EDITORIAL NOTE: This material was presented as a devotional message at a meeting of the Biblical Research Committee. We believe it can be helpful to all of our workers and are pleased to make it available through the pages of THE MINISTRY.
TEXT: " (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)" (Num. 12:3).
Mrs. White comments on this statement: Patience and gentleness under wrong were not characteristics prized by the heathen or by the Jews. The statement made by Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that he was the meekest man upon the earth, would not have been regarded by the people of his time as a commendation; it would rather have excited pity or contempt. --The Mount of Blessings, p. 14.
And so it is today, for the world has not changed. Like the people of Malachi's time, "we call the proud happy." Mr. Milquetoast is our characterization of the humble man, and he gets short shrift in our literature, in our business world, or on our social ladder. Instead, the man who fights back gets the plaudits of the throng.
Soviet Premier Khrushchev, visiting a cathedral in Western Europe, is reported to have remarked to his hosts:
There is much in Christ that is common with us Communists, but I cannot agree with him when he says, When you are hit on the right cheek turn the left cheek. I believe in another principle. If I am hit on the left cheek I hit back on the right cheek so hard that the head might fall off.
Yes, the world today has no use for the meek man. But the Bible elevates such a man to the very pinnacle. Notice:
"The meek shall eat and be satisfied" (Ps. 22:26).
"The Lord lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground" (chap. 147:6).
"The Lord taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation" (chap. 149:4).
"The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord" (Isa. 29:19).
"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5).
In the sermon on the mount Jesus puts meekness among the very first qualifications for His kingdom. It is third among eight. And to go back to Moses, Mrs. White says, "Meekness in the midst of murmuring, reproach, and provocation, constituted the brightest trait in his character." --Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 368. Far from being a disadvantage in life, "The meekness and lowliness of Christ is the Christian's power." --Ibid., p. 559. "Lowliness of heart is the strength that gives victory to the followers of Christ; it is the token of their connection with the courts above." --The Desire of Ages, p. 301.
Wise Counsel From Wesley
John Wesley, near the close of his life, left some counsel for his followers that is equally appropriate to Christians in any clime or condition.
Beware of schism, of making a rent in the Church of Christ. That inward disunion, the members ceasing to have a reciprocal love "one for another" is the very root of all contention, and every out ward separation. Beware of everything tending thereto. Beware of a dividing spirit; shun whatever has the least aspect that way. . . .
Suffer not one thought of separating from your brethren, whether their opinions agree with yours or not. Do not dream that any man sins in not believing you, in not taking your word; or that this or that opinion is essential to the work, and both must stand or fall together. Beware of impatience of contradiction. Do not condemn or think hardly of those who cannot see just as you see, or who judge it their duty to contradict you, whether in a great thing or a small. I fear some of us have thought hardly of others, merely because they contradicted what we affirmed. All this tends to division. . . .
Expect contradiction and opposition, together with crosses of various kinds. Consider the words of St. Paul: "To you it is given, in the behalf of Christ," for his sake, as a fruit of his death and intercession for you, "not only to believe, but also to suffer for his sake." (Phil. 1:29). It is given! God gives you this opposition or reproach; it is a fresh token of his love. And will you disown the Giver; or spurn his gift, and count it a misfortune? Will you not rather say, "Father, the hour is come, that thou shouldest be glorified: Now thou givest thy child to suffer something for thee: Do with me according to thy will"? Know that these things, far from being hinderances to the work of God, or to your soul, unless by your own fault, are not only unavoidable in the course of Providence, but profit able, yea, necessary, for you. Therefore, receive them from God (not from chance) with willingness, with thankfulness. Receive them from men with humility, meekness, yieldingness, gentleness, sweetness. Why should not even your outward appearance and manner be soft? --"Christian Perfection," The Works of John Wesley, ed. 1872, vol. 11, pp. 433, 434.
The apostle Paul, writing to Christians in a more general situation, gives some counsel that is especially appropriate to those of us who are called to serve on this committee:
"Walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:1, 2).
And Mrs. White presses the message much closer home:
Moses "was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth," and this is why he was granted divine wisdom and guidance above all others. Says the Scripture, "The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way." Psalms 25:9. The meek are guided by the Lord, because they are teachable, willing to be instructed. They have a sincere desire to know and to do the will of God. . . . God . . . cannot lead those who are too proud to be taught, who are bent upon having their own way. --Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 384.
