This is our second lesson on the 1888 Conference experience and the experiences that came after the 1888 Conference. I would like to remind you of an illustration that Elder S.N. Haskell used. He said, “Brethren, remember that it takes at least three ropes, each pulling in a different direction, to hold a tent pole up.”
Have you seen these big tent poles like in a camp meeting tent? If you just had one rope holding that tent pole, what would it do? That one rope would pull the tent pole down. If you had one rope on the other side, it also would pull it down. Some of us have helped to pitch those big tents. We know that it’s important to get three ropes equally pulling in a balanced way – no one pulling too hard and no one pulling too slack. One of the great difficulties in the 1888 experience and thereafter was the difficulty of people getting balanced on this matter of faith and works, and balanced on a number of other things.
One of the words that I’m going to study with you, in connection with experiences that followed after 1888, is the word fanaticism. I don’t suppose that anyone calls what he believes in “fanaticism.” The word fanatic is often used by those who oppose something. Fanaticism can be a terrible thing. It’s like fire; it can get started and make great havoc, great destruction. On the other hand, the fear of fanaticism has caused many a person to fail to receive precious truth.
In a previous lesson, we looked at the Minneapolis General Conference in 1888, and we saw that the Lord gave a most precious lesson to His people there through Elder Jones and Elder Waggoner. That is stated on page 91 of Testimonies to Ministers. The purpose of that message was to bring prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour. The next page says that many had lost sight of Jesus. I want you to notice that the servant of the Lord desired that our people should understand that this was to be presented not as “new light.” I will read a clear statement on that. This is from the “Review” of March 20, 1894, and it is quoted in Elder Christian’s book The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts on page 226. Listen carefully to this one sentence:
Laborers in the cause of truth should present the righteousness of Christ not as new light, but as precious light that has for a time been lost sight of by the people. – Review and Herald, March 20, 1894
That’s important. There may be new light for the people of God from time to time. We are given some instruction in Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 5 as to what a brother should do who, in his study of the prophecies or doctrines, feels that he has discovered new light. But the great light that came on righteousness by faith to the conference in 1888, and was spread among our people during the years thereafter, was to be presented not as new light.
Sister White, while she was greatly cheered and blessed by the presentation at the 1888 Conference, on this particular subject of righteousness by faith she recognized that what was being given was what the Lord had been giving through her for many years. On the next page in Elder Christian’s book, he quotes from a sermon that Sister White delivered at Rome, New York, in 1889. She says
I have had the question asked, What do you think of this light that these men Jones and Waggoner are presenting? Why, I have been presenting it to you for the last forty-five years – the matchless charms of Christ. This is what I have been trying to present before your minds. – Ibid
I think if we will get those facts clearly before us, it will help us not to be so impressed by the statements of this one and that one that come along with what they call new and wonderful light, and try to put themselves into the chariot with Jones and Waggoner; try to make out that they have wonderful new light like Jones and Waggoner had back there. And because they are opposed or rejected as Jones and Waggoner were by some, it only proves that they’re all right. I think that’s very dangerous.
Certainly we want any new light that God has for us. But the greatest thing that happened at Minneapolis was the bringing to our people of this precious light that had, for a time, been lost sight of. I believe that whatever new light God may have for any of us, individually or as a people, the greatest blessing that could possibly come to us would be to experience all that the light which is shining upon us at the present could help us to experience if we’ll enter into it.
As we saw in our study, there were some who, in this message of justification by faith presented, accepted it gladly and rejoiced in the light. There were others who opposed it. There were others who were uncertain and confused and perplexed. A reason that some people opposed it was because there was a personal prejudice against these men.
Mingled with the study of these great truths of righteousness by faith were some tiny little details, such as which was the tenth horn on the beast of Daniel chapter 7. Was it the Hunsm as Uriah Smith had in his book, or was it the Allamani, as A.T. Jones was teaching? Long and sharp discussions were had on that point. As the result, the air was filled with the smoke of battle which helped to befog minds when the great truths of justification by faith were presented. I want to repeat what was brought out before. I hope that every soul here will learn a lesson from that, and that we will not enter into the discussion of tiny little minor details; that we’ll keep our minds on all the great subjects that are important today; that we’ll keep them on the main line; that we will not allow our minds to be confused and not allow ourselves to confuse others by unnecessary discussions over tiny details. That’s very important.
After the 1888 Conference, which was a great disappointment to the servant of the Lord, there came at the next General Conference in 1889 some blessings that made her very happy. At that time, they were having General Conferences every year. Beginning in 1889, they had them every two years. So there was a Conference in 1887, 1888, and 1889, and the next one was in 1891. I want to read something Sister White wrote in 1891.
