As for the wicked, they walk in darkness. Yes, “the path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”—Prov. 4:18, 19, New International Version.
2. How might the increase of light on the path of the righteous be illustrated?
2 Note that the shining of light on the path of the righteous is progressive. It keeps “shining ever brighter.” We might illustrate this by a man who gets up before daybreak and who sets out on foot to travel through the countryside. He might see an outline of a building in the distance, but at first cannot tell whether it is a barn or a house. Gradually as day dawns and he gets closer he can see that it is a house. After a while he is able to tell that it is a wooden, not a brick, house. Then, later, he can make out the color of the house, and so forth.
3. What factors have a bearing on the light’s increasing?
3 The experience of God’s servants has been just like that. Viewing certain matters from a distance in time and with only a little light on the subject often we have had an incomplete, and even an inaccurate, view of things. In such situations we may well have been influenced by previously held views. But as the light gets brighter and we draw much closer to events, then our understanding of the outworking of God’s purposes becomes clearer. Prophecies open up to us as Jehovah’s holy spirit sheds light upon them, and as they are fulfilled in world events or in the experiences of God’s people. Has this not been just the way that Jehovah God has dealt with his servants from early times? Indeed it has been!
EXAMPLE OF ABRAHAM
4, 5. How did God gradually reveal his purpose to Abraham?
4 Consider Abraham, the man of faith whom God called his friend. (Isa. 41:8; Jas. 2:23) Despite his close relationship with Jehovah God, he did not at first have a complete understanding of God’s purposes. We can see this from a number of developments in Abraham’s life—his understanding gradually improved. God called him to leave his home country, telling him that He would make a great nation of him and that through him all the families of the earth would bless themselves. But Abraham did not know all the details; we read that he obeyed “although not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8) Further, though God promised him that his seed would be given the land, Abraham did not know how this would come about. He even expressed concern that his servant Eliezer might inherit his house. Then Jehovah made matters plain, telling Abraham: “One who will come out of your own inward parts will succeed you as heir.” (Gen. 12:1-3, 7; 15:2-4) Since Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren, she asked him to have relations with her maid, Hagar, by whom he had Ishmael. Later God explained to Abraham that the heir of promise would be through Sarah.—Gen. 17:15-17.
5 So we can see that, whereas everything Jehovah revealed directly to Abraham was true, yet Abraham did not accurately understand how God would work out this purpose. Still, he continued to exercise faith and to wait on Jehovah, receiving further enlightenment as time went on. Likewise, when Jehovah commanded him to offer up his son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah, Abraham did not know exactly how this matter would be worked out. But he had faith that God would raise up a seed through Isaac even if God had to raise Isaac from the dead.—Heb. 11:17-19.
DANIEL AND OTHER PROPHETS
6, 7. (a) What words of Daniel show that God reveals matters only at His due time? (b) What testimony does the apostle Peter give along this line?
6 Among the many prophets Jehovah favored with direct revelations was Daniel, a “very desirable man” to God. (Dan. 10:11, 19) Jehovah gave him much specific information regarding both his own time and future times; yet Daniel did not understand all that was involved. Regarding some of the visions he saw, he said: “I heard, but I could not understand.” When he asked for more information he was told: “Go, Daniel, because the words are made secret and sealed up until the time of the end.” (Dan. 12:8, 9) Similarly, Jehovah God kept revealing many truths to his servants the prophets. Yet there were many things that they did not get to understand.
7 That is why the apostle Peter could write: “Concerning this very salvation a diligent inquiry and a careful search were made by the prophets who prophesied about the undeserved kindness meant for you. They kept on investigating what particular season or what sort of season the spirit in them was indicating concerning Christ when it was bearing witness beforehand about the sufferings for Christ and about the glories to follow these. It was revealed to them that, not to themselves, but to you, they were ministering the things that have now been announced to you.” In fact, even angels did not have a full and complete understanding of how God’s purposes would work out.—1 Pet. 1:10-12.
8. How did a question of John the Baptizer show that his understanding was incomplete?
8 The last of such prophets was John the Baptizer. God used him to prepare the way before the Christ, Jesus. (Luke 1:16, 17, 76-79) John was highly favored in getting from God the sign that identified the Messiah, and in introducing him to Israel. (John 1:26-36) Even so, John did not understand clearly all the details pertaining to Jesus’ first coming. This can be seen from the fact that while John was in prison he sent his disciples to Jesus with the inquiry: “Are you the Coming One, or are we to expect a different one?” John’s query was not an expression of a lack of faith but a desire for more specific confirmation. Jesus’ reply, pointing to his works, without a doubt comforted John.—Matt. 11:2-6.
JESUS AND HIS APOSTLES
9. What shows that Jesus did not have a complete understanding of his Father’s purposes?
9 God reveals his will to his servants only in his due time, and this applied even to Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly Jesus received direct information while he was with his Father in heaven. Yet he himself did not know when the end of our present system of things would come. That is why he confessed: “Concerning that day and hour nobody knows, neither the angels of the heavens nor the Son, but only the Father.”—Matt. 24:36.
