Speaking of degrees of sin, smoking may be a milder sin — but nevertheless a SIN. Here is the story of how this came into the doctrine of this Church.
It may come as astonishing news to some of our members, but the truth is, I personally did smoke — until a little more than 51 years ago, that is. As a matter of fact I was smoking until after I was baptized! Let me EXPLAIN THAT. True, I had not been a heavy smoker. On the average I had, since age 19, been smoking about THREE CIGARETTES a day (not three packets), or one cigar. On those days that I smoked a cigar I usually smoked no cigarettes at all. How did I get started? Not like most youths of 19 or under. But at age 19 I had the job of time-keeper and paymaster of the Finkbine Lumber Mill just out of Wiggins, Miss., some 30 miles north of the Gulf. I had to keep work-hour records and pay the main labour force, all blacks, only a generation or two after the abolition of slavery. It was at the time when they were totally illiterate, not one of them could write his own name. They made an X mark instead of a signature. What a long way our black population has come since then. I did not belong on that job. I had felt flattered when it was offered to me. It was offered because I had made such an excellent record in my first job on a daily newspaper. But on this job I was like a fish out of water. I was doing the work it had taken three men to do before I was put on that job. But I tried, I did my best. And that required working until 10 at night on alternate days and until midnight on nights in between, and rising at 5.30 every week day morning. I think it is understandable that I had difficulty keeping awake on those long nights. But I was determined to succeed. I was determined to GET THE JOB DONE no matter how long the hours required. I began to find myself drowsing off on these late night hours. That is when I started smoking. I tried smoking a pipe. I found that keeping the pipe in my mouth while I worked kept me awake. After leaving that job I turned to the three cigarettes a day or the one cigar. During my super-intensive in-depth study of the Bible, evolution and allied subjects from the fall of 1926 until the spring of 1927, my mind was on the studies — not on smoking. But in the spring of 1929 I made an unconditional surrender to God. I came to BELIEVE what He said in His Word. I GAVE MY LIFE TO HIM and was baptized. I was very conscious of the experience of receiving God's Holy Spirit — This was the spirit of a CHANGED mind. It was the RENEWING of my mind. What had seemed important before now seemed utterly worthless. My whole approach to the things of life — my whole attitude — was CHANGED.
What about smoking?
Then it was that I asked myself, "What about smoking?" I had learned that "all the churches" — meaning Protestant and Catholic — did NOT take their religious beliefs and doctrines from the Bible. Rather, they attempted to read THEIR ideas and beliefs INTO the Bible — by twisting and distorting the Holy Word of God, and by taking verses out of context. I said, "I will not give up smoking just BECAUSE the church in which I was reared regarded it as a sin...I must find the answer in the BIBLE," I said. Now I knew smoking was not mentioned specifically in the Bible. But I HAD LEARNED GOD'S PRINCIPLE OF SIN! I knew God said, "Sin is the transgression of law" — meaning God's laws. I had learned that there was the SPIRITUAL law based on the principle of outgoing LOVE. I had learned there were also physical laws God had set in motion within our human bodies to control our state of health. I had learned, even at that early stage of my knowledge of the things of God, that GOD'S SPIRITUAL LAW is first of all outgoing LOVE. Next it was magnified into the two Great commandments — love toward GOD, and love toward human neighbour. The Ten Commandments, I knew, merely stated the broad PRINCIPLES of love toward GOD (the first four of the Ten), and love to fellowman (the last six commandments). But also I had learned one more VITALLY IMPORTANT BASIC PRINCIPLE. In II Corinthians 3:6, God through Paul began explaining that the ministers of the NEW Testament are ministers NOT of the strictness of the letter of the law, but of the SPIRIT — that is, the obvious intent, meaning or principle involved. I knew, for example, that the Ten Commandments explained only the general PRINCIPLE of the direction, attitude and purpose of the law. God had given me, in my own experience, a very vivid example of what Paul was talking about in II Corinthians 3. My elder daughter, then 9 years of age, was a rapid and inveterate reader. She had been bringing fiction "love-story" books home from the school library. She would read an entire book in just two or three evenings. I had received a note from her teacher. I said to Beverly: "Your teacher has warned me that you are injuring your eyes, and even perhaps your mind, by reading so much of this fiction and suggested I speak to you about it. Therefore I am telling you not to bring any more of those fiction books home from the school library". The very next evening, I noticed Beverly reading a book and already about half way through it. "Beverly", I asked, "isn't that another love-story fiction book?" "Yes, Daddy," she replied. "Well, why are you disobeying me, when I told you to stop reading such books?" "Oh, I'm NOT disobeying you, Daddy. You said, 'Don't bring any more of those books from the school library.' I didn't bring this book from the library. I borrowed it from Helen!" My daughter obeyed the strict LETTER OF THE LAW — but not its obvious intent and meaning — not in the PRINCIPLE involved — not 'the spirit of the law'.
