The Heavenly Pilgrimage

THE LARGER OUTLOOK: The Heavenly Pilgrimage

We are all pilgrims traveling toward the promised land

Editor of the "Review and Herald"

Within the last five years we have had two impressive centenary celebrations to memorialize the passing of one hundred years since the beginning of Christ's ministry in the most holy place in 1844 and the beginning of well-defined Seventh-day Adventist activities in 1849. There was resident in these occasions solemn opportunities to recount the way in which God has led us and to renew our vows to Him. And doubtless we thus capitalized on them to a certain degree.

But if my ears deceive me not, I think that for too many of us these centenaries have created, not so much a sense of solemnity, as of satisfaction; not so much a feeling that we are short of the goal, as that we have arrived. I hear the phrase, "the denomination has come of age"; or, more personally, "we have come to maturity." Now, speaking socially, there is great gain in coming of age; the asininities of adolescence and the troubles of the teen-age are gone. Our coming of age brings to us great joy and to our elders a sigh of relief. We are ready to make a contribution to the world.

But speaking biologically the prospects are less bright. It is true that when one comes to maturity he has safely passed the diseases of infancy and childhood and the dangers to life and limb that accompany youthful exuberance. But we hardly more than reach maturity before we must resign ourselves to the grave probabilities that one or more of the degenerative diseases will fasten upon us. The heart and circulatory system may break down. And with unsteady step and shortened breath we hobble through the rest of our days. An abnormal growth may develop in some part of the body, which, despite resolute action with the scalpel, returns, and then finally metastasizes until like growths appear in deadly array in other parts of the body. Excessive fat may develop through lessened activity and the luxuries of prosperity. Thus our chances of longevity are greatly reduced because of the intolerable strain that this imposes on the vital organs.

Such is the unhappy sequel to reaching maturity. However, I have never asked those who announce our coming of age whether they have been partly led to this conclusion by evidences of the onset of the degenerative changes here described. I think their answer would be no, because they seem wholly satisfied with our present state. But consistency in the metaphor requires us to consider the sequel. If we have reached maturity, then that fact is not so much a reason for rejoicing as for consulting mortality tables, and planning for the inevitable.

Without more ado let me say that I do not like this figure of speech; not simply because of its morbid implication, but because I do not believe we can rightly describe, the Advent Church under the figure of a growing person without losing from our minds the truly distinctive character of this church. The metaphor, rather, should be that of travelers on a high way who hope ere long to reach a desired destination. The goal of this movement is not to reach maturity, but to reach the river of life; not to come of age, but to come to the gates of heaven. When a man has reached maturity he may think he has arrived. But this Advent Movement has arrived only when it has spanned the distance from earth to sky.

The fact that we have journeyed for a hundred years provides no justification for our settling down by the roadside in comfort and smug respectability. We cannot rightly quiet our con sciences for such inaction with the fact that we have come a long distance. It is not the distance we have come, but the distance that remains, that should control our thinking. And when we consult our road maps and instructions for the journey and realize that we should, ere now, have reached our goal, there should come a quickened pace.

I think that the figure of a pilgrimage to a holy place needs to be blended with another figure to convey the true character of the Ad vent Church. This movement is not simply a pilgrimage; it is also a crusade. We strive not only to reach the goal ourselves but to persuade others to go along with us. We seek to persuade them to leave the low valleys, where death awaits them, and to join us on a path that rises ever higher. Pursuant to that figure I think of you who are ministers and teachers as guides for the pilgrims, and wish to offer you certain suggestions on how to quicken the pace of the Advent pilgrimage.

There is no law against travel at high speed on the highway that leads to heaven. Then what are the reasons that the rate of travel is so slow? And how may we remove the impediments? I think of several reasons.

First and foremost, the travelers may not be able to see the goal. Only those able to see clearly the Delectable Mountains are likely to find themselves traveling with ever quickened pace toward that rapturous eminence. Travelers on the heavenly highway need to see something better ahead if they are to find in their hearts a great desire to go on. Even if there is nothing clearly to be seen ahead, there is always something to be seen to the right and left of the road, and to the rear.

And why may it be that the goal ahead is dimly seen at "times? Perhaps for no other reason than the presence of. excessive clouds of dust on the weary road. So long as we are in our present earthy state we must reckon with a certain measure of dust. Our business as guides is to keep the dust allayed by invoking the showers of heaven. Our spiritual eyes can see far greater distances if copious showers have fallen. I fear we are not all like Elijah; we cease praying for rain too soon. Elijah could bring down rain from heaven for the same reason he could bring down fire—he was on intimate terms with the God of heaven. Some guides seem to hesitate to put spirit into their prayers for rain lest there be an uncontrollable flood, as if it were better for pilgrims to choke with dust than drown with water. In the record of the hundred years of our pilgrimage I find no account of a devastating flood as the result of refreshing showers.

