Francis D. Nichol was editor of the Adventist Review. This article was taken from his book Answers to Objections, pp. 352-353.

In the book of Deuteronomy is found a text which some of us are likely to remember only in part. The text reads thus: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law." Deut. 29:29. We obtain great spiritual satisfaction from the thought that God has revealed certain things to us, that they are for our blessing and instruction. Accordingly, we study with constant enthusiasm the revelation of God as it is found in the writings of the prophets.

But at times we ought to give attention to the first part of the text, which informs us that some things are secret; they belong to the Lord and not to us. If we always keep this portion of the text clearly in our mind, allowing it to have its proper place in our thinking whenever we are studying the Word of God, we shall be saved from many unfortunate blunders.

There are certain types of mind that are much more tempted than others to forget the first portion of this text, persons who seek to explore areas that God has not seen fit to make clear to men. This is not a proper carrying out of the command to search the Scriptures. Oftentimes this seeking for the meaning of secret things proves quite harmless, and at other times it may have unfortunate results; but at all times it is alien to the true principles of Bible study. The matter can probably be made more clear in terms of illustration, and of the motives that apparently prompt such explorings of the secret things.

First, take that group who apparently are prompted simply by idle curiosity. Such persons diligently will seek to discover in some text or phrase a justification for spinning out many theories; for example, as to the whole manner of life of the saved in the new earth. In fact, sometimes even without the aid of a text they seek to construct such a detailed picture.

Now far be it from me to say or write anything that would discourage the devout from spiritual meditation upon those promises that God has given us of a new heaven and a new earth. But there is a real difference between meditations which confine themselves to the explicit words of Scripture and those idly curious questionings that spring from a restless spirit. Such questionings reveal an unhealthy state of mind, spiritually speaking, and tend to make one unwilling to apply one's thought to the matter-of-fact counsels and exhortations and reproofs with which the Scriptures abound.

Seek to Bridge Gulf

Another group consists of those who by a series of finespun logical deductions seek to bridge the gulf between the revealed and the secret. They would build one plausible deduction or speculation upon another. An illustration of this presented itself some time ago when a brother attempted to show that when Lucifer was a covering cherub, he stood at a certain place in relation to the throne. The reasoning was long and impressive. He took the phrase "sides of the north," and applied it in relationship to the literal sanctuary, and having got his bearings from the points of the compass in that way, reminded us then of the fact that the earthly sanctuary is modeled after the heavenly, and therefore. But the therefore does not necessarily follow, and for a very definite reason: We must ever remember that heavenly things can be presented to our finite minds only in their simplest outline, and often with the aid of parables, pictures, and institutions like the earthly sanctuary. Enough is revealed to us by such aids to teach us certain great truths necessary for our salvation. But when we seek to take yardstick and compass to explore heavenly places, we are almost certain to fall into some grave error in our deductions.

There are definite things that God has told us; for example, about the heavenly sanctuary, its furniture, and its service. Of these we can be sure, and from them we can draw spiritual lessons needful for us without finespun reasoning. But beyond that, why should we attempt to go? There is nothing to be gained, but much that might be lost.

Christ's parables provide another illustration of the presentation of spiritual truths in material settings. A sower went forth to sow, a merchant sought jewels, and a man traveled into a far country. All these parables were intended to teach one or more central truths, but into what folly men are led when they seek to find a hidden truth in some feature of the story that is really irrelevant to the lesson the Master was seeking to teach. In variant form, the danger that thus presents itself in connection with the parables of Christ, presents itself in connection with all God's revelations to man which are set forth in terms of stories or symbols.

Not Depth but Direction Questioned

But this fact provides no reason for anyone to feel that, therefore, the Scriptures are rather an uncertain quantity and cannot profitably be explored deeply. The point in question is not the depth of the exploration, but the direction. We can dig, ever deeper into the mine of truth and be profited thereby, but we must be sure that we follow in the direction where the vein of gold leads, and not off into blind passages where we shall be lost in a foggy maze. Or, to change the figure, my protest is against the tendency of some to build a tall structure of finespun deductions, capped with some mysterious or awe-inspiring conclusion, and to claim that the whole edifice consists of a "Thus saith the Lord," that every brick, as it were, in the tall structure is a text of Scripture. Afterward, when such structures collapse, as they generally do, under the impact of scrutiny, some trusting souls are led to conclude that we cannot be sure of anything in the Bible. But it was not really the Bible that was on exhibition; it was the theory of some finite mind.

