This study brings us face to face with a vital questionShall we accept or reject God's prophets? For a Scripture lesson we refer again to Hosea, the sixth chapter:
Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth. O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away. Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets (verses 1-5).
As mentioned earlier, the chief work of the prophet is to bring a message from God, a message that is designed to mold and to fashion and to make us after the pattern that God has set for His kingdom. This thought is also expressed in John 17:17, which says, Sanctify
them [or make them holy] through thy truth: thy word is truth.
So the words of the prophet are designed to make us a sanctified, or a holy, people. It is thus that we are to be molded and fashioned and hewed by the Word of God according to the pattern of God.
In 2 Timothy, the third chapter, are some familiar words:
But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (verses 14, 15).
The purpose of the Scriptures, then, is to mold us and fashion us and make us wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (verse 16).
Here again is stated the work of the prophets to hew, to fashion, to mold, to make us wise unto salvation. Therefore, the Scriptures, as given through the prophets, are good for doctrine, good for reproof, good for correction, good for instruction, and the object is that the man of God may be perfect (verses 15, 17).
In these few texts of Scripture we have set before us the very purpose that God had in mind when He sent prophets into the church. God spake in time
past unto the fathers by the prophets (Heb. 1:1). Since that is a fact we must accept, the purpose for which He spoke is likewise a fact; and that makes us ready now to enter into the thought of this study.
As mentioned at the very beginning, it is a question of accepting or rejecting the prophets, and you and I personally and individually must make that decision. I cannot make the decision for you; you cannot make the decision for me.
I must accept, or I must reject.
You must accept, or you must reject.
In the beginning it was God's plan to talk directly to man, to come and speak to him face to face, in order that man might have direct access to God and be in the very presence of God. If man had not sinned, that relationship would have continued, but sin erected a barrier between God and man. Isaiah, the fifty-ninth chapter and the second verse, states that very plainly. That which stands between man and God is sin, and when sin came into man's life, God did not thenceforth speak to him directly. Thereafter, because of sin, man could not come and talk to God face to face, so to overcome that barrier God arranged another plan, and He began to talk to men through those whom He called prophets and priests, and at times through angels.
The question now comes, What shall we do about the prophets, or those who claimed the gift of prophecy? Let us think of this question in the light of 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21: Quench not the Spirit. Despise
not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
So your business and mine is not hastily to say, I will have nothing to do with the gift of prophecy. I do not want to have anything to do with a person who claims to have revelations from heaven, or visions, or dreams.
Our attitude, on the contrary, should be: I shall try this gift of prophecy; I shall test it; I shall prove it, to see whether there is anything in it or not; and then I shall come to a conclusion. In other words, we must test and try and prove before we come to a conclusion, rather than come to a conclusion first and refuse to have anything to do with it. This has been a question for God's people all through the years. 1 John 4:1 says, Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. If there are many false prophets, it becomes all the more important to try them, test them, prove them.
Over in the Middle East I talked on this subject, and after the meeting a young woman came to me. She said, I am not a Christian; I am a Moslem, and I did not like some things you said this morning. You intimated that my prophet might be true or might be false, and that all I had to do was to test and to try and to prove Mohammed. Why, that is unthinkable!
Not wishing to offend, or to argue the question, I asked, How did you come to this conclusion? Did
you ever investigate, to really prove your prophet true or false? or did you just accept it without a question? She replied, Well, I guess I just accepted it as my mother, my father, and all my people have believed it without any doubt or any question whatsoever. Why, of course he was a true prophet!
Then she came directly to the heart of the matter: Do you want me to take the tests that you have given us and apply them to Mohammed? I replied, I suppose if you want to know whether Mohammed were true or false, you would have to apply those tests. Then she came to a very vital conclusion, and said, That being the case, it would be difficult to do.
I would not want to force anyone into a conclusion without first examining the evidence, but let me put it this way: Your business and mine is not to declare that Mohammed was false, but rather our business is to test and to try and to prove Mohammed as a prophet, and if he should stand up to the test, then we would have to conclude that he was true. If he did not meet the test, then we would come to the conclusion that he was not a true prophet.
