General Douglas Macarthur, soldier of fame, world figure, and in recent years top business executive, was invited a few weeks ago to address the graduating class at West Point. It was from this Army officer school that Douglas MacArthur graduated with honors more than half a century ago.
As he was leaving the hotel the doorman said, "Where are you bound for, General?" "West Point," was the reply. "A beautiful place," remarked the doorman. "Have you ever been there before?" He certainly had been there before, for this beautiful place is the throbbing heart of the U.S. Army.
San Francisco is also a beautiful place. And to many of us its streets and buildings seem almost bound up with the progress of the Advent cause. Happy and sobering memories crowd in as we meet again by the Golden Gate.
It was in 1918 that this city first opened its arms to us in welcome. Since then every General Conference session but three has been held here. Following that session in 1918, W. A. Spicer, reappointed secretary of the General Conference, visited Australia. He naturally came to the college at Avondale and preached in the church erected when Sister White was there. His messages meant a great deal to a group who were about to leave the college to begin ministerial work. I refer to this for just one sobering reason: every one of those men called to leadership at that time has now gone to his rest. We, tonight, are another generation. Shall I say a receding generation? That all depends on how we heed the beckoning hand of history. The well-known phrase of the late President Roosevelt, "This generation has a rendezvous with history," is surely pertinent.
If I speak to you tonight as a somewhat seasoned soldier of the cross, you will not misunderstand, for it has been my privilege to serve many years in this cause. I have known the joys and the hardships of battle on many spiritual fronts around the world. The enduring fortitude, the complete dedication and self-abnegation of workers, sometimes in the giant cities of the world and at other times out in areas where death daily stares men and women in the face and where comforts are unknown, have inspired me. Their confidence in the ultimate triumph of this message has enabled them to drain deep the chalice of courage. Nothing but the beckoning hand of history keeps them at their posts. Sometimes chilled by wind and storm, at other times ankle deep in mire and filth or blistered by the scorching sun or drenched by torrential rain, often separated from loved ones—these heroes of the cross carry on their work dominated all the time by one great purpose—the winning of souls from darkness to light. We might well pause to pay them tribute, but we must do more than that. We must back them up, or better still, share their lot.
From this ministerial convention and the great session that opens in two days must come a new sense of divine power. "Business as usual," must not be our watchword. These are extraordinary times, demanding extraordinary men. We need the power that moved the apostles. We thank God for better-trained theologians, but our most desperate need is for men "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 6:5), men whose "sufficiency is of God; . . . able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit" (2 Cor. 3:5, 6).
The power that came upon the pioneers of the Advent Movement must fall afresh on us. We need their vision, their courage, their faith. Could our forefathers have been living in our day, what messages they would have preached! Reflect a moment on how we all got here. What changes have come in transportation! But what of the future? Already men are traveling five times the speed of sound, twice as fast as a machine-gun bullet.
The other day a woman called up Northwest Airlines in Minneapolis. "How long will it take me to fly from Minneapolis to Chicago?" she asked. The desk attendant was not quite sure, so he said, "Just a moment." "Thank you," said the woman and hung up! Well, it takes more than a moment to travel from Minneapolis to Chicago now, but who knows what the future holds? Man's penetration into outer space is already accomplished. The real problem is innerspace. That is still unsolved, because man's heart is still deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Only men who have a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ can meet the challenge of this generation.
Our biggest need personally and ministerially is a baptism of power. When the apostles preached, whole cities came together to hear the word of God. Those first evangelists were not spinning fine points of theology, nor were they "nibbling away at the niceties of the sacred text." They were presenting Christ, the living Word. They preached Him evangelistically as Saviour and Lord. They preached Him ethically as Teacher and Example. They preached Him eschatologically as Judge and coming King. But more than that, they preached Him as a contemporary power, the Ruler in the hearts of men. They could do this because Jesus was no longer just a historic figure with them; He was the King of glory interceding for them at the throne of grace, and baptizing them with the power of the Holy Spirit. And as they preached Christ to the multitudes they were not just repeating His teachings, they were doing His works—healing the sick and even raising the dead.
The book of Acts is really the record of the work of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost was not a mere hallowed memory; it was a continuing experience. Jesus, the Lamb of God, who by His sacrifice had taken away the sin of the world, was now at the throne of grace baptizing those ministers with power. Through the grace that came from the throne of grace, God was taking away the sin from the hearts of men. "As the living Father hath sent Me," said Jesus, "so send I you."
