When the cause of God moves forward, it is usually the consequence of spiritual arousement. The fundamental step to spiritual arousement is study and meditation on the inspired Word of God. God has called His people's attention to the importance of this study of His Word. The Word of God is powerful. It generates spiritual energy. It gives spiritual orientation as no other source does. It persuades men to turn from wrongdoing to righteousness. The Word induces men to a most profound consecration in Christian service. These advances in Christian life are brought about by the study of the Word, and by meditation on the divine precepts and promises. There is no substitute for the reading and study of the Word of God.
Ezra the scribe was a man with preparation for a special influence on the people of God at the time of the return from Babylonian captivity. He had attracted the attention of King Artaxerxes, with whom he often conversed about the God of heaven. At one point in his experience he was impressed by the Spirit of God to seek a higher plane of spirituality. "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments" (Ezra 7:10). In this short passage much can be discerned. The first fact to note is that Ezra had resolutely prepared his heart to study the Scriptures. This study involved diligent searching for truth. It meant a hovering over the sacred writings in fervent prayer. Deep, dedicated study would include a profound meditation and the turning over and over of spiritual truth in the mind. Ellen G. White comments on his study as follows:
To the experiences of Israel from the time the promise was made to Abraham, Ezra gave special thought. He studied the instruction given at Mount Sinai, and through the long period of wilderness wandering. As he learned more and still more concerning God's dealings with His children, and comprehended the sacredness of the law given at Sinai, Ezra's heart was stirred. He experienced a new and thorough conversion, and determined to master the records of sacred history, that he might use this knowledge to bring blessing and light to his people.—Prophets and Kings, p. 608.
As he became familiar with the Scriptures and the grand truths contained in them, his work was to practice the principle of righteousness in his own life.
Ezra endeavored to gain a heart preparation for the work he believed was before him. He sought God earnestly, that he might be a wise teacher in Israel. As he learned to yield mind and will to divine control, there were brought into his life the principles of true sanctification, which, in later years, had a moulding influence, not only upon the youth who sought his instruction, but upon all others associated with him.—Ibid., pp. 608, 609.
Ezra's crowning activity was to teach others the precious truths of the kingdom. Ezra must have been a talented teacher, for the Biblical record states, "He was a ready scribe in the law of Moses." His personal aplomb and his reverence for the things of God are witnessed by his manner on one occasion before the people. He "opened the book in the sight of all the people; . . . and when he opened it, all the people stood up." He "blessed the Lord. . . . And all the people answered, Amen, Amen." Then the people reverently bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord.
On the second day we are told that the people of their own free will came together to "understand the words of the law." As an outgrowth of Ezra's leadership in the study of the Scriptures they began to celebrate the meetings which had for so long been forgotten. As they came together from day to day, the Scriptures were read. Many references point up the fact that reform followed the ministry of Ezra. "Wherever Ezra labored, there sprang up a revival in the study of the Holy Scriptures. . . . The books of the prophets were searched, and the passages foretelling the coming of the Messiah brought hope and comfort to many a sad and weary heart."—Ibid., p. 623.
The work of Ezra began a spiritual revival, which was due in view of the fact that God's people were to move out of a state of coldness, spiritual irresolution, and discouragement into an attitude of trust in the purposes of God, and of holy bravery for fulfilling the grand plan that was moving toward the wonderful phase in which the Son of man was to come to this earth. A beacon was to be kept burning to show the truth of God to the nations round about. The people of Ezra's day had a part to act in the long program of the loving heavenly Father. God's truth was to be lived out in daily life. The dedicated ministry of Ezra in the study of the Scriptures, and the knowledge and spiritual inspiration and instruction that came from the Word, together with the power of the Spirit, prepared the people for their great responsibility in building again the foundations of the kingdom.
The principles of the kingdom are the same today as they were in the time of Ezra. The people who are called by God to do the great things in His cause will find that only by a devout study of the Word can they perform the duties imposed. A necessary complement is to follow the great truths in daily life. All the spiritual results that followed the work of Ezra, and more, will come to us in this day as we search the Scriptures for guidance, courage, and spiritual inspiration.
