When I was a boy my parents lived in a little town sixty miles from the nearest Seventh-day Adventist church, and those were the horse-and-buggy days, when people didn't travel far from home.
A minister used to visit us about once in one or two years and it was an outstanding event in our home. We talked about this godly man for weeks after he left, recounting his words and his actions, and his deep interest in us. We also began to count the days until he would return on his next visit.
Later on, a minister moved to our town and began a series of evangelistic meetings. Of course, we attended them all. "Our minister," as we called him, and his wife were self-sacrificing people. They talked sacrifice and they practiced it in their own lives.
Everyone liked our minister except the preachers of other denominations, who lost some of their members to our church. Then our minister would be denounced, and Adventists in general would be ridiculed and derided. Of course, all this had its effect on my life, as I had to attend public school until a church school could be opened. Our preacher knew just what to say to soothe the hurt in our hearts and to encourage us to faithfulness in the face of taunts and sneers on the part of our non-Adventist classmates.
I have since analyzed the character of our minister, who baptized me and who had such an important part in encouraging me in the Christian way. First of all, he loved the Lord. One didn't have to be with him long to learn this. He gave all he could to the cause—his heart, his time, and all the money he could possibly spare beyond actual living expenses. He and his wife lived simply and frugally, not only because he needed to in view of his small salary but because he wanted to give all he could to the Lord to help finish the work.
He loved the people and saw in each one a soul for whom Christ died. He worked untiringly, visiting and praying with all who would listen to him. He had no side lines, but rather gave himself fully to his evangelistic and pastoral work. I am sure his motto was "This one thing I do."
The light in his house burned late as he studied and prayed. His sermons were practical, and they helped us much as we applied them to our daily living. His sermons were always in the field of reality—the reality of Christ, the reality of sin, the reality of forgiveness, the reality of the earth made new, et cetera. Christ was the theme in all his sermons, and I remember how our hearts burned within us as he spoke to us regarding Matthew 24:14, and of his faith that the work of God would be finished according to His plan. It is true that our membership was small back in those days. We had only a few thousand in all the world, but his confidence was strong and abiding for the gospel conquest on a world scale.
He made a deep and lasting impression on his hearers because he lived as he preached. I never heard him argue with people about the truth he proclaimed. He was challenged to debate, especially on the Sabbath truth, but he said there was nothing to be gained in debates, for the people only became angry and bitter afterward. I am sure, however, had he accepted the challenge, he could have won the debate because of his outstanding personality and his knowledge of the Bible.
Our minister was not eloquent as we think of eloquence, but when he preached, it was with power, and the people thought he was speaking to them personally. By his sincerity and knowledge of the Word he won souls to Christ. There is an eloquence far more powerful than the eloquence of words in the quiet, consistent life of a true Christian. What a man is has more influence than what he says. Eloquence may be a gift or it can be acquired. If a preacher has this gift and is humble and consecrated, and uses it to the glory of God, it surely can become a powerful instrument in the hands of God to proclaim the message. On the other hand, I believe that a preacher who may not be gifted so far as eloquence is concerned but whose heart is dedicated to God's work, who is consecrated and sincere, will have the power of God rest upon him, and he will have success in his soul-winning work.
Our minister had a well-balanced program. He preached the Word, studied with the people, won them to the message, baptized them, encouraged them to be faithful and to win others. And he placed upon their hearts the financial responsibility of supporting the cause with tithes and freewill offerings. He instilled into our lives the joy of giving, and the members understood their duty and privilege to return to the Lord a portion of what had been entrusted to them, and they gave freely and willingly.
Satan is continually working to divert the minds of God's people from the responsibility of supporting the evangelistic endeavors of the church and the finishing of the work in all the world, and he directs their minds to the material things of life. Sometimes ministers, if not alert and watchful, become entangled in the tempter's wiles.
It is encouraging to study the growth of our work in the light of the consecrated efforts of our ministers in all the world. They are laboring in nearly every country of earth in hundreds of languages and dialects. We are now a mature organization over one hundred years old. Our membership has grown rapidly during the past few years in particular. What took sixty-three years to accomplish, with reference to our membership during the years 1863 to 1927, took only five years between the years 1950 and 1955, and the membership continues to grow until it now exceeds one million.
It is true that we are working in nearly every country in the world, but the task within those countries is still very great. Think also of the many counties in the United States and Canada—home-base fields—where so many souls have not as yet heard our message. Surely, as a people we still have a great work to accomplish.
I learned back in the days of my youth that the Seventh-day Adventist denomination had adopted the Bible tithing plan. Our preacher knew all about it, and he put it into operation in our church. The plan was unique in that the money was paid into the conference treasury and used solely for the support of the ministry. Ministers of many denominations recognized, and still do, the value of the tithing plan, but they have not been able to secure the consent of their people to pay a tenth of their income to their church. Our ministers find it unnecessary to hold bazaars, raffles, et cetera, to provide money for their wages.
The freewill offerings that come from the Sabbath schools, Ingathering, and special offerings are sent through the regular channels to the General Conference treasury. In turn, the General Conference at each Autumn Council appropriates funds for the world work, to provide for ministers' salaries and related expenses in mission lands. As new members are won to the church and the offerings increase, additional funds become available for increase in appropriations. This enables the fields to strengthen and expand their work. Our system of finance as established by this people has proved a great blessing through the years.
I believe from my observations that the members of our church love to give to the cause. I heard a pastor express his fears that his members would become impoverished by giving too much, therefore they needed to be protected from what he termed "excessive giving." I have not known of any of our people who have suffered because they contributed to the cause of God.
Ministers, or pastors, occupy most important positions in carrying out the great commission. The Lord has laid upon them heavy burdens. They are the keepers of the flock. We have a wonderful message; it reaches into every country, knows no boundaries, has reached into hundreds and thousands of homes and touched and converted hearts, and won them to Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.
I want to pay tribute to our ministering brethren. Their loyalty and devotion to this cause and to duty has been an inspiration to our people. It is through their consecrated efforts and the blessings of God upon our work that the message has progressed so rapidly.