The authors hold the firm conviction that God has entrusted to Seventh-day Adventists His last message of more abounding grace for humanity. This message must supply a final cure for the problem of sin, demonstrate righteousness in believing humanity, and vindicate the sacrifice of Christ. Nothing can enter the kingdom of heaven “that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie.”
The authors also believe that the Saviour has an immeasurable longing for His people to prepare the way for His return. The message the Lord sent this people in 1888 was intended to complete His work of grace in human hearts so that the great controversy could be brought to an end. But something went wrong a century ago. The Lord's plan was frustrated and delayed. What happened? Why this long delay?
The beacon lights of a century ago have grown dim and in many cases have flickered and gone out. The hallmarks of Adventism have become tarnished. Our people have not verbally abandoned confidence in the second coming of Christ, but the expectation of His near return has faded. Many are bewildered and confused. The present world entices to fashion, amusements, and me-first luxury.
Even in enlightened Seventh-day Adventist communities with a rich historical heritage, divorce has become almost epidemic. Social drinking is a problem in our colleges and universities and in too many of our homes. Most Seventh-day Adventists in North America have no clear concept of a heavenly Day of Atonement or of our unique duty of temperance and self-control in relation to it. It is amazing that in a time of exploding human knowledge, we as a people generally still have only a vague concept of what Christ is doing as High Priest in this final Day of Atonement, and scant sympathy with His aims. And what we do not understand we cannot communicate to the world.
It is well known that a large proportion of our youth lack clear-cut convictions of Seventh-day Adventist identity. A series in the Adventist Review of June 1986 recognizes a new phenomenon: Adventist youth are joining Sunday-keeping churches (see chapter 13 of this book).
Off-shoots and independent ministries proliferate. Financial scandals and heresies supply grist for the mills of the critics. Serious questions are raised about whether the Seventh-day Adventist church is destined to become another segment of Babylon.
The “most precious message” the Lord “sent” this people nearly a century ago contains the “beginning” of the solution to all these problems. It was a message of much more abounding grace. Our increasing perplexities are the direct result, the certain harvest, of an unbelief, past and current, of that 1888 message. When truth is refused, error always rushes in to fill the vacuum. But no problem is too great to be rectified through repentance.
Without further delay the world church must know the full story of our century-old confrontation with Christ. Ellen White often likened our 1888 default to the Jews' rejection of Him two millennia ago. This book will re-examine her letters and manuscripts as well as published statements. She must be allowed to speak frankly without inhibition. When the full truth is comprehended, whether these authors can tell it clearly enough or whether other authors yet to come must succeed better, repentance and reformation will take place and a people will be prepared for the coming of the Lord. The Laodicean message will not fail, but will result in healing and restoration. Ellen White's confidence is neatly summed up in a brief word written by her son shortly before her death: “I told Mrs. Lida Scott how Mother regarded the experience of the remnant church, and of her positive teaching that God would not permit this denomination to so fully apostatize that there would be the coming out of another church” (Letter, May 23, 1915). This statement implies that there would indeed be very serious apostasy—but the Lord would not permit it to become total. Until her death she cherished the conviction that denominational repentance would eventually come.
This book is not intended to reproduce the message itself. Several other works prepared by the authors attempt to do this.1 But for those who do not have access to these publications or to original sources, we list in very brief form a resume of the unique, essential elements of that message. Readers will recognize that these concepts are in contrast to ideas generally (or officially) held by our people today (documentation is available in the books cited in the footnote):1
(1) Christ's sacrifice is not merely provisional but effective for the whole world, so that the only reason anybody can be lost is that he has chosen to resist the saving grace of God. For those who are saved at last, it is God who has taken the initiative; in the case of those who are lost, it is they who took the initiative. Salvation is by faith; condemnation is by unbelief.
(2) Thus Christ's sacrifice has legally justified “every man,” and has literally saved the world from premature destruction. All men owe even their physical life to Him, whether or not they believe. Every loaf of bread is stamped with His cross. When the sinner hears and believes the pure gospel, he is justified by faith. The lost deliberately negate the justification Christ has already effected for them.
(3) Justification by faith is therefore much more than a legal declaration of acquittal; it changes the heart. The sinner has now received the atonement, which is reconciliation with God. Since it is impossible to be truly reconciled to Him and not also be reconciled to His holy law, it follows that true justification by faith makes the believer to become obedient to all the commandments of God.
(4) This marvelous work is accomplished through the ministry of the new covenant wherein the Lord actually writes His law in the heart of the believer. Obedience is loved, and the new motivation transcends fear of being lost or hope of reward in being saved (either of those motivations is what Paul means by his phrase, “under the law”). The old and new covenants are not matters of time but of condition. Abraham's faith enabled him to live under the new covenant, while multitudes of Christians today live under the old covenant because self-centered concern is their motivation. The old covenant was the promise of the people to be faithful; under the new covenant salvation comes by believing God's promises to us, not by our making promises to Him.
