For decades preceding 1888, the church and its leadership looked forward to the “times of refreshing” when the long-expected latter rain would come. This was a cherished expectation among us a century ago like the long-awaited coming of the Messiah was to the Jews in John the Baptist’s time.
However, few seemed to recognize that the latter rain and the loud cry would be primarily a clearer understanding of the gospel. The loud cry was expected to be increased noise. It took us by surprise that it turned out to be increased light.
We expected a thunderous shaking of the earth with a message of “Get ready, or else!” and were not prepared for the still small voice of a revelation of grace as the true motivation of the third angel’s message. The supernatural power we hoped for must be consequent on our accepting that greater gospel light. that must lighten the earth with glory.
There was a terrible danger that the Jewish leaders might reject their Messiah when He should come “suddenly.” And there was an equal danger that the responsible leaders of our church might spurn the loud cry when it should begin. As far back as 1882 Ellen White had warned that they might someday be unable to recognize the true Holy Spirit:
Many of you cannot discern the work and presence of God. … There are men among us in responsible positions who hold that … such a faith as that of Paul, Peter, or John, is … old fashioned, and insufferable at the present time. It is pronounced absurd, mystical, and unworthy of an intelligent mind (5T 74, 79).
A false optimism prevailed (“I know that many think far too favorably of the present time”), and “in the mighty sifting soon to take place,” these leading workers could be found unfit for crisis-era leadership:
Those who have trusted to intellect, genius, or talent, will not then stand at the head of rank and file. They did not keep pace with the light. Those who have proved themselves unfaithful will not then be entrusted with the flock. In the last solemn work, few great men will be engaged (5T 80).
Ellen White had looked forward to the time when the Lord would take leadership into His own hands and raise up human instruments whom He could trust:
When we have men as devoted as Elijah, and possessing the faith which he possessed, we shall see that God will reveal Himself to us as He did to holy men of old. When we have men, who, while they acknowledge their deficiencies, will plead with God in earnest faith, as did Jacob, we shall see the same results (4T 402).
Specifically, the General Conference president in 1885 was warned that unless he and some others
are aroused to a sense of their duty, they will not recognize the work of God when the loud cry of the third angel shall be heard. When light goes forth to lighten the earth, instead of coming up to the help of the Lord, they will want to bind about His work to meet their narrow ideas. Let me tell you that the Lord will work in this last work in a manner very much out of the common order of things, and in a way that will be contrary to any human planning. … The workers will be surprised by the simple means that He will use to bring about and perfect His work of righteousness (October 1, 1885; TM 300).
That letter was addressed to both G. I. Butler and S. N. Haskell. Haskell heeded the warning and was one of the few who had the discernment to recognize the mysterious thing that was happening before his eyes three years later. But not Butler and many others. The Lord would be forced in 1888 to pass by experienced ministers, to use younger or more obscure agents:
The Lord often works where we least expect Him; He surprises us by revealing His power through instruments of His own choice, while He passes by the men to whom we have looked as those through whom light should come. … Many will reject the very messages God sends to His people, if these leading brethren do not accept them. … Even if all our leading men should refuse light and truth, that door will still remain open. The Lord will raise up men who will give the people the message for this time (GW old ed., 126).
Again, in 1882 we were told:
It may be under a rough and uninviting exterior the pure brightness of a genuine Christian character will be revealed. …
Elijah took Elisha from the plough, and threw upon him the mantle of consecration. The call to this great and solemn work was presented to men of learning and position; had these men been little in their own eyes, and trusted fully in the Lord, He would have honored them with bearing His standard in triumph to the victory. …
God will work a work in our day that but few anticipate. He will raise up and exalt among us those who are taught rather by the unction of His Spirit, than by the outward training of scientific institutions (5T 81, 82).
Those 1882 testimonies exhibit an inspired foresight. It was as though that little lady wrote the 1888 history in advance!
