One mistake leads to another. Our brethren must learn to move intelligently and not from impulse. Feeling must not be the criterion. A neglect of duty, the indulgence of undue sympathy, will be followed by a neglect to properly estimate those who are laboring to build up the cause of God. Jesus said: "I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive."
Many do not look upon preaching as Christ's appointed means of instructing His people and therefore always to be highly prized. They do not feel that the sermon is the word of the Lord to them and estimate it by the value of the truths spoken; but they judge it as they would the speech of a lawyer at the bar--by the argumentative skill displayed and the power and beauty of the language. The minister is not infallible, but God has honored him by making him His messenger. If you listen to him as though he were not commissioned from above you will not respect his words nor receive them as the message of God. Your souls will not feed upon the heavenly manna; doubts will arise concerning some things that are not pleasing to the natural heart, and you will sit in judgment upon the sermon as you would upon the remarks of a lecturer or a political speaker. As soon as the meeting closes you will be ready with some complaint or sarcastic remark, thus showing that the message, however true and needful, has not profited you. You esteem it not; you have learned the habit of criticizing and finding fault, and you pick and choose, and perhaps reject the very things that you most need.
There is very little reverence for sacred things in either the Upper Columbia or the North Pacific Conference. The ordained instrumentalities of God are almost entirely lost sight of. God has instituted no new method of reaching the children of men. If they cut themselves off from heaven's appointed agencies to reprove their sins, correct their errors, and point out the path of duty, there is no way to reach them with any heavenly communication. They are left in darkness and are ensnared and taken by the adversary.
The minister of God is commanded: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." The Lord says of these people: "They seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness." Here is a people who are self-deceived, self-righteous, self-complacent, and the minister is commanded to cry aloud and show them their transgressions. In all ages this work has been done for God's people, and it is needed now more than ever before.
The word of the Lord came to Elijah; he did not seek to be the Lord's messenger, but the word came to him. God always has men to whom He entrusts His message. His Spirit moves upon their hearts and constrains them to speak. Stimulated by holy zeal, and with the divine impulse strong upon them, they enter upon the performance of their duty without coldly calculating the consequences of speaking to the people the word which the Lord has given them. But the servant of God is soon made aware that he has risked something. He finds himself and his message made the subject of criticism. His manners, his life, his property, are all inspected and commented upon. His message is picked to pieces and rejected in the most illiberal and unsanctified spirit, as men in their finite judgment see fit. Has that message done the work that God designed it should accomplish? No; it has signally failed because the hearts of the hearers were unsanctified.
If the minister's face is not flint, if he has not indomitable faith and courage, if his heart is not made strong by constant communion with God, he will begin to shape his testimony to please the unsanctified ears and hearts of those he is addressing. In endeavoring to avoid the criticism to which he is exposed, he separates from God and loses the sense of divine favor, and his testimony becomes tame and lifeless. He finds that his courage and faith are gone and his labors powerless. The world is full of flatterers and dissemblers who have yielded to the desire to please; but the faithful men, who do not study self-interest, but love their brethren too well to suffer sin upon them, are few indeed.
It is Satan's settled purpose to cut off all communication between God and His people, that he may practice his deceptive wiles with no voice to warn them of their danger. If he can lead men to distrust the messenger or to attach no sacredness to the message, he knows that they will feel under no obligation to heed the word of God to them. And when light is set aside as darkness, Satan has things his own way.
Our God is a jealous God; He is not to be trifled with. He who does all things according to the counsel of His own will has been pleased to place men under various circumstances, and to enjoin upon them duties and observances peculiar to the times in which they live and the conditions under which they are placed. If they would prize the light given them, their faculties would be greatly enlarged and ennobled, and broader views of truth would be opened before them. The mysteries of eternal things, and especially the wonderful grace of God as manifested in the plan of redemption, would be unfolded to their minds; for spiritual things are spiritually discerned.
We are never to forget that Christ teaches through His servants. There may be conversions without the instrumentality of a sermon. Where persons are so situated that they are deprived of every means of grace, they are wrought upon by the Spirit of God and convinced of the truth through reading the word; but God's appointed means of saving souls is through "the foolishness of preaching." Though human, and compassed with the frailties of humanity, men are God's messengers; and the dear Saviour is grieved when so little is effected by their labors. Every minister who goes out into the great harvest field should magnify his office. He should not only seek to bring men to the knowledge of the truth, but he should labor, as did Paul, "warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom," that he may "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus."
The man is to be regarded and honored only as God's ambassador. To praise the man is not pleasing to God. The message he brings is to be brought to the test of the Bible. "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." But the word of the Lord is not to be judged by a human standard. It will be seen that those whose minds have the mold of earthliness, those who have a limited Christian experience and know but little of the things of God, are the ones who have the least respect for God's servants and the least reverence for the message He bids them bear. They listen to a searching discourse and go to their homes prepared to sit in judgment on it, and the impression disappears from their minds like the morning dew before the sun. If the preaching is of an emotional character, it will affect the feelings, but not the heart and conscience. Such preaching results in no lasting good, but it often wins the hearts of the people and calls out their affections for the man who pleases them. They forget that God has said: "Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils."
Jesus is waiting with longing desire to open before His people the glory that will attend His second advent, and to carry them forward to a contemplation of the landscapes of bliss. There are wonders to be revealed. A long lifetime of prayer and research will leave much unexplored and unexplained. But what we know not now will be revealed hereafter. The work of instruction begun here will be carried on to all eternity. The Lamb, as He leads the hosts of the redeemed to the Fountain of living waters, will impart rich stores of knowledge; He will unravel mysteries in the works and providence of God that have never before been understood.
We can never by searching find out God. He does not lay open His plans to prying, inquisitive minds. We must not attempt to lift with presumptuous hand the curtain behind which He veils His majesty. The apostle exclaims: "How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" It is a proof of His mercy that there is the hiding of His power, that He is enshrouded in the awful clouds of mystery and obscurity; for to lift the curtain that conceals the divine presence is death. No mortal mind can penetrate the secrecy in which the Mighty One dwells and works. We can comprehend no more of His dealings with us and the motives that actuate Him than He sees fit to reveal. He orders everything in righteousness, and we are not to be dissatisfied and distrustful, but to bow in reverent submission. He will reveal to us as much of His purposes as it is for our good to know; and beyond that we must trust the hand that is omnipotent, the heart that is full of love.