(5) God's love is active, not merely passive. As Good Shepherd, Christ is actively seeking the lost sheep. Our salvation does not depend on our seeking the Saviour but on our believing that He is seeking us. Those who are lost at last continue to resist and despise the drawing of His love. This is the essence of unbelief.
(6) Thus it is difficult to be lost and it is easy to be saved if one understands and believes how good the good news is. Sin is a constant resisting of His grace. Since Christ has already paid the penalty for every man's sin, the only reason anyone can be condemned at last is continued unbelief, a refusal to appreciate the redemption achieved by Christ on His cross and ministered by Him as High Priest. The true gospel unveils this unbelief and leads to an effective repentance that prepares the believer for the return of Christ. Human pride and praise and flattery of human beings is inconsistent with true faith in Christ but is a sure sign of prevailing unbelief, even within the church.
(7) In seeking lost mankind, Christ came all the way, taking upon Himself and assuming the fallen, sinful nature of man after the fall. This He did that He might be tempted in all points like as we are, yet demonstrate perfect righteousness “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” The 1888 message accepts “likeness” to mean what it says, not unlikeness. Righteousness is a word never applied to Adam in his unfallen state, nor to sinless angels. It can only connote a holiness that has come into conflict with sin in fallen human flesh, and triumphed over it.
Thus “the message of Christ's righteousness” that Ellen White endorsed so enthusiastically in the 1888 era is rooted in this unique view of the nature of Christ. If He had taken the sinless nature of Adam before the fall, the term “Christ's righteousness” would be a meaningless abstraction. The 1888 messengers recognized the teaching that Christ took only the sinless nature of Adam before the fall to be a legacy of Romanism, the insignia of the mystery of iniquity which keeps Him “afar off” and not “nigh at hand.”
(8) Thus our Saviour “condemned sin in the flesh” of fallen mankind. This means that He has outlawed sin; sin has become unnecessary in the light of His ministry. It is impossible to have true New Testament faith in Christ and continue in sin. We cannot excuse continued sinning by saying that we are “only human” or that “the devil made me do it.” In the light of the cross, the devil cannot force anyone to sin. To be truly “human” is to be Christlike in character, for He was and is fully human as well as divine.
(9) It follows that the only element God's people need in order to prepare for Christ's return is that genuine New Testament faith. But that is precisely what the church lacks. She imagines herself to be doctrinally and experientially “rich and increased with goods” when in fact her root sin is a pathetic unbelief. Righteousness is by faith; it is impossible to have faith and not demonstrate righteousness in the life, because true faith works by love. Moral and spiritual failures are the fruit of perpetuating Israel's ancient sin of unbelief today through the confusion of a false righteousness by faith.
(10) Righteousness by faith since 1844 is “the third angel's message in verity.” Thus it is greater than what the Reformers taught and the popular churches understand today. It is a message of abounding grace consistent with the unique Adventist truth of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, a work contingent on the full cleansing of the hearts of God's people on earth.
There are other aspects of the 1888 message such as reforms in health and educational methods, but our principal concern in this book is its heart, as recognized by Ellen White—righteousness by faith. It is not true that the 1888 message was opposed to church organization (see chapter 10).
The 1888 history and message supply a key to reconciliation with the Lord Jesus. The great “final atonement” will become reality. “There shall be a fountain opened to the house of David [the church leadership] and lo the inhabitants of Jerusalem [the organized church] for sin and for uncleanness.” Some, perhaps many, will despise and reject that fountain which Zechariah speaks of, but we believe that the inner heart of God’s people is honest. When they know the full truth, they will respond. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power,”says the Psalmist. The latent genius of Adventism will yet perceive and receive truths as now dimly perceived. In spite of opposition within the church structure, the Adventist conscience will yet recognize Ellen White’s 1888 testimony to be a genuine manifestation of the gift of prophecy, “the testimony of Jesus.” In its impact on honest hearts, truth is invincible. The world and the universe await that other angel who comes down from heaven “having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.” If it was the Lord’s plan that the 1888 message be the “beginning” of that angel’s work and the “beginning” of the latter rain, could anything be more important than seeking the full truth about it? May this book be read with a prayer for discernment and a spirit of faith and repentance.
June 3, 1987
1 The 1888 Message—An Introduction, Review and Herald, 1980; Gold Tried in the Fire, Pacific Press, 1983; The Good News is Better Than You Think, Pacific Press 1985; A Summary of the History and Content of the 1888 Message, 1977, The 1888 Message Study Committee. [return to text]