What Ellen White says about the reaction against the 1888 message sounds almost incredible. Could it be that a natural-born unbelief veils our eyes and heart? We humans seem to have difficulty believing “the testimony of Jesus.” What was a defeat we like to call “a glorious victory.” Where we lost our way we assume that we found it.

We must clarify hazy, indistinct impressions to as near pin-point accuracy as possible. Several avenues of heaven’s blessing were blocked by the negative reaction toward the 1888 message. The inhabitants of heaven already realize what “we” did in that history, as follows:

(1) The Holy Spirit Was Insulted

This may sound impossible, for several reasons. It may be difficult for us readily to conceive of the Holy Spirit as a Person who can be insulted or who can feel it and be concerned about it. And it may be even more difficult to conceive how Seventh-day Adventists could do such a thing—certainly not ministers and General Conference leaders. But we must face what the Lord’s messenger has to say. The testimony of Jesus does not gloss over reality:

Now our meeting is drawing to a close and … 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).

There was, I knew, a remarkable blindness upon the minds of many [at Minneapolis], so that they did not discern where the Spirit of God was and what constituted true Christian experience. And to consider that these were the ones who had the guardianship of the flock of God was painful. …

Our brethren who have occupied leading positions in the work and the cause of God should have been so closely connected with the Source of all light that they would not call light darkness and darkness light (Ms. 24, 1888; emphasis added).

The details of this history are precise and clear-cut. There need be no confusion in our thinking regarding intangibles. The reception of the Holy Spirit was implicit in the reception of the message itself. It would be impossible to receive the latter rain gift of the Holy Spirit and not receive the message through which the gift was given. And the good news that we today need to grasp is the corollary of this truth: it is equally impossible to receive the message today and not receive the gift of the Holy Spirit implicit with it. If we have not received the Holy Spirit in the power of the latter rain and the loud cry, this is clear evidence that we have not received the message that the Lord sent to us.

What is important in understanding 1888 is not the negative attitude of a few individuals, a so-called die-hard minority, but the spirit which “controlled” or “prevailed” at the 1888 Conference and thereafter. This is what had a determinative effect on that generation, and has had on every generation since. Ellen White is clear about that “controlling” influence:

I met with the brethren in the tabernacle and I felt it my duty to give a short history of the meeting and my experience at Minneapolis, the course I had pursued and why, and plainly state the spirit which prevailed at that meeting. … I told them of the hard position I was placed in, to stand, as it were, alone and be compelled to reprove the wrong spirit that was a controlling power at that meeting. The suspicion and jealousy, the evil surmising, the resistance of the Spirit of God that was appealing to them, were more after the order in which the reformers had been treated. It was the very order in which the [Methodist] church had treated my father’s family and eight of us. …

I stated that the course that had been pursued at Minneapolis was cruelty to the Spirit of God (Ms. 30, 1889; emphasis supplied).

[The opposing brethren] were moved at the meeting [Minneapolis] 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 the time the Spirit of God was insulted (Letter S24, 1892).

Sins … are lying at the door of many. … The Holy Spirit has been insulted, and light has been rejected (TM 393; 1896).

Some1 have treated the Spirit as an unwelcome guest, refusing to receive the rich gift, refusing to acknowledge it, turning from it, and condemning it as fanaticism (TM 64; 1896).

The idea of insulting the Holy Spirit is more than a passing hyperbole. This tragedy affects us today as surely as the Jews' mistake of long ago affects them today.

A sin that an individual committed long ago as an insult to another person remains as a burden on his or her conscience and affects the character and personality. This can continue even for decades, as long as both individuals live and until repentance and restitution take place.

Likewise, the consciousness of the corporate body of the church, our denominational character and personality, our standing before Heaven, the spirit that permeates our churches, are affected negatively by this vital episode of our history. Our environmental heritage is inescapable. Jeremiah says that “the sin of Judah is … engraved on the tablet of their heart with a point of adamant” (17:1, NEB). And it extends from one generation to another (2:5, 9; 3:24, 25; 14:20). Until repentance takes place, we doom ourselves to repeat the sins of our fathers. Alienation from the Holy Spirit is deeply involved.

