By C. T. Russell Pastor of Brooklyn and London Tabernacles.
The World that Was"—"The Present Evil World"—"The World to Come.
Text—"Thrust in thy sickle, and reap; for the time is come for thee to reap."—#Re 14:15.
INTELLIGENT people appear to reason upon every subject under the sun except on religion. Approach a man upon any matter of industry or social progress, or political economy or finance, and we find him reasonably alert to the general law of Cause and Effect, but when it comes to religion the same man refuses to recognize or follow such laws. To illustrate: If a thousand religious men and women were asked to give some general outline of the Divine Plan under which humanity is being dealt with by the Almighty, nine hundred and ninety-nine of them would look at you in blank astonishment as though it were absurd to suppose that God would conduct his affairs along the lines of order, reason and common sense—Cause and Effect. On the contrary, the Scriptures everywhere hold that our Creator is systematically ordering the affairs of earth and "working all things according to the counsel of his own will" (#Eph 1:11).
St. Peter divides the world’s history into three great epochs, which our common version Bible designates as "worlds." The first of these, he says, lasted from the creation of our first parents to the flood. The flood was the harvest time, the reaping time, of that epoch. It was the conclusion to the course of sin which, he tells us, there prevailed.
And only eight persons, Noah and his family, were carried over as a nucleus for another great epoch, or "world," which St. Peter calls, "The world that now is," and which St. Paul calls, "This present evil world" or epoch, and of which Jesus states, "My kingdom is not of this world (epoch)," while again He informs us that Satan is "the Prince of this world."
Certain things have been in progress—certain great instructions and blessings from the Almighty during this long period of over forty-three hundred years. "This present evil world" or epoch is to have a harvest time, and its affairs are to be as thoroughly wound up, completed, as were the affairs of "the world before the flood." Then a new epoch or "world to come" will dawn, the character of which is clearly delineated in the Scriptures as being very contrary in every way to that of "this present evil world." It will be "The world to come, whereof we speak," the new epoch, figuratively said to have "a new heavens and a new earth," in which the Lord will dominate human affairs.
His elect Church of the present time associated with Him as His Bride, will constitute the "new heavens" or new spiritual domination under which human regeneration will bring the "new earth." Under that new dispensation everything will be in accord with the character of its King, the Prince of Light and Righteousness, just as the conditions of "the present evil world" are in harmony with the characteristics of the "Prince of this world, who now worketh in the hearts of the children of disobedience"—"the Prince of Darkness."
The World That Was.
The "world" or epoch which ended at the flood accomplished a great work. It was during that period of sixteen hundred and fifty-six years that God first tested Satan by permitting him to have an opportunity to show the traitorous attitude of his heart in connection with our first
OV249 parents. Desiring to establish himself as an Emperor over earth, separate and distinct from the Empire of Jehovah, Lucifer became Satan, God’s Adversary, and has since continued in his opposition to the Divine will. Our first parents, through Satan’s lie, were led into disobedience to God, which resulted in the death sentence on Adam and his race. Subsequently for centuries the holy angels were allowed to have intercourse with fallen men, with a view to helping them back into harmony with God, not that God expected any such results, for he already knew that there could be no recovery of humanity, except through the merit of the Redeemer, whose sacrifice would purchase the world and whose reign as the King of kings and Lord of lords would ultimately restore the willing and obedient of the race. But the angels to all eternity might have supposed that an easier way of saving men was possible; that if permitted they could educate, assist and uplift mankind out of sin and death conditions back to harmony with God. God not only desired to show that all such results were impossible, but also.He desired to use the opportunity to rest, to prove, the loyalty, the faithfulness of the angelic hosts.
Amongst the liberties granted to all the angels at that time was the power to materialize—to assume human forms. We need not stop to discuss the possibility of this, for we are addressing those who believe the Scriptural record, and to such it will be quite sufficient for us to cite one of the many Scriptural instances; the case of the three men who appeared to Abraham and were subsequently found to be angels—spirit beings. They looked, talked, ate and were clothed like men. Abraham knew not who they were until subsequently they revealed their identity, as we read in the account of Genesis 18. The Apostle Paul adds his testimony to this incident, saying to the Church, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (#Heb 13:2).
