Features

Features-Is the Doctrine of an Earthly Heaven Adequate Today? Preach the Power of God.

Our present age has been distinguished by its new approach to the goal of maximum satisfaction in living.

Editor, "Review and Herald"

Retired Minister, Nevada City, California

Let me be frank from the first paragraph. I belong to that religious group who believe that the only genuine and lasting solution of the tragedy of our sorry world is to be found in connection with the literal, personal ad vent of Jesus Christ. Liberal theological doctors, at least until recently, would describe me as suffering from melancholia induced by poor eyesight. I am quite unable to see endless possibilities of perfection inherent in man and am therefore supposed to be deeply melancholic. I am not embarrassed by the diagnosis, and incredible as it may seem to the doctors, I am not morbid. I even feel irenic toward my liberalist brethren when I insist that they are the ones who should doubt what they thought they saw, and be depressed by what they must now admit that they see.

Men's thoughts, unless fully controlled by revelation, are almost certain to take on the color of their environment, and the color today is black. The proof of this is not hard to find. In no polemical mood, but with a sincere desire to find the right answer, I offer a few observations on the tragedy of modern man.

Our present age has been distinguished by its new approach to the goal of maxi mum satisfaction in living the harnessing of the powers of nature to the service of man. The laboratory became the antechamber to an earthly Paradise, as men began to explore the mysteries of nature, even as philosophers and theologians had formerly explored the mysteries of God. A new hierarchy, called scientists, began to be revered for their miracle-working power, and before them an increasing number of mankind made low obeisance. In the forefront of the worshipers were those who prided them selves on being too wise to worship the God of heaven. Some who had long disdained to seek for the heart of reality by approaching the inner chamber of the Most High, hoped to find reality by approaching ever nearer to the inner chamber of the atom.

The dominant fashion in thought called for the laboratory technician's apron in stead of the philosopher's gown. One of the most distinctive features of modern intellectual endeavor has been the application of mind to matter. And that application has produced greater comforts for the masses, with less toil; greater length of life, with less disease.

But the most far-reaching result of the quest for truth and satisfaction in terms of the application of mind to matter, was the scientific discovery of a bright and endlessly improving future for mankind through evolution. Darwin provided the telescope, and almost all who peered through it became enthralled by the radiant view of an evolving millennium that they were sure they saw. Those who declared that they saw nothing of grandeur ahead were pityingly dismissed as sufferers from a medieval eye malady called obscurantism.

With wonders developing on every side, with man apparently becoming the creator of a new earth, a more dazzling earth than all former centuries had known, the foolish hearts of many earth dwellers made the further and final mistake of concluding that the God of heaven is unnecessary and that both God and heaven are unprovable theories. True, skeptical minds had drawn that conclusion repeatedly through the ages, but many modern men drew it again with a new certainty. Could not man control the forces of nature? Could he not constantly improve his world, and did he not there fore hold his future in his own hands? Had he not proved that the laws of nature are inexorable, and did not that prove that no God could alter them? Finally, had he not established that nothing should be surely believed unless it can be objectively tested, and did not that prove that all ideas of the supernatural are open to gravest suspicion? A late nineteenth-century poet thus ex pressed this secular mood: Thou art smitten, thou God, thou art smitten: thy death is upon thee, O Lord. And the love-song of earth as thou diest resounds through the winds of her wings Glory to Man in the highest! for Man is the master of things.1 Here is the deification of man, and the apotheosis of nature man supreme, and nature the true source and explanation of the wonders that man has unleashed. With the supernatural twisted into a question mark, and with this earth responding to his wizardlike molding, modern man moved consistently on to boast that this is the best of all possible worlds. Why seek for an un certain world beyond?

Those who still insisted on looking heavenward for reward were ridiculed as believers in pie in the sky by and by. Nor were liberal churchmen much be hind secular scientists and laymen in ex tolling the glories of our world, the inherent goodness of man, and his capacity for ultimate perfection. Indeed, many liberals came to scorn every theological belief that viewed man as anything less than an angel in embryo. They confused material progress with moral, and saw in the ever-increasing array of inventions and discoveries the building blocks of a new earth. As though the bathtub, symbol of modern advancement in sanitation, provided an assurance that mankind would ultimately become clean within.