The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a mere influence or an ethereal “it.” He can be grieved. This keen concept of the personality of God as the Holy Spirit pervades the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophets were constantly representing God as the disappointed, grieved lover of Israel’s soul.2

The idea is unique to Israel, for no pagan religion had any such concept of a “jealous” divine personality.

The same truth pervades the New Testament, and is also impressively emphasized in Ellen White’s testimonies. However, the idea is generally lacking in modern Catholic and Protestant teaching. A full appreciation of this reality is unique to those who will welcome the Lord at His second coming, for they are corporately represented as a bride who has at last made herself ready for the intimate relationship of marriage (Revelation 19:7-9. The 1900’s “alpha” heresy of pantheism attacked this truth of the personality of the Holy Spirit; the “omega” will doubtless renew that error).

Grieved and insulted, He has a right to retribution. And how can He seek it, consistent with His character of love? His retribution is more poignantly painful to endure than any other, for it will still be the voice of love that speaks:

There will be messages borne; and those who have rejected the message God has sent will hear most startling declarations. … Injured and insulted Deity will speak, proclaiming the sins that have been hidden. As the priests and rulers, full of indignation and terror, sought refuge in flight at the last scene of the cleansing of the temple, so will it be in the work for these last days (Special Testimonies, Series A, No. 7, pp. 54, 55).

The context of this statement is a discussion of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

(2) Jesus Christ Was Spurned and Insulted

This also is difficult for us to see. Again, the personality of the Son of God is at issue. Does He have feelings as we humans do? Can He be grieved? What happened in our 1888 history seems so astonishing that the story would be incredible if it were not clearly told in the writings of Ellen White. Her discernment was inspired.

The meek and lowly Jesus still chooses messengers who are “only men,”who are like “a root out of a dry ground.” He condescended to identify Himself with the 1888 messengers and was grieved and insulted when the “heavenly credentials” He gave them were despised:

Here was evidence, that all might discern whom the Lord recognized as His servants. … These men whom you have spoken against have been as signs in the world, as witnesses for God. … If you reject Christ’s delegated messengers, you reject Christ (TM 97; 1896).

To accuse and criticize those whom God is using is to accuse and criticize the Lord who sent them. …

With many the cry of the heart has been, “We will not have this man [Christ] to reign over us.” … The true religion, the only religion of the Bible, that teaches forgiveness only through the merits of a crucified and risen Saviour, that advocates righteousness by the faith of the Son of God, has been slighted, spoken against, ridiculed, and rejected (TM 466-468).

The present message … is a message from God; it bears the divine credentials, for its fruit is unto holiness (RH September 3, 1889).

This message as it has been presented [by Jones and Waggoner] should go to every church that claims to believe the truth, and bring our people up to a higher standpoint. … We want to see who have presented to the world the heavenly credentials (ibid., March 18, 1890).

But even in modern times, our esteemed church historian casts contempt upon the messenger, if not upon the message itself:

As we look back on the controversy we perceive that it was the rancors aroused by personalities, much more than the differences in beliefs, which caused the difficulty. The party of Butler, Smith and Morrison believed in the theory of justification by faith. … The party of Waggoner and Jones believed in the performance of good works; but . … bore almost exclusively upon faith as the factor in salvation. Minds which could calmly reason could harmonize these views, but neither side was disposed to consider the other side calmly (Spalding, Captains of the Host, p. 599).

A more accurate assessment would be that the 1888 messengers “bore almost exclusively” on a “faith which works by love” precisely as Paul preached it (Galatians 5:6). That message with “divine credentials” was not a compromising mixture of legalism and gospel. They did most emphatically proclaim righteousness by faith alone—but it was New Testament faith which demonstrates its built-in motivating power for true obedience to all the commandments of God (TM 92).

Did those messengers who were declared to represent our Lord “arouse” the “rancors” that made Heaven turn from the scene with shame? Would the Lord grant “heavenly credentials” to messengers who were not disposed to “calmly reason”? Ellen White, for sure, could never recognize “precious light” in unsanctified “shouting” or the unreasonable “extreme teaching” that our author attributes to them (Spalding, op. cit., pp. 593, 601).

