The 1893 General Conference session ranks next in importance to that of 1888 in determining how the message was received. The acceptance theory requires this view of the 1893 meeting:
“It was really at the General Conference session in 1893 that light on justification by faith seemed to gain its greatest victory” (Christian, op. cit., p. 241).
We must examine the printed reports of that session in order to understand the nature of that “victory.” According to Ellen White’s later perceptive testimony, the “victory” gained in the end was Satan’s (cf. 1SM 234, 235). The session clearly marked the withdrawal of Heaven’s gift of the latter rain. Developments at that conference are of profound significance to those of us living today.
From the beginning of the institute and session, the message of 1888 was the overwhelming issue of importance. A few months before, the now- famous statement had appeared in the Review of November 22, 1892 that it was the actual “beginning” of the loud cry. That statement was like a bombshell. Several of the speakers could talk of little except that all-important issue. Even some in far-off Australia knew what was happening. A. T. Jones reported:
I received a letter a little while ago from Brother Starr in Australia. I will read two or three sentences because they come in well just at this place in our lessons:
“Sister White says that we have been in the time of the latter rain since the Minneapolis meeting” (GCB 1893, p. 377).
Can we imagine the excitement that prevailed? It was natural that back of the issue of the reception of the 1888 message should loom the blessed thought of the soon coming of Christ. Not since the Midnight Cry of 1844 had such a solemn joy thrilled believing hearts:
Let us thank the Lord that he is dealing with us still, to save us from our errors, to save us from our dangers, to keep us back from wrong courses, and to pour upon us the latter rain, that we may be translated. That is what the message means—translation—to you and me (ibid., p. 185).
They knew the Lord in His mercy would not withdraw the latter rain until giving them a reasonable opportunity to respond. That would require at least a few years after 1888. The following words quoted at the conference express the principle of God’s fairness and patience:
God will prove His people. Jesus bears patiently with them, and does not spew them out of His mouth in a moment. Said the angel, “God is weighing His people.” If the message had been of as short duration as many of us supposed, there would have been no time for them to develop character. Many moved from feeling, not from principle and faith, and this solemn fearful message stirred them. … He gives them time for the excitement to wear off, and then proves them to see if they will obey the counsel of the True Witness (1T 186, 187; GCB 1893, p. 179).
Different speakers sensed that the light would be withdrawn if not acted upon soon. Thus, to trifle with the heavenly offer would mean losing it. A few months before the 1893 Session, Ellen White wrote:
The sin committed in what took place at Minneapolis remains on the record books of heaven, registered against the names of those who resisted light, and it will remain upon the record until full confession is made, and the transgressors stand in full humility before God. … And when these persons are tried, and brought over the ground again, the same spirit will be revealed. When the Lord has sufficiently tried them, if they do not yield to Him, He will withdraw His Holy Spirit (Letter O19, 1892).
At Minneapolis, she had warned that neglect of the light then shining would be tragedy. The problem was not merely the personal salvation of individuals who had rejected the message. The eschatological issue of the latter rain and the loud cry hung over the corporate church body:
Here I want to tell you what a terrible thing it is, if God gives light, and it is impressed on your heart and spirit, … why God will withdraw His Spirit unless His truth is accepted (Ms. 8, 1888, Olson, p. 264).
The brethren assembled at the 1893 meeting were in an atmosphere of expectancy. The meeting seemed charged with solemnity, a realization that a fearful decision was to be forced upon them. Upon their choice would dawn the glad morning, or the return of night. If Satan could “get them to commit themselves on the wrong side, he has laid his plans to lead them on a long journey,” said Ellen White to president Olsen (Letter O19, 1892). Imagine the tension that dominated that meeting:
Now the solemn thought to my mind is that [God] is getting impatient, and will not wait very much longer for you and me. … I cannot get away from the idea that now is a most critical time with us personally. … It seems to me that right now we are making choices that will determine whether we shall go on with this work through the loud cry and be translated, or whether we shall be deceived by the devices of Satan and be left out in darkness. … I have felt that way all through this conference (W. W. Prescott, GCB 1893, p. 386).
A. T. Jones recognized the unprecedented seriousness of the issue at that meeting. Note how his understanding transcended the Calvinist determinism idea of God’s irresistible sovereign will:
He has been trying these four years to have us receive the latter rain, how much longer is He going to wait before we receive it? …
And the fact of the matter is, something is going to be done. … That is the fearfulness of the situation at this meeting; that is what lends to this meeting its fearful character. The danger is that there will be some here who have resisted this for four years, or perhaps who have not resisted it that long, who will now … fail to receive it as the Lord gives it, and will be passed by. A decision will be made by the Lord, by ourselves in fact, at this meeting (ibid., p. 377, emphasis added).
