Prisoners of Hope—Under the Fig Tree

Everyone who has read the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes the marvelous way in which God has led it. It has a heritage from which we may well learn and for which we should be thankful. We should each resolve to stand firmly upon the principles that the Lord has established.

Yet we see that almost from the start there was controversy. We have been told that our history may well parallel the sad debacle of the children of Israel on their way to the Promised Land. Many of the church’s marvelous pioneers were certainly led by God in sacrifice and oftentimes in the most outstanding ways.

Two Classes

The Spirit of Prophecy was given during the early history of Advent believers. There were those during the lifetime of Ellen G. White who believed she was God’s messenger. There were those who did not believe her messages came from God. There are still two classes in the church today.

If and when there are two classes in the church, differences of opinion or perhaps even controversy may well be fostered and promulgated. There are those who say that we do not really have any crisis or difficulties in the church, that the Lord is leading it, and all is well. I would like to quote a paragraph from a sermon by Robert H. Pierson, former General Conference President, as presented at the Annual Council, October 16, 1978, and reported in the Adventist Review, October 26, 1978. It reads as follows:

“Already, brethren and sisters, there are subtle forces that are beginning to stir. Regrettably there are those in the church who belittle the inspiration of the total Bible, who scorn the first 11 chapters of Genesis, who question the Spirit of Prophecy’s short chronology of the age of the earth, and who subtly and not so subtly attack the Spirit of Prophecy. There are some who point to the reformers and contemporary theologians as a source and the norm for Seventh-day Adventist doctrine. There are those who allegedly are tired of the hackneyed phrases of Adventism. There are those who wish to forget the standards of the church we love. There are those who covet and would court the favor of the evangelicals; those who would throw off the mantle of a peculiar people; and those who would go the way of the secular, materialistic world.

“Fellow leaders, beloved brethren and sisters don’t let it happen! I appeal to you as earnestly as I know how this morning¾don’t let it happen! . . . This is God’s last church with God’s last message.” “An Earnest Appeal From the Retiring President of the General Conference,” Adventist Review, October 26, 1978, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Takoma Park, Washington, D.C., 10.

Do you suppose it might be possible that God’s last church might not be willing to give to the world God’s last message in the way God wants it to be given?

Life and Death Issues

Could anyone read in Revelation 3:14-22 where we are told that we are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” and still insist that all is well?

We know from research by a number of men that controversy arose in 1888 over a message God gave the church. This message had to do with righteousness by faith. We are told that some part of this message was rejected at that time. This produced controversy and a delay in God’s plan for His people on their way to the Promised Land. My understanding is that the righteousness having to do with justification and forgiveness was not rejected, but the righteousness which had to do with the preparation of God’s people to be fit for heaven was rejected. This appears to be again what is being rejected today by many. This had to do specifically with sanctification. So controversy raises its head, and we have differences of opinion which may well be basic to one’s salvation.

Dr. Geoffrey J. Paxton, in his book, The Shaking of Adventism (Zenith Publishers, Wilmington, Delaware, January 1977) states that we are in a life and death struggle as to the nature of the gospel. Dr. Paxton has written a book of 156 pages on the problems in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, dealing with the shaking and the controversy in connection with righteousness by faith.

What To Do

The question that comes to mind is, How does the Lord want us to deal with differences of opinion or controversy? “If pride and selfishness were laid aside, five minutes would remove most difficulties.” Early Writings, 119.

God has given men and women minds with which to study and to choose. All of average intelligence may know the truth on any matter of religious consequence if they are willing to depend wholly upon God and the Holy Spirit and search as for hidden treasure.

Truth, however, is not dependent upon knowing every word of the Greek language; neither is it dependent upon the knowledge or science of the world. It is not dependent upon higher education or a doctor’s degree. To find truth, we are wholly dependent upon the Holy Spirit. “Without the Spirit of God a knowledge of His word is of no avail.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 408. “In comparison with the knowledge of God, all human knowledge is as chaff. And the way of salvation can be made known only by God.” “Ellen G. White Comments,” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7A, 469. So, as you can see, we are completely dependent upon God to recognize and know the truth. “Strife and contention cannot arise among those who are controlled by His Spirit.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 227.

