Do you believe that Jesus is coming soon? Was this exact question asked of Seventh-day Adventists in 1950? In 1910? In 1890? Of Millerites in 1844? Yet we are still here, asking the same question a century and a half later. Hasn't something gone tragically wrong? Could our sons and grandsons be asking the same question of future Adventists fifty years down the line? What is to prevent that from happening? What guarantee do we have that Jesus is really coming soon? The shocking reality is that we have no guarantee. Jesus may not be coming soon. I am unable to say unequivocally that Jesus will return within the next ten or even twenty years.
Revelation 7:1-3 describes the period of time in which we live. And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
The four angels have been holding the winds of destruction for a long time now. They have been specifically ordered to keep holding the winds until God's final sealing work could be finished. This tells us two things. First, the sealing work is not yet finished. Second, we will not see an end to this world's suffering until the sealing work is finished, even if that should be decades in the future. Do you see why we have no guarantee that Jesus' coming will be soon?
Having said that we have no guarantee that Jesus is coming soon, may I hasten to add that I believe that the possibility is that Jesus may come very, very soon. it seems that there are certain periods when God moves events in the world and the church toward an impending climax, and then waits to see if His people are ready to move with Him.
In 1844 He moved mightily through the Millerite movement, and if His people would have hung together in faith after the great disappointment, the sealing work could have been finished rather quickly. But the great Millerite movement fractured apart after the disappointment, and God could not finish His sealing work.
Then things went into a sort of plateau for forty years until God began to move things in the world and the church toward another climax point in 1888. Once again God watched hopefully to see if His people would catch the vision and get serious about going home. But once again God's desires were thwarted, this time by selfish, fault-finding, power seeking Seventh-day Adventist men and women.
So we went into another plateau of ninety years. It is my considered judgment that we are moving toward another of those rare climax points in history, when God is moving events once again into a final countdown. And once again He is hoping that His people will catch the vision of eternity and join with Him in bringing an end to the sin problem. Will they do it this time? Will we do it this time? If we decide that we are ready to get serious about our chosen name--Seventh-day Adventists--then the history of sin could be over in a very short time. On the other hand, if we keep sleeping along, and congratulating ourselves about our beautiful churches and our fine organs and the surging number of baptisms in parts of the world other than North America, then this climax point will pass just like others have done, and this tired old world will go on struggling for survival, while you and I will go to our graves in disappointment.
Back in the time of Christ, the Jews had some treasured statements which they loved to quote when things looked dark for them. One was Jeremiah 31:35-37. "Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus saith the Lord;" If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord." Speaking of Jerusalem in verse 40, the Lord said, "It shall not be plucked up, nor thrown down any more for ever."
God told the Jews that as long as the sun and moon and stars remained in the sky, Israel would remain as His chosen nation. He promised that, just as surely as no one could ever measure the heavens or the depth of the earth, He would never cast off Israel as His chosen people. Ellen White comments, "These words the Jews applied to themselves; and because God had shown them so great favor and mercy, they flattered themselves that, notwithstanding their sins and iniquity, He would still retain them as His favored people. and shower especial blessings upon them. This has been the danger of the people of God in all ages; and especially is this the danger of those living near the close of time... If they shut their eyes, as did the Jews, to their own corruption, and choose their own ways, the Lord will give them up to the blindness of mind and hardness of heart, that they cannot discern the things of the Spirit of God." (Redemption, vol. 1, pp. 38-39)
But doesn't the promise we just read sound absolute, and weren't the Jews justified in believing that Israel would stand forever as God's chosen people? Are we not likewise justified in believing that our church will go through when we read that, though it appears to fall, it will not fall? Or have they and we both forgotten another crucial principle found in the same book? "And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them." (Jeremiah 18:9,10)
Any promise which God ever makes to an individual or a people concerning their relationship to Him and their future is always conditional on their response to His declared will. Moses laid it all out in Deuteronomy 28. "And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessing shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God." (vs. 1,2) "The Lord shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, and walk in his ways." (vs. 9) "And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not he beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them." (vs. 13)
"But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee." (vs. 15) "The Lord shall sent upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, whereby thou hast forsaken me." (vs. 20) "Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and h-is statutes which He commanded thee." (vs. 45)
Moses clearly warned Israel that they faced the possibility of total destruction if they proved to be intransigently disobedient to God's commandments. Ellen White says very succinctly, "It should be remembered that the promises and the threatenings of God are alike conditional." (Ev 695) Do you know that we are in danger of forgetting this principle just as the Jews were in the time of Christ?