Where there is no rain there are no flowers. Only thorny cacti spring up and thrive in rain less land, and they are painful to the traveler. How often we consume precious time relieving and soothing those stung by the barbed needles. Sometimes those thus injured contend that their painful misfortunes came because they were jostled by thoughtless fellow pilgrims. This charge is more likely to be heard in a congested area of the road. In such instances a whole committee of guides may have to be called together to untangle traffic, and that slows down travel enormously. No one ever met disaster brushing against violets and pansies, but they thrive only with showers. If we would cheer on the pilgrims, we must maintain conditions conducive to the growth of fragrant flowers. The devil is cunningly wise in this matter; he plants primroses along the downward path, and they are watered, no doubt, from the fountains of the great deep.

The pilgrim who inhales too heavily of dust is almost certain to stop singing the songs of Zion. And the traveler who no longer sings is in a perilous state. We must give special attention to him lest he wander from the road to drink from poisoned cisterns. Man cannot long live without water. Either he will receive of the water of life from the windows of heaven, or he will seek contaminated streams in the valleys.

I cannot too strongly stress this jibint, for those guides whose business it is to number Israel provide most disquieting figures of departures from the road. There never has been a substitute for rain—not even in the impressive machine era through which our path increasingly leads us today. There is nothing amiss in mechanical devices to stimulate the travelers. But if we are so busy making or operating such devices that we do not have time to engage in the sevenfold prayer for rain, all this machinery proves a curse, not a blessing.

When dust lies deep on the road it takes only the heavy breathing of our great adversary, and the whirling mechanical equipment, to create a dense cloud, with resulting traffic congestion and accidents. Then we, whose real business it should be to cheer the pilgrims onward, must spend sorry hours as first-aid men binding up wounds and pouring on healing- ointment, and all because visibility was low and travelers became unhappily entangled, or drove off the edge of the road. Unless visibility is high, mechanical aids to speed create only a hazard.

To keep traveling safely the road, we need visibility not only great enough to see each side of the road, but far enough ahead to see the shining city at the end of the road. I repeat, the incentive to travel onward, and at an increasing pace, particularly if the road be steeply upward, is the sight of a glorious destination. That is why it is imperative that dust be not allowed to blur the vision.

But dust is not the only danger. The eyes of travelers may be blinded by the lights in the valley. That condition is itself an effect, for the lights of the valley blind only those who turn toward them. Particularly is this true if the road itself is fitfully illumined with smoking tapers and the valley is ablaze, with dazzling lights; for the devil, who loves things artificial, specializes in artificial illumination. Now a blinded, bedazzled pilgrim is a bemused man, who has forgotten to travel. To chide such a one may set him in motion again, but not toward heaven. We need to give more attention to lighting the road to the Garden of Eden. Why give the devil a monopoly on brilliant illumination! We are guides to the land of light and the Father of lights. We need to give more study to increasing the radiance of the road, particularly in behalf of the youthful pilgrims.

Nor can we successfully compete with the lights in the valley if we use artificial illumination. The light must come from heaven, and must first be on our countenances, light that we reflect from our communing with God. Where the light of heaven grows dim, the dangers of the road increase. We must have the strong currents of the love of God flowing from the powerhouse above if we are to cause the lights to shine brightly on the pilgrims' pathway. The angelic messengers of God are named the shining ones. We need to invoke the presence of more of them to escort us on the way. The light they bring is a protection against the lights of the world. We need to be more conscious of the angels ourselves, and to pray God, as did a prophet of old, to open the eyes of others to see them. And the more conscious of them we_ become, the more we shall partake of their shining radiance. Of one of the earliest Christian guides the record declares: "And all that sat in the council looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel." Acts 6:15.

There is one more word of counsel on the lighting of the road. We should constantly keep a searchlight playing on the gates of gold. All of the devil's sinful glitter cannot outdazzle that. We have ever available the searchlight of God's seers of old, who constructed it from descriptions given them in prophetic visions. That searchlight is peculiarly our possession on this last part of the road. It is today that its shaft of light is almost full and can be focused most sharply. It was this searchlight that set the' Ad vent pilgrims most surely on their way a hundred years ago. There is no substitute for it.

And may I offer here a caution. Never be led to doubt the value of the searchlight because one of its many lights does not yet focus sharply. It is proper to give constant attention to this valuable illuminating equipment with a view to bringing the last of its lights into focus. But we need not turn off the great shaft of light in order to do so. Nor need we stand in front of the searchlight in order to give attention to some detail of its operation. Our shadow along the path will never inspire a footsore pilgrim to quicken his pace. Rather, it may lead him to stumble and fall off the road.

I think of a third reason why pilgrims may be unable to see the glorious goal and thus lack the will to pursue the journey with vigor. The road ahead may not be straight. Occasionally a guide feels a singular urge to lead the pilgrims along winding paths rather than straight forward. He- himself does not feel that his faith is strong enough to essay the straight upward climb, and so he travels by a road of many curves. That method of travel is much admired by the valley dwellers who, gazing upward at times, declare that no straight path could ever safely be followed to the lofty eminence that pilgrims describe as the mountain of God.

— To be continued

 

 


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Editor of the "Review and Herald"

April 1950

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