Approaching Prophetic Study 1

Approaching the Study of
Scripture and Prophecy, Part 1 of 2*

The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.
Herbert Spencer

From the quotation just noted we find that one man recognized a very important truth. All of our learning should lead us toward more than just knowledge, or knowing about something. it should inspire us to action and hopefully change our lives… for good.

In this study we are going to examine what is needed in order for us to understand Scriptural truth; and especially that which relates to us in these days.

The necessary elements for comprehending God’s word must begin with the person seeking an education, being in possession of a true and living relationship with God, through faith in Christ Jesus. Without a living experience, and the help of the Holy Spirit, our comprehension of the depths of truth would probably be rather limited.

Apart from this essential foundation, there are 7 principles needed in order to make progress in our search for truth. What follows is a list of the related topics we will give attention to:

1. Maintaining an open mind

2. Beginning studies with prayer

3. Preserving physical health

4. Studying with an interest to learn

5. Studying intelligently

6. Study without disputation and quarreling

7. Study with a sincere desire to understand truth

This may seem like a very basic approach — If you are a seasoned student of the Scriptures, you may be wondering why I would write a whole chapter to review such things. Don’t we already know these? Aren’t they obvious? It is just because these things are obvious that we are going to examine them in more detail. We often overlook, or bypass, the obvious; and in studies relating to spiritual matters this is something that we cannot afford to do. Each point has a role to play in developing our understanding of truth, and they must all be put into action together to produce correct results.

If I were to ask if you have an open mind; if you pray; and are well physically; if you are interested in learning; and are intelligent; if you don’t fight and quarrel over personal thoughts and opinions people present when they discuss things; and if you have a sincere desire to understand the truth; I’m sure that most reading this would answer yes to most, if not all, of the above points.

But, of course, God has ways of testing our sincerity in this area. Test? Why test, you may ask? There’s no need for that… I am a believer, and I love God and His truth. Nevertheless, in spite of our fervent profession, He will run a check to see if it harmonizes with what we say.

God has always used truth to test His people. From Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, unto the present, and even until the close of human probation, the Lord has, and always will bring mankind face to face with His word to see what they will do with it; to reveal the spirit with which it is received, and how it will be acted upon. Will it be welcomed or rejected? The understanding we obtain, and the decisions we make in our studies here, may determine the difference between eternal life or eternal loss.

In recent years, the attention of many Christians, including Seventh-day Adventists, has been drawn, in one way or another, to the dangers associated with doctrinal errors and deceptions, especially in the area of prophecy. Sometimes I think we know more about the false teachings than we know about the truth.

Persons which come from outside our church organization, desiring to present things of a Scriptural nature to us, are many times rejected, even without being heard, because they are not of us; and more often than not, we critically question any attempts to introduce thoughts or ideas, that may be different than we have previously understood, that have come from within our own church. If the Lord wanted to give us more light than we now have, how would it be possible for Him to do so, if we hold a closed door policy even to Him?

Many seem gripped with fear if a doctrinal point is mentioned, or discussed, that the church hasn’t put its official seal of approval on. We talk more about wolves coming in among us, than light coming in, and yet light is what we need.

We want everything we believe to filter down to us from the top levels of the organization, and if it doesn’t come in just the ways we’re accustomed to, we tend to close our eyes and ears without even stopping long enough to see if perhaps it is Jesus seeking entrance to His church.

While I don’t mean to criticize our efforts to keep a strong wall of separation between truth and error, I do believe that the top level we look to for all of our understanding along spiritual lines needs to be higher than the roof of our General Conference buildings. If we fail to see beyond these things, we may find ourselves leaning on arms that cannot sustain us in the greater tests and trials that are just ahead.

And so, God sometimes tests us, to see if we will allow Him to reveal more than we have previously known.

Even our much respected Advent pioneers, with all of their zeal and sacrifices, at times in their history failed this test. We, living in these last days, must do better than those who went before us. Jesus said to his disciples:

“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” John 16:12

We need to learn how to let the Lord help us understand the Scriptures, so we can more fully know, not only what to believe, but why we need to believe it.