For long centuries this relationship between the angels and mankind continued. We have no record of any human being receiving an uplift from their ministrations. On the contrary, as God had foreseen, the influence of sin was contagious and ere long some of the angelic hosts became so enamored of the daughters of men that "they took to themselves wives of such as they chose," and preferred to leave their own habitation or spirit condition and to remain in a materialized form and to raise earthly families, although their course was contrary to the Divine arrangement and must have been so understood by them. Divine power was not interposed to hinder them. The error of this sedition, the leaving of their own habitation or plane of spirit being, from a small beginning, spread, and God’s non-interference justified the supposition that he was either not able to cope with the situation, or unable to enforce His own Law. Thus centuries rolled by, while the earthly children of "those angels which kept not their first estate" became "giants and men of renown" at a time when maturity was not reached for at least one hundred years (#Ge 6).
During all those centuries we may be sure that every one of the holy angels had fullest opportunity to participate in the seductive pleasures of sin. And we may be quite sure during that epoch or age God demonstrated fully, completely, which of the angels were in heart and deed, in spirit and in truth, loyal to him and to all the principles of his righteousness. This work having been accomplished, that "world before the flood" was brought to an end, was overwhelmed by a flood of waters, the Lord declaring that the whole earth had become corrupt through this evil. The influence of the angels along licentious lines seemingly tended more and more to degrade humanity, so that we read that God beheld that "every imagination of man’s heart was evil, and only evil, and that continually."
OV250 This Present Evil World.
"This present evil world" differs from "the world before the flood" in that it is not under the ministration of the angels—but man, in a general sense, is left to himself.
Since the flood, the world in general has been going on just as if there were no God, the exceptions, aside from the Jewish nation and the Church of Christ, being the destruction of the Sodomites and the preaching of Jonah to the Ninevites, warning them that they were about to perish. In other words, so far as outward appearance goes, God has allowed the world to take its own course, interfering only when the corruption became so great as to make life injurious rather than a favor.
St. Paul, reviewing the question of human degradation as exhibited in heathendom, etc., explains that the great deterioration in the human family is the result of man’s being left to himself as respects the Divine supervision. He says, looking back along the line of Noah’s descendants, "When they knew God they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful.... And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind"—they giving themselves over to things that were not profitable, defiling themselves, etc. (#Ro 1:21-27).
This condition of things continued from Noah’s day until three and one- half years after our Lord’s crucifixion, when the special favor of God toward the nation of Israel terminated and the "middle wall of partition was broken down"—Cornelius being the first Gentile admitted to the privileges of the Gospel.
During the long period from Noah to Christ—twenty-five hundred years—God, as we have seen, had no dealing with the world, but he did have very special dealings with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and then subsequently with the nation of Israel. To those patriarchs He gave an Oath-Bound Covenant, that through their posterity He would ultimately bless all the families of the earth. Moreover, the character of the promise was such that it implied the resurrection of all the families of the earth that have gone down into death under the great Adamic sentence (#Ro 5:12,17,19).
The nation of Israel was segregated from all the other nations of the world and bound to the Lord and He to them by the Covenant of the Law entered into at Mt. Sinai.
Under the terms of that Covenant it was implied that that whole nation should constitute the seed of Abraham and rule and bless all other nations, but the conditions were the keeping of the Law perfectly. God, of course, knew that, as imperfect men, Israel had undertaken an impossible contract. But he also knew that under his supervision the contract would not eventually be to their disadvantage, but the reverse.