Back of the shameful scene at Minneapolis, and back of the confusing shadows caused by our unbelief today, stands the Figure who was the Rock of offence and the Stone of stumbling at that fateful meeting. We come face to face with reality:

Men professing godliness have despised Christ in the person of His messengers. Like the Jews, they reject God’s message. … He was not the Christ that the Jews had looked for. So today the agencies that God sends are not what men have looked for (FCE 472; 1897).

Christ has registered all the hard, proud, sneering speeches spoken against His servants as against Himself (RH May 27, 1890).

The true Christ has always been misapprehended. As often expected, He has as often been rejected. But modern Israel must overcome at last all past failures of ancient Israel. This will take place, for we are living in the time of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. This is a special end-time work of overcoming that has never been completed in the past.

Flesh and blood can never reveal to us the true credentials of the “root out of a dry ground” that may stand before us. The story of 1888 teaches us that the ancient Jews will have to make room in history for us to kneel down beside them:

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 today (RH April 11, 1893).

The issue of 1888 was not how much “emphasis” to place on the preaching of this “doctrine” in relation to our other “peculiar” doctrines. The real issue was, “What think ye of Christ?” It is futile for us today to talk of establishing a right “relationship with Christ” unless we face this reality of 1888.

In order to bolster our confidence that we do not need repentance, we have produced Seminary theses “to inquire what place the teaching of justification and righteousness by faith has been accorded alongside the distinctive tenets” of the church. Graphs have been made counting the number of times the words “righteousness,” “justification,” “faith,” “salvation,” “Saviour,” and “law” have appeared in our Sabbath School Quarterlies, “to prove that Seventh-day Adventists have not slighted the emphasis on salvation through Christ.” Can computers now measure our faithfulness and prove that the True Witness is wrong? If mere verbiage is the criterion, Roman Catholicism must be the most Christ-centered teaching in the world. While the Son of God continues to suffer, must we cast lots in various inquiries to see how to divide His vesture, this “doctrine or tenet of righteousness by faith alongside the distinctive tenets of the church”? The righteousness of Christ is vastly more than a mere verbal repetition.

The grandest eschatalogical opportunity of the ages was rejected in our 1888 era. What was despised was an intimate heart reconciliation with Christ such as a bride feels for her bridegroom. But verbiage and cold doctrine have been substituted for it.

Dry homilies that split hairs between imputed and imparted righteousness, justification and sanctification, expiation and propitiation, have made “righteousness by faith” become nauseating to many. The same trouble prevailed soon after 1888. Ellen White discusses the efforts of those whose hearts opposed the message:

Many commit the error of trying to define minutely the fine points of distinction between justification and sanctification. Into the definitions of these two terms they often bring their own ideas and speculations. Why try to be more minute than is Inspiration on the vital question of righteousness by faith? Why try to work out every minute point, as if the salvation of the soul depended upon all having exactly your understanding of this matter? (Diary, February 27, 1891).

May we come to see how the living, loving Christ was insulted at Minneapolis, and not the cold doctrine that was misunderstood! We distrusted those swellings of the heart which were His drawings, and cast contempt upon Him who was drawing us by terming His tenderness “fanaticism.” The tears that started to flow from the mysterious attraction of the uplifted cross drew from us zealous declaiming “against enthusiasm and fanaticism” (TM 80, 81).

Jesus knows our human nature, for He Himself partakes of it still. He is a Person. He too knows self-respect. He came very near to us in 1888. “Not a soul of us dreams of what might have been” in the sweet days that would have followed had we walked with Him in Heaven’s glorious light. We often speak of 1844 as “the Great Disappointment.” But 1888 was His disappointment, for we can read of how He loved us. That intimacy of love we would not have. Why should we marvel if He did not force it upon us?

We were told at Minneapolis itself:

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. … Let the love of Christ reign in hearts here. … When the Spirit of God comes in, love will take the place of variance, because Jesus is love; if His Spirit were cherished here, our meeting would be like a stream in the desert (Ms. 15, 1888; Olson, pp. 300, 301).

No more tender calls, no better opportunities could be given them in order that they might do that which they ought to have done at Minneapolis. … No one can tell how much may be at stake when neglecting to comply with the call of the Spirit of God. The time will come when they will be willing to do anything and everything possible in order to have a chance of hearing the call which they rejected at Minneapolis. … Better opportunities will never come, deeper feelings they will not have (Letter O19, 1892).

