Chapter 70—Dangers and Duty of Ministers
I have been shown that more can now be accomplished by laboring in places where a few have been raised up, than in entirely new fields, unless the opening is very good. A few in different towns who really believe the truth will exert an influence and excite inquiry in regard to their faith; and if their lives are exemplary, their light will shine, and they will have a gathering influence. And yet I was shown places where the truth has not been proclaimed, which should be visited soon. But the great work now to be accomplished is to bring up the people of God to engage in the work and exert a holy influence. They should act the part of laborers. With wisdom, caution, and love, they should labor for the salvation of neighbors and friends. There is too distant a feeling manifested. The cross is not laid right hold of and borne as it should be. All should feel that they are their brother’s keeper, that they are in a great degree responsible for the souls of those around them. The brethren err when they leave this work all to the ministers. The harvest is great, and the laborers are few. Those who are of good repute, whose lives are in accordance with their faith, can be workmen. They can converse with others, and urge upon them the importance of the truth. They must not wait for the ministers and neglect a plain duty which God has left for them to perform.
Some of our ministers feel but little disposition to take upon them the burden of the work of God and labor with that disinterested benevolence which characterized the life of our divine Lord. The churches, as a general rule, are farther advanced than some of the ministers. They have had faith in the testimonies which God has been pleased to give, and have acted upon them, while some of the preachers are far behind. They profess to believe the testimony borne, and some do harm by making them an iron rule for those who have had no experience in reference to them, but they fail to carry them out themselves. They have had repeated testimonies which they have utterly disregarded. The course of such is not consistent.
The people of God generally feel a united interest in the spread of the truth. They cheerfully contribute toward a liberal support for those who labor in word and doctrine. And I saw that it is the duty of those who have the responsibility of distributing means, to see that the liberalities of the church are not squandered. Some of these liberal brethren have been laboring for years with shattered nerves and broken-down constitutions, caused by excessive labor in the past to obtain possessions here, and now as they freely give a portion of the substance which has cost them so much, it is the duty of those who labor in word and doctrine to manifest a zeal and self-sacrifice at least equal to that shown by these brethren.
God’s servants must go out free. They must know in whom they trust. There is power in Christ and His salvation to make them free men; and unless they are free in Him, they cannot build up His church and gather in souls. Will God send out a man to rescue souls from the snare of Satan when his own feet are entangled in the net? God’s servants must not be wavering. If their feet are sliding, how can they say to those of a fearful heart: “Be strong”? God would have His servants hold up the feeble hands, and strengthen the wavering. Those who are not prepared to do this would better first labor for themselves and pray until they are endowed with power from on high.
God is displeased with the lack of self-denial in some of His servants. They have not the burden of the work upon them. They seem to be in a deathlike stupor. Angels of God stand amazed and ashamed of this lack of self-denial and perseverance. While the Author of our salvation was laboring and suffering for us, He denied Himself, and His whole life was one continued scene of toil and privation. He could have passed His days on earth in ease and plenty, and appropriated to Himself the pleasures of this life; but He considered not His own convenience. He lived to do others good. He suffered to save others from suffering. He endured to the end and finished the work which was given Him to do. All this was to save us from ruin. And now, can it be that we, the unworthy objects of so great love, will seek a better position in this life than was given to our Lord? Every moment of our lives we have been partakers of the blessings of His great love, and for this very reason we cannot fully realize the depths of ignorance and misery from which we have been saved. Can we look upon Him whom our sins have pierced and not be willing to drink with Him the bitter cup of humiliation and sorrow? Can we look upon Christ crucified and wish to enter His kingdom in any other way than through much tribulation?