Principle applied to smoking
I applied this PRINCIPLE of God's law defining sin to smoking. What was the obvious intent, meaning and principle of the law? It was the principle of outflowing LOVE toward others, toward God and toward neighbour. I then asked myself, "WHY do I smoke? Is it to express outgoing love to God?" Most assuredly NOT! "Am I smoking to express outgoing love and concern for the welfare of other humans?" I had to answer in the negative. Often, I realized, smoking is obnoxious and objectionable to nonsmokers. Then I asked myself, "Is it injurious to me?. It was not yet then known that smoking is a cause of lung cancer. But I knew well the function of the lungs — to filter out impurities from the blood passing through the lungs returning to the heart. I did know that inhaling smoke into the lungs simply had to be harmful, at least in some degree. I realized that the opposite to, or transgression of, the law of outgoing love to others was coveting or lust — inordinate self-desire. WHY, I finally asked myself then, do I smoke? It was a form of SELF-DESIRE, breaking — at least in some measure — the Tenth Commandment! In other words, God was showing me SMOKING WAS A SIN, even though a mild one! That was more than 51 years ago. I stopped smoking then and there. Now it had happened that my smoking was obnoxious to my wife. She had merely tolerated it. That is how THE LIVING GOD SHOWED ME THAT SMOKING IS A SPIRITUAL SIN! But what about being a physical sin — harming the physical laws that God set in operation in our bodies? We know now that it is a cause of lung cancer, which can be fatal. But I learned one point more. Some 10 years after I had quit smoking, I made a test on myself. I was in Portland, Ore., doing a broadcast or making recordings. On this particular trip my wife was not with me. I knew that if I smoked she would smell it either on my clothes or in my breath. I tried an experiment. I bought a pack of cigarettes. In my hotel room, removing all my clothes and hanging them in the wardrobe closet with the door shut, I took out a cigarette and lit it. I wanted to learn how it would affect me after some 10 years of non-smoking. After about two puffs, I felt DIRTY all over. I felt definitely that it was in violation of the natural law of cleanliness. I never took the third puff. I threw the cigarette and the remainder of the pack into the toilet and flushed it. Then I took a shower so I would feel CLEAN again — and perhaps also so that my wife would not discern the telltale smell of it when I returned home in Eugene, where we then lived. That is how and WHY, when God had used me as His apostle in building His Church for this era of time. GOD used me to put into HIS CHURCH the truth that smoking IS, INDEED, A SIN. Even though one may argue it is only a mild sin, yet SIN IS SIN and that does include smoking. Other uses of tobacco fall, in principle and obvious intent of the law, in the same category! Tobacco is a poison weed! I know because a ditch digging labourer, working front of our house when I was 5 years old, induced me to "take a chew" of his chewing tobacco. I swallowed it! I learned at age 5 that tobacco is a poison weed that can make you horribly sick in your stomach! I swore off chewing tobacco at age 5!