In that very year, 1882, E. J. Waggoner began a course of training that was evidently under the special guidance of the Holy Spirit. He was being prepared to be the agent of a special work. He later described his experience:
I began my real study of the Bible, thirty-four years ago . At that time Christ was set forth before my eyes “evidently crucified” for me. I was sitting a little apart from the body of the congregation in the large tent at a camp meeting in Healdsburg [California], one gloomy Sabbath afternoon. I have no idea what was the subject of the discourse. Not a word nor a text have I ever known. All that has remained with me was what I saw. Suddenly a light shone round me, and the tent was for me far more brilliantly lighted than if the noon-day sun had been shining, and I saw Christ hanging on the cross, crucified for me. In that moment I had my first positive knowledge, which came like an overwhelming flood, that God loved me, and that Christ died for me. God and I were the only beings I was conscious of in the universe. I knew then, by actual sight, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself; I was the whole world with all its sin. I am sure that Paul’s experience on the way to Damascus was no more real than mine. …
I resolved at once that I would study the Bible in the light of that revelation, in order that I might help others to see the same truth. I have always believed that every part of the Bible must set forth, with more or less vividness, that glorious revelation [Christ crucified] (Letter, May 16, 1916, written just before his sudden death).
In those same years preceding 1888 the Lord was preparing his colleague. The message of truth found A. T. Jones as a private in the U. S. Army. Although not a product of the schools, he studied night and day, amassing a great store of historical and Biblical knowledge. J. S. Washburn, who knew him personally, told us that he was a humble, earnest, and deep- feeling person whose effectual prayers gave evidence that he knew the Lord (interview, June 4, 1950).
Young Jones' keen intellect was balanced by warm, simple, child-like faith. In the days when he was used of God, he was powerful in preaching and in personal ministry. In the years immediately following 1888, there were significant demonstrations of the Spirit of God working through him, including special ministry in Washington at the U. S. Senate to defeat the Blair Sunday bill. In fact, this near-century of continuing religious liberty that Americans enjoy is a legacy of the effective efforts of the unrecognized and unhonored Jones and Waggoner in opposing religious intolerance of their day.
The Spirit of God was truly preparing these two young men to herald to the remnant church and to the world itself the “beginning” of the long-awaited loud cry:
The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Jones and Waggoner. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. … God gave His messengers just what the people needed (1895; TM 91, 95).
For eight years following 1888, Ellen White often spoke of these two young men as “the Lord’s messengers,” endorsing them in words never uttered of any others. There are between 200 and 300 such enthusiastic statements from her. In 1890 she said:
Suppose that you blot out the testimony that has been going during these last two years, proclaiming the righteousness of Christ, who can you point to as bringing out special light for the people? (RH, March 18, 1890).
In 1888 she had said:
God is presenting to the minds of men divinely appointed precious gems of truth, appropriate for our time (Ms. 8a, 1888; A. V. Olson, Through Crisis to Victory, p. 279; hereafter, Olson).
The message given us by A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner is the message of God to the Laodicean church (Letter S24, 1892).
When she first heard the message of Waggoner, she immediately perceived its true significance. It was a special revelation for the church and for the world:
I have had the question asked, what do you think of this light which these men 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. When Brother Waggoner brought out these ideas at Minneapolis, it was the first clear teaching on this subject from any human lips I had heard, excepting the conversations between myself and my husband. I have said to myself, it is because God has presented it to me in vision that I see it so clearly, and they cannot see it because they have not had it presented to them as I have, and when another presented it, every fiber of my heart said amen (Ms. 5, 1889).
In our modern terminology, she perceived the message to be a transmission that would apply power from the engine to the drive wheels. For “forty-five years” she had been racing the engine, but the power to finish the gospel commission wasn’t getting through. Now she perceived how the new message supplementing the old would actually prepare the people of that generation for the coming of the Lord. No wonder she was happy!
As early as April 1, 1890, Ellen White, growing in understanding, applied the language of Revelation 18 to the 1888 message:
Several have written to me inquiring if the  message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, “It is the third angel’s message in verity.” The prophet declares, “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory” [Rev. 18:1] (RH, April 1, 1890).
