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Pastor Charles Taze Russell
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LESSON III., ISA. 28:1-13, JANUARY 17.

Golden Text.--"Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place."--Verse 17.

This portion of Isaiah's prophecy is set forth in the International Lesson series as the temperance lesson for this quarter: and it certainly is a very strong one. But while we carefully observe this, let us not forget its prophetic character; for a prophecy must be received as a prophecy, and not merely as a collection of moral or religious precepts to be indiscriminately applied.

Our first observation in studying any prophecy should be as to the time when its predictions will be realized, and when, therefore, its warnings should be specially heeded. The division into chapters and verses, it will be remembered, is merely an arbitrary arrangement in modern times for the sake of convenience. Glancing back to chapters 26:21and 27:1we see that a definite time is marked--"In that day." What day? In the day when "the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity" (26:21); the same day which Daniel foretold, saying, "And there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time" (Dan. 12:1); the day of which Malachi said, "Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble" (Mal. 4:1); and again, "Who may abide the day of his [Christ's] coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap." (Mal. 3:2.) Ah! yes: it is the harvest time of the Gospel age, the day of reckoning, the very day in which we are now living--from 1874 to 1914--the latter part of which is to witness the great conflict foretold, and the preparations for which are now going on in the world. The wheat and tares of nominal Christendom are now being separated, and the latter bound in bundles--tied up tightly in great organizations--preparatory to the symbolic burning or trouble of the closing days of this age and the ushering in of the Millennial day.

Among the things mentioned concerning that day, the Prophet (28:1) foretells woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim. As the language is symbolic, we next inquire, Who is referred to under the name Ephraim? It is the very same class mentioned in our last lesson (Isa. 26:5) as the "lofty city" that the Lord is going to bring down to the dust--that great city, "Babylon" (Rev. 16:19; 17:5; 18:2), which now proudly calls itself Christendom (Christ's kingdom). The Prophet in succeeding chapters applies to it several symbolic names. The name Ephraim here used signifies fruitful, and is symbolically applied to the great nominal Christian system, both Papal and Protestant. It has a great show of fruitfulness in number, influence, power and wealth; but this is not the kind of fruitfulness for which the Lord is looking. This he calls "hasty fruit" --sour and bitter, like that forced before the summer.--Verse 4.

With this introduction, let us briefly view the lessons of this chapter:--

Verse 1. "Woe to the crown of pride"--the worldly prosperity--the boast of the great Nominal Church. Her glory in numbers and wealth and power is a fading flower. Who can not see it, in this day when her position is disputed and her doctrines and authority are boldly called in question? Her "beauty" crown the "fat valleys" of worldly-mindedness where many are overcome, intoxicated, with the spirit of the world. The trouble or "woe" on these systems is beginning to be experienced, and will be continually increasing.

Verse 2. The "mighty and strong one" is the Lord, whose instrument is the Truth, which, "like a flood of mighty waters" (Water is a symbol of truth), is destined to cover the earth --"The knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea." It will come as "a tempest of hail and a destroying storm." Hail represents truth put in a hard, forcible way; and "a tempest of hail" indicates the destructive and forceful method which the Lord will adopt. Thus the Truth will batter down the old and long-established errors upon which the great systems of "Christendom" have been built. The Lord has refrained from the separating of the wheat and tares until this time of harvest; now he will separate them, glorify the "wheat," and cast the "tares" into the fiery furnace of a time of trouble such as was not since there was a nation (Matt. 13:30). Thus he will do "his work, his strange work, [R1357 : page 28] and bring to pass his act, his strange act" (verse 21)--viz.: the bringing down to the earth and laying low of great Babylon-- Christendom.

Verse 3. "The crown of pride"--the wealth and fame and prestige of these great systems, together with all who have been intoxicated with their worldly spirit shall be "trodden under foot"--humbled in the dust. Compare Rev. 18:2,5.

Verse 4. In rejecting the Lord's plans and adopting plans of their own, the various nominal churches have had great fruitfulness in numbers, etc., but the fruit is not good. It is "hasty," immature fruit. Thousands of such have been brought into the various nominal churches whose hearts remained unchanged, and hypocrites of every shade also find a home there, until, in the language of Inspiration, "Babylon has become the hold of every foul spirit and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird."--Rev. 18:2.

Verse 5. Unto "the residue of his people" --those who are truly consecrated to the Lord and who follow his leading, who love and obey his truth--the Lord will be for a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty. They are his betrothed and will shortly be exalted as his bride and joint-heir. To all such who are still in Babylon as wheat in the midst of tares he says, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins and that ye receive not of her plagues."--Rev. 18:4.

