The theme for study on this special occasion is chosen from 1 Chronicles 12:32, which reads: "Of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; the heads of them were two hundred; and all their brethren were at their commandment."
The men of Issachar were only two hundred in number, the fewest of all the tribes sent to make David king over Israel; yet they were more serviceable to him than those of greater numbers. They distinguished themselves from the others in various respects, ranking above any of their neighbors. They were men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do. These men occupied a position in Israel very similar to that which we are asked to fill in the Lord's work now. Happy indeed is the lot of a people whose leaders are intelligent and judicious.
Seventh-day Adventists to Know the Times
The words of Paul, "Of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you" (r Thess. 3:i), may well be addressed to Seventh-day Adventists. They, of all religious teachers, are expected to know the times. Indeed, the world of today has the right to expect Seventh-day Adventists to be the most intelligent people on the meaning of the times. The light of prophecy which the Lord has shed upon this people makes them the ones who must ultimately step forward from the increasing bewilderment of the times, and point out the only way of life to a doomed -humanity. That others regard us in that role was borne out very forcibly a number of years ago by H. L. Mencken, a keen-minded scoffer and non-Christian:
"The Seventh-day Adventist brethren alone among the divines of the country have something to say officially about the depression, and what they have to say is clear and simple. They laugh at all the current diagnoses as so much hooey, and reject every projected cure as vain and preposterous. It is not Hoover who must be blamed, they say, nor is it the tariff war now going on everywhere in the world, nor is it the French or the Japanese. . . . It is simply the fact that the world is coming to an end."
Then, after quoting a number of scriptures that bear directly on the signs of the times, Mr. Mencken continues:
"I refrain from further quotation. The texts are too depressing to be set forth at length. If you thirst for misery, then apply at the nearest Seventh-day Adventist basilica, and the pastor will supply you with a complete Itst, neatly printed."
This is what Mr. Mencken doubtless has done, for he admits: -Having read it [the argument], I hasten to add that it is excessively persuasive—in truth, completely unanswerable."—The American Mercury, April, 1932.
Yes, the eyes of the world are fixed upon Seventh-day Adventists for understanding of the times. If it was true in 1932, how much more should it be so now!
That the times are becoming increasingly more bewildering is obvious to the most casual observer. We have long anticipated the events now happening; yet there is danger that we will become accustomed to the repeated shocks, and fail to recognize the true significance of these times. It therefore behooves us to take special notice of certain messages received in times past, which point to our day. At the turn of the century, the Lord's messenger predicted:
"Soon God will show He is the living God. He will say to the angels, 'No longer combat Satan in his efforts to destroy. Let him work out his malignity upon the children of disobedience; for the cup of their iniquity is full...This time is right upon us. The Spirit of God is being withdrawn from the earth. When the angel of mercy folds her wings and departs, Satan will do the evil deeds he has long wished to do. Storm and tempest, war and bloodshed,—in these things he delights, and thus he gathers in his harvest."—Review and Herald, Sept. 17, 1901.
These are times of judgment. Even conservative religious thinkers acknowledge this. In a recent speech the Archbishop of Canterbury described the condition of the world in the following unusual language:
"Truly the deepest cause of the present ills of the world is that our so-called civilization seems to have lost, or to be losing, that spiritual basis [of life]... Here you must let me strike a deeper, a more solemn, note. I am sure it is the note which would be sounded by the prophets in the Bible if they could speak to us now. It is the note of judgment. In the present condition of this disordered world, we are beholding a judgment day. Hear the words in which the greatest of the prophets—our Lord Himself—described its signs. 'Upon the earth distress of nations ; . . men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.' Is this not a picture of what men are seeing and feeling now? It is our once-vaunted civilization that is being judged."—Your Faith, July, 1939.
The present happenings in the world only too accurately demonstrate the truthfulness of these statements. The angel of mercy is certainly taking her flight, soaring ever higher above and beyond the cruelties and inhumanities of this generation. The savagery unleashed by highly civilized man upon his fellow beings, the desolations of the world, and the indescribable miseries, benumb the imagination. We have come to the time when the hearts of the faithful cannot help but respond compassionately as they behold what destruction is wrought on every hand.