10, 11. (a) What mistaken conclusion did Jesus’ disciples reach regarding the Kingdom? (b) Why did Jesus limit what he told his apostles about the future, as well as about other matters?
10 Jesus himself acted in harmony with the principle stated at Proverbs 4:18 in dealing with his disciples. He told them much about the Kingdom: that he would go away and that he would return after a long time and take them home to him in the heavens. In spite of all of this, however, his apostles held to the idea that the Messianic kingdom would be the restored kingdom of David in Jerusalem. That is why they asked the resurrected Jesus: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” Jesus told them that there were some things they could not understand as yet, saying: “It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction.”—Acts 1:6, 7.
11 That there is a due time to gain understanding of certain features of God’s purposes is clear from Jesus’ words to his apostles: “I have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present.” (John 16:12) This indicates that God gives his servants understanding of his will in accordance with their ability to grasp and make use of such understanding. True, Jesus told his apostles that God’s spirit would guide them “into all truth.” (John 16:13) But did Jesus mean that from the day they received holy spirit they would discern all truth, without their needing to get further understanding later? The facts show that this was not the case.
12, 13. (a) What clearer appreciation did Jesus’ followers receive at Pentecost, and what effect did it have on them? (b) Although Jesus had commissioned them to make disciples of people of all the nations, when first did they begin to do so, and why first then?
12 On the day of Pentecost in 33 C.E. the disciples did receive holy spirit and with it a much clearer appreciation of the truth pertaining to Jesus’ resurrection, his ascension to heaven and the significance of the kingdom of God. This knowledge infused them with zeal to tell the “good news” to others. Even though Jesus had said they should make disciples of people of all nations, at first they limited their preaching to the Jews, non-Jewish proselytes and then, in time, to the Samaritans. They did not understand that they should go to the uncircumcised Gentiles. (Matt. 28:19, 20) No doubt Jehovah withheld such enlightenment, for the prophecy of Daniel had stated that the Messiah would keep the covenant with the Jews in force for the rest of the 70th week.—Dan. 9:24-27.
13 When that “week” ended in 36 C.E., Jehovah God acted positively in opening up the “good news” to the people of the nations. Peter truly needed help to adjust his thinking before entering the home of an uncircumcised Gentile considered unclean by the Law. He had to be instructed while in a trance: “You stop calling defiled the things God has cleansed.” So Peter and the other apostles had to change their viewpoint on this matter. Peter did so and was used by God to declare to the Gentiles that the way to God’s heavenly kingdom was open.—Acts 10:9-43.
14. What light did the early Christians receive years later as to the requirements of the Mosaic law?
14 Yet, 13 years later, circumcision was still a matter of dispute among some Christians. It was necessary for Paul and other disciples to go to Jerusalem in order to take this matter up with the apostles and other elders, who at that time made up the governing body for Christian congregations. This body heard what Peter had to say about the conversion of Cornelius, and Paul’s evidence about the mighty works God had performed in connection with Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. Then they considered what God’s inspired Word had to say about the matter. With the help of holy spirit they came to the right conclusion, namely, that while certain standards of conduct were required, it was not necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic law in order to become Christians.—Acts 15:1–16:5.
15, 16. (a) What words of Paul show he recognized that the revealing of the truth was progressive? (b) What similar testimony did the apostle Peter give?
15 About six years after this meeting, Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, in which he stated concerning spirit-begotten Christians of his time: “For we have partial knowledge and we prophesy partially; but when that which is complete arrives, that which is partial will be done away with. For at present we see in hazy outline by means of a metal mirror, but then it will be face to face. At present I know partially, but then I shall know accurately even as I am accurately known.” So even at this point spirit-begotten Christians, including the apostle Paul himself, had not been led by holy spirit to a complete knowledge of all truth. Their knowledge was still only partial, to the extent that God had given them understanding up to that time. But it was sufficient for the needs they then had.—1 Cor. 13:9, 10, 12.
16 Some nine years after Paul had written the foregoing, or about the year 64 C.E., what did Peter write his fellow Christians? After discussing the transfiguration experience that confirmed Jesus to be the Son of God, he went on to say: “Consequently we have the prophetic word made more sure; and you are doing well in paying attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and a daystar rises, in your hearts.” (2 Pet. 1:16-21) So Christians still needed to search the Scriptures, giving much attention to the prophetic word, which would be like a lamp shining in a dark place. This they must continue to do clear down to the time when anointed Christians would experience their reward at the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ.
17. (a) With the giving of the book of Revelation, what new truths became known to Christians? (b) When was more light due to shine on that book?