The same is true of Ellen G. White. If she does not stand up to the four tests given in the Scriptures, we would have to conclude that she was a false prophet. I think above all things we must be reasonable, we must be fair, we must be honest, we must have a sense of balance and proportion in dealing with the prophet of the Mormons, or the prophet of the Moslems, or
the prophet of the remnant church. We must be equally fair, and equally sincere and honest. That brings us now to the question, What are the tests?
I wish to deal with the tests in another chapter, because that is a subject by itself. In this particular study I wish to call your attention to what we should do about prophets in general, and what has been done about the prophets in the past. Perhaps we should read a text of Scripture that will help us to know the attitude of people in the past in regard to prophets.
We shall begin with this word in 2 Chronicles 36:15, 16:
And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy.
Jeremiah repeated this idea. He said that God from time to time had sent His messengers with messages for the people. Some accepted, many rejected; and of the rejecting we find an outstanding example in the thirty-sixth chapter of Jeremiah, where we have the experience of King Jehoiakim. You remember in that chapter God said to Jeremiah, I want you to take a scroll and write on that scroll the words that I have given you, the messages that I have given to My people through you from time to time. So Jeremiah
took the roll of the book and called his secretary, Baruch. To him he said, You sit down and write and I will dictate the message that God has given.
As the messages were written on the scroll they were made available for the people to read. In fact, Baruch himself took the messages out and began to read to the people the words of the prophet. Some of those who heard were princes from the king's own palace, and they were so much impressed that they decided the king himself must hear those words. Thereupon they took the scroll into the palace and began to read to the king. The record at this point says that Jehoiakim was sitting by a fire on the hearth.
As he listened he became interested, but he did not like what he heard. He took the scroll, and with his knife cut pieces from the manuscript and dropped them into the fire until it was all consumed. This is the attitude of some people toward the messages of God's prophets.
Honestly, now, can you get rid of God's message by tearing it all to pieces and casting it into the fire? You cannot get rid of God. You cannot get rid of God's message, nor can you get rid of God's messenger, in that way. Some people, even today, are inclined to treat the prophets and the messages of the prophets in a similar way.
An example comes to mind in the old story of one whose name was Stephen Smith. You may have heard it. Stephen Smith was a middle-aged man who
accepted the Advent message back about 1850, and who really believed in the second coming of Christ. He was a very promising man, so gifted with words that everybody enjoyed hearing his messages. Even the good old church paper, the Review and Herald, commented that he was a man who they hoped could soon go out and preach the message. And then he came across this idea of the Spirit of prophecy, but he said in his heart that he could have nothing to do with one who claimed to be a prophet, a messenger of the Lord. Stephen Smith shook his head and declared, When it comes to visions and dreams and revelations through a woman like that, I shall have nothing to do with it.
Some time later Stephen Smith received in the mail a long envelope bearing the return address of Ellen G. White, and he thought to himself, There it is. She thinks she is going to give me one of her testimonies. I will have nothing to do with it. So he did not open it. He took the envelope to his home, opened the door, went into the room, and looked around to see where he could put it. There was the old trunk. He unlocked it, lifted the lid, put that envelope down at the bottom. He slammed down the lid and mumbled to himself, I will have nothing to do with that. And so it was out of his way.
But Stephen Smith had a rather strange experience; for every strange idea that came along he absorbed just like a piece of blotting paper absorbs the ink, and he was off with this movement, and off with that.
In fact, he was given to fanaticism. He had nothing to guide him. During the days when these different offshoots arose, Ellen G. White was there to guide our people, but Stephen Smith had nothing to do with her. He did not like the idea of taking messages from a woman. That was just too much for him. Thus he went his way, and it was not very long until he was out of harmony with our people. He did not agree with them on many points, and, of course, they had to disfellowship him, and out of the church he went.
Stephen Smith became very bitter. That tongue of his, which was given to speaking words so fluently and so fast, turned to speaking the most blistering, the most sarcastic, the most bitter words that one could ever imagine. He became known to Sabbathkeeping Adventists in that part of the country as a very critical man.