Again the testimony of Ellen White stretches our faith. But we must understand reality. Human hearts trifled with the tender love of One who gave His blood for us. Finally, on the part of “many” in leadership, the trifling changed to what Ellen White sadly was forced to call “hatred.” Seven years after Minneapolis she said to those “many”:

You have turned your back, and not your face, to the Lord. … The Spirit of God is departing from many among His people. Many have entered into dark, secret paths, and some will never return. … They have not only refused to accept the message, but they have hated the light. … They are doing despite to His Holy Spirit (TM 89-91; 1895).

Heaven was “indignant” (TM 76). There is an intimacy of divine personal grief involved here that is unique in modern religious history, perhaps in all time. We are reminded of the heart cries of Jeremiah and Hosea of old. Ellen White said at Minneapolis: “If you only knew how Christ has regarded your religious attitude at this meeting” (Ms. 8a, 1888; Olson, p. 281). Four years later, “There is sadness in heaven over the spiritual blindness of many of our brethren” (RH July 26, 1892).

Speaking of “those who resisted the Spirit of God at Minneapolis,” she said:

All the universe of heaven witnessed the disgraceful treatment of Jesus Christ, represented by the Holy Spirit. Had Christ been before them, they would have treated Him in a manner similar to that in which the Jews treated Christ (Special Testimonies, Series A. No. 6, p. 20).

The scenes which took place at that meeting [Minneapolis] made the God of heaven ashamed to call those who took part in them His brethren. All this the heavenly Watcher noticed, and it was written in the book of God’s remembrance (Special Testimony to the Review and Herald Office, 1896, pp. 16, 17).

These are sad words to record, but we cannot be honest and refuse to face their full implications. What “the heavenly Watcher noticed” must also be “written in the book of [our] remembrance.” We can see ourselves in those dear brethren of a century ago, for “there, but for the grace of God, am I.”

(3) Ellen White’s Ministry Was Disparaged

The attitude of leadership to Ellen White’s support of the 1888 message was similar to that of ancient Israel and Judah to prophets such as Elijah and Jeremiah. Note her frank remarks shortly after the Minneapolis conference:

I have not had a very easy time since I left the Pacific Coast. Our first meeting was not like any other General Conference I ever attended. … My testimony was ignored, and never in my life experience was I treated as at the [1888] conference (Letter 7, December 9, 1888).

Brethren, you are urging me to come to your camp meetings. I must tell you plainly that the course pursued toward me and my work since the Gen. Conf. at Minneapolis—your resistance of the light and warnings that God has given through me—has made my labor fifty times harder than it would otherwise have been. … It seems to me that you have cast aside the word of the Lord as unworthy of your notice. … My experience since the conference at Minneapolis has not been very assuring. I have asked the Lord for wisdom daily, and that I may not be utterly disheartened, and go down to the grave brokenhearted as did my husband (Letter 1, 1890).

These were not the words of a woman who was overwrought emotionally. She had good reason for her feelings:

I related in the Thursday morning meeting [at Ottawa, Kansas] some things in reference to the Minneapolis meeting. …

God gave me meat in due season for the people, but they refused it for it did not come in just the way and manner they wanted it to come. Elders Jones and Waggoner presented precious light to the people, but prejudice and unbelief, jealousy and evil-surmising barred the door of their hearts that nothing from this source should find entrance to their hearts. …

Thus it was in the betrayal, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, all this had passed before me point by point and the Satanic spirit took the control and moved with power upon the human hearts, that had been opened to doubts and to bitterness, wrath and hatred. All this was prevailing at that meeting [at Minneapolis]. …

I was conducted to the house where our brethren made their homes, and there was much conversation and excitement of feelings and some smart, and as they supposed sharp, witty remarks. The servants whom the Lord sent were caricatured, ridiculed, and placed in a ridiculous light. The comment …passed upon me and the work that God had given me to do was anything but flattering. Willie White’s name was handled freely and he was ridiculed and denounced, also the names of Elders Jones and Waggoner (Letter 14, 1889; emphasis added).