Does this mean, then, that when we see the truth stamped into the dust that we are to do nothing? No! We are to meet the issue and stand for God.

“It is difficult to discern between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not.” Ibid., vol. 8, 247.

“Those who have not been in the habit of searching the Bible for themselves, of weighing evidence, have confidence in the leading men and accept the decisions they make; and thus many will reject the very messages God sends to His people, if these leading brethren do not accept them.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 106, 107.

God’s Guidance

Where matters of principle or truth are involved, the majority is seldom right. When the pioneers of this movement were in question regarding any spiritual matter, they got together as a group and studied. At times they were unable to understand the question under study, even though they studied night and day. Ellen White met with them, but was not able to enter into or understand the matters at hand.

When the pioneers had reached an impasse and could go no further, Ellen White was taken off in vision, and the Lord showed her the truth of the matter under study. The men accepted these revelations as from the Lord. “Many of our people do not realize how firmly the foundation of our faith has been laid.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 206.

As the pioneers would study and could not understand a matter, the following was written by Ellen White: “During this whole time I could not understand the reasoning of the brethren. My mind was locked, as it were, and I could not comprehend the meaning of the scriptures we were studying. This was one of the greatest sorrows of my life. I was in this condition of mind until all the principal points of our faith were made clear to our minds, in harmony with the Word of God. The brethren knew that when not in vision, I could not understand these matters, and they accepted as light direct from heaven the revelations given.” Ibid., 207. The fundamental beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists were therefore established by the Lord, and are not to be tampered with.

It must be evident that the Lord was responsible for the points of our faith which were not readily
understood. He spoke to the pioneers after long, futile hours of unresolved study through the Spirit of Prophecy, and gave them truth and understanding, which, you will note, was in harmony with the Word of God.

Why Differences

We have all these truths today as God gave them to the early leaders. We have the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. One therefore wonders how and why there could be differences of opinion or possible controversy. In any event, perhaps we should get together and study, as did the pioneers¾or better yet, ask the Lord how He would have us settle differences of opinion.

The following two quotations for your consideration are given, not to point the finger at anyone, but to show what conditions are, or may well be, and what the Lord says to do.

“Satan has laid his plans to undermine our faith in the history of the cause and work of God. I am deeply in earnest as I write this. Satan is working with men in prominent positions to sweep away the foundations of our faith. Shall we allow this to be done, brethren?” Review and Herald, November 19, 1903.

“My [Ellen White] message to you is: No longer consent to listen without protest to the perversion of truth. Unmask the pretentious sophistries. . . . Everyone is now to stand on his guard. God calls upon men and women to take their stand under the blood-stained banner of Prince Emmanuel. I have been instructed to warn our people.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 196. [Emphasis added.] This was written some time ago, but I believe we can see applications of this today.

As previously stated, it is quite a mystery that there could be real controversy in our ranks with all the information and instruction we have at hand. But perhaps the great diversity between all may bring good in the end if we study as for hidden treasure and approach all subjects with an open mind directed by the Holy Spirit.

“There is to be no change in the general features of our work. It is to stand as clear and distinct as prophecy has made it. We are to enter into no confederacy with the world, supposing that by so doing we could accomplish more. . . . No line of truth that has made the Seventh-day Adventist people what they are is to be weakened. We have the old landmarks of truth, experience, and duty, and we are to stand firmly in defense of our principles, in full view of the world.” Testimonies, vol. 6, 17. [Emphasis added.]

“We are in danger of variance, in danger of taking sides on a controverted point; and should we not seek God in earnestness, with humiliation of soul, that we may know what is truth?

