Incredible Apostasy: But There is Hope
By Elder Lawrence Nelson
Some years ago the General Conference sent me, as a world-youth leader, to visit the Cameroons in the heart of Africa. I was to spend thirty days visiting our schools and outposts in behalf of youth evangelism. Our first day of travel in a Volkswagen ended quickly, for we experienced six flat tires in the first ten miles. I insisted we return to the capital city and try to find some better used tires, and our driver agreed. After hunting through stacks of old tires we finally found four that we thought would do the job.
While these were being installed I decided to go for a short walk to see some of the shops which lined the streets. Little did I realize what I was about to encounter. Rounding the corner of the block I was suddenly confronted with a very tall man who was about to bump into me. I quickly jumped aside over the open sewer by the sidewalk to avoid hitting him.
Never shall I forget this man. He was stark naked and covered with the filth of the open sewer, for apparently he had tumbled in. His body odor made me sick to my stomach. Amid such filth I noticed that his chest and abdomen were covered with open sores from which the pus was oozing out. Several of his fingers and toes were missing, having been destroyed by leprosy. Through his matted hair, I could see the opening where his nose used to be for it too had been eaten away by leprosy. And behind that matted hair, I noticed that both his eyes were missing. Only the eye sockets remained. He was a walking skeleton. Actually, he was a living corpse and the sight of this nearly-dead person still troubles me. He was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
Now, in the word of God there is a description of such people who are filled with the leprosy of sin. They, He says, are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.” But praise the Lord, with such there is hope. Let me read this to you as found in Revelation 3:14 – 22. “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne: even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Now, before we study this chapter regarding the Laodiceans, let us approach God for guidance in prayer. Loving Father, how Thy heart must be filled with grief as Thou dost behold Thy professed children who are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked, following the customs and teachings of Babylon and disregarding Thy offer to help them that they may be filled with hope. For Thou canst recreate them to be sons and daughters of the heavenly King. Please guide us in this study that Thy Holy Spirit may convict such to their deepest need to feel the touch of the great Physician’s power to heal and restore. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Let me begin with a question: Who are those that God declares compose His true church? The answer is found in inspiration entitled The Upward Look p. 315. “God has a church. It is not the great cathedral, neither is it the national establishment, neither is it the various denominations; it is the people who love God and keep His commandments. ‘Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.’ (Matt. 18:20). Where Christ is even among the humble few, this is Christ’s church.” Nothing could be stated more clearly.
Such precious souls are recognized by God as His remnant people. I read, “In holy vision, John saw the remnant church on the earth in an age of lawlessness, and he points them out in unmistakable language: ‘Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.’” Signs of the Times, February 3, 1888. So from this we understand that God’s people are those who believe the Three Angels’ Messages. This is the exact language that God uses in the Holy Scripture to describe His remnant as they battle the devil in this end time. Revelation 12:17 states, “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
From these inspired statements God’s remnant are found to have four characteristics.
• They love God
• They keep His commandments
• They have the faith of Jesus
• They believe and obey the Spirit of Prophecy
But sad to say, the vast majority of those found within the Laodicean church do not meet these requirements. Notice how the Bible describes them. It’s not a pleasant picture. In fact, it reveals them to be in a most miserable state of affairs, yet thinking that they are ready to meet Jesus. Let me read this again so there will be no mistake, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Why? “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Again I want to reemphasize there is hope. For God says if such will repent and open the door that He will come in to them.
Now I hear a question: “Are you sure, Elder Nelson, that this chapter applies to our church today?” In Testimonies for the Church, Volume 1, p. 186 I read, “I was shown that the testimony to the Laodiceans applies to God’s people at the present time.” Now that’s a startling denunciation for it applies to the present time. I have been doing some research concerning God’s remnant people, both in ancient Israel and those of today’s modern Israel. As I give you these comparisons, keep in mind that in spite of ancient Israel’s apostasy a remnant was saved. Likewise, in spite of today’s apostasy within God’s modern Israel there will be a remnant who will be saved. So praise God, there is hope!
The Bible clearly teaches such a doctrine. I am reading from Romans 9:27, “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved.” Praise God. As I read these words, my heart leaps for joy and is filled with hope, for amid the apostasy of Old Testament times a remnant was saved. And amid today’s apostasy a remnant will be saved.
Inspiration describes what is now taking place. “I have been shown that the spirit of the world is fast leavening the church. You are following the same path as did ancient Israel. There is the same falling away from your holy calling as God’s peculiar people. You are having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” Let me break in here. That’s ecumenical in every sense. That’s taking place today. “You are having fellowship with the unfruitful words of darkness. Your concord with unbelievers has provoked the Lord’s displeasure. You know not the things that belong to your peace, and they are fast being hid from your eyes. Your neglect to follow the light will place you in a more unfavorable position than the Jews upon whom Christ pronounced a woe.”
