PRESENT TRUTH AND THE REMNANT MESSAGE
by George R. Knight / Professor Emeritus of Church History, Andrews University
“Present Truth” is a concept that the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church picked up from 2 Peter 1:12. The Millerites had employed it to refer to the imminent return of Jesus.1 Joseph Bates (founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, along with James and Ellen White) applied it to the seventh-day Sabbath as early as January 1847.2 At other times he expanded the concept to include the entire third angel’s message of Revelation 14.3 Present truth was the Sabbath, the sanctuary, and related concepts that the Sabbath-keeping Adventists had discovered since October 1844.
James White in 1849, after quoting 2 Peter 1:12, which speaks of being “established in the PRESENT TRUTH,” wrote that “in Peter’s time there was present truth, or truth applicable to that present time. The Church [has] ever had a present truth. The present truth now, is that which shows present duty, and the right position for us who are about to witness the time of trouble.”4 He definitely agreed with Bates on the content of present truth. The first two angels of Revelation 14 had sounded. Now it was time for the third.5
It was no accident that James White named the first Seventh-day Adventist periodical Present Truth. He, along with his wife and Bates, came to believe that God had raised up a special people at the end of time to present God’s last-day present truth to all the world before the coming of Jesus. The core of that present truth centered on the three angel’s messages of Revelation 14:6-12. They came to see that as God’s last “remnant” message to that part of God’s last day remnant that still needed to be called out of false movements (Rev. 18:1-4) and into fellowship with those who keep “the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).
Immediately after the three angels’ messages is the second coming of Jesus (Rev. 14:14-20). It was no accident that Ellen White repeatedly referred to the third angel’s message as God’s last message of mercy to the world. The earliest Adventists focused on the need to keep the seventh-day Sabbath as the heart of the remnant message. But by the late 1880s Ellen White, Alonzo T. Jones, and Ellet J. Waggoner, were focusing on “the faith of Jesus” part of Revelation 14:12 and had begun to put forth saving faith in Jesus as the true heart of present truth.6
Salvation by grace through faith had become central. Keeping the Sabbath and other issues were viewed as a part of the faith response of those who already had a saving relationship with Jesus. Thus the last day remnant message included both the commandments of God and faith in Jesus (Rev. 14:12). That message was to be proclaimed right up to the time that Jesus appears in the clouds of heaven (Rev. 14:20).
One of the great temptations of modern Adventism is that it will forget its place in history, will forget the present truth of Revelation 14, and will lose its way.7 I am grateful that the Adventist Prayer Forum 2014 will be held in Korea, reminding Adventists of the present truth. We need to pray on a regular basis that Adventism will not forget the special message that needs to be preached to all the world (Rev. 14:6) before Jesus comes. The devil will do all he can to sidetrack the church. As a result, prayer and faithfulness must go hand in hand as the Seventh-day Adventism moves into the final days of earth’s history.
1. Midnight Cry, Aug. 24, 1843, p. 8.
2. Joseph Bates, The Seventh Day Sabbath, a Perpetual Sign, 2d ed. (New Bedford, Mass.: Benjamin Lindsey, 1847), p. iii.
3. Joseph Bates, A Seal of the Living God (New Bedford, Mass.: Benjamin Lindsey, 1849), p. 17.
4. Present Truth, July 1849, p. 1.
6. Ellen G. White, Manuscript 8a, 1888.
7. See George R. Knight, The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism, rev. ed. (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald, 2009).
by Jonathan Paulien / Dean, School of Religion, Loma Linda University
As Seventh-day Adventists, we value the importance of history as a way to understand God’s purpose for our own time (note the central theme of the Book The Great Controversy). We compare ourselves with past movements that lost their way and are comforted that we are still on course. It is comforting to think that we will not repeat the mistakes of history. But I wonder if our confidence is not sometimes misplaced. Are we are as ready to apply the lessons of history to our own frailties and shortcomings as we are to those of others?
When we look at early church history, we notice a pattern of apostasy. By the fourth century, early Christianity had suffered a number of doctrinal losses. As noted by historian James D. G. Dunn (The Partings of the Ways, 243-258), these losses were to a large degree precipitated by an increasing and mutual hostility between Judaism and Christianity. Due to that hostility, both sides pulled back from positions that the two sides had held in common at the beginning. As both religions developed respective “orthodoxies,” positions hardened against each other. The core of each faith’s identity was defined as distinct from the other.
