The Testing of Character
The Signs of the Times
May 25, 1888
The Testing of Character
By Mrs. E. G. White
Saul made an appearance of great conscientiousness and devotion, as he stood before the army of Israel, offering up a sacrifice to God. He represented himself before the people as one who was unwilling to engage in battle with the Philistines, without seeking the help of Heaven, but his heart was filled with distrust, and his apparent piety was, in reality, only unbelief and disobedience. He had been directed by the prophet of God that when he was brought into just such circumstances of trial he should wait until seven days had expired, and that at the termination of the days appointed, Samuel would come unto him, and offer the sacrifice, and tell him what he should do to honor God and save Israel, but Saul had failed to bear the test that God had permitted to come upon him, and he resolved to offer the sacrifice himself, and wait no longer for the priest ordained of God to perform the sacred service. The king beheld the Philistines arrayed for battle. He saw his own soldiers filled with alarm, and his ranks thinning with frequent desertions, and, instead of trusting in the word of God, and waiting patiently for his salvation, he became faithless and discouraged. In the hope of again rallying his scattered troops, he was willing to violate the direction of God, and offer an offering before the Lord, that he might have the approval of the people, and gather them to his side to war against the enemy.
The prophet had declared that the Lord would reveal what course the king should pursue when the seven days were ended; but he did not wait for the arrival of the man of God, but took the matter into his own hands. If he had but waited in faith and patience and rested in the promise of God, what lessons of trust might have come down to inspire us as the result of his life and experience! What a help he might have been to Israel, if he had but stood the test in that hour of trial! He might have revealed the work of the Spirit of God in his heart. Through him might have been manifested the power and willingness of Jehovah to bless his waiting people. If he had fulfilled the conditions upon which the help was promised, the Lord would have wrought a marvelous deliverance for Israel, with the few who were loyal to the king. But the religious service, performed in unbelief and in direct opposition to the commandment of God, only served to weaken his hands, and to place him beyond the help that God was so willing to grant him.
There are many who are pursuing this very course today. They refuse to believe and obey the commandment of the Lord, and yet they persevere in offering up to God their formal services of religion; but there is no response from the Spirit of God to such a service. There is no inward work upon the heart, no reformation in the life, no transformation in the character. Outward ordinances must not be considered of value, unless they are in accordance with the expressed will of God. The Lord cannot manifest his power to deliver, no matter how zealous men may be in their observance of religious ceremonies, if they persist in willful disobedience to his commandments.
Those who are placed in positions of trust, will be subjected to different tests, that their loyalty and trustworthiness may be proved by their course of action. The test may be a simple one, but it will be sufficient to decide whether or not the man's spirit is under the control of the Spirit of God. It will be made manifest whether or not he will choose to carry out his own will and his own ideas, or the will of God as the supreme guide of his actions. All our actions are weighed. Their moral worth is estimated. It is known whether or not we are loyal to God, whether or not we are leading those connected with us to love and fear God, or through the natural defects of our characters, unaided by the grace of God, we are leading those who look to us for an example into crooked paths, away from the fear of God, away from the counsel he gives through his appointed servants. If we are indifferent to the instruction given through the agencies of God, our hearts will become hardened, the light ordained for our correction will appear as darkness, and we will become agents in leading others into unbelief and rebellion.
Adam was tested in a very simple matter, but his failure to endure the test opened the flood-gates of woe upon our world, and with every disobedience to God are involved consequences of fearful import and disaster. The action of the king before Israel lessened the significance of the sacrificial service, and robbed the priesthood of its sacredness before their eyes. If the king could, with unconsecrated hands, perform this holy rite, why could not the people do the same? If he thought best to perform this service, it must be the right thing to do, and they felt perfectly safe in following the example of one so exalted as the king. Those who occupy positions of honor and responsibility, should be exceedingly careful to walk circumspectly and humbly before the Lord, that they may not become stumbling-blocks to those who are influenced by their life and example.
The greatest trials that have come upon the church have been brought about through the agency of those who were its professed friends, and who had been placed in positions of trust and sacred responsibility. Our most sanguine expectations have been frequently disappointed. We have followed our best judgment in selecting men for places of trust, and they have failed time and again, when the test was brought to bear on their characters. They have exhibited weaknesses of which they gave no previous indication. They are not what they appeared to be before they were placed in the position. How often have we finite beings been led to repent that we have used our influence toward promoting men who afterwards have given no evidence of their devotion to God's word and work. We have often inquired, What has made this great change in these men? What was it that led Saul to presume upon his exaltation to dishonor God by unbelief and disobedience? It was self-sufficiency and an evil heart of unbelief. It was when Saul was little in his own sight that God chose him to be ruler over Israel, but when he lost his spirit of simplicity and humility, he was not the man for the place, and his authority was taken from him. Those who turn from their humility and begin to exalt self, are filled with the most unaccountable infatuation and self-deception in regard to their own qualifications. Like Saul, they begin to assume responsibilities that their position in nowise warrants, and for which God has not ordained them.
When circumstances are so shaped that character is tested and developed, you should seek fervently for the help of God that you may be delivered from evil. If you walk humbly before God, you will not follow your own will, but will have a teachable spirit, and will submit to instruction and correction. If you steadfastly adhere to the word of God and follow in his way, you will not imperil others nor in the least degree seek to turn their minds away from the warnings, reproofs, and instructions which God sends through his servants; but if you fail to obey the word of God, even in the most perplexing circumstances, you make it manifest that you cannot be trusted in times of peril. Like Saul, you will follow your own judgment. You will not humble your soul before God, and make supplication, and lead those connected with you to look to God with all their hearts for the help he has promised to give in times of need.
The Lord will work for those who put their trust in him. Precious victories will be gained by the faithful. Precious lessons will be learned. Precious experiences will be realized that will be of the greatest advantage in times of trial and temptation. Those who will give all the glory to God, not taking credit to themselves, will be trusted with more and more of the blessing of God. The Lord will be magnified by those who honor him in the midst of the people. The trial that has been borne with patience, the test that has been met with faithfulness, will prove them worthy of responsibility, and God will make them agents to carry out his will. They will be made stewards of his grace, as honored servants of God.
The conflicts of earth, in the providence of God, furnish the very training necessary to develop characters fit for the courts of Heaven. We are to become members of the royal family, the sons of God, and "all things work together for good to those who love God," and submit themselves to his will. Our God is an ever-present help in every time of need. He is perfectly acquainted with the most secret thoughts of our heart, with all the intents and purposes of our souls. When we are in perplexity, even before we open to him our distress, he is making arrangements for our deliverance. Our sorrow is not unnoticed. He always knows much better than we do, just what is necessary for the good of his children, and he leads us as we would choose to be led if we could discern our own hearts and see our necessities and perils, as God sees them. But finite beings seldom know themselves. They do not understand their own weaknesses, and when reproof comes, and cautions are given, when they are rebuked, or even advised, they think that they are misjudged and unjustly treated. God knows them better than they know themselves, and he understands how to lead them. But when he undertakes to guide them in ways which seem mysterious to them, because of their blindness and lack of faith, they rebel, and bring upon themselves unnecessary grief and trouble. They have prayed to the Lord for light and guidance, and the Lord answered them as he did Jacob, and, like Jacob, they do not discern that it is the hand of the Lord leading them in a way contrary to their own choosing. If we will trust him, and commit our ways to him, he will direct our steps in the very path that will result in our obtaining the victory over every evil passion, and every trait of character that is unlike the character of our divine Pattern.