He grew old, of course, and about 1884, nearly twenty-eight years after he received that envelope, he was sitting one day in his living room. His good wife had remained faithful all that time, and week by week she had put the copy of the Review and Herald on the living-room table. One day this man who was old and gray and bent, sat down by the table and looked at the paper. He read one article by Ellen G. White, and said, That is the truth. The next week when the paper came, he found himself back by the table and he looked at it. He read another article by Ellen G. White. He said, That is very good. That's God's truth.
Of course, we can imagine he did not want anybody to see him reading those papers, but week by week he read, and in one of those papers early in 1885 he saw that Eugene Farnsworth was coming back to Washington, New Hampshire, where Farnsworth had grown up as a boy and where Stephen Smith had known him as a friend. They knew each other well. Elder Farnsworth was being sent to Washington, New Hampshire, to conduct a series of revival meetings in the old church building. Stephen Smith said to himself, Well, I think I'll go and hear what Eugene has to say.
So he walked fourteen miles from where he lived over to Washington, New Hampshire. During the meeting on Sabbath morning he was very much impressed by the message given by Eugene Farnsworth. When the speaker sat down, old Stephen Smith shuffled a bit and stood up. As he rose, the people all gave a sort of sigh, and thought, Here it comes again! We shall have to listen to another tirade. They had heard that old man so many times during the years, but there seemed nothing to do but let him talk. So they sat back and waited.
This time when Stephen Smith got up he said, I don't want you to be afraid of me, brethren, for I haven't come to criticize you. I have quit that kind of business. Then he went back and reviewed the past. He told how he had opposed the church organization and almost everything else. He referred to his connections
with different parties, including the Messenger Party, and this group and that group. He told it all. Finally he said, Facts are stubborn things, but the facts are that those who have opposed this work have come to nought, while those who have been in sympathy with it have prospered,have grown better, more devoted, and Godlike. Those who have opposed it have only learned to fight and to debate, they have lost all their religion. No honest man can help but see that God is with them and against us. I want to be in fellowship with this people in heart and in the church.
They had not heard anything like that from Stephen Smith for a long, long time. As the days passed he thought about his own condition. He had planned to stay in Washington for the meeting the next Sabbath. But on Wednesday of the next week he happened to remember the letter in the bottom of his trunk, and for the first time in twenty-eight years wanted to know what was in it. So Thursday morning he walked the fourteen miles back to his home, entered the house, unlocked the old trunk, lifted the lid, and went down to the bottom of the trunk, and sure enough, there was the envelope, a bit yellow from age, after so many years had passed. He opened the envelope and began to read. It was a most interesting message. It told him that God loved him and that God was anxious to save him, and further, if he would do so and so, and so and so, his life would beand she outlined exactly what his life would be. Then the letter
told him what his life would be if he followed his own way.
As the old man read it he thought, That is a picture of my life, just exactly as I have lived it for these twenty-eight years, and here is what I might have been. It made quite an impression on his mind. He folded up the letter and started back to Washington, New Hampshire, to attend the Sabbath meeting.
Elder Farnsworth preached on the subject of the Spirit of prophecy in the Advent Movement, and no sooner had he finished his sermon than Stephen Smith was on his feet again. This time he said, I received a testimony myself twenty-eight years ago, and I took it home and locked it up in my trunk, and I never read it until last Thursday. He said he had been afraid to read it for fear it might make him mad, but then he said, I was mad all the time, nearly,mad at everybody and everything. He said, Brethren, every word of the testimony for me is true, and I accept it, and I have come to that place where I firmly believe they are all of God. And if I had heeded the one God sent to me, as well as the rest, it would have changed the whole course of my life, and I should have been a very different man. Any man that is honest must say that they lead a man toward God and the Bible always. If he is honest he will say that; if he won't say that, he is not honest. If I had heeded them it would have saved me a world of trouble. The Testimonies said there was to be no more definite time preached after the '44
movement, but I thought I knew as much as an old woman's visions as I used to term it. May God forgive me! But to my sorrow, I found the visions were right, and the man who thought he knew it all was all wrong, for I preached the time in 1854 [that is when a little group thought that Christ would come] and spent all I had, when if I had heeded them I should have saved myself all that and much more. The Testimonies are right and I am wrong. Then he added, I'm too old to undo what I've done. I'm too feeble to get out to our large meetings, but I want you to tell our people everywhere that another rebel has surrendered. And old Stephen Smith sat down. I understand that the later years of his life were spent in trust in God and sweet fellowship with his brethren. He was a changed man.
