In part 3 of our series from the book entitled “Christ Our Righteousness” by Elder A. G. Daniels about the history and background of the message given at the 1888 General Conference Session at Minneapolis, Minnesota by Elders A. T. Jones and E. J.Waggoner we are shown evidences how Ellen White warned the church of its wandering from God. She published a series of articles in the Review and Herald in 1887 to this end. Clear parallels of how God has led His people in the past were revealed for a practical application to the present situation.
Chapter 3 – Preparatory Messages
The Bible account of God’s dealings with His people is full of most helpful instruction for the remnant church. It shows that through the centuries He has had but one unchangeable, eternal purpose. He has allowed nothing to defeat that purpose. In all the crises and developments that have arisen, He has been in control. He has foreseen the perils lurking along the way, and has sent warnings to His people to guard and protect them. When they have needed messages to awaken, inspire, and regenerate them, He has raised up messengers to give the messages. The great exodus movement from Egypt to Canaan, the history of Samuel and Israel, of David and the kingdom he was chosen to establish, and the tragic experiences of Jeremiah in the kingdom of Judah, and its overthrow and captivity,-all are illustrations of this.
In the records of these great crises we find that God’s messages to the people were of a twofold character: First, they pointed out the deceptions into which His people were being led, and warned them of the serious results which would come unless they returned to Him; second, they revealed most clearly just what was needed to help them, and gave assurance that he would not only supply all their needs, but would also inspire and empower them to lay hold of the proffered help if they would but choose it with the whole heart. Nothing was lacking on the Lord’s side to meet fully every deception and peril by which Satan sought to ruin the people and the cause.
The developments and experiences connected with the coming of the message of Righteousness by Faith, in 1888, bear striking similarity to the experiences which came to the people of God in olden times. It is well to give most careful consideration to the messages of the Spirit of prophecy just preceding the Minneapolis Conference of 1888.
The Message of 1887
The testimonies of the Spirit of prophecy which were received during the year 1887 gave warning of danger. They named again and again a specific evil, a deception into which the church was falling. That deception was pointed out as the fatal mistake of drifting into formalism; the substitution of forms, ceremonies, doctrines, machinery, and activities for that heart experience which comes alone through fellowship with Christ Jesus our Lord. Throughout the entire year this specific danger was kept before ministers and people by messages which appeared in the Review and Herald. In order that the seriousness of the situation at that time may be realized and the warnings better understood, we quote a few paragraphs, giving the date of publication:
1. “It is possible to be a formal, partial believer, and yet be found wanting, and lose eternal life. It is possible to practice some of the Bible injunctions, and be regarded as a Christian, and yet perish because you are lacking in essential qualifications that constitute Christian character.”-Review and Herald, Jan. 11, 1887.
2. Two weeks later another message declares:
“The observance of external forms will never meet the great want of the human soul. A mere profession of Christ is not enough to prepare one to stand the test of the judgment.”-Review and Herald, Jan. 25, 1887.
3. Three weeks following this it was clearly stated:
“There is too much formality in the church. Souls are perishing for light and knowledge. We should be so connected with the Source of light that we can be channels of light to the world…. Those who profess to be guided by the word of God, may be familiar with the evidences of their faith, and yet be like the pretentious fig tree, which flaunted its foliage in the face of the world, but when searched by the Master, was found destitute of fruit.”-Review and Herald, Feb. 15, 1887.
4. Two weeks thereafter came another of like import:
“The Lord Jesus, on the Mount of Olives, plainly stated that ‘because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.’ He speaks of a class who have fallen from a high state of spirituality. Let such utterances as these come home with solemn, searching power to our hearts…. A formal round of religious services is kept up; but where is the love of Jesus? Spirituality is dying. . . . Shall we meet the mind of the Spirit of God? Shall we dwell more upon practical godliness, and far less upon mechanical arrangements?”-Written March 1, 1887; appears in Testimonies, Vol. V, pp. 538, 539.