Christianity, for example, had no serious reason to give up the Sabbath, except to demonstrate that it was distinct from Judaism. Judaism had no reason to downplay the subject of the Messiah, except that others might confuse Judaism with Christianity, which made the Messiah a central part of its confession of faith. When religions split apart, both tend to lost something. After the breakup with Judaism the resulting Christian orthodoxy not only gave up the Sabbath, it has fostered within Christianity a general ignorance of the Old Testament and a very narrow and selective use of the New. Christianity today, therefore, is not what it once was or what it could have been. In developing its identity over against Judaism, it walled itself off from elements of its own heritage that were a healthy component at an earlier period. The Christianity of the third through the sixth centuries was not what it once was. It was ripe for some sort of reformation.
Let me reflect a bit further on the above. Religions can decline in more than one way. We are accustomed to the idea of "liberal" decline. People over time take various aspects of a historic faith less and less seriously. But there is a more subtle form of "apostasy." It is the "conservative" type, the more "black and white" mentality. We define ourselves more and more exactly, in the process walling ourselves off from healthy interaction with those who disagree. We end up hardening in a more narrow faith that over time becomes less and less in touch with reality. In a way, this type of apostasy is more dangerous than the other because it seems so faithful and right. Within Adventism, it was clearly witnessed in the opposition to Waggoner and Jones in 1888.
The trend toward religious decline is a natural one, like entropy. It is most dangerous when no one notices. Thus there is a continual need for “revival and reformation.” But in the more conservative type of decline, “revival and reformation” can be twisted into a further narrowing and hardening, exacerbating the very process it attempts to reverse. I mean here no slap against one group or another in the church today. My primary concern is to note that whether one is “liberal” or “conservative” religious decline or “apostasy” is as natural as breathing. Hence the critical importance of prayer, and not just prayer but a special kind of prayer, one that is grounded in self-distrust.
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) The problem described here is self-deception. Your heart is deceitful. My heart is deceitful. In fact, our hearts are so deceitful we don’t even realize how much we are deceived. If human hearts are exceedingly wicked and deceptive, then we need to lay our pre-conceived opinions, our prejudices, at the altar when we pray. Genuine revival and reformation only comes when self is laid aside, including the opinions that we cherish more than anything. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” True knowledge of God comes from a willingness to receive the truth from God no matter what it costs. Knowledge of God can cost you your life, your family, your friends, and your reputation. So how badly do you really want to know God? If you want the truth no matter what the cost, you will receive it. God is willing for you to find the truth if you are willing to be taught. I wish that the forum you are attending today help you find the truth—the present truth in this end time, leading you to want to know God more. Today I invite you to pray that kind of prayer.
PRAYING WITH A PARTNER
by Barry Black / Chaplain of the United States Senate
I congratulate you for your interest in prayer and would like to suggest a way to energize your prayer life: pray with a partner. We should pray patiently and fearlessly with purity, effectiveness, perseverance, intimacy, fervency, and submission, but also with a partner. Praying with a partner will bring fresh power to your prayers, energizing your intercession.
Jesus talked about the exceptional power this strategy can bring. He said (Matthew 18:19, 20): “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.” What does this amazing promise mean? It obviously does not mean that no matter what we pray with a partner we will receive our request. We know (Mark 10) of James and John, the sons of Zebedee coming to Jesus in agreement. They asked Jesus to permit them to sit on the right and the left of His throne in a kingdom that would never exist. Jesus responded, “You don’t know for what you are asking.’ If Matthew 18:19 is to be taken literally and without qualification, we would have to ignore the fact that on many occasions two people have agreed to pray and their prayer has not in the literal sense been answered. What Jesus is saying is that when we pray with a partner we must desire the answer which God, in His wisdom and love, knows is best.
Imagine what would have happened if God had said “yes” to Joseph’s prayers in Genesis 37. No doubt Joseph prayed that God would permit him to go back home after his brothers threw him in the pit. God instead permitted Joseph to go to Egypt as a slave, sold by his brothers to a band of foreigners. Joseph would later comment (Genesis 50:20): “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” So praying with a partner positions us to experience God’s greater wisdom and love choreographing our destinies with His loving providence.
