Whether the 1888 message was accepted or rejected is more than a trivial academic controversy. As it is impossible to separate the gospel from the history of the cross, so it is impossible to appreciate the 1888 message apart from seeing the truth of its history. We cannot correctly understand our present corporate relationship to Christ unless we understand that reality. Confusion is dangerous, for it is well known that a people who do not know history are fated to repeat it, and may already be doing so.
Ellen White’s account of the history is clear and impossible to misunderstand. Nevertheless, one author represents the historical evidence as being ambiguous:
The question has often been discussed: What happened following the Minneapolis General Conference of 1888? Did the church accept or reject the new emphasis on the gospel of salvation? If a person studies the records of those years looking for evidence of acceptance, he can find such evidence. On the other hand, one who looks for evidence of rejection can also find what he seeks (N. F. Pease, The Faith That Saves, p. 43).
However, the important issue is not whether the church accepted the message. Ellen White says that “Satan succeeded in shutting [it] away from our people, in a great measure” (cf. 1 SM 234, 235; 1896). The church never had a fair chance to consider it undistorted and unopposed. The issue is whether the leadership accepted it. Ellen White speaks frankly about this. Her testimony is present truth, relevant to our spiritual state today.
The world-wide Seventh-day Adventist Church has been taught through authoritative publications that the 1888 message was accepted in that generation by the predominant leadership, and has been the secure doctrinal possession of the church ever since. Here is a “rich and increased with goods” assumption. Briefly stated, the official view follows:
The rank and file of Seventh-day Adventist workers and laity accepted the  presentations at Minneapolis and were blessed. Certain leading men there resisted the teaching (A Further Appraisal of the Manuscript “1888 Re-examined,” General Conference, September 1958, p. 11).
An authoritative volume which at its initial publication bore the endorsement of two General Conference presidents “was read critically by some sixty of our ablest scholars. … Doubtless no volume in our history has ever had such magnificent prepublication support” (p. 8). This book informs us that opposition to the message was insignificant because eventually less than ten delegates to the 1888 session actually rejected the message or were unfavorable to it. This astounding view deserves close attention, for if it is true, we must believe it:
The charge … that the teaching of Righteousness by Faith was rejected in 1888 by the denomination, or at least by its leadership, is … refuted by the personal participants at the Conference, and is an unwarranted and unsupported assumption. It simply is not true historically. … “Some” leading brethren stood in the way of light and blessing. But the … leaders as a group, never rejected the Bible doctrine of Righteousness by Faith (L. E. Froom, Movement of Destiny, p. 266; 1971).
Of the approximately ninety delegates registered at the Minneapolis General Conference of 1888, there were less than a score—and consequently not even a fourth of the total number of participants—who actually fought the message. …
Most of those who first took issue made confessions … and thenceforth ceased their opposition. … Only a small hard core of “die-hards” continued to reject it. …
The “some” who rejected turns out to be less than twenty out of more than ninety—less than one quarter. And, according to Olson most of those twenty made confessions, hence ceased being “rejectors” and thus becoming accepters (ibid., pp. 367-369; emphasis original).
This book further informs us that the message was initially accepted in 1888 by the leadership of the church:
The denomination as a whole, and its leadership in particular, did not reject the message and provisions of Righteousness by Faith in and following 1888. … The new president … wholeheartedly accepted and maintained the teaching of righteousness by faith. … The responsible leaders of the movement from 1888 to 1897, definitely did not reject [it] (ibid., pp. 370, 371; emphasis original).
Both a General Conference vice-president and president in separate statements agree:
During my fifty-five years in the Seventh-day Adventist ministry … I have never heard a worker or a lay member . … express opposition to the message of righteousness by faith. Neither have I known of any such opposition having been expressed by Seventh-day Adventist publications (A. V. Olson, Through Crisis to Victory, p. 232; 1966).
It is correct to say that the  message has been declared, both from the pulpit and through the press, and by the lives of thousands upon thousands of God’s dedicated people. … Adventist pastors and evangelists have announced this vital truth from church pulpits and public platforms, with hearts aflame with love for Christ (ibid., pp. 233, 237).
It has … been suggested by a few—entirely erroneously—that the Seventhday Adventist Church has gone astray in failing to grasp this great fundamental Christian teaching [the 1888 message] (R. R. Figuhr, General Conference President, in Foreword to By Faith Alone, p. vii, by N. F. Pease; 1962).
The long-time Secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate assures us that the message was generally accepted:
The concept that the General Conference, and thus the denomination, rejected the message of righteousness by faith in 1888 is without foundation. … Contemporary records yield no suggestion of denominational rejection. There is no E. G. White statement anywhere that says this was so. … The historical record of the reception in the field following the session supports the concept that favorable attitudes were quite general. … It would seem that disproportionate emphasis has come to be given to the experience of the Minneapolis General Conference session (A. L. White, The Lonely Years, p. 396; 1984).
Following the lead of other scholars, another author remarks:
Does this mean that the church as a whole, or even its leadership, rejected the 1888 message? Not at all. Some rejected it—a vocal minority. … The new leadership wholeheartedly endorsed the new emphasis (Marjorie Lewis Lloyd, Too Slow Getting Off, pp. 19, 20).
If these official views are substantiated by history and by testimony from Ellen White, we are under moral obligation to believe them. But we have a problem, because she repeatedly likens the leadership reaction to the 1888 message to that of the Jews against Christ.1 That was not acceptance!
If these statements are true, it is hard to understand why Ellen White should be so concerned for a decade and even longer about what she said was continued rejection of the message on the part of “our brethren” at headquarters when so few opposed it. Would the Lord withhold from the entire world church the blessings of the latter rain and the loud cry if less than ten ministers persisted in opposing it, and they not even leaders?
If so, can we ever hope for a better percentage of acceptance of any message Heaven might send us? If the Lord withholds from all of us the blessings of His Holy Spirit because of such miniscule opposition, what hope do we have that there ever can be a finishing of the gospel commission?
The Jews’ denial takes two forms: (a) a case of mistaken identity: Jesus of Nazareth was not the Messiah, they say, therefore rejecting “him” was no serious mistake; (b) a case of mistaken blame: the Romans, not they, crucified “him” (cf. Max I. Dimont, Jews, God, and History, pp. 138-142).
It is evident in many of the above statements that we also have a problem: (a) There is mistaken identity. Almost all of these authors evade the fact that the 1888 message was the beginning of the latter rain and the loud cry. Practically without exception they identify the 1888 message as a mere “re-emphasis” of the 16th century, Protestant doctrine of justification by faith as the popular churches teach it.2 (b) There is a problem of misplaced blame: it is uniformly insisted that only a few unimportant individuals resisted and rejected the message, most of the others repenting, so that in the end the message was quite well accepted by the responsible leadership of the church.
