The sound of certainty

Kenneth H. Wood calls Adventist ministers to be twentieth-century Elijahs, proclaiming our message with authority and calling the world to a decision for truth.

Kenneth H. Wood is editor of the Adventist Review.

Elijah's confrontation with the priests of Baal atop Mount Carmel, as recorded in 1 Kings 18, is more than just an exciting story—it has special relevance for people in any age who have been given a divine mission, and particularly for Seventh-day Adventists.

Elijah had a mission, and he had the courage to fulfill it. He knew what he believed and he had the courage to stand for his beliefs in a time of great apostasy. Moreover, he felt a burden for the people. He knew that the only way to lead them out of apostasy was to state his case clearly and then call for a decision. "How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him" (verse 21).

The prophet Malachi, centuries later, recorded God's promise "I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (chap. 4:5). Our church, we believe, is the Elijah of this prophecy. Our message is the Elijah message. Our mission, in many respects, parallels that of Elijah. His repairing the broken-down .altar of the Lord reminds us of the prediction in Isaiah 58:12: "They that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shall be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in."

Elijah's peremptory challenge, "How long hall ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him," reminds us of the divine challenge addressed to God's people who are yet in Babylon—"Come out of her, my people, shall ye be not partakers of her sins, and shall ye receive not of her plagues" (Rev. 18:4). It reminds us also of the startling message of Revelation 14:7: "Fear God, and give glory lo him; for the hour of his judgment is come." This message has the same decisive sound that characterized the mes sage of Elijah. And Scripture says that it is proclaimed, not cautiously or timidly, not in a whisper or in quiet tones, but with a loud voice.

The pioneers of the Advent Movement were worthy heirs of Elijah. With deep earnestness they proclaimed the mes sage with certainty and called upon people to decide for truth. Charles Fitch, one of the most prominent of the Millerite leaders, preached: "If you are a Christian, come out of Babylon. If you intend to be found a Christian when Christ appears, come out of Babylon, and come out now. Throw away that miserable medley of ridiculous spiritualizing nonsense, with which multitudes have so long been making the Word of God of none effect, and dare to believe the Bible." There are overtones of Elijah in such a sound.

Joshua V. Himes, another Millerite preacher, wrote in the last issue of the Midnight Cry for 1843, "The advent of the Lord is right upon us. All our efforts now should tend to prepare for this solemn event." In an earlier issue Himes said, "OUR WORK is one of unutterable magnitude. It is a mission and an enterprise, unlike, in some respects, anything that has ever awakened the energies of man. It is not a subserviency to human institutions. It is not a conflict on a political arena. It is not the operation of a distinct religious sect. But it is an alarm, and a CRY, uttered by those who, from among all Protestant sects, as watchmen standing upon the walls of the moral world, believe the WORLD'S CRISIS is COME—and who, under the influence of this faith, are uniting in proclaiming to the world, 'Behold the Bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him!' It is an enterprise that swallows up all the petty peculiarities of sectarism, and unites us upon an elevation so far above those mercenary undulations, that they are utterly lost to our view below."

Of William Miller himself, a writer in the Pennsylvania Enquirer said in re porting his preaching in Philadelphia, "He utters his opinions in a somewhat positive tone, and occasionally appeals to his audience in language of earnest persuasion." This was the sound that characterized early Adventism. This sound of certainty must ever character ize the witness of the remnant church if it is to fulfill its mission. When Elijah begins to sound cautious and tentative, he is no longer Elijah. If Elijah does not announce boldly that he bears God's message, people will continue to halt "between two opinions," or as the Re vised Standard Version translates the phrase, " 'limping with two different opinions'"—obviously a figure of a cripple.

The sound of certainty has power to move people. The sound of uncertainty does not. A number of years ago, while I was pastor of a church in an Eastern State, a member told me of how she had become an Adventist many years before. While still in her teens she attended a series of meetings and became convinced that the evangelist was preaching the truth. With great courage she took her stand with God's remnant, in spite of such severe opposition from her own family that eventually she was forced to leave home.