Now All Is Changed

The opening of the twentieth century found the great majority of the learned holding as an axiom that in some mysterious way all is onward and upward. In that view the masses of the people began to join, because our modern time is unique in this further respect, that the learned do not keep their views to themselves. They share these views with the masses in a system of universal education. Indeed, the very educating of the citizenry was to produce a rapidly improving society. A school opened was to mean a jail closed. But now all is changed, and for certain evident reasons. As men continued to focus their attention on matter, exploring ever more deeply the mystery of the atom, they discovered that apparently solid matter might not be solid at all, but only an electrical charge. In other words, that the socalled eternity of matter, prime postulate of all materialistic thinking, might be only an illusion. Nor had they entered long within this inner sanctuary of the material world the heart of the atom before they discovered that its blinding light en shrouded, not the God of order and im mortality, but the demon of destruction and oblivion.

And as if that were not sufficiently shock ing, the realization began to dawn upon even the most optimistic of men that the marvelous advances of the scientific world had served most spectacularly to depopulate the earth and lay waste the glory of kingdoms. Liberal theologians finally discerned that the opening of schools did not mean the closing of jails, but only the populating of those jails with more highly educated, and thus more dangerous, criminals.

The idea of progress, ironically described as the opiate of the intellectuals, has quite lost its power to anesthetize even the most sophisticated of them against the painful realities of life. And at a time when the realities are most painful! In a very literal sense the scientific proofs of world progress have blown up in their faces, as the high explosives of two world wars have wrecked the earth. Men are bewildered and disillusioned, because they have been betrayed. The great god Science, who was to be the creator of a new earth, has proved traitor to their hopes. And because science is but the product of man's mind, man has proved traitor to himself. The deification of man seems ready to be followed by the destruction of man.

Men had sung of world progress. Now many of them fear that if this is the best of all possible worlds there is little worth living for. They had sneered at the idea of a reward in a world beyond, as pie in the sky by and by. Now they are appalled by the fact that suicidal wars have doomed much of this present world to short rations and those rations include no pie now or in the foreseeable future!1 am not forgetful of the fact that in all past ages the specter of disaster dogged the steps of races, nations, and civilizations. But always there was a new people, in a new area of the world, to whom the torch of civilization could be handed. And if the torch flickered and smoked under the suffocating breath of a dying kingdom, the breezes blowing from afar soon fanned the flame to dazzling brilliance again, enticing ever westward the course of empire. I thought of this recently as I prowled amid the ruins of Babylon and Nineveh, and stood beside the pillars that once up held the Persian palace of Persepolis.

I thought of it as I climbed the Acropolis at Athens, with its broken memento of ancient architectural splendor, and as I gazed upon the hulking mass that had once been the Colosseum of Rome. From Babylon to Persia, from Greece to Rome, the course of empire ran. Always new life springing up in new and fertile soil, always new hope for the future and the grandeur of man! If the Euphrates or the Nile could no longer sustain the life of a great civilization, the Tiber could. And in turn the Danube, the Rhine, and the Thames! But suddenly, as I surveyed the world from the perspective of the skies, there came to me the realization that the ruins of Babylon are matched by the ruins of Berlin, the broken pillars of Persepolis by the blasted palaces of Poland, and the wreckage of the Colosseum by the wreckage of Coventry. Never before has it been possible to look at one and the same time upon the shattered remains of all the great empires of antiquity and of most of the kingdoms of modern times.

From Shanghai to London the line of devastation runs, and from each to the islands of the sea. Deadly explosives have seared a path around the world and branded it the property of Mars. Only one land stands out to break this encircling path. That land is America, a fool's paradise, if there ever was one, where the inhabitants live largely in provincial ignorance of the enormity of the devastation of the world. Yet a second look at this land discloses that it has been the arsenal of two world wars and contains the laboratories whose products can blow the world to pieces. That is the paradox of peaceful America. In an attempt to describe the tragic state of mankind today, many declare that the world stands at the crossroads. The figure is inaccurate. There are no crossroads at the edge of an abyss!

For the man who has thought that he could find in himself and in a scientifically remade little world the real meaning and goal of life, the present picture must be dark and dolorous. An earth-centered philosophy of life proves satisfying only while the earth proves satisfying. Instead of arrogantly boasting that "man is the master of things," the disillusioned are now more likely to borrow the words of Shakespeare's character: Life is a tale told by an idiot, Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But in quoting these words of futility modern man is simply echoing the far-off cynical cry of the Roman citizenry in that last of the great pagan empires. The similarity is startling. The Romans sought for the pleasures of the bodily senses, for the acquisition of temporal possessions, not for a future world. Hence when the senses dulled, and the pleasure palled, cynicism was the inevitable result. In effect, they said: Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. There is nothing beyond.