"Their hearts are moved to compassion as they see the widespread destitution in our world,—the destitution of the multitudes who are suffering for food and clothing, and the moral destitution of thousands who are under the shadow of a terrible doom, in comparison to which physical suffering fades into nothingness."—Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Nov. 24, 1904.
Such are some of the aspects of our times, and present prospects point only to an increase of trouble. This is in harmony with prophetic messages sent to us as a people nearly forty years ago. What was foreseen then has now come upon the world. Again we read in the Review and Herald:
"Soon grievous troubles will arise among the nations,—trouble that will not cease until Jesus comes. . The judgments of God are in the land.
The wars and rumors of wars, the destruction by fire and flood, say clearly that the time of trouble, which is to increase until the end, is very near at hand."—Ibid.
This is a period of great suffering. Want, destitution, moral bankruptcy, anger, collapse of institutions and kingdoms, godlessness, and various omens of destruction characterize these days. But what do these things mean ? "The wicked shall do wickedly : and none of the wicked shall understand," said the ancient prophet; and then he hastened to encourage the people of God who would be living at the time designated, by adding, "but the wise shall understand." Dan. 12:10.
Understanding Required of God's Workmen
The pressing need is an understanding of the times. There is a vast difference between knowing and understanding. One may know much and yet understand very little. We may be posted on all events occurring about us, and still not understand their true significance. For us, as Seventh-day Adventists, and leaders in particular, knowledge of the times must be followed by true understanding. This is required of God's workmen today—understanding of ourselves, of the message and its presentation, of the church and her needs, of world affairs, and of the many changes brought about by science, war, philosophy, religious movements, and other fields of activity.
The Lord has committed a specific task to us. He does not require that we solve all the problems of the nations, although we often seem to think that He does. He does require, however, that we understand what Israel ought to do. He wants us to be masters in His business, just as leaders of the world are masters in theirs. If we would seek to know and understand our work as men of the world do theirs, God's kingdom would soon come. The messenger of the Lord said long ago:
"When the reproach of indolence and slothfulness shall have been wiped away from the church; the Spirit of the Lord will be graciously manifested. Divine power will be revealed. The church will see the providential working of the Lord of hosts. The light of truth will shine forth in clear, strong rays, and, as in the time of the apostles, many souls will turn from error to truth. The earth will be lightened with the glory of the Lord."—Ibid.
Steps Toward Understanding
First of all, we need to be tremendously stirred. "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light," said Paul. We are living in times of rude awakenings. Whole nations and empires are aroused from long, composed slumber. There is need of an awakening among us as a people—morally, spiritually, intellectually. There is need of quickening of mental faculties that are now withering away because of inactivity and love of ease. There is danger that we bury ourselves in long, labored arguments for which the world has no time. What is needed now is fire, vitalization, enterprise, judicious aggressiveness for God.
Then we also need good judgment. In times when revolutionary movements engulf the world, when wars are furiously prosecuted, when nations are collapsing, there is great danger of speculation. The temptation to apply prophecy and certain other scriptures to events that are still enshrouded with the dust they have thrown into the air, must be guarded against with all vigilance. National or racial animosities easily blind the mind, and must be restricted to their proper places. It is positively impossible to get the true understanding of events until sufficient time has elapsed for clarification of vision. Of all people upon earth, Seventh-day Adventists should keep both feet solidly upon truth, avoiding snap judgments and biased opinions.
And let us remember that understanding is acquired by diligent, patient search for truth. As in the days of Christ and the primitive Christian church, truth is becoming more and more obscured beneath the rubbish of so-called learning. The habit of trusting in "recognized authorities" tends to sap the very life from our mental and spiritual faculties. Great mountains of chaff are sometimes combed through in order to discover one grain of wheat ! This is generally done at the expense of original, direct study of the source of all truth—the word of God. Intellectual authorities have their place in well-balanced study, but never should their productions be substituted for a simple "Thus saith the Lord."
We need to learn that man's wisdom is foolishness. Authorities on world affairs, revolutionary movements, and many other fields of study, have suddenly discovered that they do not know what they thought they knew. When we have recourse to the wisdom that comes from above and is pure, then may we become men who have understanding of the times, and know what Israel ought to do.
______ To be concluded in October