Testing and Sifting in Modern Times
“Who will be putting up with the day of his coming, and who will be the one standing when he appears?”—MALACHI 3:2.
1. When Jehovah came to the spiritual temple in modern times, what did he find, raising what question?
WHEN “the true Lord” came to the spiritual temple accompanied by his “messenger of the covenant,” shortly after the Kingdom was set up in heaven in 1914, what did Jehovah find? His people were in need of refining and cleansing. Would they subject themselves to this and endure any needed cleaning of their organization, activity, doctrine, and conduct? As Malachi put it: “Who will be putting up with the day of his coming, and who will be the one standing when he appears?”—Malachi 3:1, 2.
2. In modern times, who are “the sons of Levi” of Malachi 3:3?
2 Jehovah accepts responsibility for cleansing and refining “the sons of Levi.” (Malachi 3:3) In ancient Israel, the tribe of Levi furnished the priests and temple assistants. Such “sons of Levi” correspond to the collective body of anointed ones today serving as priests under Jesus, the High Priest. (1 Peter 2:7-9; Hebrews 3:1) They are the ones who first underwent testing when Jehovah came to the spiritual temple with his “messenger of the covenant.” Now, what evidence is there that this refinement took place from the closing days of World War I onward?
A Time of Fiery Trials
3. By the spring of 1918, what was the condition of God’s witnesses?
3 When Jehovah accompanied his “messenger of the covenant” to the spiritual temple, He found the remnant in need of refining and cleansing. For example, The Watch Tower had encouraged its readers to set aside May 30, 1918, as a day of prayer for victory for the democratic powers, as requested by the U.S. congress and by President Wilson. This amounted to a violation of Christian neutrality.—John 17:14, 16.
4. What developed as to persecution of Jehovah’s servants?
4 The clergy and the governments brought great pressure to bear on Jehovah’s anointed servants. Falsely accused of sedition, the anointed remnant attempted to make their innocence clear publicly. However, on May 7, 1918, warrants were issued for the arrest of eight members of the management and editorial staff of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, including the president, J. F. Rutherford. Their trial began Monday, June 3. On June 20 the jury returned a verdict of guilty on four counts. Then on July 4, 1918, these dedicated Christian men were taken by train to prison in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A.
5. How was it evident that there needed to be sifting among those serving God, and what shows that this occurred?
5 By the summer of 1918, the once strong, organized voice of public preaching for Jehovah’s Kingdom by the anointed was greatly reduced in volume. It was as if they were ‘killed’ respecting their public activity. (Revelation 11:3, 7) At the time of the Society’s conventions that summer, some apostates turned away and formed their own opposing religious groups. Manifesting the traits of an “evil slave,” they were ‘winnowed’ like “chaff” to be separated from Jehovah’s faithful remnant. (Matthew 3:12; 24:48-51) The Memorial of Christ’s death was celebrated on Sunday, April 13, 1919, with 17,961 attending in many lands. As compared to a partial report for 1917, the Memorial attendance had dropped by more than 3,000, indicating the effects of sifting.
6. How did Jehovah’s permitting such trials have the eventual blessing of his people in view?
6 However, Jehovah’s permitting such fiery trials to befall his people was with their eventual blessing in view. He never left them entirely. On Tuesday, March 25, 1919, J. F. Rutherford and his seven associates were released from prison on bail and were later completely exonerated. Suddenly, for the cleansed survivors of this testing period, there had come freedom from bondage! Yes, “spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet,” ready for action.—Revelation 11:11.
7. (a) What did these restored witnesses now do? (b) What resulted from this refining and cleansing?
7 What would they do now? As a restored Christian community, the remnant scrutinized themselves. They prayed for Jehovah’s forgiveness for any sins of compromise. (Compare Psalm 106:6; Isaiah 42:24.) They went forth as a cleansed people. As a result of being refined, the loyalhearted remnant ‘became to Jehovah a people presenting a gift offering in righteousness.’ (Malachi 3:3) The spiritual sacrifices of praise that they offered became pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:15) They rejoiced that the brief interval of Jehovah’s displeasure had ended. They were confident that their future service would be acceptable to him. (Isaiah 12:1) From September 1 to 8, 1919, a happy convention was held at Cedar Point, Ohio, with 7,000 attending and 200 being baptized. All of this indicated a restoration and a willingness to accomplish Jehovah’s work of preaching.
