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“Order, order,” the mayor shouted to the crowd. “Find a seat so that we may begin the meeting.” At first, there was no response, but upon further urging, the people reluctantly brought their conversations to an end and sat down. When the Town Hall was nearly quiet, the mayor began to address the people.
“As you know, a Town Hall meeting has been requested by Citizen Joshua, who says he has a message for us from the Creator Himself. We want to give him as much time as he needs, so I will take up no more of his time.” Turning to Joshua, he extended his hand toward him, saying, “You all know Joshua. Come and share your message.”
The people applauded briefly and inquisitively looked at him as he took the podium.
“There are three of us, actually,” Joshua began, “who have been given revelation to share with you. Each of us has a portion of the word, and the Creator has given each of us certain gifts to give to you.”
The people nodded approvingly and looked at each other with anticipation. Everyone loves gifts, for they are tokens of love, and when they come from the Creator Himself, they give everyone a sense of belonging and divine approval.
“As you all know,” Joshua continued, “my business is giving people rides in rainbow-colored balloons, so that they might have opportunity to rise above the earth, and, at least for a short time, to see things better from a heavenly perspective. Specifically, the multi-colored balloons remind you that you are under covenant with the Creator.”
The people nodded in agreement. They were all very familiar with both the balloon rides and with their history. The town itself had been established long ago by a covenant at the base of the mountain and along the river that ran through it.
The town of Newkirk 109 was not the original settlement there. An older town had stood there many years ago known simply as Kirk. 110 That town had been founded under an earlier charter by another covenant with the Creator, but it had been declared null and void after the people had continually violated its terms. A new covenant was then established on better terms, and this was what Joshua needed to explain to the people, for it was plain that they had long forgotten its terms.
“All of you know something of the history of our town,” Joshua continued. “Many of the original inhabitants of Kirk did not believe that they needed a new covenant. Being content with the first arrangement, they fought against those who desired the will of the Creator. At first, they succeeded in driving out our forefathers, 111 but in the end they themselves were driven out. That is how we came to resettle this valley and to rename our town Newkirk.”
“Yes, brother,” a man shouted enthusiastically from the audience. “They got what they deserved.”
Joshua continued. “It is never good to disagree with the Creator. Technically, though, they did not reject the new covenant, at least not in their own minds. They believed that the new covenant was just a renewal of the earlier covenant. Many of you do not know this earlier history, for it occurred a very long time ago. During the centuries after the town of Kirk was established by the first covenant, they violated the terms of their covenant. So the Creator brought judgment upon them for breach of contract. As a result, the Creator sold the people of Kirk to a foreign nation—as was His right—and they were resettled as aliens in a foreign land.” 112
“But after three generations,” he continued, “the Creator’s contract with that foreign nation expired, and the descendants of the destroyed town of Kirk were allowed to return and to rebuild their town and homes. At that time they renewed their covenant with the Creator and vowed obedience to His laws once again. It was their opinion that this renewal of the original covenant was the new covenant which had been prophesied by the prophets.”
“They were wrong!” shouted an old man from the audience. “The new covenant came many centuries later, and they even killed the messenger of the new covenant. For that reason they were driven from here!”
“That is true! Yes! Amen!” the crowd roared its approval.
“Are we then in agreement that the new covenant is not simply a renewal of the first covenant?” Joshua asked them.
The applause conveyed their answer as it resounded through the hall.
When the people were quiet once again, Joshua stated, “But you have done the same thing.” Stunned, the people looked at each other in shock and disbelief.
“What do you mean?” someone asked.
“You have prided yourself on being under a new covenant, but because you have not fully understood its terms, you have done that which you condemn the people of Kirk for doing.”
A muttering restlessness rippled through the crowd. It was obvious that they did not agree or even understand.
“If you go back to the original archives in our Historical Library and read how the first covenant was established, you will see that your forefathers vowed obedience.”
“Yes, I know that is correct,” said the old man loud enough for all to hear, “and now we have vowed to obey the new covenant. That is what pleases the Creator.”
“Then how do these two covenants differ?” Joshua asked. “In both cases you have vowed obedience, making the second covenant as dependent upon obedience as the first one was.”
“They are alike in that way,” the old man replied, “but the first covenant required them to observe the laws of the Creator. This requirement proved to be impossible, so a new covenant was established apart from the law. The standard of compliance was changed from obedience to faith alone. The mediator of the new covenant was able to keep every requirement of the law, so we do not have to do so ourselves. That is why we are no longer required to obey those laws.”