By 1892, she was ready to state unequivocally that the message was indeed the beginning of the long-awaited loud cry:
The loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth (RH November 22, 1892).
Note that the “beginning” of this angel’s work was the message, not its assumed acceptance by the leadership or the people. We shall see later how this reality packs a powerful significance in a time of crisis.
Elder Butler, the most responsible officer of the church, was foremost in opposing that precious light of the loud cry. Few others were spiritually able to transcend his negative influence. In his blind opposition to the loud cry we may see the tragic fulfillment of the inspired warning sent him on October 1, 1885 (cf. TM 300):
There are some who have a desire to have a decision made at once as to what is the correct view in the point under discussion. As this would please Elder Butler, it is advised that this question should be settled at once. But are minds prepared for such a decision? I could not sanction this course. … They are not prepared to make safe decisions. …
I see no reason for the wrought-up state of feeling that has been created at this meeting [Minneapolis, 1888]. … The messages coming from your president at Battle Creek are calculated to stir you up to take a decided position; but I warn you against doing this. … Excited feelings will lead to rash moves (Ms. 15, 1888; Olson, p. 295).
I can never forget the experience which we had in Minneapolis, or the things which were then revealed to me in regard to the spirit that controlled men, the words spoken, the actions done in obedience to the powers of evil … They were moved at the meeting by another spirit, and they knew not that God had sent these young men to bear a special message to them which they treated with ridicule and contempt, not realizing that the heavenly intelligences were looking upon them.
I know that at that time the Spirit of God was insulted (Ms. 24, 1892).
Thus did the leadership of this church, fondly expecting to be vindicated before the world in the long-expected loud cry, actually do despite to the Spirit of grace and despise the riches of His goodness.
Let us make clear that this sin of insulting the Holy Spirit did not bind the corporate body of the church in the unpardonable sin. The ancient Jews’ sin against the Holy Spirit consisted of attributing His work to Satan (Mark 3:22-30). We do not read that our brethren in general in the 1888 era went that far, although some individuals may have done so. (Insulting Him was bad enough!). Ellen White continued to minister to this church until her death in 1915, thus indicating her belief that forgiveness is possible, and that the solution to our problem is not denominational disintegration or abandonment, but denominational repentance and reconciliation with the Holy Spirit.
Rejection of light by God’s appointed trustees is always inexcusable. It is not our place in this late day to find fault; we can only note facts. The brethren who opposed the light sincerely thought they were doing right because the agents whom the Lord employed seemed faulty. The Lord worked in a manner out of the ordinary and surprised the brethren. Ellen White described what was happening, using the future tense to depict events in the present:
In the manifestation of the power that lightens the earth with its glory, they will see only something which in their blindness they think dangerous, something which will arouse their fears and they will brace themselves against it. Because the Lord does not work according to their expectations and ideas, they will oppose the work (RH Extra, December 23, 1890).
Earlier, she had pinpointed the difficulty the brethren were having in their own souls. We can sympathize with them, for the trial was a very severe one:
Now I want you to be careful, every one of you, what position you take, whether you enshroud yourselves in the clouds of unbelief because you see imperfections; you see a word or a little item, perhaps, that may take place, and judge them [Jones and Waggoner] from that. … You are to see whether God is working with them, and then you are to acknowledge the Spirit of God that is revealed in them. And if you choose to resist it you will be acting just as the Jews acted (Sermon, March 9, 1890; MS. 2, 1890).
Older experienced brethren were piqued at the prospect of Ellen White so decidedly supporting two comparatively young and obscure men against practically the entire assembly of workers. Elder A. G. Daniells later said that she had to stand “almost alone” against nearly the entire General Conference (The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, p. 369). Robert W. Olson reported to the 1986 Annual Council in Rio de Janeiro that she was “publicly defied” at the 1888 session (Adventist Review, October 30, 1986). If she was right, it seemed that God had passed the leading brethren by, and this was disconcerting:
Those whom God has sent with a message are only men, but what is the character of the message which they bear? Will you dare to turn from, or make light of, the warnings, because God did not consult you as to what would be preferred? (RH December 27, 1890).