“Men stumble over the truth from time to time,
but most pick themselves up
and hurry off as if nothing happened. ”
Sir Winston Churchill

Now that you have some things to think about, let’s examine the above-noted 7 principles needed in order to help make progress in our search for truth:

1. MAINTAINING AN OPEN MIND

“When a doctrine is presented that does not meet our minds, we should go to the word of God, seek the Lord in prayer, and give no place for the enemy to come in with suspicion and prejudice. We should never permit the spirit to be manifested that arraigned the priests and rulers against the Redeemer of the world. They complained that He disturbed the people, and they wished He would let them alone; for He caused perplexity and dissension. The Lord sends light to us to prove what manner of spirit we are of. ”
Gospel Workers, pp. 301, 302

“The Holy Spirit is wanting in our work. Nothing frightens me more than to see the spirit of variance manifested by our brethren. We are on dangerous ground when we cannot meet together like Christians and courteously examine controverted points. I feel like fleeing from the place lest I receive the mold of those who cannot candidly investigate the doctrines of the Bible.

Those who cannot impartially examine the evidences of a position that differs from theirs, are not fit to teach in any department of God’s cause. What we need is the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 411

“When a point of doctrine that you do not understand comes to your attention, go to God on your knees, that you may understand what is truth, and not be found, as were the Jews, fighting against God. Light came to them, but they loved darkness rather than light. When warning men to beware, to accept nothing unless it is truth, we should also warn them not to imperil their souls by rejecting messages of light, but to press out the darkness by earnest study of the word of God. Greater caution should be exercised by all, lest we reject that which is truth.” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 11, 1890

“When a message is presented to God’s people they should not rise up in opposition to it; they should go to the Bible, comparing it with the law and the testimony, and if it does not bear this test, it is not true. God wants our minds to expand.”
Testimonies to Ministers, p. 119

“A fair investigation will not fail to reveal wonderful things in God’s Word. Every jot of resistance places the opposer in a darker shade. He does not want to see. He will not search God’s Word. But opposition and resistance only serve to bring out truth in new, distinct lines. The more truth is spoken against, the brighter it will shine. Thus the precious ore is polished. Every word of slander spoken against it, every misrepresentation of its value, awakens attention and is the means of leading to closer investigation as to what is saving truth. The truth becomes more highly estimated. New beauty and greater value are revealed from every point of view.”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 21, 1888

In 1888, there were important doctrinal points that came forth to be reviewed by the delegates present at the General Conference. Some of these points were very controversial, and many of the leading men wanted to know what Sr. White’s stand was on these things. Notice what she said regarding issues she had not previously considered before: “…We did want an investigation, but I cannot take my position on either side until I have studied the question. …I want our young men to take a position, not because someone else takes it, but because they understand the truth for themselves.”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 24, 1888

“I entreat you to exercise the spirit of Christians. Do not let strong feelings of prejudice arise, for we should be prepared to investigate the Scriptures with unbiased minds, with reverence and candor. It becomes us to pray over matters of difference in views of Scripture. Personal feelings should not be allowed to influence our words or our judgment. It will grieve the Spirit of God if you close your understanding to the light which God sends you.”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 1, 1888

“It is perilous to make decisions upon any controverted point without dispassionately considering all sides of the question.”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 1, 1888

“I would have humility of mind, and be willing to be instructed as a child. The Lord has been pleased to give me great light, yet I know that He leads other minds, and opens to them the mysteries of His Word, and I want to receive every ray of light that God shall send me, though it should come through the humblest of His servants.”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 1, 1888

These statements reveal clearly, that Sr. White was not petrified in her thinking about differing perspectives or thoughts relating to the truth. She reserved her judgments until time could be given to conduct a thorough examination of all sides being presented. I too believe that this position is the most correct one to hold, irrespective of the subject under discussion.

2. BEGINNING STUDIES WITH PRAYER

Whenever we pray, and especially before beginning a study regarding truth, a door is opened between earth and heaven whereby God can communicate with us. It is a great privilege to have access to Him in this way, considering that we abide in a fallen world. He has graciously promised not only to hear His children when they call, but to answer them as well. Through the agency of prayer, coupled with the help provided by the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Spirit of Prophecy writings, and a host of other credible reference materials, it is possible to determine the difference between truth and error. Everything that has been provided is essential, but all of it would profit us little without the connection we make with the Lord when we begin with prayer. Making the most of this opportunity is one of our greatest blessings.

