Approaching the Study of
Scripture and Prophecy, Part 2 of 2*
This article is a continuation from the study Approaching Prophetic Study Part 1 of 2.
6. STUDY WITHOUT DISPUTATION AND QUARRELING
The following page references are from an article in the Review and Herald of February 18, 1890, and are presented for our edification. It will give the reader a better perception on how early Adventists were counseled to handle controversial issues they found themselves facing in the late 1800’s. The counsels found here apply also to us in our search for a balanced understanding in the study of truth.
How to Meet a Controverted Point of Doctrine
MORNING TALK AT BATTLE CREEK, MICHIGAN
JAN. 29, 1890. By Mrs. E. G. White.
“We want to understand the time in which we live. We do not half understand it. We do not half take it in. My heart trembles in me when I think of what a foe we have to meet, and how poorly we are prepared to meet him. The trials of the children of Israel, and their attitude just before the first coming of Christ, have been presented before me again and again to illustrate the position of the people of God in their experience before the second coming of Christ. How the enemy sought every occasion to take control of the minds of the Jews, and to-day he is seeking to blind the minds of God’s servants, that they may not be able to discern the precious truth.
Christ had given precious gems of truth, but men had bound them up in the rubbish of superstition and error. He had imparted to them the words of life, but they did not live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. He saw that the world could not find the word of God, for it was hidden by the traditions of men. He came to place before the world the relative importance of heaven and earth, and put truth in its own place. Jesus alone could reveal the truth which it was necessary men should know in order that they might obtain salvation. He only could place it in the frame-work of truth, and it was his work to free it from error and to set it before men in its heavenly light.
O, how Christ longed, how his heart burned, to open to the priests the greater treasures of the truth! But their minds had been cast in such a mold that it was next to an impossibility to reveal to them the truths relating to his kingdom. The Scriptures had not been read aright.
It was the work of Christ to present the truth in the frame-work of the gospel, and to reveal the precepts and principles that he had given to fallen man. Every idea he presented was his own. He needed not to borrow thoughts from any, for he was the originator of all truth. He could present the ideas of prophets and philosophers, and preserve his originality; for all wisdom was his; he was the source, the fountain, of all truth. He was in advance of all, and by his teaching he became the spiritual leader for all ages.
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.
Every teacher must be a learner, that his eyes may be anointed to see the evidences of the advancing truth of God. The beams of the Sun of Righteousness must shine into his own heart if he would impart light to others.
No one is able to explain the Scriptures without the aid of the Holy Spirit. But when you take up the word of God with a humble, teachable heart, the angels of God will be by your side to impress you with evidences of the truth. When the Spirit of God rests upon you, there will be no feeling of envy or jealousy in examining another’s position; there will be no spirit of accusation and criticism, such as Satan inspired in the hearts of the Jewish leaders against Christ.
We should come into a position where every difference will be melted away. If I think I have light, I shall do my duty in presenting it. Suppose I consulted others concerning the message the Lord would have me give to the people, the door might be closed so that the light might not reach the ones to whom God had sent it.
The Jews tried to stop the proclamation of the message that had been predicted in the word of God; but prophecy must be fulfilled. The Lord says, ‘Behold, I send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.’ Somebody is to come in the spirit and power of Elijah, and when he appears, men may say, ‘You are too earnest, you do not interpret the Scriptures in the proper way. Let me tell you how to teach your message.
‘ There are many who cannot distinguish between the work of God and that of man. I shall tell the truth as God gives it to me, and I say now, If you continue to find fault, to have a spirit of variance, you will never know the truth… Brethren, we must not put our dependence in man. ‘Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?’ You must hang your helpless souls upon Jesus. It does not become us to drink from the fountain of the valley, when there is a fountain in the mountain. Let us leave the lower streams; let us come to the higher springs. If there is a point of truth that you do not understand, upon which you do not agree, investigate, compare scripture with scripture, sink the shaft of truth down deep into the mine of God’s word. You must lay yourselves and your opinions on the altar of God, put away your preconceived ideas, and let the Spirit of Heaven guide you into all truth.
My brother said at one time that he would not hear anything concerning the doctrine we hold, for fear he should be convinced. He would not come to the meetings, or listen to the discourses; but he afterward declared that he saw he was as guilty as if he had heard them. God had given him an opportunity to know the truth, and he would hold him responsible for this opportunity. There are many among us who are prejudiced against the doctrines that are now being discussed. They will not come to hear, they will not calmly investigate, but they put forth their objections in the dark. They are perfectly satisfied with their position. ‘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: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.’
