The command to the ancient prophet was to "write the vision, and make it plain upon tables." Habakkuk lived and wrote in a time of great international crisis. He witnessed the sunset of Assyrian despotism, and lived through the period of struggle for world supremacy between Egypt and Babylon. His heart was wrung as he saw the flower of young Jewish manhood carried into exile by Nebuchadnezzar. What could it all mean? His mind was perplexed. That such a thing could even be permitted seemed unbelievable. He was God's man but could not understand God's purpose.
All seemed confusion, The righteous were being destroyed by a "bitter and hasty nation" while the conquerors, paying homage to weapons of war, attributed their victory to the power of pagan gods. But out of that Habakkuk forged a new philosophy of life. Before his astonished gaze, was made plain the working of the Almighty amid the confusion of nations. And that was the message he was told to write. "Make it plain upon tables," was the command. Hab. 2:2.
This prophecy was for his own day, but it has also a wonderful message for our time. In these days of confusion and international chaos, men need a message of reassurance. Human hearts crave a knowledge of God's purpose. Millions are longing for light. To bring them the truth, God has raised up the advent messengers. And, like the prophet of old, we must make the vision plain —so plain that amid the haste and hurry of this age of speed men can read its meaning. What a challenge ! How can we do it?
"With intense interest God is looking on this world. . . . He has counted His workers, both men and women, and has prepared the way before them. . . . Through their efforts the truth will appeal to thousands in a most forcible manner. . . . Truth will be made so prominent that he who runs may read. Ways will be devised to reach hearts."—Tesitmonies, vol. 7, p. 25.
These surely are encouraging words. Truth will be made prominent. Ways will be devised to make the message appeal to thousands. But following these promises is some interesting admonition calculated to prepare us for future developments in the proclamation of the message. "Some of the methods used in this work will be different from the methods used in the past, but let no one, because of this, block the way by criticism."—Ibid.
Discovering ways to illustrate truth is a sacred responsibility. The world never needed the light of truth more than it does today. Darkness surely covers the earth and gross darkness the people. But in this very hour the Almighty has purposed to lighten the whole world with the glory of His truth. To accomplish this He has called this advent movement into being, while He challenges 'us to find ways of making the message meaningful to the millions. Here is His counsel to us : "Let the workers for God manifest tact and talent, and originate devices by which to communicate light to those who are near and to those who are afar off." —Review and Herald, March 24, 1896.
Some years ago one of our evangelists concentrated on ways of making more realistic the prophetic messages of Daniel and the Revelation. The significant statement just quoted is but one of many such statements appearing in articles and letters about that time. Writing directly to him, the messenger of the Lord said:
"You have given much study to the matter of how to make the truth interesting, and the charts you have made are in perfect accord with the work to be carried forward. These charts are object lessons to the people. You have put intensity of thought into the work of getting out these striking illustrations. And they have a marked effect as they are presented to the people in vindication of truth. The Lord uses them to impress minds. Instruction has been given me clearly and distinctly that charts shouldbe used in the presentation of truth. And these illustrations should be made still more impressive by words, showing the importance of obedience."—E. G. WHITE Letter 51, 1902.*
Commenting on the work of another evangelist, W. W. Simpson (died, 1907), whose methods in illustrating the truths he was presenting were unique and effective, the messenger of the Lord wrote:
"He speaks with the simplicity of a child. Never does he bring any slur into his discourses. He preaches directly from the Word, letting the Word speak to all classes."—E. G. WHITE Letter 326, 1906.
"By means of ingeniously contrived charts and symbolic representations, he holds the attention of the people, while he endeavors to preach the Word. Through this effort hundreds will be led to a better understanding of the Bible than they have ever had before."—Review and Herald, Nov. 29, 1906.
What were these "ingeniously contrived charts"? They were lifelike representations made from papier-mâché, somewhat cumbersome, but wonderfully effective. The clarity they gave to the prophecies put power into the evangelist's appeal. Through this means thousands were warned and hundreds won to the truth.
Since those days, methods of illustration have developed greatly. The cutout symbol painted on plywood is not only more convenient but, with proper lighting effects, even more impressive. The language of pictures is universal, and that is why God uses symbolic representations. Poorly presented, these prophecies repel, but properly presented they mightily appeal. That is why we are admonished to study ways of making these messages clear. Then, too, we must recognize that the generation we serve today has been taught to expect more. Their tastes have been developed. The radio has accustomed people to hearing good speech. This fact alone demands that our public presentations be on the highest possible level.