“We are having most excellent meetings. The spirit that was in the meeting at Minneapolis is not here. All moves off in harmony…. All the testimonies to which I have listened have been of an elevating character. They say that the past year has been the best of their life; the light shining forth from the Word of God has been clear and distinct—justification by faith, Christ our righteousness…. I have attended all but two morning meetings. At eight o’clock Bro. Jones speaks upon the subject of justification by faith, and great interest is manifested…. The universal testimony from those who have spoken has been that this message of light and truth which has come to our people is just the truth for this time and wherever they go among the churches, light, and relief, and the blessing of God is sure to come in.” – Manuscript 10, 1889
That’s a wonderful statement, isn’t it? Very encouraging. I wish that is all that had ever been written on this subject. I mean I wish that’s all there was to write. This is true, every word of it. And critics will try to make out that this people rejected righteousness by faith in 1888 and have been rejecting it ever since, conveniently overlooking this statement and others like it, for it would be fatal to their thesis, you see. But on the other hand, there are some who support an entirely opposite thesis, and they love to quote this statement and others like it, and conveniently overlook some balancing statements which indicate that, in spite of the beautiful response at the 1889 General Conference, there was, all through the early and mid 1890s, decided opposition to the work of Jones and Waggoner and to the message of righteousness by faith.
Generalizations are usually dangerous, and particularly so when there’s a great mass of complexity. For anyone to put his finger in denominational history on a specific date from 1888 on through for the next 10 years and to attempt by a generalization to say that this is how things were in the denomination over the subject of righteousness by faith, in order to be accurate he must put in some ifs, ands, and buts. I hope none of you will try to quickly come to some generalizations.
At the 1888 Conference, there were some who accepted the message gladly. There were others who rejected it and spoke against it. There were some who were confused. That situation was true year after year after year. Thank the Lord, there were a number who were on the wrong side in 1888 and years following who kept coming over to the right side.
Also, thank the Lord, some who had been confused and perplexed in the 1888 Conference began to get light and blessing, and they came out boldly on the right side. But, as we shall see, there came message after message from the servant of the Lord from 1891-1896, pleading with those who were still rejecting the message to cease their criticism of the men and the message and accept it as their only hope of salvation. That does not mean that the denomination in 1888, or at any time thereafter, rejected the message, or that the General Conference did.
I want to give three testimonies on that – three witnesses from different people. The first is from Elder W.C. White who was at the 1888 meeting. He was Sister White’s son and was one of our esteemed leading ministers for many years. This is in a personal letter from him dated February 3, 1937.
“It is not correct nor kind to say that the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1888 rejected the message of righteousness by faith. I heard it from our leaders every year since 1888. Some leading preachers rejected it the way that Elders Waggoner and Jones presented it, but after a time repented of their opposition.”
I want to bring you a statement from Elder L.H. Christian, for many years a vice-president of the General Conference. This is in his book The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, page 233.
“The General Conference does not settle a question of doctrine by vote, and there was no vote or decision recorded of the debating at Minneapolis. The knowledge of truth cannot be settled by vote. It grows by inward conviction.”
You notice he clearly states that there was no voting on the matter, and he indicated that the General Conference does not and could not settle a question of doctrine by vote. The knowledge of truth, he says, cannot be settled by vote.
You may wonder why I stress this point. I stress it because some have been teaching, in recent years, that the General Conference rejected the message of righteousness by faith, therefore the General Conference should now take the matter up and, by vote, repudiate the attitude back there, and accept now what was rejected back then. You see how a false premise can lead to a false conclusion.
Elder A.V. Olsen, for many years one of the vice-presidents of the General Conference, covers this point. He says:
“No action was taken by the session to accept or to reject the message. But sad to say that some of those who were present opposed the message and criticized the messengers. This opposition they also carried into the field after the close of the session.” – Review and Herald, June 26, 1958
Then he quotes Sister White from Testimonies to Ministers. I want you to notice this statement which Elder Olsen is quoting in the “Review and Herald” article. I want you to see it in its setting:
That light which is to fill the whole earth with its glory has been despised by some who claim to believe the present truth. –Testimonies to Ministers, pg. 89
Elder Olden quoted it to show that there was opposition back then. When you remember that this statement was written several years after the 1888 meeting, you will see all the more force in it.