The preachers are not all given up to the work of God, as He requires them to be. Some have felt that the lot of a preacher was hard because they had to be separated from their families. They forget that once it was harder laboring than it is now. Once there were but few friends of the cause. They forget those upon whom God laid the burden of the work in the past. There were but a few then who received the truth as the result of much labor. God’s chosen servants wept and prayed for a clear understanding of truth, and suffered privation and much self-denial in order to carry it to others. Step by step they followed as God’s opening providence led the way. They did not study their own convenience or shrink at hardships. Through these men God prepared the way and made the truth plain to the understanding of every honest mind. Everything has been made ready to the hands of ministers who have since embraced the truth, yet some of them have failed to take upon them the burden of the work. They seek for an easier lot, a less self-denying position. This earth is not the resting place of Christians, much less for the chosen ministers of God. They forget that Christ left His riches and glory in heaven, and came to earth to die, and that He has commanded us to love one another even as He has loved us. They forget those of whom the world was not worthy, who wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, and were afflicted and tormented.
I was shown the Waldenses, and what they suffered for their religion. They conscientiously studied the word of God, and lived up to the light which shone upon them. They were persecuted, and driven from their homes; their possessions, gained by hard labor, were taken from them, and their houses burned. They fled to the mountains and there suffered incredible hardships. They endured hunger, fatigue, cold, and nakedness. The only clothing which many of them could obtain was the skins of animals. And yet the scattered and homeless ones would assemble to unite their voices in singing, and praising God that they were accounted worthy to suffer for Christ’s name. They encouraged and cheered one another, and were grateful for even their miserable retreat. Many of their children sickened and died from cold and hunger, yet the parents did not for a moment think of yielding their religion. They prized the love and favor of God far above earthly ease or worldly riches. They received consolation from God and with pleasing anticipations looked forward to the recompense of reward.
Again, I was shown Martin Luther, whom God raised up to do a special work. How precious to him was the knowledge of truth revealed in the word of God! His mind was starving for something sure upon which to build his hope that God would be his Father, and heaven his home. The new and precious light which dawned upon him from the word of God was of priceless value, and he thought that if he went forth with it, he could convince the world. He stood up against the ire of a fallen church and strengthened those who with him were feasting upon the rich truths contained in the word of God. Luther was God’s chosen instrument to tear off the garb of hypocrisy from the papal church and expose her corruption. He raised his voice zealously and in the power of the Holy Spirit cried out against and rebuked the existing sins of the leaders of the people. Proclamations went forth to kill him wherever he might be found; he seemed left to the mercies of a superstitious people who were obedient to the head of the Roman Church. Yet he counted not his life dear unto himself. Luther knew that he was not safe anywhere, yet he trembled not. The light which he saw and feasted upon was life to him, and was of more value than all the treasures of earth. Earthly treasures he knew would fail; but the rich truths opened to his understanding, operating upon his heart, would live, and, if obeyed, would lead him to immortality.
When summoned to Augsburg to answer for his faith, he obeyed the summons. That one lone man who had stirred the rage of priests and people was arraigned before those who had caused the world to tremble—a meek lamb surrounded by angry lions; yet for the sake of Christ and the truth he stood up undaunted, and with holy eloquence, which the truth alone can inspire, he gave the reasons of his faith. His enemies tried by various means to silence the bold advocate for truth. At first they flattered him, and held out the promise that he should be exalted and honored. But life and honors were valueless to him if purchased at the sacrifice of the truth. Brighter and clearer shone the word of God upon his understanding, giving him a more vivid sense of the errors, corruptions, and hypocrisy of the papacy. His enemies then sought to intimidate him and cause him to renounce his faith, but he boldly stood in defense of the truth. He was ready to die for his faith, if God required; but to yield it—never. God preserved his life. He bade angels attend him and baffle the rage and purposes of his enemies, and bring him unharmed through the stormy conflict.
The calm, dignified power of Luther humbled his enemies, and dealt a most dreadful blow to the papacy. The great and proud men in power meant that his blood should atone for the mischief he had done their cause. Their plans were laid, but a mightier than they had charge of Luther. His work was not finished. The friends of Luther hastened his departure from Augsburg. He left the city by night, mounted upon a horse without bridle, himself unarmed and without boots or spurs. In great weariness he pursued his journey until he was among his friends.
