|Christian Life and Doctrine||September 1950|
“Let Us Go Forward”
THE Lord’s professed people are all much the same. Sometimes they manifest a magnificent faith; at other times their faith seems to fail them under the least trial. We are all imperfect, hence should not point the finger at any of our brethren, scanning their efforts and saying, Ah, ah, I told you so! The fact is we have all failed in many respects to do those things that we ought, and have done things that we ought not, and have surely come short of the glory of God. We have not gone forward as we should!
We can be truly grateful for the arrangement God has made through Christ whereby our unintentional sins and weaknesses are all covered by that wonderful robe, the imputed robe of Christ’s righteousness. The desire to be righteous in thought, word, and deed, to stand before the Lord our Maker perfect and pure in his sight, is strong in every true child of God.
All true children of God love righteousness and hate iniquity, even as it is stated of Jesus Christ—“Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Psa. 45:7) As it is true of Jesus Christ so it is true of all his followers—or his “fellows,” as the Psalmist calls them. How they long for the kingdom, for the night of sin and death to give place to the dawn of the new day—the day of righteousness and peace, which dawn it is indeed our happy lot to witness in this our time.
So then, while we do enjoy the great privilege of standing before our God, it is not in our own righteousness, which is “as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6), but in “the righteousness of faith.” (Rom. 4:13) This faith we have in God through Christ, knowing that he, Jesus, “is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:2) As Paul writes in Romans 3:22-24, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all … them that believe, … being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” We stand therefore before God in Christ, justified freely by his grace. And again in Romans 4:7, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”
If we learn the lesson our Heavenly Father has for us in all of our trials and difficulties, appreciating the fact that they will work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, then in our stumbling toward the goal we shall indeed be blessed and we will ultimately attain to the place that God has in reservation for us. And surely, as we contemplate by the eye of faith that exceeding weight of glory and the joy and blessedness that will attend it, we steel our hearts and minds with a great determination to make our calling and election sure, to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and … run with patience the race that is set before us.”—Heb. 12:1
The idea or motive during a race is ever to press forward, not thinking of what is behind, thinking only of what is before. So we as Christians have our affection set on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. (Col. 3:1,2) This is the goal and the prize of the race; this race for “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”—Phil. 3:14
In this connection Paul warns us that we must still go forward, running and pressing hard toward the prize, for as long as we are on this side of the veil we will not have attained that for which we run—a crown of life that fadeth not away. (Jas. 1:12; I Pet. 1:4) “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”—Phil. 3:13,14
The nation of Israel, composed of twelve tribes, began with the twelve sons of Jacob, and this nation God chose or elected to serve him in a typical way; that is, he caused them to enact certain rituals in connection with the Law given at Mount Sinai, and these things the Apostle Paul speaks of as “a shadow of good things to come.” (Heb. 10:1) They foreshadowed in a typical way those good things that God has in reservation, not only for the faithful of this Gospel age, the church, but also for the faithful of the millennial age—those who will compose the earthly phase of the kingdom of God. We are reminded by Paul that these things which happened back in Israel’s day were for our benefit now, so we do well to give heed to the lessons they inculcate.
For instance, the Israelites provoked God in the wilderness and hardened their hearts. Paul says in Hebrews 3:7,8, “Wherefore (as the Holy Spirit saith), Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness.” This, then, is the object lesson for us, not to do as they did, to harden our hearts and provoke God by our unbelief.
We indeed are traveling through a wilderness, a wilderness of sin. Life is not easy, and God allows many things to test us on the journey, but let us go forward keeping our eye on the goal, the “Promised Land”—a land flowing with “milk and honey”—which is just before us. It is not a hallucination; it is not a mirage that we see shining over the sands of this world, but it is the “land” that God has promised, the kingdom of God, and is as sure to the faithful as that we exist at this moment.
“Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty: they shall behold the land that is very far off.” (Isa. 33:17) Paul in I Corinthians 10:11, again brings the matter of Israel being a typical people to our attention, in words whose meaning there is no mistaking: “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples [margin, types]: and they are written for our admonition upon whom the end of the world [ages] are come.” He shows in the verses just previous to this that we should not tempt God, that is, try him by our perverseness, nor murmur as they did.