Dr. Froom tells us that A. W. Spalding’s and L. H. Christian’s accounts of the 1888 history are “in complete harmony” with the facts (op. cit., p. 268). And A. V. Olson likewise suggests that Spalding presents “the whole truth” of the matter (op. cit., p. 233). Their accounts differ markedly from Ellen White’s, but since they enjoy such full modern endorsement, they deserve our close attention:
The greatest event of the eighties in the experience of Seventh-day Adventists was the recovery, or the restatement and new consciousness, of their faith in the basic doctrine of Christianity… The last decade of the century saw the church developing, through this gospel, into a company prepared to fulfill the mission of God. … The church was aroused by the revival message of justification by faith (A. W. Spalding, Captains of the Host, pp. 583, 602; 1949).
1888 is a notable landmark in Seventh-day Adventist history. It was really like crossing a continental divide into a new country. Some smiters of the brethren calling themselves reformers have tried to make out that the session was a defeat; whereas, the truth is that it stands out as a glorious victory. … It introduced a new period in our work—a time of revival and soulsaving. … The Lord gave His people a marvelous victory. It was the beginning of a great spiritual awakening among Adventists. … the dawn of a glorious day for the Adventist church. … The after effect of the great Minneapolis revival … beginning in 1888 …was rich in both holiness and mission fruitage (L. H. Christian, The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, pp. 219, 223, 224, 237, 244, 245).
Note that one of our authors unwittingly fulfills Christ’s prophecy concerning the leadership of the Laodicean church. He uses the very word that Christ puts into the lips of “the angel of the church” (Revelation 3:14, 17) who claims to be “rich and enriched” through an assumed acceptance of the message.
Surely our author would not want to label a former illustrious General Conference president as a “smiter of the brethren.” But logically A. G. Daniells must fit into that category, for he clearly says that the 1888 history marked a “defeat” in the onward progress of the cause of God. His statements completely contradict our endorsed authors:
This message of righteousness in Christ … met with opposition on the part of earnest, well-meaning men in the cause of God! The  message has never been received, nor proclaimed, nor given free course as it should have been in order to convey to the church the measureless blessings that were wrapped within it. … The division and conflict which arose among the leaders because of the opposition to the message of righteousness in Christ, produced a very unfavorable reaction. The rank and file of the people were confused, and did not know what to do…
Back of the opposition is revealed the shrewd plotting of that master mind of evil. … How terrible must be the results of any victory of his in defeating it! (A. G. Daniells, Christ Our Righteousness, pp. 47, 50, 53, 54; 1926).
Note the word “defeat.” This is the opposite of “victory.”
Throughout his book, Daniells insists that there was no denomination-wide revival and acceptance of this message and experience. In 1926 he considered the revival to be yet future:
Through the intervening years [since 1888] there has been steadily developing the desire and hope—yes, the belief—that someday the message of righteousness by faith would shine forth in all its inherent glory, worth, and power, and receive full recognition (ibid., p. 43).
The “mighty revival” that others say took place, Daniells placed in the category of a “what might have been:”
What a mighty revival of true godliness, …what a manifestation of divine power for the finishing of the work, … might have come to the people of God if all our ministers had gone forth from that Conference as did this loyal, obedient servant of the Lord [Ellen White] (ibid., p. 47).
Ellen White must also logically come under Christian’s stricture of being a “smiter of the brethren,” for she summed up the end of the 1888 era as a time of victory for our enemy when she said that “Satan succeeded . … in a great measure” in keeping the message away from both the church and the world (1 SM 234, 235; 1896).
A. T. Jones, when he was walking humbly with the Lord, must also come under the same stricture, and not only he, but the congregation assembled at the General Conference Session of 1893. Yet they were close to the real situation. Not one person dared to challenge the speaker, for all knew he was telling the truth:
When did that message of the righteousness of Christ begin with us as a people? [One or two in the audience: “Three or four years ago.”] Which was it, three? or four? [Congregation: “Four.”] Yes, four. Where was it? [Congregation: “Minneapolis.”] What then did the [leading] brethren reject at Minneapolis? [Some in the congregation: “The loud cry.”] … What did the brethren in that fearful position in which they stood, reject at Minneapolis? They rejected the latter rain—the loud cry—of the third angel’s message (GCB, 1893, p. 183).
In 1908 Jones tells of official opposition continuing during those “twenty-one years against God’smessage of righteousness by faith”:
Today in positions of Presidents of Union Conferences, and of officials of the General Conference, there are men who at the beginning … opposed then and all the way since by every question … that they could devise, the truth of righteousness by faith as that truth is in the plain word of the Scriptures. This I know because more than once have I been held up by the hour in that very way by these very men (A. T. Jones letter to R. S. Owen, February 20, 1908.)3
If “the rank and file of Seventh-day Adventist workers and laity accepted the presentations at Minneapolis,” would it not be reasonable to expect that years later Jones could remember at least one of them, besides Ellen White? Thirteen years after 1908 he recalls:
I can’t now name anyone who accepted the truth at that 1888 meeting openly [besides Ellen White, obviously]. But later many said they were greatly helped by it. One Battle Creek man said at that meeting after one of Dr. Waggoner’s meetings: “Now we could say amen to all of that if that is all there were to it. But away down yonder there is still something to come. And this is to lead us to that. … And if we say amen to this we will have to say amen to that, and then we are caught.”… There was no such thing, and so they robbed themselves of what their own hearts told them was the truth; and by fighting what they only imagined, they fastened themselves in opposition to what they knew that they should have said amen to (Letter to C. E. Holmes, May 12, 1921).
In the same letter, Jones added that “the opposers were … all who could be swung by General Conference influence.”
Jones once said that “some” accepted the message at the Minneapolis Conference, “some” rejected, and “some” stood in between (GCB 1893, p. 185). Those who favor the acceptance theory have interpreted this to mean that the group was divided roughly into thirds; and since it is assumed that “many” who initially rejected or were neutral later repented, the great majority are assumed to have ended up accepting the message. Jones’ 1921 statement continues with a different view:
Others would favor it, but when the spirit of persecution was strong, instead of standing nobly in the fear of God, and declaring in the face of the attack, “It is the truth of God, and I believe it in my soul,” they would begin to yield and in an apologetic way offer excuses for those who were preaching it.
Such a wishy-washy attitude is anything but true acceptance of the message of Christ’s righteousness! Those who follow Christ are prepared to die for His truth.
Jones has left on record his opinion of the extent of the “world-wide denominational revivals” which followed the 1888 Conference. The following from this 1921 letter is quoted in an officially approved book which supports the acceptance view:
When camp-meeting time came [after 1888] we all three [Ellen White, Waggoner, and himself] visited the camp-meetings with the message of righteousness by faith . … sometimes all three of us at the same meeting. This turned the tide with the people, and apparently with most of the leading men (Pease, By Faith Alone, p. 149).
The quotation in the book stops here. But Jones' next sentence refutes the acceptance thesis:
But this latter was only apparent, it was never real, for all the time in the General Conference Committee and amongst others there was a secret antagonism always carried on, and which … finally gained the day in the denomination, and gave to the Minneapolis spirit and contention and men the supremacy.
This letter was written when Jones was not far from his death. It reveals a chastened spirit of loyalty to all Seventh-day Adventist doctrinal beliefs, and to the full inspiration of Ellen White’s prophetic ministry.