The Sin Most Nearly Hopeless
Pride, the opposite of meekness, obviously unfits us for usefulness in Biblical research. With devastating bluntness, Mrs. White observes:
The sin that is most nearly hopeless and incur able is pride of opinion, self-conceit. This stands in the way of all growth. . . . How can one improve when he thinks his ways perfect? --Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 199, 200.
In words that fit very neatly the avowed purpose of our study, she warns:
Christ will not undertake to teach the self-righteous, self-conceited, and self-willed. If such come to Him with the inquiry, What is truth? He gives them no answer. --Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 449.
Meekness, on the other hand, is the special grace that prepares us to open God's Word and receive its light.
The most precious fruit of sanctification is the grace of meekness. When this grace presides in the soul, the disposition is molded by its influence. . . . The understanding grasps every divine truth, and the will bows to every divine precept. . . . True meekness softens and subdues the heart, and gives the mind a fitness for the engrafted word. ... It opens the heart to the word of God, as Lydia's was opened. It places us with Mary, as learners at the feet of Jesus. The Sanctified Life, pp. 14, 15.
Unfortunately, Inspiration could not describe the church of the remnant as truly possessing the spirit of the learner. In stead, we are charged with saying, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing."
There is something very special about belonging to the true church. It is comforting to know for sure that we are right. Fulfilled and fulfilling prophecy, multiplied signs on every hand announcing the Second Advent, the assurances of God's inspired messenger for these last days, combine to give us an unshakable confidence. And in common with thousands of my fellow church members, I like it.
It's Good to Be Right
I especially like being right. If I have any patron saint in this area, it is the man who said, "I would rather be right than be President." In fact, I have spent my entire professional career being paid to be right. I am supposed to know the right way to spell and arrange words, the true facts of history and geography and literature, and the correct presentation of theology. What the Review and Herald publishes must be right or so its reading public seems to think.
So, of course, I am supposed to detect all the errors of all the authors who submit manuscripts for publication and make the necessary corrections.
Such professional excellence may be accepted as normal and doubtless would not be considered a spiritual drawback. But you may be suspecting that there could be an occupational hazard in all this. Perhaps it is possible for this habitual slant of mind to be transferred to other areas of life. I frankly admit the hazard, and I am not prepared to insist that the transfer has not occurred. But as I review my life and experience, I discover that I had a proclivity for being right before I ever came to work at the Review.
Perhaps there was something in my family situation that is responsible. You see, I am the eldest of four children, and naturally I carried considerable responsibility. The other children looked up to me, and expected me to know what was right to do under varying circumstances. Since they were younger and more helpless, I always tried to have an answer to their questions. And they believed in my knowledgeableness, for I always answered with confidence and positiveness. And then one day in young adulthood, I learned that I didn't have to have the right answer to all the questions anyone cared to ask me. My brother, exercising some of his own sense of freedom, deliberately asked me a question to which he already had the right answer, and though I didn't positively know the answer I hopefully made a guess in order to maintain my family reputation as a fount of wisdom--and I guessed wrong.
No, it wasn't the confidence of my brothers and sister that got me into this. I was born with it--a proud heart that wanted to be looked up to, thought brilliant, always right.
Yes, I like being right, but now I hope I recognize that there is a spiritual hazard in it. Maybe I should be a little more humble about my knowledge. Perhaps it isn't so much. My good friend and fellow editor H. M. Tippett furnishes the mottoes which appear on the elevator walls in our office. He put up one that I hope is indelibly en graved on my heart--"We are all ignorant, only in different subjects." The apostle Paul was quite willing to admit that he didn't know it all. "Now I know in part," he told his Corinthian friends. I should be just as willing to confess my lack of total knowledgeableness.
We Don't Know It All
As Seventh-day Adventists we share a conviction that God has commissioned His last-day church to preach a special message of warning to the world in preparation for the second advent of Christ. That message was developed out of fulfilled prophecy, Bible study, prayer, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Its bearings and lines are clear and logical. It has convinced more than two million people in 126 years. As Mrs. White wrote in a letter in 1850, "We have the truth. We know it." --Ellen G. White letter 18. She also soundly condemns those who bring in interpretations of Scripture that contradict what we believe as a church:
When the power of God testifies as to what is truth, that truth is to stand forever as the truth. No aftersuppositions, contrary to the light God has given are to be entertained. . . . The truth for this time, God has given us as a foundation for our faith. He Himself has taught us what is truth. . . . We are not to receive the words of those who come with a message that contradicts the special points of our faith. Counsels to Writers and Editors, pp. 31, 32.
