And now, a word from Ellen White. I just read this entire article from Review and Herald, June 20, 1882. It is powerful, sobering, and cuts to the heart. Take the ten minutes to read the whole thing:
To every man God has intrusted talents for wise improvement. If rightly used, these talents will reflect glory to the Giver. But the most precious gifts of God may be perverted, and thus become a curse rather than a blessing. No man can even once devote his God-given powers to the service of worldliness or pride without placing himself on the enemy’s ground, weakening his own soul, and misleading others.
Some who possess qualities which might render them highly useful to the cause of God, possess also serious defects of character, which they do not make sufficient effort to overcome. They seem almost powerless to resist the spirit and influence of the world. Some endeavor to change their surroundings in the hope of finding an easier path; but while they shun one temptation, they place themselves in the way of another. It is of little avail to change our position in order to escape temptation, unless God marks out our way and indicates our duty. The trouble is not so much in the surroundings as in the weakness of the man.
Those who have not a living connection with God, are actuated by a desire to exalt self. It is this desire which has opened the way for an irreligious influence to bear sway among us. Many have not pure, noble conceptions of truth and duty. Worldly customs and practices are introduced because the hearts of unconsecrated ministers and church-members still cling to the love of the world. These persons are not qualified to teach the truth, for they do not present to the world the safe standard. Words, however true and forcible, will have but little effect, if contradicted by the daily life.
No man can exert an influence for Christ, unless he is a decided and consistent Christian. Those who love and cherish the pure principles of Bible religion, will not be found weak in moral power. Under the elevating, ennobling influence of the Holy Spirit, the tastes and inclinations become pure and holy. Nothing will take so strong a hold upon the affections, nothing reaches so fully down to the deepest motives of action, nothing exerts so potent an influence upon the life, and gives so great firmness and stability to the character, as the religion of Christ. It is this which is lacking in the church. Many will be found wanting in the day of final accounts, because they did not possess real godliness.
Pure religion leads its possessor ever upward, inspiring him with noble purposes, teaching him propriety of deportment, and imparting a becoming dignity to every action. True religion is possessed by few. The mass of mankind do not cordially embrace or faithfully practice its principles. At the last day the curse of God will rest upon many who had flattered themselves that they were in favor with him. “If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness.” God forbid that those who profess to teach the sacred, solemn truth that the end of all things is at hand, and who claim to be the repositories of the divine law, should cherish a love for pleasure, and look to the world for favor and approbation! Christ gives them no such example.
We should beware that we do not, by our trifling and indifferent course, belittle and disgrace our holy work. There is need of thoughtful men,–men who will not be satisfied with superficial knowledge or experience, and who will not be unsettled by every passing temptation. Men are needed of firm and earnest purpose, men whose highest aim is to do good, to gather souls to Christ. Talkative, restless, self-commending men, who stretch out their hands to the world, and whom the world is ever seeking to win to her embrace, are not the ones who will honor God at this important crisis.
The Lord has given man capacity for continual improvement, and has granted him all possible aid in the work. Through the provisions of divine grace, we may attain almost to the excellence of the angels. What shall be said of those who, having had many years of experience in the truth, and many precious advantages for growth in grace, are yet inclined toward the world, and find pleasure in its amusements and display? Instead of going on from strength to strength, they are, little by little, departing from God, and losing their spiritual life.
“Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation,” is the admonition of our Saviour. A cunning and cruel foe attends our steps, and is working every moment, with all his strength and skill, to turn us out of the right way. He succeeds best when employing such instrumentalities as best conceal himself. He often appears as an angel of light, and those who have not walked in the light of Heaven, those who have not followed Christ in his humiliation, are deceived and ensnared by his devices.
Talent can never take the place of piety, nor can the applause of men recommend us to the favor of God. What the majority of professed Christians need, is genuine conversion. If the heart is right, the actions will be right. An earthly, debasing influence marks the character and the life of those whose hearts do not glow with the fire of true goodness. Too many profess to be followers of Christ, and feel at liberty to follow their own judgment, and indulge the desires of their own hearts. He who would advance in the Christian life, must put his own hands and heart to the work. Friends may exhort and counsel, to urge him onward and upward; Heaven may pour its choicest blessings upon him; he may have all possible assistance on the right hand and on the left, and yet all will be in vain, unless he shall put forth earnest effort to help himself. He himself must engage in the warfare against sin and Satan, or he will fail of everlasting life.
Unbending principle will mark the course of those who sit at the feet of Jesus and learn of him. But alas! how many are to be found who are today engaging earnestly in the service of Christ, tomorrow equally earnest in uniting with worldlings in their frivolous amusements. They veer with every wind of temptation. Let the world hold out its bait,–fame or honor, pleasure or gain,–and there is no sacrifice of feeling or conscience that will not be made to gain the prize. Can Christ trust such men to give to the world the light of his truth? Never! Under favorable circumstances they may seem to lead a consistent life; but let temptation entice, and they venture upon the enemy’s ground, and worst of all, lead others in the same path. Unsound at heart, they are unsound in life. When a crisis comes, when firmness is most required, they are found on the wrong side. He who has once yielded to temptation has become spiritually weak, and he will yield more readily the second time. Every repetition of the sin weakens his power of resistance, blinds his eyes, and stifles conviction. Every seed of indulgence sown, produces a harvest. “That which ye sow, ye shall also reap.”
