In the Face of Great Obstacles

Devotional sermon, Autumn Council, Grand Rap­ids, Michigan, November, 1947.

By T. E. UNRUH, President of the East Pennsylvania Conference

A spiritual leaders of this denomina­tion we are confronted with three ines­capable facts. I wish to state them briefly:

1. The finishing of God's work in all the world is our divine assignment. There is no es­caping it. Multiplied resolutions cannot in­crease the certainty of this assignment, nor can disregard or complacence give us any release.
 
2. The task given us by God might already have been done except for the failure of God's people. We are here at this Autumn Council because of our failure, not our success, no mat­' ter how laudable our labors and our accom­plishments. I know that it is unethical to talk of failure ; it is psychologically unsound. I rec­ognize, too, that a great deal of satisfaction can be derived from the continued acceptance of commendations for our good works. But God says we have failed. Please note the following from Mrs. E. G. White:

"If those who claimed to have a living experience in the things of God had done their appointed work as the Lord ordained, the whole world would have been warned ere this, and the Lord Jesus would have come in power and great glory."—Review and Herald, Oct. 6, 1896.

"I know that if the people of God had preserved a living connection with Him, if they had obeyed His word, they would to-day be in the heavenly Canaan." —General Conference Bulletin, March 30, 1903.

"If every watchman on the walls of Zion had given the trumpet a certain sound, the world might ere this have heard the message of warning. But the work is years behind. While men have slept, Satan has stolen a march upon us."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 29. (Simi­lar familiar statements may be found in The Desire of Ages, pp. 633, 634; Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 45o; vol. 9, p. 29.)

"The work which the church has failed to do in a time of peace and prosperity, she will have to do in a terrible crisis, under the most dis­couraging, forbidding circumstances, . . . under the fiercest opposition."—Volume 5, p. 463.

There is no escaping these three facts. The task given us by God must be done. It might have been done ere this, but we have failed. If we are personally going through with this movement, we must now do in a terrible crisis and under most forbidding circumstances what we have failed to do in times of peace and pros­perity.

Familiarity Takes Off the Keen Edge

All three of these observations sound trite. They have a distinctly familiar sound. We have heard them uttered again and again in workers' councils. I have heard them for thirty years. All of us have undoubtedly woven them into our sermons as we have sought to impress our people with what they ought to be and what they ought to do. Any thoughtful observer, however, cannot but conclude that these three startling facts seem to have lost some of their former effectiveness. They fail to move us as they once did. We toy with them now with some measure of comfort and disinclination. We handle them almost carelessly in our reso­lutions—surely not with the deep concern that characterizes men of the world who must make some immediate disposition of the atomic bomb. And yet, these three facts possess a moral and spiritual explosiveness that measures well with the physical destructiveness of that deadly in­vention.

This much is a dead certainty—the secret of success for us as workers for God lies in RE­MEMBERING our divine assignment and the circumstances under which that task must be completed. Failure to do so will be most unfor­tunate; the results will be tragic. We regret to say it, but at times there are evidences of for­getting. This is clearly discernible in certain trends we find in our work. These trends, un­less the root-cause is destroyed, will eventually form a pattern for our work. We cannot here deal with these disturbing trends in detail. That is not the intent of this devotional study. How­ever, a listing of a number of the more evident ones should alert us to the dangers that con­front the movement.

1. The disposition to hold what we already have and to be satisfied with it. Brooding over churches and conferences that are static. Think of the scores of churches that have had no in­crease in membership in years!

2. The absence of venturesomeness, waiting for the return of normal times, when we know that a state of normalcy, as we have known it in the past, can never return.

3. The tendency to be "choosy" about our places of labor ; seeking the best places and avoiding those spots that call for thg endurance of hardship and sacrifice. This is particularly true of younger workers who have known noth­ing of the toil that has gone into the molding of this movement, but unfortunately the ten­dency is the temptation of us all.

4. The declining foreign mission spirit in our youth. I am heartened by the report of its recapture at the recent National Youth Con­gress.

