torment as the penalty for sin. It is the Divine arrangement to attach to sin a reasonable and just, but an awful penalty—Death! It is because we are sinners that we are all dying creatures, and for the Lord to give life implies that He will take away the sin and all necessity for this penalty. Hence, "Christ died for our sins."
THE MILLENNIAL PROMISE
The great blessing of forgiveness of sins which are past, and even the blessing of being awakened from the sleep of death, would profit mankind but little if the arrangements of that future time—the Millennial Age—were not on such a scale as to permit a thorough recovery from present mental, moral and physical weakness.
Hence we are rejoiced to learn that in that time Satan will be bound, every evil influence and every unfavorable condition will be brought under restraint, and the favor of God, through the knowledge of God, will be let loose among the people—"the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the whole earth as the waters cover the great deep."
Blessing! Ay, favor upon favor, blessing upon blessing, is the Lord’s arrangement and provision. All shall know Him from the least unto the greatest, and none shall need say to his neighbor or brother, "Know thou the Lord."—
But so accustomed have we all become to measuring the Divine Plan by our narrow minds that I doubt not there may be some ready to say, "I believe, Brother Russell, that in your love of heart you would delight to do good in this manner to the whole world of mankind, and so would we; but God’s ways are not so great as our conceptions would be." Stop, my dear brother! You are looking at the matter from the wrong standpoint.
Remember that our God is all-wise, all-just, all-loving, all-powerful, and that it is His own Word that declares that as the heavens are higher than the earth so are His plans higher than our plans, and His methods higher than our methods. (
.) As the poet has expressed it: "We make God’s love too narrow By false standards of our own."
It is time for us to wake up to the fact that we are no better than our God, but that we are poor, imperfect creatures of the dust, fallen by nature; and that it is time for us to stop misconstruing the Divine Character and Plan as against His creatures, and to hearken to the Lord’s own Word when He declares, "Their fear toward me is not of Me, but is taught by the precepts of men."
It is time for us to be praying for ourselves and for each other as the Apostle prayed for some, saying, "I pray God for you that the eyes of your understanding may be opened, that ye may be able to comprehend with all saints the lengths and breadths and heights and depths—to know the love of Christ, which passeth all knowledge."—
#Eph 1:18; 3:18,19
Do not misapprehend us. We are not teaching that the heathen, the imbecile and unregenerate in general shall be taken to Heaven, where they would be utterly out of harmony with their surroundings and require to be converted and to be taught. Such an inconsistent view we leave to those who are now claiming that in the hereafter these classes will be saved in their ignorance.
We stand by the Word of God, that there is no present salvation without faith in Christ Jesus, and hence that the heathen and the imbeciles have neither part nor lot in the salvation of the present time. We stand by the Scriptures which declare that any who are saved in the present time must walk in the narrow way, of which the dear Redeemer says there be few that find it. We stand by the Scriptures which say that salvation at the present time is only for the "little flock" who through much tribulation, shall enter the Kingdom. We stand by the Scriptures, which say that this Kingdom class now being developed is the Seed of Abraham under the Lord their Head, the Elder Brother, the Bridegroom. We stand by the Scriptures which say that through this Christ, when complete, blessings shall extend to every member of Adam’s race—the blessings of opportunity to know the Lord, to understand the advantages of righteousness, the opportunity of choosing obedience and by obedience obtaining everlasting life.
The blessings of the future will be of such a kind that every individual who does not have his full opportunity in this present life will have it then—not an opportunity to become members of the "little flock," not an opportunity of becoming members of the Seed of Abraham, not an opportunity to have part in the great "change" from human nature to Divine nature, not an opportunity to sit with the Lord in His Throne, but an opportunity to obtain that which was lost—human perfection, everlasting life under human, earthly, paradisaical conditions; an opportunity of coming again into the Divine likeness, almost oobliterated in the human family through the 6,000 years of fall.
As our hearts go out with sympathy towards the poor groaning creation in heathen lands and in home lands, and as we take pleasure in doing the little now possible
for us to do, what is our joy when we think of that future glorious opportunity that is to be ours, and of the great results that are to accompany it? Surely the hearts of the Lord’s people are stimulated as we contemplate the meaning of this great Oath-bound Covenant! Surely, as the Apostle declares was God’s purpose, we have strong consolation in our ineffectual efforts to bring the majority of mankind to an appreciation of God’s mercy and love now. It gives us consolation also in respect to our neighbors, friends and members of our own families who are not saints, who are still blind to the grace of God as we see it, the grace which has brought salvation to our hearts in the present time, and which eventually is to bring salvation to the uttermost in the resurrection.
It encourages us further, as the Apostle points out, to lay hold upon the hope set before us—to take a firmer grasp of the Divine character and Plan. It gives our souls encouragement beyond measure when we see how gracious is the character of our Heavenly Father, how wonderful is the Plan He has devised, and how He has been carrying it forward step by step up to the present hour. We realize that by His grace we are what we are and have been called to joint-heirship with our Redeemer, as members of the Seed of Abraham. We reason that if the Lord so loved us while we were sinners, that much more does He love us now that we have accepted Christ and are under the robe of His righteousness and seeking to do those things in harmony with the Divine will.
When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace; In every high and Stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant and His blood Support me in the ‘whelming flood; When all around my soul gives way, He, then, is all my hope and stay.