On and on throughout the entire year messages continued to come telling us that formality was coming into the church; that we were trusting too much in forms, ceremonies, theories, mechanical arrangements, and a constant round of activities. Of course these messages were true, and they should have made a profound impression. But formalism is most deceptive and ruinous. It is the hidden, unsuspected rock upon which, through the centuries, the church has so often been well-nigh wrecked. Paul warns us that the “form of godliness” without the power of God will be one of the perils of the last days, and admonishes us to turn away from the deceptive, bewitching thing. Over and over again, and through various channels, God sends warnings to His church to escape the peril of formalism.
It was precisely this perilous deception against which the Spirit of prophecy gave repeated warning in 1887; and it was to save us from its full results that the message of Righteousness by Faith was sent to us.
This movement is of God. It is destined to triumph gloriously. Its organization is Heaven indited. Its departments are the wheels within the wheels, all skillfully linked together; but they are incomplete and partial without the Spirit within the wheels giving power and speedy results. These wheels are composed of men and women.
God baptizes men and women rather than movements; and when men receive the power of the Spirit into their lives, then the beautiful machinery moves speedily forward on its appointed task. This must be realized individually before it can be realized collectively. How imperative, then, our need of God’s provision!
But not alone came the warnings against the substitution of theories, forms, activities, and the machinery of organization. With these warnings came a direct, powerful, positive message telling exactly what should be done to save us from the situation into which we were drifting. The entire message cannot be reproduced here because of its length. However, a few excerpts will convey some idea of its serious import, and of the hope it held out to the church if the instruction were heeded:
Greatest and Most Urgent Need
“A revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs. To seek this should be our first work. There must be earnest effort to obtain the blessing of the Lord, not because God is not willing to bestow His blessing upon us, but because we are unprepared to receive it…. There are persons in the church who are not converted, and who will not unite in earnest, prevailing prayer. We must enter upon the work individually. We must pray more, and talk less. Iniquity abounds, and the people must be taught not to be satisfied with a form of godliness without the spirit and power….
“We have far more to fear from within than from without. The hindrances to strength and success are far greater from the church itself than from the world….
“There is nothing that Satan fears so much as that the people of God shall clear the way by removing every hindrance, so that the Lord can pour out His Spirit upon a languishing church and an impenitent congregation. If Satan had his way, there would never be another awakening, great or small, to the end of time. But we are not ignorant of his devices. It is possible to resist his power. When the way is prepared for the Spirit of God, the blessing will come. Satan can no more hinder a shower of blessing from descending upon God’s people than he can close the windows of heaven that rain cannot come upon the earth. Wicked men and devils cannot hinder the work of God, or shut out His presence from the assemblies of His people, if they will, with subdued, contrite hearts, confess and put away their sins, and in faith claim His promises. Every temptation, every opposing influence, whether open or secret, may be successfully resisted, ‘not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.’
“What is our condition in this fearful and solemn time? Alas, what pride is prevailing in the church, what hypocrisy, what deception, what love of dress, frivolity, and amusement, what desire for the supremacy! All these sins have clouded the mind, so that eternal things have not been discerned.”-Review and Herald, March 22, 1887.
What a solemn message, and yet how full of tender, helpful counsel! What hope is held before the church if she will but sincerely heed it! How sad that this great message passed with the annual files of the Review, to lie buried so long! Is it not time to bring again this message clearly and force fully to the attention of the church, as Ezra brought forth the forgotten book of the law of Moses and read the instruction it contained to Israel?
The Remedy to Be Applied
As the year closed, a message came, pointing clearly and positively to the only remedy for the evils so earnestly and repeatedly set before us during the entire year. That remedy, we are told, is union with Christ Jesus the Lord.
“There is a wide difference between a pretended union and a real connection with Christ by faith. A profession of religion places men in the church, but this does not prove that they have a vital connection with the living vine. . . . When this intimacy of connection of communion is formed, our sins are laid upon Christ, His righteousness is imputed to us. He was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
“The power of evil is so identified with human nature that no man can overcome except by union with Christ. Through this union we receive moral and spiritual power. If we have the Spirit of Christ, we shall bring forth the fruit of righteousness….