We rejoice in such firm assurances.
It comes as violent shock, then, for the average Seventh-day Adventist to be told that there may be some things wrong with our teachings. But Mrs. White was free to say it:
There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth. --Ibid., p. 35.
More truth or more light is not so hard to imagine as a possibility. After all Mrs. White does say:
It is a fact that we have the truth, and we must hold with tenacity to the positions that cannot be shaken; but we must not look with suspicion upon any new light which God may send. --Ibid., p. 33.
In a burst of pious intellectualism, we all would gladly proclaim our willingness to accept new light when God sends it to us. But I have a lurking suspicion that we might be a little more hesitant when some brother brings us some light he has found that contradicts what we have always believed.
It may be fairly easy for us to admit that the church as a whole may entertain some erroneous beliefs and may need some new light. But it is infinitely more difficult for me personally to admit that I have believed something that isn't truth, but error. I am much more inclined to consider my beliefs coextensive with "the positions that can not be shaken."
Be Willing to Change Your Mind
When I am absolutely candid with my self, I can see that my apprehension of truth is an opinion. It may be correct, and it may not be. My opinion is my own, and it is not to be identified with absolute truth. And it should be changed the moment I discover its flaws. And this with the help of the Holy Spirit I am determined to do. My real patron saint is not the man who would rather be right, but J. N. Andrews, who said at the age of 20, "I would exchange a thousand errors for one truth."
I find Mrs. White's instruction particularly stimulating and interesting.
We are not to think . . . that our own ideas and opinions are infallible. --Testimonies to Ministers, p. 105.
We must not become set in our ideas, and think that no one should interfere with our opinions.--Ibid., p. 110.
Those who sincerely desire truth will not be reluctant to lay open their positions for investigation and criticism, and will not be annoyed if their opinions and ideas are crossed. --Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 37.
No man should think that human opinions are to be immortalized. Any man taking the stand that he will never change his views places himself on dangerous ground. Those who hold the position that their views are unchangeable cannot be helped; for they place themselves where they are not willing to receive counsel and admonition from, their brethren. --The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Prov. 22:2, p. 1161.
We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed. As long as we hold to our own ideas and opinions with determined persistency, we cannot have the unity for which Christ prayed. --Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 37.
Discovering You Are Wrong
Learning new lessons is exciting and interesting. We all can enjoy that. It is really exhilarating to discover some new light, especially if we do it all by ourselves and by our own diligent study. But unlearning something that we have long held as truth is a traumatic experience--like being dismembered in an auto accident. We feel we are losing something of ourselves. I have suffered, and I have seen others suffer, the emotional shock of being told that a proof text long used to sustain a doctrine has been misapplied and that it doesn't really support what we believe. For some minds, at least, one such experience seems to shake down the entire temple of truth.
There must be some compelling reasons for Mrs. White's repeated counsels and cautions regarding preconceived opinions. Here is what she says of the dangers we face:
How often preconceived opinions, mental bias, imperfect knowledge, errors of judgment, prevent a right understanding of matters with which we have to do! --Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 68.
Self-will and pride of opinion lead many to reject the light from heaven. They cling to pet ideas, fanciful interpretations of Scripture, and dangerous heresies. --Selected Messages, book 1, p. 72.
It was the unwillingness of the Jews to give up their long-established traditions that proved their ruin. They were determined not to see any flaw in their own opinions or in their expositions of the Scriptures. --Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 37.
How Can I Know What Is Truth?
I find it in my heart to accept these counsels from Mrs. White and to apply them to myself. But I still struggle in my mind with something of a dichotomy. How do I know which of my views are firmly established doctrines and which are preconceived opinions that must be tested by the Word? They all look alike to me.
Perhaps I can find the answer in the fol lowing statements:
The Lord designs that our opinions shall be put to the test, that we may see the necessity of closely examining the living oracles to see whether or not we are in the faith. --Ibid., p. 36.