17 Some 32 years after Peter wrote his second letter, or some 63 years after Pentecost 33 C.E., the apostle John received and recorded the series of visions that make up the book of Revelation. In these visions a number of truths concerning God’s purposes were revealed to spirit-begotten Christians for the first time. For instance, they thus learned that 144,000 men and women would be redeemed from all nations to be joint heirs with Jesus Christ in heaven and would rule as kings, priests and judges in the Messianic kingdom of 1,000 years’ duration. (Rev., chaps. 7, 14 and 20) Yet even Christians of that early time did not have complete knowledge. Students of God’s Word today can see that the visions of Revelation, though they may have been instructive and encouraging to Christians of John’s day, are of special value to those living in the “Lord’s day,” where we now find ourselves. (Rev. 1:10) Thus Revelation 5:1-14 pictorially describes a scroll, with seals that had to be loosed so that the scroll could be opened. This indicates that at the time of the fulfillment of the prophecies of Revelation there must be a gradual unfolding of knowledge and understanding as each seal is loosed in its turn.
18. How, then, did Jehovah God reveal truths to his servants in ancient times and during the first century?
18 So we can see that, both with regard to Jehovah’s faithful servants in pre-Christian times and the congregation of anointed Christians of the first century of our Common Era, without exception all had incomplete knowledge and understanding. They had to continue to make progress, readjusting their understanding as they observed and experienced the gradual outworking of Jehovah’s purposes. For them, the path of the righteous ones has indeed been like ‘a bright light that gets ever lighter and lighter.’ (Prov. 4:18) As the light increased, they grew in knowledge, discerning more fully the grand truths that Jehovah kept revealing to them.
19. What did God say to the prophet Daniel regarding knowledge and understanding at the “time of the end’?
19 But what of Jehovah’s servants at the time of the end? An angel had told Daniel: “O Daniel, make secret the words and seal up the book, until the time of the end. Many will rove about [in God’s Word], and [as a result] the true knowledge will become abundant.” (Dan. 12:4) In Da 12 verse 10, it is further stated concerning God’s servants: “Many will cleanse themselves and whiten themselves and will be refined. And the wicked ones will certainly act wickedly, and no wicked ones at all will understand; but the ones having insight will understand.” Would this enlightenment come all at once? To be identified as ‘those having insight’ would it require that God’s servants have complete, detailed knowledge and understanding, so that they would not need, in time, to make any readjustments or changes in their views of certain teachings or other matters? These questions and others will be considered in the following articles.
The Light’s Increase in Modern Times
“The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.”—Prov. 4:18.
1. What evidence have we considered already as to the fulfillment of Proverbs 4:18?
THE Bible record from Genesis through Revelation shows that the path of Jehovah’s servants has indeed been as a bright light that gets ever lighter. (Prov. 4:18) In the days of Jesus and his apostles many of the prophecies relating to the Messiah became understandable, even as Matthew and other Gospel writers testified. And the pouring out of God’s spirit at Pentecost and the taking of the “good news” to the Gentiles were accompanied by further illumination upon God’s Word.—Acts 2:14-36; 10:34-43; 15:6-21.
2. (a) What accounts for a period of darkness settling down upon the professed followers of Jesus Christ? (b) What played a major role in the harvest separating work?
2 However, after the death of the apostles a period of darkness gradually engulfed the professed followers of Jesus Christ. “Oppressive wolves” took over. (Acts 20:29, 30) It was even as Jesus foretold in one of his parables. He compared the kingdom of heaven to “a man that sowed fine seed in his field.” Then an “enemy came and oversowed weeds in among the wheat.” As a result, the weeds predominated in that worldwide religious field for many, many centuries. But with the harvesttime there comes a separation. That harvesttime is now upon us, for “the harvest is a conclusion of a system of things.” Happily, a “wheat” class of true Christians has been gathered. The facts show that ever-increasing light on the pathway of these Christians plays a major role in separating them from the lawless “weeds,” whose end is destruction.—Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43.*
LIGHT ON JEHOVAH GOD AND HIS WORD
3, 4. What facts regarding the Creator, Jehovah God, did the early Bible Students learn to appreciate?
3 In the early 1870’s a group of earnest, open-minded Bible students started to meet for an unbiased study of God’s Word. Instead of the creeds of Christendom, they took the inspired Scriptures as their guide. The wisdom, reasonableness, harmony and power of the Bible’s message shone into their hearts. It convinced them—contrary to the prevailing atheistic and evolutionary teachings—of the basic fact that an intelligent Creator really exists. They could see that “effects must be produced by competent causes” and that “the immensity of creation, its symmetry, beauty, order, harmony, diversity” testify concerning Him as the great Designer.* (Rom. 1:20) They also gained a clear concept of the Creator’s personality, that he has four cardinal attributes or basic qualities, namely, infinite wisdom, boundless power, perfect justice and matchless love.—Deut. 32:4; Ps. 62:11; Prov. 2:6, 7; 1 John 4:8.
4 Moreover, they learned to appreciate that God is ‘from everlasting to everlasting’ and that his name is Jehovah. (Ps. 83:18; 90:2) They came to see that the chief dogma of Christendom—the Trinity doctrine—is both unreasonable and unscriptural. The light of Bible truth showed them that God is “one Jehovah,” that Jesus is the Son of God (his own testimony establishing that his Father ‘is greater than he is’) and that God’s holy spirit, far from being the third person of the Trinity, is ‘God’s energy that he uses to accomplish varying results.’*—Mark 12:29; John 14:28; Acts 2:17, 18.
