DEAR Friends of the WATCH TOWER family, accept, please, our editorial greetings and good wishes, as we cross the threshold of another year. We trust that each of us can truthfully sing with the poet,—
And let us remember that the great Watchman of Spiritual Israel, the Lord, changes not; his exceeding great and precious promises are all yea and amen to those who obey him—to all who by faith abide in him, trusting in the merit of his atonement—who, possessing his spirit of love, are seeking to walk circumspectly in his footsteps. To all such, if they continue thus and abound, we guarantee that the year, 1899, will be a happy year, basing our guarantee upon the Lord's promises.
But how many, who know this full well, are disposed to be fearful, doubtful, unbelieving: and thereby are paving the way for troubles! How long it requires for some of the pupils in the school of Christ to find out why they are in this school and under the Teacher! Surely, the object should be to be taught—to learn of him whom God has appointed to be the Teacher of all his justified and consecrated sons, adopted into his family. We do not come to this Teacher to obtain his certificate that we need none of his instruction; but that from his Word in conjunction with the daily experiences in life (his "providences" to all his pupils) we may grow daily in his likeness;—in grace and in knowledge.
If at first we, as pupils, get confused and mistake self-will for God's-will, and our Teacher points this out to us by some failure of our projects, we are not (1) to be rebellious and resentful of the lesson; nor (2) to be discouraged and disheartened. On the contrary, we are to profit by every experience; seeking that the lessons of one day shall be put in practice and become our aids on following days.
The most important lesson of this school-term is Faith: the faith with which we became the Lord's and entered his school must grow. And our faith can only grow by knowledge (We do not refer to worldly knowledge, worldly learning.), knowledge of the Lord—of his methods, his plan, his character. Hence we must study well our Teacher's words and general conduct and as well his providences or private instructions to us individually—interpreting these always by his words. Much of what we accepted at first by faith (respecting the Lord's goodness and wisdom) will gradually become knowledge: giving basis for still greater lengths and breadths of faith as well as for greater love and appreciation of our Redeemer.
As in other schools, so in this, different degrees of learning are represented in the students;—some are in the primary stage of development; some in the intermediate, and some in the graduating class. The graduating degree of discipleship in the school of Christ is the one that all are to strive for: it is absolutely essential that we reach this degree, if we would pass examination—finish our course with joy and be granted the Master's "Well done!" and the prize of our high calling at the end.
We want to outline this course of "study" and to ask all the dear brethren and sisters of the WATCH TOWER family, who have not already started in this course, to take it up for the year 1899. Blessed are sure to be the results. You will find as you progress in it the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, ruling in your hearts: this will transmute the trials of faith and of patience into blessings, and the sorrows and disappointments of earthly hopes into channels of God's grace, and the perplexities of life into full assurances [R2411 : page 4] of faith. This graduating degree of faith, hope and love is attained by—
Do you answer,—Why, that is what I have been wanting to do ever since I consecrated myself to the Lord; but I have not attained it;—What more can I do? Ah yes! so it has been with all fully consecrated children of God; for a long time we all made the same mistake of wanting to fully submit our wills to God's will, instead of doing so.
A good wish is an excellent thing, very important indeed, but if the wish does not lead to performance it is valueless. Some people never get beyond the wishing point in any of life's affairs: they wish to rise at a certain hour in the morning, or to attend to certain recognized duties, or render some service, or speak some word of kindness or encouragement in the name of the Lord,—but they never fulfil their good wishes in deeds. The good wish should be followed by a good and determined will, which is sure to be favored by a way in matters fully in accord with the divine will. Now, without dropping a single good wish, let us begin immediately to make this a successful year, by throwing the entire strength of our wills into doing.
But now take care—you are on treacherous ground: a strong will is as dangerous as it is valuable. If misdirected, you have started a force, an energy, which may lead you far astray. And conscientious people are in danger along this line especially: for when their wills get hold of a matter which their consciences approve they may make as much of a blunder as did Saul of Tarsus under similar circumstances.