Within five years, A. G. Daniells published his view that essentially agrees with that of Jones:
“The message has never been received, nor proclaimed, nor given free course as it should have been in order to convey to the church the measureless blessings that were wrapped within it” (Christ Our Righteousness, p. 47; 1926).
But we do not need to depend on Jones' or Daniells' appraisal of what happened. We have other testimony.
Candidly investigated, Ellen White’s writings are never ambiguous on this issue of the reception of the 1888 message. She can not support both sides of two contradictory views. Jones' remark about “the tide” being turned only “apparently” with the leading brethren is substantiated by Ellen White:
For nearly two years , we have been urging the people to come up and accept the light and the truth concerning the righteousness of Christ, and they do not know whether to come and take hold of this precious truth or not (RH, March 11, 1890).
Why was this? Next week she told the reason why the lay members and younger ministers were hesitant:
Our young men look to our older brethren, and as they see that they do not accept the message, but treat it as though it were of no consequence, it influences those who are ignorant of the Scriptures to reject the light. These men who refuse to receive truth, interpose themselves between the people and the light (March 18, 1890; emphasis added).
She also agreed with Jones' statement that there was not one of the leading brethren at headquarters willing to take a firm stand for the message of Christ’s righteousness:
Again and again did I bear my testimony to those assembled [Minneapolis, 1888] in a clear and forcible manner, but that testimony was not received. When I came to Battle Creek, I repeated the same testimony in the presence of Elder Butler, but there was not one who had the courage to stand on my side and help Elder Butler to see that he, as well as others, had taken wrong positions. … The prejudice of Elder Butler was greater after hearing the various reports from our ministering brethren at that meeting in Minneapolis (January 25, 1889; Letter U3, 1889; emphasis added).
The brethren who she said “interpose themselves” were leaders. Thank God, not all “refused to receive truth,” but the term “our own brethren” is generic in sense. It must mean the bulk of the responsible leadership, with few if any influential exceptions. She uses the term repeatedly. And what is significant, she uses it in retrospect:
At Minneapolis … Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit. … The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world. … 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 (1 SM 234, 235).
No way could a few uninfluential “die-hard” opposers have such a determinative effect if many of the leading brethren wholeheartedly received the message. To believe that the tail could wag the dog thus would stretch credulity. She wrote the following to a relative, after most of the influential “confessions” had come in:
Who of those that acted a part in the meeting at Minneapolis have come to the light and received the rich treasures of truth which the Lord sent them from heaven? Who have kept step with the Leader, Jesus Christ? Who have made full confession of their mistaken zeal, their blindness, their jealousies and evil surmisings, their defiance of truth? Not one … (Letter, November 5, 1892; B2a 1892).
Seven or eight long years after 1888 she is forced to confess concerning “some” in Battle Creek who “keep alive the spirit which ran riot at Minneapolis,” and who are also identified as “many,”
They began this satanic work at Minneapolis. … Yet these men have been holding positions of trust, and have been molding the work after their own similitude, as far as they possibly can (TM 80; May 1, 1895; May 30, 1896; emphasis added).
A. G. Daniells encourages us to be honest in facing reality:
“It would be far more agreeable to eliminate some of the statements given by the Spirit of Prophecy regarding the attitude of some of the leaders toward the message and the messengers. But this cannot be done without giving only a partial presentation of the situation, … leaving the question in more or less of mystery” (op. cit., p. 43).
The less “mystery” the better in this late perilous hour. Therefore the following citations, as brief as possible but verbatim, are taken from Testimonies to Ministers written in 1895. This is Ellen White’s retrospective judgment, written pretty well toward the close of the 1888 era:
• Many … treat it [the message] with disdain.
• You have turned your back, and not your face, to the Lord.
• That light which is to fill the whole earth with its glory has been despised.
• Beware how you … pour contempt upon the manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
• I know not but some have even now gone too far to return and to repent.
• These great and solemn realities are unappreciated and spoken against.
• Men … stand in the way of sinners, and sit in the seat of the scornful.
• Many have entered dark, secret paths, and some will never return.
• They have tempted God, they have rejected light.
• They have chosen darkness rather than light, and have defiled their souls.
• They have not only refused to accept the message, but they have hated the light.
• These men are parties to the ruin of souls. They have interposed themselves between the heaven-sent light and the people. They have trampled upon the word of God, and are doing despite to His Holy Spirit.
• 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?
• They have taunted them [the messengers] with being fanatics, extremists, and enthusiasts.
• You will, when it is too late, see that you have been fighting against God.
• Your turning things upside down is known of the Lord.
• Go on a little longer as you have done, in rejection of the light from heaven, and you are lost.
• So long as false guideposts, pointing the wrong way.
• If you reject Christ’s delegated messengers, you reject Christ.
• Despise this glorious offer of justification through the blood of Christ.
This was what our authors speak of as the “notable landmark in Seventh-day Adventist history,”the crossing of a “continental divide into new country,” the “glorious victory and the occasion and the beginnings of larger and better things for the advent church,” the “time of revival and soul-saving,” the “time of happy spiritual experience,” the “beginning of a great spiritual awakening among Adventists,” a “denomination-wide revival”! Ellen White wrote better than she knew in 1895:
“Your turning things upside down is known of the Lord.”
Seven or eight years after the Conference afforded ample opportunity for repentance, confessions, and a hearty participation in a “denomination-wide revival.” The chronology of rejection can be catalogued year by year:
• Instead of pressing your weight against the chariot of truth that is being pulled up an inclined road, you should work with all the energy you can to push it on.
• Our older brethren … do not accept the message, but treat it as though it were of no consequence (RH, March 18, 1890).
• I cannot express to you my burden and distress of mind as the true condition of the cause has been presented before me …
• It was shown to me that on the part of the ministers in all our conferences, there is neglect to study the Scriptures, to search for the truth … Faith and love, how destitute are the churches of these! …
• Bible religion is very scarce, even among our ministers … The standard of the ministry had been greatly lowered. …
There was not much revival by 1892:
The atmosphere of the church is so frigid, its spirit is of such an order, that men and women cannot sustain or endure the example of primitive and heaven-born piety. The warmth of their first love is frozen up, and unless they are watered over by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, their candlestick will be removed out of its place (TM 167, 168, 161; July 15, 1892).
It was the same in 1893:
O how few know the day of their visitation! … We are convinced that among the people of God there is blindness of mind and hardness of heart, although God has manifested inexpressible mercy toward us. …
Today there are few who are heartily serving God. The most of those who compose our congregations are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. … The sweetest melodies that come from God through human lips—justification by faith, and the righteousness of Christ—do not bring forth from them a response of love and gratitude…They steel their hearts against [the Heavenly Merchantman] (RH April 4, 1893).
Conditions had not improved by 1895:
There are many who have outgrown their advent faith, … while saying in their hearts, as they desire it shall be, “My Lord delayeth His coming.” …
Men who are entrusted with weighty responsibilities, but who have no living connection with God, have been and are doing despite to His Holy Spirit. … Warnings have come from God again and again for these men, but they have cast them aside and ventured on in the same course…
If God spares their lives, and they nourish the same spirit that marked their course of action both before and after the Minneapolis meeting, they will fill up to the full the deeds of those whom Christ condemned when He was upon earth (TM 77-79; May 1, 1895).
