Many major examinations in the world today require both theory tests as well as practical tests. It is not much different when it comes to spiritual matters. In any study course, it is important to make sure that the student acquires theoretical knowledge. Theoretical knowledge actually helps a person to perform practical tasks later on in his working life. However, how would an employer know whether a prospective employee will be able to perform well on the job after he is hired?
A similar question would arise when we look at Christians. In our church, prospective members are taught church doctrines as they are being prepared for baptism. This is important. People who eventually join the church should be grounded soundly in the faith. However, this should not be limited to only a theoretical knowledge of the truth.
When this matter is applied to last day events, it is one thing to know (theoretically) that the last day events are going to happen and that this world is going to end soon. It is quite another thing to ask ourselves whether we are practically prepared for what is to come.
1. Our Work
“Our work should be to embrace every opportunity to present the truth in its purity and simplicity where there is any desire or interest to hear the reasons of our faith. Those who have dwelt mostly upon the prophecies and the theoretical points of our faith should without delay become Bible students upon practical subjects. They should take a deeper draft at the fountain of divine truth. They should carefully study the life of Christ and His lessons of practical godliness, given for the benefit of all and to be the rule of right living for all who should believe on His name. They should be imbued with the spirit of their great Exemplar and have a high sense of the sacred life of a follower of Christ.” – Testimonies, vol. 3, page 214.
2. A Proper Balance of Theory and Practical Godliness Needed
“Theoretical discourses are essential, that all may know the form of doctrine and see the chain of truth, link after link, uniting in a perfect whole. But no discourse should ever be delivered without presenting Christ and Him crucified as the foundation of the gospel, making a practical application of the truths set forth, and impressing upon the people the fact that the doctrine of Christ is not Yea and Nay, but Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus.” – Testimonies, vol. 4, page 394.
3. Why Many Dwell So Much on Theory and So Little on Practical Godliness
“It is a sad fact that the reason why many dwell so much on theory and so little on practical godliness is that Christ is not abiding in their hearts. They do not have a living connection with God. Many souls decide in favor of the truth from the weight of evidence, without being converted. Practical discourses were not given in connection with the doctrinal, that as the hearers should see the beautiful chain of truth they might fall in love with its Author and be sanctified through obedience. The minister’s work is not done until he has urged home upon his hearers the necessity of a change of character in accordance with the pure principles of the truth which they have received.” – Testimonies, vol. 4, page 395.
4. Duty of Ministers to Present Topics on Practical Godliness
“Ministers would reach many more hearts if they would dwell more upon practical godliness. Frequently, when efforts are made to introduce the truth into new fields, the labor is almost entirely theoretical. The people are unsettled. They see the force of truth and are anxious to obtain a sure foundation. When their feelings are softened is the time, above all others, to urge the religion of Christ home upon the conscience; but too often the course of lectures has been allowed to close without that work being done for the people which they needed. That effort was too much like the offering of Cain; it had not the sacrificial blood to make it acceptable to God. Cain was right in making an offering, but he left out all that made it of any value--the blood of the atonement.” – Testimonies, vol. 4, page 395.
“Many of our ministers in their discourses dwell too largely upon theory and not enough on practical godliness. They have an intellectual knowledge of the truth, but their hearts are untouched with the genuine fervor of the love of Christ. Many have gained by the study of our publications a knowledge of the arguments that sustain the truth, but they have not become Bible students for themselves. They are not constantly seeking for a deeper and more thorough knowledge of the plan of salvation as revealed in the Scriptures. While preaching to others, they are becoming dwarfs in religious growth. They do not often go before God to plead for His Spirit and grace that they may rightly present Christ to the world.” – Testimonies, vol. 5, page 158.
“The True Witness declares that when you suppose you are really in a good condition of prosperity you are in need of everything. It is not enough for ministers to present theoretical subjects; they should also present those subjects which are practical. They need to study the practical lessons that Christ gave His disciples and make a close application of the same to their own souls and to the people. Because Christ bears this rebuking testimony, shall we suppose that He is destitute of tender love to His people? Oh, no! He who died to redeem man from death, loves with a divine love, and those whom He loves He rebukes. ‘As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.’ But many will not receive the message that Heaven in mercy sends them. They cannot endure to be told of their neglect of duty and of their wrongs, their selfishness, their pride and love of the world.” – Testimonies, vol. 3, page 257.