Another group, whose objectives are certainly most laudable, fall into the mistake of going beyond the bounds of clearly revealed truths because they are seeking to find added proof in support of the great doctrines that we preach. More than one obscure text has been made to bear testimony in support of a doctrine. Some brother feels that he has "added light" on one of our great fundamentals of faith. However, my pulse rate rarely quickens when someone tells me he has found new Biblical support for a doctrine. Further proofs may yet be obtained from the Word of God in behalf of our distinctive teachings. But my limited experience has led me to feel little enthusiasm for searching obscure scriptures with this objective in view. Never forget, a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and those to whom we present our doctrines are often inclined to believe that our doctrines are no stronger than the weakest piece of evidence presented in their behalf. Certainly our opponents make capital of any faulty bit of evidence we bring out. The man who is truly and intelligently seeking to advance this cause will confine his speculations and new ideas on unusual texts to his own mind, and will go forth to present our teachings in the setting of the clearly established, time-tried Scriptural evidences that bring conviction and cannot be disputed.

Filling in Prophetic Details

Finally, there are the ardent souls who violate the principle that some things are secret and belong alone to God, by seeking to fill in the details of an unfulfilled prophecy. It is remarkable how brief most prophetic statements in the Scriptures are. Evidently God did not see fit to tell us all the details. He has given us enough prophetic information to provide us with great waymarks that leave us in no doubt as to the direction in which the world is going, and the direction in which our feet should go in order to reach the kingdom of God. But how tempting it is to paint in detail where God has given only a few simple, bold strokes to the outline. And how plausible the painting looks when it has been completed with the aid of a vivid imagination. Yes, and how out of date the picture may look a little while after it has been painted, because conditions have not shaped themselves in the world as the painter believed they would. The world picture changes very rapidly, almost overnight in these times.

During the first world war, for example, there were some, not many, who felt constrained to declare that it was the last war this earth would witness. There were a few who seemed free to dogmatize even on the details of how that war would shape the closing events and merge into Armageddon.

When the war ended and the League of Nations was formed, there again were a few who hastened to dogmatize on what this new development meant, some even going so far as to declare that this was the means through which the pope of Rome would come into the leadership of the nations of Europe. The pope was pictured, sometimes literally, as sitting at the head of the League table, discussing the affairs of the world.

When the Interchurch World Movement, that ambitious project to federate all Protestant bodies, was launched, there were again a few who felt free to speak with great certainty on the exact relationship that this happening bore to prophecy, some going so far as to picture the precise way in which Protestantism would be bound together by this new movement and would finally persecute the people of God. They were not content simply to point to it as illustrative of a trend.

Then came the great depression in the United States, and the bold program of economic recovery promulgated by the Government, known generally as the NRA. A few brethren immediately began to predict just how the NRA was related to certain prophecies in the book of Revelation, and exactly the way in which that governmental move for restoring prosperity would result in persecution.

That the first world war came to an end instead of merging into Armageddon; that the League of Nations failed to prove a dominating force in world affairs, with the nations going their own nationalistic ways; that the Interchurch World Movement died before it was scarcely born; and that the NRA likewise had a short and uneventful life-these are simple matters of record. They prove more eloquently than could any studied line of reasoning, the grave danger of speculating concerning the exact outcome of notable happenings in the world. Indeed, these exploded predictions put a wholesome check on restless, speculative spirits when the second world war came. Fortunately their number was small.

The layman or minister who falls before this temptation to speculate is often very devout. In fact, the very devotion and sincerity of such an individual often give to his dogmatic forecasts a ring of certainty that causes the listener to accept such unsupported predictions as gospel truth. If the failure of time to prove the predictions of such persons true reacted only against the individual himself, small harm would be done. But this is not the case.

 Evil Effect of Prophetic Speculation

When events fail to work out exactly as someone has declared they must and will, there are always those whose faith is thereby weakened regarding the whole subject of prophecy and the signs of Christ's coming. Of course, such a weakening of faith is unwarranted, for all should be able to see that there is a clear distinction between the definite signs of Christ's coming as marked out in the prophecies, and the detailed speculations of a few individuals regarding the exact outcome of particular happenings. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the faith of some in the general subject of prophecy is injured by the failure of speculations to prove true. At the same time, the skeptic is provided with what he believes is another reason for making sport of the whole subject of religion in general and prophecy in particular.

