PREOCCUPATION with the glory and miracle-working power of the latter rain prevents its fall and unfits us to stand through the fearful, subsequent time of trouble. Effectual prayer for God’s Spirit must accompany a determination to discover and remedy the cause for His delay. This requires a clear conception of what Cod intends to accomplish, and how. “It is the darkness of misapprehension of God that is enshrouding the world,” says Christ’s messenger, and adds, “The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love.” 1 Thus, not power but character, the glory of which God desires to display, should occupy our attention.
He intends to penetrate the veil of darkness by a climactic revelation of the splendor of His character of self-sacrificing love. Miracles will only be a means of focusing the attention of the entire world upon that demonstration. When everyone has responded either positively or negatively to this living revelation, the external power and glory will be withdrawn and the universe will witness the ultimate test of the depth of that character. During the time of Jacob’s trouble, the actors will pass victoriously through the fearful crucible of unmitigated persecution and trial, because they have repudiated the principle of power and self-glory and have learned to depend fully upon One whose power can, at this time, be neither seen nor felt.
World conditions give special urgency to the command and promise, “Arise, shine; . . . for, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.” 2 It is obvious that such an experience requires the development of a relationship with God that far transcends theory. This, however, poses a problem that perplexes the minis try and confuses the laity. In developing this relationship, what part must human effort play? How can we avoid assuming responsibilities that God reserves for Himself without neglecting that for which God holds us responsible? We are repeatedly admonished to put forth greater effort and instructed that heaven’s agencies are held in check by our failure to act in harmony with God’s plan. Here in lies our difficulty, because the inner core of our spiritual problem is works and represents not hypo-activity, but hyper-activity.
Righteousness obtained through works forms the basis of all false religions. 3 It is also the root of all false religious experience, and constitutes the peculiar problem of Laodicea. “I know thy works,” says the True Witness, and then indicts the church with being so satisfied with its activities as to be carelessly unaware of His absence. Christ’s own experience, illustrated by His claim, “I can of mine own self do nothing,” 4 contains the key to the problem. God demands a righteous character manifesting itself in good works, but the value He assigns to man’s effort is not determined by its intensity but by its derivation. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,” 5 Paul admonished, as he introduced an important discussion of Christ’s incarnation. “Wherefore,” he concludes, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” and then hastens to explain, “for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” 6 Man’s effort is imperative. However, that effort must reflect divinely implanted motives as well as divinely in stilled power. It is evident that works righteousness does not pertain to man’s efforts or activities per se, but to the function of the agent of action the will.
Sin represents the aberration of a diseased will. Its perversion precipitated the fall, while its permanent self-centeredness prevents correction of this fallen condition. Sin is rooted in the will rather than the reason. The wicked are destroyed, not because they are deceived, but because, rather than accept unwelcome truth, they choose to believe a lie. 7 Reason is inclined to listen to the Spirit, for it strains to understand and to know truth, but will resists its efforts and perverts its judgment. Jesus, in referring to this problem, said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.” 8
Thus, the problem of works is the problem of a renegade will bent on serving and glorifying self rather than God. A threefold malfunction involving motive, action, and evaluation explains why the will’s natural effort toward obedience inevitably tends to legalism and represents works righteousness. Man wills to do good deeds to satisfy selfish motives. In subsequent evaluation, he wills to maximize their value, ascribing pure motives and identifying self with the imagined virtue. Thus, permeated with self, even man’s righteousness is like filthy rags. 9
Selfish motives may demand good deeds, but only in response to Spirit-implanted motives can man desire righteousness. So bound is he by appetites and emotions that are played upon by evil agencies that he is not free to follow such promptings of the Spirit. 10 By force of will he may succeed to some degree in doing what he knows he ought, but such deeds, representing the flesh, only condemn him. Even the works of the Spirit are polluted when will demands that self be honored by sharing the credit.
Man, who wills to exalt and enthrone self, is so blinded by “I” trouble that even when saying ”Thy will be done,” he unconsciously means, “thy will be done.” Little wonder that one, eager to use “It is written” as a club to bring others into line, often ingeniously avoids testimony that might cut across his own will. In usurping the throne of judgment, club wielders, those who focus their blows upon fellow members as well as those who specialize on the leadership, unwittingly establish their will-influenced reason as authority. Hence, as authoritative interpreters of the Word of God, they are free to bind that Word upon others while rationalizing its claims upon themselves.
Self-centered will poses a two fold problem to God: How to bless us without encouraging us to withdraw in self-sufficiency and pride from the source of those blessings, and how to humble us without destroying us. This problem must be resolved before the fall of the latter rain, but its solution depends upon our response to His discipline. Our failure to respond effectively perpetuates the dilemma. God could easily humiliate us, but this would not make us humble. Humiliation only stimulates defense of self in the attempt to avoid further embarrassment, while will demands the discovery of means for re-exalting ego. He could remove our self-confidence by immediate and complete revelation of the magnitude of our sinful nature, but this would destroy our hope, and hope is essential to salvation. His discipline demands time for a progressive understanding of the hopelessness of self, calculated to transfer confidence from the myself to Himself. This, however, requires both the choice to acknowledge the darkness of self-centered experience and the will to fix one’s eyes upon Christ, the true hope. Man must experience a disillusionment with self that is matched by a consequent commitment to the One who is able to perfect the function of his will by penetrating it with the power of His own presence.
For this purpose the Laodicean message was given. Through loving and patient discipline it is to draw us into His presence so that His work can be accomplished in us. 11 Long persistence in the Laodicean condition, despite His pleas and promises, indicates a serious problem and the urgency of its solution. Continued will fulness and pride symbolize a bondage to works. Wrong habits of thought, when once accepted, become a despotic power to fasten the mind in a grasp of steel. Inherent tendencies to pride and self-will, reinforced by lifelong habits of independence, hopelessly bind us. Only when serious efforts are put forth to exchange pride and independence can we begin to comprehend our problem. The greater the efforts to challenge the authority of self-will, the greater the sense of utter helplessness. But herein is our ground of hope, for justification by faith “is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust.” 12
Vain is the attempt of will to vanquish evil. It is futile to exhaust our energies in a fight against temptation, for sin’s infection remains even when we appear to be victorious. Furthermore, sin’s fascination often only hypnotizes those who attempt to confront temptation directly. The focus of our efforts should be submission of the will to Christ, who promises to motivate as well as to empower. Faith’s first effort must be to acquire a willingness to do His will, for independent human nature cannot naturally desire such dependent obedience as Christ demonstrated. Its final effort must be to claim the humility of Jesus in response to His victory. Self must continue to die in order that man might continually cherish an experience of total dependence and submission. Unless will surrenders up self, victory is impossible. “Let me in,” pleads the “author and finisher of our faith,” who promises release from the power of self-will. We must make the next move. Failure to choose His plan of victory is a choice to remain under bondage to a perverted, demon-controlled will.
Time is rapidly running out. What will be our response to this gracious message upon which the destiny of the Church hangs? “The very image of God is to be reproduced in humanity. The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people.” 13 Let us respond by claiming His power to focus our attention upon His glorious, self-transcending purpose.
1. Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 415.
2. Isa. 60:1, 2.
3. The Desire of Ages, p. 35.
4. John 5:30.
5. Phil. 2:5.
6. Phil. 2:12, 13.
7. 2 Thess. 2:10, 11.
8. John 7:17.
9. Isa. 64:6.
10. Rom. 7:18-24.
11. Rev. 3:19, 21.
12. Review and Herald, Sept. 16, 1902.
13. The Desire of Ages, p. 671.