Another reason why we should pray with a partner is to protect our prayers from selfishness, as Jesus taught us to pray in “The Our Father,” where we repeatedly encounter plural pronouns. This prayer is about us, not about an individual. Praying with a partner leads us down an unselfish path, helping to purge our prayers from self-centeredness.
We should also pray with a partner because Jesus is as much present with two people as He is with a very large congregation. In other words, you do not need an entire church praying for you to pray with power, making your voice heard in heaven. Christ, the greatest intercessor, joins in the prayer experience wherever two or three are gathered together in His name (Matthew 18:20). In Acts chapter 12, a small group of believers who were praying in the home of Mary, was powerful enough to get God to send an angel to rescue Peter from prison and certain death. It is this power that is available to people of faith whether their prayer group is large or small.
We should pray with a partner because it brings unity of mind, spirit, and purpose among believers. What could be more unifying than finding common ground with another believer, possessing the same mind and voicing the same concerns? Acts 2:1 describes that experience in this way, “On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place on one accord.” These people who were the recipients of the Holy Spirit on The Day of Pentecost were united in their prayers, and it brought power and results.
Finally we should pray with a partner because partners can bless and cheer one another. In Luke 10, Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. He intended for them to bless and cheer one another. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 describes the blessings that can come from a partnership with these words:
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. And on a cold night, two under the same blanket can gain warmth from each other. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
What wonderful blessings are available in partnerships? Paul and Silas discovered these blessings. David and Johnathan discovered these blessings. Release God’s power by praying with a partner.
Disappointment of 1843-44
(excerpts from Life Sketches of Ellen G. White)
With carefulness and trembling we approached the time when our Saviour was expected to appear. With solemn earnestness we sought, as a people, to purify our lives, that we might be ready to meet Him at His coming. Meetings were still held at private houses in different parts of the city, with the best results. Believers were encouraged to work for their friends and relatives, and conversions were multiplying day by day. LS 54.1
Meetings in Beethoven Hall
Notwithstanding the opposition of ministers and churches, Beethoven Hall, in the city of Portland, was nightly crowded; especially was there a large congregation on Sundays. All classes flocked to these meetings. Rich and poor, high and low, ministers and laymen, were all, from various causes, anxious to hear for themselves the doctrine of the second advent. Many came who, finding no room to stand, went away disappointed. LS 54.2
The order of the meetings was simple. A short and pointed discourse was usually given, then liberty was granted for general exhortation. There was, as a rule, the most perfect stillness possible for so large a crowd. The Lord held the spirit of opposition in check while His servants explained the reasons of their faith. Sometimes the instrument was feeble, but the Spirit of God gave weight and power to His truth. The presence of the holy angels was felt in the assembly, and numbers were daily added to the little band of believers. LS 54.3
An Exhortation by Elder Brown
On one occasion, while Elder Stockman was preaching, Elder Brown, a Christian Baptist minister, whose name has been mentioned before in this narrative, was sitting in the desk listening to the sermon with intense interest. He became deeply moved, and suddenly his face grew pale as the dead, he reeled in his chair, and Elder Stockman caught him in his arms just as he was falling to the floor, and laid him on the sofa back of the desk, where he lay powerless until the discourse was finished. LS 55.1
He then arose, his face still pale, but shining with light from the Sun of Righteousness, and gave a very impressive testimony. He seemed to receive holy unction from above. He was usually slow of speech, with an earnest manner, entirely free from excitement. On this occasion his solemn, measured words carried with them a new power. LS 55.2
He related his experience with such simplicity and candor that many who had been greatly prejudiced were affected to tears. The Spirit of God was felt in his words and seen upon his countenance. With a holy exaltation he boldly declared that he had taken the word of God as his counselor; that his doubts had been swept away and his faith confirmed. With earnestness he invited his brother ministers, church members, sinners, and infidels to examine the Bible for themselves, and charged them to let no man turn them from the purpose of ascertaining what was the truth. LS 55.3