God … gave you opportunity to come up armed and equipped to the help of the Lord. … But did you make ready? … You sat still, and did nothing. You left the word of the Lord to fall unheeded to the ground; and now the Lord has taken men who were boys when you were standing at the forefront of the battle, and has given to them the message and the work which you did not take upon you. … Will you criticize? Will you say, “They are getting out of their place?” Yet you did not fill the place they are now called to fill (TM 413).
Human nature being what it is, opposers would seek for some pegs on which to hang their doubts. The fact that the Lord’s messengers were “only” men seemed to supply the need:
Those whom God has sent with a message are only men. … Some have turned from the message of the righteousness of Christ to criticize the men (RH December 27, 1890).
Speaking to “those in responsible positions,” Ellen White asked: “How long will you hate and despise the messengers of God’s righteousness?” (TM 96).
One of our esteemed denominational authors attempts to show that the 1888 opposition was justifiable. Note how he emphasizes the “faults” of Jones and Waggoner and blames them for causing the rejection of their message. Thus he in fact perpetuates the 1888 prejudice and sets our clock back a hundred years:
Not only was he [Jones] naturally abrupt, but he cultivated singularity of speech and manner, … was at times obstreperous, and he gave just cause for resentment . … [Jones and Waggoner] shouting, “Christ is all” … gave evidence that they were not wholly sanctified. … [Incorrectly cites Mrs. White as supporting the idea that Jones and Waggoner contributed a contentious spirit to the “terrible experience at the Minneapolis Conference.”] They bore almost exclusively upon faith as the factor in salvation, … [were] not disposed to consider the other side calmly. … Were not wholly without fault in conceit and arrogance. … Failed to show the humility and love which righteousness by faith imparts. … Extreme teaching of Jones and Waggoner is observable still in the mystical pronouncements of those who make faith all and works nothing. …
[They were] imperfect channels. … As we look back on the controversy we perceive that it was the rancors aroused by [Jones’ and Waggoner’s] personalities, much more than the differences in beliefs, which caused the difficulty (A. W. Spalding, Captains of the Host, pp. 591-602).
This is a negative analysis of the men whom inspiration designated as the “Lord’s messengers.” While they were indeed “only men,” it is difficult to understand why the Lord should choose for such a special work men who were notably “imperfect channels”, unsanctified (in comparison with others), justly arousing “resentment” and “rancors,” crude and “mystical.” The Lord abhors a self-righteous, contentious spirit. But Jones and Waggoner did not have such a spirit in the 1888 era.
While it is true that Ellen White rebuked A. T. Jones for being momentarily “too sharp” on Uriah Smith in the pre-session controversy on the ten horns, she nevertheless defended the two brethren as “Christians” and “gentlemen.” And she more than hinted that a goodly number of the opposing brethren did not evidence such “heavenly credentials.” We have modern writers who paint Jones and Waggoner in the same fault-finding terms as did their 1888 opponents. But the two “messengers” enjoyed Ellen White’s unqualified endorsement. It is true that after the 1888 era finally ended, they faltered and lost their way. This is probably the reason why modern writers want to blame them for the 1888 tragedy. But they misjudge the facts.
Ellen White foretold that this tragic development would take place if opposition to their message continued. Nevertheless, she added, their later failure would in no way invalidate their message and ministry from 1888-1896, the period of her endorsements (see chapter 10). For us to criticize these “messengers” during that era of the “beginning” loud cry is to endorse the objections of their contemporary opponents. Logically, it justifies spurning the special blessing which came from heaven. It’s amazing that after a hundred years we still feel compelled to blame the Lord’s special messengers for the consequences of our own unbelief.
