The sailor's only security is his ship. Everything else surrounding him is uncertain, insecure, threatening. The water upon which his ship rides in effortless buoyancy would swallow him in pitiless indifference. The wind and the waves are fickle, uncertain. For although they are his constant companions, they are still alien elements. One hour the breeze may play with the friendliness of a purring kitten; the next a roaring wind may rip at one with the ferocity of a furious tiger. One hour the waves may rock the ship with the gentleness of a mother rocking a cradle; the next they may rear in fearsome fury, threatening to swamp the bark, engulfing everything in their black depths. The sailor's only constant is his ship; all else are variables.
Thus when Jesus called Peter to walk on water He asked him to leave a situation of relative familiarity and security in his boat and enter into total unfamiliarity, to that which normally represented danger and insecurity to him.
Walking on water. What could be more insecure? As a matter of fact, it is the other way round.
When Jesus calls us into a situation, no matter how unsure it may appear to be, it is, in reality, the surest, safest thing there is. He who walks on water at Christ's bidding-and it can be done in no other way-may know that he is doing the right thing, for Christ never aids in doing the wrong thing. So even though it may seem that the world is collapsing in upon him, he is in the safest place on the planet. This is why the psalmist could write:
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Ps. 46: 1, 2, K.j.V.).
It is human nature to crave security, stability. As we desire each foot to step on solid ground when we walk, so we yearn for stability at our work, in our homes, and in every area that touches our lives.
It is interesting and enlightening to watch man floating on his sea of insecurity, struggling from one piece of wreckage to another, hoping that the next will be safer than the last.
That which he grasps for economic security at one time is anxiously forsaken at another for something fancied to be more stable. So at one time the rush is to buy gold. Then the shift is to real estate, perhaps, or antiques, or diamonds, and perhaps back again to gold. Some people's days are made or destroyed by the current stock-market report.
Human beings are, quite naturally, inclined to look to "the system" for security. And system is necessary. We are all a part of the mighty web of humanity, and within this web there must be some structure to provide security by stability and predictability. And whether it be in terms of a political, social, economic, ecclesiastical, or any other order, we want to feel that we can depend on it for the help we need at any particular time. We would like to believe that it can provide that warm blanket of assurance and protection whenever and wherever it is needed.
Of course the rational part of us says that nothing on earth is really that dependable, that secure. But the emotional part wants it to be so, and, being more emotional than rational creatures, we generally listen to the feelings because they harmonize best with our desires.
Seventh-day Adventists look mostly to the church for security. We have confidence in the truth of our beliefs. We have our church buildings, some humble, some imposing-but all symbols of our stability and security-to which we go in corporate interdependence and strength. We have our leaders, respected people for the most part, for whose wisdom we have regard.
There are political safeguards, at least in many countries, that guarantee us the right to believe as we do, and worship where and when we desire.
If we need counsel we have our pastors. If we have material needs there is provision for these, also. If we have trouble with labor unions the church comes to our aid. In sickness we are visited; in sorrow we are comforted; in loneliness we find companionship. At least that is the ideal. We cannot but admit that it doesn't always work as it should. But that is the purpose of it.
We know that these things will not last. We Seventh-day Adventists recognize, perhaps better than others, that other systems are eroding. Prophecy makes that unmistakably, unqualifiedly, clear.
We know. But we do not perceive. The knowledge sits lightly on our consciousness; it does not sink down into our souls with all its dark implications. We are not really concerned, we are not disturbed.
We place our weight upon the system.
We had better, very quickly, quit doing so.
Can I really include in "the system" the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Yes, as a system.
Please do not misunderstand me here. "The church, enfeebled and defective though it be, is the only object on earth on which Christ bestows His supreme regard. He is constantly watching it with solicitude, and is strengthening it by His Holy Spirit." -Selected Messages, book 2, p. 396.
The one point I am trying to make is that there is always a danger that we place our trust in organization and organizers, in institutions and institutionalization, in professions and professionals. We may take the stand that the minister, or the administrator, or the teacher, or a certain highly regarded volume written by a certain highly regarded individual-excluding Ellen White-is to be depended on because those people and that author are supposed to know.
"'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm" (Jer. 17:5).
That man in whom one trusts may be trustworthy. He is also fallible. Listen to him, be he administrator, minister, scholar, but do as the Bereans did-who examined "the scriptures ... to see if these things were so" (Acts 17: 11).
Many will be lost because they placed their confidence in others and found their spiritual security in them, rather than in God and His Word.
We must walk away from security before we are really secure. We must release our grasp on everything of the world in which we place our confidence, and take hold on Christ if we are to find an unshakable Rock.
"The vine that is trailing upon the ground, and clinging to the stumps and rubbish within its reach, must have its tendrils cut away from these earthly supports, and find its true support in entwining about God." -Review and Herald, July 28, 1896.