Again the indignation of the papacy was aroused, and they resolved to stop the mouth of that fearless advocate of truth. They summoned him to Worms, fully determined to make him answer for his folly. He was in feeble health, yet he did not excuse himself. He well knew the dangers that were before him. He knew that his powerful enemies would take any measures to silence him. They were crying for his blood as eagerly as the Jews clamored for the blood of Christ. Yet he trusted in that God who preserved the three worthies in the burning fiery furnace. His anxiety and care were not for himself. He sought not his own ease; but his great anxiety was that the truth, to him so precious, should not be exposed to the insults of the ungodly. He was ready to die rather than allow its enemies to triumph. As he entered Worms, thousands of persons pressed around and followed him. Emperors and others in high authority were attended with no greater company. The excitement was intense; and one in that throng, with a shrill and plaintive voice, chanted a funeral dirge to warn Luther of what awaited him. But the Reformer had counted the cost and was ready to seal his testimony with his blood if God so ordained.
Luther was about to appear to answer for his faith before a most imposing assembly, and he looked to God in faith for strength. For a little time his courage and faith were tested. Perils in every form were presented before him. He became sad. Clouds gathered around him and hid from him the face of God. He longed to go forth with a confident assurance that God was with him. He could not be satisfied unless he was shut in with God. With broken cries he sent up his agonizing prayer to Heaven. His spirit at times seemed to faint, as his enemies, in his imagination, multiplied before him. He trembled at his danger. I saw that God in His wise providence prepared him in this way that he might not forget in whom to trust, and that he should not rush on presumptuously into danger. As His own instrument, God was fitting him for the great work before him.
Luther’s prayer was heard. His courage and faith returned as he met his enemies. Meek as a lamb he stood, surrounded by the great men of the earth, who, like angry wolves, fastened their eyes upon him, hoping to awe him with their power and greatness. But he had taken hold of the strength of God and feared not. His words were spoken with such majesty and power that his enemies could do nothing against him. God was speaking through Luther, and He had brought together emperors and professed wise men that He might publicly bring to nought their wisdom, and that they all might see the strength and firmness of feeble man when leaning upon God, his eternal Rock.
The calm bearing of Luther was in striking contrast to the passion and rage exhibited by those so-called great men. They could not frighten him into a recantation of the truth. In noble simplicity and calm firmness he stood like a rock. The opposition of his enemies, their rage and threats, like a mighty wave, surged against him and broke harmless at his feet. He remained unmoved. They were chagrined that their power, which had caused kings and nobles to tremble, should be thus despised by a humble man, and they longed to make him feel their wrath by torturing his life away. But One who is mightier than the potentates of earth had charge of this fearless witness. God had a work for him to do. He must yet suffer for the truth. He must see it wade through bloody persecutions. He must see it clothed in sackcloth and covered with reproach by fanatics. He must live to justify it and to be its defender when the mighty powers of earth should seek to tear it down. He must live to see it triumph and tear away the errors and superstitions of the papacy. Luther gained a victory at Worms which weakened the papacy, the news of which spread to other kingdoms and nations. It was an effectual blow in favor of the Reformation.
Ministers who are preaching present truth were held up to me in contrast with the leading men of the Reformation; especially was Luther’s devoted, zealous life placed beside the lives of some of our preachers. He proved his undying love for the truth by his courage, his calm firmness, his self-denial. He encountered trials and sacrifices, and at times suffered the deepest anguish of soul, while standing in defense of the truth; yet he murmured not. He was hunted like a wild beast of prey, yet for Christ’s sake he endured all cheerfully.
The last merciful message is entrusted to God’s humble, faithful servants of this time. God has led along those who would not shun responsibility, and has laid burdens upon them, and has through them presented to His people a plan of systematic benevolence in which all can engage and work in harmony. This system has been carried out and has worked like magic. It liberally sustains the preachers and the cause. As soon as the preachers ceased their opposition and stood out of the way, the people heartily responded to the call and prized the system. Everything is made convenient and easy for the preachers that they may work, free from embarrassment. Our people have taken hold with a will and an interest which is not to be found among any other class. And God is displeased with preachers who now complain and fail to throw their whole energies into this all-important work. They are without excuse; yet some are deceived and think that they are sacrificing much, and are having a hard time, when they really know nothing about suffering, self-denial, or want. They may often be weary; so would they be if they were dependent on manual labor for a support.