Apostolic Evangelism

Into that world of sordid cynicism came the flaming evangels of a new view of life. To jaded Romans, for whom life had grown insipid and colorless, with suicide the hon orable exit, the holy apostles proclaimed that there is a life worth living for, the life everlasting. Yes, tomorrow we die, but after that the judgment, when we shall give an account for the deeds done in the body. There is a world beyond. The things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. It is undebatable, by the record, that their preaching was so otherworldly that it found its climax in the proclamation of a literal return of Christ to receive His followers unto Himself and to create a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. For the hope of the resurrection, they were called into question.

The strange, new religion prospered and expanded despite bitter persecution. The spokesmen for Christianity were confident they had the answer to the world's need, and nothing could stop them. Their power in preaching, their fortitude in prison, their courage in the face of death, was found in their firm belief in a world beyond. They did not fear to lose their hold on this present world, for they already lived, by faith, in a world beyond. Cynicism was no match for their joyous faith; a crumbling empire no occasion for panic or despair. Their sense of security was not tied to the strength of Rome. They looked for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. How close the parallel is between the collapse of that ancient world and the threatened collapse of our modern one, may be debated.

But this much, I think, is certain: Apostolic preaching will produce the same results today that it did nineteen hundred years ago. I would go a step further: The same intensity of belief in a very real world beyond, that distinguished apostolic preaching, must distinguish Christian preaching today if it is to cause bewildered, cynical, and despairing men to seek for a better life and a better country. Man is so constituted that he cannot find satisfaction in abstractions alone, much less be willing to suffer and die for them. Abstract ideas are like foundationless castles in Spain. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are nebulous ideas until they firmly rest upon a belief in literal homes and hearths and half-acres. Only then will men be fired to fight for those ideas. I believe that the same rule holds in the spiritual realm. The holy apostles did not rejoice under persecution because they thought that heaven is a condition, but because they were sure that heaven is a place. They went forth boldly to meet a hostile world because they believed, literally, their Master's words: "I go to prepare a place for you, and ... I will come again and receive you unto myself." Paul was calmly "ready to be offered," because he was confident of a reward "at that day."

Spiritualizing exegetes may claim that they have improved on the apostles' literal understanding of our Lord's words. But the proof of that claim should be an exhibit of converts more sacrificial, more willing to risk life for Christ, than were the converts under apostolic preaching. It may be scientific for a minister to dilute God to a colorless cosmic force. It may be scientific for him to confine heaven to earth and equate it with a millennial America under a spiritually tinctured New Deal. Yes, it may be scientific, but I think it is also a little silly! The preacher of such improved theology ought not to be surprised if men lack interest in the house of God and spend their potential church gifts in California real estate. I realize that a reference to apostolic literalism and adventual hopes will cause most readers brightly to remark that the centuries have proved such hopes ill-founded. This is not the place to debate that point. I would only inquire, in passing: Have the centuries brought us very near to the heaven on earth that was spiritually envisaged by Augustine, educationally anticipated by Rousseau, and allegedly demonstrated as inevitable by Darwin?

I am aware, also, that there is a conflict between the idea of a sudden, supernatural action of God and the scientific dictum of the predictable, unalterable, actins of nature. But there is an utterly hopeless conflict between the theory of the orderly working of all nature and the disorderly working of all human nature. If I may believe the scientists, man can now blow himself out of this world, both figuratively and literally; and if I may believe the statesmen, the explosion might come tomorrow. Hence any discussion of orderly progress toward perfection seems ir relevant, and the goal of an earthly heaven, chimerical. Who would have thought, in the Rousseau-like world before 1914, that the scientists of the 1950's would hold out to the human race the strong probability of an explosive ending, somewhere 'twixt heaven and earth, with an atomic cloud for a shroud! With that likely prospect before me I think I hear the literalist Paul exclaim:

"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. . . . Let us: eat and drink; for tomorrow we die." And, in response, I seem to hear the beloved John repeat the closing plea of his Apocalypse: "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly."

Preach the Power of God

T. T. BABIENCO Retired Minister, Nevada City, California T!

The most eloquent sermons may have little power in them to move men to decide for God. There is a very great need today for more of the power of the gospel in our sermons. In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul tells Timothy that the work of a servant of God is always to be "rightly dividing the word of truth," and to make Timothy understand how important his calling to the ministry is, he further says, "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:1, 2).