“Were those laws evil?” Joshua asked.
“Yes!” one shouted. “No,” shouted another. Still another called out, “Some were bad, and some were good. We observe those that could be salvaged and have cast out those that were evil.” It was apparent that many disagreed about the nature of those laws. If specific laws were held up as examples, such as laws forbidding theft or murder, the good people of the town would have agreed that they should follow those laws. Nonetheless, many wanted to retain the right to reject any law that seemed evil or disagreeable to them.
“Has any evil law come from a good Creator?” Joshua asked.
“Well, yes,” said the old man, who seemed to be the town historian. Though he did not want to attribute evil to the Creator, he was forced to admit that only evil laws ought to be rejected. Since some laws had been repealed by the Town Council, he had to support their decision to reject certain laws.
The old man hastily explained, “It was left to us—that is, our Town Council—to decide which laws were good and which were evil, since it is hardly possible for an ordered society to have no laws at all. Prominent citizens of Newkirk have arisen in our history who have decided for us what laws were good and which were not. These are our traditions.”
Joshua smiled. “Are you saying, then, that the Creator gave men—or certain men—the right to repeal any law that the Creator Himself had pronounced good in earlier times?”
“Yes, that is the way it is,” came the reply. I know, because I am a member of the Council. The Creator gave this duty to those among us who were wise. Certain revered men of Newkirk in past generations have determined which laws should remain and which are no longer relevant.”
“Really?” Joshua questioned. “Have you never read in the Archives that this manner of thinking is what caused the Creator to sell the people of Kirk into captivity? It is written, ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the traditions of men. They have invalidated My word for the sake of their traditions.’ 113 Do you not see this as a problem?” Joshua added.
“That is no problem,” the old man responded, “because these great men in our history act as advisors to the Creator. When they agree and come to a decision, the Creator changes His mind if necessary and conforms to their standard of right and wrong. That is a long-established practice, and it has worked out very well for us.” The mayor clapped his hands, and the audience applauded its approval.
“Long live the Town Council!” they all proclaimed.
“I believe that you should reconsider your view of the Creator,” Joshua told them. “If He needs help in understanding right from wrong, we might question His wisdom and even His goodness. If men are wiser than He, then should we not worship the Town Council? But I see that we will not be able to come to an agreement on this today. Let us move on to another topic. Has anyone read the terms of the new covenant in the archives?” Joshua asked.
“What do you mean?” the old man asked. “Of course we have read it. In fact, I always carry a copy of it with me wherever I go. Here it is.” He held up his copy for all to see.
“Very good,” Joshua responded. “Please read me the appropriate passage.”
The old man opened up the book and turned its pages to the place where the new covenant was mentioned in writing. Clearing his throat, he began to read: “Behold, days are coming, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Kirk, though not like the covenant which I made with their fathers after they had broken it. For this time I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No longer will anyone have to teach the law to his neighbor, because all will know Me.” 114
“Is this covenant different from the previous one?” Joshua asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“How does it differ?”
The old man responded readily, as if the answer had been well established and known since the town of Newkirk had been founded on its new charter. “The laws are different.”
“Is that what it says?” Joshua answered. “From what I heard as you read the passage, the same laws given in the first covenant were to be written on the hearts of the people through the new covenant. There is no mention of any different laws being instituted. Have you not read how the mediator of the first covenant twice gave the same law to the people? 115 The first tables of the law were broken, so he went up the mountain to receive the second set of laws, and these were said to be the same as the first.”
“We must again agree to disagree,” the old man said with some agitation.
But Joshua persisted, “Does your book not also tell you that the mediator of the new covenant said even the smallest portion of the law would not pass away until heaven and earth has passed away? 116 And what about the prophets of the new covenant, who confronted this issue afterward. One of them wrote, “Do we nullify the law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the law.” 117
“I must again disagree,” said the old man. “The Town Council decided long ago that these words are not to be interpreted as they appear on the surface. We ought not to interpret them in a way that contradicts our right to determine which laws are valid and which have been replaced by faith.”
“I see,” Joshua said. “I am told that faith comes by hearing the word of the Creator, 118 but apparently, you interpret this to mean that faith comes by hearing the decisions of the Town Council. I recall that this was an issue when the Creator instituted the first covenant. The people at that time did not want to hear the word of the Creator. They asked a representative to go up the mountain to hear His law and to return and tell them what the Creator had said. 119 After that, the prophets lamented this decision, sighing, ‘Today if only you would hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the past.’ 120 It appears that the problem afflicting the people of Kirk has also afflicted the people of Newkirk.”
