Today, we are continuing our study of the Advent Movement Survey. We are almost halfway through this 20 part series, and I would like to have you reflect on that wonderful statement about the importance of knowing how God has led us:
We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history. – Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, pg. 196
So, security comes from remembering how God has led us in this denomination, and His teaching in our past history. I think it is generally agreed that the 1888 General Conference held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is one of the outstanding way marks in the history of this denomination. I don’t know very many experiences in the history of the movement, regarding which, there are such different ideas. There are those who present the Minneapolis experience as a great defeat, as a time when the denomination rejected a certain teaching of the Lord; and the sad consequences following. There are others who present it as a time of glorious victory, as a time when God came very near and blessed His church, and changed certain things that needed changing. There are others who see certain features of the 1888 conference that are quite discouraging, while they see others as encouraging.
I trust that from the available material and sources, we shall gather, at least, sufficient information to be intelligent in regard to what took place, both in Minneapolis and afterward. Because, as we shall see, it occupies sufficient space in the inspired writings – the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy – that without some understanding of it, we will not fully grasp the meaning of what is written concerning this great truth, and its bearing upon our development as a movement.
–The 1888 Message–
What is righteousness by faith? That was the great message presented at Minneapolis, and that’s what people are usually thinking of when they talk about the Minneapolis meeting. Minneapolis was the name of the city, of course, where this conference was held. What is this righteousness by faith message? What do we mean by righteousness by faith? Well, we will not take time in this lesson for an extended study of it, but I would like to introduce one text:
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. – Galatians 2:16
Here we see a contrast drawn between being justified by what? The works of the law and justified by the faith of Christ. Three times here it is saying that it is not by the works of the law. And it is stated that nobody can be justified by the works of the law. Some might say, well, haven’t Seventh-day Adventists always believed that? And the theoretical answer is yes. I think that would be generally agreed.
As a doctrine, anyone who studies the Bible, and certainly anyone who is acquainted with the sanctuary teaching (which was one of the great, leading pillars in this message from its rise), must acknowledge that salvation is through faith in Christ, and that man apart from Christ cannot keep the law. Therefore, man apart from Christ cannot be saved. His own works do not merit anything.
And so, righteousness by faith means the turning from any feeling that what we have done or can do, can give us salvation. We accept Jesus, what He did for us upon the cross; what He did for us before the cross; in living the righteous life here on earth; and what, after His death, He has done and is doing in His mediatorial work in the sanctuary above; what He ministers to us and for us and through us in the gift of His Spirit – all this is included in righteousness by faith. It means that we know that we cannot live His life without Him, and that all good works which we ever do, are not because of anything naturally good in us, but because of the gift of His righteousness.
Righteousness by faith takes in two great phases, shall I say. We speak of imputed righteousness, or justification by faith, and that deals with the past. We speak of imparted righteousness, and that means the power of Jesus imparted to us to cause us to live that righteous life. Righteousness imputed. Righteousness imparted. Righteousness imputed is given to us when we accept Jesus. No matter how much we’ve sinned in the past, what does He do? He forgives us and treats us as if we had not sinned. That takes care of the past. Righteousness imparted means that, day by day, that same life of Jesus which He counts to me for the past, is to live in me. It’s His grace that gives it to me to live by, just as it is His grace that counts it to me for the past.
Another very important thing is that all the while we are having this experience of imparted righteousness, there are still many weaknesses and defects where the imputed righteousness must make up. I can illustrate it this way. Here is a man who knows nothing about the Sabbath, but he accepts Jesus as his Saviour and gives up his lying and stealing and that sort of thing, but he continues to break the Sabbath ignorantly. He has received the imputed righteousness of Christ for all his past. Now he is receiving the imparted righteousness of Christ to keep him from lying and stealing. But still, thank God, there is imputed righteousness to cover his Sabbath breaking that he doesn’t know about. He needs both. As long as you and I have one thing yet to learn of what God requires of us in order to cease fully from sinning, we need imputed righteousness as well as imparted, right?
So, you see something of what is included in righteousness by faith. And as this text in Galatians 2 says, it’s not by the works of the law, not what we have done, but it’s what Jesus has done that we accept. That’s what takes care of the past, and that’s the way we live for the future.
Now, during the first four decades of the Advent movement emphasis was particularly on what we speak of as the doctrines. There are several reasons why this was so. In the first place, many of those who came into the Seventh-day Adventist movement in its early years already knew what conversion was. They were good Methodists, or a member of some other church where they had learned to give their hearts to God and trust in Jesus for salvation. When they came into the Seventh-day Adventist church the change was a matter of what day they kept, and whether they believed that the dead were in their graves, instead of believing, as they had, that they had gone to heaven or to hell. In other words, their theology was changed but they had already trusted in Jesus for salvation.