"What made you decide to become a Seventh-day Adventist?" I asked. With out hesitation she responded, "Near the close of the meetings the minister said, 'As surely as God lives, this is the true church.' The certainty with which he spoke removed all doubts from my youthful mind. Then and there I decided to give my life fully to Jesus, no matter what it might cost." As I listened to her testimony and thought of the many years in which God had made her a blessing to her church and to her acquaintances, I thought, What if the minister had spoken with less certainty? What if he had been tentative, being determined not to sound bigoted or dogmatic? Would that teenager have renounced all for the sake of Christ? Probably not.

One of the greatest lacks of our day is the sound of certainty. With prophetic insight Ellen G. White described current conditions: "Human reasoning and the imaginings of the human heart are undermining the inspiration of the Word of God, and that which should be received as granted is surrounded with a cloud of mysticism. Nothing stands out in clear and distinct lines, upon rock bottom. This is one of the marked signs of the last days." —Selected Messages, book 1, p. 15.

By contrast, one of the most distinctive characteristics of Jesus' ministry was its note of certainty. Matthew re cords the fact that Jesus taught "as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (chap. 7:29). Ellen White states that "this characteristic set His teaching in contrast with that of all others. The rabbis spoke with doubt and hesitancy, as if the Scriptures might be interpreted to mean one thing or exactly the opposite. The hearers were daily involved in greater uncertainty. But Jesus taught the Scriptures as of unquestionable authority. Whatever His subject, it was presented with power, as if His words could not be controverted." —The Desire of Ages, p. 253. In a similar passage she says, "He [Christ] taught as one having authority. He spake as never man spake. There was no hesitancy in His manner, not the shadow of doubt in His utterances." —Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp. 236, 237.

Throughout history those who have borne God's messages have sounded a note of certainty. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and found the people worshiping the golden calf, immediately he identified the situation for what it was—idolatry and rebellion against God. He made no effort to see what some might have termed "the other side." He did not invite Aaron or others who were involved in the apostasy to enter into dialog on the value of images in the "worship experience." Had he done so, the result would have been compromise and adulteration of truth. Instead, he declared to the people, "Ye have sinned a great sin" (Ex. 32:30). He stood in the gate of the camp and said, "Who is on the Lord's side?" (verse 26).

When Jonah was sent to Nineveh he preached God's message, "Forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4), with such certainty and conviction that the entire city repented. What a disappointment it would have been to God and what meager results would have been achieved if Jonah had sounded like too many preachers today: "If I understand the situation correctly, God is not happy with what is happening in Nineveh. The evidence seems to indicate that He plans to destroy the city in forty days." Jonah's note of certainty was undoubtedly a most important element in causing the Ninevites to repent.

And who can fail to be impressed by the certainty of the message pro claimed by John the Baptist? As the Second Advent Movement is the "Elijah" of today, so John was the "Elijah" of his day. His mission was to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. With authority he called upon the people to repent, and when they repented and asked him what they should do, he told them. He didn't say, "Well, do what you think is right." No! To the publicans he said, "Don't be dishonest in the amount of taxes you assess the people." To the soldiers he said, "Don't accuse anybody falsely." To the people in general he said, "Share your food and clothing with those who are destitute." John was be headed for his honesty in labeling Herod an adulterer, but it is better to die as a person of integrity than it is to fail in a divinely appointed mission.

Seventh-day Adventists have been raised up to present God's last message to the world. This message stands squarely on the truth that the last of the great time prophecies ended in 1844. It declares that we are living in the judgment hour and that soon Jesus will come. It calls upon people to meet Jesus face to face and to be taken from a sinful society into a sinless one.

Am I mistaken, or are we hearing less from our pulpits today than in previous years about the soon return of Jesus? Do we hear less about the solemn work of the judgment now going on in heaven? Do we believe less in the advent of Christ than we did decades ago? Or have we merely been infected by the times in which we live, by the uncertainty and the cautious attitude that prevails all around us? Do we avoid saying that Jesus is coming soon lest we be accused of sounding dogmatic or for fear we might look like false prophets if Jesus doesn't come as soon as expected?

It seems at times that we are more concerned with our reputations than we are with presenting the message that God has for the world in these times. AH of us are slightly susceptible to the Jonah syndrome: we would rather be vindicated as God's messengers than have present truth accomplish its work.