There had been apparently little change by 1896:
That men should keep alive the spirit which ran riot at Minneapolis is an offense to God. All heaven is indignant at the spirit that for years has been revealed in our publishing institution at Battle Creek … A voice has been heard pointing out the errors and, in the name of the Lord, pleading for a decided change. But who have followed the instruction given? who have humbled their hearts to put from them every vestige of their wicked, oppressive spirit? (TM 76, 77; May 30, 1896).
It seems that the “revival” had not succeeded in capturing the hearts of the leaders by 1897:
God gives men counsel and reproof for their good. He has sent His message, telling them what was needed for the time—1897. … He gave you opportunity to come up armed and equipped to the help of the Lord. And having done all, He told you to stand. But did you make ready? Did you say, “Here am I; send me”? You sat still, and did nothing. You left the word of the Lord to fall unheeded to the ground. …
O, why will men be hindrances, when they might be helps? Why will they block the wheels, when they might push with marked success? Why will they rob their own soul of good, and deprive others of blessing that might come through them? These rejecters of light will remain barren deserts (TM 413).
For sure, those rejectors remained “barren deserts” spiritually. A persual of their printed sermons and articles reveals that they are dry and boring, devoid of the essential motifs of the 1888 truths. Yet they evince supreme confidence that they understand and preach righteousness by faith.
From 1888-1890 Ellen White makes numerous references to the revival meetings which she held in company with Jones and Waggoner. The acceptance theory is based largely on these statements. We must give due weight to them. The following are samples of her glowing enthusiasm:
I have never seen a revival work go forward with such thoroughness, and yet remain so free from all undue excitement. There was no urging or inviting. The people were not called forward, but there was a solemn realization that Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. … There were many who testified that as the searching truths had been presented, they had been convicted in the light of the law as transgressors (RH March 5, 1889).
The tidings that Christ is our righteousness has brought relief to many, many souls, and God says to his people, “Go forward.”…
In every meeting since the General Conference  souls have eagerly accepted the precious message of the righteousness of Christ. …
On Sabbath [Ottawa, Kansas], truths were presented that were new to the majority of the congregation… But the labors of the Sabbath were not in vain. On Sunday morning there was decided evidence that the Spirit of God was working great changes in the moral and spiritual condition of those assembled (ibid., July 23, 1889).
We are having most excellent meetings. The spirit that was in the meeting at Minneapolis is not here. All moves off in harmony. … 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 (Ms. 10, 1889).
These statements taken out of a ten-year context give the impression of a hearty leadership acceptance of the message. But further evidence in context must be considered. An impression of leadership acceptance must be balanced by reality.
Jones said that those meetings “turned the tide with the people.” However, there never was an issue or tide to be turned with the people. The problem was entirely with the leaders and the ministry. The people were ready to accept the light gladly if the leaders should permit it to come to them undistorted and unopposed, or rather, if they should join heartily in presenting it. Many younger ministers were keenly interested. But the continually noncommittal attitude or outright opposition of responsible leaders in Battle Creek and elsewhere quenched the movement. Not only do Ellen White’s remarks attest this fact, but the General Conference correspondence in the Archives is also clear.
In fact, it is not necessary even to summon her to the witness stand to testify to this official Battle Creek rejection of the message. The documentation in the recorded correspondence demonstrates an undercurrent of opposition, which Jones spoke of as “a secret antagonism always carried on” (see Additional Note at the end of this chapter).
At Minneapolis, Ellen White quickly saw that the problem lay with the leadership. She earnestly appealed to the delegates not to look to the older, experienced men to see what they would do with the light. She said that they would even try to prevent it reaching the people:
I entreat you to make God your trust; idolize no man, depend upon no man. Let not your love of men hold them in places of trust that they are unqualified to fill . …
You need greater light, you need a clearer understanding of the truth which you carry to the people. If you do not see light yourselves, you will close the door, if you can, you will prevent the rays of light from coming to the people. Let it not be said of this highly favored people, “They would not enter in themselves, and those who were entering in they hindered.” All these lessons are given for the benefit of those upon whom the ends of the world are come. …
At this meeting …opposition, rather than investigation, is the order of the day. …
No one must be permitted to close the avenue whereby the light of truth shall come to the people. As soon as this shall be attempted, God’s Spirit will be quenched (Ms. 15, 1888; Olson, pp. 297, 301).
Now our meeting is drawing to a close and not one confession has been made, there has not been a single break so as to let the Spirit of God in. Now I was saying what was the use of our assembling here together and for our ministering brethren to come in if they are here only to shut out the Spirit of God from the people? (Ms. 9, 1888; Olson pp. 290, 291.)
What was the actual mechanism of rejection? How did it operate? While it is true that Jones and Waggoner were permitted to speak in camp meetings and to publish articles, and while it is true that their message was welcomed by the laity, leadership rejection constantly counteracted their best efforts. We have Ellen White’s analysis of what happened:
The very men who ought to be on the alert to see what the people of God need that the way of the Lord may be prepared, are intercepting the light God would have come to His people and rejecting the message of His healing grace (Letter to Miller brothers, July 23, 1889).
Some of our leading brethren have frequently taken positions on the wrong side, and if God would send a message and wait for these older brethren to open the way for its advance, it would never reach the people. …
The rebuke of the Lord will be upon those who would be guardians of the doctrine, who would bar the way that greater light shall not come to the people; and if there were no voice among men to give it, the very stones would cry out. … It is the coldness of heart, the unbelief, of those who ought to have faith, that keeps the churches in feebleness (RH July 26, 1892; emphasis added).
At the time, both Jones and Waggoner were persona non grata with responsible brethren in Battle Creek (Olson, p. 115). As we shall see in a later chapter, the Review and Herald editor was the most influential opposer. And Ellen White said that the new General Conference president himself “acted as did Aaron in regard to these men who have been opposed to the work of God ever since the Minneapolis meeting” (Letter to A. O. Tait, August 27, 1896). “The President of the General Conference … went directly contrary to the cautions and warnings given him” concerning the 1888 aftermath (Letter to I. H. Evans, November 21, 1897; E51, 1897).
Further, it was only natural that opposing brethren should expect and very likely hope that the unwelcome message should take no better with the common people than it did with the elders and authorities at Battle Creek. But when the reports came in of the wonderful results of the preaching of the inspired trio, they were chagrined. It is painful to report that Ellen White says that the Holy Spirit’s approval of the work discomfited them. She was not concerned about an insignificant minority of obscure brethren, but about the total impact of responsible, influential leadership:
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. They would not humble their hearts to repent, to give God the glory, and vindicate the right (May 1, 1895; TM 80).
The revivals held at South Lancaster, Chicago, Ottawa, Kansas, and in the Battle Creek church itself, were a powerful witness that God had set His seal to the message being borne. The experiment testing the light was being made in the laboratory of the churches. It worked—never had such manifestations of heavenly glory attended any message or movement since the midnight cry of 1844:
Now although there has been a determined effort to make of no effect the message God has sent, its fruits have been proving that it was from the source of light and truth. Those who have … stood to bar the way against all evidence, cannot be supposed to have clearer spiritual eyesight for having so long closed their eyes to the light God sent to the people. … There will be resistance from the very ones we expected to engage in such a work (Letter O19, 1892).