Naturally, since that was so, the sermons that were preached to them, and the Bible studies that were given them, and the literature that was furnished them, was to endeavor to change their ideas on those doctrinal subjects. You can see how that would be. That’s the way the Seventh-day Adventist movement arose.
As that pattern developed, as the years went by, even though there were many others coming into the church who were not converted, nevertheless, that pattern of the teaching of the prophecies and the doctrines, became, to a certain extent, stereotyped. And the result was that there was very little emphasis given, very little attention given, comparatively, to what we now speak of as the doctrine of righteousness by faith. You will find that this is freely admitted and presented in Spaulding’s book, Captains of the Host. He has a wonderful chapter here on the 1888 conference, the preludes and the conference itself beginning on page 583. I would suggest that all of you who have access to this book, Captains of the Host, read this chapter, Chapter 36. It’s a wonderful presentation of a wonderful subject.
As we look back at it now, it seems strange that there was so little emphasis given. Some who have made research into the subject, find very few articles in our church paper, for instance, the “Review and Herald”, during all those years, on this subject of righteousness by faith. Very little. The truth of the matter is, the speakers and writers on this subject, are largely confined to James White, Ellen White, and one of the pioneers by the name of Waggoner, J. H. Waggoner. Apart from them, there is little on the subject in the first four decades.
Remember that this doesn’t mean that nobody knew anything about righteousness by faith. Shall we say, it was taken for granted by many. With great emphasis on the law and the Sabbath, along with the sanctuary and the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, righteousness by faith was not given so much attention.
Now, there was another reason for this. As our men went out to preach this message, they, of course, received opposition from other churches, other preachers. Sometimes they were challenged to debate. And of course, lead them to melt their way to the hearts. As we approached the time of the Minneapolis conference we find in a number of those preceding years, earnest warnings from the Spirit of Prophecy to our ministers urging them not to seek debate, to avoid it where possible, and what was still more important, to avoid the debating spirit, the argumentative spirit.
You will be interested in an experience that I heard Elder G. B. Star, tell. It will help to illustrate what we are dealing with. One of our ministers, and by the way, he was a man who led in the opposition at Minneapolis, as we are coming to study presently, was holding a series of meetings in a tent. Associated with him were two younger ministers. One day, as they were doing some things there around the tent (it was in the morning), a young man came in and engaged the leader in conversation. He asked him certain questions about the things that were being taught there in the tent meetings. In the course of the conversation, as this young man asked these questions, this leading minister said to him, “You can’t meet the argument.” And He pressed it home. But, the young man tried in a courteous way to ask some more questions. But again he said, “You can’t meet the argument.” And he kept on in that tone and that attitude. Finally the young man turned to him and said, “You are no minister of Christ, Sir. You are a controversialist. You are just making controversy.” And he turned over to a young man that was helping in the meeting and he said, “There is a minister of Christ,” and he went away. Sister White told them later that that was an angel from Heaven that had come there. That’s quite a way to talk to an angel, wasn’t it? Yes. But that helps to illustrate the spirit that some had developed. So there was great emphasis on the law, great emphasis on the Sabbath, great emphasis on the doctrines, but little on these practical things of Christian experience.
In contrast with that, we might note that from the very beginning, Sister White’s testimonies have given precious instruction on this point. You remember Sister White’s early life, as a girl, before she ever knew anything about the Sabbath, you remember her conversion and how she had to learn to rely wholly on Christ. And you remember how, as she sought the Lord very earnestly, He revealed Himself to her, and she knew that Christ had taken her sins away.
Although at times she lost the sense of that, the Lord, in His mercy, brought her back. When a girl of only sixteen she was called for to tell her experience, her Christian experience, before others. This, of course, was before she knew anything about the Sabbath. At the age of seventeen she was called to be God’s messenger. Anyone who will read through the early volumes of the Testimonies, Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, and 4, all written before the 1880s, will recognize how again and again there are most precious references to the atonement, to the sacrifice of Christ, to the need of His precious blood to cleanse from sin.
So the writings and the work of Sister White were bringing to our people some measure of understanding all through these years. But, strange to say, there was little echo of those particular points, by others. In saying this I want to recognize what will be recognized by any careful student. That the writings of Sister White, herself, bring out these beautiful truths more and more as time goes by. In other words, there is more in the 1880s than in preceding years, and the 1890s are full of it. Think of the books that came out in the 1890s – Patriarchs and Prophets in 1890; Steps to Christ in 1892; The Desire of Ages in 1898. Can you think of any more wonderful presentations of righteousness by faith than those books?