“It seems,” Joshua concluded, “that we must leave this question unresolved for the moment and move on to other things.”
“Do you agree that the new covenant puts no requirement on the people to vow obedience, but that yet they are to be compliant with the Creator’s law?” Joshua asked.
“Yes, of course,” the old man replied. “They must have faith in the Creator and must also be obedient to the laws of the Town Council. That is the provision of the new covenant. If they do these two things, they may be citizens of Newkirk. The Creator delegated authority to the Town Council forever, and even if the Council were to disregard the will of the Creator—which, of course, could never happen—He would not annul their authority, for it was granted to them unconditionally by the new covenant.” 121
“That brings me to the main reason for this gathering,” Joshua responded. “The Creator has shown me that the first covenant was man’s vow to the Creator. The new covenant is the Creator’s vow and promise to man. The first covenant obligated men to be obedient in order to be citizens of Newkirk. But because men were not able to fulfill their vows, God made a vow of His own that obligated Himself to make all men righteous. This second covenant does not depend upon the will of men, but only upon Himself and His own power.” 122
“But that violates our free will,” the old man objected. “Surely He would not do such a thing.”
Joshua continued, “The first covenant was made by man’s free will, as you call it, and look where it got them. On the other hand, the new covenant was made by the Creator’s free will. I am here to proclaim that the Creator has free will, and that He can make any promise as He wishes. When He makes such promises, He obligates Himself to fulfill it to the letter. To fail in any way would make Him either a liar or a weak god that has good intentions.”
He paused to let this thought settle in their minds. Then he said, “If you read the familiar story of the original rainbow, you will see that the Creator made a promise to the whole earth and not once required anyone on earth to make a promise in return. Any promise that does not hinge upon a response is unconditional.”
Joshua continued, “It is written again 123 that the Creator told the mediator of the first covenant to gather all the people together to hear the Creator’s vow to establish them as His people and to be their God. Further, He told them that this vow was not only for them but for all who were not present as well. This vow was made about 40 years after the first covenant. The main difference was that men’s vows established the first covenant, while the Creator’s vow established the second.”
“Are you telling us,” the old man exploded, “that if men fail to attain perfection that it is God’s fault? Do you dare to shift the responsibility for man’s failures upon the Creator? That sounds like blasphemy to me!”
“Responsibility rests upon those who vow. When men vowed obedience, they obligated themselves to do something. When they failed, they came under the law, for the law held them responsible for breaking their vows. But when the Creator vowed, He took upon Himself the responsibility to perfect mankind, and the same law will hold the Creator accountable until He fulfills His promise. Man’s imperfection is not the issue. The only issue is whether the Creator is capable of perfecting mankind in spite of the fact that this seems to be impossible.”
“But it is impossible,” the old man insisted. “God simply cannot do this, for His holiness forces Him to cast away all of the disobedient ones, even though He loves them.”
“I am here to give you a message from the Creator that He will do this,” Joshua persisted. “Because He made a vow, His holiness demands that He must fulfill His vow. The reason He made this new covenant vow is so that we might know for sure what He intends to do. I am here to ask you to believe what He has promised and to have faith in Him. Have faith in His ability to do what He has said He will do. Do not place your faith in your own ability to keep your vows to Him. Place your faith in Him, not in yourselves.”
“That is not what the Town Council has determined,” the old man said with growing anger. “Citizenship in Newkirk is by one’s own vow of obedience and submission to the traditions of the Council. To say otherwise could get you into a lot of trouble,” he threatened darkly.
“Do you think that the new covenant is man’s new vow to the Creator?” Joshua asked him. “Are the two covenants both based on the vows of men?” Joshua continued, “It seems that Newkirk citizenship is based upon the first covenant disguised as the new covenant. Has Newkirk retained the first covenant, while only changing its label? You seem to believe that the new covenant is merely man’s new vow to the Creator.”
The old man proclaimed loudly for all to hear, “We require that men place their faith in the Creator and submit to His authorized Town Council and its laws established by long tradition. Submission to men proves a man’s faith in the Creator Himself. One cannot worship the Creator without submitting to the Town Council.”
“So in the end,” Joshua stated, “all citizens of Newkirk must swear allegiance to the Town Council and to obey its traditions in order to come under the new covenant. And if they do not comply, they may be punished, and in some cases their citizenship could be revoked. Is that correct?”
