"Abstain from every form of evil."— I Thess. 5:22.
IN the Revised Version the word appearance is rendered form—"abstain from every form of evil." Evils have different forms. Sometimes they are crude and repulsive forms; sometimes they are attractive forms. No matter what the form, if we know the thing to be evil, sinful, injurious, either to ourselves or to others, we are to abstain from it. The Apostle has enumerated some of these forms of evil, namely, "Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revelings and such like, of the which I have told you before, that they that do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God." (Gal. 5:19-21.) He says that these are the works of the flesh and that they are manifest.
To Christians these forms of evil must be very repulsive, because to be a Christian at all, one must have the New Mind. And the New Mind, in proportion as it is developed, will cleave to that which is good. We are to remember, however, the Scriptural admonition that all of these grosser evils have, for the Christian, a more refined form, as, for instance, when our Lord declared that "He that hateth his brother is a murderer." This is quite a fine line of distinction that applies to the Christian. We can see that that spirit in a Christian which would content itself with hating, instead of killing, a brother would be a very evil condition for the heart and would mean death to the New Creature.
Our Lord defines adultery as not merely the outward act, but also the having of an adulterous feeling in the heart—the having of a purpose or willingness in the heart. Hence the New Creature, taking this standpoint, should be earnest and zealous to guard his heart. And so with Covetousness. It is covetous to be discontented with what we have and desirous of obtaining what others have. This is one form of selfishness, and the spirit of selfish desires is evil. In fact, we might say that every form of evil, so far as we can discern, is a form of selfishness. No evil thing that we can think of in humanity would be apart from selfishness—the desire to have something, to be something. These things, leading on to their culmination, would mean a desire to be a usurper of power—to grasp things that are not our own—an improper condition of lust for power, lust for wealth, etc.
ACTIONS, WORDS AND THOUGHTS
Evils may be summed up into three forms—actions, words and thoughts. Evil actions are those which would be easily discerned by others. Evil words might not be quite so manifest. Evil thoughts, along any of the lines referred to by the Apostle, or along any other lines, are injurious, sinful, and should be abstained from. If, by reason of the weaknesses we have inherited and which belong to our mortal body, we be not fully able to master these evil propensities, we must show God that we are striving against them to the best of our ability. And as to what is the ability of each, is for himself and God to determine.
We should abstain not only from the evil things, but we should also seek to abstain from every appearance of evil. We should abstain, so far as possible, from doing things that we know to be good, if our friends or neighbors might misunderstand and consider these things to be evil. In order that our influence for the Truth may be the greater, we should avoid, not only evil in its every form, but everything that has an evil appearance.
To our mind, evil thinking is one of the greatest evils with which God's people have to contend. They can restrain actions and words to a considerable extent and they are, as the Apostle says, to seek to bring also every thought into obedience to the will of Christ. This does not mean that an evil thought would not cross the pathway of the mind. But the character of the thought should be discerned, whether it is mean or hurtful, and if so, it should be considered as a deadly foe and immediately a warfare should be waged against it, lest it fasten itself in some degree.
Has the Apostle suggested an impossibility when he says, "Abstain from every form of evil"? It is possible for us to abstain as New Creatures, to be out of sympathy with all forms of evil—to be antagonistic thereto. But on account of the imperfections of the flesh, one may not always be able to do this actually. The flesh is merely reckoned dead. It is the duty of the New Creature to see that the evil thought is battled against, if, indeed, it should ever attain full development. It is to wage this warfare against sin that we have enlisted with the great Captain of our salvation. He showed his own fidelity to righteousness and is the Father's Agent for abolishing sin.
And it is for those who would walk in the Master's footsteps to join in this crusade against sin. The first place to begin the crusade is in our own minds, in our own dealings. The Scriptures tell us to fight a good fight in our own flesh—not against sin in someone else. And to this our Lord refers when he warns us to overcome in ourselves ambition, pride, lasciviousness, etc.—not to let them conquer us as New Creatures. We are to conquer these things in the fallen flesh, in which we all share—some more and some less. According to our zeal we will have the Lord's approval. And according to unfaithfulness in this matter, we shall lack that approval.
All who serve the Lord's cause in any capacity—as Pilgrims, Colporteurs, etc.—should seek to keep their bodies under and live after the manner of the teachings of the Scriptures—and they will be blessed proportionately as they do this. And in proportion as they are less careful, they will be less blessed—less skilful in the preaching of the Word and in the service of the truth.
GOD'S DEALINGS UNDER THE DIFFERENT COVENANTS
The Decalogue of the Law Covenant was composed of prohibitions—"Thou shalt not." God's dealings with those who will become members of the "House of Sons" seem to be different from this. Instead of telling us what we shall not do, he tells us what we shall do.
How will it be with those with whom God will deal during the existence of the Messianic Kingdom, under the New Covenant arrangement? We answer that during the reign of Christ they will be under a very similar arrangement to that of the Jews under Moses. Thou shalt, and Thou shalt not, will be enforced by the great Mediator. And the enforcing will be necessary, because of the sins and imperfections and degradation in which the people will be. In harmony with this we read that "Whosoever will not obey that Prophet will be destroyed from among the people." (Acts 3:23.) The word obey implies a command and that the command is backed up by the authority to enforce.
The fact is that there will be a reign of Law in Messiah's Kingdom. "And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem." (Isa. 2:3.) And those who will not fall into line with this law will have tribulation that they may learn righteousness. "The judgments of the Lord will be abroad in the earth" (Isa. 26:9) and the people will take notice of these. They will not be dealt with as under the Covenant of Grace. The will will not be taken as instead of the deed. And they will not have the Advocate.
On the contrary, the great Mediator will, during the thousand years of the Mediatorial Kingdom, instruct and reward and bless and uplift all the willing and obedient, to the intent that all those during that reign who desire to be helped will be helped and will be ready to be turned over to the Almighty at the close of the Age. "And when all things shall be subdued under him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." (I Cor. 15:28.) Not, therefore, until the end of that Age will any of the World, under the New Covenant arrangement, reach sonship. But if, by that time, they have been perfected as sons, and will endure the tests then given, the Father will accept them and give them the blessings of eternal life, etc., as sons.
A certain Scripture gives us intimation of how this will proceed. This Scripture shows us the injunctions and precepts God will put upon the world. "And this shall be the Covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Jer. 31:33.) He also says, "And I will give them one heart; and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh." (Ezek. 11:19.) This brief statement implies a full restitution to all that was lost in Adam.
Adam was created perfect, but the depravity of mankind and the intensification of this in many cases have brought the world today to a condition of stoniness of heart, until the inhumanity of man toward man is appalling. The precepts of God will be gradually brought before the human mind and engraved and interwoven in the whole fibre of his being, so that man at the end of the Millennial Age will be as Adam was in the beginning—fully in accord with every principle of righteousness and sympathetic with everything that is good and unsympathetic with everything that is evil. This condition will come to be the very fibre of human nature again and only to such as will attain this will come the blessing of eternal life.
We read that God will test all whom he will receive. We read of how Satan, at the close of the Mediatorial reign, will be loosed to test all whom God will have lifted up out of human imperfection. This will not be done to see whether or not they are perfect, because theywill be perfect, but it will be to see whether or not, in their perfection, they will be loyal to God. All such as will not stand this test will be destroyed as not worthy of having the great blessings of eternal life and Divine favor!