And, by the way, let me say at this point, parenthetically, but nonetheless important, if you and I want a presentation of righteousness by faith, we need not dig back into the misty and musty archives of the past to get it. If we want to know the fullness of the message of righteousness by faith as it was given by God Himself in the 1890s, we have only to read and throughly study Steps to Christ and The Desire of Ages, and some of these other inspired volumes. Don’t misunderstand me. I would not discourage historical research or the reading of other things that were produced at that time. I simply say, friends, we are not dependent on that at all. We have at hand in Steps to Christ the most comprehensive yet brief, and the most brief yet comprehensive presentation of righteousness by faith that has ever been written. Wonderful Steps to Christ!
Somebody might say, “Why, is that it? Is righteousness by faith what’s in Steps to Christ?” Yes, exactly. And if you have any concept of righteousness by faith which isn’t in Steps to Christ, friends, you can be afraid of what you got. Because you will never find anything more wonderful or more true or more accurate in presenting true righteousness by faith than those inspired volumes of the Spirit of Prophecy.
Coming back, now, to the time before 1888. During the 1870s E. J. Waggoner, the son of old Elder J. H. Waggoner, became editor of the “Signs of the Times”, published out on the Pacific coast, and began to put in articles dealing with this subject of justification by faith. Apparently he was making a study of Galatians and Romans.
It is interesting to note that Sister White had no particular contact with either, Jones or Waggoner, until the Minneapolis meeting. I mean, they didn’t sit down and have extended interviews and plan things out. Sister White came to the Minneapolis meeting and she said she heard for the first time there, Elder Waggoner’s presentation. That was where she heard it, in Minneapolis. Doubtless this was all in the order of God. It was also in the order of God that these young men, Waggoner and Jones, should have had several years of digging into these subjects before they came to this General Conference.
The president of the General Conference at this time was Elder George I. Butler. He had been president since the death of Elder James White back in 1881. In fact, he was president, I believe, when James White died. Elder Butler was one of the older men. Elder Uriah Smith, who was editor of “The Review and Herald”, was one of the older men. And there was a feeling, sort of an understanding, that various subjects were going to be presented at this Minneapolis meeting, which might bring about some controversy. Elder Butler was not able to come to this General Conference. He was sick and unable to attend. But he sent word, “Stand by the old landmarks.” And as we shall see, in this conference, that meant to those who heard that, “Be careful and be afraid of what these young men, Jones and Waggoner are presenting.”
There are some things about this that seem trivial. And they were trivial, but they are important that we understand, because they have a bearing on what took place at Minneapolis. The subject of righteousness by faith or justification by faith, was not the only subject considered at that time. There was an institute of several days prior to the opening of the General Conference. During the institute and during the General Conference that followed, one of the subjects on which there was a great deal of discussion and agitation, public presentation and private debate, was what do you suppose? Whether one of the ten horns of Daniel 7 meant the Huns or the Allamani. Now I don’t know how many of you know which one it was, whether it was the Huns or the Allamani, but the leading theological minds of this denomination were locked in debate on that subject, in Minneapolis.
They all agreed that the Franks, the Anglo-Saxons, the Ostragoths, the Suave, the Burgundians, and the Vandals were part of the ten. But, Uriah Smith in his book, Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation, had given the list as these all and the Huns. But A. T. Jones (By the way, he was a self-educated man. He accepted this truth as a private in the United States Army several years before, and by a great deal of reading and earnest study in both history and the Bible, he had come to be a very earnest exponent of the message.) lists the Allamani. His thought was that the Huns did not make a permanent kingdom in Western Europe. They made inroads into the Roman Empire, but withdrew. But that the Allamani came into what was the territory of Western Rome and set up the nation which eventually became Germany.
Well, as I say I don’t know which one you are for, but do you know that feelings at Minneapolis were such that some people, as they met others, would say, “Are you a Hun or an Allamani?” In other words, “Which one of these do you stand for?” It’s very unfortunate that the great subjects of righteousness by faith, justification, and the relation of the law and the gospel, should have been put in the same bundle, mixed in the same pot as some little thing like that. And here is the sad thing. Because of the controversy on some subjects like that, it prejudiced some minds against the men that were teaching this message of righteousness by faith.
I wonder if that could be a lesson to us, friends? I wonder if it could? I wonder if it might be well for us to distinguish between the trivial and the important? And I wonder also, if it might be a good thing for us to be careful not to press minor issues, and thereby prejudice our hearers when we come to present major points? I think that’s one of the great lessons coming down from the Minneapolis meeting, one of the great lessons.
* This study has been adapted from classes taken by Elder W.D. Frazee.