8. (a) How does the process of refining and cleansing affect us today? (b) In addition to the modern-day “sons of Levi,” who else must pass through testing and sifting?
8 How does all of this affect God’s people living today? According to the prophecy, Jehovah, accompanied by his messenger, would come and “sit as a refiner and cleanser.” (Malachi 3:3) Yes, the process of refining and cleansing would continue, and he would “sit” and watch carefully. The fact that the loyal remnant came through a time of fiery trials early in this century did not mean that the Great Refiner had finished his cleansing of them. The testing and sifting has continued to our day. Jehovah is still at his temple, sitting in judgment. He has not been purifying just “the sons of Levi,” the anointed remnant. Malachi’s prophecy indicated His concern for “the alien resident,” corresponding to the “great crowd,” whose prospect is earthly life. (Malachi 3:5; Revelation 7:9, 10) Yes, during the past 69 years, there has been a continuous purification of Jehovah’s people in four general ways.
9. What are some of the progressive developments in organizational structure since 1919?
9 First, cleansing occurred by progressive harmonizing of the worldwide congregation with newly understood Scriptural principles. There had to be a gradual putting away of democratic ways of conducting congregational affairs. Consider some of the progressive developments along this line.
1919: Appointments by the Governing Body began by the designating from the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society a permanent service director for each congregation to supervise field-service activities.
1932: The annual election of elders and deacons was terminated; congregational selection of men for these positions was replaced by selection of a service committee assisting (and including) the Society-appointed service director.
1937: It was recognized that “Jonadabs” [those with an earthly hope] may hold positions of responsibility in the congregation.
1938: All overseers and their assistants were to be appointed by the Society in a theocratic manner.
1972: It was made clear that the Scriptural method of governing each congregation was not by just one mature Christian man but by a body of elders, as appointed by the Society.
1975: Establishment of committees of the Governing Body to care for various responsibilities; no one man would direct matters, but all within a committee would have an equal voice and would look unitedly to the leadership of Christ Jesus.
10. (a) What has resulted from such refinements? (b) How do you feel about all such adjustments?
10 What has been the result of such adjustments? Jehovah’s blessing has undoubtedly been abundant, as evidenced by the spiritual and numerical growth of his worshipers. (Compare Acts 6:7; 16:5.) True, some overseers and others have been sifted out because they would not loyally submit to the God-directed way. By far the majority of Jehovah’s people, though, have proved obedient and submissive to organizational improvements. (Hebrews 13:17) They appreciate that by means of such adjustments the Great Refiner has brought them into closer harmony with Scriptural methods for the congregations.
The Field Ministry
11. What progressive forms has the preaching work taken in recent decades?
11 Second, cleansing has taken place through testings as to participation in field service.
1922: All associates of the congregations were urged to share in the house-to-house field service. Monthly Bulletin (now Our Kingdom Ministry) containing service directions became available.
1927: Regular house-to-house preaching on Sundays began; books and booklets were distributed for a contribution.
1937: First Model Study booklet for home Bible studies was received.
1939: First annual Watchtower subscription campaign took place; over 93,000 new subscriptions were obtained.
1940: Magazine street work began.
This public preaching took on further progressive forms, including the making of return visits and the conducting of home Bible studies.
12. (a) What have been the results of such refinements of the field ministry? (b) How may we demonstrate our loyalty to the way Jehovah has refined his people?
12 What have been the results? Over the years some have been sifted out because they were unwilling to be fruit-bearing Christians. (John 15:5) Yet most of Jehovah’s people have certainly responded to the call for Kingdom preachers. Why, that small band of fewer than 8,000 back in 1919 grew to a peak of 3,229,022 Kingdom publishers in 1986! What about the full-time ministry? Compared to 150 active colporteurs (pioneers) in the spring of 1919, last year saw an average of over 391,000 pioneer publishers active each month—the highest number in the history of Jehovah’s modern-day Witnesses! By having an active share in preaching the good news, we demonstrate our loyal support of the way in which Jehovah has continued to cleanse his people.—1 Corinthians 9:16.
13. What are some examples of how Jehovah has enlightened his people?
13 Third, cleansing occurred as God’s people were tested as to acceptance of progressive spiritual enlightenment from the Bible. (Proverbs 4:18) From 1919 to the present a veritable flood of newly understood truths has flowed.
1925: It was clearly discerned that there are two distinct and opposing organizations—Jehovah’s and Satan’s.