Voices that I was surprised to hear were joining in this rebellion, … hard, bold and decided in denouncing [Sister White]. And of all those so free and forward with their cruel words, not one had come to me and inquired if these reports and their suppositions were true. … After hearing what I did my heart sank within me. I had never pictured before my mind what dependence we might place in those who claim to be friends, when the spirit of Satan finds entrance to their hearts. I thought of the future crisis, and feelings that I can never put into words for a little time overcame me. … “The brother shall betray the brother to death” (idem).

It would not be fair to characterize Ellen White’s heart reaction to this as “emotional,” or that of Jones and Waggoner. But all three were human beings with hearts that could be wounded. All three felt pain and grief, as did the ancient prophets. Ellen White in particular sensed keenly the premonitions of the final persecution of the saints. She actually used the word “persecution” to describe the heart attitude of leading brethren toward the 1888 messengers (GCB 1893, p. 184).

On the other hand, it was a puzzle to the sincere brethren of that era how she could support two apparently faulty young men against the calm, stolid judgment of nearly all the established leaders and ministers. If “balance” was needed, why did she support the apparently unbalanced? Why did she liken the brethren’s reaction against Jones' and Waggoner’s message to the Jews' reaction against Christ?

The 1888 opposition was composed of good, sincere, self-sacrificing, hard-working ministers. Their concern for the progress of the church was genuine. It was their fear that this beautiful vision of Christ’s righteousness would lead to fanaticism. But this fear calcified human hearts. There seems only one way to understand this mysterious reaction. A careful study of Ellen White’s numerous statements indicates that it was the revelation of the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of Christ’s love (agape ) that our dear, hardworking brethren were instinctively opposing. The love revealed at the cross “constraineth us” so that believers henceforth find it impossible to go on living for self (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15). The profound truth seems to be that this kind of devotion to Christ, this closer intimacy with Him, was unwelcome:

Here was evidence, that all might discern whom the Lord recognized as His servants. But there are those who despised the men and the message they bore. They have taunted them with being fanatics, extremists, and enthusiasts (TM 97; 1896).

These men [the opposition] have been holding positions of trust, and have been moulding the work after their own similitude, as far as they possibly could … They have been zealously declaiming against enthusiasm and fanaticism. Faith … that God has enjoined upon His people to exercise, is called fanaticism. But if there is anything upon the earth that should inspire men with sanctified zeal, it is the truth as it is in Jesus, … Christ, made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

… If there is anything in our world that should inspire enthusiasm, it is the cross of Calvary (ibid., pp 80, 81; 1895).

Thus we are brought to the foot of Christ’s cross. Here is the mysterious continental divide in Adventism where faith and unbelief go their separate ways. Of all human beings, the gospel minister or administrator faces the most subtle temptation to indulge a disguised love of self. Unless he surveys that wondrous cross and casts contempt on all his professional and personal pride, he will unconsciously resist the agape revealed there. John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress saw hard by the very gate of heaven there is a path that leads to hell.

Ellen White did not consider Jones' or Waggoner’s presentations to be either extreme or radical, but tried to reason with the brethren who thought they were. Widely published statements such as the following perpetuate a myth:

Mrs. White [did not] endorse the ideas advanced by Elder Waggoner concerning Galatians. … She even seemed to have a feeling that the two men who were so prominent at that time might later on be carried away by their extreme views of certain points. (Christian, op. cit., p. 232.)

Her remarks were not directed against any “extreme views” Waggoner had. Instead of charging him with being radical or extreme, she intimates that some of his views were immature—there was not “perfection.”In God’s plan, this immaturity was to be overcome by faithful, earnest “digging in the mines of God for the precious ore.” The light that shone in 1888 was only the “beginning” of the light which was to lighten the earth with glory.3

Such glorious light began to shine through imperfect but divinely chosen channels.

A Glorious Treasure Hunt Despised

It was not God’s plan that one or two young men should do all the digging. Other more mature minds should go on with it, willing to receive “every ray of light that God shall send …though it should come through the humblest of His servants” (Ms. 15, 1888). Within their lifetime the everlasting gospel should unfold in a mature and complete whole, ready to lighten the earth with the glory of truth.