I inquire of those in responsible positions in Battle Creek, What are you doing? You have turned your back and not your face, to the Lord…. – Ibid
So she was dealing not only with laymen but with some in responsible positions. Elder Olsen brings out in his article that some opposed the message. He says:
“How many joined in the opposition movement at the session, we do not know. The number could not have been large, for according to the minutes of the session there were only about eighty delegates present, representing a world membership of approximately 27,000. But even though the number was not large, the situation created as the opposition spread out into the field was serious.” – Review and Herald, June 26, 1958
Notice Elder Olsen’s clear statement that there was a serious situation developed as the opposition spread out into the field. By the way, Elder Olsen’s statement contradicts the attitude of some that Minneapolis was a glorious victory and that there wasn’t very much trouble or difficulty after that. There was a great deal of problem and trouble from 1888 on, for several years. Continuing Elder Olsen’s article:
“In His love and mercy the Lord sent through His inspired servant messages of reproof and appeal. At camp meetings and ministerial institutes and other gatherings Sister White labored earnestly to turn the tide and to help our people to see and accept the light. She made it clear that those who had resisted the light would have to confess if they wanted their record on high to be cleared.” – Ibid
The next paragraph is from a letter that Sister White wrote from Australia to the president of the General Conference. The date of the letter is September 1, 1892. Notice, this is four years after the Minneapolis meeting, and still there are those who were opposing:
The sin committed in what took place at Minneapolis remains on the record books of heaven, registered against the names of those who resisted light; and it will remain upon the record until full confession is made and the transgressors stand in full humility before God. – Letter 19D, 1892
So four years after 1888, there were men who still resisted. Yet some confessed. Some had confessed before. Quoting Elder Olsen again:
“Gradually the tide turned. Men and women were coming into line. Confessions were made and things made right. Some, if not all, of the men who had been the prime movers in the opposition made humble confessions.” – Review and Herald, June 26, 1958
In a letter dated January 8, 1891, from Battle Creek, Sister White wrote:
Professor Prescott made a confession dating back to Minneapolis, and this made a deep impression…. Monday Elder Smith came to me and we had an earnest, faithful talk….
Then he asked for several to be brought together. He read to them the testimony that Sister White had sent him on the Minneapolis matter and said he accepted it as from the Lord.
He went back to the Minneapolis meeting and made a confession of the spirit he had occupied…. Brother Rupert confessed also…. Brother Smith has fallen on the Rock, and is broken, and the Lord Jesus will now work with him.
Isn’t that wonderful? Were people getting help? The sad thing is, some never did get help. But many did, and we must not forget that; we must rejoice in that.
I come now to the point that some are thinking that the General Conference had rejected it and therefore the General Conference ought to rescind that rejection. Notice Elder Olsen’s clear statement on the matter:
“Of late there has been a feeling on the part of some brethren that the advent movement can never experience the full measure of the blessing of God until the General Conference in session takes action confessing the wrong that was done in Minneapolis. Had the delegates in that session taken action rejecting the light, it would have been proper and right for a later session to have taken action, confessing the mistake and rescinding the former action. But in view of the fact, as already stated, there was no vote by the delegates in Minneapolis to reject the light, there is no action recorded in the minutes that could be rescinded.” – Review and Herald, June 26, 1958
Isn’t that clear? Who was it that rejected the message? Individuals. No action that my grandfather took personally can be rescinded by me, can it? No. It can’t be.
“In all the articles and letters written by Sister White regarding the Minneapolis meeting, there was never the slightest hint that God expected the General Conference to take such action. All of her reproofs and appeals were addressed to those individuals who, during and after the session, engaged in the opposition.” – Ibid
Then he quotes from Testimonies to Ministers in proof of that. This article is written in the mid 1890s from Australia:
I would speak in warning to those who have stood for years resisting light and cherishing the spirit of opposition. How long will you hate and despise the messengers of God’s righteousness? God has given them His message. They bear the word of the Lord. There is salvation for you, but only through the merits of Jesus Christ. – Testimonies to Ministers, pgs. 96-97
Sister White speaks of how, again and again, God had appealed to them:
Here was evidence, that all might discern whom the Lord recognized as His servants. But there are those who despised the men and the message they bore. They have taunted them with being fanatics, extremists, and enthusiasts. Let me prophesy unto you: Unless you speedily humble your hearts before God, and confess your sins, which are many, you will, when it is too late, see that you have been fighting against God. Through the conviction of the Holy Spirit, no longer unto reformation and pardon, you will see that these men whom you have spoken against have been as signs in the world, as witnesses for God. Then you would give the whole world if you could redeem the past, and be just such zealous men, moved by the Spirit of God to lift your voice in solemn warning to the world; and, like them, to be in principle firm as a rock. Your turning things upside down is known of the Lord. Go on a little longer as you have gone in rejection of the light from heaven and you are lost. – Ibid
They were in the process of committing the unpardonable sin. That’s exactly what some did.
Beware how you indulge the attributes of Satan, and pour contempt upon the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I know not but some have even now gone too far to return and to repent…. The Spirit of God is departing from many among His people. Many have entered into dark, secret paths, and some will never return. They will continue to stumble to their ruin. They have tempted God, they have rejected light. – Ibid., pg. 90
Keep in mind that all these people – the ones giving the message and those rejecting it – were all inside the church. They weren’t all laymen on one side and all ministers on the other side either…
* This study has been adapted from classes taken by Elder W.D. Frazee.