Ellen White notably regarded Jones and Waggoner as showing a genuine Christian spirit during and after the Minneapolis conference (contemporary eyewitness accounts substantiate her judgment):
Doctor Waggoner has spoken to us in a straight-forward manner. … Of one thing I am certain, as Christians you have no right to entertain feelings of enmity, unkindness and prejudice toward Dr. Waggoner, who has presented his view in a plain, straight-forward manner, as a Christian should. … I believe him to be perfectly honest in his views, and I would respect his feelings and trust him as a Christian brother, so long as there is no evidence that he is unworthy. The fact that he honestly holds some views of Scripture differing from yours and mine, is no reason we should treat him as an offender, as a dangerous man, and make him the subject of unjust criticism (Ms. 15, 1888; Olson, p. 294).
A young minister who came to the Minneapolis meeting with a prejudiced mind against him has left on record his impressions of the spirit which Waggoner showed:
Being decidedly prejudiced in favor of Elder Butler, and against E. J. Waggoner, I went to that meeting with a prejudiced mind. …
With pencil and notebook in hand I listened for heresy and was ready to see flaws and find fault with whatever was presented. As Elder Waggoner started in, it seemed very different from what I was looking for. By the close of his second lesson I was ready to concede that he was going to be fair and his manner did not show any spirit of controversy, nor did he mention any opposition that he was anticipating. Very soon his manner, and the pure gospel that he was setting forth materially changed my mind and attitude, and I was an earnest listener for Truth … At the close of Elder Waggoner’s fourth or fifth lesson I was a subdued, repenting sinner. …
… After Elder Waggoner had finished his eleven studies, the influence of which had in quite a measure taken out of a good many the debating spirit. … (C. McReynolds, “Experiences While at the General Conference in Minneapolis, Minn., in 1888.” E. G. White Estate, D File, 189).
Ellen White even defended the bold teaching and apparently iconoclastic spirit of the young messengers:
Men will go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare the way for the second advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is their work to make crooked things straight. Some things must be torn down; some things must be built up (Ms. 15, 1888; Olson, p. 300).
Let no soul complain of the servants of God who have come to them with a heaven-sent message. Do not any longer pick flaws in them, saying, “They are too positive; they talk too strongly.” They may talk strongly; but is it not needed? God will make the ears of the hearers tingle if they will not heed His voice or His message. …
Ministers, do not dishonor your God and grieve His Holy Spirit, by casting reflections on the ways and manners of the men He would choose. God knows the character. He sees the temperament of the men He has chosen. He knows that none but earnest, firm, determined, strong-feeling men will view this work in its vital importance, and will put such firmness and decision into their testimonies that they will make a break against the barriers of Satan (TM 410, 412, 413).
A modern historian describes the unpolished and supposedly unlettered A. T. Jones as “a towering, angular man, with a loping gait and uncouth posturings and gestures” (Spalding, op. cit., p. 591).
Ellen White had a very different view of him:
There are Christian workers who have not received a collegiate education because it was impossible for them to secure this advantage; but God has given evidence that He has chosen them. … He has made them effectual co-workers with Himself. They have a teachable spirit; they feel their dependence upon God, and the Holy Spirit is with them to help their infirmities. … There is heard in his voice the echo of the voice of Christ.
It is evident that he walks with God, that he has been with Jesus and learned of Him. He has brought the truth into the inner sanctuary of the soul; it is to him a living reality, and he presents the truth in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. The people hear the joyful sound. God speaks to their hearts through the man consecrated to His service. … He becomes really eloquent. He is earnest and sincere, and is beloved by those for whom he labors. … His defects will be forgiven and forgotten. His hearers will not become weary or disgusted, but will thank God for the message of grace sent them through His servant.
They [opponents] can hold the objectionable atom under the magnifying glasses of their imagination until the atom looks like a world, and shuts out from their view the precious light of heaven. … Why take so much account of that which may appear to you as objectionable in the messenger, and sweep away all the evidences that God has given to balance the mind in regard to truth? (“Christian Education,” 1893, quoted in FE 242, 243; RH April 18, 1893).