If this was God’s purpose, it would be necessary that the views of both Waggoner and Jones should not be perfect or mature at this early stage of development. They were merely to challenge their brethren to the greatest treasure hunt of the ages. The very imperfections and immaturity of their views would rally the hearty cooperation of their brethren. Had the two young men seen all the light in its perfection, where would have been the joy of their brethren in the sheer delight of discovery? God, in His infinite mercy, would share it among them.

It was this gracious privilege that the brethren scorned, taunting the pioneer miners of hidden veins of truth with being “fanatics” and “extremists.” To suggest that the messengers even at Minneapolis were unstable, in danger of being “carried away” with their “extreme views,” casts an unjustified aspersion on Ellen White herself. Would she not be naive if she endorsed young messengers so untrustworthy?4

She almost recklessly risked her reputation on enthusiastic and persistent support of their message. Could the Lord choose messengers so unstable? Would He endow them with a message so potentially self-destructive? Is it dangerous to yield to be the Lord’s messenger? Surely God’s mercy is greater than to endow His servants with self-destruct messages!

We must note briefly how in several General Conference assemblies speakers have openly recognized that the anti-1888 spirit included virtual defiance of Ellen White’s ministry:

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.

Brethren, isn’t that too bad? Of course the brethren did not know they were doing this, but the Spirit of the Lord was there to tell them they were doing it, was it not? But when they were rejecting the loud cry, “the teaching of righteousness,” and then the Spirit of the Lord, by his prophet, stood there and told us what they were doing,—what then? Oh, then they simply set this prophet aside with all the rest (A. T. Jones, GCB 1893, p. 183; emphasis supplied).

No one in the Session congregation challenged him, for all knew that what he said was true. At the 1986 Annual Council in Rio de Janeiro, Robert W. Olson of the White Estate also stated that in the 1888 session Ellen White was “publicly defied” (Adventist Review, October 30, 1986). In 1889, she said:

Elder Butler presented the matter before me in a letter stating that my attitude at that Conference [1888] just about broke the hearts of some of our ministering brethren at that meeting. …

Since some of my brethren hold me in the light they do, that my judgment is of no more value than that of any other, or of one who has not been called to this special work, and that I am subject to the influence of my son Willie, or of some others, why do you send for Sister White to attend your camp meetings or special meetings? I cannot come. I could not do you any good, and it would only be trifling with the sacred responsibilities the Lord has laid upon me. …

To have these words distorted, misapprehended by unbelievers, I expect, and it is no surprise to me; but to have my brethren who are acquainted with my mission and my work, trifle with the message that God gives me to bear, grieves His Spirit and is discouraging to me. …

My way is hedged up by my brethren (Letter U-3, 1889).

Of course, not all the brethren opposed her so. But open support for her was inconspicuous. The Lord’s humble messenger realized at Minneapolis what was happening. The larger blessings of the latter rain caused former friends to change their attitude from positive to negative:

God did not raise me up to come across the plains to speak to you and you sit here to question His message and question whether Sister White is the same as she used to be in years gone by. … Then you acknowledged that Sister White was right. But somehow it has changed now, and Sister White is different. Just like the Jewish nation (Ms. 9, 1888; Olson, p. 292).

In 1893 she said,

“The office of a messenger whom God has chosen to send with reproofs and warnings is strangely misunderstood at the present time” (RH July 18, 1893).

(4) Ellen White’s Exile to Australia

So determined was the post-1888 opposition to Ellen White that the General Conference virtually exiled her to Australia. While it is true that the Lord overruled her sojourn there for the good of His cause in that continent, it was never His will that she go at that time. She says that the Lord wanted the inspired trio to stay together in America and to fight the battle through to victory. Her own writings indicate that the leading brethren wanted both Ellen White and Waggoner out of the way.

It is well known that Mrs. White went only because the General Conference appointed her to go (a laudable example of cooperation with the church leadership!). In 1896 she wrote very frankly to the General Conference president:

The Lord was not in our leaving America. He did not reveal that it was His will that I should leave Battle Creek. The Lord did not plan this, but He let you all move after your own imaginings. The Lord would have had W. C. White, his mother, and her workers remain in America. We were needed at the heart of the work, and had your spiritual perception discerned the true situation, you would never have consented to the movement made. But the Lord reads the hearts of all. There was so great a willingness to have us leave, that the Lord permitted this thing to take place. Those who were weary of the testimonies borne were left without the persons who bore them. Our separation from Battle Creek was to let men have their own will and way, which they thought superior to the way of the Lord.

