Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Refiner's Fire: "A Life of Praise"

The location: South Lancaster, Massachusetts, USA. The time: January, 1889. The occasion: Revival meetings with various speakers, including Ellen White and A. T. Jones. Here is Mrs. White’s observation, as recorded in a Review and Herald article dated March 5, 1889: “Both students and teachers have shared largely in the blessing of God. The deep movings of the Spirit of God have been felt upon almost every heart. The general testimony was borne by those who attended the meeting that they had obtained an experience beyond anything they had known before. They testified their joy that Christ had forgiven their sins. Their hearts were filled with thanksgiving and praise to God (emphasis supplied).

What brought about such a reaction of joy and praise among those attendees almost one hundred and eleven years ago, shortly into the aftermath of the Minneapolis meetings? Here is what the servant of the Lord observes in her article:

“We felt the necessity of presenting Christ as a Saviour who was not afar off, but nigh at hand.”

“There were many, even among the ministers, who saw the truth as it is in Jesus in a light in which they had never before viewed it. They saw the Saviour as a sin-pardoning Saviour, and the truth as the sanctifier of the soul” (emphasis supplied).

“In the early morning meetings I tried to present the paternal love and care of God for His children.”

Ellen White further observed: “I have never seen a revival work go forward with such thoroughness, and yet remain so free from all undue excitement. ... The honest of heart were ready to confess their sins, and to bring forth fruit to God by repentance and restoration, as far as it lay in their power. We seemed to breathe in the very atmosphere of heaven. Angels were indeed hovering around.”

Again, their reason for praise? The attendees had seen Jesus as never before! Consequently, the meetings were prolonged for an additional week. Classes were dismissed at the school. Heaven, indeed, seemed to come down in those messages centered on the righteousness of Christ. It was a time of wonderful revival shared by students, laity, teachers and pastors alike. Perhaps not unlike the days of the ancient prophet Jonah when he marched throughout the streets of Nineveh and saw a repentance experienced “from the greatest of them even to the least of them.” Apparently, the joyful reaction to the preaching was universally experienced in that humble setting of South Lancaster.

Can it happen again? Will it happen again? Can it permeate the entire church body? Yes, on all counts. Unfortunately, today we have fallen victim to the thought that it is music or worship forms that generate the reason for our praise. Let us pray that such thinking and convictions are short-lived; not only for our sakes, but more importantly, for God’s.

Our church history teaches us that true heart-felt praise comes as a result of the preaching of the Word. Take, for example, Ezekiel, in the thirty-seventh chapter of his book, which reminds us that the dry bones live again, not by some artificial means of music and worship forms, but through “hear[ing] the word of the LORD.” The former methodology denotes righteousness by works; the latter is a vehicle of faith. Could it be that the present mode which is prevalent within the church is due to the fact we “know not the Scriptures, neither the power of God”? (Mark 12:24). Compound such a thought with the truth that, according to the words of Jesus Himself, “all scripture testifies” of Him, and perhaps we can see why the true reason for praise is lacking so much in our ranks.

However, we ought to be encouraged by the promise of a true lasting-last revival given to us in holy writ through the apostle of love, John the Revelator, in that familiar passage of the 18th chapter, verse 1: “After these things, I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with His glory.” This tells me that what took place in South Lancaster to a former generation of Seventh-day Adventists will occur again on a worldwide scale.

Such an experience of praise, we should realize though, will not simply be uttered in words alone. Carsten Johnsen, former Andrews seminary professor, writes in his book, The Maligned God, p. 267: “Obedience is the highest praise man can offer to God.” And as Ellen White writes, “Words alone cannot tell it. Let it be reflected in the character and manifested in the life.”

How will the day come when an entire denomination comes to such an experience of praise? First, when it sees itself for what it truly is and then, in humble contrition, it repents of its failures in history. Such a neglect to do so delays the return of the One who is worthy of all our praise. Secondly, when it takes to heart the wonderful instruction that is given by the servant of the Lord which lifts up Jesus as “the Chiefest among ten thousand” and the One “altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:10,16). Here is that instruction articulated so beautifully in The Desire of Ages, p. 826 (one of my favorite passages): “In Christ is the tenderness of the shepherd, the affection of the parent, and the matchless grace of the compassionate Saviour. His blessings He presents in the most alluring terms. He is not content merely to announce these blessings; he presents them in the most attractive way, to excite a desire to possess them. So His servants are to present the riches of the glory of the unspeakable Gift. The wonderful love of Christ will melt and subdue hearts, when the mere reiteration of doctrine would accomplish nothing.”

Yes, hearts broken in repentance and subdued by the majesty of God will be reflected in a continual life of praise. Nothing else is possible. And may we not forget the greatest perfection that believers can achieve is the perfection of repentance. God, lead us to that experience and to that day soon! And not just individually, but corporately as well.

—Bill Brace

(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 9 now in MP3 format. To listen as a podcast click here. To stream click here. Subscribe to this feed