“Your labors, Brother A, would be more effectual in the conversion of souls to the truth if you dwelt upon the practical as well as the theoretical, having the living, practical elements in your own heart and carrying them out in your own life. You need to have a firmer hold from above. You are too dependent upon your surroundings. If you have a large congregation, you are elevated, and you desire to address them. But sometimes your congregations diminish, your spirits sink, and you have but little courage to labor. Surely something is wanting. Your hold is not firm enough upon God. Some of the most important truths in the teachings of Christ were preached by Him to one Samaritan woman who came to draw water as He, being weary, sat upon the well to rest. The fountain of living waters was within Him. The fountain of living waters must be in us, springing up to refresh those who are brought under our influence.” – Testimonies, vol. 3, page 322, (Topic: “To a Young Minister and His Wife”).
5. Importance of the “Personal Testimonies”
The personal testimonies contained in the nine volumes of the “Testimonies for the Church” dwell on matters of practical godliness.
What are these personal testimonies? They are testimonies written by Mrs. White to people during her life time. When these testimonies were selected for publication in the nine volumes of the “Testimonies for the Church”, the actual names of the individuals were, in a number of cases, changed to “Brother A” or “Sister B” so as to protect their real identities.
Mrs. White wrote concerning these personal testimonies:
“Since the warning and instruction given in testimony for individual cases applied with equal force to many others who had not been specially pointed out in this manner, it seemed to be my duty to publish the personal testimonies for the benefit of the church. In Testimony 15, speaking of the necessity for doing this, I said: ‘I know of no better way to present my views of general dangers and errors, and the duty of all who love God and keep His commandments, than by giving these testimonies. Perhaps there is no more direct and forcible way of presenting what the Lord has shown me.
“In a vision given me June 12, 1868, I was shown that which fully justified my course in publishing personal testimonies. ‘When the Lord singles out individual cases and specifies their wrongs, others, who have not been shown in vision, frequently take it for granted that they are right, or nearly so. If one is reproved for a special wrong, brethren and sisters should carefully examine themselves to see wherein they have failed and wherein they have been guilty of the same sin. They should possess the spirit of humble confession. If others think them right, it does not make them so. God looks at the heart. He is proving and testing souls in this manner. In rebuking the wrongs of one, He designs to correct many. But if they fail to take the reproof to themselves, and flatter themselves that God passes over their errors because He does not especially single them out, they deceive their own souls and will be shut up in darkness and be left to their own ways to follow the imagination of their own hearts.
“‘Many are dealing falsely with their own souls and are in a great deception in regard to their true condition before God. He employs ways and means to best serve His purpose and to prove what is in the hearts of His professed followers. He makes plain the wrongs of some that others may thus be warned and fear and shun those errors. By self-examination they may find that they are doing the same things which God condemns in others. If they really desire to serve God, and fear to offend Him, they will not wait for their sins to be specified before they make confession and with humble repentance return unto the Lord. They will forsake the things which have displeased God, according to the light given to others. If, on the contrary, those who are not right see that they are guilty of the very sins that have been reproved in others, yet continue in the same unconsecrated course because they have not been specially named, they endanger their own souls, and will be led captive by Satan at his will.
“‘I was shown that in the wisdom of God the sins and errors of all would not be revealed. ... All who are guilty are addressed in these individual testimonies, although their names may not be attached to the special testimony borne; and if individuals pass over and cover up their own sins because their names are not especially called, they will not be prospered of God. They cannot advance in the divine life, but will become darker and darker, until the light of heaven will be entirely withdrawn.’
“In a view given me about twenty years ago, ‘I was then directed to bring general principles, in speaking and in writing, and at the same time specify the dangers, errors, and sins of some individuals, that all might be warned, reproved, and counseled. I saw that all should search their own hearts and lives closely to see if they had not made the same mistakes for which others were corrected and if the warnings given for others did not apply to their own cases. If so, they should feel that the counsel and reproofs were given especially for them as though they were especially addressed to themselves. ... God designs to test the faith of all who claim to be followers of Christ. He will test the sincerity of the prayers of all those who claim to earnestly desire to know their duty. He will make duty plain. He will give to all an ample opportunity to develop what is in their hearts.” – Testimonies, vol. 5, pages 658-660.
In summary, the importance of the personal testimonies in the nine volumes of the “Testimonies for the Church” is examined in this article.
Prayer: “Our Father in heaven, thank You so much for giving us personal testimonies for our correction. Please help us to have not only theoretical knowledge but also practical godliness. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
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Questions for Thought:
1. Why is practical godliness important?
2. Why are the “personal testimonies” which are contained in the nine volumes of the Testimonies important and do these “personal testimonies” apply to individual church members today?