“Hold That Fast Which Thou Hast”

“The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” —I Peter 4:7

IT IS a thing which to many may seem strange, yet it is true, that the instructions and exhortations of the Bible are not for the world in general but for a very select class chosen out of the world by the power of God. This may be said with equal truth of the Old as well as of the New Testament: for, while the Jewish nation, to whom the Law and the prophets were first given, were at one time in line to be God’s specially selected and peculiar people, they lost that standing when they rejected Messiah.

Jesus, in mourning over the unbelief of natural Israel, said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Luke 13:34,35) From that time onward, the value to the Israelites of those admonitions of their prophets and teachers which applied to the place of chief favor in the plan of God ceased—they were no longer the specially chosen people of God.

True, the entire Gospel of Jesus Christ, as outlined in the song of the angelic choir at his nativity, was one of good news to all mankind. In Galatians 3:8 Paul tells us that this Gospel was preached beforehand unto Abraham, and the message to him was that all the families of the earth were to be blessed. But while the Bible presents the wide scope of God’s plan to bless all nations, its instructions and admonitions are to those whom he is selecting from the world and preparing to be the channels of his promised blessings. The Scriptures tell us that when the time comes for the world to be enlightened “the Law shall go forth of Zion, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”—Mic. 4:2

From the days of Abraham unto John, God had dealt with only one selected nation. He gave to that nation a law, by the keeping of which, he said, they could have life: “Keep my statutes, … which if a man do, he shall live in them.” (Lev. 18:5) God also said to them: “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me: … an holy nation.” Of their own free will the nation accepted this agreement. The record reads, “And Moses … called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words. … And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.”—Exod. 19:5-8

There was nothing arbitrary on the part of Jehovah in the selection of Israel to be a peculiar people unto himself. They were under no compulsion to accept God’s offer. Had they refused it, they would have been no worse off than any of the other nations surrounding them. “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do,” they had said, and thereafter God surrounded them with safeguards to give them every opportunity of making good their promise; yet the record of the history of Israel under the Law Covenant is a record of almost unending failure.

Much of the Old Testament is given over to a most revealing exposition of the struggle—for it was a struggle—of these chosen people to keep a law which none but perfect men could have kept. Every year, on the solemn feast of the Day of Atonement, sacrifices were offered which had the effect of cleansing Israel from sin, so that God could continue to deal with them. The Jew did not see, and has not seen to this day, that the impossibility of his ever achieving life through the Law Covenant was epitomized in these atoning sacrifices; for they were to cleanse him ahead of time—for the ensuing year—so that he could have a standing before God. This recognition of the coming need for atonement repeated year by year should have demonstrated to Israel that through a law which embodied such a provision life could not be attained.

But more than this, God listened attentively to their complaints and demands and with infinite patience acceded to their continual requests for change. When the twelve tribes became so large in number as to be difficult to supervise, he appointed them judges, so that their lives could be more closely guarded and they could be kept more nearly in touch with the divine requirements.

When they tired of this and asked that a king should be set over them, as was the custom in the surrounding heathen nations, he permitted it, and kings were anointed; but still Israel failed continually to keep the promise. Prophets were sent to them, who warned them and led them back again from their various excursions into idolatry to peace with their God. Chastisements and captivities were permitted to come upon them in punishment for flagrant violations of the requirements of the Law, but all to no avail.

Centuries rolled by, and finally their iniquity came to the full. One last offer was made to turn them from their evil practices to walk in the way of life. God sent his own Son, Jesus of Nazareth, as the promised Messiah. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11) He came among them, born under the Law and subject to all its demands, and for three and one-half years preached to them the great Gospel of life through faith and freedom from the bondage of the Law. He came to show them “a new and living way” and brought “life and immortality to light through the Gospel,” and him they crucified!—Heb. 10:20; II Tim. 1:10

Truly, it was a sad day for Israel when he offered himself to them as King and Deliverer, to be hailed joyfully by the multitude and within a short time thereafter, through perjured and suborned witnesses, to be betrayed into the hands of pagan justice and nailed to the cross.

What was his alleged crime? The Jews charged him with blasphemy. Actually, however, hatred of him arose because he had spoken against the sacred traditions of the Jewish religious leaders, whose privileges he threatened and whose hypocrisies he exposed and condemned. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets … your house is [indeed] left unto you desolate.” (Matt. 23:37,38) Not all the tears and sighs and lamentations cast against the unyielding stones of the wailing wall by all the generations of Jews since the final dispersion until now can avail one jot to restore to them the great opportunity which they lost. God still loves them and will bless them, but they must await their turn in the outworking of God’s plan before life will be given to them.

