Making Progress Backward

Hope in a time of uncertainty.

By L. A. SEMMENS, Dean of Theology, Washington Missionary College

Paul, the great apostle, through the prophetic eye sees God's people of all the ages "looking for that blessed hope, and the glo­rious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." Titus 2:13. This hope has been the sheet anchor to the chosen people of God throughout the ages. It is espe­cially given for the time of uncertainty in which we live, and it is a "blessed hope.

Peter in his first epistle speaks of the same hope. The terms used indicate that this hope has life in it. The text says, "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . hath begotten us again unto a lively hope." 1 Peter 1:3. This hope is a sure and everlasting founda­tion upon which we may build. It avers that there is no uncertainty, fear, or distress in it, but that it ties all God's children to the anchorage of the promises of God. Contrast this hope with the following editorial found in Zions Herald of July 2, 1941:

"Only one hope remains for America. Like the rest of the world, it must retrace its steps. When a man comes to a fork in the road and turns to the left when he should have turned to the right to reach his destination, and there are no crossroads, only one thing remains for him. He must plod his weary way back to the fork in the road and begin his jour­ney over again from that point. He must go back­ward first in order to go forward.

"For the last fifty years at least, we have treent obsessed with the idea of automatic progress. Even the World War did not noticeably shake this strange delusion. By the process of steady evolution, the world was to move toward a high goal. 'Day by day in every way' we were to grow 'better and bet­ter.' As a clock is wound up for a regular record­ing of the hours, so the world was wound up for a steady movement forward to complete achievement. No one could stop it. The glorious culmination just ahead was sure. We live in a dream world with a more or less definite pattern of things to come all neatly blueprinted before our overcredulous eyes.

"And now We have had a rude awakening. The beautiful plans are not working out. The sure de­terminism of progress has failed us. Our house of cards is tumbling down around our heads, and many erstwhile optimistic leaders are moping under juniper trees.

"We are at last once again face to face with God."

Is not this appalling note of pessimism struck at the so-called man-made "hope" and idea of "automatic progress'? "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." Ps. 53:1. This has been his satanic majesty's "New Deal" with the slogan, "No one can be sure of the end." The only conclusion the author is able to reach is that after experi­menting with all man-made antidotes, "we are at last once again face to face with God."

Progress, but progress in the right direction, is the main goal to be achieved. This can be accomplished only through right choice, as God has said, "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life." Dent. 3019. To many a life comes the question that Achish put to David, "Whither have ye made a road today?" I Sam. 27:10. The author of the foregoing quoted article suggests that we have gone over the wrong road, and will have to go back to the starting point again to get the right direction.

"We have traveled over a long road via the left fork. Now we must return, go back to the starting point, and begin all over again to walk the right road to our true destiny. Progress, genuine prog­ress, is still possible, but not until we have back­tracked the hard, rough way of our follies. When at last we become humble and teachable again, come really to believe in our hearts that there is a God of inscrutable wisdom and indescribable love in charge of the world, and are ready to seek His guidance and the realization of His will in every­thing, we can hope to move forward on the right path to a worth-while destination."

More specifically, the writer indicates that not alone does the world need to go back to the right paths, but the churches also need this message. The exhortation of the prophet is: "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." Jer. 6:16. The answer of the churches was, ."We • will not walk therein." Thus the resultant fiat : "Because My people hath forgotten Me, they have burned iftcense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up ; to make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing: everyone that passeth thereby shall be aston­ished, and wag his head. I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy ; I will show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity." Jer. 18:15-17. What a tragedy that the instruments for the salva­tion of men shOUld receive such an indictment from the God of heaven. Listen to the indictment brought by the same editorial against the churches:

"Not just this wicked world, but the churches with the form of godliness, need this message. They need to be called to go backward in order that they may go forward. Many of them have all but sold their birthright for a mess of pottage. They were never so well organized, never so efficiently business run as they are today. The mechanics of artistic worship have almost reached perfection in many churches in great cities, and even in numerous churches in rural sections. Preachers are polishing their sermons and garnishing them with telling il­lustrations. There are large collections taken, mostly 'for the local church,' although there are im­pressive contributions for missions and other philan­thropies. And yet, speaking broadly, there is some­thing missing. Where is the 'Thus saith the Lord' which used to make sinners tremble? Where is the coal on the altar? Perhaps the churches need above all things a new sense of the reality of God, a new sense of their vocation, new zeal, new determination, new concentration of purpose, a new conception of what the Eternal demands and requires of them as they seek to further His will in the Midst of time."

However, this form of godliness is one of the signs of the last days as recorded in 2 Timothy 3 :3. The scripture says that it mentions the church's "having a form of godliness, but de­nying the power thereof." We wonder whether the author has painted a true picture of some Seventh-day Adventist churches ! Many have almost sold their birthright for a mess of pot­tage—denying the principles of present truth. Have not many of our churches today, by the law of attrition, accumulated the rubbish of form and ceremony in substitution for real heart worship? Are we not substituting the mechanics of artistic worship for the real spirit of repentance? Is it not true that some of the ministry in this movement are endeav­oring to satisfy the heart longings of souls by the husks of anecdotes and stories, instead of allowing the power of the living Word, through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, to bring heavenly peace and the graces of Christ into the life? Polishing and garnishing have their place in sermon construction, but let this be accomplished by having the Bible be its own expositor, and making truth bright by appro­priately illustrating the thoughts that are pre­sented.

Let not the movement run ahead of its spirit, but keep its balance. Truly the offerings of the church have been in some instances more numerous than her prayers! Verily, do we not need in our midst, and in the midst of the Seventh-day Adventist ministry, a new empha­sis on "Thus saith the Lord." and less on "It is our policy"! Thus the presentation of the word will be with the power. conviction, and might of the living God. This is our great need.

Shall we not arise as one man, having caught the heavenly vision of our work and purpose, as Elisha did when he smote the waters and said, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither : and Elisha went over"? 2 Kings 2:14. Let us smite the waters of sin, and go over unto God and perform our work as ministers of Christ in such an hour as this. As if he has found the desideratum, the writer of the editorial gives the only plausible, logical, and sane answer to the challenge of the hour when he says:

"We must not stop, we must go forward ; but first, first, we shall have to go backward and then get a new and a right direction. This is the para­dox that we must all face—backward to go forward. It will take heroism of the highest type, patience, and much humility, if we are to retrace our steps in the interest of true progress. But 'we are able ; for are we not sons and daughters of the most high God, and is not Christ's name Immanuel, God with us?"

And to us, today, who believe the third angel's message, comes the clarion call which has echoed down the corridors of time through­out the ages: "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward." Ex. 14:15. Knowing the direction, let us heed the com­mand of God!


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By L. A. SEMMENS, Dean of Theology, Washington Missionary College

March 1942

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