The Advent Movement has not thus far made progress consistent with its prophetic destiny. There has been progress, but not that which Scripture says must come. The three angels of Revelation 14 have not yet stirred the world. Billions still know little or nothing about this life or death message.
We cannot deny that the fourth angel of Revelation 18 has not yet lightened the earth with the glory of his message. God’s program of loving concern for this planet has somehow been thwarted. The long delay deepens perplexity in the church and assumes vexing proportions.
To say that we have failed to do our duty is merely to state the problem in different terms: Why haven’t we done our duty, and when will we do it? And to say that God will soon arise and do something is to state it in still another form: Why hasn’t He already done what He will eventually do?
We would not dare to charge God with negligence in fulfilling His word. We know that He so loves the world that He gave His Son for its redemption, and He has been ready to bring the plan of salvation to its ultimate triumph long ago. The cross demonstrates His total devotion to the human problem. Such love denies any possibility of divine indifference. Yet billions know almost nothing about His message of grace. Must they never know, never have a chance to appreciate the redemption price He paid and His on-going High Priestly ministry? The questions insist on answers: What is the reason for the delay, and how can the difficulty be rectified?
For the greater part of a century we have looked for answers in each succeeding program, evangelistic resolution, policy and strategy. If only some supernatural power would render the propagation of the message universally phenomenal so that world population could at least understand what it is, then the movement would be vindicated, and its long-awaited triumph would be realized. There would then be no need to reexamine our history.
But God cannot vindicate a lukewarm people. This would surrender His century-long insistence on their following right principles communicated through an inspired messenger. Such compromise would amount to His admission of defeat, virtually that of the entire plan of redemption, because its true success depends on its final hour.
The hope of God’s people in all ages has been the first resurrection. For Biblical reasons, Seventh-day Adventists cannot agree with their brethren of other communions who believe that the saved go immediately to their reward at death. Scripture indicates that they “sleep in Jesus” until they come forth in the first resurrection. But this hope is vain unless Christ comes a second time, because His personal presence alone can make a resurrection possible. “This same Jesus” must return literally and personally. No ethereal spirit substitute can raise the dead.
But this Adventist belief immediately poses a serious problem which calls into question popular theories of righteousness by faith. If the human soul is by nature immortal and the saved go to heaven at death, no special character preparation for the second coming can be necessary. There is no further work that “the everlasting gospel” can accomplish other than what it has accomplished for thousands of years for those who have died. Thus popular concepts of righteousness by faith allow of no special preparation for a second coming.
This is the reason why most non-Adventist Protestants conceive of righteousness by faith as limited to a legal justification. In their view, perfect obedience to God’s holy law is neither necessary nor possible. A special preparation for Christ’s second coming is simply excluded from thought.
But the Bible truth of the nature of man requires that a community of living believers be ready for Christ’s second coming, so that a resurrection of the dead can take place. He is a Farmer who cannot come for His harvest until it is ripe (Mark 4:26-29). But suppose God’s people never do get ready either because they cannot, or because they will not?
Christ says of Himself, “I …” (Revelation 3:21), and He says that “the angel of the church of the Laodiceans” must overcome “even as” He overcame. Evidently a special preparation is necessary. But if that special preparation never takes place, must He admit at last that His people cannot or will not overcome, that His standard for them has been too high, that He has never seriously expected it could be attained? Have we misunderstood Him for over a century, assuming that He demands obedience to His law when obedience is impossible? Could it be that no special readiness of His people is necessary?
These are serious questions. A sizable segment of the church and its ministry lean toward popular concepts that it is not possible to overcome sin per se. These ideas have been adapted to Adventism, following the Calvinist view that as long as one possesses a sinful nature, continued sinning is unavoidable and therefore excusable. (This of course logically denies the significance of the unique Adventist idea of the antitypical Day of Atonement).
To lower God’s expectation in order to vindicate an uncaring, lukewarm people would insult divine justice. It would mean establishing the Old Jerusalem in the new earth, continually backsliding, unrepentant and disobedient, in place of the spiritually triumphant and thoroughly repentant New Jerusalem. It would disappoint the hopes of Abraham who “looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” This “city” would be a finally victorious community of his spiritual descendants, not merely a few scattered, uncoordinated individuals (cf. Hebrews 11:10). Abraham’s faith dare not prove to be in vain! There must be a people who attain to that maturity of Christian experience and faith of which he was the true spiritual ancestor. This is the climax toward which history has been moving.