Some have thought it would be easier to labor with their hands and have often expressed their choice to do so. Such do not know what they are talking about. They are deceiving themselves. Some have very expensive families to provide for, and they lack management. They do not realize that they are indebted to the cause of God for their homes and all that they have. They have not realized how much it costs to live. Should they engage in manual labor, they would not be free from anxiety and weariness. They could not, while laboring to support their families, be sitting down at their own firesides. It is only a few weary hours that a laboring man with a family dependent upon him for support can spend with his family at home. Some ministers do not love industrious labor, and they have cherished a feeling of dissatisfaction which is very unreasonable. God has marked every murmuring thought and word and feeling. Heaven is insulted by such an exhibition of weakness and lack of devotion to the cause of God.
Some have given a willing ear to the tempter and have talked out their unbelief and wounded the cause. Satan has claims upon them, for they have not recovered themselves from his snare. They have conducted themselves like children who were wholly unacquainted with the wiles of the tempter. They have had sufficient experience and should have understood his workings. He has suggested doubts to their minds, and, instead of repelling them at once, they have reasoned and parleyed with the archdeceiver, and listened to his reasonings, as though charmed by the old serpent. A few texts which were not perfectly explainable to the satisfaction of their own minds have been sufficient to shake the whole structure of truth and to obscure the plainest facts of the word of God. These men are erring mortals. They have not perfect wisdom and knowledge in all the Scriptures. Some passages are placed beyond the reach of human minds until such a time as God chooses, in His own wisdom, to open them. Satan has been leading some on a trail which ends in certain infidelity. They have suffered their unbelief to becloud the harmonious, glorious chain of truth, and have acted as though it was their business to solve every difficult passage of Scripture, and if our faith did not enable them to do this, it was faulty.
I saw that those who have an evil heart of unbelief will doubt and will think it noble and a virtue to doubt the word of God. Those who think it a virtue to quibble can have plenty of room to disbelieve the inspiration and truth of God’s word. God does not compel any to believe. They can choose to rely upon the evidences He has been pleased to give, or doubt, and cavil, and perish.
I was shown that those who are troubled with doubts and infidelity should not go out to labor for others. That which is in the mind must flow out, and they realize not the effect of a hint or the smallest doubt expressed. Satan makes it a barbed arrow. It acts like a slow poison, which, before the victim is made sensible of his danger, affects the whole system, undermines a good constitution, and finally causes death. It is just so with the poison of doubt and unbelief of Scripture facts. One who has influence suggests to others that which Satan has suggested to him, that one scripture contradicts another; and thus, in a very wise manner, as though he had found out some wonderful mystery which had been hid from believers and the holy in every age of the world, he casts midnight darkness into other minds. They lose the relish they once had for the truth and become infidels. All this is the work of a few words spoken, which had a hidden power because they seemed involved in mystery.
This is the work of a cunning devil. Those who are troubled with doubts, and have difficulties which they cannot solve, should not throw other weak minds into the same perplexity. Some have hinted or talked their unbelief and have passed on, little dreaming of the effect produced. In some instances the seeds of unbelief have taken immediate effect, while in others they have lain buried quite a length of time, until the individual has taken a wrong course and given place to the enemy, and the light of God has been withdrawn from him, and he has fallen under the powerful temptations of Satan. Then the seeds of infidelity which were sown so long ago spring up. Satan nourishes them, and they bear fruit. Anything coming from ministers who should stand in the light has a powerful influence. And when they have not stood in the clear light of God, Satan has used them as agents and has through them transmitted his fiery darts to minds not prepared to resist what has come from their ministers.
I saw that ministers, as well as people, have a warfare before them to resist Satan. The professed minister of Christ is in a fearful position when serving the purposes of the tempter, by listening to his whisperings, and letting him captivate the mind and guide the thoughts. The minister’s most grievous sin in the sight of God is talking out his unbelief and drawing other minds into the same dark channel, thus suffering Satan to carry out a twofold purpose in tempting him. He unsettles the mind of the one whose course has encouraged his temptations and then leads that one to unsettle the minds of many.
Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 1 pp. 369-378