There is but one safe course; and to prepare the Lord's people to know, to realize this, is the object of all the preliminary courses in the School of Christ, leading up to this graduating course. This final lesson to be learned is that the wills that are to be exercised in good deeds and good words are not our own wills, except as by adoption we have taken the Lord's will to be ours. When we became the Lord's pupils it was by and as a consequence of the surrender of our own wills; and our first lessons in this school were in keeping our wills dead. We can see as we look backward that by the Great Teacher's aid we won some victories over self-will, and have come to the place where our real desires are, as expressed by the poet,—
But even after we have adopted the Lord's will (as instead of our own natural preferences) and made it ours; and after we have resolved to do the Lord's will;—still we are in danger and need to walk carefully, [R2412 : page 4] lest we misapprehend the Lord's will and adopt the will and plans of fellow men or of a church, instead of the Lord's will. Consequently, without despising human aid in the ascertainment of the Lord's will, while remembering that God still, as in times past, makes use of human agencies in instructing his people, it must not be forgotten that Satan also uses human agents to mislead and to deceive, and that God permits this, in order to teach us that he is the real Teacher. Hence he puts his Word, the Bible, as the test by which his people are to distinguish between true and false teachers, saying, "If they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them."—Isa. 8:20.
Coming to the Scriptures to ascertain God's will, we find that the great work which God asks of us is not work for others, but work in ourselves; subduing, conquering, ruling self. "This is the will of God [concerning you], even your sanctification!" (1 Thes. 4:3.) Everything else, therefore,—our service of the household of faith, and our doing good unto all men, by home and foreign missions, etc., etc., is subservient to this most important work within. For, as the Apostle by inspiration declares, Tho we should preach the gospel eloquently to others, and tho we should give all our goods to feed the poor, or become martyrs for a good cause, without love, the spirit of Christ and the Father, developed in us as the ruling principle of life, we would be nothing, from the divine standpoint.
On the contrary, if we be sanctified to God by the truth—if our wills be dead, and the Lord's will be fully accepted as ours, in thought, word and act, we have attained the will of God and will win the prize as "overcomers"—even if, opportunities being denied us, we never preached, never gave to the poor and never suffered as martyrs for the truth's sake. Let us all note well this point,—"This is the will of God [concerning you], even your sanctification." Let nothing becloud or obscure this truth;—neither other truths nor errors. Let it dominate our course in life, and then, if God's will is really our will, we have a clearly marked pathway before us, which is very important.
But without doubt, God will open before all such opportunities to serve the truth to others,—to let their light shine to the glory of the Father and the blessing of fellow creatures; for this is his command to us: and we may be sure he gives no commands impossible to be obeyed. If you have been seeking opportunities of service and finding none, there must be something wrong: you may have been seeking some special service of your own preference (your old will meddling with your newly adopted will—the Lord's). Possibly the great Teacher sees pride remaining—pride which you would have been prompt to crush, had you recognized [R2412 : page 5] it; but which hid itself from you under the cloak of "self-respect." Possibly the great Teacher by his providence and his Word is saying to you, "Do with thy might what thy hand findeth to do." Possibly he sees that you would be spoiled by giving you a more important service for others, before you have learned the lesson of humility—all important in the Lord's sight. Act quickly, therefore, the time is short,—"Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God [to do whatever service his providence has made possible to you], that he may exalt you in due time."—1 Pet. 5:6.
Have you never suffered for righteousness' sake—a martyr to principle? Strange, when the Master so plainly declared that "Whosoever will live godly shall suffer persecution." Can it be that the Lord erred? Is not the danger rather that you have not been living godly? You say that it is your highest wish, to live godly: but do not forget the distinction already drawn between wishing and doing. Resign your own will entirely, put it all away and begin to do the Lord's, item by item, just as you are able to find and prove it in his Word—using the best human help you can obtain, in this seeking and proving. Soon the persecutions will come: and from most unexpected quarters.
And when the persecutions come, be prepared for them—forearmed by God's Word; for they will be temptations to your flesh: through them the Adversary will seek to embitter your soul and to stir up in you the elements of the old nature reckoned dead—anger, malice, hatred, envy, strife. If this be the effect of persecutions in you, the Adversary is gaining the victory—you are not overcoming evil, but being overcome by it. The old nature will even call upon its best qualities to fight against persecution—it will call upon your natural sense of Justice to come, help and resist; it will call upon Conscientiousness to agree that the persecution is unmerited; it will call upon Benevolence and Spirituality, your love of family and friends, and every other good quality of your being—all will be appealed to either to fight the persecution or to abandon the course of godliness which led to it.
Then you will be in the thick of the fight, and unless previously armed with the panoply supplied in the divine Word, you are almost sure to lose faith, become terrified and flee. And whoever does this is sure to be wounded, if not captured by the enemy: for our armor is a front armor, not a back armor. It is invulnerable so long as we stand firm for the right, the truth, in our great Captain's name and strength—it is a hindrance to those who draw back.
