What God begins, He finishes. To do this is characteristic of His nature. "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev. 22:13). Another version describes Him as "The Commencement and Completion." To the apostle Paul, He is "the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2). In the Lord's Prayer we solemnly pray, "Thy will be done." Yes, it will soon be completed, and the work for human hearts will be over. God's will for man will be done. For it was God Himself who initiated the search for lost man.
Before there was a man to work for other men, the Good Shepherd sought and found His sheep that was lost. "And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day. . . . And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?" (Gen. 3:8, 9). This was the first evangelistic effort ever conducted anywhere in the universe. And it was an open-air meeting. All the elements are there: (1) The power of God, (2) the Word of God, (3) and sinners trembling under conviction. Missing are the assorted props, gimmicks, and other present-day "essentials."
Is it possible that the intervening years have obscured the line that separates the central from the peripheral? Does revival await our early return to childlike dependency upon the power of God and the Word of God to convert sinners and bestir the saints? Yes, it was the love of God for man expressing itself in that Garden search that constituted evangelism. And only God can do this. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6).
Nevertheless, we have our commission: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). This order applies to every convert. Brethren, when will we pledge ourselves to press this concept upon our people with the same organized diligence that we have trained them to every-member giving? If there is neglect among us, this is it! In my opinion our failure to do this has multiplied our ills. Thousands of idle saints, "coming and going like gates on their hinges," who live and give but fail to seek the lost, constitute the potential for the greatest blessing or direct curse to the church of the living God. It will not be easy to undo what a hundred years of idleness has done.
Initial efforts to reform the saints are apt to be discouragingly slow. The minister who undertakes this must be prepared to lay siege before the battlements of lay-idleness through weary months and years. This will be no hastily launched attack and sudden breakthrough. And we must be prepared to be laughed at, opposed, and bitterly assailed by the souls we are trying to lead into soul-winning experience. But this is the price of our late beginning. Nor is this any time for departmental self-righteousness. These are desperate times—and the need is for desperate men who will apply drastic measures. And for this, my brother, the deadline was yesterday.
But why does God involve man as an agent in the salvation of other men? It is certain that He could do a better job alone. And there are the angels. Had the job of saving souls been turned over to them it would have been finished long ago. But the great Creator chose to share with man the privilege of seeking his lost brother. Why?
1. Along with prayer and Bible study seeking the lost is essential to the maintenance of our own spiritual experience. Small wonder that there is a swelling rate of apostasies among the churches. Idle minds and hands grow feeble. In the hearts of such, faith faintly flickers, then yields unnecessarily to encircling gloom. The problem has been erroneously labeled nothing to do." Correctly stated, it is "doing nothing" that destroys most saints.
Seeking the lost charges one's own spiritual batteries. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7). This text, so often negatively interpreted, has a positive aspect that is powerful. What we sow in others, we reap for ourselves. To contribute to the rebirth of a soul is to augment one's own spiritual renewal. Soulsaving is essential to one's own continuance and renewal.
2. Sin had to be shown in its true character, and this demanded time. Man's being included as a partner in soulsaving slowed down the process, and sin stands naked before the universe—its true nature no longer in doubt in the minds of the unfallen beings in the universe. Human participation has given sin time to disgrace itself. And given time, it always will. Sin has now been discredited and God is justified. Since Calvary, sin's days have been numbered. Now that this purpose is accomplished, the end will come quickly. Indeed, there is reason for astonishment that time lingers still.
You say, All men are not yet aware of the gospel, and until they are, Christ cannot come. True. But what could hinder God working with those who will cooperate with Him and bypassing those who won't? In short, the Creator, betrayed by the creature, is not obligated to him. Now that God is justified in the sight of men and angels He is at liberty to "finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth" (Rom. 9:28). What is to hinder God from finishing alone what He began alone?
But He will not do it that way, you say. True in a limited sense, I answer. But only because many will sense the frightful urgency of this hour and arise to the help of the Lord. But what of those who do not? God will intervene directly. Angels will do what men might have done. Tarrying time is past! The time of the end yields its scepter to the end of time. World events provide telltale symptoms of the hastening climax. One gets the uncomfortable feeling that heaven grows restless with our snaillike pace. So far, we've been too slow, with too little, and now it is almost too late.
Hindering some is the deceptive opiate of inevitability. After all, haven't the prophets spoken? And will not their prophecies come to pass? True. But things don't just happen. Spirit-filled men must shoulder their responsibilities and fulfill the prophecies, or yield to angels their blessed privilege. Some are depending on the little "time of trouble" to effect a change—as if it were some magic period in church history charged with correctional grace to right all wrongs. Time will reveal the fatal element in this reasoning. But may we here note that trouble alone cannot stir the church to action. Nor is there hope for those individuals who fail to exhaust present privilege of preparation and service. The faithful now will be the champions then. The diligent now will be the faithful then. For the others, future trouble will only reveal the cruel self-deception in their present spiritual poverty.
It is important that we dissociate in our thinking our belief in God's ability from the evident slow pace of present progress. We have literally embraced the world with the "two arms" of the message. Yet, above and beneath our arms lie unentered counties and parishes with millions of unwarned inhabitants. However staggering the task, God is able! There was nothing more forbidding than the Red Sea—but it parted. Then Jericho—it fell; then Jordan—it backed away; then the rock in the wilderness—it yielded its moisture. God is able! There is evidence that He is not waiting for man. Stories persist from various parts of the earth of men who are being taught by angels. One man in New Guinea who was illiterate gave evidence of this when the brethren found him. He knew the facts about such subjects as the Sabbath, the millennium, the state of the dead, and healthful living, even though there had been no teacher in the area. Or had there? In South Africa a man was literally led to the Seventh-day Adventist Church by the Lord. Does this not constitute an ultimatum that, except the commissioned perform the commission, He who began this work alone will finish it alone?
Then let there be a great advance all along the line across the earth. Let God's man's voice be heard uplifted—though in the solitary place unheard—for 'tis thus God will find a witness in the day of retribution. The message must be preached wherever man is found, amid the teeming multitudes and thinly populated wastelands. It must be carried to the secluded mountain dweller and the nomad of the plains. And it shall be that every valley will be exalted and the crooked be made straight. "And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water" (Isa. 35:7). And it will be said of Him who called us to this task, "He spake and it was done."
E. E. C.