Christ does not call us away from that on which we depend because He is envious or jealous in the human sense. He calls us away because He knows there is no security in anything we may trust in besides Himself.
Jesus did not bid the rich young ruler sell all his possessions and give to the poor simply because that ruler was grasping. That he probably was, but Christ told him to rid himself of these impediments because he trusted in his riches (Mark 10:23).
While he was doing that he could not trust in Christ. Jesus wanted to remove the broken reed in which he trusted so that he could learn to depend upon a Staff eternally secure.
The security of the world is founded on insecurity. It knows no other source but that which is of the world: the economy, government, law and order, a dependable society, a predictably beneficient natural world, health, family, friends. But not one of these is trustworthy in the ultimate sense, as we have been discovering more and more.
We won't always have the church organization for security. "In the last great conflict of the controversy with Satan those who are loyal to God will see every earthly support cut off." -The Desire of Ages, p. 121. Does this include the church as an effective organization? The answer seems to be Yes. For example, could there be an organization as we know it now under these circumstances: "The decree issued by the various rulers of Christendom against commandment keepers shall withdraw the protection of government and abandon them to those who desire their destruction." -The Great Controversy, p. 626.
As was said of those who went through the trials of the 1844 disappointment, so it may be said of those who meet the trials of the closing events: "The halfhearted and superficial could no longer lean upon the faith of their brethren. Each must stand or fall for himself."-Ibid., p. 395.
We may now look to the organized church in certain ways. It is God's delegated authority on earth. It is appointed for the protection and propagation of Scripture truth, for coordination and coherence, for fellowship and strength. But when the time comes that the conference office door and the local church door are locked and sealed, the preacher in prison, the administrators gone, the members fled, with many of both members and leaders apostatized, where will we look then?
There is another final and fundamental "security" from which we must walk away, which is fused with, and inseparable from, all others. This is self. Every other matter that touches on the security we are discussing is involved in this key "security."
The concept of self, which we have touched upon previously, is a complex one. It is difficult to define, but one that we all understand. In our present context we are considering that aspect of self which is self-centeredness; the "I" that puts our own desires, will, interests, aspirations, drives, at the primary position in life, that makes self supreme, and tends to resist the sensed influence of any other will upon it.
In the proper setting there are healthy aspects to ambition, will, independence, and so on. But now we are thinking of a relationship with God; and self, human nature, naturally reacts against God's will. Paul uses the term flesh to designate this fallen nature, and states that "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:7, 8).
Christ spoke with stark clarity regarding the imperative of leaving the fancied security of self; "'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it'" (Mark 8:34, 35).
Christ does not, of course, demand that we become nothing, swallowed up into some great sea of nonexistence, as certain oriental religions teach. In fact-and some find this extremely hard to accept-the leaving of self-security as we are describing it, the surrender to Jesus, increases life's dimensions beyond anything before realized. It takes us into the more abundant life He talked about (John 10: 10). It is not an abdication of the uniqueness of the individual or of the power of self-determination. It is not an act of weakness; it is an act of strength.
This surrender is the result of a decision in which the soul firmly faces up to self and its sinfulness and determines that it will no longer be bound by passions, attitudes, and ambitions that, though almost as ancient as mankind itself, are yet alien to true humanity and destructive of well-being and happiness, and that close the door of eternal life.
While the individual makes the decision by faith to walk away from the security of self, the power to do so is not in himself. For while "the expulsion of sin is the act of the soul itself," yet "we have no power to free ourselves from Satan's control; but when we desire to be set free from sin, and in our great need cry out for a power out of and above ourselves, the powers of the soul are imbued with the divine energy of the Holy Spirit, and they obey the dictates of the will in fulfilling the will of God.
"The only condition upon which the freedom of man is possible is that of becoming one with Christ. 'The truth shall make you free;' and Christ is the truth .... Subjection to God is restoration to one's self-to the true glory and dignity of man." -The Desire of Ages, p. 466.
One of the problems that each individual faces in walking away from self is that he may find it exceedingly hard to recognize self as being the despicable, deformed, spiritually diseased thing it is. Who wants to visualize Isaiah's revulsive picture of the uncleansed, sinful soul as in any way describing his own:
"From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they are not pressed out, or bound up, or softened with oil" (Isa. 1:6).
The fact is, it is human to be like the members of the nobility who stalked out of John Wesley's meeting in great indignation because he used the phrase "children of the devil" so as to include them. The common riffraff undoubtedly deserved that description, but not they! They were refined, polished, cultured. They were gentlemen, gentlewomen!
That points up part of the problem. Self can take many forms, some highly cultured, highly refined, highly personable, highly subtle, highly religious. It may do great things, laudable things, beneficial things. It may have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and give its goods to feed the poor, and yet profit nothing-for it is still unsurrendered self that is doing it.