5. The Peter attitude: Well, we have left our all and followed you. Now what are we to get?" Matt. 19:27, Moffatt.

6. Divided interest and loyalty, forgetting Paul's determination: "This one thing I do." This manifests itself in workers in the cause who buy and sell and operate side lines for gain.

7. The questionings and the waning confi­dence in leadership on the part of some of our people.

All these trends are the results of forgetting. And we have been told that we have nothing to fear except as we shall forget. All these can be avoided only by constantly remembering our divine mission and assignment.

In thinking about the task God has given us to do, two passages of Scripture merit our at­tention. The one sets forth God's eternal plan and purpose; the other summarizes Jehovah's message to leadership in every time of crisis. "For He will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness : because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth." Rom. 9:28. "And the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto Me? speak unto the children of Is­rael, that they go forward." Ex. 14:15.

The Nature of Our Movement

The great Advent Movement is strikingly unlike any other divinely inspired movement the world has ever seen. The difference is to be found not only in the field of doctrinal teach­ing but also in its objectives. I am inclined to believe that the greatest dissimilarities are not to found in the articles of faith, although I would not want to be too dogmatic about that. As touching the great body of Christian fundamentals, even now we are in substantial agree­ment with other fundamentalist Christian bodies. We hold in common an implicit faith in the existence of Deity, in revelation and in­spiration. We hold in common a belief in the reality of sin and the need of a Saviour, the incarnation of the divine Son, the blood atone­ment through the substitutionary death of our Lord, Christ's resurrection and subsequent priestly ministry, the indwelling Saviour through the Holy Spirit, the possibility of com­munion through prayer, the return of Christ, eternal rewards and punishments, obedience to law (with a difference in regard to the day of the Sabbath). All these undergird the faith of all Christian believers who have barricaded their souls against the destructive influences of modernism.

The inherent nature of man is one major doctrine where we find ourselves in serious conflict with other fundamentalist Christians, but most other differences are in the realm of spiritual obligation and practice. Many well-in­formed Christians are willing to admit that the seventh day is the Sabbath, but in practice they do not take it seriously. To be sure, there are many peculiar teachings that characterize the Advent Movement, but other Christian bodies do not cling to well-defined teachings that are antagonistic to these. For instance, with us the investigative judgment is a bulwark of faith. Our Christian friends in other churches simply do not know anything about it. Take the prac­tice of tithing. How many other churches wish their people could be induced to the practice ! We make much of our understanding of the prophecies, while most other fundamentalist Christians lay no claim to an understanding of the prophetic books.

Recognizing the common ground between us and other Christians, the messenger of the Lord has made crystal clear our duty when first en­tering new territory. We summarize the in­struction thus : (a) Seek out and become ac­quainted with the pastors of other churches. (Much has been lost by neglecting to do this.) (b) Put the emphasis, in our preaching, on the truths of the Bible that are dear to the hearts of all Christians. (c) Avoid the "sheep steal­ing" impressions. It might he helpful if we re­viewed the instruction found - in Evangelism, page 143:

"It should ever be manifest that we are reformers, but not bigots. When our laborers enter a new field, they should seek to become acquainted with the pas­tors of the several churches in the place. Much has been lost by neglecting to do this. If our ministers show themselves friendly and sociable, and do not act as if they were ashamed of the message they bear, it will have an excellent effect, and may give these pas­tors and their congregations favorable impressions of the truth. At any rate, it is right to give them a chance to be kind and favorable if they will.

"Our laborers should be very careful not to give the impression that they are wolves stealing in to get the sheep, but should let the ministers understand their true position and the object of their mission—to call the attention of the people to the truths of God's Word. There are many of these which are dear to all Chris­tians. Here is common ground, upon which we can meet people of other denominations ; and in becoming acquainted with them we should dwell mostly upon topics in which all feel an interest, and which will not lead directly and pointedly to the subjects of disagree­ment."

