I recently read Manuscript 24, 1888, which is a record of Sister White’s experiences at the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis. I recommend that everyone read it. In this article, I would like to comment on several excerpts that I found very interesting, starting with this:
Elder E. J. Waggoner had the privilege granted him of speaking plainly and presenting his views upon justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ in relation to the law. This was no new light, but it was old light placed where it should be in the third angel’s message. What is the burden of that message? John sees a people. He says, “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12).
— p. 187
What I’ve noticed is that Sister White, when she was at the General Conference, did not even know whether Waggoner’s view on Galatians was correct or not; thus, she did not comment on that or on the covenants. What she did comment on was Waggoner’s overall message, which was mainly based on Romans, not Galatians. “Justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ in relation to the Law” is the divine summary that she gave on what the 1888 message was. But there has been a movement for many years now trying to prove that the 1888 message was about the controverted doctrines of the Law in Galatians and the covenants. But that is simply not the case. In fact, if you read Sister White’s account, she describes these issues as not being vital. She prayed to God for hours when she was there for light on the Law in Galatians, but it was not given. God was not concerned about this issue.
The real issue at hand was the satanic spirit that had taken over the leading brethren at the General Conference, and I’m afraid that it is the same spirit that is in the leading brethren today both within and without the current General Conference organization. It is the spirit of prejudice and pride of opinion. And such a spirit does not allow for any new light. That spirit is not willing to calmly hear the views of others but makes rash judgments.
It was not any new light that was the most precious message. It was old light in a new setting. You see, Martin Luther and others of that time proclaimed justification by faith; however, it was not in the setting of the third angel’s message, but was attached to errors. The message Waggoner gave at Minneapolis was justification by faith in the third angel’s message—a term for the whole package of truth that Seventh-day Adventists hold. It involves faith that leads to perfection of character and a final remnant who will live without sinning during Jacob’s time of trouble.
What made the message in Minneapolis important was that it was a new way of proclaiming truth. For years, the evil spirit that climaxed at Minneapolis had been building. Sermons were Christless, and the “commandments of God” of the third angel’s message was proclaimed without much of the “faith of Jesus.” Thus, it was also a Pharisaical spirit—holding to a form of the Law but denying Christ.
Let’s read some more:
There was, I knew, a remarkable blindness upon the minds of many, that they did not discern where the Spirit of God was and what constituted true Christian experience. To consider that these were the ones who had the guardianship of the flock of God was painful. The destitution of true faith, the hands hung down, because not lifted up in sincere prayer! Some felt no need of prayer. Their own judgment, they felt, was sufficient, and they had no sense that the enemy of all good was guiding their judgment.
— p. 192
Before we continue in the next paragraph, notice that the hands hung down in prayer. Based on my research, I have found that the Seventh-day Adventists in our pioneer days prayed the biblical way with their hands lifted up. It doesn’t seem other denominations were doing this. However, as faith was languishing in 1888, it seems hands sank lower and lower, just as the women’s head covering became smaller and smaller; eventually our people discontinued both biblical practices completely. An evil spirit was taking over Seventh-day Adventism, and God sent a message through Waggoner that would have corrected it, but it was largely rejected, though there was some improvement and revival through the message as it grew in the following decade.
Believe it or not, the opposing side to Waggoner, as much as they were outwardly all for the Law, did not believe in character perfection. Their understanding was basically we try our best and Jesus makes up for the rest. While that is true in itself, it was incomplete, because the righteousness of Christ was largely left out of the equation. Waggoner taught that when we are justified by faith in the righteousness of Christ, we can receive the same sinlessness that He lived, because it is His life we are receiving. I will say, however, that Waggoner should have made it clearer that this involves a process of sanctification, because some of the things he said were misunderstood. Waggoner’s teachings were not perfect either; and he had the tendency, especially later, to go to extremes, at least in his explanations.
My point is that both sides could have corrected each other if they would have come together. But, sadly, the prejudice on the leadership side prevented such a unity; and we are dealing with the same prejudice today. Such a scenario would have probably prevented Waggoner, Jones, and Kellogg, and in a way, Prescott, from losing their faith. People coming together in church capacity to allow the Lord to put away their differences will put away imbalances and extremes. I do believe that part of why the traditional pioneers never lost the Seventh-day Adventist faith is because they were not as theoretical as Jones and Waggoner but more practical. They had the most precious message, but it was still a lot of theoretical religion rather than practical religion. Works are important, and our pioneers were really big on works. They worked very hard to get our denominated people established and Jehovah blessed them greatly. Waggoner and Jones did much sermonizing on the Gospel, just as did the other side with the Law. The Law side was simply more practical.
