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Teachings Strange to Us Appear
I recall it well; for it troubled me. "How is this?" I felt in my heart: A year ago we were urged to stand by, to uphold the hands engaged in a good work and a strong work. Now come cautions to be on guard against some suggestions that might come. I said nothing, but I surely murmured in my tent, as we are told some in the camp of Israel murmured at times when they did not understand. Very soon we were to learn why the cautions had come.
Early in the summer the health book that was to be sold for the benefit of the sanitarium work had been practically finished. The author had gone to Europe for a time. Assistants were seeing the book into type. Proofs of the great portions of the matter had been placed in the hands of W.W. Prescott, Field Secretary of the General Conference, who was acting executive while the chairman was in Europe. He was troubled by some of the expressions in various chapters. It seemed to him readers might get wrong ideas of the relation of God and nature from certain portions. I was at the headquarters as one of the younger men in those days, as secretary of the Mission Board, and Professor Prescott called my attention to two or three chapters, which I read from the proofs.
In talking with one of the author's medical associated I mentioned my feelings that wrong ideas might be obtained from the language in certain portions of the forthcoming book. My medical friend looked the matter over, and wrote me of his convictions that the matter questioned was right and in harmony with
our message, however differently truths might be expressed from the scientific standpoint. He felt we ought to be ready to accept advancing light. To reflect our puzzled situation, as we were feeling our way along, I quote as follows from a letter I wrote to my friend in reply (dated June 5, 1902). I said:
(It is to be understood that this letter was in no wise official, but merely a personal note to a friend. As secretary of the Mission Board, I had no authority to pronounce about books or policies. But I am giving, necessarily, my own memories of a crisis in which each one had to get his own bearings as issues developed. And I must tell it as my own personal contacts gave me a view of the crisis our cause passed through.)
Very shortly the author of the forthcoming book returned from abroad.
Possibly my medical friend had given him some hint of my feeling about the book, as expressed in the above abbreviated extract. At any rate, I received from the author a line requesting that I call. We spent the whole Sabbath afternoon in the interview.
Sitting down with no thought that there could be any differences of a really controversial nature, and with the heartiest of friendly feelings, personally I was at once in the midst of a discussion of the most controversial questions. Instead of things in the book being inadvertently overdrawn because of employment of scientific terms, unfamiliar to most of us, I learned that the teaching was conservatively stated in the book; that the teaching was really of intent to signify that God was in the things of nature. "Where is God?" I was asked. I would naturally say, He is in heaven; there the Bible pictures the throne of God, all the heavenly beings at His command as messengers between heaven and earth. But I was told that God was in the grass and plants and in the trees (with motions to the grass and trees about us, as we sat on the open veranda.) Where is heaven? I was asked. I had my idea of the center of the universe, with heaven and the throne of God in the midst, but disclaimed any attempt to fix the center of the universe astronomically. But I was urged to understand that heaven is where God is, and God is everywhere in the grass, in the trees, in all creation. There was no place in this scheme of things for angels going between heaven and earth, for heaven was here and everywhere. The cleansing of the sanctuary that we taught about was not something in a far-away heaven. The sin is here (the hand pointing to the heart), and here is the sanctuary to be cleansed. To think of God as having a form in the image of which man was made, was said to be idolatry.
By any understanding I had of language, I was listening to the ideas of the pantheistic philosophy that I had met with in India. In fact, I was told that pure pantheism, as the early teachers conceived it, was indeed rightGod was in the things of nature. A personality was in every blade of grass and in every plant.
Trying to get the import of it all, I seemed to me these ideas set all earth and heaven and God swirling away into mist. There was in it no objective unity to lay hold of. With scripture terms and Christian ideas interwoven, it seemed the old doctrine of the Hindus all nature a very part of Brahma, and the Brahma the whole.