Fig Tree Experience

“Nathanael heard John as he pointed to the Saviour and said, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29)! Nathanael looked at Jesus, but he was disappointed in the appearance of the world’s Redeemer. Could He who bore the marks of toil and poverty be the Messiah? Jesus was a worker; He had toiled with humble workingmen, and Nathanael went away. But he did not form his opinion decidedly as to what the character of Jesus was. He knelt down under a fig tree, inquiring of God if indeed this man was the Messiah.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 414.

While Nathanael was under the fig tree, Phillip came along and stated to him that they had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Phillip did not seek a controversy. He simply said, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael, He said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” John 1:47. To have no guile might well be a good beginning to the solution of a controversy. But even more important would be to kneel under the fig tree and to plead with God as to what is truth, before and after a thorough study of the question at hand.

You will remember that Jesus told Nathanael that before Phillip came to him, He saw him under the fig tree. He sees us also as we kneel under the fig tree to get a solution to controversy; and He will answer us if we are, as was Nathanael, “without guile.” Nathanael was honest. He had an open mind, and before he left Jesus, the controversy was settled in a true fashion in his own mind, because he exclaimed, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.” John 1:49. In arriving at any spiritual truth, we need Jesus as the King of our hearts.

“God wants us to depend upon Him, and not upon man. He desires us to have a new heart; He would give us revealings of light from the throne of God. We should wrestle with every difficulty, but when some controverted point is presented, are you to go to man to find out his opinion, and then shape your conclusions from his?¾No, go to God. Tell Him what you want; take your Bible and search as for hidden treasures.” Ibid., 415.

“In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, I beseech the people of God to depend upon the Lord for strength. Beware how you place men where God should be. We are not safe in taking men as our authority or our guide, for they will surely disappoint us.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 386.

“Would it not be well for us to go under the fig tree to plead with God as to what is truth?” Selected Messages, Book 1, 415.

Nathanael did not make up his mind until he had consulted God. When we do this first and not consult man; searching as for hidden treasure, believing, and having surrendered all completely to Christ, a new heart is given, a new creature is born; and man becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Then it is that Jesus will reveal truth and settle, for that individual, any controversy in truth in His own way.

Many years ago I had studied the question of the sanctuary and righteousness by faith for long hours in the early morning over months of time. I have recently heard different speakers state certain things which might be in question or might not be the whole truth, as I remember from my previous study. Therefore I decided that reconsideration and reassessment on my part was in order. I reviewed what I had studied and made a list of related topics which I thought worthwhile to consider; listed quotations from the Spirit of Prophecy and the Bible; and asked the Lord to give me truth. I attempted to get under the fig tree.

Our God is a great God. He is a God of love. Our God is alive. He wants each of us to have eternal life and to live and develop with Him through eternity. We each need to know the truth as it is in Jesus. He has given us all things we need. We need to practice the straight truth in our everyday lives. Since we live in an unusual time, in the last end of time, God expects more of us than of any other generation or people. He expects us to reflect a high standard¾perfection, the image of Jesus.

“The Jews perished as a nation because they were drawn from the truth of the Bible by their rulers, priests, and elders. Had they heeded the lessons of Jesus, and searched the Scriptures for themselves, they would not have perished.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 109. As we search and study, “Would it not be well for us to go under the fig tree to plead with God as to what is truth?”

Surely, we are all “Prisoners of Hope”!

Raymond L. Knoll, M.D. was born May 11, 1907. Becoming a Seventh-day Adventist in 1923, he has a love and devotion to the Holy Bible and to the writings of Ellen G. White. Graduating from a community college in Alberta, Canada in 1928 where he majored in mathematics and science, he continued his education at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, graduating with a B.A. in mathematics and a minor in science. After teaching several years in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, he entered the College of Medical Evangelists Medical School in Loma Linda, California, graduating with his M.D. in 1944. A freelance writer, he wrote and published the book, How to Live To Be 101 and Be Able To Enjoy It! This article is reprinted with permission from his latest book, Prisoners of Hope.