It's natural, of course, for human beings to want their messages proved right, and the sooner the better. But let us always keep in mind that it is more important for a message to achieve its purpose than it is for our reputation to be maintained. God's messengers must present His message and leave the results with Him.

In Jonah's situation, was the message he delivered actually of God? Yes! Was the outcome of giving that message God's responsibility or Jonah's? It was God's responsibility.

Think back also to the Millerite movement. Was the Millerite message "present truth"? It was. Was it in God's providence that the great Disappointment be experienced by the believers? It was. Was God able to overrule the great Disappointment and turn even such a major mistake into a means of bringing glory to His name? Indeed! In fact, today 3 million Adventists testify that God did do precisely that. The point is, we should not hesitate to preach God's truth as we understand it. We should preach with certainty and leave the results with God. Fortunately we can say with the apostle Peter, "We have not followed cunningly devised fables" (2 Peter 1:16). We dare preach with certainty; indeed, we dare not preach with out it. With all the authority that the Scriptures carry, we can proclaim the three angels' messages and urge men and women to repent and prepare for the coming of Jesus.

Notice the certainty of the following passage: "When the power of God testifies as to what is truth, that truth is to stand forever as the truth. No after sup positions contrary to the light God has given are to be entertained. Men will arise with interpretations of Scripture which are to them truth, but which are not truth. The truth for this time God has given us as a foundation for our faith. He Himself has taught us what is truth." —Selected Messages, book 1, p. 161.

In one of her most stirring passages, Ellen White wrote: "Ministers who have preached the truth with all zeal and earnestness may apostatize and join the ranks of our enemies, but does this turn the truth of God into a lie? ... It is as certain that we have the truth as that God lives; and Satan, with all his arts and hellish power, cannot change the truth of God into a lie." —Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 595.

To make such a statement is not to say that we have all the truth. In this life we shall ever be learning, and in the next life we shall continue to learn throughout eternity. But we may proclaim the truths set forth in the three angels' messages with as much certainty as Elijah and John proclaimed their messages. If we don't, we have failed to meet God's expectations for us.

But equally important as knowing the truth in theory is knowing the Author of truth, Jesus Christ. Elijah never would have stood on Mount Carmel and said "Let's see who the true God is" if he hadn't known the true God himself. The apostle Paul would never have given himself to a life of persecution, inconvenience, suffering, and humiliation if he hadn't known Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour. He was able to say, "I know whom I have believed." It was that foundation of knowing the Saviour that enabled the apostle Paul to preach with such certainty and such power.

We today must know Jesus as our personal Saviour. We must love Him. We must fellowship with Him. He must be in our thoughts constantly. Just as one who looks at the sun sees the image of the sun continue in everything he sees, so it is when one gets a glimpse of Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness. Every thing is seen in relationship to Him.

Soon the blessed Saviour is coming. Soon He shall lay aside His priestly robes and don His kingly garments. Soon those hands that were extended so often in blessing during His earthly ministry shall be extended once more, this time to open forever the eyes of the blind, to heal forever the crippled and diseased. Soon that voice that carried such authority on earth in teaching shall sound throughout the world, and the message shall be heard even by the sleeping dead, "Awake, awake. Come and share the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the earth." Thus we need to heed the admonition of Hebrews 10:35-37: "Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. . . . For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry."

Let us proclaim the message that God has given us with the authority that it deserves both verbally and through the witness of our lives. Let us call the world to make a saving decision in these times of apostasy, as Elijah made his appeal atop Mount Carmel. In the midst of uncertainty may we let the world know that there is a voice of certainty, the voice of Jesus, calling men and women to salvation.

Note:

This article is adapted from a sermon given April 28, 1979, at the Pioneer Memorial church, on the campus of Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. The original sermon is one of the selections offered in the December Aspire Tape-of-the-Month Club. Members will receive the tape automatically; others may order the December selection for only $4.50. Annual membership in the Tape-of-the-Month Club (two C-90 cassettes monthly) is only $45.00.

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Kenneth H. Wood is editor of the Adventist Review.

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