Investigation of every point that has been received as truth will richly repay the searcher. . . . And in closely investigating every jot and tittle which we think is established truth, in comparing scripture with scripture, we may discover errors in our interpretation of Scripture. --Review and Herald, July 12, 1898.
From this I conclude that I cannot tell which of my views may need correcting until I come with them all to the Bible; in fact all of the views which Seventh-day Adventists have held for years must be studied over and over again. Mrs. White tells us why:
Ever since the first promise of redemption was spoken in Eden, the life, the character, and the mediatorial work of Christ have been the study of human minds. Yet every mind through whom the Holy Spirit has worked has presented these themes in a light that is fresh and new. The truths of redemption are capable of constant development and expansion. Though old, they are ever new, constantly revealing to the seeker for truth a greater glory and a mightier power.
In every age there is a new development of truth, a message of God to the people of that generation. The old truths are all essential; new truth is not independent of the old, but an unfolding of it. It is only as the old truths are understood that we can comprehend the new. . . . He who rejects or neglects the new does not really possess the old. For him it loses its vital power and becomes but a lifeless form. --Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 127, 128.
How Should Biblical Research Be Conducted?
Mrs. White asks us a self-answering question:
How shall we search the Scriptures? Shall we drive our stakes of doctrine one after another, and then try to make all Scripture meet our established opinions? or shall we take our ideas and views to the Scriptures, and measure our theories on every side by the Scriptures of truth? --Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 36.
The answer is obvious. But elsewhere she sets forth the principles of Biblical re search with considerable detail:
We should not study the Bible for the purpose of sustaining our preconceived opinions, but with the single object of learning what God has said. --Testimonies to Ministers, p. 105.
The Bible must not be interpreted to suit the ideas of men, however long they may have held these ideas to be true. --Ibid., p. 106.
The student of the word should not make his opinions a center around which truth is to revolve. He should not search for the purpose of finding texts of Scripture that he can construe to prove his theories; for this is wresting the Scriptures.--Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 463.
In your study of the word, lay at the door of investigation your preconceived opinions and your hereditary and cultivated ideas. You will never reach the truth if you study the Scriptures to vindicate your own ideas. . . . Do not read the word in the light of former opinions; but, with a mind free from prejudice, search it carefully and prayerfully. If, as you read, conviction comes, and you see that your cherished opinions are not in harmony with the word, do not try to make the word fit these opinions. Make your opinions fit the word. Do not allow what you have believed or practiced in the past to control your understanding. --Messages to Young People, p. 260.
Meekness and Humility a Necessity
It is interesting how often the Spirit of Prophecy comes around to preconceived opinions in dealing with Bible study, but it is not surprising in the light of the fact that pride of opinion is declared to be the most nearly incurable of all sins. On the positive side is the frequent emphasis on meekness, humility, and a teachable spirit as prerequisites to an understanding of the Word.
In searching the Scriptures there is need of great humility of mind and contrition of heart, of seeking earnestly unto God. Those who come in a lowly spirit, seeking for truth, will be aided in their search by the angels of God. --Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 37.
The student of the Bible should be taught to approach it in the spirit of a learner. --Education, p. 189.
With humble hearts, subdued by the grace of God, you should come to the task of searching the Scriptures, prepared to accept every ray of divine light, and to walk in the way of holiness. --Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 25.
We must not forget that the docility and submission of a child is the true spirit of the learner. . . . We should not engage in the study of the Bible with that self-reliance with which so many enter the domains of science, but with a prayerful dependence upon God and a sincere desire to learn His will. We must come with a humble and teach able spirit to obtain knowledge from the great I AM. The Great Controversy, p. 599.
No wonder one great Christian sent this benediction to his friends as he neared the end of the journey: "Tell my younger brethren that they can be too big for God to use, but they cannot be too small."
Avoid Spirit of Controversy
And then this gentle counsel for us as we work together in Christian fellowship on this committee:
While there is need of thorough investigation of the word of God, that precious truth may be discovered and brought to light, we should be guarded, that the spirit of controversy does not control in our discussions. ... In bringing out points upon which there may be a difference of opinion, the grace of Christ should be manifested by those who are seeking for an understanding of the word of God. There should be liberty given for a frank investigation of truth, that each may know for himself what is the truth. --Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 27.
In harmony with Paul's instruction, let us "be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another" (Rom. 12:10), and "Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves" (Phil. 2:3).
Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.comments powered by Disqus