The Word of God has creative power, it makes men free from sin, it sanctifies them and makes them new creatures. And this Word we, as ministers, must "rightly" divide; we must preach the power of salvation. All other preaching 'will be in vain. The less of the Word of God we have in our sermons the less power there will be to convince the people of their sins and their need of God. And that is why so little power is manifested in modern preaching. Too many preachers have exchanged the sermon for a nice talk. Half of a verse from the Bible is often enough for an hour's speech.

Are some of us following the style of popular preachers? Do we quote from many books and magazines? Does our preaching contain much of what men have written or said, but very little of the Word of God? If so, we need not wonder that our sermons lack power. If there is little of the Word of God, there will be little converting power in them. The pulpit is the place for preaching the Bible. We need not quote extensively from other writers to prove the Word of God. If we would reach the hearts of men and change them, we must "preach the word." The congregation may be pleased with an eloquent talk in which there is much of what man has said and little of the Bible, and may return again and again to our meetings. But they may come and go and fail to accept the salvation of God.

By quoting extensively from other books than the Bible, we may weaken our message and put the Bible on the same basis as other books, thus teaching the people to honor the Word of God no more than the words of other writers. I do not mean to say that we are never to quote from other books. We can quote history to show how correctly the prophecies have been fulfilled. This establishes the Word of God.

Chaff or Wheat?

"The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord" (Jer. 23:28). The Word of God is the wheat; the word of men is the chaff. "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:1, 2). The apostle Paul could have used many strong quotations from writers of his time, who had produced many good sayings on moral conduct, but instead he preferred to lead the people to the original fountain of all goodness and perfection, which is God speaking through His Word.

I remember only two instances in the Scriptures in which Paul quoted from wellknown authors of his time in support of the truth of his statements. One is recorded in Acts 17:28. The speech Paul made in Athens was wonderfully convincing of the true God, but we read of no church being raised up there. The other is in Titus 1:12, where he cites a statement concerning the Cretians. On the other hand we find Paul quoting again and again the names of men and women who lived before and after Christ, in whose lives the power of God for salvation had wrought a great change. This was to show to men of his time what God was able to do for them. Such quotations help men to become aware of God's power and love for the individual (Hebrews 11; 2 Cor. 8:1-9). We should read books to en rich our knowledge, but after reading them we are to preach the Word with greater conviction as we see how modern and up to date God's Word is.

I believe greater power for salvation in preaching the Word of God will come upon the hearers and the preacher when we fulfill our duty to God and men as stated in the message to us: "Just before us is the closing struggle of the great controversy, when, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness,' Satan is to work to misrepresent the character of God, that he may 'seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.' If there was ever a people in need of constantly increasing light from heaven, it is the people that, in this time of peril, God has called to be the depositaries of His holy law and to vindicate His character before the world." Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 746. In this testimony two revelations are stated: what Satan will be doing, and what we as ministers must do. Satan will be put ting forth effort to misrepresent God's character, that he may seduce.

What is our duty at such a time? To vindicate God's character before the world. We have done much by word and pen to uphold the law of God, which is a right thing to do; but what have we done to vindicate the character of God before the world? "From the beginning it has been Satan's studied plan to cause men to forget God, that he might secure them to himself. Hence he has sought to misrepresent the character of God, to lead men to cherish a false conception o£ Him. The Creator has been presented to their minds as clothed with the attributes of the prince of evil himself." Ibid., p. 738. What are the attributes of the "prince of evil"? Wrath, anger, envy, jealousy, fury, vengeance. When presenting God with all or some of these attributes, are we vindicating His character before the world? Our mission as ministers is to bring a straight message from the Word of God and hold up a loving Saviour to a world in turmoil with strife and its attending evils. This will provide the power that should characterize God's true ministers.

1. Swinburne, A. C., The Hymn of Man.


Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

Editor, "Review and Herald"

Retired Minister, Nevada City, California

January 1954

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Editorial- "... On Unto Perfection"

The most dynamic evangelist of the Christian church used language we can all understand in these days of haste.

Music-Music in the Small Campaign

Usually the pastor-evangelist has to depend on local talent for both his song leader and his special music.

Pulpit-How to Deal With Heresies Part I

Heresy is not new; it was recognized and dealt with by the apostles.

Health Evangelism-Beware of False Prophets

Ministers are admonished to "preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

Bible Instructor-Conversion and Baptism of Children

Jesus took a special interest in the children, and every Bible instructor should also be interested in them.

Evangelism-Winning Men For God

Do not bother to read this, my brother, if you have attained the enviable reputation of a successful evangelist.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - SermonView - WideSkyscraper (160x600)