This scripture applies to those who live under the sound of the message, but who will not come to hear it. How do you know but that the Lord is giving fresh evidences of his truth, placing it in a new setting, that the way of the Lord may be prepared? What plans have you been laying that new light may be infused through the ranks of God’s people? What evidence have you that God has not sent light to his children? All self-sufficiency, egotism, and pride of opinion must be put away. We must come to the feet of Jesus, and learn of him who is meek and lowly of heart. Jesus did not teach his disciples as the rabbis taught theirs. Many of the Jews came and listened as Christ revealed the mysteries of salvation, but they came not to learn; they came to criticise, to catch him in some inconsistency, that they might have something with which to prejudice the people. They were content with their knowledge, but the children of God must know the voice of the true Shepherd. Is not this a time when it would be highly proper to fast and pray before God? We are in danger of variance, in danger of taking sides on a controverted point; and should we not seek God in earnestness, with humiliation of soul, that we may know what is truth?
… God wants us to depend upon him, and not upon man. He desires us to have a new heart; he would give us revealings of light from the throne of God. We should wrestle with every difficulty, but when some controverted point is presented, are you to go to man to find out his opinion, and then shape your conclusions from his?–No, go to God. Tell him what you want; take your Bible and search as for hidden treasures.
We do not go deep enough in our search for truth. Every soul who believes present truth will be brought where he will be required to give a reason of the hope that is in him. The people of God will be called upon to stand before kings, princes, rulers, and great men of the earth, and they must know that they do know what is truth. They must be converted men and women. God can teach you more in one moment by his Holy Spirit than you could learn from the great men of the earth. The universe is looking upon the controversy that is going on upon the earth. At an infinite cost, God has provided for every man an opportunity to know that which will make him wise unto salvation. How eagerly do angels look to see who will avail himself of this opportunity! 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. He desires to put his grace upon us. We may have a feast of good things every day; for God can open the whole treasure of heaven to us. We are to be one with Christ as he is one with the Father, and the Father will love us as he loves his Son. We may have the same help that Christ had, we may have strength for every emergency; for God will be our front guard and our rereward. He will shut us in on every side, and when we are brought before rulers, before the authorities of the earth, we need not meditate beforehand of what we shall say. God will teach us in the day of our need. Now may God help us to come to the feet of Jesus and learn of him, before we seek to become teachers of others.”
” ‘The angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.’ We see here that the men in authority are not always to be obeyed, even though they may profess to be teachers of Bible doctrine. There are many today who feel indignant and aggrieved that any voice should be raised presenting ideas that differ from their own in regard to points of religious belief. Have they not long advocated their ideas as truth? So the priests and rabbis reasoned in apostolic days:
What mean these men who are unlearned, some of them mere fishermen, who are presenting ideas contrary to the doctrines which the learned priests and rulers are teaching the people? They have no right to meddle with the fundamental principles of our faith.
But we see that the God of heaven sometimes commissions men to teach that which is regarded as contrary to the established doctrines. Because those who were once the depositaries of truth became unfaithful to their sacred trust, the Lord chose others who would receive the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and would advocate truths that were not in accordance with the ideas of the religious leaders. And then these leaders, in the blindness of their minds, give full sway to what is supposed to be righteous indignation against the ones who have set aside cherished fables. They act like men who have lost their reason. They do not consider the possibility that they themselves have not rightly understood the word. They will not open their eyes to discern the fact that they have misinterpreted and misapplied the Scriptures, and have built up false theories, calling them fundamental doctrines of the faith.
But the Holy Spirit will, from time to time, reveal the truth through its own chosen agencies; and no man, not even a priest or ruler, has a right to say, You shall not give publicity to your opinions, because I do not believe them. That wonderful ‘I ‘ may attempt to put down the Holy Spirit’s teaching. Men may for a time attempt to smother it and kill it; but that will not make error truth, or truth error. The inventive minds of men have advanced speculative opinions in various lines, and when the Holy Spirit lets light shine into human minds, it does not respect every point of man’s application of the word. God impressed His servants to speak the truth irrespective of what men had taken for granted as truth.
Even Seventh-day Adventists are in danger of closing their eyes to truth as it is in Jesus, because it contradicts something which they have taken for granted as truth, but which the Holy Spirit teaches is not truth. Let all be very modest, and seek most earnestly to put self out of the question, and to exalt Jesus. In most of the religious controversies the foundation of the trouble is that self is striving for the supremacy. About what? About matters which are not vital points at all, and which are regarded as such only because men have given importance to them. (See Matthew 12:31-37; Mark 14:56; Luke 5:21;
But let us follow the history of the men whom the Jewish priests and rulers thought so dangerous, because they were bringing in new and strange teaching on almost every theological subject. The command given by the Holy Spirit, ‘Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life,’ was obeyed by the apostles; ‘they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.