She continued to hope for a change of heart in the leaders once they recognized the incontrovertible proof. The following paragraph could be cited as evidence that the 1888 message was accepted by the leadership of the church:
I saw that the power of God attended the message wherever it was spoken. You could not make the people believe in South Lancaster that it was not a message of light that came to them … God has set His hand to do this work. We labored in Chicago; it was a week before there was a break in the meetings. But like a wave of glory, the blessing of God swept over us as we pointed men to the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. The Lord revealed His glory, and we felt the deep movings of His Spirit.
But the same article in the Review of March 18, 1890 indicates that the leading brethren still were not in sympathy with the work:
I have tried to present the message to you as I have understood it, but how long will those at the head of the work keep themselves aloof from the message of God?
A greater sin was added to the unbelief of 1888 at Minneapolis: the incontrovertible evidences of the Holy Spirit’s approval of the message, demonstrated in the wonderful revivals, only confirmed the opposition of these brethren. “When they saw and felt the demonstration of the Holy Spirit testifying that the message was of God, they hated it the more” (TM 80; 1895). A few years before, Ellen White had pathetically appealed for unity with the messengers:
For nearly two years we have been urging the people to come up and accept the light and truth concerning the righteousness of Christ, and they do not know whether to come and take hold of this precious truth or not (ibid., March 11, 1890).
We entreat of you who oppose the light of truth, to stand out of the way of God’s people (ibid., May 27, 1890).
The overwhelming weight of evidence indicates that they did stand in the way. This context of the glowing reports of the “revivals” must be borne in mind. Earlier statements expressing prophetic hope (1889-1890) must be balanced by the disappointment of the actual subsequent history which Ellen White was forced to record (1891-97). Every avenue of solid evidence goes in the same direction: her testimony, Jones’ testimony, the official archival files, and the obvious import of nearly a century of history.
Never since the rejection by Israel of her King of glory has the heavenly universe witnessed a more inexcusable and shameful failure on the part of the chosen people of God, led by their leaders. The Lord’s messenger did not hesitate to apply to the leading brethren the famous “woes upon the Pharisees” (Luke 11:50-52), and emphasize their present (1896) application: “If God has ever spoken by me, these scriptures mean very much to those who shall hear them” (TM 76). “Ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.”
Such is the true picture of the “great revival” which followed the 1888 meeting. Many lay members and younger ministers began “to enter in” but the elders at Jerusalem verily “hindered” them. Thus the revival proved abortive, and the Holy Spirit was grieved, “insulted” and quenched. Frequently the Lord’s messenger compared the anti-1888 spirit to the Jews' rejection of Christ. For example:
Light has been shining upon the church of God, but many have said by their indifferent attitude, “We want not thy way, O God, but our own way.” The Kingdom of heaven has come very near, … but they have barred the door of the heart, and have not received the heavenly guests; for as yet they know not the love of God. …
There is less excuse in our day for stubborness and unbelief than there was for the Jews in the days of Christ. … Our sin and its retribution will be the greater, if we refuse to walk in the light. Many say, “If I had only lived in the days of Christ, I would not have wrested His words, or falsely interpreted His instruction. I would not have rejected and crucified Him, as did the Jews”; but that will be proved by the way in which you deal with His message and His messengers to-day. …
Those who live in this day are not accountable for the deeds of those who crucified the Son of God; but if with all the light that shone upon His ancient people delineated before us, we travel over the same ground, cherish the same spirit, refuse to receive reproof and warning, then our guilt will be greatly augmented (ibid., April 11, 1893).
One week later the author added:
Those who are filled with unbelief can discern the least thing that has an objectionable feature. They can lose sight of all the evidences that God has given … in revealing precious gems of truth from the inexhaustible mine of His word. They 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 [A. T. Jones or E. J. Waggoner] and sweep away all the evidences that God has given to balance the mind in regard to truth? (ibid., April 18, 1892).
Our imagination struggles to grasp the reality of the blessings that would have come to the Seventh-day Adventist Church if this precious message had been heartily accepted:
If through the grace of Christ His people will become new bottles, He will fill them with new wine. God will give additional light, and old truths will be recovered, and replaced in the framework of truth; and wherever the laborers go, they will triumph (RH, Extra, December 23, 1890).
What should have taken place, but what didn’t, was made plain in a statement made at the 1901 General Conference session, when Ellen White referred back to the 1888-1891 crisis. What our historians have assumed was “revival” turns out to be only a verbal assent with no genuine reformation:
I feel a special interest in the movements and decisions that shall be made at this Conference regarding the things that should have been done years ago, and especially ten years ago, when we were assembled in Conference, and the Spirit and power of God came into our meeting, testifying that God was ready to work for this people if they would come into working order. The brethren assented to the light God had given, but there were those connected with our institutions, especially the Review and Herald office and the [General] Conference, who brought in elements of unbelief, so that the light given was not acted upon. It was assented to, but no special change was made to bring about such a condition of things that the power of God could be revealed among His people (GCB 1901, p. 23).
Some of the brethren recognized in 1893 that because reformation had been refused, revival had consequently failed. Jones said:
Brethren, the time has come to take up tonight what we there [Minneapolis four years before] rejected. Not a soul of us has ever been able to dream yet the wonderful blessings that God had for us at Minneapolis, and which we would have been enjoying these four years, if hearts had been ready to receive the message which God sent. We would have been four years ahead, we would have been in the midst of the wonders of the loud cry itself, tonight (GCB, 1893 p. 183).
The following letter from Ellen White, read at the same session, explains how the process worked by which the 1888 message was turned into defeat:
The opposition in our own ranks has imposed upon the Lord’s messengers a laborious and soul trying task; for they have had to meet difficulties and obstacles which need not have existed. … All the time and thought and labor required to counteract the influence of our brethren who oppose the message has been just so much taken from the world of the swift coming judgments of God. The Spirit of God has been present in power among His people, but it could not be bestowed upon them, because they did not open their hearts to receive it.
It is not the opposition of the world that we have to fear; but it is the elements that work among ourselves that have hindered the message. … Love and confidence constitute a moral force that would have united our churches and insured harmony of action; but coldness and distrust have brought disunion that has shorn us of our strength. …
The influence that grew out of the resistance of light and truth at Minneapolis tended to make of no effect the light God had given to His people through the Testimonies … because some of those who occupy responsible positions were leavened with the spirit that prevailed at Minneapolis, a spirit that beclouded the discernment of the people of God (ibid., p. 419).
An army that loses a battle will try afterwards to discover why the defeat took place. They will speak of victory only in the conditional, subjunctive mood of the verb, as what “might have been.” It is significant that the oft-quoted passage published in 1909 in Testimonies, Vol. 9, page 29, which begins with a tragic “if,” was written concerning the results of the 1888 history. It is the next sentence after the above quotation:
If every soldier of Christ had done his duty, if every watchman on the walls of Zion had given the trumpet a certain sound, the world might ere this have heard the message of warning. But the work is years behind. What account will be rendered to God for thus retarding the work?