Verse 6. The Lord will give judgment, discretion, to those who endeavor to discern between truth and error, and who bring all things both new and old to the test of his Word. His strength will also be given to those who battle against the forces of error--who endeavor to "turn the battle at the gate." The gates of ancient cities were generally important places in the defence of the city and there courts of justice, public assemblies, etc., were often held. To turn the battle at the gate would, therefore, in symbolic language, signify public effort to withstand error with the truth, even in the strongholds of error. For this God will and now does give strength to his people, so that one may "chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight."

Verse 7. "But they also"--to whom the people look as leaders and teachers, viz.: the clergy--"have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way: the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink, they err in vision, they stumble in judgment." Here, in harmony with the symbolic character of the prophecy, we see that the wine and strong drink are also symbols--symbols, too, of something bad, something deceptive in its character and [R1358 : page 28] intoxicating in its effects--hence, indirectly, a rebuke to the evil thing itself. But as a symbol what does it mean? It is a forceful symbol of the spirit of the world, the love of the world and of the world's approval and emoluments, with which spirit all the systems of Christendom are intoxicated, especially the "priests and the prophets"--the leaders and teachers in Babylon. Therefore do they "err in vision and stumble in judgment." It is for this very reason that they cannot understand this prophecy which we are now considering. They are so infatuated with the greatness of their antichristian systems that in their pride they cannot see its application to them; and in their blindness they set forth these verses as a lesson on temperance in the use of intoxicating beverages, taking no notice of the time of its application --"In that day" (verse 5)--nor to its symbolic and prophetic character. Truly, said the Prophet, "they err in vision, they stumble in judgment."

Verse 8. "For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean." "Here is a forceful statement of the condition of affairs of which we are all witnesses today. The Calvinistic tables are all so polluted with the rejected dogmas swallowed in the past, that people are now turning away in disgust from the tables around which they formerly gathered so complacently. The Arminian tables are almost equally polluted, so that Methodists are beginning to discuss the propriety of absolving the laity from all doctrinal tests, lest they lose a large proportion of their membership. And truly, look where we will, through all the sects of "Christendom," as the Prophet says, "There is no place clean"--no table fit for God's intelligent children. But God is providing "meat in due season" now for all who hunger and thirst after righteousness, outside of Babylon. "My table thou hast furnished in the presence of mine enemies," the true Church may still sing.

Verse 9. Here the Prophet raises the question, "Whom shall he [the Lord] teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine?" In other words, Who among all this people, who are in this miserable plight, are worthy of the truth which is now due to the faithful? Will he give it to the drunken? or will he give it to those who are satisfied with their polluted tables? or to those who have no hungering and thirsting after truth prompting them to seek it? No, the Prophet says he will give it "to them that are weaned from the milk [R1358 : page 29] and drawn from the breasts"--to them who are reaching out after more knowledge of God and of his gracious plans. Blessed are the hungry who desire more and stronger spiritual food that they may grow thereby, for they shall be filled. (Matt. 5:6.) Milk is for babes, but strong meat is for those who have passed the infant stage and who are no longer babes in Christ.--Heb. 5:14.

Verses 10-12show that it will take a great many more lessons to help those in Babylon who are not yet ready to be helped; for he will not longer speak to them through the old tongues--the intoxicated "priests and prophets" to whom they still look for leading. But "by men of strange lips and with another tongue will he speak to his people." (R.V.) He will raise up other teachers--teachers not ordained of men, but of God--whom therefore they will not incline to recognize or heed; because they will not "prophesy smooth things," saying, Peace! peace! when there is no peace." And when these (verse 12) point out the true rest and refreshment of divine truth, they will not hear.

Verse 13is a solemn warning of the responsibility of such; showing that when they are ensnared in the traps of error, and thereby fail of the reward of faithfulness to the truth, it will have been due to their own improper condition of heart, and not to any lack of faithfulness on God's part.

In view of this solemn averment of responsibility on the part of those who hear but will not heed the truth, and who are too much intoxicated with the spirit of the world to discern it, how solemn are the words of rebuke that follow. This whole prophecy is one which every child of God who desires to know the truth and to escape the snares of error would do well to study with reverent humility and lay its solemn warnings and precepts well to heart.

But let all such first make sure that they are not in the least intoxicated with the wine or strong drink of Babylon, but that in simplicity of heart they desire the strong meat of truth, that they may grow thereby.

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