IT WAS Sabbath morning, June 18, 1966, Detroit, Michigan. About 12,000 people had met in Cobo Hall as our newly elected General Conference president delivered the morning sermon. It was a most moving and solemn message and all present listened with good attention to the mighty challenge that was presented—and responded.
Soon the meeting was over and the congregation swarmed out, each person eager to go to dinner or some other interest or appointment that had previously been arranged. As I watched them disperse, the question came to my mind, What would happen if we really believed the glorious truth of the morning message? What would take place in the church and the world if that large group representing God's last church would go home and put into immediate zealous personal practice the things they had heard? What miracles for God would be accomplished! What tremendous good would be done! How soon might the work of God be finished and Jesus come!
Heart Preparation Needed
What a thrilling message we have and what limitless power has been promised to attend our labors if only we will prepare the way for the outpouring of the Spirit of God! This preparation, dear fellow workers, must be a real heart preparation. We must, one day, the sooner the better, give God complete, undivided control of our lives without any mental reservations or purposes of evasion whatsoever. When this is done the promise of the Father will be fulfilled. The work will go like fire in the stubble. Thousands will be converted in a day. Pentecost will be repeated, but with greater demonstrations of power, and Jesus will come.
The servant of the Lord has given us some very valuable counsel as we approach the day of the Lord:
I was shown God's people waiting for some change to take place—a compelling power to take hold of them. But they will be disappointed, for they are wrong. They must act, they must take hold of the work themselves and earnestly cry to God for a true knowledge of themselves. The scenes which are passing before us are of sufficient magnitude to cause us to arouse and urge the truth home to the hearts of all who will listen. The harvest of the earth is nearly ripe.—Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 261.
The message of Christ's soon coming is to be given to all the nations of the earth. Vigilant, untiring effort is required to overcome the forces of the enemy. Our part is not to sit still and weep and wring our hands, but to arise and work for time and for eternity.—Christian Service, p. 83.
Everything in the universe calls upon those who know the truth to consecrate themselves unreservedly to the proclamation of the truth as it has been made known to them in the third angel's message. That which we see and hear calls us to our duty. The working of satanic agencies calls every Christian to stand in his lot.—Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 25, 26.
With these thoughts before us and with the glorious prospect of Christ's coming so vividly brought to our minds, let us study a simple but beautiful and all-inclusive prayer. It is taken from Psalm 139:23, 24: "Search me, 0 God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
We Do Not Know Ourselves
One of the strange things about human nature is that it does not truly know itself. We know a great deal about machinery, transportation, communication, science, education, religion, and many other related fields. We have in recent years unearthed some of the most securely locked secrets of nature, animate and inanimate, but we do not really know ourselves. There are portions of our characters that we do not fully comprehend, nor do our most highly trained psychiatrists. There are things we do for which we cannot give a satisfactory explanation, not even to ourselves. There are words that we sometimes speak that shock us every bit as much as those who hear us. Sometimes we seem a bit detached as we listen to our own almost unrecognized voice saying something that we did not think was really in us. This is the nature of sin, and sin is our great problem. This must have been the pathetic experience of Peter when in his crisis hour he cursed and swore his denial of his Lord and Master.
Shocked by What We Do
The ancient prophet spoke a great, tragic truth when he said: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). These are inspired words and they therefore must be true. We can deny it and argue about it, but all the intricate maneuverings of our modern psychology and theology do not change that fact. We are impressed with this as we reflect on some of the strange reasoning we do when we try to justify ourselves in wrongdoing. We are sometimes shocked and frequently amazed at the illogical things we do and the conclusions we reach.
Jesus said: "But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man" (Matt. 15:18-20). For this reason the inspired apostle admonishes: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). And again: "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (chap. 9:27).
One cannot help being deeply impressed by the tragic confession of the wise man as recorded in Song of Solomon 1:6: "They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept." Of how many ministers might this be truthfully spoken? We are busy caring for the work of the Lord. We are also endeavoring to care for the lives of our people, while at the same time seeking to bring many precious souls to a knowledge of this truth. All of this is commendable, but if this is done at the risk of neglecting "our own vineyard" then we need to give some very careful consideration to our entire program.
Our Greatest Danger
"The heart is deceitful above all things." That is to say, there is nothing more deceitful than the human heart. Therefore, we are ourselves in the greatest danger of being deceived by it. This is the only explanation for the words, thoughts, and deeds that go to make up our unworthy lives, and from our own personal experience we know that this is true. That this is true even of sincere Christians is clearly seen from the penetrating analysis of the remnant church found in Revelation 3:17: "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." This is honest deception but it is deception, nevertheless. It is a deception that leads us to believe that we are all right when we are all wrong; that we have all we need when in reality we are destitute; that we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ when in reality we are naked; that we can see the glorious light of His truth when in reality our eyes are blind. This is indeed a sad condition to be in.