5. What stand did those lovers of truth take regarding the Bible?
5 With boldness and conviction they preached that the Bible is God’s inspired Word; that in view of God’s attributes it is reasonable to expect the Creator to provide a divine revelation for the guidance of man. They described the Bible as “the torch of civilization and liberty.” It is “the oldest book in existence; it has outlived the storms of thirty centuries.” Moreover, “all other books combined have failed to bring the joy, peace and blessing to the groaning creation that the Bible has brought.”* These sincere students saw in the unselfish, self-sacrificing lives of the Bible writers clear proof that their motives were pure. In sum, they got to see that ‘the Bible is a reasonable and harmonious statement of the causes of evil, and that it tells of the remedy and the final results; and it serves to guide and strengthen the servants of Jehovah God.’
JESUS CHRIST AND THE KINGDOM
6. What truths did these Bible Students appreciate regarding Jesus Christ?
6 From the beginning, these earnest Bible Students, as they called themselves, clearly understood the basic truths regarding Jesus Christ. He is God’s “only-begotten Son.” He had a prehuman existence. He gave his life as a “ransom for all.” He was resurrected a spirit and ascended to heaven as a spirit, and he was to return as a spirit—the invisible Messianic king of God’s kingdom. Important indeed is the subject of Christ’s second coming: Why, how and when?—John 3:16; 17:5; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; 1 Pet. 3:18.
7. What did the increasing light reveal regarding God’s kingdom and its blessings?
7 The ever-increasing light made clear to these Christians the importance of Jehovah’s kingdom as the only remedy for mankind’s ills. That kingdom consists of Jesus Christ and his 144,000 associates, redeemed from among men, and who rule with him as kings and priests for 1,000 years. On the basis of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, the King resurrects all the redeemed ones in the memorial tombs, with prospects of eternal life on a paradise earth. Thus the Bible holds out two destinies for those of saved mankind—a heavenly destiny for a “little flock” of Kingdom heirs, and life on earth for Jesus’ “other sheep,” who include “a great crowd” of survivors of earth’s greatest “tribulation” and also the many, many millions who are in the memorial tombs and who will come forth to enjoy life on the paradise earth.—Luke 12:32; John 5:28, 29; 10:16; Rev. 7:9, 14; 14:1, 4; 20:6.
8. What understanding was gained as to the human soul and the condition of the dead?
8 The increasing light also revealed to these open-minded students of the Bible that the teachings of Christendom on the nature of the human soul and the condition of the dead are completely in error! They saw clearly that when Adam was created he ‘became a living soul,’ and that when he returned to the ground because of his disobedience, he died as a soul, simply ceasing to exist. Yes, he returned to the dust from which he had been taken in the first place. In the death state there is no consciousness, no activity. (Gen. 2:7; 3:19; Eccl. 9:5, 10) The “wages sin pays is death,” not eternal torment. A burning hell and a tormenting purgatory exist only in the minds of misinformed religionists. It is because man actually ceases to exist at death that there is need of a resurrection, in order that he may benefit from Christ’s sacrifice.—Rom. 6:23.
9. What stand did these enlightened Christians take as to holiness?
9 These Christians also took seriously what the Bible has to say about true holiness. This is not to be confused with an assumed piety or sanctimoniousness. They saw that they must live by such Bible principles as, “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” (Heb. 13:4) They appreciated that they could not wink at or tolerate among themselves such practices as fornication, adultery and homosexuality—which the Bible condemns. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) Likewise, they must avoid all lawbreaking, paying back “Caesar’s things to Caesar,” as well as “God’s things to God.” They must be honest in all their dealings with others, living by the Christian rule: “Just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.”—Matt. 22:21; Luke 6:31.
10. What truth did these Christians early realize as to the Christian commission?
10 The chief concern of these Bible Students apparently was cultivating a Christlike personality. Also, they saw the need to bear witness to God and Jesus. They realized that each Christian, having received the light of truth, was obligated to spread that light to others. They recognized the need to be a minister of God, letting one’s light shine both by fine Christian conduct and by word of mouth. (Matt. 5:14-16) In fact, quite early a call went out: “Wanted, 1,000 Preachers.” It was a special appeal to those without family obligations who could devote one half or more of their time to spreading the “good news” by means of the printed page.
11. What steps did one need to take to become a Christian minister, and why was the clergy-laity distinction rejected?
11 To become a Christian minister, each one must believe God’s Word, repent, be converted and exercise faith in God and in Jesus Christ as mankind’s Redeemer. The individual must become “consecrated” to God, to do His will and be baptized by total immersion in water. (Acts 3:19; Matt. 28:19, 20) Since they were all ministers, these Christians rejected a clergy-laity distinction. From God’s Word, however, they did see the need to appoint qualified men as “elders” and “deacons” to care for the needs of each congregation.—Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-10, 12, 13.
