Someday in the dim and misty future I shall find time, or take time, to do the research work necessary to master that subject which is surrounded by so many perplexities, and which I have long wanted to get at, or to read that book I have laid by for a more propitious occasion, or to finish my study of that long-neglected theme. Someday—I hope.
It may be that when sustentation catches up with me, and I am laid aside from active labor, I shall have plenty of time. But perhaps I shall not care to do these things then.
Just now—dear me, just now, I am overwhelmed with pressing duties, caught in a dizzy whirl of clamoring problems, assailed by ceaseless demands on my time and energies, until night finds me as limp as a rag, exhausted from the endless round of routine tasks which crowd every day to the limit, breathless from the trying race against time.
Study! How can I study in the midst of these pressing duties? How can I ever read the volumes of the Ministerial Reading Course? How can I find the time? How can I quiet the racing tempo of my hurrying thoughts ?
Meditation! Contemplation! Serenity! Study! Research! What wonderfully attractive words they are! What alluring visions they conjure! But how little I really know of what they mean.
Goals, campaigns, committees, board meetings, reports, praying with the sick, helping the young people, preparing for the midweek prayer meeting, making out the Sabbath program, hurriedly assembling quotations and shamefacedly calling the results a sermon, racing here to sweeten up Deacon Jones, racing there to mollify the Dorcas leader, soliciting church-school funds, hiring the teacher, persuading delinquent parents to co-operate, organizing drives, analyzing figures, comparing statistics, 'assembling an evangelistic company, publicizing the effort, preparing newspaper copy, holding workers' meetings, distributing literature, visiting the interested, instructing and baptizing converts, preaching every night, attending camp meeting, leading the church in Harvest Ingathering and Big Week, conducting the Week of Prayer, and doing the multiplied lesser things which go with it all.
What time is there left for study? What mental energy is there left for self-improvement?
Adventist workers are not lazy. They are among the busiest people on earth. There is literally no end to their daily round of employments. Perhaps the thing they deplore most is their lack of time and opportunity for real study. But this study problem must be solved if we are to be workers after God's own pattern. We must have and maintain a study life which will serve to keep us full, fresh, and prepared for the solemn responsibilities which are ours. We cannot forever keep pouring out without taking in, or we will eventually become as dry as the proverbial hills of Gilboa.
Conditions in the world demand that the ministers of God's final message shall think straight, have right ideas and high ideals, and know the truth without peradventure. This cannot be accomplished without persistent study and thorough research.
All the arts and devices of the greatest propaganda agencies known to history are today at the disposal of the enemies of God and decency, and in their employment. The eye and the ear are everywhere and all the time assailed by appeals to loose living, crooked thinking, false ideologies, and degrading ideals. Every color of the rainbow and every trick of artistry are utilized to make alluring the pagan way of life. Every sophistry invented by man and every deception known to the devil are employed today to make wrong appear right, and to turn black into white.
Alcoholism and atheism are taught, of all things, in the name of "science." Whisky and tobacco are ballyhooed alluringly as "science's" recommendation for "steady nerves" and "clear heads." Nudity and revolting paganism are recommended in the name of health and hygiene. Divorce and trial marriage are urged as "wholesome roads to happiness." Class hatred is impressively cultivated in the name of democracy. Economic foundations are undermined and demolished in the name of security. Animalism is taught as a "new religion." Communism is camouflaged as something that will "help the underprivileged." Greed is encouraged under the pretense of the "more abundant life."
Today every sound idea, every wholesome conviction, every pure thought, every lofty ideal, every truth of God, every noble aspiration, and all the intellectual and spiritual inheritance from our Christian progenitors are under attack. Decency, truth, and righteousness are being assailed on every hand. And it is given to us to stand on the ramparts in their defense. Are we measuring up to the stupendous task committed to us? How can we possibly do so without constant study and faithful research?
Being ministers of God, we must never forget that our chief and never-ending study is to be the word of God. However well-selected and perseveringly maintained may be our habits of general study, these will give no illumination or spiritual understanding of eternal truth if they are made independent of the study of the Sacred Volume. The study of any and all other books and subjects cannot have the status of equality with Bible study, but must be made subservient and contributory to the specific purpose of a more enlightened and fruitful study of the Scriptures.
