The book of Deuteronomy is one of the greatest books ever written. It was evidently a favorite book of our Lord, for we find Him quoting more times from Deuteronomy than from any other portion of Scripture.
It is largely a collection of sermons or orations delivered by Israel's great leader just before his lifework closed. These chapters unveil the soul of a great man. Many things have happened during his long and illustrious life, and now in his last lingering moments he is eager to leave some message of confidence and counsel to the flock. He therefore retraces their steps, relives their experiences, and repeats the laws and judgments of Jehovah. He reminds them that it was in a "waste howling wilderness" that they were found, and that when Jehovah brought them unto Himself, it was to make them His own inheritance. This they must never forget, for if they do, then they will depart from God's law, and He will have to reject them.
The tragedy is, they did forget, and the record of that apostasy is written in the blood of a rejected and suffering nation. Their departure, however, was no sudden event, it was a gradual declension. But ultimately this people who had been so blessed of God turned their backs upon the experiences of the past and went out into the night.
The lesson is vital, and we as a people must never permit ourselves to lose its meaning. No apostasy is ever sudden; it is always gradual. But the results are always the same. Many years ago we were told that as a people "we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history." Life Sketches, p. 196. Are we forgetting? Are we setting aside the pattern of the past? Has the time come for us to alter our standards? When God called us He separated us from the world and gave us our mission. Ours is not the only movement raised up of God to do a special work. Other great movements have come and gone through the centuries. The Reformation churches began their work in a spirit of simplicity and consecration. But later they began to lose the standards of their pioneers. Look for a moment at the Methodists. How clear those great leaders were in their concepts of truth! They laid down principles that truly separated their converts from the practices of the world. Not only did they rejoice in the righteousness of Christ, but their lives gave evidence that they were truly a sanctified people. Worldliness was shunned. Even diet was a vital part of their religion. But where is all that distinction today? A number of years ago one of their own writers expressed with deep regret the fact that among their members, yes, even among their leaders, were some who loved the world even more than they loved the work of God. He says, "The distinction between inside and outside is so obscure that men smile when asked to unite with the church, and sometimes tell us that they find the best men outside it."
Methodism in the early days frowned upon the things that today are condoned. We do not say this to criticize our fellow Christians, but to remind ourselves that we are not immune to the possibility of the same experience. When we as a denomination started out we were indeed a separated people. The pioneers of this movement searched the Word of God diligently. They met together for prayer and Bible study. They exchanged their views. They compared their teachings with the Word of God, and when they came face to face with the clear counsel of the Lord, then it was on their knees they sealed their consecration. The result was, this movement came into being. And from those pioneers we have inherited a marvelous body of truth, based upon the clear revelation of God. But our forefathers also had clear standards of character, of conduct, of practice, and of association.
There was a wholesome simplicity about those pioneers. Extravagance and personal adornment were shunned, and they were known for their piety. The question is, Are we following their example? Has the time come for us to lay aside those standards? The lesson of history is that the third generation is very prone to forget, to lose sight of the goal of their forefathers. We do well to ask ourselves if extravagance is replacing simplicity. Are we in dress and diet living up to the standards set forth in God's Word and the Spirit of prophecy? If we were measured by the yardstick of our pioneers, what would be our showing? What trends are discernible in our general program of work, our habits of life, and our recreation?
From many parts of the world field come inquiries that reveal a deep concern on the part of our workers. Letters come, not in the spirit of criticism, but from men and women with burdened hearts. They bare their souls as they express their concern over things that seem to be gradually creeping into our ranks. Television has brought the theater into the home, and in spite of ourselves we seem forced to become familiar with sin. It glares at us from every billboard and shouts at us from the columns of the newspaper.
We are all conscious that the pageantry of the world is attracting and alluring our youth. But older members are also caught up in its meshes, and sometimes even our ministers seem to be ensnared by its subtlety. Dare we permit ourselves to be carried away with these things that are so much a part of the world? We are on the very borders of eternity. Let us not forget the tragic lesson of Israel and the Moabites. Pageantry and fanfare may be in place on occasion, but it is the clear sounding forth of the gospel of grace with its definite standards of life that brings people to a knowledge of salvation.
Then what about our standards in recreation? Are we careful to see that at our church gatherings nothing is permitted that would make it possible for our dear people to lose the sense of their high calling? James Russell Lowell stated a great truth when he said:
"In vain we call old notions fudge,
And bend our conscience to our dealing;
The Ten Commandments will not budge,
And stealing will continue stealing."
Describing conditions that would be repeated in the last days, the ancient prophet revealed that even among God's people there would be a lack of the sense of sin. Ezekiel, chapter 8, is both a revelation and a tragedy. But chapter 9 tells of some who would be sighing and crying for the abominations done among the people of God. And only those who do cry out against the iniquity will receive God's mark of approval.
Again we say, let us beware lest we lose the lesson of the past. Laxity in matters of such dire consequence is sin. Although through the columns of THE MINISTRY we think it helpful to provide opportunity for the discussion of methods of approach to the question of preparing a people for heaven, yet we want to assure our readers around the world that there is no tendency on the part of this journal to set aside God's clear counsel to the church, or to lower its sacred standards. To remove the ancient landmarks of our fathers is surely to fail, and be found flying in the face of Providence. We believe the time has come for a clear sounding forth of the high standard of the third angel's message. As a people we have been called with a high and holy calling. Let us pray that the forth coming Bible Conference, where our whole world field will be represented, will give opportunity for reviving the spirit of primitive godliness and for renewing our consecration before God. Indeed, this is one of the high purposes of this conference. There are some moot questions that some might wish to hear discussed, but is not the need of the hour a clear setting forth of those vital principles that have made us a people? Only as we may forget the way the Lord has led us do we have cause to fear.
The time certainly has not come for us to alter our standards, for only by the preservation of those high standards of life and doctrine will we continue to be a people worthy of the name "the remnant church." May God keep us so true to the message we love that both in our conduct and in our commission we may reveal that we are indeed a people prepared for the Lord.