The result is before you Had you stood in the right position the move would not have been made at that time. The Lord would have worked for Australia by other means, and a strong influence would have been held at Battle Creek, the great heart of the work.

There we should have stood shoulder to shoulder, creating a healthful atmosphere to be felt in all our conferences. It was not the Lord who devised this matter. I could not get one ray of light to leave America. But when the Lord presented this matter to me as it really was, I opened my lips to no one, because I knew that no one would discern the matter in all its bearings. When we left, relief was felt by many, but not so much by yourself, and the Lord was displeased, for He had set us to stand at the wheels of the moving machinery at Battle Creek.

This is the reason I have written you. Elder Olsen had not the perception, the courage, the force, to carry the responsibilities; nor was there any other man prepared to do the work the Lord had purposed we should do. I write you, Elder Olsen, telling you that it was God’s desire that we should stand side by side with you, to counsel you, to advise you, to move with you. … You were not discerning; you were willing to have the strong experience and knowledge that comes from no human source removed from you, and thus you revealed that the Lord’s ways were miscalculated and overlooked. … This counsel was not considered a necessity.

That the people of Battle Creek should feel that they could have us leave at the time we did, was the result of man’s devising, and not the Lord’s. … The Lord designed that we should be near the publishing houses, that we should have easy access to these institutions that we might counsel together. … O how terrible it is to treat the Lord with dissimulation and neglect, to scorn His counsel with pride because man’s wisdom seems so much superior (Letter to O. A. Olsen, 127, 1896).

Those who say that the 1888 message was accepted by the leadership of the church may interpret Ellen White’s years in Australia as General Conference cooperation with the Holy Spirit. It is true that she was able to write good letters back home. But depriving North America of her personal ministry at this critical time ensured “in a great measure” the eventual defeat of the beginning loud cry message.

E. J. Waggoner suffered a similar exile in being sent to England in the spring of 1892. There is evidence also that it was not pure missionary zeal that sent him. Ellen White was now gone; the second member of the special trio must also leave. We note the following in Gilbert M. Valentine’sdoctoral thesis on W. W. Prescott:

According to W. C. White, Mrs. White, who apparently still had memories of the injustices of the post-1888 period, stated that it had been shown to her “that whereas some of our people were well pleased to have him [E. J. Waggoner] removed from the work at Battle Creek by his appointment to work in England,” he should be brought back “to assist as a teacher at the heart of our work” (W. C. White to A. G. Daniells, May 30, 1902; William Warren Prescott: Seventh-day Adventist Educator, Vol. 1, p. 289).

A year before Ellen White went to Australia she poured out her heart in a letter to J. S. Washburn, a young minister. Here, like Jeremiah, she writes almost in despair. She vividly describes the prevailing climate at the headquarters in Battle Creek:

I attend meetings in the small churches but feel that I have no strength to labor with the church who have had my testimony so abundantly, and yet those who have set themselves against my message, and have not been moved to change their position of resistance notwithstanding all the Lord has given me to say in demonstration of the Spirit and power, I have no hope could be helped by anything I should say further. They have resisted the appeals of the Spirit of God. I have no hope that the Lord has a reserve power to break down their resistance. I leave them in the hands of God, and unless the Lord places upon me a decided burden to speak words in the Tabernacle [at Battle Creek] I shall not attempt to say anything until those who have acted a part to hedge up my way shall clear my path. … I have not strength to contend with the spirit, and resistance, doubts and unbelief which have barricaded their souls, that they could not see when good cometh. I have far greater liberty in speaking to unbelievers. They are interested. …

Oh, it is the hardest place in the world, to speak where great light has come, to men in responsible positions. They have been enlightened, but have chosen darkness rather than light. …

You may depend I have great sorrow of heart. … What will be the end of this stubborn unbelief we have yet to learn (Letter W32, 1890).

Do the 1890’s Have a Message for the 1990’s?

Ellen White’s ministry to the Seventh-day Adventist Church frequently exhibits this Jeremiah-like quality. The ancient prophet’s message is present truth. The 1888 episode is a parable, and God will test us again.