12. What truth regarding organizations did these learn to appreciate, and what logically followed?
12 As light kept increasing, they appreciated more and more the importance of publishing Jehovah’s name, and his kingdom as mankind’s only hope. They also saw that there are but two organizations in the universe and that everyone belongs either to God’s organization or to Satan’s, the latter on earth being composed of big business, big politics and big religion. God’s heavenly organization of loyal spirit creatures is represented on earth by his organized witnesses. (Gal. 4:26; 2 Cor. 4:4) It follows that Christians may not engage in politics nor get involved in violence between the nations; in fact, they may not even take part in nationalistic exercises. Jehovah God’s servants support and fight for his kingdom, though not with carnal weapons.—Matt. 26:52; John 15:19; 18:36; 2 Cor. 10:4; Jas. 1:27; 4:4.
13. Understanding what striking issue caused these Bible Students to adopt the name “Jehovah’s witnesses,” and why was it so fitting?
13 In time these faithful servants of Jehovah came to realize that the vindication of Jehovah’s name is the great issue confronting mankind, and that this is far more important, even, than the salvation of human creatures. This was indeed a brilliant flash of light, shining forth more brightly than anything previously understood. This striking truth made the distinction between the true and the counterfeit Christian religion still more obvious. Once this weighty truth was appreciated it was not long until these Christians saw that their designation (Bible Students), while not incorrect, was not distinctive enough. For one thing, their prime mission and purpose in life was not simply to be students of the Bible but to be also witnesses for Jehovah. Nor did the name Bible Students distinguish them from the millions who claimed to study the Bible but who, nevertheless, subscribed to creedal error. So by the enlightening power of God’s holy spirit they saw that the designation that did properly and uniquely apply to them was that found at Isaiah 43:10-12, namely, “Jehovah’s witnesses.” In 1931, they joyfully accepted this name.
LIGHT ON PROPHECIES AND PARABLES
14. What understanding did the increasing light reveal regarding the restoration prophecies?
14 Up to this time, many persons held the view that the return of the Jews to their homeland was in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. But no, these beautiful and encouraging restoration prophecies had their initial fulfillment back in the sixth century B.C.E. when the Jews returned from Babylon, and they have their major fulfillment in our day on spiritual Israel. We see proof of their fulfillment in the spiritual paradise in which the modern “Israel of God” and their loyal companions find themselves.—2 Cor. 12:4; Gal. 6:16.
15, 16. What light was shone on two of Jesus’ parables?
15 More accurate understanding of Jesus’ parables also resulted. An outstanding example involved the parable of the sheep and the goats, as recorded at Matthew 25:31-46. It had long been thought that this parable would be fulfilled during Christ’s 1,000-year reign. But then Jehovah’s Witnesses saw that it simply could not apply at that time. Among the many reasons was that during Christ’s millennial reign his “brothers” would not be upon the earth, let alone be in need because of being sick or persecuted. So it must be fulfilled now, as the enthroned Jesus in heaven gathers the nations for judgment, and this is borne out by the observable facts in fulfillment.
16 Likewise, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus has been illuminated. It was seen that the rich man represented, not the Jewish nation as a whole, but the hypocritical affluent religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and correspondingly the religious clergy of Christendom in our day.—Luke 16:19-31.
17. What remarkable understanding did they gain concerning the book of Revelation?
17 Similarly, the increased light caused Jehovah’s servants to appreciate that the book of Revelation has its climactic fulfillment beginning with “the Lord’s day,” that is, since 1914, and not during the entire history of the Christian congregation from apostolic times to the present, as once thought. (Rev. 1:10) They came to understand that the beginning of “the Lord’s day” had been marked by a war in heaven in which Michael (the enthroned Jesus Christ) and his angels cast Satan and his angels out of heaven. (Rev. 12:1-12) Jehovah’s people rejoiced greatly to note that their Kingdom work had been foretold, particularly in Revelation chapters 2, 3, 6-11.
18. What was learned as to theocratic order in the Christian congregations, and how was this put into effect?
18 Many more examples could be given of the light’s increase in modern times, but space permits listing just one more. This relates to theocratic law or God-governed procedure. In the latter part of the 19th century, the Bible Students had a democratic way of governing their congregations; they wanted to get away from an autocratic hierarchical system. But in the year 1938 they realized that this democratic arrangement lacked Scriptural support. It was not in line with theocratic order, which is rule from God downward, rather than from men upward. (Isa. 60:1, 17-19) So in more recent times, by direction of holy spirit, the “faithful and discreet slave”* does the appointing of men in the congregations to serve as elders and ministerial servants. (Acts 20:28) These must have the Scriptural qualifications stated at 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.
19. Why was it not to be expected that full and complete light would come at once?
19 Truly, all the foregoing demonstrates that the pathway of Jehovah’s people has been and is like the bright light that gets ever brighter. (Prov. 4:18) As they came out of the gross darkness enveloping “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion, it was not to be expected that they would see all things immediately in their true light. (Rev. 17:5) The brilliance of revealed truth could have had a blinding, even a confusing, effect upon them spiritually. This could be compared to a person’s coming out of a totally dark room into bright sunlight. It would take time for the person’s eyes to adjust to the sudden glare of brilliant sunlight.