Indeed, in this matter of making God's word first in all our pursuit of knowledge and improvement, we shall need to be always on guard. There is danger constantly that the fascination of literary and even theological study may deaden the freshness and keep appreciation of our minds to the more spiritual• study of God's word.
We need to be careful, too, that all our studies draw us to the Bible, and that we draw all our studies to the Bible. It is worse than unprofitable merely to draw the Bible to our studies. As a preservative against the taint and deterioration with which the mind is bound to be affected from studying merely human authors, we need a thorough acquaintance and familiarity with the pure word of God.
Do you know all you need to know about the sanctuary question? Are you entirely clear about the subject of inspiration ? Does your present knowledge of the prophecies of the book of Revelation quite satisfy you? Or have you been promising yourself that someday you will find ti.i.e to study these deeply interesting and important subjects ?
We shall read other books, naturally, and there should be no hesitation about such a course, but we shall read them that we may be better able to understand the Scriptures. If that is not our purpose, then they would be better let alone. It is preferable to have eyes for the Scriptures alone, and to be blind to everything else, rather than to read everything else and neglect the Bible. Men get wisdom from books, but it is human wisdom. Wisdom toward God is to be obtained from God's book. And it cannot be acquired except by digging.
There is no other way than by diligent and faithful perseverance by which we can become the kind of preachers we should be, and which it is God's intention that we should be. We need' to redeem the time to the utmost. To be diligent in this matter of high import means two things we should never be unemployed, and we should never be employed triflingly. Every precious hour and minute is to be brought up if we are to be such ministers as God would have us be, and if we are to finish our course with joy.
Thousands of lesser men, with lesser employments, may indulge themselves in idleness and sloth. We cannot. While others are slumbering, we must be pushing rapidly and strongly the great work of our lives. No minister who is to be a good preacher will dare sacrifice hours and days of precious time for the sake of some graceless self-indulgence. In the time he saves by diligent watchfulness and arrano-bemein, he may make an impression upon the world that will affect the last ages of time, and gather to his Lord and himself glory that will never fade away.
Faithfulness in study—how that is needed in these busy days ! Whether our opportunities for study be many or few, and whether the amount of our studying be great or small, let it be done faithfully. We must never content ourselves with half-formed notions. We must scorn to be superficial. For the half day or the half-hour that we have, we must give ourselves wholly to our work. In this department of study, our integrity, conscientiousness, and uprightness of character are to be as active as they are in any other department of our ministerial labors.
And we should settle it now that there is never to be any cessation in such a.program. When can a successful minister of the last message of mercy finish and lay aside his important studies? When is the Holy Bible, in language and style, in poetry and song, in vision and prophecy, in parable and simple description, in narrative and epistle, in argumentation and exhortation, in ethics and theology—when is it all comprehended and understood? When is it to be laid aside as a completed study?
When is all Christian doctrine surveyed, all its true arrangement decided, when are all its relations seen, all its applications perceived, all its arguments marshaled and weighed, all its objections met, all its sublimity and glory appreciated, when is all its wondrous power realized?
When is all preaching perfected? When are all Christian and gospel themes spread forth in transcendent beauty and power, all elements of holy eloquence appropriated and woven immovably into the texture of the preacher's very being, all soul-subduing efficiency and force guaranteed for every presentation from the pulpit?
Such considerations as these press in upon our consciousness the conviction that all of us, no matter how long we have been in the way, are but children. Our accomplishments lie ahead of us. So far as progress is concerned, there is immensely more ground for us to traverse than we have already passed. What better provision is there than the united-study program of the denomination for its workers?
The minister of the closing message will therefore look upon himself as a student now, and a student always. He will not be satisfied with his attainments. He will not be contented to put together a few quotations from good books, or string together a few clippings, and call it a sermon. He will be ever reaching forward to the things that are before him. He will never esteem himself to have become sufficiently learned in the things of God, or sufficiently competent without further study, to deliver the gospel message perfectly.