We are all familiar with the words of the last verse of the nineteenth psalm: "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, 0 Lord, my strength, and my redeemer." But how many of us have seriously thought about the words that immediately precede this as recorded in verses 12 and 13? "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression."
The servant of the Lord in commenting on this text makes the following startling statements:
No man can of himself understand his errors. . . . The lips may express a poverty of soul that the heart does not acknowledge. While speaking to God of poverty of spirit, the heart may be swelling with the conceit of its own superior humility and exalted righteousness.
In one way only can a true knowledge of self be obtained. We must behold Christ. It is ignorance of Him that makes men so uplifted in their own righteousness. . . . But no man can empty himself of self. We can only consent for Christ to accomplish the work. Then the language of the soul will be, Save me in spite of myself, my weak, unChristlike self. Lord, take my heart; for I cannot give it. It is Thy property. Keep it pure, for I cannot keep it for Thee. Mold me, fashion me, raise me into a pure and holy atmosphere, where the rich current of Thy love can flow through my soul. —Christ's Object Lessons, p. 159. (Italics supplied.)
"Search Me, O God"
It is most fitting therefore that we should fervently, daily pray, "Search me, 0 God, and know my heart." For we have been warned:
As Christians we are less thorough in self-examination than in anything else. . . . Self-love will prompt you to make a superficial work of self-examination. . . .
"The Lord looketh on the heart"—the human heart, with its conflicting emotions of joy and sorrow—the wandering, wayward heart, which is the abode of so much impurity and deceit. He knows its motives, its very intents and purposes. Go to Him with your soul all stained as it is. Like the psalmist, throw its chambers open to the all-seeing Eye. . . . Submit your heart to be refined and purified; then you will become a partaker of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. . . . The peace of Christ will be yours. Your name will stand registered in the book of life; your title to the heavenly inheritance will bear the royal signet, which none on earth dare question. No one can bar your way to the portals of the city of God, but you will have free access to the royal presence and to the temple of God on high.—Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 332, 333.
What a tremendously thrilling statement this is, and what marvelous blessings have been promised to those who from their hearts pray this prayer.
"Try Me, and Know My Thoughts"
This is a most solemn request and should never be uttered unless we are genuinely sincere. Do not think that such a prayer will go unanswered. We may literally be asking for trouble because what we are actually saying is: "Put me to the test, any test; prove me through whatever means Thou dost choose. Discover my most secret thoughts, and painful though it might be, reveal them clearly to me. Then send what is needful so that I may be fitted as a dwelling place for Thy Holy Spirit and prepared fully for Thy heavenly kingdom."
There are some texts that we need to bring into focus in this light if we are to prove faithful and be found ready. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold, that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:3-7).
"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:2-4).
The Purpose of It All
This, then, is the purpose of it all. This is what is included in our prayer, "Try me, and know my thoughts." One of the most sublimely comforting statements in all the writings of the servant of the Lord is:
No soul is ever finally deserted of God, given up to his own ways, so long as there is any hope of his salvation. "Man turns from God, not God from him." Our heavenly Father follows us with appeals and warnings and assurances of compassion, until further opportunities and privileges would be wholly in vain.—Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 93.
Someone has said: "The ills we see, the mysteries of sorrow deep and long, the dark enigmas of permitted wrong have all one key. This strange, sad world is but our Father's school, all chance and change His love shall overrule. What though thou canst not see it all, the hidden reason for His strange dealing through the trial season. Trust and obey and in afterlife . . . all will be made clear and all will be made right."
This is a vital lesson that all of us should earnestly seek to learn. My father was a sea captain, and many times he would be gone from home for months. From the time that he left we would look eagerly for his return. There were few things that he feared, but one thing above all else was a constant source of concern to him. It was not the fog, or the rain, or the snow, or the wind, or the waves, but a dead calm. When he returned safely our family would sing the following hymn with a great deal of feeling:
If through unruffled seas
Calmly toward heaven we sail,
With grateful hearts, O God, to Thee,
We'll own the favoring gale,
But should the surges rise,
And rest delay to come,
Blest be the sorrow, kind the storm,
Which drives us nearer home.—Church Hymnal, No. 249.
It is by these means—the sorrows, the storms, the trials—that our characters are developed for the kingdom of heaven.