20. (a) What wide range has been covered by the progressive light of truth? (b) What question remains for consideration?
20 And, as we have seen, the progressive light of truth covers a wide range. There are refined understandings as to doctrines, as to prophecies, as to Christian conduct and the commission of Christians, as to the meaning of Jesus’ parables, as to proper congregational organization, and so forth. All of this is clear enough. But some might ask the question: Why does it seem that the path of true Christians does not always go straight forward? What is the explanation? For answers to these questions we refer the reader to the succeeding article.
See pages 102, 103 in the book “Let Your Kingdom Come,” published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 1, pp. 29-35.
“The Watch Tower Reprints,” Vol. 1, pp. 369-371.
Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 1, p. 38.
Jesus Christ foretold that he would put this “faithful and discreet slave” in charge of all his belongings to provide spiritual food for his followers. The foregoing facts prove that this “slave” is a composite individual and is associated with the Christian witnesses of Jehovah.—Matt. 24:45-47.
The Path of the Righteous Does Keep Getting Brighter
“When one ruling over mankind is righteous, . . . then it is as the light of morning, when the sun shines forth.”—2 Sam. 23:3, 4.
1. What does 2 Samuel 23:3, 4 lead us to expect, and has this been realized?
THE light on the pathway of Jehovah’s servants from earliest times to the present has kept on increasing. This has been even more so since that notable year 1914 when, as developments here on earth showed, “the kingdom of the world did become the kingdom of our Lord [Jehovah] and of his Christ.” (Rev. 11:15) Light from God’s Word has flashed forth, like the sunshine on “a morning without clouds” to illuminate ever more clearly the pathway that Jehovah’s servants must tread.—2 Sam. 23:3, 4.
2. How may we regard periodic adjustments in viewpoint?
2 However, it may have seemed to some as though that path has not always gone straight forward. At times explanations given by Jehovah’s visible organization have shown adjustments, seemingly to previous points of view. But this has not actually been the case. This might be compared to what is known in navigational circles as “tacking.” By maneuvering the sails the sailors can cause a ship to go from right to left, back and forth, but all the time making progress toward their destination in spite of contrary winds. And that goal in view for Jehovah’s servants is the “new heavens and a new earth” of God’s promise.—2 Pet. 3:13.
3. What evidence is there that Jehovah is continuing to bless his witnesses?
3 There is no question that Jehovah God is continuing to bless the global activity of his witnesses, as directed by the “faithful and discreet slave.” This can be seen by the fruits. Remember, Jesus said: “Every good tree produces fine fruit.” And such righteous fruits are to be seen internationally today in one people only—the united, global society of Jehovah’s Witnesses.—Matt. 7:17.
4, 5. In addition to his inspired Word, what other instrument has Jehovah God used to guide his people?
4 No matter where we may live on earth, God’s Word continues to serve as a light to our path and a lamp to our roadway as to our conduct and beliefs. (Ps. 119:105) But Jehovah God has also provided his visible organization, his “faithful and discreet slave,” made up of spirit-anointed ones, to help Christians in all nations to understand and apply properly the Bible in their lives. Unless we are in touch with this channel of communication that God is using, we will not progress along the road to life, no matter how much Bible reading we do.—Compare Acts 8:30-40.
5 Regarding God’s channel of communication, Jesus said that the “faithful and discreet slave” would provide spiritual nourishment at the right time for all his followers and that he would set this “slave” over all his belongings. (Matt. 24:45-47) It is also noteworthy that the apostle Paul, at Ephesians 4:11-16, indicated that the Christian congregation needed not only such inspired instruments as apostles and prophets but also evangelizers, shepherds and teachers to help Christians to arrive at the oneness in the faith and the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, and to gain full spiritual maturity.—See also 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 1:9-11.
6. Because of what factors has it been necessary at times to reevaluate viewpoints?
6 This “faithful and discreet slave,” which is associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses, has indeed been used by Jehovah God to guide, strengthen and direct his people. True, since the light shines forth progressively, and because there have been mistakes due to human imperfection and weakness, these Christians have had, on occasion, to reevaluate viewpoints and teachings. But has this not resulted in refinement, to their benefit? Consider some examples.
THE RANSOM AND JEHOVAH’S NAME
7. Why and on what basis was the teaching of the ransom made so prominent by the Bible Students?
7 In 1878, Charles T. Russell, who later became the first president of the Watch Tower Society, severed his relations with the coeditor of The Herald of the Morning, N. H. Barbour, over the issue of the ransom. Mr. Barbour rejected belief in the power of Jesus’ sacrifice to take away sins. For years thereafter Bible Students, as these witnesses of Jehovah then called themselves, considered the ransom to be the main teaching of the Bible. And there is no question that salvation through faith in Christ’s ransom is emphasized in God’s Word. (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Heb. 5:9; Rev. 7:10) Jesus’ ransom sacrifice was prophetically foreshadowed by Abraham’s offering up Isaac and by the sacrifices under the Mosaic law. It was foretold also by the prophets. So the Bible Students placed great stress on what Jesus Christ did for humankind.—Luke 24:25-27, 44.
