The Need of the Personal Christ

The certainties of the Christian reli­gion are historical facts, and all these historical facts revolve around the person of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah of God.


The ancient proverb, "Coming events cast their shadows before," expresses the Greek point of view with regard to historical events. It is the view which dominated in the Greco-Roman world of apostolic missionary endeavor. It means that the past lies in front of us and the future lies behind. It means that the fu­ture comes from behind and overtakes us, so that as events approach from the rear they cast their shadows before us. Thus things which have already transpired are in front of us, moving along in the same direction in which we are moving. And thus what we see and know certainly has already transpired, while the future we know only as a shadow, or as Paul says, adopting this current figure, "At present we only see the baffling reflections in a mirror." 1 Cor. 13:12 (Moffatt).

This mode of thought has a distinct advan­tage over the modern, secular viewpoint which says that the historical look is a backward look; that to turn to something which has al­ready taken place is to take a retroactive step. The ancient mode of thought, however, held that to look at what is past is to look at some­thing which lies in the direction in which we ourselves are moving.

This seems to me to be true in the basic as­pects of the Christian faith, for here we note that its ideal goal is a historic truth. The ideal which we are pursuing lies before us; but though it lies before us, it is something that was realized historically long ago, and that is Jesus Christ. He, as it were, overtook man as he was traveling along the path of life, and now is ahead of him, though twentieth century man is living many years this side of His historic existence. According to this view, in order to see the historic Jesus, we need not right-about face and look back, but should continue to look forward. So Jesus is ahead of us and we are pursuing Him, as it were. We are pressing after Him, as the apostle said, with "our eyes fixed upon Jesus." Heb. 12:2 (Moffatt). When the apostle Paul spoke about Jesus, he pre­sented Him first of all as the historic Jesus who was very real and tangible to his view. This, indeed, is the mode of thought of the early Gentile Christians, and its grasp will clarify and vitalize many expressions in the New Testament.

In truth, the certainties of the Christian reli­gion are historical facts, and all these historical facts revolve around the person of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah of God. Even the risen Lord always remained the crucified man, Jesus, and stayed before the eyes of the Christians in His historical form. When the apostle Paul looked at Jesus, he saw Him with the nail marks in His hands and feet. So he preached to the Galatians Jesus the crucified: "Did I not present Jesus before your eyes as vividly as if someone had put up before you a placard of Jesus on the cross?" Gal. 3:1 (the writer's translation).

Here we need to note a little technicality in Paul's language. He used a certain form of the Greek verb which we recognize as the perfect tense; but the perfect tense in the Greek re­fers to something that has occurred in the past, but is just as real in the present: that is, the historic past event is projected into the present. The cross, which had historically stood behind the Galatians, moved up and passed them and was now in front of them. With this presentation and vivid appeal of the Christ on the cross, Paul won them to the new life.

When these converts, and others like them, had come into the sphere of Jesus' inspiring personality, and had thus achieved an intimate and close relationship with him, then their hearts filled with the hope, yes, the consuming longing and persuasion that He would return again to them. The experience of conversion through contact with Jesus as a very real being comes first, and must always come first.

It is obvious that men become Christians through the appeal of the person of Jesus. That transforms them. Christians are not made by merely being won to the doctrine of the second coming of Christ. The belief in the second coming is as powerless to transform lives as the law is. The transformation must come first, and afterward the belief in the sec­ond advent. It is true that such as are Chris­tians already can be won to our denomination by the appeal of this doctrine. But on the other hand, those who are not Christians can become such only by the same way that pagans in the first century and heathen today become Christians. (See Acts 4:12.) And those among us who have lost the vital Christian experience need again the personal appeal of Jesus in order to be reclaimed. They need to be brought back to Christ, where they start all over again in the Christian life.

It seems, in fact, that the situation in which the apostles found themselves is virtually the same as confronts us today. Contrast our sit­uation for a moment with that which existed in the Christian thought of the last century, when our movement began. At that time there was no contrast between Modernism and Funda­mentalism. Members of the Christian bodies were pious Fundamentalists. They did lack, of course, the living faith in the second coming of Jesus, as well as the Sabbath and the sanc­tuary. But these points we were to supply, and thus we had our origin as a denomination. These special truths were at that time the great­est need. The same needs obtain today, but many more have arisen that did not then exist so far as the so-called Christian world was con­cerned. Since that time Modernism has crept into the Christian world and has made human­ists, i. e., refined pagans, out of untold num­bers of men and women who are nominal members of Christian churches or citizens of Christian nations.

So far as the reality of Jesus is concerned, they are not Christians at all. The young gen­eration, from middle age on down to the youth of today, is, in fact, going farther and farther away from the Christian religion. Frankly stated, paganism is growing apace among Chris­tians, and there are now countless people in our own land who know little more about Jesus than does the Hindu of India. The book, "The Man Nobody Knows," has been rightly titled, for there are millions of young and old who know nothing about Jesus as a reality, either as a historic or as a supernatural Being, and to find such we do not have to go far. These need the experience of coming to Jesus, for they can become Christians only on the basis of the plea of the personal God, Jesus Christ as Saviour, exactly in the same way that pagans were won by Paul and his associates.

The war, too, has had considerable effect upon the world. This is more visible in Eu­rope, where standards of morality have lapsed as a result. The same situation has been grow­ing over here. Then the depression came, and it is true that many are becoming religious un­der its pressure, but many more are becoming irreligious, and the many, many men who curse God when adversity comes and lose whatever religion they ever had, can be won only through the converting influence of the person of Jesus.

Countless numbers of people today are de­spairing, committing suicide. More people than we realize are going insane under the stress of these times. How can we save them? To look from the beginning of one year to the end of it is for them but a look into the dark unknown. And many people cannot bear the thought of living on even for a month or a week. For such there can be help only through the appeal of the person of Jesus Christ.

I appeal for the emphasis in our personal devotions and work of the ministry to be placed with renewed fervor on the person of our Sav­iour. Our biggest task is to make Jesus real in the lives of the generation of today.

We are facing the enemy on a bigger front as we face 1934 than our pioneers did some sev­enty years ago. We are forced to face problems and viewpoints and thoughts which they were not obliged to face. It is therefore not enough that we merely emphasize the characteristics which made us a peculiar people; we must em­phasize Jesus as the Saviour of the individual exactly as did the apostles in the first century. That is not allowing a coldness to creep in con­cerning our belief, for instance, in the advent. On the contrary, the closer we come to Christ, the more gripping will become the hope and belief in His imminent return. The more vital our personal experience in Christ, the better Adventists we should be. (See Col. 1:27.)

College Place, Wash.

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November 1933

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