Satan trembles when the voice of God speaks through his instruments, giving cautions and warnings, and rebuking sin. The startling announcement, “Thou art the man,” stirs the soul of the guilty. He may for a time put forth earnest efforts to subdue his favorite sin,–ambition, pride, love of display, emulation, avarice, or any other evil trait,–but it is too often the case that his zeal soon flags, and he falls back into his former error. When again reproved, he is rarely impressed as before. Having once stifled conviction, he finds it more easy to repeat the same course. He is hardening his heart against the convictions of the Holy Spirit. A further rejection of the truth places him where a far mightier influence will be ineffectual to stir the sluggish soul, and make an abiding impression.
The Lord sends us warning, counsel, and reproof, that we may have opportunity to correct our errors before they become second-nature. But if we refuse to be corrected, God does not interfere to counteract the tendencies of our own course of action. He works no miracle that the seed sown may not spring up and bear fruit. That man who manifests an infidel hardihood or a stolid indifference to divine truth, is but reaping the harvest which he has himself sown. Such has been the experience of many. They listen with stoical indifference to the truths which once stirred their very souls. They sowed neglect, indifference, and resistance to the truth; and such is the harvest which they reap. The coldness of ice, the hardness of iron, the impenetrable, unimpressible nature of rock–all these find a counterpart in the character of many a professed Christian. It was thus that the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh. God spoke to the Egyptian king by the mouth of Moses, giving him the most striking evidences of divine power; but the monarch stubbornly refused the light which would have brought him to repentance. God did not send a supernatural power to harden the heart of the rebellious king, but as Pharaoh resisted the truth, the Holy Spirit was withdrawn, and he was left to the darkness and unbelief which he had chosen.
By persistent rejection of the Spirit’s influence, men cut themselves off from God. He has in reserve no more potent agency to enlighten their minds. No revelation of his will can reach them in their unbelief.
Would that I could lead every professed follower of Christ to see this matter as it is. We are all sowing either to the flesh or to the Spirit, and we reap the harvest from the seed we sow. In choosing our pleasures or employments, we should seek only those things that are excellent. The trifling, the worldly, the debasing, should have no power to control the affections or the will. The great apostle declared that he kept his body under, and this discipline must be maintained by every follower of Christ.
The bondage of worldly habits and customs is so pleasing to the natural heart that it has become well-nigh universal. Few can be found who are willing to deny self that they may walk in the light of Heaven. It is because they know not Christ and obey not the truth, that professed Christians can accept as their portion the pleasures of sense and the changing fashions of a fickle world. Not one of those who have come out from the world, in obedience to the injunctions of Christ, can find pleasure in its amusements or its display. Many are saying by their course of action, that the line of demarkation between Christians and the world must not be too distinct. They conform to the customs and unite in the pursuits of the lovers of pleasure, in order to retain their friendship, and exert an influence to win them to the truth. The plea is not new. The same work has been often attempted since the opposing forces of good and evil first existed in the world. The result has ever been the same. Conformity to worldly customs converts the church to the world. It never converts the world to Christ. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” How can the loyal subjects of the Great King be in harmony with his bitterest foe? When the professed people of God choose the fellowship of the world, what marvel that the presence and blessing of Christ is shut out from the church?
In the fear of God, whom I love and whom I serve, I call upon the followers of Christ to come out from the world. If they would but be men of principle, in determination, in moral power, there are many who might become polished instruments in the hand of Christ. But if they at times yield themselves to the control of Satan, they cannot be trusted. He who does not himself resist inclination, or who has not a proper understanding of Christian obligation, would be an unsafe guide to others. One injudicious act may exert an influence which the most earnest effort will be powerless to counteract.
Good qualities, superior talents, are a curse rather than a blessing, when they are not consecrated to God. The greater the gifts, the more dangerous their influence to lead away from Christ. Those who present to others the solemn, searching truths for this time, should exemplify these truths in their own life. To preach what we do not practice, is but to confirm sinners in their impenitence. The most earnest exhortations to walk in the light will be unheeded, if the speaker himself neglects to follow the light which Christ has given.
By disregarding the teachings of God’s word, many have dulled their keen perception of Christian consistency. Having no real connection with God, they mistake good impulses for religion. Said Christ to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” When the love of Jesus is abiding in the soul, many who are now but withered branches will become as the cedars of Lebanon, “whose root is by the great waters.” The cedar is noted for the firmness of its roots. Not content to cling to the earth with a few weak fibers, it thrusts its rootlets, like a sturdy wedge, into the cloven rock, and reaches down deeper and deeper for strong holds to grasp. When the tempest grapples with its boughs, that firm-set tree cannot be uprooted. What a goodly cedar might not every follower of Christ become, if he were but rooted and grounded in the truth, firmly united to the Eternal Rock.
The people of God cannot conform to the world, and yet enjoy his love and be sanctified through the truth. They may bear the outward semblance of the cedar, but their roots strike no deeper than the surface sand. When the tempest falls, they will be uprooted. Others, who have been content to follow their example, will perish in like manner.
My brethren and sisters, be careful what influence you exert upon the cause of God. Be careful what example you set before the youth. Satan and his angels are putting forth their utmost efforts to efface from the minds of the young every impression made by the Holy Spirit. Let the professed people of God beware that they do not aid the great deceiver in his work. Only those who are firm, true, devoted, living Christians, can be a help to the cause of God.