Perhaps we need to look at some inspired statements which are not read very often in Seventh-day Adventist circles. "I am filled with sadness when I think of our condition as a people... our own course of continual backsliding has separated us from God? And yet the general opinion is that the church is flourishing, and that peace and spiritual prosperity are in all her borders. The church has turned back from following Christ her Leader, and is steadily retreating toward Egypt." (5T 217) "The whole body is sick because of mismanagement and miscalculation." (TM 397) "Some power has cut the cable.. .and (we) are drifting away to sea without chart or compass." (RH July 24, 1888) "You are following the same path as did ancient Israel. Your neglect to follow the light will place you in a more unfavorable position than the Jews upon whom Christ pronounced a woe." (5T 75-76)
"Unless the church, which is now being leavened with her own backsliding, shall repent and be converted, she will eat of the fruit of her own doing, until she shall abhor herself." (8T 250) "It pains me to say, my brethren, that your sinful neglect to walk in the light, has enshrouded you in darkness. You may now be honest in not recognizing and obeying the light; the doubt you have entertained, your neglect to heed the requirements of God, have blinded your perceptions so that darkness -is now to you light, and light is darkness." (5T 71)
"Oh, what privileges are granted to us as a people! And if God spared not His people that He loved because they refused to walk in the light, how can He spare the people whom He has blessed with the light of heaven in having opened to them the most exalted truth ever intrusted to mortal man to give to the world? Internal corruption will bring the denunciations of God upon this people as it did upon Jerusalem... My brethren, we know not what is before us... God will work with us and for us if the sins which brought His wrath upon the old world, upon Sodom and Gomorrah and upon ancient Jerusalem, do not become our crime." (Letter to Butler and Haskell, Dec. 8, 1886)
"What would the Saviour do if He should come to us now as He did to the Jews? He would have to do a similar work." (RH, vol. 2, p. 308) "Jerusalem is a representation of what the church will be if it refuses to receive and walk in the light that God has given... These are no idle tales, but truth." (8T 67, 68) "If we imitate their (Israel's) example of transgression, and depart from God, we shall fall as surely as did they." (1T 608, 609) "Let a church become proud and boastful, not depending on God, not exalting His power, and that church will surely be left by the Lord, to be brought down to the ground. Let a people glory in wealth, intellect, knowledge, or in anything but Christ, and they will soon he brought to confusion." (8T 127)
These are extremely sobering statements from inspiration. They should make us aware that the principle of conditional prophecy applies to us just as much as it did to Israel of old. We are also on trial, to see what we will do with the commandments of God. Will we obey and receive all the blessings of the covenant, or will we by disobedience place ourselves outside the boundaries of God's covenant promises?
The ship that will go through is you and I, not some entity outside of us which will carry us through if we just hang on to it. And the ship of Adventism will go through only if you and I dedicate our entire energies to learning and living God's will for this crisis time. In other words, it is our decisions that will determine what happens to this church.
A word of caution may be in order here. I am not suggesting that we can best do God's will by separating ourselves from the organized church. In fact, I am afraid that if all God's faithful ones would separate from the church, then the church would surely be doomed to destruction, and we might indeed miss the magnificent opportunity we have to usher in the second coming quickly. We might even face the unpleasant prospect of going to our graves in disappointment. What I am saying is that we dare not be too complacent in our belief that the church is going through automatically, and we will make it too if we just hang on. Hanging on is just not good enough. Our only hope lies in study and prayer such as none of us has ever experienced before.