The president of the General Conference, O. A. Olsen, also sensed that a fateful issue confronted the delegates:
This place is becoming more and more solemn on account of the presence of God. I presume that none of us have ever before been in quite such a meeting as we are having at this time. The Lord is certainly coming very near, and is revealing things more and more, things which we have not heretofore so fully appreciated nor understood. …
I felt very solemn last evening. To me the place was terrible on account of God’s nearness, on account of the solemn testimony that was borne to us here. … Some may feel tried over the idea that Minneapolis is referred to. I know that some have felt grieved and tried over any allusion to that meeting, and to the situation there. But let it be borne in mind that the reason why anyone should feel so is an unyielding spirit on his part. … The very idea that one is grieved, shows at once the seed of rebellion in the heart (ibid., p. 188).
There were other statements made between 1888 and 1893 warning that if the light were not received, a specious departure into counterfeit light and apostate ideas would result. The delegates heard the following message from Ellen White:
Unless you watch and keep your garments unspotted from the world, Satan will stand as your captain. … By many the words which the Lord sent will be rejected, and the words that men may speak will be received as light and truth. Human wisdom will lead away from self-denial, from consecration, and will devise many things to tend to make of no effect God’s messages. We cannot with any safety rely on men who are not in close connection with God. They accept the opinions of men, but cannot discern the voice of the True Shepherd (ibid., p. 237).
Less than a year after the Minneapolis Conference had come this word:
Unless divine power is brought into the experience of the people of God, false theories and erroneous ideas will take minds captive, Christ and His righteousness will be dropped out of the experience of many, and their faith will be without power or life (RH September 3, 1889).
Failure to accept the light brought by God’s messengers at Minneapolis would result in the acceptance of false light brought by false messengers. She said:
False ideas that were largely developed at Minneapolis have not been entirely uprooted from some minds. Those who have not made thorough work of repentance under the light God has been pleased to give to His people since that time, will not see things clearly, and will be ready to call the messages God sends, a delusion (GCB 1893, p. 184).
What next? These very ones will accept messages that God has not sent, and thus will become dangerous to the cause of God because they set up false standards. (“To Brethren in Responsible Positions,” ibid., p. 182).
Without doubt, the 1888 message was heavenly manna. We can learn something from the ancient symbolism. If God sets a plate of food before us, we had better eat it right away, because vitally nutritious food spoils more quickly than does devitalized food. There was danger in leaving the 1888 manna “until the morning,” for it would spoil:
I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather the portion of a day in its day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or no. …
And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank (Exodus 16:4, 19, 20).
We are living in times full of importance to each one, light is shining in clear steady rays around us. If this light is rightly received and appreciated, it will be a blessing to us and to others; but if we trust in our own wisdom and strength, or in the wisdom and strength of our fellow men, it will be turned into a poison (TM 385, emphasis added).
Even at Minneapolis itself, the prophet saw this frightful danger. Here is a hint of the eventual tragic failure of the message and the messengers:
Those who have not been sinking the shaft deeper and still deeper into the mine of truth will see no beauty in the precious things presented at this Conference. When the will is once set in stubborn opposition to the light given, it is difficult to yield, even under the convincing evidence which has been in this  conference. …
If we neglect to walk in the light given, it becomes darkness to us; and the darkness is proportionate to the light and privileges which we have not improved (Ms. 8a, 1888; Olson, pp. 279, 280, emphasis added).
Still speaking of the 1888 message and of “God’s messengers,” she said that the enemy of God’s work would employ unsanctified ministers and leaders. She sensed the reality of mortal spiritual conflict:
Unsanctified ministers are arraying themselves against God. … While professedly they receive Christ, they embrace Barabbas, and by their actions say, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” … Satan has made his boast of what he can do. … He says, “I will go forth and be a lying spirit to deceive those that I can.”… Let the son of deceit and false witness be entertained by a church that has had great light, great evidence, and that church will discard the message the Lord has sent, and receive the most unreasonable assertions and false suppositions and false theories. …
Many will stand in our pulpits with the torch of false prophecy in their hands, kindled from the hellish torch of Satan. If doubts and unbelief are cherished, the faithful ministers will be removed from the people who think they know so much (TM 409, 410).
Only a few months before the 1893 Session came this unmistakable word:
The early church was deceived by the enemy of God and man, and apostasy was brought into the ranks of those who professed to love God; and today, unless the people of God awake out of sleep, they will be taken unawares by the devices of Satan. …
The days in which we live are eventful and full of peril. … 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 (RH November 22, 1892).