“Everyone should feel that he has the privilege of searching the Scriptures for himself, and he should do this with earnest prayer that God will give him a right understanding of His Word, that he may know from positive evidence that he does know what is truth.”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 1, 1888

“He who studies the truth, who prayerfully opens the eyes of his understanding to see and his heart to receive the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, will be in harmony with the messenger and the message God sends. All opposition, all the prejudice, all the suggestions of the enemy, will never make the truth less precious or less true. 
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 21, 1888

3. PRESERVING PHYSICAL HEALTH

It has been stated on more than one occasion that the messages we have received on health are the right arm to what we believe. If we learn and follow these counsels, our physical life, compared to that of many others, will be far better.

We are, in the not too far distant future, to face the greatest trials mankind has ever had to endure when ” the time of trouble such as never was,” breaks upon our world. The investments we have made to preserve our health today will pay their dividends in those days that surely will come.

But in addition to this, our spiritual life also is connected closely to our physical health. When one suffers, the other usually does too. We need to obey the laws of life and health if we expect to have a clear understanding of truth in these times.

In the statements that follow, we will come to understand more fully the relationship that exists between the physical and spiritual nature, and why it is so important that we do our best to keep them in the best possible condition.

“For the mind and the soul, as well as for the body, it is God’s law that strength is acquired by effort. It is exercise that develops. In harmony with this law, God has provided in His word the means for mental and spiritual development. The Bible contains all the principles that men need to understand in order to be fitted either for this life or for the life to come. And these principles may be understood by all. No one with a spirit to appreciate its teaching can read a single passage from the Bible without gaining from it some helpful thought. But the most valuable teaching of the Bible is not to be gained by occasional or disconnected study. Its great system of truth is not so presented as to be discerned by the hasty or careless reader. Many of its treasures lie far beneath the surface, and can be obtained only by diligent research and continuous effort. The truths that go to make up the great whole must be searched out and gathered up, ‘here a little, and there a little.’ Isaiah 28:10.

When thus searched out and brought together, they will be found to be perfectly fitted to one another. Each Gospel is a supplement to the others, every prophecy an explanation of another, every truth a development of some other truth. The types of the Jewish economy are made plain by the gospel. Every principle in the word of God has its place, every fact its bearing. And the complete structure, in design and execution, bears testimony to its Author. Such a structure no mind but that of the Infinite could conceive or fashion.

In searching out the various parts and studying their relationship, the highest faculties of the human mind are called into intense activity. No one can engage in such study without developing mental power.

And not alone in searching out truth and bringing it together does the mental value of Bible study consist. It consists also in the effort required to grasp the themes presented. The mind occupied with commonplace matters only, becomes dwarfed and enfeebled. If never tasked to comprehend grand and far-reaching truths, it after a time loses the power of growth. As a safeguard against this degeneracy, and a stimulus to development, nothing else can equal the study of God’s word. As a means of intellectual training, the Bible is more effective than any other book, or all other books combined. The greatness of its themes, the dignified simplicity of its utterances, the beauty of its imagery, quicken and uplift the thoughts as nothing else can. No other study can impart such mental power as does the effort to grasp the stupendous truths of revelation. The mind thus brought in contact with the thoughts of the Infinite cannot but expand and strengthen.”
Education, pp. 123, 124

“Physical inaction lessens not only mental but moral power. The brain nerves that connect with the whole system are the medium through which heaven communicates with man and affects the inmost life. Whatever hinders the circulation of the electric current in the nervous system, thus weakening the vital powers and lessening mental susceptibility, makes it more difficult to arouse the moral nature.” Education, p. 209

“Divine truth can make little impression upon the intellect while the customs and habits are opposed to its principles. Those who are willing to inform themselves concerning the effect of sinful indulgence upon the health, and who commence the work of reform, even if it be from selfish motives, in so doing place themselves where the truth of God may find access to their hearts. And, on the other hand, those who are reached by the presentation of Scripture truth are then in a position where their consciences will be aroused upon the subject of health. They see and feel the necessity of breaking away from the tyrannizing habits and appetites which have ruled them so long. There are many who would receive the truths of God’s word, their judgment having been convinced by the clearest evidence; but the carnal desires, clamoring for gratification, control the intellect, and they reject truth as falsehood, because it comes in collision with their lustful affections.

‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ When men of wrong habits and sinful practices yield to the power of divine truth, the entrance of God’s word gives light and understanding to the simple. There is an application of truth to the heart; and moral power, which seemed to have been paralyzed, revives. The receiver is possessed of stronger, clearer understanding than before. He has riveted his soul to the eternal Rock. Health improves in the very sense of his security in Christ. Thus religion and the laws of health go hand in hand.” Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 4, p. 553

4. STUDYING WITH AN INTEREST TO LEARN

“The more closely God’s word is searched, and the better understood, the more vividly will the student realize that there is, beyond, infinite wisdom, knowledge; and power. Those who seek to find out God as he is revealed in the pages of inspiration, will learn the hard but useful lesson, that human intellect is not omnipotent; that without divine help, human strength and wisdom are but weakness and folly…

In the Scriptures are presented truths that relate especially to our own time. To the period just prior to the appearing of the Son of man, the prophecies of Scripture point, and here their warnings and threatenings pre-eminently apply. The prophetic periods of Daniel, extending to the very eve of the great consummation, throw a flood of light upon events then to transpire. The book of Revelation is also replete with warning and instruction for the last generation. The beloved John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, portrays the fearful and thrilling scenes connected with the close of earth’s history, and presents the duties and dangers of God’s people. None need remain in ignorance, none need be unprepared for the coming of the day of God.”
Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, September 25, 1883

5. STUDYING INTELLIGENTLY

“If we have the truth it will stand… Now do let us have common sense… If you will search the Scriptures on your knees, then you will know them and you will be able to give to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is within you. Let us come to God as reasonable beings to know for ourselves what is truth… We want to investigate every line of truth, especially if it bears the signet of God. Can you tell in what way God is going to give us new truth?”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 24, 1888

“One of the great troubles with us has been that we have looked upon men as infallible. But no matter how high a position a man may hold, it is no reason that he should be looked upon as incapable of making mistakes. The Lord may have given him a work to do, but unless Christ abides with him continually, unless he abides in Christ without a moment’s separation, he will make mistakes and fall into error. But if men do make mistakes and fall into error, it is no reason that we should withdraw our confidence from them; for God alone is infallible. We must have the truth abiding in our hearts; we must draw nigh to God continually; for we shall have the powers of darkness to meet just as long as time shall last. We shall have to battle with the enemy of our souls until the coming of the Lord. When Christ was upon the earth, he contended with the enemy for the salvation of men, and when he left the world, he committed the conflict to his followers, to be carried forward in his name; and we are to wage this war day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. To every soul of us belongs the battle.. We need our eyes anointed that we may see the light of truth. We must not think, ‘Well, we have all the truth, we understand the main pillars of our faith, and we may rest on this knowledge.’ The truth is an advancing truth, and we must walk in the increasing light. A brother asked, ‘Sister White, do you think we must understand the truth for ourselves? Why can we not take the truths that others have gathered together, and believe them because they have investigated the subjects, and then we shall be free to go on without the taxing of the powers of the mind in the investigation of all these subjects? Do you not think that these men who have brought out the truth in the past were inspired of God?’ I dare not say they were not led of God, for Christ leads into all truth; but when it comes to inspiration in the fullest sense of the word, I answer, No. I believe that God has given them a work to do, but if they are not fully consecrated to God at all times, they will weave self and their peculiar traits of character into what they are doing, and will put their mold upon the work, and fashion men in religious experience after their own pattern. It is dangerous for us to make flesh our arm. We should lean upon the arm of infinite power. God has been revealing this to us for years. We must have living faith in our hearts, and reach out for larger knowledge and more advanced light.

