To stress the appalling spiritual darkness that has descended on the mind of man is now commonplace. Since rationalism, humanism, and secularism have failed to substantiate their claims regarding a progressively better world, a shattering disillusionment has gripped the human heart. One of the most forceful postwar Christian authors in Britain, Dr. D. R. Davies, wrote recently in the Nineteenth Century: "The only possible alternative to Christian faith, if one is to be faithful to the facts of history, is despair—sheer, black, utter, final despair." As the world will never accept the alternative, the descent into despair is destined to continue.
If for no other reason, the Advent Movement today must arise in a ringing evangelism to combat the very blackness of the present situation. The church is always affected by world despair, but she dare not become infected by it. Always, when the church has felt the impact of world darkness, and even when she has become affected by it, God has countered by revival and spiritual resurrection. Sometimes this comes by the faithful remnant, sometimes it begins with the lone individual. Nehemiah and Ezra illustrate the former; Elijah, Luther, and Wycliffe, the latter.
In Ezekiel's day the condition of Israel sank to low levels. The desolation of the church is brought to view in Ezekiel 36:3: "They have made you desolate, and swallowed you up, . . . and ye are taken up in the lips of talkers, and are an infamy of the people." This desolation comes first from the relentless enmity of the world, and second from the church's surrender to worldly absorption. On the latter see comment in volume 5 of the Testimonies: "That which causes me to tremble, is the fact that those who have had the greatest light and privileges have become contaminated by the prevailing iniquity."—Page 209.
Desolation, whatever form it takes, leads to despondency : "Our bones are dried and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts." Eze. 37:11. Leaders in the Advent Movement are subject to, and must guard against, all forms of discouragement, despair, and despondency. See Prophets and Kings, pages 174, 175: "Despondency may shake the most heroic faith, and weaken the most steadfast will."
Always in the darkest hour relief and light are available to God's church on His conditions. His promise of revival through Ezekiel was, "I will open your graves,... bring you into the land, . . . and shall put My spirit in you and ye shall live." Eze. 37:12-14. The conditions of this promise are stated thus, using Fenton's translation : "I will increase them with men like a flock. Yet I must be requested by the house of Israel to do this. Then will I increase population for them like sheep." Eze. 36 :37, 38. Thus we have a promise of spiritual revival, of a great ingathering of souls, if the church requests God through prevailing prayer.
Nothing is so much needed in our movement today as revival power characterized by (1) a praying church around an open Bible arid (2) a Pentecostal ingathering of souls. In this alone lies God's answer to the lowering world gloom.
Our membership gains have been slowing down during recent years in many fields. Here, to illustrate, are two large unions each employing a total of between 800 and 900 workers, field and institutional. In one, for the past five years, the net annual membership gain per worker was 21; in the other it was 41. Even if we omit institutional workers from our reckoning—though every employee of this cause should surely be counted in this greatest work of soulsaving—the per capita gain in soul winning is not more than 1.2 in the one case and 1.4 in the other. There are other unions in our world statistical reports that can show no more than one soul per worker per annum, and some show even less. The North American Quarterly Statistical Report for the fourth quarter, 1946, shows that for 1945 the net gain in members per worker was 1.05 and for 1946 is was 5.47.
It is clear that if we approach any closer to a stationary membership ( I) there will come a limit to the institutions we can erect and maintain, such as colleges, academies, sanitariums, etc., necessary and helpful though these unquestionably are, and (2) there will come a peril point to many fields already heavily institutionalized. Nothing really progresses apart from soul winning in a movement such as this.
We are not destined to settle down and lose ourselves in an ocean of institutionalism. We are to remain a reformatory, evangelistic, militant movement calling God's people out of this world Babel into preparation for the kingdom.
Every penny invested in this cause, every atom of energy used in our work, should bear interest in the shape of souls for the everlasting kingdom. Our careers and our ambitions should be shaped to this end, even though we work in what we call business institutions. An Adventist who thinks he is just a businessman, an executive, or a technical worker, with little or no interest in the spiritual and soul-winning ideals of this cause, is really an anachronism. One of old would say, with clarion voice to him or her, "It is high time to awake out of sleep." He might even say it to some of us who are administrators or promoters, or preachers.
It is not without reason that the Spirit of prophecy so repeatedly insists that we should work as Jesus worked. Of Jesus on earth it was said: "Whatever He did was in reference to the salvation of man."—Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 418. Therein is the secret for a fruitful daily worksheet for us. From top to bottom, from East to West, this cause must be saving souls and adding to the population of God's Israel, or it is lost.
Every great soul-saving movement, every great reformer, has found God and the Holy Spirit through a great soul agony to understand more of the Word and to win men to God. Lonely Martin Luther sought increasing light constantly, and in doing so he freed men's minds from thinking in terms of the world's greatest institution—the papal church. Like all great soul winners, Luther was an inordinately busy man. So busy that, when asked his plans for tomorrow he said, "Work, work, from early until late. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." (Quoted in Purpose in Prayer, p. 21, by E. M. Bounds.)
His host on one occasion wrote to Melancthon that this was Luther's daily habit. On one occasion he passed the Reformer's room and beard his praying aloud. "Gracious God ! What spirit and what faith is there in his expressions! . . . My soul seemed on fire within me to hear the man address God so like a friend, yet with so much gravity and reverence."—Ibid., p. 37.
If this movement is to finish in greater than Pentecostal power (See The Great Controversy, pp. 611, 612), we must request the Lord in deep, prayerful earnestness for the great soul-saving revival which is the one hope and purpose for the church's existence in the darkness of today.