She continues, “I have been shown that unbelief in the testimonies has been steadily increasing as the people backslide from God. It is all through our ranks, all over the field. But few know what our churches are to experience. I saw that at present we are under divine forbearance, but no one can say how long this will continue. No one knows how great the mercy that has been exercised toward us. But few are heartily devoted to God. There are only a few who, like the stars in a tempestuous night, shine here and there among the clouds.” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 75, 76. What a picture. Only a few? How shocking, but thank God for a remnant.
Ellen White writes what the Lord has revealed to her. “Since the time of the Minneapolis meeting, I have seen the state of the Laodicean church as never before. … Like the Jews, many have closed their eyes lest they should see.” Review and Herald, August 26, 1890. “The desolation of Jerusalem stands as a solemn warning before the eyes of modern Israel.” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 4, p. 167.
Let us keep in mind that if ancient Israel had been faithful to God’s truth Jerusalem would have remained forever as you read in Jeremiah 17:25. The Old Testament church would have been the last church of God in this world; but the people failed. Only a remnant were saved. And so it is today. This church would have been the last church of God in the nineteen hundreds for I read, “Had the purpose of God been carried out by His people in giving to the world the message of mercy, Christ would ere this, have come to the earth, and the saints would have received their welcome into the city of God.” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 6, p. 450. That was published in the year 1900.
How amazing. Let’s consider the problem. “There is an astonishing backsliding with God’s people, to whom has been entrusted sacred, holy truth.” Testimonies to Ministers p. 450. The cable between us and God has been severed. “The facts concerning the real condition of the professed people of God, speak more loudly than their profession, and make it evident that some power has cut the cable that anchors them to the Eternal Rock, and that they are drifting away to sea, without chart or compass.” Christ Our Righteousness p. 35.
Now that’s a most serious situation. In giving the following comparisons I hope and pray that those who are ignorantly following man’s leadership instead of obeying God’s instructions will awake before the door of hope is forever closed. So please, prayerfully consider the following as I compare between ancient Israel and modern Israel.
Let’s look at ancient Israel: “The kingdom of God,” I read, “shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Matthew 21:43. Now compare that with modern Israel: “He will take His Holy Spirit from the church, and will give it to others who will appreciate it.” Review and Herald, July 16, 1895.
Let’s look again at ancient Israel: “The people gave credence to what the priests and Pharisees taught, in place of seeking to understand the word of God for themselves.” Desire of Ages p. 489. And in modern Israel the same is taking place: “But God is greatly dishonored when men are placed in the position where God should be.” Testimonies to Ministers p. 326.
Again, ancient Israel: “The greatest deception of the human mind in Christ’s day was that a mere assent to the truth constituted righteousness. … They thought themselves the greatest religionists in the world, but their so-called orthodoxy led them to crucify the Lord of glory.” Desire of Ages p. 309. And the same is taking place in modern Israel for I read, “As it was in the days of Christ, so it is now; the Pharisees do not know their spiritual destitution. … The righteousness of Christ is to them as a robe unworn, a fountain untouched.” Desire of Ages p. 280.
In ancient Israel divine power was lacking. I read in Matthew 23:38, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” And compare that with today’s modern Israel: “But the glory of the Lord had departed from Israel; although many still continued the forms of religion, His power and presence were lacking.” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 210.
Now you all know what a harlot is. Consider this of ancient Israel, “How is the faithful city become a harlot!” Isaiah 1:21. And now consider modern Israel, “‘How is the faithful city become a harlot!’ My Father’s house is made a house of merchandise, a place whence the divine presence and glory have departed! For this cause there is weakness, and strength is lacking.” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 8, p. 250.
And one more comparison, please. I almost hesitate to read it. First of ancient Israel: Matthew 11:23, “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” And now of modern Israel: “And thou, Capernaum, [Seventh-day Adventists, who have had great light], which art exalted unto heaven [in point of privilege], shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” Review and Herald, August 1, 1893.
What a comparison. I can’t speak for you but I’m astonished that inspiration declares that things will become so evil. No wonder God will spue the Laodiceans out of His mouth. But beloved, I have not presented these facts to encourage you to leave God’s people. Never, never! Remember there is hope, even though our church boasts of growing millions of members. Amid its apostasy God says, “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea a remnant will be saved.” Romans 9:27. I can’t help but say, Praise the Lord.