Our failure to heed this divine counsel has given us a world reputation for disbelief in Christ as the only Saviour—a reputation that we will find difficult to overcome if we pursue our present methods of public work. Our suc­cess in reaching the masses with the everlasting gospel may well turn to this point. I raise a rather serious question: Is there not grave dan­ger that we shall, in our eagerness to get be­fore the world the startling truths of Christ's return, the binding claims of the law, and the coming judgments, confront the public in our preaching with messages that accentuate our differences only, and fail to recognize that these truths can be freely acknowledged and accepted by men and women without experiencing a corresponding transformation in their lives ? Is not this the source of our weakness, the root-cause of church problems, the explanation for the increasing evidences of worldly conform­ity? To be convinced is one thing; to be con­verted is quite another.

There is only one source of salvation from sin. It is to be found in the mighty acts of God as evidenced in the incarnation, the crucifix­ion, the resurrection, and the priestly ministry of Christ. The history-disturbing announce­ment is that "Christ died for our sins" and that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." And the secret of winning the world for Christ was decisively announced by Jesus Himself: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." John 12 :32. In view of these facts how meaningful becomes the counsel of God's servant:

"The very first and most important thing is to melt and subdue the soul by presenting our Lord Jesus Christ as the sin-pardoning Saviour. Never should a sermon be preached, or Bible instruction in any line be given, without pointing the hearers to the 'Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.' John 1:29. Every true doctrine makes Christ the center, every precept receives force from His words.

"Keep before the people the cross of Calvary. Show what caused the death of Christ,—the transgression of the law. Let not sin be cloaked, or treated as a matter of little consequence. It is to be presented as guilt against the Son of God. Then point the people to Christ. telling them that immortality comes only through receiving Him as a personal Saviour.

"Christ crucified,—talk it, pray it, sing it, and it will break and win hearts. This is the power and wis­dom of God to gather souls for Christ. Formal, set phrases, the presentation of merely argumentative sub­jects, is productive of little good. The melting love of God in the hearts of the workers will be recognized by those for whom they labor. Souls are thirsting for the water of life. Do not be empty cisterns. If you reveal the love of Christ to them, you will lead the hungering, thirsting ones to Jesus, and He will give them the bread of life and the water of salvation."—Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 54, 67.

This, then, is "common ground." This is what sinners need—both inside and outside the church. There is no other hope for a sinful world. And those who first receive Him will readily accept and walk in all the light God has entrusted to us as a people for these latter times. It is on this "common ground" that we are to meet the people of other denominations. I am inclined to take the position that we our­selves are in danger of overstressing our dif­ferences, and thus by our unconscious attitudes foster antagonisms. It is exceedingly easy to de­velop the "insider" and "outsider" complex of the Jews. There is also the ever-present possi­bility that we may attribute insincerity to oth­ers simply because they cannot at first follow us all the way in all we believe, and thus fail to recognize that many who do not follow us all the way are in reality deeply sympathetic with our views.

The recovery of truth and its acceptance—not its discovery—is a slow and arduous proc­ess. We have now been a full century in recov­ering the truths of the Sabbath, the nature of man, the judgment, healthful living, and others for the world. Whether these truths will be be­lieved and practiced by God's sincere children in other religious bodies and many not associ­ated with other churches, depends largely upon our attitudes and methods of labor. The bulk of God's children are not yet in the remnant church. They must still be reached with the special truths for this time. Our methods of approach will largely determine our success. This much is a dead certainty, there are thou­sands on the border, waiting only to be gath­ered in. Of that we have specifically been as­sured by one who has spoken for this people as the messenger of the Lord. History records the same implications. Please note:

"Seventh-day Adventists . . . arose in 1845. They are a numerous society, and have representatives in many foreign countries. These are active in propagat­ing their views, and have numerous sympathizers in all evangelical churches."—HURSTT, Short History of the Christian Church, p. 571.

"Numerous sympathizers in all evangelical churches" ! How encouraging ! How reassur­ing! They are waiting—waiting to be gathered in.                             

—To be continued in March

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By T. E. UNRUH, President of the East Pennsylvania Conference

February 1948

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