But what of Christ’s message, the good news of the kingdom, rejected by the nation of Israel? Was this marvelous message ineffectual? No, that good news was of far wider scope than were the circumscribed dealings of God aforetime, when only one nation had been selected for his great object lesson that through the imperfect keeping of the Law life could not be attained by members of the fallen race. That Law, says the Apostle Paul, was “a schoolmaster,” a pedagogue, to lead Israel to Christ as the great Lifegiver. (Gal. 3:24) It did its work.

Then Jesus—born a Jew, born under the Law, subject to temptations as other men, made a special target of assault by Satan—resisted all sin and kept the Law perfectly, “blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us [the Jews], which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.” (Col. 2:14) With Jesus’ death the Law was finished, its work done. A new day was dawning for earth’s captive millions; a new avenue of release from sin and death was opening: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”—John 14:6

Jesus, having fulfilled the Law given to Israel that hung like a millstone around their necks, told certain of them of a new law which he was instituting in its place: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) But was this new commandment given to all Israel? Let us look at the evidence.

Jesus, during his years of ministry, spoke often to the people. Multitudes followed him whenever he appeared in public. They crowded around him to listen to his wonderful words, and when he had finished speaking, they departed from him. Jesus spoke to them in parables—stories, or allegories, conveying important truths. His illustrations of Gospel truths were drawn from homely similes having to do with the everyday life or events of the people of his time. “A sower went forth to sow,” and “What woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not … seek diligently until she find it?” were two of the stories told. In them were rich stores of information about the new life which was the core of all his teachings.—Matt. 13:3; Luke 15:8

When Jesus told the story of the sower and the seed, he closed with words he so often used, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” His disciples came to him and asked, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” And he answered, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (Matt. 13:10,11) And then he went on to tell other stories: the story of the wheat and the tares, the story of the grain of mustard seed, and the story of the leaven. And at the end, as usual, the crowd went home. They had had a big day listening to this new prophet and went home content. All but a few.

“And his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the Parable of the Tares.” (Matt. 13:36) Then Jesus explained to them that the good seed were the children of the kingdom; the sower was the Son of man; the field was the world; the tares, the children of the wicked one, sown by the Devil; the harvest was the end of the age; the reapers, the messengers.

The important thing in this whole simple scene—a scene that has, in similar form since, been enacted times without number—is that although the sowing, through the Gospel message, has continued to be done and the seed has been sown broadcast throughout the world, only a few have gone further than the bare hearing of the Word.

Few, indeed, have stepped aside from the crowd and asked for more enlightenment or sought to see anything other than just a story in the kingdom message. Few have taken time to study to show themselves approved unto God, workmen that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth, as Paul admonished Timothy.—II Tim. 2:15

After three and one-half years of ministry, only a small number, comparatively speaking, out of all the multitudes that heard him speak, believed that he was the Son of God. A few others were on the threshold of belief, and they spread abroad in the land the fame of this teacher in Israel. But of all who heard, only “about 120” disciples at first assembled in the upper room in Jerusalem to await the promised pentecostal blessing.—Acts 1:12-15

These were the nucleus of the church of God, the selected new holy nation, and on the day of Pentecost, about 3,000 were added to the church. (Acts 2:41) Even this, however, was but a small number to separate themselves from the multitude and become footstep followers of their Lord and Master. It was to these that Jesus gave instruction in prayer: “When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven.” (Luke 11:2) Not all may call God “Father”—only the “peculiar people,” the consecrated, separated ones. It was of these that the apostle spoke when he explained that the Old Testament scriptures were peculiarly theirs, and regarding the experiences of Israel of old time, said, “All these things happened unto them for ensamples” [margin, types] to us, “on whom the ends of the ages [the ends of the Jewish and Gospel Ages] have come.” (I Cor. 10:11, A.V. and Diaglott) It was to these that Christ referred when he said, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”—Luke 12:32

The seed of the good news of the kingdom had been planted through the labors of the Lord and his apostles, and down through the centuries some honest hearts have received it and brought forth fruit. Jesus said, The harvest is the end of the age.” Out of the harvesting at the end of the Jewish Age and for a few years thereafter, the messengers reaped a few as children of the kingdom. Today, during these cataclysmic events that mark the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy as recorded in Matthew 24 and 25, given and intended not for the multitude, but only for the faithful few, these few alone are able to recognize the signs of his second presence and of the end of the Gospel Age. The last of the work of harvesting the children of the kingdom is rapidly reaching its culmination. Have we learned the lessons brought home to us by the failures of God’s people in the past?

Let us call to mind the apostle’s warning, “The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” We should remember that natural Israel lost the privileges of the “high calling” because of unfaithfulness. We, too, can lose, if we fail to give heed to the instructions given specially to us.

“O for a closer walk with God,
   To glorify his name,
To let my light shine on the road
   That leads men to the Lamb!”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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