Here is significant current news with which every Seventh-day Adventist worker should be familiar. An adequate story of Seventh-clay Adventists—their origin, beliefs, polity, and work—has at last gotten into the pages of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, greatest reference work in the English language. It is found in the new 1949 edition. Please look it up and familiarize yourself with its presence there and its content. You will have frequent occasion to refer others to it. There is also a brand-new sketch of William Miller, correcting misconceptions and giving the true picture of his life and work, appearing in the same edition. These are noteworthy advances that should mean much to us in the future. They will doubtless pioneer the way for similar statements in other reference works.
The time was, not long ago, when we were nearly always classed among the cults and sects. And whatever was written about us was along uncomplimentary lines, usually in distorted form. We were not even considered to be a legitimate Christian church but rather a pernicious offshoot. But now an auspicious change has come—another omen of a new epoch. A definite reversal of former views is under way among many, which is most en-heartening. A large and growing number of fair and honest men, in both the secular and the religious worlds, are coming to have a new and wholesome respect for us, and to regard us as genuine Christians, though with odd views, of course, on the Sabbath and certain other points. But it is the dawn of a new day and a new relationship, the significance and solemn obligation of which should not be lost upon us.
Note the changing picture : A few years ago fair and balanced sketches of William Miller, Joshua V. Himes, and Josiah Litch, prepared by E. N. Dick, professor of history at Union College, were accepted by the Dictionary of American Biography, and were published. Last year two non-Adventist authors of new books on the fundamental teachings of the leading Christian bodies of the United States—Frank S. Mead, of the Christian Herald, and W. C. Kirk, Baptist clergyman of Nashville, Tennessee—asked the editor of THE MINISTRY for true and balanced write-ups on Seventh-day Adventists to serve as chapters in their new books. These were furnished and accepted. And still a third appraisal appeared recently that is fairly accurate, in Brooke Church's Faith for You (New York : Rinehart & Co., 1948).
Prior to this a Baptist journal asked me, along with twelve other representatives of leading denominations, to give brief statements of our beliefs on some twenty different points of doctrine, such as the Bible, God, Christ, sin, the Holy Spirit, salvation, judgment, and the Second Advent. These appeared only a few months ago.
Then a noted non-Adventist clergyman and author wrote me of his distress over the fact that for some years Seventh-day Adventists had usually been classed along with the Mormons and Russellites, in most write-ups and discussions, and he purposed to bring out the contrasting difference and to state our true position on Christian fundamentals in a book review he was preparing of The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers volumes. And more and more we are being given opportunity to appear with other religious leaders, both in public and in print. It is a new day.
And now my fellow editor Francis D. Nichol has just rendered a real service to the cause of truth by getting a page and a quarter in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and by giving a balanced and adequate presentation of Adventist history, beliefs, and work, and a paralleling sketch of Miller and the Millerites.
The background story of this achievement will interest our workers. After his vital volume The Midnight Cry was completed Elder Nichol called on the editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and told him he felt sure that he would wish to have the facts about the Miller movement presented, and suggested that the biographical sketch on Miller be rewritten. The editor invited him to attempt it, and he agreed to prepare it. Brother Nichol then remarked that he thought it strange that Britannica had no item concerning Seventh-day Adventists, and proceeded to tell him something about our unique worldwide work. And again the Britannica editor invited him to write up this matter for consideration, and, furthermore, to take as much space as it required.
So "F.D.N." rewrote the Miller sketch, and included in it a succinct statement that the stories of ascension robes and insanity were groundless. And he prepared a full article on Seventh-day Adventists, giving their history, doctrine, church polity, and activities. It filled about nine manuscript pages. In it was included a precise statement on our history and background that likewise set straight those silly stories. These manuscripts were duly accepted. And now the Miller item and the Seventh-day Adventist story have been published in toto in this new 1949 edition, now in circulation. So at last, in the key reference work of the English-speaking world, the facts are set forth correctly about us. It might be added that an article on "Adventists," by the same writer, which also straightened out a little history, was similarly accepted for Britannica Junior.
Much of the popular misunderstanding regarding us, it might be observed, is often due to our own failure to get the facts straight before the world. Our enemies have heretofore usually painted the picture and created the impressions. That misunderstanding is now being corrected. We are now telling our own story. But in the past we have often added to our own difficulties by inadequate or faulty public presentations, which left the unhappy impression that we are legalists who believe that we are saved by law and devout obedience, rather than by grace, with works following as the inevitable fruitage and result of genuine salvation. This popular misconception is now being sedulously corrected by most of our men.