Do not trust to the wisdom of any man, or to the investigations of any man. Go to the Scriptures for yourselves, search the inspired word with humble hearts, lay aside your preconceived opinions; for you will obtain no benefit unless you come as children to the word of God. You should say, ‘If God has anything for me, I want it. If God has given evidence from his word to this or that brother that a certain thing is truth, he will give it to me. I can find that evidence if I search the Scriptures with constant prayer, and I can know that I do know what is truth.’ You need not preach the truth as the product of another man’s mind, you must make it your own. “
Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 25, 1890

“No one has said that we shall find perfection in any man’s investigations; but this I do know, that our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and on kindred truths.

No matter by whom light is sent, we should open our hearts to receive it with the meekness of Christ. But many do not do this. When a controverted point is presented, they pour in question after question, without admitting a point when it is well sustained. O, may we act as men who want light! May God give us His Holy Spirit day by day, and let the light of His countenance shine upon us, that we may be learners in the school of Christ.

When a doctrine is presented that does not meet our minds, we should go to the word of God, seek the Lord in prayer, and give no place for the enemy to come in with suspicion and prejudice. We should never permit the spirit to be manifested that arraigned the priests and rulers against the Redeemer of the world. They complained that He disturbed the people, and they wished He would let them alone; for He caused perplexity and dissension. The Lord sends light to us to prove what manner of spirit we are of. We are not to deceive ourselves.

In 1844, when anything came to our attention that we did not understand, we kneeled down and asked God to help us take the right position; and then we were able to come to a right understanding and see eye to eye. There was no dissension, no enmity, no evil-surmising, no misjudging of our brethren. If we but knew the evil of the spirit of intolerance, how carefully would we shun it!”
Gospel Workers, pp. 301, 302 (1915 Edition)

“How shall we search the Scriptures in order to understand what they teach? We should come to the investigation of God’s word with a contrite heart, a teachable and prayerful spirit. We are not to think, as did the Jews, that our own ideas and opinions are infallible; nor with the papists, that certain individuals are the sole guardians of truth and knowledge, that men have no right to search the Scriptures for themselves, but must accept the explanations given by the fathers of the church. 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.

Some have feared that if in even a single point they acknowledge themselves in error, other minds would be led to doubt the whole theory of truth. Therefore they have felt that investigation should not be permitted, that it would tend to dissension and disunion. But if such is to be the result of investigation, the sooner it comes the better. If there are those whose faith in God’s word will not stand the test of an investigation of the Scriptures, the sooner they are revealed the better; for then the way will be opened to show them their error. We cannot hold that a position once taken, an idea once advocated, is not, under any circumstances, to be relinquished. There is but One who is infallible–He who is the way, the truth, and the life.”  Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 105, 106

“Those who allow prejudice to bar the mind against the reception of truth cannot receive the divine enlightenment. Yet, when a view of Scripture is presented, many do not ask, Is it true–in harmony with God’s word? but, By whom is it advocated? and unless it comes through the very channel that pleases them, they do not accept it. So thoroughly satisfied are they with their own ideas that they will not examine the Scripture evidence with a desire to learn, but refuse to be interested, merely because of their prejudices.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 106

“I have been shown that Jesus will reveal to us precious old truths in a new light, if we are ready to receive them; but they must be received in the very way in which the Lord shall choose to send them. With humble, softened hearts, with respect and love for one another, search your Bibles. The light may not come in accordance with plans that men may devise. But all who reverence the Word of God just as it reads, all who will do His will to the best of their ability, will know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, notwithstanding the efforts of the enemy to confuse minds and make uncertain the Word of God.”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 1, 1888

Section 6 Study Without Disputation and Quarreling will be continued separately in Part 2 of this article. It will include an important document especially related to our examination of Bible prophecy entitled: How to Meet a Controverted Point of Doctrine, written by Ellen G. White on January 29, 1890.

For questions or comments relating to this study on VisdaPoint.com, please contact us using this link.

Use this link to continue to: Approaching the Study of Scripture and Prophecy, Part 2 of 2.

* Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the the King James Version of the Bible, all quotations are from the writings of Ellen G. White, and all editorial text was written by Chris Teske.