“The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people,” Ellen White wrote in 1895, “through Elders Waggoner and Jones.” She continued to recount how the message brought “more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God” (Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 91).
Elsewhere, Ellen White recounted that she had been preaching this message for 45 years, “trying to present” it before Adventists’ minds. It must not have made much of an impression, however, because she had never heard it spoken by anyone else besides in the conversations she had enjoyed with her husband. Thus, she said, “when another presented it, every fiber of my heart said, Amen” (1888 Materials, p. 348).
Unfortunately, this “most precious message,” which caused Ellen White’s heart to say “Amen” (as well as my own, I must add), has been much maligned – both when it was first presented by Jones and Waggoner, and ever since. And sadly, three prominent views have developed since that General Conference session in Minneapolis 126 years ago that have primarily held the day, causing us to continue to not only avoid what truly happened in 1888, but also what that most “most precious message” is that will “lighten the whole earth with its glory” (1888 Materials, p. 1575).
Thus, over the next three posts, I’d like to look at those prominent views and discuss where they err. They are not going to be long, tedious, in-depth, looks, but enough to do justice to the erroneous views – and, yes, they will be a little more polemical in nature, which is sometimes needed!
The titles of those three posts will be as follows:
But I do want to briefly touch upon one erroneous view that seems to be somewhat prevalent in all three views. It’s simply this: some people refer to this “most precious message” as the “1888 message,” a label that is not only promulgated by those who would consider themselves the guardians of this “message,” but one that has been hotly debated for some time.
But those who consider themselves the “guardians” of the message claim, and rightfully so, in my opinion, that the label is a bit of a misnomer – that it wasn’t simply in the singular event of the Minneapolis GC session in the fall of 1888 that this “most precious message” was proclaimed, explained, and shared.
The reasons for this are numerous, but let me just share three of the more compelling bits of evidence that I find persuasive.
1. It is the height of naivete, it seems to me, to think that the “most precious message” which warmed Ellen White’s heart so much, all of a sudden disappeared from Jones and Waggoner’s preaching on November 5, 1888 (the first day after the the GC session ended), or that it was not present prior to the GC session.
Furthermore, it would also be naive to suppose that, despite seeds that were present in 1888, everything they preached at the GC session was even fully developed at the time. In my own preaching, there have been ideas I have preached about at one point that are simply in their infancy, only to have them fully developed a year or two later, after following them to their logical conclusions.
2. In doing some reading this last week on the subject from secondary sources, a few authors pointed out something I had never noticed before: the famous “most precious message” quote from Ellen White was not even written until 1895, and nowhere in the quote does she even say anything about Minneapolis or 1888, or limit it to any sort of specific event.
3. In 1908, Ellen White wrote a letter to A.T. Jones, appealing to him after he had started losing his way. Among other things, she shared this interesting thought:
I have been instructed to use those discourses of yours printed in the General Conference Bulletins of 1893 and 1897, which contain strong arguments regarding the validity of the Testimonies, and which substantiate the gift of prophecy among us. I was shown that many would be helped by these articles, and especially those newly come to the faith who have not been made acquainted with our history as a people. It will be a blessing to you to read again these arguments, which were of the Holy Spirit’s framing. (9MR 278)
How interesting! She was encouraging people to read Jones’s sermons from 1893, and as late as 1897, because they were “of the Holy Spirit’s framing,” such that “many would be helped by” them, not simply as they explained the gift of prophecy, but as they would help those who were “newly come to the faith” to become acquainted with “our history as a people.”
So we can see that the expiration date for Jones and Waggoner’s preaching was not 1888; it reached beyond (this is not to say that they were infallible, of course, nor that Ellen White gave them a “blank check,” but that we should approach their writing and preaching with an underlying attitude of openness, only discarding what is clearly non-biblical, rather than the opposite attitude that many take: approaching them with skepticism, and combing them for error, rejecting almost everything post-1888 carte blanche. For more on this, see this post of mine). [NOTE: My commenter below, John Sheffield, has noted a great compilation done by my good friend, Dr. Fred Bischoff, in which he traces out Ellen White’s continued endorsement of Jones and Waggoner. You can access that here.]
One of the reasons this is important is because many people very conveniently use this “exclusivist 1888” attitude in their favor on a number of levels: since no notes were taken of the 1888 GC session, they claim that there is no way of really knowing what that “most precious message” really consists of. Ironically, these are the same people who then turn around and proclaim that what certain people are preaching is not the “1888 message.” How can they really know this though? One can’t have it both ways. A person can’t say, on the one hand, that we don’t know what Jones and Waggoner preached, and then turn around and say that he or she knows what they didn’t preach.
So with this underlying erroneous view dispelled, we will next move forward to Part 1: Too Much Jesus?