This does not mean that the war has been lost. Far from it. Only a battle was lost. We have here, however, a most intriguing situation. A few paragraphs later in the same letter, Ellen White predicted that Satan would work up his advantage skillfully.
“The deep plotting of Satan will reveal its working everywhere.”
He would be far too keen to make the blunder of assuming the livery of the devil; he would pretend to be the Christ.
“The appearance of a false Christ will arouse delusive hopes in the minds of those who will allow themselves to be deceived.”
Satan is too keen-minded to claim his victory before it is complete, even though the partial victory is true. Such boasting would drive the remnant church to her knees in the repentance of the ages, for she is honest in heart. Telling her the truth will never work—she must be kept in deception until the very last.
Therefore, Satan’s desire is that we should be deceived about our 1888 history. He will slyly admit defeat and concede the victory, pretending to lie prostrate at our feet. But the deception, if cherished, can lead only to an infatuation with the false Christ. If we cannot read the past aright, how will we be able to interpret the future correctly as it unrolls before our eyes?
Do these obvious truths paint a dark or discouraging picture? Not if we love Him who says He is the Truth. Recognizing truth is the only way to come close to Him!
While it is true that our history is a clear call to repentance, we must remember that calls to repentance have always been up-beat, positive, hope-inspiring, and encouraging.
Those who portray our 1888 history as a glorious victory are very sincere. They desire to preserve the unity of the church. Critics have arisen claiming that the victory gained by Satan in 1888 and thereafter was complete, so that the church is now in a hopeless condition. This is not true, but such a false idea takes root and flourishes as a reaction against the pride and complacency which deny the truth of our history for generation after generation. Israel will never become Babylon, though she may have her periods of captivity. The Lord will bring her again to her own borders, chastened and repentant.
In seeking to counteract disloyal critics who condemn the church as hopeless, we must not deny truth. Let us ascribe honor to whom it is due. That, in the light of our past history, will require that we be greatly humbled:
There will be great humbling of hearts before God on the part of every one who remains faithful and true to the end (Ms. 15, 1888; Olson, p. 297).
Unless the church, which is now being leavened with her own backsliding, shall repent and be converted, she will eat of the fruit of her own doing, until she shall abhor herself (8T 250).
That experience is no evidence that God will have cast off His church. Peter, when he threw himself on the ground in Gethsemane and wished that he might die, was at last converted (Matthew 26:75; DA 713). When the above words are fulfilled, the remnant church will likewise be converted. Her Pentecost will be no further away at that time than Peter’s was when he came to know himself, and in so doing, found His Lord’s forgiveness.
A true understanding of the 1888 experience will figure largely in our coming to know ourselves:
“Sometime it will be seen in its true bearing, with all the burden of woe that has resulted from it” (GCB 1893, p. 184).
A. T. Jones at the 1893 meeting also referred to that long-delayed “sometime” of reparation:
There will be things to come that will be more surprising than that was to those at Minneapolis. … But unless you and I have every fiber of that spirit rooted out of our hearts, we will treat that message and the messengers by whom it is sent, as God has declared we have treated this other message (ibid., p. 185).
If none of the references presented in this chapter were available to us, logic and simple reason would dictate some conclusions:
(1) The loud cry was to have an effect on the closing of the work like fire that goes in the stubble (RH, December 15, 1885). “The final movements will be rapid ones.” But instead of going like fire in the stubble, there has been a century of protracted smoldering and smoking, inching along, while human souls are being born faster than we reach them with our message. The only reasonable conclusion is that the fire was put out—by human, not divine, instrumentality.
(2) When the loud cry comes, says John the Revelator, it is to be light which will lighten the earth with glory superseding all previous displays of heavenly power. The “kings of the earth” have not yet stood afar off, with the “merchants of the earth,” bewailing the fall of great Babylon, brought to nought in one brief “hour” by the mighty preaching of the true loud cry. Yet the light of the fourth angel’s mighty message began to shine in that strange and impressive way in 1888. The only reasonable conclusion is that the light was put out, by human instrumentalities.
(3) When the 1888 message of righteousness by faith, the true “beginning” of the latter rain, is accepted, there will be seen in the remnant church a revival of primitive godliness heretofore unknown. “The enemy of God and man is not willing that this truth should be clearly presented; for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken.” (GW 103, old edition). The only conclusion possible: the message of Christ’s righteousness was not truly received.
(4) The message being of God in a special sense, the authoritative, responsible, and persistent opposition to it constituted a spiritual defeat for the Advent movement; but this defeat must be recognized as a battle in a larger war, and not the losing of the war itself.
Such a view of the matter will require that this generation recognize the facts of the case, and thoroughly rectify the tragic mistake. This can be done, and the living, righteous God will help us.
This has to be good news.
Official correspondence in the Battle Creek archival files corroborates Ellen White’sand Jones' testimony regarding the negative attitude of the most responsible leaders in Battle Creek. A. T. Jones said that “there was a secret antagonism always carried on” (Letter to C. E. Holmes, May 12, 1921).
The letters of the General Conference Secretary, Dan T. Jones, illustrate how this attitude functioned. Although he was deeply prejudiced against the 1888 message and the messengers, a few weeks after Minneapolis the Holy Spirit impressed him with clear evidence that Jones was a true messenger of God. He writes to a friend:
We have had good meetings here … Bro. A. T. Jones has been doing most of the preaching. I wish you could have heard some of his sermons. He seems altogether different from what he did [sic] at Minneapolis. Some of his sermons are as good, I think, as I ever heard. They are all new too. He is original in his preaching and in his practical preaching seems very tender and deeply feels all he says. My estimation of him has raised considerably since I have seen the other side of the man (Letter to J. W. Watt, January 1, 1889).1
But Dan Jones becomes a man convinced against his will. It is phenomenal how good leaders could harden their hearts against what they clearly saw to be “credentials” of the Holy Spirit. We need to understand how this happened, for we today are in grave danger of repeating their history. As Luther said, we are all made of the same dough.
A year later, for some strange reason, Dan Jones has let his heart become hardened against the 1888 messengers, while during this same period Ellen White’s attitude toward them has become increasingly supportive. Here we see a mysterious ferment of the human spirit. As a responsible administrative officer, he writes to the leadership of the Missouri Conference, his home area. He must communicate his mistaken judgment. Here is an underthe-table kind of influence operating, the “secret antagonism” A. T. Jones spoke of:
I think an Institute in Missouri would be a splendid thing; but I believe an institute on a quiet plan will be just as valuable to you as to make a great parade of it and get in … Elder A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. To tell you the truth, I do not have very much confidence in some of their ways of presenting things. They try to drive everything before them, and will not admit that their positions can possibly be subject to the least criticism. … In fact, [they] do not dwell upon any other subjects scarcely than those upon which there is a difference of opinion among our leading brethren. I do not think you want to bring that spirit into the Missouri Conference (Letter to N. W. Alee, January 23, 1890; emphasis supplied).