He used that nation as a typical people, their jubilees representing the "times of restitution" (#Ac 3:20) coming to the world under the Millennial reign of Christ. Their day Sabbath typified a coming blessing to Spiritual Israel. Their year Sabbath typified a coming blessing to the world, to the universe. Their Day of Atonement for sins typified the day of better sacrifices, of Christ and the Church. Indeed, we may understand that fleshly Israel and all of its great affairs were typical foreshadowings of God’s greater blessings to come in after dispensations.
Jewish Favor Culminated.
The culmination of the Lord’s dealings with Israel was reached, as He had intended from the beginning, when our Lord Jesus left the glory of the Father on the heavenly plane and was made flesh, being born under the Law Covenant. Not being a direct member of the human family, but "holy, harmless and separate from sinners," he was perfect and fully able to keep all the terms of that Law Covenant, and did so. Thus, under the provisions of the Law Covenant he, and he alone of all the Jewish nation,
OV251 could claim the rights of the Abrahamic Covenant—the blessings foretold and the rightful authority to bless men, for, as the ruler of earth, he took the place of Father Adam with all his rights and authorities described in Psalm 8:4-6.
By keeping these rights and privileges as a man our Lord indeed would have been an earthly potentate of considerable dignity, the highest amongst men. But the Father’s place for Him and for the world was far higher than this. As an earthly potentate He would have ruled over a falling and dying race and would have been privileged merely to counsel, rule and direct their imperfect energies; but he never could have brought them to eternal life. Hence the Divine Plan was that He should die as the Redeemer of Adam and his race, that thus He might have the just, the legal right to lift out of sin and degradation and death all of mankind who would fall in line with the gracious arrangements of the Divine purpose which center in Christ. It was in fulfillment of this feature of the Divine Plan that our Lord laid down the earthly Kingdom, the earthly rights, all that He had, as man’s ransom price (#Mt 13:44). "Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (#1Ti 2:6).
Every Knee Shall Bow.
We now have Messiah exalted and in His possession the authority justly, legally acquired, whereby He may bless all the families of the earth—all the children of Adam, by restoring to the willing and obedient "that which was lost"—earthly perfection and dominion. Where will He begin His blessing work? All the prophecies implied that Messiah would begin His work with Israel and that it should progress through Israel to all nations. But the prophecies did not even hint at the fact that before giving the "restitution" blessing to Israel, under the New (Law) Covenant of #Jer 31:31, Messiah would first make use of His "restitution" authority for the gathering of a special class of people, "a holy nation, a peculiar people, a royal priesthood." This, as the Apostle tells us, was kept a "Mystery," and, generally speaking, it is still a "Mystery," not only to Israel, but to the world. The gathering of the Spiritual Israelites was the first step in the new program. Those of the Jewish nation at our Lord’s First Advent who were of the right attitude of heart when transferred from Moses to Christ, from natural Israel to spiritual Israel. Then, as we have seen, from the time of Cornelius onward, the Gospel message has been free to all who have the believing heart and hearing ear to take it. These, as a whole, as our Lord intimated, are but a "little flock." His words were, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom" (#Lu 12:32.) The Kingdom, the life eternal, etc., which the Lord has to give away, are those of Adam, which were lost through his disobedience and re-purchased by our Lord at Calvary. These he gives to His followers, the "little flock," but not to keep. Earthly restitution blessings are theirs to sacrifice only. Whoever will not accept them on these terms cannot be Jesus’ disciples. Such are the terms of the heavenly or high calling, bestowed upon His followers. They must take up their cross and follow Him in the sacrifice of earthly life and earthly restitution rights, if they would share with Him the glory and honor that will be His in His exalted station.
"The World to come" merely signifies the epoch to come, the epoch wherein dwelleth righteousness, where righteousness will be in the ascendant, and where sin will be absolutely under the control of the great Redeemer, who then will be the King of glory, ruling, reigning, enlightening, blessing, uplifting, restituting, purging, purifying and bringing to perfection so many of Adam’s race as will heartily respond to the rules of His Kingdom. All others will be destroyed as brute beasts.—#2Pe 2:12.