8. (a) What was then seen to be of greater importance? (b) To what did this lead, but what adjustment was made in later decades?
8 However, the Bible shows that there is something far more important than our personal salvation. It is the great issue involving Jehovah’s universal sovereignty, which Satan called in question at the time of the rebellion in Eden. (Gen. 3:15; 1 Cor. 15:24, 25; Rev. 11:15; 12:10) It calls for the vindication of Jehovah’s name. Indeed, the entire theme of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the Messianic kingdom, whereby that glorious Name is vindicated, exalted for all time! Some 75 times in the Bible we read God’s own declaration: ‘They will have to know that I am Jehovah.’* His witnesses came to appreciate in time that creatures could plead with Jehovah God on the basis of his name’s being involved and that “everyone who calls on the name of Jehovah will be saved.” (Rom. 10:13; Joel 2:32; Zeph. 3:9) So for some years Jehovah’s name and its vindication were made so prominent that critics of the Witnesses accused them of not believing in Jesus Christ. However, at most, this was a matter of overemphasis. As regular readers of The Watchtower in recent decades well appreciate, the Christian witnesses of Jehovah certainly have been giving due credit to Jesus’ role in the outworking of God’s purposes. Indeed, Jehovah’s prophetic Word focuses on Jesus as God’s ‘Chief Agent of salvation.’—Heb. 2:10; 12:2; Rev. 19:10.
9. What principle governing scientific progress appears to have application here?
9 Such adjustments might be said to follow a principle that has been said to govern the progress of scientific truth. In brief, it works something like this: At first there is a proposition made that is subject to argumentation. It holds out great possibilities for enlightenment or practical application. But then in time it is seen to have certain flaws or weaknesses. So the tendency is to go to a proposition at the opposite extreme. Later it is found that that position does not represent the whole truth either, and so there is a combining of the valid points in both positions. Time and again this principle has applied in the way Proverbs 4:18 has been fulfilled.*
CONDUCT AND PREACHING
10, 11. In their turn, what two positions were stressed, but with what final outcome?
10 Consider another example of progressive understanding: For some 40 years the Bible Students stressed the importance of cultivating a fine Christian personality, which cultivation they called “character development.” It was stressed so strongly because of its being neglected in Christendom. True, Christians were also to bear witness by speaking to others about God’s purposes, but this was more or less secondary. Later, when God’s people got to appreciate the importance of Jehovah’s name and that they were to witness to his name and kingdom, this was emphasized, with the result that less attention was paid to cultivating a Christlike personality. It was argued that above all else Jesus came to bear witness, and that preaching is what really counts. It became necessary to find a balance between the two positions.—Rom. 10:10; Gal. 5:22, 23.
11 In due course, that happy balance was reached. Christians need both to cultivate the fruitage of God’s spirit and to witness fearlessly and faithfully for Jehovah. Both of these requirements are important. We cannot neglect the one on the premise of doing the other. The apostle Paul said: “Woe is me if I did not declare the good news!” But he also said: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”—1 Cor. 9:16, 27.
SUBJECTION TO THE “SUPERIOR AUTHORITIES”
12, 13. (a) What view was taken first regarding the “higher powers” of Romans 13:1? (b) To what opposite extreme did this lead, but with what apparent benefit?
12 Arriving at a proper understanding of Romans 13:1-7 furnishes yet another instance of “navigating” toward the correct viewpoint. The early Bible Students rightly understood that the “higher powers,” or “superior authorities,” were the governmental rulers of this world. (Compare Authorized Version and New World Translation.) On the basis of that understanding they concluded that if a Christian were drafted in time of war he would have to serve in the army, don a uniform and go off to battle. But it was allowed that, when it came to actually killing a fellowman, he could shoot in the air instead.
13 However, it was quite apparent that the apostle Paul could not be advocating such a course. The question arose: Could the “higher powers,” then, refer to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ? For a time, God’s people held to this viewpoint. And during the troublous years of World War II this at least fortified them in ‘obeying God as ruler rather than men,’ as they built up a marvelous record of fearless Christian neutrality throughout the earth. (Acts 5:28, 29) There has never been any question that Christians must give their primary allegiance to the Sovereign Lord Jehovah and his Messianic king, Jesus Christ. But are these at the same time the “superior authorities” to whom we must ‘render tax, tribute and honor’?—Rom. 13:7.
14. How was the matter of subjection to worldly governmental authorities finally seen in its true light?
14 Happily, in the year 1962, Jehovah led his people to an understanding of the principle of relative subjection. It was seen that dedicated Christians must obey secular rulers as the “superior authorities,” gladly recognizing these as “God’s minister,” or servant, for their good. (Rom. 13:4) However, if these “authorities” ask them to violate God’s laws, what then? Up to that point Christians have obeyed the command at Romans 13:1: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities.” But this is qualified by Jesus’ words, as recorded at Matthew 22:21: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” So whenever “Caesar” asks Christians to do things contrary to God’s will, they must place Jehovah’s law ahead of “Caesar’s.” This is contrary to what is practiced in Christendom in general. Many so-called Christians scruple little about violating God’s laws when commanded to do so by Caesar. One patriot even expressed it this way: “Our country! . . . may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” But not so the Christian witnesses of Jehovah! When commanded to go contrary to God’s will, they echo the words of Jesus’ apostles, saying: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
WHO ARE MINISTERS?