How can we be sure that we will not make the mistakes of the Jews and lose our position as God's remnant? How can we go through ourselves and make it possible for Jesus to end this planet's suffering in the very near future? May I suggest that we are never so blind as when we ignore the past and assume that past failures can never happen to us. We have had a dramatic demonstration of God's will and man's ability to thwart that will within our church. If we have the slightest chance to be God's final remnant today, we must understand as completely as is humanly possible what happened between 1888 and 1900. That was our most recent opportunity to go home, and we must know why it never happened. May I urge you to make that subject a top priority on your list of topics for study and prayer.
What is the divine analysis of the 1888 message? The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones." (TM 91) This message, understood in its true character, and proclaimed in the Spirit, will lighten the earth with its glory. (Ms. 15, 1888) That is the language of the loud cry of the third angel's message. We can conclude that God was intending to prepare His people and to give a final warning to the world through the 1888 message. But what happened?
By exciting that opposition Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them... The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world. (1SM 234, 235) In other words, by quibbling and jealousy and open opposition, men succeeded in delaying the second coming of Christ for one hundred years.
"God has given Brother Jones and Brother Waggoner a message for the people... When you reject the message borne by these men, you reject Christ, the giver of the message." (Letter 51-A. 1895) During the presentations at Minneapolis in 1888 Ellen White sat on the front row and was heard to say over and over, "Amen, there is much light here." On one occasion she said that Dr. Waggoner was able to present righteousness by faith in a way that she could not.
In recent years there has been a major attempt to prove that, while some of the leading brethren rejected the message in 1888, most accepted it, and even the opposers later repented and came into line. As a result, we have been told, our church eventually accepted the 1888 message of righteousness by faith, and we have been teaching it ever since. This attempt is seriously flawed. First, if we had accepted the message, we would have been in the kingdom long before now. Our presence on this earth shows that there is still a problem. Second, the historical evidence shows continued rejection of the message well after 1888. I will go one step farther. I don't believe that we, as a church, have understood, taught, or lived the 1888 message from that time to this. We have either been trapped in legalism or the gospel of unrighteousness by presumption.
In 1926 Elder A. G. Daniells, former General Conference President, wrote, "The message has never been received, nor proclaimed, nor given free course as it should have been in order to convey to the church the measureless blessings that were wrapped within it.' (Christ Our Righteousness, p. 47) In 1898 Ellen White was still speaking of stubborn defiance, disunion, and rejection of light. In 1902 she said, "I have been instructed that the terrible experience at the Minneapolis Conference is one of the saddest chapters in the history of the believers in present truth." (Letter 179, 1902) W. C. White, her son, wrote, "But the most serious feature of the disaffection was the fact that, because Sister White urged the importance of the message of righteousness by faith, and because thereby she seemed to be upholding these brethren (Waggoner and Jones), contrary to their judgment, it grew into a spirit of rejection of the testimonies of Sister White." (A. V. Olson, Thirteen Crisis Years, p. 332) Could our present plague of attacking or ignoring her writings have its roots in the years following 1888?
Perhaps the heart of the whole problem is found in these comments by Ellen White in 1901. "Enough has been said over and over and over again, but it does not make any difference; they go right on just the same, professedly accepting it; but they do not make any change." (Talk in Battle Creek College library, April 1, 1901) Professedly accepting but making no changes will never finish God's work, even in a thousand years. Could this be what has confused certain historians into assuming that lip service meant heart acceptance? Could the same thing be our problem today?
Inspiration tells us that the leaders of the 1901 General Conference "closed and bolted the door' against the Spirit's entrance... The doors were barred against the heavenly current that would have swept away all evil." (Letter from Elmshaven, Aug. 5, 1902) "The result of the last General Conference has been the greatest, the most terrible sorrow of my life. No change was made." (Letter from Elmshaven, Jan. 15, 1903)
Now, if it is really true that God was going to finish His work on earth through the 1888 message, and if it is true that we have never really heard the message since that time, with isolated exceptions; what is the message that could have produced the latter rain and the loud cry then, and will produce it today if we will accept it? The message can be summed up in one Bible verse--Christ in you, the hope of glory. The 1888 message was focused on preparing God's people for translation; thus it had much to say about how to be perfect in Christ and thus ready for the close of probation. The message was not about personal assurance of salvation, but about vindicating and glorifying God's name.