Search for Idols
"See if there be any wicked way in me." This appeals for a thorough search, a search for any idols of any description, for perverseness or selfishness, or untruthfulness, for dishonesty with either man or God; for impurity in thoughts or in word; for hatred, which is murder; for disobedience in any of God's requirements; for any other response of any kind, to evil. And why should such a thorough search be made? The answer is found in Testimonies, volume 5, page 216: "Now is the time to prepare. The seal of God will never be placed upon the forehead of an impure man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of the ambitious, world-loving man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of men or women of false tongues or deceitful hearts." In Hebrews 4:12 we read: "The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
We are judged finally by our motives. This counts more with God than what we actually do or say. We stand condemned or justified before Him for the evil or good which we intended to do but were held back by force of circumstances from doing. "It is an important duty for all to become familiar with the tenor of their conduct from day to day and the motives which prompt their actions. They need to become acquainted with the particular motives which prompt particular actions. Every action of their lives is judged, not by the external appearance, but from the motive which dictated the action."—Ibid., vol. 3, p. 507. (Italics supplied.)
These, then, are the vitals of our lives, our motives, our real intentions, our secret reasons. By these we shall stand or fall. It is possible, then, in the light of these statements, to be factually right but morally wrong. It is also possible to be factually wrong but morally right. "The pure motive sanctifies the act."—The Sanctified Life, p. 8.
"Lead me in the way everlasting." This indicates complete, unreserved surrender to the divine will. It means yielding up all selfish desires and interests. Its result will be a God-controlled, God-guided life, which is the ultimate in Christian living. But the way everlasting is the way of sacrifice and self-denial. This is the only way, for it is the way He went.
One of the greatest problems we face as Christians is to come to the place where we are so completely surrendered to the revealed will of Christ that we will gladly follow in His steps both in the Palestine way, as outlined in the gospel, and the more recent paths pointed out by the messenger of the Lord.
As Christians we are eager to accept that which does not require any real sacrifice or surrender or self-denial, but we are tragically reluctant to accept that which cuts across our way of life or our own opinion. For example, most Christians claim to accept the assurance of God's love, the Bethlehem story, the coming of the Lord and the future life, the doctrine of baptism, the importance and privilege of prayer, the necessity of observing the golden rule. But when it comes to the faithful observance of the true Sabbath, tithe paying, total abstinence from harmful foods and drinks and pleasures, and the other great truths that strike at the treasures of their lives, they rebel.
For us it might not be any of these things, then again, it might. Instead, it could be a refusal to follow light, the clear beautiful light that shines upon this church in the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy. We come to the place where we gladly accept that which requires no real self-denial or sacrifice or reformation, but turn back at that which God in His goodness and love has revealed which cuts across our narrow, prejudiced, personal opinion and desires. But if we truly give our lives in full surrender to the Lord and are willing to follow, He will do a complete work and lead us all the way.
He Knows the Way
"Lead me in the way everlasting." This suggests the beautiful picture of the Good Shepherd and His sheep. He knows the dangers and sacrifices and self-denials. He knows the doubts and other vicious enemies we face. He knows the dry and desolate places along the way. He knows the way. It is marked with His own blood. But, thank God, He also knows where the refreshing water is and where there is good food, green pastures, precious comfort, shelter and safety. It is the way of the cross.
About five years ago it was my privilege to climb Mount Rainier, and this was not only an interesting but a challenging experience. Two camps are established on this climb that are worthy of notice because of the names and the experiences attached to them. The first was Camp Misery, which was reached at about the 10,000-foot level. This camp was quite easily accessible to us, but the reason for its name came from the fact that the climb ahead for the next 1,000 or 1,500 feet was the most difficult and dangerous of the entire trip. And so as we rested at this camp we were reminded of the miseries that lay just ahead. The second camp was at about the 12,000-foot level and this was called Camp Comfort. This was on the other side of the more diffi cult places which we needed to climb after we left Camp Misery. With these difficulties behind us and with the beautiful snow-covered top of Mount Rainier just before us we were privileged to enjoy the comfort of this camp. There was still more than 2,000 feet to climb but the most difficult part was behind us, and having come this far, we were confident that our guide would lead us safely all the way to the summit.
We, today, are at Camp Misery. The days ahead will be filled with difficulty and trials, persecutions and perplexities, that shall test us to the very limit. But beyond Camp Misery is Camp Comfort, which God has provided for those whose faith in Him remains steadfast and strong. He is our guide. He leads us by the way of the cross in the way everlasting.
"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps. 139:23, 24).
My earnest prayer for the total ministry of the church is that we might know the surrender that shall prompt us all to daily offer this prayer and to know the abounding joy of having it answered.