Ellen White herself, with all her respected experience and age, and conscious of her exalted position as a special messenger of the Lord, felt it an honor to support the work of Jones and Waggoner:
I have traveled from place to place, attending meetings where the message of the righteousness of Christ was preached. I considered it a privilege to stand by the side of my brethren, and give my testimony with the message for the time (RH, March 18, 1890).
As we today re-read the inspired messages sent for years after 1888, urging the acceptance of the message, we cannot understand—reading on the surface—why there could be any failure to do so. We have therefore made the mistake of assuming that our brethren did indeed come to accept it wholeheartedly. We must not overlook an important fact. How could anyone accept the message God sent and “hate and despise” the messengers whom He used? They were “only men,” were very positive and bold, and unfortunately for the prestige and peace of the brethren, they were right. This made the Lord’schosen agencies of deliverance to become objects of stumbling and a stone of offence because of the prevailing unbelief. That which the Lord intended as a savor of life unto life became a savor of death unto death. That which He sent for the finishing of His work became the beginning of a long delay.
To accept the message was too much humiliation. The implications were that God was somehow displeased with the spiritual condition of those who were the “proper channels” for special light from heaven. Note Ellen White’s analysis of the heart of the problem:
If the rays of light which shone at Minneapolis were permitted to exert their convincing power upon those who took their stand against light, if all had yielded their ways, and submitted their wills to the Spirit of God at that time, they would have received the richest blessings, disappointed the enemy, and stood as faithful men, true to their convictions. They would have had a rich experience; but self said, “No.” Self was not willing to be bruised; self struggled for the mastery, and every one of those souls will be tested again on the points where they failed then. … Self and passion developed hateful characteristics (Letter 19, 1892).
Some have been cultivating hatred against the men whom God has commissioned to bear a special message to the world. They began this satanic work at Minneapolis. Afterward, when they saw and felt the demonstration of the Holy Spirit testifying that the message was of God, they hated it the more, because it was a testimony against them (TM 79, 80; 1895).
The Holy Spirit will, from time to time, reveal the truth through its own agencies; and no man, not even a priest or a ruler, has a right to say, You shall not give publicity to your opinions, because I do not believe them. That wonderful “I” may attempt to put down the Holy Spirit’s teaching (TM 70; 1896).
They [the opposers] heard not, neither would they understand. Why?—Lest they should be converted and have to acknowledge that all their ideas were not correct. This they were too proud to do, and therefore persisted in rejecting God’s counsel and the light and evidence which had been given. … This is the ground which some of our leading brethren are travelling over now (Ms. 25, 1890).
As in all past ages, a prophet’s analysis of the truth was unflattering and unwelcome. But for us today, there is good news in facing reality.
Note the expression, “some of our leading brethren” rejected “God’s counsel.” Is it possible to know the truth of what proportion that “some” implies?
Six years later Ellen White identified those who rejected the message with a generic designation. The “some” were the bulk of our leading, most influential brethren:
“The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world” (Letter 96, 1896; 1 SM 235; emphasis added).
Without exception she consistently identifies those “of our own brethren” who rejected as “many” and those who accepted as “few” (see chapter 4).
The parable of 1888 throws light on our position today:
The Jews refused to receive Christ because He did not come in accordance with their expectations. …
This is the danger to which the church is now exposed—that the inventions of men shall mark out the precise way for the Holy Spirit to come. Though they would not care to acknowledge it, some have already done this. And because the Spirit is to come, not to praise men or to build up their erroneous theories, but to reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment, many turn away from it (TM 64, 65; 1896).
Obviously, the 1888 message was far more than a mere re-emphasis of a neglected doctrine. The delegates to the Conference came unexpectedly face-to-face with Christ when they came face-to-face with His message. “What is justification by faith? It is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust” (COR 104). The confrontation involved the humbling of their souls into that dust, and for this they were not prepared. They resented contrition, and tears trickling down their faces.
In retrospect, we can see how the love of Christ that melts hearts and professional clergy pride was unwelcome. They were steeped in success, and lowliness of heart became a stumblingblock.
Could this still be our problem today?