And not only did Abraham exercise such faith. We read that Christ Himself has exercised faith in His people, despite the fact that in the past they “did not believe.” He gave His blood for human beings and for the complete redemption of the human race. That’s an expensive investment if the returns prove unsatisfactory! In the end “the faith of God” must not prove to be “without effect” (Romans 3:3). Otherwise, the everlasting gospel will be called in question and He will be eternally embarrassed for having exercised a naive faith in mankind.
Even though Christ died for us and paid the price of all our sins as our divine Substitute, there must be some response of faith on our part. Without a people truly ready for Christ’s second coming, and without their world mission comprehended, the Lord cannot return. He cannot “thrust in” His mighty sickle until “the harvest of the earth is ripe” (Revelation 14:15, 16). Adventism is deeply rooted in this obvious truth. There is no way we can get away from it and remain Adventists.
Before the Lord can vindicate His remnant church, the present generation must somehow in principle rectify every failure of God’s people to follow the light. This must be accomplished not by a program of works, but by their maturely developed faith. As Judge, God cannot clear the unrepentant, whether individuals or a movement.
The findings of this essay suggest there has been some grave official misunderstanding of vital Seventh-day Adventist history. There is evidence that truth concerning the latter rain of the Holy Spirit and the loud cry of Revelation 18 has been distorted and even covered up. There have been tragic world-wide consequences. Misunderstanding our past also throws our understanding of the present out of focus and weakens confidence in our unique mission. And that can leave us prey to disaster. It is impossible for any people anywhere to understand current events correctly if they have distorted the facts of their past.
Truth loses nothing by closer re-examining. Whether it is a theological doctrine or a tenet of vital church history, Ellen White indicates that it must be ferreted out:
No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation. We are living in perilous times, and it does not become us to accept everything claimed to be truth without examining it thoroughly, neither can we afford to reject anything that bears the fruits of the Spirit of God; but we should be teachable, meek and lowly of heart. … The Lord designs that our opinions be put to the test (RH December 20, 1892).
If we ourselves do not “put to the test” our opinions concerning both doctrines and historical interpretations, keen minds among our opponents will eventually do the job for us:
If God has ever spoken by me, the time will come when we shall be brought before councils and before thousands for His name’s sake, and each one will have to give the reasons of his faith. Then will come the severest criticism upon every position that has been taken for the truth (RH December 18, 1888).
When the above words were written, important denominational history was in the making. Today, certain interpretations of it among us have assumed almost the form and authority of “doctrine.” Hence the need for thorough investigation, that true history may be distinguished from the “tradition of the elders.” For reasons to be named later, we have enveloped the 1888 episode of our history in the mists of that tradition. Fact must be separated from fancy.
The cleansing of the sanctuary can never be complete until the 1888 incident of our history is fully understood and the underlying spiritual problem solved. That particular segment of our history is specially significant. This is implied in a statement Ellen White wrote to the General Conference president, O. A. Olsen, four years after the Minneapolis conference:
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, September 1, 1892, O19, 1892).
Her later writings indicate that “full confession” was never made and the experience of “full humility before God” eluded most of them. Those brethren have all died, but that does not mean those “record books of heaven” are automatically cleansed. They record corporate sin as well as personal sin. The foundation truth that has made Seventh-day Adventists a unique people is that death does not cleanse the heavenly record books. The cleansing must occur in “the investigative judgment,” a corporate and final Day of Atonement.
The present issue is not the salvation of the souls of those dear leaders of a century ago who resisted the message. They rest in the Lord, at peace, while they remain prisoners in their tombs. The issue now is the finishing of the work of God on earth, developing a long overdue empathy with the Lord so that we can truly “give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come.” We must recover in this generation the priceless blessing which our brethren of a century ago “kept away from the world”and “from our people, in a great measure” (1 SM 234, 235). We are “one body”in Christ, “a city” or a spiritual community corporately involved with those brethren of the past. Their sin is our sin, apart from specific, intelligent repentance.
The “body” is lukewarm, ill with spiritual disease that can be traced to 1888. A new generation must now correctly interpret what happened in a past generation because of its profound implications for our spiritual state today. Christ’s message to His last-day church implicitly demands a re-examination of our history which underlies our “rich-andincreased-with-goods” complex (Revelation 3:14-21).