Still another regrettable impression, which we have often left in the past, is the idea that our interpretations of prophecy today are original with us—instead of the irrefutable historical fact that virtually all our main interpretations were the worldwide Protestant Reformation and post-Reformation positions, both in Europe and in Colonial America. Rather, we have simply revived, or raised up again, the "foundations of many generations," carrying them on to their logical consummation. Thus we are now seen to be tied with indissoluble bonds to the greatest and most godly expositors of both the early Christian church and the Reformation church. This, of course, is an infinitely stronger position for us to hold. And it is God's truth concerning the case, and gives us a standing and confidence otherwise impossible.
And finally, we have all too often created another wrong impression, which has likewise placed us in a constricted and distorted light before the world. This restricted view has not done justice to the adequacy, nobility, and universality of our true position, and has definitely handicapped our work and influence, and rendered the acceptance of our message to mankind unnecessarily difficult, especially in overseas lands. The erroneous impression that this movement is primarily an American affair, was born in the States, and stemmed out of a great disappointment and a mistaken expectation. On the contrary, the great Second Advent Movement sprang out of a world awakening on the prophecies concerning the Second Advent—in the Old World as well as in the New, and on the European continent as well as permeating Great Britain and penetrating into Asia.
The movement did not start over here; it simply came to its climax and fruition here in the States. Scarcely any of its key positions or principles originated in America, but rather in Europe. The key truth, for example, that the seventy weeks are the first part of the twenty-three hundred year-days—and that the two periods began together under Artaxerxes of Persia, and would end around 1843, 1844, or 1847 at the latest—was heralded by more than fifty men, in half a dozen different countries on three continents, before Miller's first book appeared in 1836, in which year Bishop Daniel Wilson, of India, published the same essential truth at Madras.
When known and declared, this simple fact, the simultaneous worldwide emphasis and spontaneous exposition of similar truths, puts us in an infinitely stronger position before the world. It removes the unpalatable flavor of a distinctly American origin, and puts us on a true international footing. It pushes back our own horizons and trues up our perspectives. It gives breadth and scope and majesty to our movement. And, best of all, it is the simple truth, and the rugged truth always cuts its way through unbelief and misconception. It transcends narrow confines and petty claims to originality, and places our feet on great vantage ground.
We can therefore lift our heads reverently, and rejoice at each new capitalization upon our name, and recognition of our rightful place before the world. It also increases our solemn obligations. We are here for a purpose; let us make it known in stentorian but winsome tones. We have come to this time commissioned with a stupendous message. Let us give it with increasing power and fullness. We have come to the greatest days of advance within the history of this movement. Let us press into every opening presented before us and into every one we can create. We, as Seventh-day Adventists, have the most important communication to men ever committed to the church. Let us give it with adequacy, with power, and with attractiveness.
Let us get our name, our identity, and our message incessantly before all men, not neglecting the upper classes. Heretofore we have largely worked among the poor and the middle classes—people without special training, influence, talent, or money. God loves all, and we must reach all classes, but we are directly admonished to herald our message first to teachers and leaders of the people—ministers and educators, professional men, statesmen, and molders of public thought. We have too often reversed the sequence, and with delaying, hampering results. It is more difficult to reach them last.
This message is to come to its climax in a blaze of glory. It is to become the center of world concern and consideration, and then of condemnation by the majority. The spotlight of tremendous publicity will play upon us. We should make the most of these present, golden opportunities. Many will cast their lot with us in the crisis hour. Men of unusual attainments are destined to join us and throw their talents and energies into the fray. We must anticipate this, and make room for them.
Thousands, we are told, will be converted in a day. Do we really believe this? Are we prepared for it? Will we really pray and work for it? What sort of reception will we give them when they come to us? How will we use them when they join us? The time of the loud cry is upon us, the time of the latter rain, the time of the prophesied emphasis upon Christ, our righteousness, when glorified righteousness by faith will become the third angel's message in unity. Perhaps the world is more nearly ready for these final events than are some of us. We stand on the threshold of tremendous events in times and in the cause of God. We need to search our hearts and enlarge our understanding. We need to pray for big hearts, for greater vision, for enlarged plans, and for Spirit-born adaptability to the mandates of the times. It is a glorious time in which to live and to labor. Let us be up and at it.