The 1888 messengers probably never knew why their ministry was not welcome in Missouri.
Dan Jones’ informative letters to G. I. Butler regarding developments at Battle Creek reveal the “antagonism” operating. He encourages Butler in his opposition to the message:
I am glad, indeed, that you are looking at matters from the standpoint that you do, and are not getting discouraged and bowing down under the load that seems to be thrown upon you. … I have often thought of what you said to me last winter that the California fellows [Jones and Waggoner] would be on the editorial staff of the Review in less than two years. I should not be at all surprised if an attempt in that direction was made inside of that many months. But I feel sure that it would meet with very strong opposition (Letter, August 28, 1889).
The “strong opposition” he anticipated erupted like a volcano within his own soul during the following winter of 1890. Waggoner one day announced in his Bible class that on the next Monday morning he would discuss the two covenants. He had been officially invited, even urged, to leave his work in California and teach in Battle Creek. He naturally assumed that he was free to present the gospel as he understood it.
But when Dan Jones heard the news about the two covenants, he could not contain himself. He immediately took steps to stop Waggoner, appealing to Uriah Smith and even to Ellen White for support. He was so deeply stirred by the incident that he wrote about it at considerable length in letters to G. I. Butler, O. A. Olsen, J. D. Pegg, C. H. Jones, R. C. Porter, J. H. Morrison, E. W. Farnsworth, and R. A. Underwood. His letters cannot disguise official antipathy for the message and the messengers, while, of course, professing acceptance of “the doctrine of justification by faith.”
We can be grateful that he was a prolific letter-writer, for he gives valuable insights into the behind-the-scenes attitudes of leadership. He discloses his inner feelings with candor. His continuing heart opposition to the message was evidently a heavy burden to his conscience like Saul’s kicking against the pricks. Concerning this confrontation with Waggoner he writes to Butler:
There has never anything happened in my life that has taken me down like this. I have just felt so thoroughly upset by the whole affair that I have hardly known how to act or what to do. … When I saw what the lessons were [Sabbath School lessons on the covenants, written by Waggoner], I decided at once that I could not teach them; and after studying over the matter some, decided to resign as teacher in the sabbath-school.2 …
I have been worrying and fretting over this thing until it has hurt me worse than a half year’s work (Letter, February 13, 1890).
What a spectacle—the General Conference Secretary “worrying and fretting” over what is in fact the leading of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain!
Dan Jones continues with a remarkable vignette of Battle Creek administration, frankly telling Butler of the official plan to hide the real facts from the students and to “let the matter in as easy as possible, without attracting any more of the attention of the students of the school to the change than was necessary.” This would be politically astute. Waggoner spoiled his plans by telling the open truth, and “let the whole thing out; and all I could do was to say that we had thought best to ask Dr. Waggoner to postpone the covenant question for the present.”
Ellen White, W. C. White, Waggoner and A. T. Jones labored to set matters right before the brethren in Battle Creek, with the result that the truth forced Dan Jones, Uriah Smith, and others unwillingly into a corner. Again, Dan Jones was candid in telling his friends of the discomfiture they had suffered:
This left some of us in rather an embarrassing position. We had been laboring under a misapprehension, and the props were taken out from under us. No one could dispute Dr. Waggoner’s word or Sister White’s word (Letter to Butler, March 27, 1890).
Dan Jones’ humility and honesty are refreshing—almost naive, certainly so, in light of the real truth which he did not realize—that his antipathy was in fact directed toward heaven’s gracious gift of the latter rain and the beginning light of the loud cry. He is dead set against this heaven-sent blessing and cannot avoid letting it be known. He is outstandingly a man convinced against his will and thus of the same opinion still.
Ellen White’s famous March 16 sermon at Battle Creek (Ms. 2, 1890) contains the statement, “There was no reception” of the message, and some dozen references to the continuing unbelief and rejection among the Battle Creek leadership since Minneapolis. Writing one day later, Dan Jones laments his distress:
It seems to me that her position is evidently the correct one, and the principle will apply to other matters with just as much force as it applies to the covenant question, or the law in Galatians. … I was just as certain as I could be that certain plans and purposes were being carried out by Dr. Waggoner and others and that certain motives were behind those plans and purposes; but it now appears that I was altogether mistaken in both. It seems strange how it could be so. Every circumstance seemed to add to the evidence to prove the things true; but, regardless of all this, they have been proven false (Letter to J. D. Pegg, March 17, 1890).
Writing to Butler ten days later, his progress is reluctant, and he still is not clear. He is of the same opinion still regarding the message. As with Uriah Smith, he must blame Jones and Waggoner for creating the misunderstandings. He cannot see them in the light that Ellen White saw them, as the Lord’s “delegated messengers”:
Perhaps we have been mistaken in some of our opinions that we have held. … I do not see now what can be done but to accept the explanations that have been made, and act upon them. … Sister White …thinks reports that were brought to you from the Minneapolis meeting were greatly exaggerated, and that you have not got a correct idea in reference to what was going on there. While I hold the same position on the law in Galatians, and the covenant question that I have always held, I am glad to have my mind relieved in reference to the motive and plans of some of the brethren. … Let us hope that in the future our brethren will not act in such a way as to lay the foundation for unjust judgment on their plans and purposes (Letter, March 27, 1890).
Writing to R. C. Porter a few days later, he discloses how he and Uriah Smith are still not truly reconciled to the 1888 message nor to Ellen White:
Elder Smith … can not understand why … Sister White spoke at one time positively against a certain thing, as she did against the law in Galatians, to Elder [J. H.] Waggoner several years ago, then turn around and practically give her support to the same thing when it comes up in a little different way. … I am trying to think as little about it as possible (Letter, April 1, 1890).3
Two weeks later, Dan Jones is still not sure, and can now bring himself to speak with some derision of what was in fact the leading of the Lord in the beginning of the latter rain. He wants to see Jones and Waggoner whittled down to size, and assures Elder Butler that he and the brethren are still nobly carrying on the fight against them. What Ellen White and history have recognized as “a most precious message” he still considers in the category of “peculiar views” that he hopes never again will be tolerated:
I know it is a little difficult in the face of the circumstancial [sic] evidence that has surrounded this matter for a year and a half, for us to come to the conclusion now that those matters that transpired in Minneapolis were all done in lamb-like innocence. But if Dr. Waggoner says that he did not have any plan when he came there, and Brother Jones says the same, and Sister White sustains them, what can we do but accept it as a fact? … You may think that we have kicked a little up here, and then have been roped in, and swallowed whole. Such is not the case by any means. I consider that we gained every point that we were holding for, and think the other side was glad enough to be let down a little easy; and I was willing that it should be, if they have learned the lessons that we designed they should learn. I feel confident now that Dr. Waggoner will be very cautious about throwing his peculiar views before the people until they have been carefully examined by the leading brethren; and I think the leading brethren will be much more careful in their examinations of these peculiar views than they have been in the past (Letter to Butler, April 14, 1890).