A failure to do so invokes upon ourselves the guilt of previous generations. We are being tested as truly as they were. Like Calvary, 1888 is more than a mere historical event. God’s providence will not permit it to be covered with dust in the Adventist attic, forgotten by a new generation. It represents the outworking of principles that reapply in every generation until the final victory of truth.
In a certain real sense, we today are each one at Calvary; we are also “delegates” at the 1888 Conference. We shall be called upon to do what a past generation failed to do. An inspired prophecy tells us how 1888 must be re-examined:
We should be the last people on earth to indulge in the slightest degree the spirit of persecution against those who are bearing the message of God to the world. This is the most terrible feature of unchristlikeness that has manifested itself among us since the Minneapolis meeting. Sometime it will be seen in its true bearing, with all the burden of woe that has resulted from it (GCB 1893, p. 184; emphasis added).
A former president of the General Conference also recognized that this issue of 1888 must remain a perennial test among us until at last we do fully overcome:
Some may feel tried over the idea that Minneapolis is referred to [in these meetings, 1893]. I know that some have felt grieved and tried over any allusion to that meeting, and to the situation there. But let it be borne in mind that the reason why anyone should feel so is an unyielding spirit on his part. Just as quickly as we fully surrender, and humble our hearts before God, the difficulty is all gone. The very idea that one is grieved, shows at once the seed of rebellion in the heart …
If we fail at one time, the Lord will take us over the ground again; and if we fail a second time, He will take us over the ground again; and if we fail a third time, the Lord will take us over the same ground again. … Instead of being vexed over the idea that the Lord is taking us over the same ground, let us thank Him, and praise Him unceasingly, for this is God’s mercy and compassion. Anything else than this is our ruin and destruction (O. A. Olsen, ibid., p. 188).
Today there may be some who also feel “grieved and tried” that an inquiry such as this should be made into our history. Why pay such attention to the tragic past? Why not forget it and go “forward” from where we are now?
According to this General Conference president of 1893, sensitive feelings of resentment about 1888 indicate an attitude of heart at war with God’s Holy Spirit. Perhaps the Lord impressed him to say what he did. And Ellen White also reminds us that there is terrible danger in forgetting the past (LS 196). A prediction made by A. T. Jones at the same 1893 Session seems uncannily on target:
There will be things to come that will be more surprising than that was to those at Minneapolis,—more surprising than anything we have yet seen. And, brethren, we will be required to receive and preach that truth. But unless you and I have every fiber of that spirit rooted out of our hearts, we will treat that message and the messenger by whom it is sent, as God has declared we have treated this other  message (ibid., p. 185).
Facing the full truth is not being “critical.” The truth about the past not only lights up the mysterious present; it imparts hope for the unknown future. The full truth is always good news. When we recognize it, our attempts to secure the promised latter rain and to effect the final harvest will succeed. The longest way around will prove to be the shortest way home. The experience of faith presupposes a full recognition of truth. But until we are willing to face truth, all our catalog of works must fail because they will be necessarily devoid of that saving faith.
Under God’s guidance, history must bring us to a confrontation with reality:
(1) God’s love demands that His message of “everlasting good news” go to all the world, proclaimed with power. But He has declared that He cannot add His blessings to confusion in our midst.
(2) The false “Christ” of the modern world is powerless to fasten the remnant church permanently in his grasp. He cannot bestow a supernatural power on it as a whole, as he will eventually do with other religious bodies, because of the presence within her of many thousands who will insist on full acceptance of truth. They are conscientious Seventh-day Adventists because of deep convictions based on Scripture. They will not bow the knee to Baal. And they will not let Baal succeed in silencing them, because they know themselves to be members of Christ’s body. They will stand firm as did that lone One in the temple who insisted, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2:16, NIV).
(3) Thus the Seventh-day Adventist church will not fail in the final crisis because there is a residual strength of the honest in heart who still constitute a great proportion of its fellowship. That strength renders impotent Baal’s final attempt to subjugate the Israel of God. Even Baal cannot add his counterfeit blessings to a divided people halting between two opinions! The decisive factor which ensures victory for truth is the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, a High Priestly ministry of the world’s Saviour which has never taken place in history previous to 1844.
The next step will be for those who claim to cherish “the blessed hope” to decide to follow, in the sense of utter devotion, one Lord or the other. The implications of such a decision are staggering to contemplate.