Over against this mysticism I found it good to let my mind lay hold of the concrete picture of scripture and of the Spirit of prophecy. I urged that there is a place called heaven; and there God's throne is, and there the personal God is as He in person is not in all places. There is the Garden of Eden, translated to heaven before the Flood, with trees that once grew on earth, as real and tangible in heaven as when they grew rooted in the soil of Eden on earth. The redeemed, in immortal flesh, can walk in the midst of the garden and go up to the throne and see the Father's face, and they can go from the throne down through the garden. The pictures of little "Early Writings," with their concrete descriptions of the verities of heaven and the New Jerusalem, an the scenes and the redeemed first enter there were a blessing to me [during] that interview.
As I came away, I knew well enough that there was nothing of the Advent message that could fit into such a philosophy. As I had listened, one light after another of the message seemed to be put out. Religious teaching that to me was fundamental was set aside. Looking back upon the experience, I was reminded of a description that I read many years before the interview, of a visit paid to Schopenhauer, the pessimistic philosopher of Germany, by Robert Buchanan, literary man of London. The poet and writer closed his report of impressions at that interview in Frankfort with the words (quoted from my memory of fifty years ago, but fairly accurate):
That is exactly how I felt as I came away from an interview in which I had seen a hand ruthlessly pass from lamp to lamp turning off one light after another of the shining third angel's message. Then I knew, of course, why the counsel of the Spirit of prophecy had come urging caution. I had murmured about it at the time. But now, it was all too plain that there was indeed cause for caution and carefulness. Anew for my own heart's salvation I went over every feature of the controverted points in the next day or two. I settled it anew in my heart that this advent message was the everlasting truth of God.
But then another perplexity arose. What about those counsels of a year before, urging hearty cooperation? What about those sayings of the Spirit of prophecy concerning the good work and the strong work, with which the Lord would have all hands cooperate? The interview had shown me that the attitude toward the truth which had startled me was not a matter of a few months. The ideas expressed dated back through a series of years. They had evidently been in the brother's mind at the very time when the testimony was telling of the good work and the strong work and urging closest association. How about that? I thought.
But I had learned one thing about the Spirit of prophecy. I had learned to wait. I would not suggest that I had learned it thoroughly, but at any rate I had found that the best thing to do when one did not understand, was to wait and see. One learns by hard experiences that the Lord has many ways of doing things that we poor humans may not foresee. Thus while I wondered at the apparent endorsements of a year before, I waited to see the explanation.
The explanation came, two or three years later. When the issues had come fully into the open, the agent in the work of the Spirit of prophecy sent to the General Conference headquarters in Washington copies of the instruction which, during the preceding dozen or fifteen years, had been written out for the brother concerned. There I found the explanation of my difficulty concerning the instructions of commendation. In the series of communication and their dates it was all made plain. At the very time when associates were being told the strong points, the good points, the splendid work with which it was to be their duty to cooperate
holding up the hands that were engaged in that important work in which the Lord was aiding at the very same time, I say, and from long before, communications had been going personally to the one concerned, warning of the tendencies to wrong views, and setting forth the urgency of making changes in plans and policies and sentiments and attitudes.
How plain it all was! If the warnings had been placed before those who were called to cooperate, the very warning would have weakened their hands and unfitted them to give unstinted and whole-hearted help.
One could see in it the long-sustained effort of the Lord to draw a beloved workman of His away from the wrong course to the right way. It helps one better to understand the continual struggle that goes on in heaven for men. There is not one of us but has our strong sides and our weak sides. The Lord, by every agency at His command, is seeking to influence every one of us to repudiate the things of our natural mind and heart and to develop the strong and the good traits planted by grace in every life.
In the light of the facts revealed, it was apparent that there was no ground for perplexity or difficulty over the communications from the Spirit of prophecy. Far from that, there was plainly apparent the touch of more than human planning and discretion and precision in the passing on of counsels. Many good mothers in Israel have had part in the work of the Advent Movement; but we have never seen them handling intricate matters as we have seen things handled all through the years by the agent called of God to exercise the gift of the Spirit of prophecy.
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