At this time we as Seventh-day Adventists expect great strides to be made toward the kingdom. We are right on the threshold of grand and meaningful events of the most far-reaching consequences. History is being made at a rapid speed. Events that might have taken years in the past to accomplish are today done in merely months or days. We stand in the very time that the Holy Spirit is to be poured out for the finishing of the work of God in the earth. The maneuverings of the forces of evil foreshadow the coming of religious persecution. We live in times when special spiritual discernment is needed in identifying the subtle evil influences that are creeping over the earth like a wild beast stalking its prey. The challenge of carrying the gospel of the soon coming of the Lord rises before us in larger proportions and greater demands almost from day to day. We must be but a short distance, probably nearer than most think, from such challenging experiences as "the sealing," the "shaking time," and the time spoken of in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation, when true Christians will have to take a stiff stand for God's truth, and those who do will not be allowed to buy or sell.
Meeting the Crises of Today
To meet the crises these events will cause will require of us a most devout and profound study of the Scriptures. We stand on vantage ground, as compared with the times of the patriarchs and the prophets of the Bible. We have the benefit of both the complete Old Testament and the New Testament. Then through the providences of God we have the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. There are fifty-two books in this collection in the English language, and many of them are published in other main languages of the world. These books elucidate and explain the purposes of God in the language and circumstances of our own times.
Our great need at this time is first, study of the Holy Scriptures; and second, the study of the writings of the Spirit o£ Prophecy. In writing this, we recognize that many among us are devoted students of these two sources of spiritual instruction and inspiration. But we appeal to those who admit that they have not given the attention to these writings that they truly merit. And we urge those who have been diligent students of the Word and the Testimonies, to take courage and go still deeper in their studies, and to herald with more enthusiasm still the wonderful truths that should be made known now.
If we would study parts of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, and read such chapters in The Great Controversy as "The Final Warning" and "The Impending Conflict," what solemn mien our lives would assume. Every day would take on new importance, and meaning to us. As other chapters are studied and the whole book is read, new spiritual concepts would spring up and grow in our hearts, and we would be enormously influenced to let God have His way completely in our lives.
As we contemplate the great challenge of carrying the gospel message of the soon coming of the Lord, what wonderful inspiration would come from a deliberate and thoughtful study of the book of Acts in the Bible, and the reading of the precious volume, The Acts of the Apostles. By being reminded of the way the Lord led the church of the apostolic age in its victorious march into all the then-known world, we would be able to see, not with the nebulous-ness of "trees walking," but with the clearest vision, how God will lead His people to victory at the end of time in making known the truths of God in all the earth. We believe that great numbers will seek to know the precious truths of the Bible just before the end. Let each member and each minister face the question: "Am I ready to do my part in that significant movement?" When those "thousand in one day" come into the true church, will my own personal attitude be helpful?
The Scriptures reveal to us that there will be persecution at the end of time, when false religions are predicted to rise to challenge the pure faith of the Bible. Ellen G. White has some excellent instruction on how the faithful are to conduct themselves in those perilous times. In the present index to her writings there are eighty-five entries under the heading "Persecution." These are all inspiring and instructive. If we studied the references to persecution in the Bible, or even one quarter or one half of these eighty-five references in the Spirit of Prophecy, we would have a realization of what this great subject means to the church and to us as individuals.
Then there is the subject of "The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit." Jesus told His followers to pray for it. He explained how the Spirit would minister to the church, and be poured out on "all flesh" at the time of the end. And the messenger of the Lord tells us some amazing truths about the Spirit and His wonderful working. These are aspects of our religious instruction that cannot, dare not, be neglected. The Holy Spirit will bring all other blessings in His train.
Space does not permit the mention of a listing of more of the important subjects we should all be studying and reading for a preparation to meet the solemn events that are right upon us. We believe that the hour has struck for a greater devotion on the part of all in the study of the Word and of the Testimonies. The time has come when a daily study of religious subjects is a must in the life of the Christian who expects to be able to stand firm for righteousness in our times. As in the days of Ezra, we stand at a crucial time in the experience of the church. We must manifest a renewed interest in the writings of inspiration. As we study the grand truths of inspiration, either for the first time or as a repeat study, our concepts and understanding will be deepened and enlarged by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we shall be prepared for the glorious triumph of the cause of God, and have a part in it.
May this be the wonderful privilege of all who have named the name of the Lord Jesus!