Historically the church of Christ has suffered eras of ineffective witness when its leaders lost the spirit of sacrifice. In the early church Peter said: "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk." It is reported that one of the pontiffs of the Middle Ages, proudly waving his hand exclaimed, "No longer need the church say, 'Silver and gold have I none.'" At which a saint of God observed, "Yes, 'tis true, but no longer can we say, 'Rise up and walk.'"
The Advent Movement began in a spirit of sacrifice, and through its glorious years of growth and world expansion that word has continued meaningful. Yet there is danger that in times of prosperity we forget its deepest significance. Secularism and materialism are two dangers against which even the pulpit needs to guard. It was upon the mighty arm of God that Israel leaned when struggling out of Egypt and marching through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. Yet the antitypes are becoming increasingly self-confident. Our buildings are stately; our institutions, numerous; our homes, extremely comfortable; our automobiles, often new and powerful. Now, much can be said in favor of building in harmony with the dignity of our message, and yet with it all there is grave danger that such noble ends may subtly undermine our sacrificial spirit.
It is no longer easy to find foreign-mission recruits for the difficult places of the earth. There are too few willing to respond to the challenge of taxing pioneer tasks. And we are now adding to future comfort on this earth by combining the government support of the aged with the sustentation fund. Now please do not misunderstand.
Social security will relieve many an aching burden. There are those among the elderly who have borne the burden of the day who are suffering from want because of soaring prices and the financial instability of the present. We too may face such problems in the future, and it is wise to be prepared. Spiritually happy and effective is the minister who can drive a good car and live in a comfortable home, pastor a graceful church, plan wisely for his later years, and yet keep alive the divine fire of the blessed hope in his heart and in his preaching. Such a state is achieved only by the grace of God and a continuing vision of true sacrifice.
Reading a London magazine, we were impressed with the biography of Dr. Paul Harrison, desert doctor in Arabia. During the close of his medical education he unexpectedly heard a talk by Dr. Samuel Zwemer, who described "a land where slavery still existed and cholera repeatedly reached epidemic levels; where thousands of children suffered from malnutrition and malaria and where tuberculosis spread, unrecognized and unchecked."
Dr. Zwemer spotted the young man and wrote him a letter:
"'Arabia is the hardest mission field there is,' it read, 'for . . . (1) The climate is almost unbearable . . . a hundred in the shade ... hot all night. (2) Arabic, which you must learn, is the hardest language I know . . . (3) You cannot expect any converts in your life-time . . . All you can do is to serve and love, and let the results come as God sends them. (4) Our mission . . . has to raise its own money. (5) Missionaries must promise not to marry for five years. Life is too primitive as yet for women and children. Let me know what you decide,' Dr. Zwemer ended.
"'I'm your man,' Harrison replied. And then almost before he knew it there he stood on deck as his ship rounded Ras el Hadd at the southeast tip of the great Arabian peninsula and dropped anchor the next day in the harbour of Muscat, where Dr. Zwemer had himself been pioneering."
Thank God the spirit of early Advent sacrifice is still compelling many of our youth to make such decisions today. May their number be multiplied. And may our influence greatly encourage them.
However, let us explore this troubling thought a little further. What would be our attitude, regardless of position, if we were called to fill an emergency need in an unfavorable mission location where health would be endangered and bodily comforts few? Where would even we preachers stand in relation to vigor of sacrificial experience were we called to leave the material comforts we now possess, as do the thousands of good Seventh-day Adventist refugees in Europe? We spoke with two thousand German brethren and sisters who had left home, farm, bank account—all worldly possessions—and had started to build life all over again in the western sector. Their faith held firm, their courage was good. Their Advent hope sustained them when all earthly support disappeared.
A surprise may be in store for one who traces the references in the Scriptures to the word blessing. The result is enlightening. We may find that our sense of values is badly out of balance. What we consider success and what we consider blessings are not always so in God's sight. We hear a minister commenting on the "success" of his son in medicine. How "blessed" the young man is! He has a good practice, two automobiles, perhaps an airplane, but when we fail to hear whether the son loves the Lord and is faithful in his obligations to the church, we wonder whether we are aware of the true meaning of the words success or blessing.
Take the Beatitudes, for instance. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Now, we do not usually think of those who feel poor in spirit, or who sense their spiritual need, as especially blessed, and yet God says so. Jesus continues, "Blessed are they that mourn." Now, we do not usually consider the man who faces loss, when the light of his life goes dim through loss of a companion, as blessed. And yet God says he is. For out of the soul's midnight experience comes an understanding and a growth of soul that can be produced only under such experience. Then again, "Blessed are the meek." We do not usually consider the humble man to be the successful, blessed man. There is a tendency to look upon the forward, self-confident man as the blessed one.
But a study of Genesis 32 will help us to see what God means by the word blessed. The lesson lies in the experience of Jacob, who, terrified and anxious, wrestled with an unknown assailant until the break of day. We know that his assailant was the Son of God, and how true to His nature to wrestle for the mastery of the human heart. In desperation Jacob cried, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." Then the Divine One points to the heart of the whole matter with a very simple question: "What is thy name?" There was no accusation, no condemnation, just a kind question to bring confession to Jacob's lips, for a name in those days reflected the character. Shamefully the answer came, "Jacob [the supplanter]." The depths were uncovered. Jacob's soul was naked before God. It was the most honest moment of his life.
What is your name, fellow worker? Is it materialism? Is it secularism? Is it love of ease? Is it ego? or is it Israel—a prince and overcomer with God? Let the divine Wrestler speak the question; you speak the answer.
In Patriarchs and Prophets on page 201, we find that "Jacob's experience during that night of wrestling and anguish represents the trial through which the people of God must pass just before Christ's second coming." How pleasing to God and how personally satisfying it would be to surrender the material emphasis, the secular emphasis, that may be crowding the thinking of some workers today. Remember the experience of Jacob, and endeavor through it to find the true meaning of the word blessed.