You know, dear friend, it may be that we have not received personal messages in that way, but I am convinced that most of us have on our shelves at home the messages bound in red or brown cloth or red or black leather. I hesitate to ask how many of us read the messages. My name was not written directly in any of those messages so far as I have been able to discover, and I have read a lot of them, but I find my situation described in so many of those messages that I believe the Lord intended them for me as well as for you. The trouble is that while you and I have the messages, and we do not rip them all to pieces or throw them into the fire as did Jehoiakim, yet I am inclined to think that perhaps some of us allow them to stand on
our shelves day after day and we never read them. I am inclined to think that in many cases we are about as guilty as was Stephen Smith.
However, there is in the Bible quite another type of record from that of Jehoiakim's. I refer to the record of David, to which I like to turn. You will remember that when David was king he did a very strange thing. The incident is recorded in 2 Samuel, the eleventh and twelfth chapters. It is hard to understand how such a good man of God could stoop to do such a terrible thing as he did. In brief, he wanted another man's wife; and to get rid of the man, he ordered him right out in the very front line of the battle, knowing exactly where the battle was to be heaviest and where the danger spot would be, so that he might be killed. Then David took the man's wife. I consider that to be very low-down trickery, about as despicable as anything you can find in the records. Now what did God do about it? The Bible says that God spoke to His servant. He must have said something like this, Nathan, I have a little errand for you this morning. I want you to go over to see the king, and I want you to go right into the king's palace and tell him a little story.
Nathan was a man of God, and when God told him to do something he did it. Under such circumstances it was not very pleasant to take a message to the king, but God showed him exactly what had happened. When Nathan went into the presence of the king he did not come right out and say, Now, King
David, you have done a very wrong thing, because that would have been a rather poor approach. Nathan was most tactful, so he gave his message in a story. David listened attentively, and as Nathan reached the climax he demanded, O King, what do you think should be done with a man who would do a thing like that?
David's response was quick and decisive. He was really angry when he responded, Why, that man should restore fourfold. He should be dealt with summarily. He was very ready to give a verdict, a judgment, in a case like that. Then Nathan pointed his finger at the king and said, Thou art the man. Immediately the king recognized himself as the one whom he had judged.
In such a situation the king might have had the prophet taken out and put to death. He could have gotten rid of the prophet very quickly. David might have become angry and thrown him out of the palace, saying, I will have nothing to do with you and your message. But what did David say? The Bible records exactly what we would expect of a man like King David: I have sinned. I have done wrong. I have made a mistake.
For a king to admit that he had made a mistake was, I think, pretty good evidence of the kind of man he was at heart. Oh, yes, he made mistakes. He did some very strange things. At times even we do things that we ourselves cannot understand, nor can our very
best friends understand them. But I am so glad that there is a God in heaven who understands the frailty of human nature and the weakness of human flesh. When we on our part manifest an attitude of humility, repentance, and sorrow, and when we recognize that we have made a mistake and repent in tears, we have a God who is ready and willing to forgive.
The Bible does not tell us all that was said and done in connection with that particular experience, but the twelfth chapter and the thirteenth verse of 2 Samuel closes the incident with these words, And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Our hearts should rejoice in words like that.
You see, when we accept the messages of the prophets, the messages that come from God to us, they produce a change; a reformation takes place in the heart and life. We have before us these two outstanding examplesKing Jehoiakim, who rejected, tore up, and burned the messages; and King David, who accepted the messages, the reproof, the counsel, and profited by the instructions.
Our prayer should be that somehow we shall not be like Jehoiakim and Stephen Smith, but that we shall be like David. May we have courage not only to read but to accept and believe the words of the prophets, and then these messages can work in us and bring about a marvelous transformation.