When he had finished speaking, those who desired the prayers of the people of God were invited to rise. Hundreds responded to the call. The Holy Spirit rested upon the assembly. Heaven and earth seemed to approach each other. The meeting lasted until a late hour of the night. The power of the Lord was felt upon young, old, and middle-aged. LS 55.4
Elder Brown did not either then or afterward sever his connection with the Christian church, but he was looked upon with great respect by his people. LS 56.1
As we returned to our homes by various ways, a voice praising God would reach us from one direction, and as if in response, voices from another and still another quarter shouted, “Glory to God, the Lord reigneth!” Men sought their homes with praises upon their lips, and the glad sound rang out upon the still night air. No one who attended these meetings can ever forget those scenes of deepest interest. LS 56.2
Those who sincerely love Jesus can appreciate the feelings of those who watched with the most intense longing for the coming of their Saviour. The point of expectation was nearing. The time when we hoped to meet Him was close at hand. We approached this hour with a calm solemnity. The true believers rested in a sweet communion with God,—an earnest of the peace that was to be theirs in the bright hereafter. None who experienced this hope and trust can ever forget those precious hours of waiting. LS 56.3
Worldly business was for the most part laid aside for a few weeks. We carefully examined every thought and emotion of our hearts, as if upon our deathbeds, and in a few hours to close our eyes forever upon earthly scenes. There was no making of “ascension robes” for the great event; we felt the need of internal evidence that we were prepared to meet Christ, and our white robes were purity of soul, character cleansed from sin by the atoning blood of our Saviour. LS 56.4
Days of Perplexity
But the time of expectation passed. This was the first close test brought to bear upon those who believed and hoped that Jesus would come in the clouds of heaven. The disappointment of God’s waiting people was great. The scoffers were triumphant, and won the weak and cowardly to their ranks.Some who had appeared to possess true faith seemed to have been influenced only by fear; and now their courage returned with the passing of the time, and they boldly united with the scoffers, declaring that they had never been duped to really believe the doctrine of Miller, who was a mad fanatic.Others, naturally yielding or vacillating, quietly deserted the cause. LS 57.1
We were perplexed and disappointed, yet did not renounce our faith. Many still clung to the hope that Jesus would not long delay His coming; the word of the Lord was sure, it could not fail. We felt that we had done our duty, we had lived up to our precious faith; we were disappointed, but not discouraged.The signs of the times denoted that the end of all things was at hand; we must watch and hold ourselves in readiness for the coming of the Master at any time. We must wait with hope and trust, not neglecting the assembling of ourselves together for instruction, encouragement, and comfort, that our light might shine forth into the darkness of the world. LS 57.2
Does God answer only trivial prayers?
by Jonathan Paulien / Dean, School of Religion, Loma Linda University
The Bible tells us that our God is a God of love (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8, etc.). He is more willing to give good gifts to His “children” than even the most loving earthly father is (Matt 7:7-11). To put it in other words, God enjoys showering His beloved ones with little gifts. Just to say “I love you.” And I believe He loves to do this in some of the most personal and practical ways imaginable. Perhaps you’ve just lost hope of finding a parking spot in time to meet a critical appointment. You send up a desperate prayer and suddenly a space appears. A worried mother wonders where her boy is and sends up a quick prayer. Just then the phone rings and she discovers all is well. Or you survive a harrowing experience and discover later that several friends felt impressed to pray for you at exactly that time. Millions of believers around the world have experiences just like this every day. It is reasonable to suggest from this that God is real and that He loves to make His presence known to those who are open to it.
But just now the skeptic in you is saying, Wait a minute! Are you trying to tell me that God manages the comings and goings in every parking lot around the world just in case one of His followers needs a spot at the last minute? If prayer is sometimes timed to remarkable events, what about all the times when people pray and “nothing” happens? What about all the real heartaches in this world that are met with silence? What about women who are raped and their cries for help go unheeded? What about men who contract terminal cancer in the prime of their life and feel as if their prayers go no higher than the ceiling? What about parents who pray for wayward children and go to their graves without a clear response from God?