15, 16. (a) What had long been the understanding as to who are God’s ministers? (b) What adjustment was made, and why? (c) But what flaws did this adjustment have?
15 To cite one more example of progressive enlightenment, there is the question as to whether all sincerely dedicated Christians are ministers, regardless of age or sex. For many years it was held by Jehovah’s Witnesses that all who repented, converted, exercised faith in God and Christ, dedicated themselves to Jehovah to do his will as revealed by Christ, and were baptized, were indeed ministers. But then some raised objections. Governmental authorities often did not appreciate this position. It was also argued that many languages did not have an equivalent for the term “minister” and so it should not be used in a religious sense by those whose languages did have it. Also, it was argued that baptism hardly seemed an adequate ordination ceremony. But, were these valid reasons for restricting the designation “minister” to those appointed to office in the congregation, to elders and “deacons,” or ministerial servants?
16 The fact is that the law of the land usually allows each religious organization the right to determine what makes a person one of its ministers. If others do not appreciate their position or agree with it, this is of no consequence. Nor does it matter that many languages do not have an equivalent for the term “minister.” That should not prevent those whose languages do have such a term—English, Italian, Spanish and others—from using it if it serves a valid purpose.
17, 18. Who really may be termed “ministers,” and how should they regard their “ministry”?
17 The term “minister” is a useful one, for it refers to a special kind of “servant,” one with an exalted, special assignment of service. Anyone, regardless of age and sex, who is able to demonstrate that he or she has a good understanding of God’s will and purposes for mankind, and who has brought his or her life in line with Bible principles, and who has also made a dedication and been baptized in keeping with Jesus’ command at Matthew 28:19, 20, is truly one of God’s ministers. In fact, it can be said that such a one is more qualified to speak for God than any of those who have attended theological seminaries but who do not understand God’s purposes and may not have brought their lives in line with God’s righteous requirements. Those truly serving God can say with the apostle Paul: “I glorify my ministry.”—Rom. 11:13.
18 It must be emphasized that the term “minister” is not a title but a description. (Compare Matthew 20:28.) It is not enough for a person to take the steps qualifying him to be baptized as a servant of Jehovah God. The individual must make his ministry, his “sacred service” to Jehovah God, the chief aim in his life. Otherwise, regardless of how much time he may be able to devote to his ministry because of circumstances outside his control, he could not properly term himself a minister or be considered by others as being one of God’s ministers.—Rom. 12:1; 2 Tim. 4:5.
19. (a) Such development of understanding has resulted in what, but how are loyal ones blessed? (b) What is Jehovah’s arrangement for dispensing spiritual food, and why should it always be our choice?
19 Of course, such development of understanding, involving “tacking” as it were, has often served as a test of loyalty for those associated with the “faithful and discreet slave.” However, progress is being made continually toward fuller appreciation of the “good news” and all that it means. It has been the experience of those who stay close to God’s organization that questions and things hard to understand are always cleared up with the passing of time. And as the light shines forth ever more clearly, how heartwarming and satisfying the way proves to be! It is as Peter expressed it when some of the disciples stumbled over Jesus’ teaching: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.” (John 6:68) The Lord Jesus Christ still has those “sayings,” and he is dispensing them through the one “faithful and discreet slave” organization that he today uses on earth. It is like the “good tree” that Jesus described as bringing forth “fine fruit.” (Matt. 7:17) Apart from this, the only choice is association with Satan’s political “wild beast” and “Babylon the Great,” the world empire of false religion. (Rev. 13:1; 17:5) No dedicated Christian would want to return to that!—2 Pet. 2:22; John 14:6.
20. (a) Why can we now be more confident than ever about ‘the light that shines forth’? (b) What happy future is in prospect for all who choose the pathway of increasing light?
20 Indeed, “light itself has flashed up for the righteous one.” (Ps. 97:11) Proverbs 4:18 is being fulfilled, in that “the path of the righteous ones” is like a light shining ever more brightly. If at times there is a measure of adjustment, invariably an improved position results. The refinement has not been in vain. With Christ now reigning, the enlightenment enjoyed by Jehovah’s people “is as the light of morning, when the sun shines forth.” (2 Sam. 23:3, 4; Matt. 25:31) Favored indeed are all those who serve loyally with the “faithful and discreet slave” organization, Jehovah’s visible agent of communication! Theirs is the wise choice, for their pathway leads on to the precious goal of everlasting life in the new order that Jehovah is creating.—Isa. 65:17, 18; 66:22.
This has been termed the thesis (proposition), antithesis (opposing proposition) and synthesis (a combining of the two).