Perhaps some brief excerpts from the messages of Jones and Waggoner might be helpful. "Christ took upon Himself the flesh, not of a sinless being, hut of sinful man, that is, that the flesh which He assumed had all the weaknesses and sinful tendencies to which fallen human nature is subject." (Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 26, 27) "In all of our Christian experience we have left little loopholes along here and there for sin. We have never dared to come to that place where we would believe that the Christian life should be a sinless life. We have not dared to believe it or preach it. But in that case we cannot preach the law of God fully. Why not? Because we do not understand the power of justification by faith." (Waggoner, G. C. Bulletin, 1891, pp. 156, 159) Right here is the difference between justification as taught by Evangelicals and justification in the 1888 message. Only in the 1888 message do we hear about power to keep from sinning, and this victory over sin is always linked with the fallen nature of Christ.
"Christ is to be in us, just as God was in Him, and His character is to be in us, just as God was in Him... It is the cooperation of the divine and the human--the mystery of God in you and me--... that is the third angel's message." (Jones, G. C. Bulletin, 1893, p. 207) "In Jesus Christ as He was in sinful flesh, God has demonstrated before the universe that He can so take possession of sinful flesh as to manifest His own presence, His power, and His glory, instead of sin manifesting itself... Then God will so take us, and so use us, that our sinful selves shall not appear to influence or affect anybody; but God will manifest His righteous self, His glory, before men, in spite of all ourselves and our sinfulness... And that is the mystery of God, 'Christ in you, the hope of glory,'--God manifest in sinful flesh." (Jones, G. C. Bulletin, 1895, p. 303)
"Now the flesh of Jesus Christ was our flesh, and in it was all 'that is in our flesh,--all the tendencies to sin that are in our flesh were in His flesh, drawing upon Him to get Him to consent to sin." (Jones, G. C. Bulletin, 1895, p. 328) "Perfection, perfection of character, is the Christian goal--perfection attained in human flesh in this world. Christ attained it in human flesh in this world, and thus made and consecrated a way by which, in Him, every believer can attain it." (Jones, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, p. 84) "But before probation ends, there will be a people so complete in Him that in spite of their sinful flesh, they will live sinless lives. They will live sinless lives in mortal flesh, because He who has demonstrated that He has power over all flesh lives in them? lives a sinless life in sinful flesh." (Waggoner, G. C. Bulletin, 1901, p. 146)
Don't you agree that this is a rare message today? Instead of studying this message and learning how to live this message, we are very divided on whether Christ took our fallen or Adam's unfallen nature. We are even advising our people not to discuss it at all. We are pretty sure that perfection is a bad word, and that sinless living is a fanatical extreme. Satan has done a masterful job of closing our minds to the only message which can prepare us for the second coming. But Satan hasn't done his job well enough. In spite of his best efforts to destroy this message, it is alive and well, and more and more people are waking up to its importance.
I believe that God's people will not let this golden opportunity pass them by again. I see an awakening among church members, and I don't think that Satan will be able to put them all to sleep again. But mark one thing. This awakening is happening among a small minority of church members. The majority continue to sleep on in a death sleep, assuming that, as long as they keep coming to church, they are safe. What a tragic awakening it will he when, too late, most Seventh-day Adventists will realize that they have the mark of the beast. If you want to avoid this tragedy, and if you want to see Christ return to this earth very soon, then I plead with you to reorder your lives if necessary. Make the study of the 1888 message your top priority, and spend more time in study and prayer than ever before in your lives.
Listen to God's appeal to us through His inspired messenger. "Light is flashing from the throne of God. And what is this for--It is that a people may he prepared to stand in the day of God. You who have devoted time and money to the adornment of your apparel and to the decoration of your homes, I would ask you, 'Is Christ formed within you the hope of glory?' It's too late in the day to he taken up with the frivolous things of the world, too late for any superficial work to be done. It is too late in the day to cry out against men for manifesting too much earnestness in the service of God; to say, 'You are excited; you are too intense, too positive.'" (RH March 4, 1890)