So, I believe that both sides could have balanced each other out and instead of spending years in debate, they could have achieved harmony and went on with the practical Gospel work, instead of just dealing with Gospel theory. I think Sister White had the perfect balance. Many think she was off balanced. She focused a lot on what we should do and not do. But people fail to realize that that is also what all the Bible largely dwelt upon. And the Gospel was dealt with in stories and symbols, and more plainly by Paul. But Paul also spoke more plainly on practical piety than most, if not all, Bible writers. I do think we should read Waggoner’s and Jones’ writings, but we should not read them in place of the Spirit of Prophecy, which is the most balanced.
The third angel’s message is the proclamation of the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus Christ. The commandments of God have been proclaimed, but the faith of Jesus Christ has not been proclaimed by Seventh-day Adventists as of equal importance, the law and the gospel going hand in hand. I cannot find language to express this subject in its fullness.
“The faith of Jesus.” It is talked of, but not understood. What constitutes the faith of Jesus, that belongs to the third angel’s message? Jesus becoming our sin-bearer that He might become our sin-pardoning Saviour. He was treated as we deserve to be treated. He came to our world and took our sins that we might take His righteousness. Faith in the ability of Christ to save us amply and fully and entirely is the faith of Jesus.
Did you catch that? Sister White’s definition of the faith of Jesus was not that it was the faith Jesus had in our flesh like Jones and others have taught. It is the faith “which has Jesus for its object” as the commentator Vincent said. It is faith that fixed on Jesus and His merits, especially in Him taking our sins and giving us His righteousness. This is equally important with the commandments of God. Both are together in the third angel’s message. And that was largely what the course of Waggoner’s sermons were about in 1888—the relation of the Gospel of Jesus with the Law, which perfectly defines His righteousness. Waggoner’s righteousness exceeded that of the Seventh-day Adventist Pharisees. It was a righteousness of sinlessness, specifically in the last days when we shall have to stand without a Mediator to deal with our sins. No one is to claim they are sinless, but their faith of Jesus is for Him to make them that way one step at a time, from faith unto faith, and from glory unto glory! It is far from the cheap grace that many are teaching today.
As far as the Law of Galatians is concerned, here is what Uriah Smith recorded Waggoner as teaching: “As far as the Law of Galatians is concerned, He stated incidentally that “the law of Moses” and “the law of God” were not distinctive terms as applied to the ceremonial and moral laws, and cited Num.xv.,22-24, and Luke ii.,23-24, as proof” (General Conference Daily Bulletin, 10/19/1888).
Why was the Law of Galatians a “mote,” as Sister White called it? In addition to it being minor in relation to the spirit of pride and prejudice that was manifest in Minneapolis, I believe it was because Galatians was just like any other book in the New Testament, or in the Old Testament, for that matter. That is, the Law of the Bible is the Law of Moses. There is no distinction of moral and ceremonial law at all; though one can still use those terms to designate different categories of Law within the Torah.
So, there is nothing unique about Galatians. The Law is the Law; there is but one Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. The Fourth Commandment is exceeding broad above all the rest. It contains the entire Gospel, because the Sabbath stands for all the appointed times, and the sanctuary system, which is the Gospel in type (earth) and antitype (heaven), operates entirely on those appointed times.
This is the direction that God intended the message of Minneapolis to go in, and what the church would have received had it crucified its spirit of prejudice and pride—the Sabbath more fully, the Gospel contained in the Law through the Fourth Commandment. But this will all come out and be delivered to the whole world in the message of the fourth angel, whose beginning of light came in 1888; it can also be called the Elijah Message, based on Malachi Chapter 4.
There is so much precious light for us if we will just sacrifice our pride and be willing to examine things together. We are to be the recipients of this light, only to be the ones who deliver it to the world. Let us receive every ray of the precious Sun of Righteousness that God sends to us! Let us be filled with that glory, and thus glorify our Creator. Amen.