But then I hear someone say, “But Elder Nelson, how can you insist that we not separate when you have just read how Ellen White described the growing apostasy within our church?” I answer, “My dear brother, my dear sister, believe it or not, we haven’t seen anything yet! The worst is yet to come, but this is not the time to separate as God wants you to become one of those whom He calls His remnant to be saved.”
Permit me to present a bit more of the comparison between ancient and modern Israel. Old Israel became so wicked that God had to divide the kingdom. Yet the kings of Israel increased in evil year by year while the kings of Judah still retained a few good kings like Josiah. Of this time I read in Prophets and Kings p. 384, “At the time that Josiah began to rule, and for many years before, the truehearted in Judah were questioning whether God’s promises to ancient Israel could ever be fulfilled. From a human point of view the divine purpose for the chosen nation seemed almost impossible of accomplishment.”
Consider this – Under the reign of Manasseh, Josiah’s grandfather, apostasy really hit the bottom. This man undid all the good works of King Hezekiah. He brought Baal worship into the city of Jerusalem, placing altars to the pagan sun god at the very entrance to the sanctuary of God. And keep in mind that Baal worship included temple prostitutes for which the king built houses to conduct their evil ways around these altars to Baal. Now tell me, if you had lived at that time, what would you have done? If such evil existed on our church grounds today, where you worship each Sabbath, what would you do?
But that’s not all. This wicked king, who was to represent God in leadership, made his sons to pass through the fire in pagan worship. Manasseh gave up every pretence to serve the Lord. The Bible states of him in 2 Kings 21:9, “Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than did the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the children of Israel.” You know, that’s an overwhelming thought. But in such apostasy there was still hope. This young king, Josiah, commanded to remove Baal worship from God’s house. As the sanctuary was undergoing a housecleaning to remove the rubbish of idolatry, they discovered the book of God’s law. As it was read to the king he discovered that God still extended hope to His people.
I’m reading, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” Deuteronomy 30:19. As the king heard these words of hope he asked to read further and found courage to continue his housecleaning, for he read in Deuteronomy 30:6, “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” What a God!
It was thus that a great reformation took place and it all began with a study of God’s law. Beloved, the law of God is the only basis for a genuine revival. It is not “love” and “unity” as we find promoted today in our church. For the law reveals what sin really is. After the law is established in the heart then love and unity are to follow based on truth. It was after this manner that Josiah became a great reformer for God
I continue to read, “And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.” 2 Kings 23:25. What many have overlooked today is the teaching of Jesus, that in the end time there would be a division within the church as the wheat and tares mature. The wheat represent the people who have the faith of Jesus and keep His commandments and heed the Spirit of Prophecy. Inspiration calls them “a little company,” a “very small remnant who sigh and cry for the abominations that are done in the midst of the church.” The tares are those who have accepted the pagan customs as presented by misguided leadership. Of these individuals God declares, “They are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.” And they are convinced that they are “rich and in need of nothing.” I read in Review and Herald, July 18, 1904, “Here is plainly represented two distinct parties, formed from a company once united. The members of one of these parties are in resistance to the will of God. … The ruin of this class is certain.”
Look with me for a moment through the eyes of God’s prophet as we read the following in Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 394, “Rebellion and apostasy are in the very air we breathe. We shall be affected by them unless we by faith hang our helpless soul upon Christ.” Consider how the pen of inspiration pictures the present conditions. I’m reading from Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 389. “The truth for this time is precious, but those whose hearts have not been broken by falling on the rock Christ Jesus, will not see and understand what is truth. They will accept that which pleases their ideas, and will begin to manufacture another foundation than that which is laid. They will flatter their own vanity and esteem, thinking that they are capable of removing the pillars of our faith and replacing them with pillars they have devised. (Shall I read the last sentence? …) This will continue as long as time shall last.”
Now who would dare to remove the foundation which God has laid? You can see it happening today. In the book Maranatha p. 192 we read, “Before the last developments of the work of apostasy there will be a confusion of faith. There will not be clear and definite ideas concerning the mystery of God. One truth after another will be corrupted.” Every month I receive letters telling me of some truth that is now being corrupted.
Those who knew Ellen White tell us that she seldom wept, but in the year 1885 she wept so that her tears actually fell on the manuscript she was writing concerning our day. You can read this in Testimonies for the Church, Volume 5, p. 77 – 84. Why did she weep? – Because she foresaw how our ministers, trained in the schools of Babylon, would teach false doctrines in God’s church, a time “when holy hands bear the ark no longer.” She tells us that God would use these false teachers to scourge idolatrous Israel in an effort to arouse His people by permitting heresy to continue in the church, thus separating the chaff from the wheat.
