THERE is a statement in Steps to Christ, page 27, that struck me very forcibly when I first read it, many years ago. I want to apply it to the diagram illustration used in the previous chapter. In doing so I make an addition to the diagram.
You have noted that the part of the diagram representing the magnet on the right is considerably larger than the other, indicating greater drawing power. The smaller magnet represents the three S's that are pulling us away from God: Satan, self, and sin. The larger magnet represents the influence of the heavenly Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the angels--all the agencies that Heaven uses to attract us to God and to turn us away from self.
Having laid this groundwork, here is the statement that struck me so forcibly: "The sinner may resist this [Christ's] love, ... but if he does not resist, he will be drawn to Jesus…"
There was a time in my early years when I used to picture myself as being almost irresistibly drawn by evil. I felt that it took practically superhuman effort on my part, that I had to sweat blood, as it were, to somehow get to the place of commitment where God would accept me. But the true situation is that in order to thwart what God is doing for me, I actually would have to resist, to say, in effect, "No, God, I'm not willing to go as far as You desire. I'm not going to turn all of my life over to You. There are some things I insist on keeping, some areas I insist on running myself." 28
There are other people who feel somewhat as I did regarding finding a relationship with Christ:
Some seem to feel that they must be on probation and must prove to the Lord that they are reformed, before they can claim His blessing. But these dear souls may claim the blessing even now. They must have His grace, the Spirit of Christ, to help their infirmities, or they cannot form a Christian character. Jesus loves to have us come to Him, just as we are-sinful, helpless, dependent. -Selected Messages, book I, p. 353.
That statement then, from Steps to Christ, meant a great deal to me. The greatest drawing power, as I somehow had felt, is not on the 0-degree side. It is on the 180-degree side. "The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee" (Jer. 31:3). "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love" (Hosea 11:4).
Love Universal and Constant
God's love is as universal, as constant, as the force of gravity that pulls all things on our planet toward its center. We will continue to feel the drawing of that love unless, like a rocket fired from earth toward some other planet, finally getting outside the circle of the earth's attraction, we get beyond God's love because of persistent sin.
There is another aspect we need to consider.
God leads His people on, step by step. He brings them up to different points calculated to manifest what is in the heart. Some endure at one point, but fall off at the next. At every advanced point the heart is tested and tried a little closer. If the professed people of God find their hearts opposed to this straight work, it should convince them that they have a work to do to overcome, if they would not be spewed out of the mouth of the Lord. Said the angel: "God will bring His work closer and closer to test and prove everyone of His people." Some are willing to receive one point; but when God brings them to another testing point, they shrink from it and stand back, because they find that it strikes directly at some cherished idol. Here they have opportunity to see what is in their hearts that shuts out Jesus. They prize something higher than the truth, and their hearts are not prepared to receive Jesus. Individuals are tested and proved a length of time to see if they will sacrifice their idols and heed the counsel of the True Witness. If any will not be purified through obeying the truth, and overcome their selfishness, their pride, and evil passions, the angels of God have the charge: "They are joined to their idols, let them alone," and they pass on to their work, leaving these with their sinful traits unsubdued, to the control of evil angels. Those who come up to every point, and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation. -Testimonies, vol. I, p. 187.
Let us examine this quotation in the context of our diagram.
In the previous chapter we used a hypothetical man, John, to illustrate the points we wanted to make. Let us take him over the same ground again in the setting of the statement just quoted.
We found church member John at 45 degrees in his commitment to God. When he was baptized he may have been at 180 degrees. But gradually he became careless and let down his guard in certain areas. Slowly he sank to where we met him, living a Laodicean "tame, lifeless, emotionless religious experience," as Ellen White describes it.
Of course, there were many things he still adhered to as an Adventist. For example, let us say he did not drink tea or coffee. He, of course, gave at least the appearance of Sabbathkeeping. He went Ingathering faithfully each year. He sent his children to church school. He did those things because he could do them comfortably, without any big struggle with self. 29
Then he had his close call with death, or heard that heart-moving sermon. The Holy Spirit began to awaken his conscience, and to show him conditions in his life that needed to be corrected. So he gave up his questionable TV programs, began to pay an honest tithe, started to attend prayer meetings, and so on.
God continued in yearning love to work with his heart, and John continued to respond.
A Battle in the Breast
But let us suppose that at a hypothetical 135-degree point of commitment, conversion, or turning, John is prompted by the Holy Spirit to surrender something that has a strong hold on him. At this point self stiffens its resistance. A battle begins in John's breast in which sin, Satan, and self oppose his conscience, his better judgment, and the Holy Spirit.
Right here John can do one of three things. He can make a decision to follow the promptings of conscience, and the Spirit; he can decide that he is not going to give up that particular sin; or he can take the attitude that if he waits long enough the problem will somehow resolve itself. This is, of course, simply another way of making the second decision by default. In either of the two latter cases he still has his sin.
We have only to neglect to ally ourselves with the kingdom of light. If we do not co-operate with the heavenly agencies, Satan will take possession of the heart, and will make it his abiding place. The Desire of Ages, p. 324.
What happens if John makes either of the two latter decisions? He does not, under these circumstances, remain at the 135-degree point where the resistance developed. Rather, he begins to slide back toward his old 45-degree position of commitment where everything is comfortable, and he can still be a "good and regular" church member while still doing those things that please self. Satan is once more at ease.
But God does not give John up. On another occasion, when the moment is opportune, the Holy Spirit begins again to appeal to him. Again God's love moves him. Again his conscience is astir. Again he gives up habits and attitudes he had reassumed. And again he is taken over the same ground. Again he comes to 135 degrees of commitment and the sin he met there before. Again the struggle begins.
Joined to His Idols
Suppose that on this occasion John determines to give up that besetting sin. He moves on to, let us say, the l70-degree mark. There he meets the final thing that stands between himself and God and the new birth. A fierce battle rages in his heart. If he fails to make his choice and give himself fully to the control of the Holy Spirit he once again slides back to his old, comfortable, careless, lukewarm position. But not quite. He does not slide back to 45 degrees. It may be 30 degrees, it may be 20 degrees. It could be zero degrees. For every time we resist the Holy Spirit we become, to that degree, spiritually desensitized. 30 "If one sin is cherished in the soul, or one wrong practice retained in the life, the whole being is contaminated. The man becomes an instrument of unrighteousness," -Ibid., p. 313.
If John persists in resisting there comes a time when he can no longer respond to Christ's pleadings. Then the words are spoken, "John is joined to his idols, let him alone." And the angels of God pass on, leaving him with his "sinful traits unsubdued, to the control of evil angels."
There is a very important observation I must make here. I have been discussing our imaginary man in the light of the quotation from Testimonies, volume 1, page 187. It depicts God taking us over the same ground again and again in order to lead us fully to Himself. Sometimes this takes years, decades, perhaps even a lifetime. But it does not have to take years. It could take only moments.
As soon as we consent to give sin up, to acknowledge our guilt, the barrier is removed between the soul and the Saviour .-Selected Messages, book I, p. 325.
The moment we surrender ourselves to God, believing in Him, we have His righteousness. -ELLEN G. WHITE. in Review and Herald, July 25, 1899.
How good is God! How eager to gather us, everyone, to Himself! How patient He is! How willing immediately to forget the past and place around us the matchless robe of His Son's righteousness-as we are totally willing to do our part.