Looking at the title of this week's lesson, it was exciting to contemplate that faith and unity in the SDA church were being recognized as being inextricably tied together.
Continuing on at the beginning of the lesson, the 1888 conference in Minnesota was mentioned in the context of hostile attitudes by all those attending. This, however, is not in accord with Ellen White's statements nor does it dig into the 1888 message itself which she clearly states was sent for His people both then and now. In Testimonies to Ministers (pgs. 91/92), she shows us the importance of this message to God's remnant church:
"The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the 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. Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family.
All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.
The uplifted Saviour is to appear…sitting upon the throne, to dispense the priceless covenant blessings…Christ is pleading for the church in the heavenly courts above….
God gave to His servants a testimony that presented the truth as it is in Jesus, which is the third angel's message in clear, distinct lines…. This testimony presents the law and the gospel, binding up the two in a perfect whole.
(See Romans 5 and 1 John 3:9 to the close of the chapter).
This is the very work which the Lord designs that the message He has given His servant shall perform in the heart and mind of every human agent. It is the perpetual life of the church to love God supremely and to love others as they love themselves."
So what are some of the things we can learn from this inspired passage?
First, the Lord sent us this message and He sent it "in His great mercy" because we desperately needed it both then and now.
"most precious message" suggests it was the most precious gift He could send us, having already sent His Son to redeem us, "this message points us back to God's agape love and Christ's infinite sacrifice on the cross: "to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour".
This message was sent to "His people", His last day church both then and now. Why? Because in our Laodicean condition, we need it! We think we are rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing spiritually. (Revelation 3:17) The truth is that we need Christ, our Saviour. We need His faith and His righteousness to take us through the times ahead!
We are told this message presents "justification through faith in the Surety". This genuine faith is the faith of Jesus and it's His gift to us—we are all given the "measure of faith." (Romans 12:3). It is what we need and when exercised, we receive the "priceless gift of His own righteousness". Righteousness by faith, Christ our righteousness—the core of this most precious message!
Sanctification—Christ as our High Priest, is "pleading for the church in the heavenly courts above". This is also a key aspect of this message as our Saviour cleanses His people and "dispenses the priceless (new) covenant blessings" as hearts are changed and the law is written on the heart. Having been justified by faith and received the gift of Christ's righteousness, both of which are an ongoing experience, we are no longer motivated by fear of punishment or hope of reward. In response to His love and His gifts, our desire is "to love God supremely and to love others as we love ourselves."
We are told "This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel's message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice." First, note that God did not suggest but commanded, that we His people give this message to the world suggesting that this is indeed the everlasting gospel and the third angel's message that we and the world need to hear!
Knowing that this was indeed a message sent by God to us, His people, it is important to understand how both the message and the messengers were received at the 1888 conference in Minneapolis. Ellen White's comments and remarks provide an inspired guide as we look back at our history.
Her comments on the messengers, Jones and Waggoner, were supportive and positive with no criticism of any kind. They were challenged to debate on the two covenants but declined. God had sent them to share this most precious message. She described them as "Christians" and "Gentlemen". An example would be the following quote:
"Doctor Waggoner has spoken to us in a straight-forward manner…. Of one thing I am certain, as Christians you have no right to entertain feelings of enmity, unkindness, and prejudice toward Dr. Waggoner, who has presented his view in a plain, straight-forward manner, as a Christian should." (Ms. 15, 1888; Olson, p. 294).
Here is another quote relating to A.T. Jones:
"It is evident that he walks with God, that he has been with Jesus and learned of Him. He has brought truth into the inner sanctuary of the soul; it is to him a living reality, and he presents the truth in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. The people hear the joyful sound. God speaks to their hearts through the man consecrated to His service…. He becomes really eloquent. He is earnest and sincere and is beloved by those for whom he labors… His defects will be forgiven and forgotten. His hearers will not become weary or disgusted, but will thank God for the message of grace sent them through His servant."("Christian Education", 1893;RHApril 18, 1893).