Here is a divine equation. Jesus was born of the Spirit and later was baptized of the Spirit and thus empowered for the ministry. All of us know something of the first, for we are born-again Christians. What we need to know more of is the second—the baptism of the Spirit of God. Could we. as God-called men, experience the real power of grace in our ministry, the whole world could be enlightened in less than a decade. To know the doctrine of God is not sufficient. We need to know the power of God. Our churches need more than a program; they need a demonstration of divine power in the preaching of the Word.
The church was born in an atmosphere of vital ministry, and it advanced under the mighty preaching of ministers and members who were daily giving a demonstration of the risen Christ. Preaching has been stated as "a transmission of a Person by a person to a company of persons; the person being transmitted being Christ the eternal Word." That is true.
In John 1:1, where reference is made to the eternal Word it is written with a capital W. But in Acts 8:4 when we read of the scattered church preaching the "word," the translators spelled it with a small w. There is no warrant in the Greek for this distinction. The Latin translation of the word logos is sermo, which is the root of our word sermon. If we insert the word sermon for logos it becomes a challenge. "In the beginning was the sermon, and the sermon was with God, and the sermon was God." Are our sermons so saturated with the living Word that when we preach our people see God? The Holy Spirit anoints us that by our preaching we might glorify the Lord Jesus, not ourselves.
During this convention new ways of presenting Christ before the world will be studied. How do we present Him? We may be doctrinally correct but spiritually impoverished. An old saint who has been a member of the Advent Church for more than sixty years said to me recently: "During these last few years a wholesome change has come into the preaching of many of our ministers. They are presenting much more of Christ and salvation than they used to do." This is heartening, for "of all professing Christians, Seventh-day Adventists should be foremost in uplifting Christ before the world."—Evangelism, p. 188.
When Peter was writing to the church he said: We have "preached the gospel unto you with [or better, "In"} the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven" (1 Peter 1:12). The whole substance of the message was Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and the sole inspiration was the Holy Ghost. Philosophy, poetry, art, psychology, literature, ethics, sociology, history, and science are all attractive as subjects for study, but God pity the people if these constitute the substance of our preaching.
We need more than alluring words of human genius; we need the power of the Holy Ghost. And one who delivers his message under the power sent down from Heaven may speak with chastened simplicity, but the people will sense that the message is from Heaven. Paul said: "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance" (1 Thess. 1:5). Are our people receiving the assurance they need for this hour?
The supreme question for us as preachers is not what subject can I choose to arrest the people's attention, but rather, what themes can I present so as to be sure that the Holy Ghost will be in my preaching? In Acts 10:44 we read: "The Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word." Just as genius lifts the painter or poet far above the common man, so the Holy Spirit will lift the preacher far above the man of genius.
We meet here as ministers of the Word. This is not an administrative council, but a ministerial council. Let others debate the controversial issues and meet the needs of organization. But let us seek for the power that God has promised. Let us come in confession of our need. How desperately we need the latter rain! The Lord says, "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds" (Zech. 10:1). The margin says "lightnings." And lightnings bring rain. Lightnings also cause fires. In 1945 more than 1,400 forest fires were caused by lightning in California alone. But in this State a very efficient fire-fighting organization was put to work and every one of those 1,400 fires was extinguished. Would it not be wonderful if every one of the more than 1,400 ministers and workers in this meeting tonight could return home to his field as a burning bush for God, ignited by fire from the altar of God. And let us pray that no fire-fighting equipment will be used.
Dr. MacKay, president of Princeton, said recently: "One of the most serious troubles in the church today is that it is legitimate to be emotional in anything but religion. . . . The moment the church becomes programised, it becomes a monument unto God's memory, and not an instrument of His living power. . . . Even a crudely emotional approach to religion is preferable to religious formalism which is purely aesthetic and orderly, yet lacking in dynamic power.''
That power must come to us individually. It has been well said, "God has no grandsons." Only sons can radiate the glory of God, for He does not work by proxy. The prophetic picture in Revelation 18:1 shows the climax of God's work in the earth. The greatest spiritual movement of all time will be when this great message sweeps over the whole world in the power of the latter rain. Must we wait another generation to see this accomplished? I do not believe so. The beckoning hand of destiny is calling us onward. We must arise and enter into this divine program. Were Paul here he would say, "Quit you like men, be strong." And "the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, ... make you perfect, . . . working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ- (Heb. 13:20).
This movement is not destined to disintegration but to sweep through the gates into the city of God. A triumphant host gathered from every nation, every city, every village on earth—a people saved by the grace of God. This is our heritage, our privilege, our destiny.
"Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things,
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.
"Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you cloth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up, and make her great!"