But why should we flee terrified? Is not this the very test of our loyalty and devotion to the Lord and his Word, for which all of our previous experiences and instructions were but preparations? Is not this the very test the Lord declares indispensable to all who would be accounted victors and be made his joint-heirs in the Kingdom? Is not this the very opportunity for which we prayed, and are not the incidental persecutions exactly what our Lord forewarned us would be part of the cost of faithful discipleship? And are not these the very persecutions whose absence earlier in our Christian experiences made us wonder whether or not we were acceptable sons of God?—Heb. 12:8.
Surely, our answer to these questions must be, Yea, Lord! even tho because of weakness of the flesh the answer be not joyous as it should be, but through unbidden tears. And with this answer on our part the Lord is pleased; and angels of his mercy—his promises exceeding great and precious—minister unto us and strengthen us.
That is the time to "fight the good fight"—and, triumphing over self-will completely, to accept the buffetings and slanders and misrepresentations of good intentions and good deeds with meekness and patience. That is the time when the Lord's spirit of love, dwelling in us richly, will manifest itself in the control not only of our words and actions, but of our inmost thoughts. If even so much as a bitter feeling against our traducers and maligners arises, it is to be fought, and so complete a victory gained over it that every fiber of our beings will be in sweet accord with our Great Teacher's instructions, "Love your enemies. Pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you. Bless and injure not."
Your earliest definition of "injure not" will probably have been that you should not kill or wound your enemies physically: but as you look to the Teacher and heed his word you will hear him say, "Learn of me," and you will note with the Apostle, that tho he did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth, yet, "When he was reviled he reviled not in return; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed his cause to him that judgeth righteously." (1 Pet. 2:22,23.) If you are a faithful pupil it will not be long until you see that the perfect law of liberty, the law of Christ, is a discerner of the very thoughts and intents of the heart, and that while you must hate all sin, you cannot hate any sinner and yet have the love of God perfected in your heart. You see that this means that you not only must not retaliate and revile your foes, but must not even wish to do so. The evil wish must be conquered and the selfish conditions which gave it birth must be utterly destroyed and replaced with love—the spirit of Christ.—Compare 1 Cor. 4:12 with 1 Cor. 6:10.
Are you tempted to repine, to feel disappointed at your lot in life or your experiences by the way? That is the time to remember that all repining, discontent and disappointments indicate that self-will in you is not so dead as you had hoped. For he who has buried his own will completely in the will of the Lord can know no disappointment; but in every affair of his life he sees by faith divine appointment or supervision, and hears the Word of the Lord in all of life's affairs assuring him: "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28.) It is one of the evidences of reaching the graduating condition of heart, when we are able to take the oppositions of the great Adversary and of the world and of our own flesh patiently, uncomplainingly, unmurmuringly, "joyfully"—as a part of the disciplinary experience meted out to us by our all-wise and all-loving Lord.
Such is the "good fight." The first battle is the severest, and each subsequent victory is easier; for with each victory the new will (the Lord's will in us) grows stronger, and Hope's sight of the things God has in reservation for the faithful grows keener, and Faith's strength and endurance greater. And with the very first victory come blessings, which are added to after every victory: blessings of rest, peace, joy in the holy spirit and full assurance of faith, as our Teacher promised,—"Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad!"
From this standpoint, and from no other, is it possible to accept with fortitude and resignation whatever tests of patience, perseverance, faith, hope and love the Lord may see fit to permit to come upon you. In this condition all our experiences will result in blessings, however unpropitious they may appear on the surface.
It is from this standpoint (of victory over self-will—unto sanctification of spirit through obedience to the truth) that all the blessings and promises of the divine Word are ours in the fullest sense—"All things are yours,...whether things present, or things to come; ...[for] ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's." This is the graduating degree of the School of Christ, dearly beloved, in which we all seek to be approved during the year just begun. Let us unite our hearts and prayers, and above all our new wills, with each other's and with our Master's, to this end that we may be wholly sanctified and for the Master's use, present and prospective, made meet. "And the very God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly."—Rom. 16:20.
Let our prayers every morning ascend to God,—"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my Strength, and my Redeemer." (Psa. 19:14.) And every evening let us review the day, judging our hearts (wills) by the Lord's law of perfect love—praying his forgiveness of shortcomings, and thanking our Lord for the strength and grace which brought its victories.
"Come, let us anew our journey pursue,
Roll round with the year,
And never stand still till the Master appear.
His adorable will let us gladly fulfil,
And our talents improve,
By the patience of hope, and the labor of love."