The particular incident in the lives of this people that we have in mind is when they halted instead of going forward, just as we, the antitypical people, are inclined to do if there is something in our way. “How long halt ye between two opinions?” We come up against a seemingly insurmountable obstacle; we wonder why we came so far—nothing but a wide “Red Sea” before us. It looks as though we were sure to lose our lives. Following this “Moses” has surely put us in a terrible plight. The’ “water” before us and the “Egyptians” behind us—what to do? We cannot go forward, that is sure. We will cry unto the Lord and see what he will do. That is exactly what the Israelites did when in their flight from Egypt they reached the Red Sea, and in the same manner that he answered them when they cried unto him, he quite often answers us.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, “Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” (Exodus 14:15) Egypt represents the world and Canaan represents the kingdom of God. We the Lord’s people are on our flight from the world to the kingdom, during which time our great adversary Satan does all in his power to hinder the flight and call halt.
As individuals we know we have a great responsibility to grow up and develop into mature Christians, as members in the mystical body of Christ, being more and more completely rounded out in Christlike character, being made conformable unto the image of God’s dear Son. The development of the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit is a lifetime work, a work that is carried on under the constant opposition of the great Adversary.
The more determined we are to become copies of Jesus Christ does not always mean the greater opposition, but sometimes our determination brings relief. As in the case of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, the defeated Adversary had to leave. But not, of course, without a struggle. No indeed! Our Lord was sorely tried at that time. But as the apostle puts it, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas. 4:7) The thought is that if we are fully determined to do God’s will along a certain line, the devil will see the uselessness of attack in that direction.
God has begun a good work in us, both to will, and to do of his good pleasure; he is protecting us by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Would Satan hinder this and try to get us to call a halt? We all know that this is true, and sad to say it is evident that many have even done this and made shipwreck of their faith, becoming castaways, as Paul mentions.—I Cor. 9:27
The Lord’s people as ecclesias, and as members of the one body in this world, have a responsibility to build one another up in this most holy faith, being built up “by that which every joint supplieth,” and to finish the harvest work. (Eph. 4:16) To finish the antitypical Elijah work, we must continue to give the witness until our end shall come. Would Satan hinder and try to get us, the feet members of the body of Christ, to call a halt to this labor of love in the harvest field in this end of the age?
Among some of the Lord’s people there has always been the tendency to halt work in the Lord’s vineyard, or harvest field. Somehow or other there is a pleasant sensation in the thought that the work is all done. This is true in the case of any job well done. So, too, the individual would experience the same satisfaction if he thought it was all done and finished when in reality it was not. Satan the great deceiver has ever been on the alert to place things in a false light regarding the work and plan of God—yes, even claiming that our individual work along the development of Christian character is not necessary.
The harvest of the Gospel age began in 1874, and how often since then the idea has been injected that the work is all done; the door is shut. Or perhaps the idea would be that the work will be over by a certain date and the door will be shut then. It seems to us that our attitude should be as Brother Russell stated just before he died: “Similarly we may expect that quite a good many will yet be gathered to the heavenly garner and we know of no time limit here.” It is just as true today, more than thirty years later, that we know of no time limit to the harvest work. God knows just when the last member of the body will go home. He knows just the exact time when the nations will all be broken to shivers, and also the very moment when the ancient worthies will be resurrected. In the meantime, let us go forward, saying:
“So on I go not knowing,
I would not if I might;
I’d rather walk in the dark with God
Than go alone in the light.”
It is very necessary to understand and appreciate the fact that the Christian is on trial now, that we cannot get “to paradise on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas.” Nor can we be refined as gold without the heat; but we must ever keep in mind, that “when he has tried us, we shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10), that our God and Heavenly Father makes no mistakes, that he will not try us beyond our strength, that he will not destroy the gold with too much heat, that “as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.”—Psa. 103:13
So it was with Israel when they went forward; God was with them. When they put forth an effort he blessed them. The pillar of cloud hid them from the Egyptians, and the Red Sea opened up before them and they passed over on dry ground.
“Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward.” (Exod. 14:15) Let us go forward, strong in faith, and hope, and love, knowing that at the proper time when we, as individuals, are fully mature in Christlikeness, and when God has nothing else for us to do this side of the veil, he will say, “It is enough, come up higher.” Then, too, our conviction is that it cannot be long until God will take the last of the feet of Him to that high plane of life, because they will have accomplished the will of him with whom they have to do. They will have done “enough.”
Let us learn the lesson not to be crying unto the Lord when we should be acting; at least let us not halt in uncertainty crying unto him all the time. There is a clearly marked pathway before us. Let us, as good soldiers, go forward in the strength of our Captain and he will give us the victory. The Red Sea of death will soon be passed for all of us, and the Egyptians, representing Satan and his hosts—both evil angels and evil men—will be put to naught; and then, the opposite shore attained, we will sing, as did Moses and the children of Israel, the song of triumph and of praise for the great deliverance.—Exodus 15
We are marching to Zion,
Beautiful, beautiful Zion;
We are marching upward to Zion,
The beautiful city of God.