The enemy would use his skill to “try every device possible,” presenting error in the guise of present truth, so that we would “not be able to discern truth from error.” The delegates would cross a fateful hidden line at the 1893 Session. A few months before it convened, the Lord’s messenger wrote to the General Conference president from her Australian exile:
I wish to plead with our brethren who shall assemble at the General Conference to heed the message given to the Laodiceans. What a condition of blindness is theirs; this subject [the 1888 message] has been brought to your notice again and again; but your dissatisfaction with your spiritual condition has not been deep and painful enough to work a reform. … The guilt of self-deception is upon our churches. The religious life of many is a lie. …
I have deep sorrow of heart because I have seen how readily a word or action of Elder Jones or Elder Waggoner is criticized. … Cease watching your brethren with suspicion. … There are many in the ministry who have no love for God or for their fellow men. They are asleep, and while they sleep, Satan is sowing his tares (Letter O19, 1892).
Various writers have compared the experience of ancient Israel at Kadesh-Barnea to our 1888 history. But it has not been recognized that the 1893 Session is a modern counterpart of Israel’s attempt after Kadesh-Barnea to go up and capture the “promised land.” Israel were under the false excitement and enthusiasm of a superficial repentance, and the modern reenactment is transparently documented in the 1893 Bulletin itself.
Caleb and Joshua brought this message to Israel:
If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey. Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land. … The Lord is with us. … But all the congregation bade stone them with stones (Numbers 14:7-10; compare 5T 383).
Later, after it was evident that the people had truly rebelled, the Lord was forced to decree a return to the wilderness: “And ye shall know the altering of My purpose” (vs. 34, margin). But Israel supposed that their superficial confession (“we have sinned”), and their superficial repentance (“the people mourned greatly”), had secured a reversal of the divine sentence, and that they could now readily conquer their enemies.
In their enthusiasm, they interpreted out of context the previous message of the two faithful spies, “The Lord is with us, fear them not.” The people assumed that this would still be true after a skin-deep repentance left their stubborn rebellion unaffected. Thinking that the Lord was still “with” them, and without contrition, they presumptuously set forth into what they confidently thought would be their “loud cry” experience to conquer Canaan.
Moses tried to dissuade them, telling them that the message Caleb and Joshua gave them before their rebellion was no longer present truth. “Go not up, for the Lord is not among you,” he cried (verse 42).
Israel’s effort was a disaster. Indeed, the Lord was not with them in conquering Canaan. But He would not forsake them. He would still be with them in a program of weary, protracted wilderness wanderings until the entire generation of unbelief had perished. So at last they turned back.
The enthusiasm aroused at the close of the 1893 General Conference session was not the “greatest victory” of the message of Christ’s righteousness that we have supposed. Rather, it was clearly a false excitement without true contrition and repentance. Our history has shown it to have been a failure, for the loud cry did not go forth after that meeting.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is indeed the true modern Israel and the Lord has been with us. He has not forsaken us any more than He forsook His people at Kadesh-Barnea. But He has been with us as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night in decades of weary wilderness wanderings, not in a program of conquering “Canaan” in “loud cry” power. That experience is yet future for the remnant church, rendered so by our own unbelief in the past. God’s purpose has had to be altered.
We must consider the recorded evidence.
A. T. Jones’ twenty-four studies on the “Third Angel’s Message” present no hint that he was bitter, argumentative, censorious, or un-Christian. His style was simplicity itself, and his approach was the essence of brotherly kindness. He never lifted himself above the people as one separate from them. Always he spoke of “our” failures, “our” unbelief, “our” need of the Lord, and often specifically included himself as being the most needy and the most helpless.
We read his sermons seeking in vain for evidence to support our historians' charges that he was “obstreperous,” “gave just cause for resentment,” was an “argumentative . … protagonist,” “critical,” aroused personality “rancors,” was conceited or arrogant, or made “extreme statements” or “mystical pronouncements.”These writers have invented these ideas, or at best have distorted truth. False judgment has been officially published about a humble servant whom the Lord identified as “His messenger.”
His 1893 sermons are reported in the Bulletin verbatim without apparent editing or deletions. A proper reprint issued by the General Conference and the Seminary of a selection of these twenty-four sermons would convince many of our people today that here is the clearest, most simple, heart-warming teaching of “the third angel’s message in verity” that we have heard for a century. The inditing of the Holy Spirit is evident.
In speaking of Minneapolis, he showed a humble mind. He recognized the necessity of speaking of it plainly, but it is difficult to see how anyone could have brought it in more tactfully, more kindly, more lovingly, than he did.
The General Conference secretary, Dan T. Jones, wrote to a friend about him: “His practical preaching seems very tender and [he] deeply feels all he says” (Letter to J. W. Watt, January 1, 1889). In 1890, Ellen White also said that she was pleased with his humble spirit: “Brother Jones talked very plainly, yet tenderly” regarding the 1888 affair (Letter 84, 1890).