Because the facts of our 1888 history have been so widely garbled, our contemporary attitude is still unappreciative of Jones and Waggoner’s work. We still are suspicious lest their message may lead to fanaticism. We still falsely assume that it carried the two messengers away into apostasy. As long as we think thus, should the Lord send any more pearls of truth to be cast before us, we would be obliged to react to such a message as did the opposition of the 1888 era.

We today inherit no genetic guilt of our forefathers who rejected the grandest opportunity of the ages, the beginning of the latter rain and the loud cry; but we are their spiritual descendants. Holy Scripture teaches no genetic transmission of sin, “original” or otherwise, from generation to generation. But there is a transmission of sin which is not genetic. “By one man sin entered into the world.” “Sin abounded” and “hath reigned unto death.” “All the world [has] become guilty before God” (Romans 5:12, 20, 21; 3:19). This mysterious transmission of sin is clarified for us in the following statement:

At its very source human nature was corrupted. And ever since then sin has continued its hateful work, reaching from mind to mind. Every sin committed awakens the echoes of the original sin. …

Mutual dependence is a wonderful thing. Reciprocal influence should be carefully studied. …

Every generation takes up some phase of evil in advance of the one which preceded it, moving onward in the march of impenitence and rebellion. God is looking on, measuring the temple and the worshipers therein. …

No man liveth to himself. Consciously or unconsciously he is influencing others, either for good or evil. … Is it not time that a people stood forth in moral independence, cherishing at the same time a sense of their dependence on God? …

The Lord has sent to our world a message of warning, even the Third Angel’s Message. All heaven is waiting to hear us vindicate God’s law (RH, April 16, 1901).

We have more light than had our forefathers, hence we have greater responsibilities. The heart alienation from Christ that caused the rejection of the 1888 message is today far more subtle, more sophisticated, more deeply buried beyond our consciousness. But it is no less real. Only the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit will make it manifest. The time must come at last for each of us when “the cross will be presented, and its real bearing will be seen by every mind that has been blinded by transgression. Before the vision of Calvary with its mysterious Victim, sinners will stand condemned” (DA 58). Would it not be a blessing if we could see that cross today before it is too late?

The Holy Spirit enables the sincere believer to see himself or herself reflected in Bible characters of long ago. He can likewise enable us to see ourselves in our forefathers of a century ago. We are innately no better than they. The Holy Spirit can heal us of the blindness that permits us to see evil if it is sufficiently farfetched and distant in the past while we fail to recognize it under our very nose. God’s word has been true from the very beginning:

Without the enlightenment of the Spirit of God, we shall not be able to discern truth from error, and shall fall under the masterful temptations and deceptions that Satan will bring upon the world.

We are near the close of the controversy between the Prince of light and the prince of darkness, and soon the delusions of the enemy will try our faith, of what sort it is (RH November 29, 1892).


To realize the truth that our forefathers insulted the true Christ and the true Holy Spirit is not itself bad news. And to unveil the reality of deep-seated resistance of “the testimony of Jesus” is a blessing. In no other way than facing truth can we prepare for future tests. The truth is positive, upbeat, encouraging.

The good news is that Heaven has all along been more willing to grant the final outpouring of God’s Spirit than we have thought. It’s only our continued resistance, often unconscious, that has hindered the Gift now for nearly a century, despite our prayers for it.

To face the truth honestly has to be a source of joy. The stability and progress of the organized church can only be blessed by it.


1 Never does Ellen White say that the “some” who opposed were “few,” nor does she say that those who accepted were “many.” Without known exception, those who rejected the message were “many” and those who accepted were “few.” [return to text]

2 See for example, 1 Samuel 8:7; 12:6-12; Isaiah 50:1; 54:5-17; 61:10; 63:9-14; Jeremah 31:1-9; Ezekiel 16; Hosea, passim. [return to text]

3 Incidentally, although Ellen White took no firm stand on the “law in Galatians” in 1888, by 1896 she was ready to take a stand. Waggoner had been right all along! “The law in Galatians [is] . . . especially . . . . the moral law” (1 SM 234, 235). [return to text]

4 See Appendix for a discussion of the charge that Jones was teaching the error of “holy flesh” and perfectionism as early as a few months after the 1888 conference. [return to text]