One of the seers of ancient Israel penning counsel for the last days writes: "The prudent shall keep silence in that time; for it is an evil time." He saw in prophetic vision that a time of trouble, a time of perplexity and crisis, would come to the church of God. In this instance he foresaw a period when it would be wise to refrain from telling or writing on certain matters which under ordinary circumstances might be declared quite freely and openly.
During the recent period of hostilities we all learned more or less what it meant to do this. Even now in some parts of the world we do well to exercise great care in what we say from the public platform and in what we write even in our own papers and books. Seeing also that the world is so small and that modern means of communicating thought have been speeded up to such a degree, we would be wise, especially we who live in lands of freedom, to be particularly careful, lest we endanger the liberties of our brethren in other lands by what we write.
There is another aspect of the question, and an important one at that. It is so human to yield to the disposition to answer back and to say cutting things under the stress of the moment, things which some time later most of us perhaps would deeply regret. It would be well at all times to remember that others hold opinions just as honestly as we claim to do, and that they feel they are living up to the light as it has been revealed to them.
Although we should ever be fearless in declaring the truth of God, and "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints," we should at all times "speak the truth in love." We are commanded to "preach the word," to "preach the gospel," but never are we authorized to attack men and make unkind thrusts against them.
"If the minister, when before his congregation, sees a disbelieving smile upon the faces of opponents, let him be as one who sees not. If any should be so impolite as to laugh and sneer, let not the minister, by voice or attitude, reflect the same spirit. Show that you handle no such weapons. The pen so often traces words that are sharp, and by repeating the statements of the advocates of error, our brethren sometimes give currency to the error. This is a mistake. Let your pen trace advanced truth. . . . Keep back the sharp thrusts ; do not learn in Satan's school his methods of warfare. The Holy Spirit does not inspire the words of censure."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 248. (See also pp, 222, 223.)
In our lectures and in our articles, especially when dealing with the exposition of prophecy and other matters, great care should be observed in our remarks concerning those who belong to other professing Christian communions. The messenger of the Lord has given us definite counsel concerning this.
"Let not those who write for our papers make unkind thrusts and allusions that will certainly do harm, and that will hedge up the way and hinder us from doing the work that we should do in order to reach all classes, the Catholics included. It is our work to speak the truth in love, and not to mix in with the truth, the unsanctified elements of the natural heart, and speak things that savor of the same spirit possessed by our enemies. All sharp thrusts will come back upon us in double measure when the power is in the hands of those who can exercise it for our injury. Over and over the message has been given to me that we are not to say one word, not to publish one sentence, especially by way of personalities, unless positively essential in vindicating the truth, that will stir up our enemies against us, and arouse their passions to a white heat. Our work will soon be closed up, and soon the time of trouble, such as never was, will come upon us, of which we have but little idea."
"We should not go out of our way to make hard thrusts at the Catholics. Among the Catholics there are many who are most conscientious Christians, and who walk in all the light that shines upon them, and God will work in their behalf."—Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 241, 243.
The same counsel applies also to members of other religious groups, in fact, to all types of associations, societies, or organizations.
"There is to be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation. Our work is to study to weed out of all our discourses everything that savors of retaliation and defiance and making a drive against churches and individuals, because this is not Christ's way and method."—Ibid., p. 244.
Even though we believe strongly in the principles of religious liberty, at times and in certain countries it would be well to write or say publicly very little or nothing about this question. We need to exercise due caution, and yet not allow ourselves to be silenced by timidity or cowardice. We should watch for opportunities, and after viewing the matter from all standpoints, act in the fear of God.
"The question of religious liberty is very important, and it should be handled with great wisdom and discretion. Unless this is done, there is danger that by our own course of action we shall bring upon ourselves a crisis before we are prepared for it. . . Our brethren should be cautioned to make moves that will not stir up and provoke the powers that be, so that they will make moves that will limit the work, and cut us off from proclaiming the message in different localities."—Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 219, 220.
We should remember that what goes into print is more or less permanent, and can be filed in the archives of our opponents and also in government bureaus. When commenting on government actions, we should seek to weed out from our talks or writings everything which might be used against us, or which might be interpreted as though we were not in harmony with law and order.
"The time will come when unguarded expressions of a denunciatory character, that have been carelessly spoken or written by our brethren, will be used by our enemies to condemn us. These will not be used merely to condemn those who made the statements, but will be charged upon the whole body of Adventists. Our accusers will say that on such and such a day one of our responsible men said thus and so against the administration of the laws of this government. Many will be astonished to see how many things have been cherished and remembered that will give point to the arguments of our adversaries. Many will be surprised to hear their own words strained into a meaning that they did not intend them to have. Then let our workers be careful to speak guardedly at all times and under all circumstances. Let all beware lest by reckless expressions they bring on a time of trouble before the great crisis which is to try men's souls."—Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 394, 395.
Let us by voice and pen proclaim the threefold message in wisdom and power, ever keeping in mind not to bring persecution on ourselves unduly; and let us guard our words, whether in public address or by the written word, for the great archenemy himself treasures unwise utterances, only to use them against us when the fires of persecution shall break upon the people of God. "Every unwise word that is uttered through our brethren will be treasured up by the prince of darkness."— Ibid., vol. 9, p. 242.
Shall we not follow the example set for us by our great Commander who was guarded in every word He uttered. "There is need of strictly guarding the word that the pen traces upon paper. . . . If the Majesty of heaven guarded His every word lest He should stir up the spirit of Satan and the fallen angels, how much more careful should we be in all things!" —Testimonies to Ministers, p. 253.