These archives abundantly confirm A. V. Olson’s remark that Jones and Waggoner were persona non grata at the Battle Creek headquarters (op. cit., p. 115). The tension was so sharp that it is easy to understand how Waggoner found himself sent to Britain in early 1892. His handwritten letter to the General Conference president of September 15, 1891, may have exacerbated the situation. He had been appointed a member of the book committee, but his normal participation in its work had somehow been circumvented. His letter is respectful; he makes no personal complaint; his concern is for the good of the cause:
I wish to ask about Elder [G. I.] Butler’s book. I see by the report of the Book Committee that it has been voted that the Review and Herald office publish it. From this I conclude that it must be about ready for publication. If so, as a member of the Book Committee, I would like to see the manuscript. Something over a year ago, I think, I saw a list of the chapters that were to compose the book; and from that, together with what I know of the condition of things in general, I am quite sure that there is good prospect that the book will be as much in need of examination as any other book. If it is put through without examination except by a committee of three, I am sure there will be dissatisfaction. … Certainly every member has the right to examine any manuscript that properly comes before the committee at all.4
Uriah Smith’s opposition to the 1888 message was logical, scholarly, and apparently reasonable. He writes Ellen White on February 17, 1890 explaining why he cannot receive it. He is utterly sincere. It is a humbling experience to read his six-page letter, for he is so convincing that one can exclaim, “There but for the grace of God am I.” It may be as easy for us today to consider the larger gift of the Holy Spirit a disaster as it was for him to do so. He sees the leading of the Lord as a great “calamity.” We can note his arguments only briefly:
As it looks to me, next to the death of Brother White, the greatest calamity that ever befell our cause was when Dr. Waggoner put his articles on the book of Galatians through the Signs. …
If I was on oath at a court of justice, I should be obliged to testify that to the best of my knowledge and belief, … you said that Brother [J. H.] Waggoner was wrong [about the law in Galatians]. That has seemed to me ever since to be according to the Scriptures. And Brother White was so well satisfied on the subject, that, you remember, he withdrew Brother Waggoner’s book from circulation. … The position that Brother [E. J.] Waggoner now takes is open to exactly the same objection. … It seems to me contrary to the Scriptures, and secondly, contrary to what you have previously seen. …
The brethren in California [Jones and Waggoner] … nearly ruined the  Conference, as I feared they would. Had these disturbing questions not been introduced, I can see no reason why we could not have had as pleasant and blessed a Conference there as we have ever enjoyed. …
[E. J. Waggoner] took his position on Galatians, the same which you had condemned in his father. And when you apparently endorsed his position as a whole, … it was a great surprise to many. And when they asked me what that meant, and how I could account for it, really, Sister White, I did not know what to say, and I do not know what yet.
… When views and movements crop out … which … will utterly undermine your work, and shake faith in the message, I can but have some feeling in the matter; and you can imagine that it must seem like a strange situation to me, when, because I venture a word of caution on some of these points, I am held up in public as one who is shooting in the dark, and does not know what he is opposing. I think I do know to some degree what I am opposing. I probably do not know the full extent of this work of innovation and disintegration that is going on; but I see enough to cause me some anxiety. I believe I am willing to receive light at any time, from anybody. But what claims to be light must, for me, show itself to be according to the Scriptures and based on good solid reasons which convince the judgment, before it appears light to me. And when anyone presents something which I have long known and believed, it is impossible for me to call that new light (Letter of Uriah Smith, February 17, 1890).
Could it be that there are many “Uriah Smiths” in the church today, just as sincere and reasonable in their heart opposition to the light that in God’s providence must yet lighten the earth with glory?
It is painful to .look over the shoulders of our Battle Creek brethren of a century ago and read their letters. But it may do us good to realize that some day others will read our letters. And angels will correctly discern our true heart attitude toward the work of God.
A deep heart enmity against the humbling message of Christ’s righteousness made it possible for good brethren long ago to credit ill-founded rumors and distorted reports. Ellen White often compared the situation with the Jews opposing Christ. They too had good logic and well-reasoned arguments on their side. They thought they saw Scriptural evidence that made it impossible for Him to be the true Messiah. Had any prophet ever come out of Galilee? Did any of the leaders at Jerusalem believe on Him? ( John 7:48-52). And His personality also rubbed them the wrong way.
It’s too late now for our brethren of a century ago to dig deep enough into their souls to repent of rejecting the most significant outpouring of the Holy Spirit since Pentecost.
Thank God, it’s not yet too late for us to do so, for we can easily see ourselves in them.
1 Cf. MS. 9, 1888, Through Crisis to Victory, p. 292; MS. 15, 1888; ibid., pp. 297, 300; MS. 13, 1889; RH March 4, 11; August 26, 1890; April 11, 18, 1893; TM 64, 75-80; Special Testimonies, Series A, No. 6, p. 20; Special Testimonies to R&H Office, pp. 16, 17; FE 472. [return to text]
2 Pease makes one brief reference to Ellen White’s November 22, 1892 statement identifying the message as the “beginning” of the loud cry (By Faith Alone, p. 156). But in general he identifies the message as a mere re-emphasis of the popular Protestant “doctrine.” Froom often positively and firmly recognizes the message as the “beginning” of the latter rain and the loud cry, but illogically contradicts himself by maintaining just as firmly that it was the same message as the popular Evangelical revivalists of the time were preaching (Movement of Destiny, pp. 262, 318-325, 345, 561-570, 662, 667). The other writers totally ignore Ellen White’s identification of the message. [return to text]
3 Objective evidence in support of his remarks can be seen in official publications regarding the “two covenants” controversy of 1906-1908. The prevailing view was that of the opposition to the 1888 message. For example, see Signs of the Times, November 13, 1907; January 29, 1908. [return to text]
Additional Notes for Chapter 4:
2 Waggoner’s position which Dan Jones, Uriah Smith and others opposed is presented in his The Glad Tidings (Pacific Press, revised ed., pp. 71-104). The view of his opponents is perpetuated in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary and Bible Dictionary. Ellen White says that she was shown that Waggoner’s position is correct: “Night before last I was shown that evidences in regard to the covenants were clear and convincing. Yourself [Smith], Brother Dan Jones, Brother Porter and others are spending your investigative powers for naught to produce a position on the covenants to vary from the position that Brother Waggoner has presented” (Letter 59, 1890; see also Letter 30, 1890). Dan Jones reports that Waggoner “charged the leading men in the General Conference with having [implicitly] endorsed [D. M.] Canright’s view on the covenants, Brother Smith among the rest,” which of course they denied (Letter to Butler, February 13, 1890). Sad to say, Waggoner was correct; it is still more sad that after nearly a century, his beautiful good news truth on the two covenants has still not met with our acceptance. [return to text]
3 Uriah Smith and Ellen White’s modern critics are mistaken in attributing to her a significant change in her position on the law in Galatians. She urged J. H. Waggoner not to make prominent his view that the law in Galatians is the moral law, but it appears there is no evidence that she said to him what Smith thought she did. Undoubtedly J. H. Waggoner did not grasp the larger heart-warming truths of Galatians as clearly as his son did later. She could not endorse the father’s message as “most precious.”Smith mistakenly relied on a partial fact to condemn the further light that the Lord sent through Waggoner’s son in 1888. [return to text]