Prisoners of Hope—Under the Fig Tree
Raymond L. Knoll, M.D.
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.
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
“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
sisters¾don’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
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.
We have all these truths today as God gave
them to the early leaders. We have the
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,
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 end¾if
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.
“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
Fig Tree Experience
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
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
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
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
This article is reprinted with permission from his latest book, Prisoners of Hope.
September 2007 Table of Contents