“Yes, absolutely,” the old man said firmly.
“This sounds like a renewal of the first covenant,” Joshua said. “It sounds nothing like the passage that you read to me earlier, where God vowed to make all men His people by writing His law within their hearts. By your way of thinking, the Creator ought to have vowed, saying, ‘I promise to try to convince people to have faith in Me and to obey Me,’ or perhaps He should have said, ‘I promise to make it possible for everyone to follow Me, if they so choose.’ But as you have read from your own book, this is not the nature of His promise. He vowed to persist until all have found that path and have placed their faith in Him.”
Joshua continued, “The point I am making is that the Creator Himself has vowed to write the law in the hearts of the people—not just a few of them, but all of the people. And if this does not happen, then He must take the blame for promising what He could not deliver.”
“That is absurd,” the old man insisted. “The Creator was not talking about all men, but all who believe. 124 It is clear that not all men believe during their life time. Once they die, that is the deadline. If they miss this deadline, then they are lost forever, for it is written, ‘it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.’ 125 Once they are judged, it is too late to repent.”
“The words you quoted,” Joshua replied, “speak of a sequence of events, telling us that the judgment occurs after men die. However, this says nothing about a deadline for repentance. It is written that every knee will bow, and every tongue will swear allegiance to the glory of the Creator. 126 Obviously, most men do not do this during their life time on earth. There is only one point in time where this can happen. They will do so when all the dead are summoned to the court, for that is when all truth finally will be revealed to them. Once they know the truth, which eluded them during their life on earth, they will bow to the Creator willingly.”
“Yes, but after they have bowed and sworn allegiance, then they will be cast aside and lost forever,” the old man insisted.
“Their allegiance to the Creator,” Joshua answered, “is the fulfillment of the new covenant, where He finally begins to achieve His goal. I do not doubt that such people will be judged, but I insist that the judgment, however long it may take in that future age, must be corrective in nature. The purpose of judgment is to compel all of the disobedient ones to repent and to learn the ways of the Creator. 127 No judgment can cause the Creator’s vow to fail. His judgments are designed to bring about His success, not His failure.”
“The book says that His judgments are eternal,” the old man stated with confidence. “If your view were correct, the judgments would bring all of mankind into unity with the Creator. Everyone knows that this cannot be. It is written in many places that judgment is never-ending.”
Joshua paused for a moment. “You are using a faulty translation of the word eternal. In the original language it was from a word pertaining to a hidden or unknown period of time. 128 Even the first covenant was said to be eternal, along with all animal sacrifices, but the Creator determined from the beginning that these would be temporary. How long the first covenant was to remain in effect was unknown to men in ages past, but an unknown time is not the same as never-ending time.”
He continued, “Consider, too, that there was an ancient order of priests, as you are well aware, that was given an eternal priesthood, as the translation goes. 129 But you know also that this priesthood lasted only about 300 years before his corrupt descendant was replaced by one of another family. 130 In that case, the eternal priesthood came to an end. So how can you say that the word you translate eternal is indeed never-ending? Was it not rather that the time of this priesthood was indefinite, for no one knew if or when it might end? No one knew if those priests would remain true to the Creator or if they would corrupt themselves. The time was hidden from men until the Creator brought it to an end.”
“I insist that eternal means eternal,” the old man insisted. “Otherwise, they would not have used the word eternal.”
“Then we must agree to disagree once again,” Joshua replied. He was not surprised at the old man’s answer, for he was a spokesman for the Town Council and had no power to deviate from its decisions that had been established long ago. For him to agree with Joshua would be to deny the Council and risk losing all status, reputation, and perhaps even his own life.
“To sum up my reason for being here,” Joshua said, drawing his speech to a conclusion, “the Creator wants all of you to place your faith in Him, that is, in His promise. Believe that He is able to make good on His word. Learn about His plan for Creation and believe that He will accomplish His purpose and goal that He has intended from the beginning. Do not think that He is limited by good intentions that are beyond His ability to perform. 131 Do not think that man’s will is stronger than the Creator’s will, or that the disobedience of men will prevent Him from making all men His people. Place your faith in the new covenant, and do not wait until all things are revealed at the great judgment.”
Joshua stepped from the podium, and the mayor stood up and announced, “Tomorrow we will hear from our next speaker who says that he has a revelation from the Creator to share with us. For now we have enough to ponder. We will hear more tomorrow at the same time.”
With that, the three of us left the building. A murmur rippled through the crowd as the people nervously discussed this new way of thinking.