Then came one and told them, saying Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.’ If the priests and rulers had dared act out their own feelings toward the apostles, there would have been a different record; for the angel of God was a watcher on that occasion, to magnify His name if any violence had been offered to His servants.”
Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 69-72
“Cling close to your Bible, for its sacred truths can purify, ennoble, and sanctify the soul. You must hold the truth and teach it as it is in Jesus, else it is of no value to you. Before the light of God’s truth let human opinions and ideas and human wisdom appear as they are in the sight of God,–as foolishness. . . .
If a brother differ with you on some points of truth, do not stoop to ridicule, do not place him in a false light, or misconstrue his words, making sport of them; do not misinterpret his words and wrest them of their true meaning. This is not conscientious argument. Do not present him before others as a heretic, when you have not with him investigated his positions, taking the Scriptures text by text in the spirit of Christ to show him what is truth. You do not yourself really know the evidence he has for his faith, and you cannot really clearly define your own position. Take your Bible, and in a kindly spirit weigh every argument that he presents and show him by the Scriptures if he is in error. When you do this without unkind feelings, you will do only that which is your duty and the duty of every minister of Jesus Christ.” Letter 21, 1888
Hear Before You Condemn. “When new light is presented to the church, it is perilous to shut yourselves away from it. Refusing to hear because you are prejudiced against the message or the messenger will not make your case excusable before God. To condemn that which you have not heard and do not understand will not exalt your wisdom in the eyes of those who are candid in their investigations of truth. And to speak with contempt of those whom God has sent with a message of truth, is folly and madness. If our youth are seeking to educate themselves to be workers in His cause, they should learn the way of the Lord, and live by every word that proceedeth out of His mouth.
They are not to make up their minds that the whole truth has been unfolded, and that the Infinite One has no more light for His people. If they entrench themselves in the belief that the whole truth has been revealed, they will be in danger of discarding precious jewels of truth that shall be discovered as men turn their attention to the searching of the rich mine of God’s word.”
Counsels on Sabbath School Work, pp. 32, 33. (1892). Counsels to Writers and Editors, pp. 50, 51
“Paul admonished Timothy, ‘Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.’ This is what we are to do. We are on missionary soil, and we should pray that God may stir up the minds of those who do not seem to feel their need of anything more than they now possess, that they may seek for light from the throne of God. We should not be found quibbling, and putting up hooks on which to hang our doubts in regard to the light which God sends us. 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
Having reached the close of the article above, we will now continue on to principle 7.
7. STUDY WITH A SINCERE DESIRE TO UNDERSTAND TRUTH
“…Do not believe anything simply because others say it is truth. Take your Bibles, and search them for yourselves. Plead with God that He will put His Spirit upon you, that you may know the truth and understand its principles.” Signs of the Times, November 11, 1889
“…The Holy Spirit works upon mind and heart. The time has come when through God’s messengers the scroll is being unrolled to the world. Instructors in our schools should never be bound about by being told that they are to teach only what has been taught hitherto. Away with these restrictions. There is a God to give the message His people shall speak. Let not any minister feel under bonds or be gauged by men’s measurement. The gospel must be fulfilled in accordance with the messages God sends. That which God gives His servants to speak today would not perhaps have been present truth twenty years ago, but it is God’s message for this time.”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 21, 1888
“No one must be permitted to close the avenues whereby the light of truth shall come to the people. As soon as this shall be attempted, God’s Spirit will be quenched, for that Spirit is constantly at work to give fresh and increased light to His people through His Word.” Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, November 1, 1888
“To controvert, to question, to criticize, to ridicule, is the education many have received and the fruit they bear. They refuse to admit evidence. The natural heart is in warfare against light, truth, and knowledge.”
Discourse by Ellen G. White, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 21, 1888
If we are truly seeking the truth, our course must be entirely different than the one illustrated in the last statement quoted above.
When we decide to examine or look more closely at an issue relating to the Scriptures; something perhaps that we’ve never considered before; it doesn’t mean that we have automatically adopted the point as an undeniable truth. Perhaps we have before us a question that prior to this time we have not sought to answer. Before we become overtly alarmed or defensive let’s consider a thought presented by Tennessee Williams… He stated:
“It’s an unanswered question,
but let us still believe in the dignity
and importance of the question.”
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* 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.