1931: The new name Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted.
1935: The “great crowd” of Revelation 7:9-15 was identified as a class having an earthly destiny.
1941: The rightfulness of the universal sovereignty of Jehovah was shown to be the primary issue raised by Satan’s challenge.
1962: The “superior authorities” of Romans 13:1 were properly identified as being the secular governmental authorities, to whom Christians are to be in relative subjection.
1986: It was appreciated that both the remnant and the “great crowd” must figuratively partake of Jesus’ flesh and blood by accepting his sacrifice in order to be in harmony with him.—John 6:53-56.
Over the decades, as Jehovah enlightened his people, it became clear that there was a need for congregational attention to maintaining a clean, neutral organization that respected the sanctity of blood.—1 Corinthians 5:11-13; John 17:14, 16; Acts 15:28, 29.
14. (a) How have Jehovah’s people responded to such progressive enlightenments? (b) What is your own determination as to Jehovah’s channel of communication?
14 How have God’s people responded to such progressive enlightenment? All along, there have been a few who could not accept certain adjustments. These were ‘winnowed out.’ (Matthew 3:12) On the other hand, how happy Jehovah’s loyal servants are for such spiritual enlightenment! At a time when Christendom gropes in spiritual darkness, the path of Jehovah’s people grows brighter and brighter. Should we not be determined to stick closely to the channel of communication that Jehovah is using, accepting all such progressive enlightenments as “food at the proper time”?—Matthew 24:45.
Putting Away Unclean Practices
15. How has Jehovah gradually refined his people as to unclean or Babylonish practices?
15 Fourth, cleansing took place when it became mandatory to put away unclean or Babylonish practices. In the 1920’s God’s people ceased celebrating Christmas and other holidays that were shown to be of pagan origin. In 1945 the Christian stand on blood transfusions was explained. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, as the moral climate in the world continued to degenerate, The Watchtower continued to provide pointed counsel for God’s people on such subjects as proper conduct between the sexes and the need to break free from tobacco and other drugs.
16. How should such adjustments as to unclean practices be viewed?
16 Of course, such adjustments as to unclean practices have often served as a test of loyalty for God’s people. However, those who made the necessary adjustments looked upon such changes as assistance in putting away a filthy garment. (Colossians 3:9, 10) They realized that although the customs associated with some holidays may appear harmless, it is Jehovah’s view that should concern us; he observed firsthand the pagan religious practices from which these originated. As to God’s moral requirements, they viewed them as a protection rather than a restriction, so they were blessed by Jehovah for becoming clean. If an adjustment seemed difficult to understand, they trusted that Jehovah was ‘teaching them to benefit themselves.’—Isaiah 48:17.
17, 18. (a) How are we individually tested by the Great Refiner? (b) What should be our determination as we await Jehovah’s day?
17 Year after year Jehovah continues to refine and cleanse his people. Collectively, they have subjected themselves to the refining process as to their organization, activity, doctrine, and moral cleanness. But what about us individually? Through his organization Jehovah continues to dispense “solid food” for guidance that refines the heart. Our motives are tested and examined. (Hebrews 4:12; 5:14) By responding to the refining, cleansing process of the Great Refiner, we keep clean as we await “the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah.”—Malachi 4:5.
18 Thanks be to Jehovah, “the true Lord,” and his “messenger of the covenant,” Jesus Christ, who refine us and deliver us from uncleanness in this time of testing and sifting. May all of us be determined to continue walking in Jehovah’s clean paths of peace under the “Prince of Peace,” Christ Jesus, and thus keep our happy relationship with Jehovah.—Isaiah 9:6; Psalm 72:7.
How Has Jehovah Refined His People As To—
□ Organizational adjustments?
□ Field service participation?
□ Acceptance of progressive enlightenment?
□ Putting away unclean practices?
[Blurb on page 16]
As a result of cleansing and refining, the loyalhearted remnant ‘became to Jehovah a people presenting a gift offering in righteousness’
[Blurb on page 19]
Year after year Jehovah continues to refine and cleanse his people
[Picture on page 17]
The ancient refiner skimmed off the impurities, or dross. Similarly, Jehovah allows testing and sifting to refine his people
[Picture on page 18]
A few have been ‘winnowed’ away as “chaff,” but Jehovah’s loyal servants joyfully accept progressive spiritual enlightenment
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.