But there is an even more serious possibility, yes, even probability, in connection with these speculations and forecasts in the present troubled state of our world: there is a very real danger that unnecessary handicaps may be placed upon the work of God, and persecution unnecessarily provoked because of unwarranted declarations concerning the future in relation to present events. We live in a time of unstable emotions on the part of the great masses of the people throughout the whole world, in a day when intense hatreds can be quickly generated and translated into action against this or that party or group which arouses the ill will of the majority. Too many illustrations of this from all corners of the earth come immediately to mind to require any added proof here. But it is this very state of affairs in the world that should cause us to exercise the greatest good judgment in all our utterances. If ever there was a time when, in our speech, we should follow the Scriptural injunction to be wise as serpents as well as harmless as doves, it is now.

A Wide Difference

We have a message that must be preached, and with courage we should preach it. But there is a wide difference between proclaiming the great time prophecies, with the related Bible forecasts of conditions in the last days, and unwarranted speculation on particular happenings of the day. Surely we have a sufficiently positive and startling messae for the world when we stay by the clear statements of prophecy. Of course, to a certain extent we must deal with unfulfilled prophecies; but if we will confine ourselves to what is stated by the prophets, we shall be safe. The temptation is to fill in details where the prophets are silent.

Sir Isaac, Newton, who was as devout as he was learned, well remarked that "the folly of interpreters has been, to foretell times and things by this Prophecy [of the Revelation], as if God designed to make them prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the Prophecy also into contempt." Observations Upon the Prophesies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John, p. 251.

With such a wide field of fulfilled prophecy to expound to the world, how unfortunate that any should fall before the temptation to wander off into speculation on unrevealed details of unfulfilled prophecy, or to attempt to construct out of some present happening a whole chain of closely connected links to tie together that happening in direct and logical relationship to the day of Christ's coming! It is not a sufficient defense for a person who thus makes predictions to inquire, "Well, is not my explanation of the outcome of these present happenings plausible and reasonable?" Experience proves that too often in this uncertain world what is plausible and apparently reasonable today becomes impossible tomorrow. Where the Bible and the Spirit of prophecy are both silent as to the details of future events, reverence and a realization of the blunders of former speculators prompt us to be silent also.

Fortunately, there are not many who allow themselves to fall before this temptation to speculate. But sad to say, it takes only a few such people to bring great perplexity, embarrassment, and even confusion to many. It is one thing to view with godly fear the events of our present troubled day as playing a part in the last act of this world's sinful drama, and to declare with confidence that all these events provide increasing evidence that the day of the Lord is near and hasteth greatly. It is an altogether different thing to single out some particular happening and dogmatically attempt to find in it the key to unlock the mystery of all the remaining details of this world's history. We will never go astray, nor will our message ever be brought into disrepute, if we confine ourselves to the definite utterances of the prophets. Nor will we lack for a timely, soul-saving message for the world.

In a closely related category is the tendency of a few to give credence to unsupported bits of hearsay concerning what Mrs. E. G. White is supposed to have said at some time or other about future events. Some time ago a worker wrote, stating that in his part of the field a stir was being created by the circulation of the story that Mrs. White had foretold by name the man who would be in charge of the United States Government when Christ should return.

It is unfortunate enough to have someone wander afield in idle speculation about future events; it is even worse when an attempt is made, though perhaps unwittingly, to obtain the support of the Spirit of prophecy for such speculations. Is it reasonable to believe that an important revelation to the servant of God concerning the events of these last days would await the light of day until someone in a far corner of the field heard of it through the precarious process of word of mouth, and began to broadcast it? The question answers itself. Why turn aside our ears unto fables?

We need to be careful lest our pious desire to learn more fully God's purposes for this world, be displaced by an idle curiosity to discover what God has not seen fit to reveal. Let us not add to the words of the prophets, lest we come under the judgments God will mete out to such. And let us not assume the role of prophets ourselves, by attempting to dogmatize on the exact outcome of various happenings, lest we be found guilty as false prophets.

No people has ever had a greater message to preach than we have today, or clearer Scriptural proof to support it. Let us stay by the main outlines of faith and the tried and true Scriptural proofs, in presenting our message to men. Following such a course, we shall never have to make excuses for our teaching, and, what is more, we shall be bringing to the heart of sinful men the clear-cut, emphatic "Thus saith the Lord."

Instead of predicting, let us prayerfully keep our eyes on changing events and on the Scriptures. It is always proper to "watch and pray."

Francis D. Nichol was the editor of Review and Herald when wrote this article.