These objections have serious weight. Believers often fail to realize how trivial their experience of God’s presence may seem to others who have suffered deeply in this life. Our glib expressions of how God is working in our everyday lives can be like a knife in the heart to someone experiencing the absence of God. We must never forget that the absence of God in everyday experience can seem the norm to most people. It is even something Jesus experienced when He was on the cross (see Matt 27:46 and parallels). In spite of the deep intimacy with God that characterized every day of Jesus’ ministry, in the 24 hours before His death Jesus experienced increasing darkness to the point where He could no longer see the Father’s reconciling face. The withdrawal of a sense of God’s approving presence caused Jesus the deepest anguish (see Desire of Ages, page 753). To experience the silence of God, then, is no indication that a person is actually forsaken by God or is an incorrigible sinner. But at times like that it can feel as if God answers only trivial prayers.
The story of Job may also be instructive here. Job’s experience makes it clear that there is no answer to most of the specific objections raised above, at least in this life. The tragedies in Job’s life were certainly unexplainable in earthly terms. They came from “nowhere” and made no sense to him. They had to do with complexities in the larger universe that Job never came to understand. The fascinating thing is that even when God came down in person to talk with Job about these issues (Job 38:1 - 41:34), He never mentions the real reason for Job’s suffering, a reason the reader of the story is allowed into (1:6-12; 2:1-7).
From the book of Job we discern that there is a cosmic conflict in the universe that affects all that we do and all that we experience. God’s actions are sometimes limited by larger considerations in that conflict, things we may never understand until eternity. Perhaps God’s intervention in Job’s situation would have upset the whole space-time continuum of the universe in a way even quantum physicists could not understand. In other words, God cannot explain what we cannot understand. What we do understand is that larger divine interventions can change things in a way that causes collateral damage at some unspecified time in the future. Major actions of God have ripple effects in the lives of many people and their descendants over decades and even centuries. As those ripples play out in the course of history, they can have consequences that we cannot foresee but God in His infinite wisdom can. He may understand that the good we hope God will do in the present could cause even greater harm than His silence in answer to our prayers.
There is an interesting biblical illustration of this. It is the story of Hezekiah as told in Isaiah 36-39. Hezekiah was one of the most faithful kings in the history of Judah (2 Kings 18:5-6; 2 Chr 31:20-21). He was faithful to God in his personal life and devotions. He expanded the borders of the country. He restored the temple that had fallen into ruins. He restored the priests and Levites to their regular services. He restored the feast days. He removed the rival altars around Jerusalem. He ordered the “high places” of rival worship all around the country to be destroyed. He destroyed the idols and images that the people had come to rely on. His prayers protected Jerusalem when it was surrounding by overwhelming Assyrian forces. It would be understandable, therefore, for people to think that Hezekiah’s premature death would be a tragic thing for the nation and a mistake for God to allow. I can almost see the ancient bloggers and pundits questioning God’s character in relation to this development. But it was not to be.
When the time came for Hezekiah to die, he pleaded bitterly with God on the grounds of his lifelong faithfulness (Isa 38:1-3). God granted him an extension of 15 years (38:5), along with a major astronomical token of His presence (38:7-8-- how Hezekiah came to have this experience is not explained). Everyone seemed to have gotten what they wanted from God. Yet during those extra years two things happened that undid all the good that Hezekiah had done during his lifetime; the visit of the Babylonian envoys (39:1-8) and the birth of his son, who became the evil king Manasseh (2 Kings 21:1-9). In the context of the cosmic conflict between God and Satan major interventions in people’s lives are very complicated. The ramifications are usually way beyond our understanding.
Having said this, I still want to argue that a believer’s experience in a parking lot is not necessarily imaginary. I cannot explain the timing and the effort involved in God’s actions. But I do believe that God would answer every prayer in a positive manner if pleasing us were the only consideration. If finding someone a parking space or timing a phone call will not upset the space-time continuum of the universe, why wouldn’t a loving God intervene? If a woman makes a full commitment to Jesus just as a rain shower happens to be passing, why wouldn’t God arrange that if the stakes were low enough? I guess what I am saying is that the lower the ultimate stakes, the lower the potential consequences of any particular divine intervention, the more likely that a loving God can use the circumstances of life as a token of his love. We serve a God who delights to please His children whenever so doing would not cause harm to anyone.
Having said that, those of us who have experienced this kind of intimacy from God need to be careful when and how we share such experiences with others. Our well-intentioned testimony can do harm even when God’s gift did not. While we should rightly acknowledge the small tokens of God’s favor in our lives and rejoice over them in the right circumstances, we need to also be aware of how often our testimonies cause pain.