Men are better educated than a generation ago. Not only is this true in secondary and college education, but also in the field of general knowledge. The radio and the moving picture have played their part in bringing about this change. Years ago God sent this counsel to us:
"In the cities of today, where there is so much to attract and please, the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts. Ministers of God's appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of the multitudes. And when they succeed in bringing together, a large number of people, they must bear messages of a character so out of the usual order, that the people will be aroused and warned. They must make use of every means that can possibly be devised for causing the truth to stand out clearly and distinctly."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 109.
If that were true forty years ago, it is more true today, for the attraction of the city is brought to every rural town, while the news of the world is heard in every hamlet. How necessary, then, for us to improve our technique! By the aid of proper equipment, and under the guidance and enduement of the Holy Spirit, the evangelist can make these great symbolic prophecies live. Right from the beginning of our work, charts have been used with excellent results. And during more recent years our evangelists have used slides with great effect. But there is a weakness inherent in this method, apparent to all, if it is used exclusively, and that is this—after the picture of the prophetic symbol is shown, it of necessity must disappear to make way for another slide. After that the sequence and the description of the symbols are largely a matter of memory. But with a combination of methods, the prophecies can be made more impressive and more appealing.
For instance, if Daniel 7 is under consideration, and the meetings are being held in a hall that has a stage, a sea scene can be erected on the stage, and as the prophecy unfolds, the symbols can appear. Instead of being lost to view, as is the case with slides, these symbols remain to enforce the truth upon the mind. It is comparatively easy to erect a screen at the side of the stage and set it at an angle. This permits slides to be shown during the presentation. With the pulpit placed to one side of the stage, the audience has a completely uninterrupted view of the whole scene. Attention is held, and interest is developed as each phase of the prophecy is introduced by the appearance of another symbol.
Sound principles of pedagogy require that only those features under discussion should be brought before the audience. In another letter commenting on the method of the evangelist already referred to, these words appear :
"He has large lifelike representations of the beasts and symbols in Daniel and the Revelation, and these are brought forward at the proper time to illustrate his remarks. Not one careless or unnecessary word escapes his lips. He speaks forcibly and solemnly. Many of his hearers have never before heard discourses of so solemn a nature. They manifest no spirit of levity, but a solemn awe seems to rest upon them."—E. G. WHITE Letter 350, 1906.
Notice that the "lifelike representations" were "brought forward at the proper time to illustrate his remarks." Not everything was in view at the beginning.
The message can be made doubly impressive if slides are used together with the symbols. "One picture is worth a thousand words," according to a Chinese proverb. And it certainly saves many words and much time to use a few pictures. The brilliant lighting of the stage will not seriously affect the screen, if it is erected at the side and actually a little in front of the stage.
Most halls lend themselves to this arrangement.
The projector, of course, must be placed in relative position to.the screen. Two or perhaps three slides, covering some interesting point, will suffice to make more vivid the place each succeeding empire occupies in history. How much easier it is to impress the power of pagan Rome when we can show a picture of the Colosseum, or a Roman galley, or even better still, the crucifixion scene!
Proper equipment, thorough organization, and dignified presentation will go far in helping people to understand the message. Equipment is sometimes costly, although it need not be. Furthermore, we must not allow it to become a great expense. However, any equipment should be thoroughly representative, and by no means should our work tend to become theatrical. Ours is a soul-saving work and must not be entertainment.
"By the use of charts, symbols, and representations of various kinds, the minister can make the truth stand out clearly and distinctly. This is a help, and in harmony with the Word of God; but when the worker makes his labors so expensive that others are unable to secure from the treasury sufficient means to support them in the field, he is not working in harmony with God's plan. The work in the large cities is to be done after Christ's order, not after the order of a theatrical performance. It is not a theatrical performance that glorifies God, but the presentation of the truth in the love of Christ."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 142.
Charts and representations are "in harmony with the Word of God," but the work must "be done after Christ's order." And this calls for study, consecration, and much prayer.
* All statements from E. G. White letters and manuscripts used in this article are drawn from the manuscripts of the new volume entitled Evangelism.