What did Ellen White think of the message itself that Jones and Waggoner were presenting in 1888? Here is but one example:
"I have had the question asked, what do you think of this light which these men are presenting? Why, I have been presenting it to you for the last forty-five years, --- the matchless charms of Christ. This is what I have been trying to present before your minds. When Brother Waggoner brought out these ideas at Minneapolis, it was the first clear teaching on this subject from any human lips I had heard, excepting the conversations between myself and my husband. I have said to myself, it is because God has presented it to me in vision that I see it so clearly, and they cannot see it because they have not had it presented to them as I have, and when another presented it, every fiber of my heart said amen. (Ms. 5, 1889).
However, the response of the brethren to this wonderful message at the 1888 conference was in total contrast to the message and the messengers. While at the 1888 conference in response to her prayers she had a night vision and was visited by a messenger from God who conducted her to the homes where the brethren were lodging and she heard the criticism of her but "they thought and said worse things of Brethren Jones and Waggoner". The messenger plainly told Ellen White: "Satan has blinded their eyes and perverted their judgment; and unless every soul shall repent of this their sin, this unsanctified independence that is doing insult to the Spirit of God, they will walk in darkness… They would not that God would manifest His Spirit and His power; for they have a spirit of mockery and disgust at My word." As a result, "not one of the company who cherished the spirit manifested at that meeting would again have clear light to discern the preciousness of the truth sent them from heaven until they humbled their pride and confessed." (1888 materials, p.309-311,316,317.1067,1068).
Looking back at the 1888 conference, Ellen White wrote the following: "I can never forget the experience which we had in Minneapolis, or the things which were then revealed to me in regard to the spirit that controlled men, the words spoken, the actions done in obedience to the powers of evil…. They were moved at the meeting 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 that time the Spirit of God was insulted." (lt. 24, 1892).
When this message was resisted by the Church leaders, Ellen White went with Jones and Waggoner to take this message directly to the people:
1888 Materials p. 545
"I have travelled from place to place attending meetings where the message of the righteousness of Christ was preached. I considered it a privilege to stand by the side of my brethren and give my testimony with the message for the time and I saw that the power of God attended the message wherever it was spoken.
Suppose that you blot out the testimony that has been going during these last two years proclaiming the righteousness of Christ, who can you point to as bringing out special light for the people? This message as it has been presented should go to every church that claims to believe the truth and bring our people up to a higher stand point.
Based on this testimony, we can see that every church today that claims to believe the truth should be presenting this message. After all, as we have already seen, it is the Third Angel's message and the everlasting gospel that we are to share with the world.
Having looked back at 1888 and the reaction to God's message and His messengers, then the obvious question is — Is this message still relevant to us today? Ellen White counsels us here as well:
"The Lord has raised up Brother Jones and Brother Waggoner to proclaim a message to the world to prepare a people to stand in the day of God." (1888 Materials, pg. 1814). We believe Jesus is coming soon, and she tells us here that we need this message to prepare us, God's people, for the trials and tribulations ahead, so we may stand for Christ as part of the 144,000 that will follow the Lamb wherever He goes, keep the commandments of God, and have the faith of Jesus.
Our Sabbath school lesson this week looks at several of our fundamental doctrines as a basis for our faith and unity. Our doctrines are, of course, important but only in light of the cross. This most precious message leads us to focus only on Christ—His infinite agape love, His immeasurable sacrifice on the cross, what He has already done for the entire human race. Then the faith of Jesus, which is His gift to us, becomes real in our lives, hearts are changed, and Christ's righteousness, also through the power of the Holy Spirit governs our thoughts and our lives. Obedience to the commandments and following our doctrines is then a fruit of His faith and His righteousness in our lives.
This most precious message was always intended to bring unity to God's last day church as it is indeed the everlasting gospel intended for the world.