“A union with Christ by living faith is enduring; every other union must perish. Christ first chose us, paying an infinite price for our redemption; and the true believer chooses Christ as first and last, and best in everything. But this union costs us something. It is a relation of utter dependence, to be entered into by a proud being. All who form this union must feel their need of the atoning blood of Christ. They must have a change of heart. They must submit their own will to the will of God. There will be a struggle with outward and internal obstacles. There must be a painful work of detachment, as well as a work of attachment. Pride, selfishness, vanity, worldliness,-sin in all its forms-must be overcome, if we would enter into a union with Christ. The reason why many find the Christian life so deplorably hard, why they are so fickle, so variable, is, they try to attach themselves to Christ without first detaching themselves from these cherished idols.”-Review and Herald, Dec. 13,1887.
This message takes us into the very heart of the gospel-union with Christ. No man can overcome sin except by this union. By union with Christ, our sins are laid upon Him, and His righteousness is imputed to us. This is reality, not form nor ceremony. It is not church membership, nor assent of the intellect to theory and dogma. Union with Christ is a satisfying reality in all that pertains to the Christian life. In this lies our security. This was our great need in 1887, and to lead us into that experience the Lord sent the message of Righteousness by Faith.
The Messages of 1888
As we pass into the year 1888, the positive remedial messages which began in 1887 were continued, growing in clarity and force, as will be observed. The true way is clearly set forth, the only way that gives genuine sincerity, reality, and victory. This true way is through fellowship with our risen Lord. Note the following ringing words:
The Only True Way
“Without the presence of Jesus in the heart, religious service is only dead, cold formalism. The longing desire for communion with God soon ceases when the Spirit of God is grieved from us; but when Christ is in us the hope of glory, we are constantly directed to think and act in reference to the glory of God.”-Review and Herald, April 17,1888.
“We should study the life of our Redeemer, for He is the only perfect example for men. We should contemplate the infinite sacrifice of Calvary, and behold the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the righteousness of the law. You will come from a concentrated study of the theme of redemption strengthened and ennobled. Your comprehension of the character of God will be deepened; and with the whole plan of salvation clearly defined in your mind, you will be better able to fulfill your divine commission. From a sense of thorough conviction, you can then testify to men of the immutable character of the law manifested by the death of Christ on the cross, the malignant nature of sin, and the righteousness of God in justifying the believer in Jesus on condition of his future obedience to the statutes of God’s government in heaven and earth.”-Review and Herald, April 24,1888.
Our Redeemer, His atoning sacrifice for us, the malignant nature of sin, the righteousness of Christ to be received by faith,-in the serious contemplation and full acceptance of these vital truths of the gospel are to be found pardon, justification, peace, joy, and victory.
A Startling Message
Following the pointing out of the only true way, there came a startling message that must have been designed of the Lord to lead His people to sense their peril and step quickly into the way of security:
“The solemn question should come home to every member of our churches, How are we standing before God, as the professed followers of Jesus Christ? Is our light shining forth to the world in clear, steady rays? Have we, as a people, solemnly dedicated to God, preserved our union with the Source of all light? Are not the symptoms of decay and declension painfully visible in the midst of the Christian churches of today? Spiritual death has come upon the people that should be manifesting life and zeal, purity and consecration, by the most earnest devotion to the cause of truth. The facts concerning the real condition of the professed people of God, speak more loudly than their profession, and make it evident that some power has cut the cable that anchored them to the Eternal Rock, and that they are drifting away to sea, without chart or compass.”-Review and Herald, July 24, 1888.
Some power, it is declared, had cut the cable that anchored the church to the Eternal Rock, and its members were drifting away to sea without chart or compass. What situation could be more alarming than this? What more convincing reason could be given to show the need of turning with all the heart to Him who alone is able to hold us fast?