Now she has been exiled to Australia and Waggoner to Britain; Jones is left standing virtually alone:
And now we have come … to the study of that part of it that comes right down to you and me as individuals. … To me this lesson and the next one are the most fearful of all that I have been brought to yet. I have not chosen them, and I dread them … but … it is no use for us to … view these things lightly … with our eyes shut, and not knowing what our situation is. …
I ask you now to start with, do not place me up here as one who is separated from you, and above you, and as talking down to you, and excluding myself from the things that may be presented. I am with you in all these things. I, with you, just as certainly, and just as much, need to be prepared to receive what God has to give us, as anybody else on earth. So I beg of you not to separate me from you in this matter. And if you see faults that you have committed, I shall see faults that I have committed, and please do not blame me as though I were judging you, or finding fault with you. … What I want, brethren, is simply to seek God with you, with all the heart (Congregation—“amen”) and to have everything out of the way, that God may give us what He has for us (GCB 1893, pp. 164, 165).
His teachings were clear, with no mystical or extreme slant. If they should seem to be unusual to us today, it is because we have so long been using blunted swords that the naked sword of the Word and of the Spirit may seem especially keen.
His statements regarding works were balanced. It was not until after this session (April 9) that Ellen White found it necessary to caution him against a potential for extreme statements on the subject of faith and works. (And it is after that letter that we find her most enthusiastic endorsements of his messages on faith and works). Note his clarity and balance in 1893:
I say again, that in all cases he who believes in Jesus Christ most fully will work most fully for Him.
Now let us have this word, and that will be the best close I could make to the whole thing tonight. “Steps to Christ,” page 79 [original edition of 1892]: “The heart that rests most fully upon Christ will be the most earnest and active in labor for Him.” Amen. (Congregation:—“Amen.”) … Do not think that the man who says that he rests wholly upon Jesus Christ is either a physical or a spiritual loafer. If he shows this loafing in his life, he is not resting in Christ at all, but on his own self. … That is faith that will bring to you the outpouring of the latter rain (GCB 1893, p. 302; emphasis original).
He was also clear on the relationship of the law to the gospel. That meant he understood true repentance, in refreshing contrast to fatal concepts that are popular today. It is a tragic mistake to assume that superficial confessions result in all our sins being washed away automatically, and that convictions from the Holy Spirit of deeper sin are from the devil and must therefore be repulsed. Note this clear truth:
When sin is pointed out to you, say, “I would rather have Christ than that.” And let it go. (Congregation: “Amen.”) … Then … where is the opportunity for any of us to get discouraged over our sins? Now some of the brethren here have done that very thing. They came here free; but the Spirit of God brought up something they never saw before. The Spirit of God went deeper than it ever went before, and revealed things they never saw before; and then, instead of thanking the Lord that that was so, and letting the whole wicked business go, and thanking the Lord that they had ever so much more of Him than they ever had before, they began to get discouraged. … And they got no good out of the meetings day after day.
If the Lord has brought up sins to us that we never thought of before, that only shows that He is going down to the depths, and He will reach the bottom at last; and when He finds the last thing that is unclean or impure, that is out of harmony with His will, and brings that up, and shows that to us, and we say, “I would rather have the Lord than that”— then the work is complete, and the seal of the living God can be fixed upon that character. …
Which would you rather have, the completeness, the perfect fulness of Jesus Christ, or have less than that, with some of your sins covered up that you never knew of? … So He has got to dig down to the deep places we never dreamed of, because we cannot understand our hearts. … Let Him go on, brethren; let Him keep on His searching work (ibid., p. 404).
Note the speaker’s clear concept that Satan controls the natural mind unless there is a daily crucifixion of self with Christ. “The offence of the cross” was present. One brief illustration of his pointed applications must suffice to show that here was a genuine message, a call to a union with Christ through self being crucified with Him on the cross:
We have the word here that those things are amongst us; ambition for place, jealousy of position, and envy of situation; those things are amongst us. Now the time has come to put them away, …for each one to find how low he can get at the feet of Christ, and not how high in the Conference, or in the estimation of men, or how high in the Conference Committee, or General Conference Committee. … No difference what it costs; that has nothing to do with it (ibid., p. 166).
Bound up with this solemn call to repentance was the repeated assurance of a deep, solid gladness in the Lord. There was no extreme of emotionalism evident, but tears of contrition were shed. It was a solid and genuine work of the Holy Spirit that A. T. Jones presented at that 1893 meeting.
Probably there has never been in our 100 years a more beautiful message presented at a General Conference session, so deeply indited by the Holy Spirit under a hovering pillar of fire and cloud that beckoned onward to eschatalogical fulfillment.
But fanaticism crept in near the close of the session, introduced by someone other than A. T. Jones.