Later she wrote in Testimonies to Ministers p. 409, 410, “Many will stand in our pulpits with the torch of false prophecy in their hands, kindled from the hellish torch of Satan.” How utterly shocking. Did you note “many” would stand in our pulpits teaching Satan’s doctrines, and believe me that time has arrived. But in spite of these sickening conditions within the Laodicean church these individual members are seen by God to be wretched, poor, blind and naked, yet, in His great love, He comes to each with hope, knocking at their heart’s door, trusting they will open the door and let the Great Physician come in with His cleansing and healing power, for He is able to recreate a Laodicean into the image of God.
Beloved, this hope He extends to every member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church today. Praise His name. “Behold,” He says, “I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” What a Savior. “To him that overcometh I will grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne.”
As a servant of God I join with Christ and plead with you to open your heart’s door and surrender to Jesus now so that the Savior may dwell within you. “For until the heart is surrendered unconditionally to God, the human agent is not abiding in the true Vine, and cannot flourish in the Vine, and bear rich clusters of fruit. God will not make the slightest compromise with sin. If He could have done this, Christ need not have come to our world to suffer and die. No conversion is genuine which does not change both the character and the conduct of those who accept the truth. The truth works by love, and purifies the soul.” Sons and Daughters of God p. 288.
This is why Christ pleads, “My son, [my daughter,] give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.” Proverbs 23:26. Jesus is asking for an entire, full surrender. But let us not forget that while God supplies the power that is needed in man’s surrender it requires effort on the part of man to surrender to Christ. Note the following: “There must be heart-felt surrender of our will to God; we must renounce all our own supposed merits, and look to the cross of Calvary. This surrender to God involves effort on the part of the human agent to co-operate with the divine agencies; the branch must abide in the vine.” 1888 Materials p. 1105.
Remember, divine power is essential. “To as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God.” John 1:12. “When the soul surrenders itself to Christ, a new power takes possession of the new heart. A change is wrought which man can never accomplish for himself. It is a supernatural working, bringing a supernatural element into human nature. … But unless we do yield ourselves to the control of Christ, we shall be dominated by the wicked one.” Manuscript Release, Volume 17, p. 314.
In writing to some of our prominent ministers who thought themselves in need of nothing, but who were in need to be restored to spiritual power by surrender, Ellen White used words which reveal that a divine hand was needed to achieve what God was able to do. She used the words “melted over,” “resoldered,” and “remodeled.” Listen, “Give yourself over to God, and let Him resolder you, that you may not be defective vessels. … It is only when self, falling on the Rock, is broken, that the Lord has opportunity to remodel.” Manuscript Release, Volume 17, p. 263, 264. “Hand yourself over to Jesus, to be molded and fashioned by Him, that you may be made vessels unto honor.” Manuscript Release, Volume 21, p. 302. “I tell you, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, your wills must die; they must become as God’s will. He wants to melt you over and to cleanse you from every defilement.” Testimonies for the Church, Volume 9, p. 181. Isn’t that a beautiful description of what God wants to do for you?
So, “If you pray in sincerity, surrendering yourself, soul, body and spirit unto God, you put on the whole armour of God, and open the soul to the righteousness of Christ; and this alone, — Christ’s imputed righteousness, — makes you able to stand against the wiles of the devil. The work of every soul is to resist the enemy in the power and might of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the promise is that the devil shall flee from us. But let all realize that they are in peril, and there is no assurance of safety except as they comply with the conditions of the text. For the Lord says, ‘Draw nigh to God.’ How? – By secret, earnest examination of your own heart; by childlike, heart-felt, humble dependence upon God, making known your weakness to Jesus, and by confessing your sins. Thus you may draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.” Sons and Daughters of God p. 346.
So beloved, there is hope for all who find themselves sick with the leprosy of sin. I could do nothing for that poor man in the Cameroons who was wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked, but God, He not only offers you hope, He can heal you and fully restore you so that you may become a part of His remnant church. Praise the Lord. With His divine power, plus your full surrender, you can be separated by holy angels from the tares as probation closes, to be sealed, anointed with the Holy Spirit, to give the Loud Cry, and be ready to see Jesus when He comes. Remember, in spite of modern Israel’s apostasy and its claiming growth in the millions, God says only a remnant will be saved. Praise His holy name, today this blessed hope can be a reality in your life and in mine.
Let us pray. Thank you dear God for making it possible that we can become a part of Thy remnant church so soon to dwell with Thee throughout eternity in praising the holy name of Jesus. In His name we pray, Amen.