Back to Safe Anchorage
Next came a message telling just what was necessary in order to repair the cable the enemy had cut, and thus bring us back to safe anchorage. Read it with care:
“It is not enough to be familiar with the arguments of the truth alone. You must meet the people through the life that is in Jesus. Your work will be made wholly successful if Jesus is abiding with you, for He has said, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’ Jesus stands knocking, knocking at the door of your hearts, and yet, for all this, some say continually, ‘I cannot find Him.’ Why not? He says, ‘I stand here knocking.’ Why do you not open the door, and say, ‘Come in, dear Lord’? I am so glad for these simple directions as to the way to find Jesus. If it were not for them, I should not know how to find Him whose presence I desire so much. Open the door now, and empty the soul temple of the buyers and sellers, and invite the Lord to come in. Say to Him, ‘I will love Thee with all my soul. I will work the works of righteousness. I will obey the law of God.’ Then you will feel the peaceful presence of Jesus.”-Review and Herald, Aug. 28,1888.
The Climax of the Preparatory Message
Just a few weeks before the General Conference assembled at Minneapolis, the Lord sent the following message as an impressive climax to all the instruction that had been coming on this one great theme month after month for nearly two years:
“What is the work of the minister of the gospel? It is to rightly divide the word of truth; not to invent a new gospel, but to rightly divide the gospel already committed to them. They cannot rely upon old sermons to present to their congregations; for these set discourses may not be appropriate to meet the occasion or the wants of the people. There are subjects that are sadly neglected, that should be largely dwelt upon. The burden of our message should be the mission and life of Jesus Christ. Let there be a dwelling upon the humiliation, self-denial, meekness, and lowliness of Christ, that proud and selfish hearts may see the difference between themselves and the Pattern, and may be humbled. Show to your hearers Jesus in His condescension to save fallen man. Show them that He who was their surety had to take human nature, and carry it through the darkness and the fearfulness of the malediction of His Father, because of man’s transgression of His law; for the Saviour was found in fashion as a man.
“Describe, if human language can, the humiliation of the Son of God, and think not that you have reached the climax, when you see Him exchanging the throne of light and glory which He had with the Father, for humanity. He came forth from heaven to earth; and while on earth, He bore the curse of God as surety for the fallen race. He was not obliged to do this. He chose to bear the wrath of God, which man had incurred through disobedience to the divine law. He chose to endure the cruel mockings, the deridings, the scourging, and the crucifixion. ‘And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death;’ but the manner of His death was an astonishment to the universe, for it was ‘even the death of the cross.’ Christ was not insensible to ignominy and disgrace. He felt it all most bitterly. He felt it as much more deeply and acutely than we can feel suffering, as His nature was more exalted, and pure, and holy than that of the sinful race for whom He suffered. He was the Majesty of heaven; He was equal with the Father. He was the commander of the hosts of angels, yet He died for man the death that was, above all others, clothed with ignominy and reproach. O that the haughty hearts of men might realize this! O that they might enter into the meaning of redemption, and seek to learn the meekness and lowliness of Jesus.”-Review and Herald, Sept 11, 1888.
This instruction is directed especially to ministers-the teachers in Israel:
- They were to rightly divide the word of truth.
- They were not to invent a new gospel, but to rightly set forth the gospel already committed to them.
- They were not to continue to preach their “old sermons” to the people, as these “set discourses” might not be appropriate to meet the wants of the people.
- They were to dwell largely upon subjects that had been sadly neglected.
- The burden of their message should be the mission and life of Jesus Christ.
The concluding paragraph furnishes a comprehensive outline of this sublime theme-the mission and life of Christ.
At this distance it does seem as if all these direct, clear-cut, solemn messages should have made a more profound impression upon the minds of all the ministers. It would seem that they would have been fully prepared to listen to and drink in the timely, inspiring message of revival, reformation, and recovery that was presented with such clearness and in such sincere earnestness by the messenger whom the Lord raised up to deliver the message. The appropriation of the perfect righteousness of Christ by deceived, sinful hearts was the remedy the Lord sent. It was just what was needed. Who can tell what would have come to the church and the cause of God if that message of Righteousness by Faith had been fully and wholeheartedly received by all at that time? And who can estimate the loss that has been sustained by the failure of many to receive that message? Eternity alone will reveal the whole truth regarding this matter.” — Christ Our Righteousness (1941), A. G. Daniels, pp. 27-40