|At Issue Index Doctrines Index Table of Contents Previous Next|
The Early Waggoner: 1887
E. J. Waggoner had not fully recovered the Protestant message of justification by faith by 1886. Much less had he recovered Paul's message of justification, which is eschatological as well as forensic. It may come as a shock to learn that although Waggoner believed in justification by faith alone, he taught that eternal life and salvation were based on successful lawkeeping謡ith God's help of course. If this primitive view of soteriology was light for Adventism, how great must have been the legal darkness! If God used Waggoner to bring light on the gospel to the church, then God was not shining the full blaze of even the imperfect Reformation light on the Adventist community.
Those who compare Waggoner's early gropings after the gospel with the clear doctrine of justification propounded by the best nineteenth-century Protestant scholars will be startled. They will be especially disturbed if they think this special "remnant" community had light on the gospel far in advance of "poor Babylonian Protestants."
64In 1866 James Buchanan delivered a series of lectures on The Doctrine of Justification: An Outline of Its History in the Church and of Its Exposition from Scripture. Published in 1867, it remains one of the finest works on the subject written at any time or in any language. It makes Waggoner's presentation appear feebly immature. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that prince of preachers, also knew how to divide law and gospel, justification and sanctification, grace and glory with masterful skill.
The little "remnant" had no great theologians or teachers like Buchanan, Spurgeon or Hodge. And until they could grow to mature New Testament faith, they would necessarily remain in comparative obscurity.
The idea that Waggoner had a message of righteousness by faith far in advance of the Reformers or Wesley would be amusing if it were not such a serious aberration. It betrays an Adventist triumphalism nourished on ignorance and isolationism. Unless we are willing to honestly look at our history and our actual gospel performance, we will live in a self-made "fool's paradise."
Until we know what grace is, we cannot endure to see ourselves as we actually are. Unless we believe in divine election, we cannot face the truth of our collective history. But honestly facing our miserable attempts to articulate the gospel should not cause us to lose faith in God's calling of the Advent movement. Election is not based on denominational goodness.
Waggoner was one of Adventism's greatest gospel preachers. But he did not compare with the great Protestant preachers of his time. When the early Adventists debated other religionists, they never engaged the great Westminster or Princeton scholars. They argued with Campbellites and those whose ideas on law and grace were so confused that Adventist teachers appeared bright by comparison. Seventh-day Adventism has
65never made any impact on the mainstream of the Christian church. And until Adventism matures in the New Testament faith, it never will.
E. J. Waggoner saw himself as only beginning to recover the faith which so mightily stirred the sixteenth century. On the relationship of the law and the gospel in the book of Galatians, he declared:
66will be stirred as profoundly as in the days of Luther. May this speedily be the case, and thus the times of restoration of all things be hastened!2
When Paul presents his message of justification by faith, he presents it as an eschatological message in an eschatological setting. In Romans 1-3 he arraigns his hearers to the reality of the last great judgment and demands that they find a righteousness which will stand in the judgment of God. Only when men possess a righteousness by which they can stand fearlessly before God's face may they know that they possess no counterfeit righteousness.
It is in this context of standing in the final judgment that Paul presents his mighty, liberating truth of justification by faith. Justification is clearly defined as the verdict of the day of judgment (Rom. 2:13, 16). A man must be certain of this. Otherwise he is never free. A mere preliminary justification, a justification which falls short of God's ultimate verdict, will never free a man to live joyfully for God.
Paul declares that we have the verdict of the final judgment in the now by faith on the basis of God's righteousness, His saving action in Jesus Christ. Likewise, John declares that we have eternal life様iterally, the life of the age to come擁n the now by faith (cf. Rom. 3:24-26; John 5:24). Because of this the believer can hasten toward the great day of judgment, crying in eager anticipation, "0 happy judgment day!" Such a faith will
67nerve a man to face anything (Rom. 8:30-39).
Although the Reformers recovered the judicial or forensic understanding of justification in Paul, they did not recover the glory of its eschatological meaning. In the Advent movement God restored the eschatological setting for the gospel (Rev. 14:6, 7). Here were a people who believed they faced the judgment預 judgment which demanded a righteousness of them which could stand before the face of God. The Adventist concepts of judgment, law and day of atonement provide a marvelous eschatological framework for preaching the gospel.
No one really understands the gospel until he can answer the question, On what basis is a man accepted in the final judgment? One who relegates justification merely to Christian initiation may talk of justification by Christ's imputed righteousness. But what has he gained if he then turns to an eschatological salvation by an indwelling righteousness. He has simply begun as a Protestant and ended as a Roman Catholic. And who could be sure he was ready for the judgment if the verdict of acquittal depended on the measure of his sanctification?
On February 10, 1887, Waggoner addressed the question of how a man is accepted in the judgment. He began by stating the certainty of the judgment. The law is the standard. It will demand nothing less than a righteousness commensurate with the righteousness of God. Said Waggoner:
This righteousness cannot be attained by our own
68individual effort. Of ourselves we can do nothing; but Christ, who knew no sin, was made to be sin for us, in order "that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." And so the command to know that God will bring us into judgment for every secret thing, includes the command not only to know that the law of God is to be the standard of that judgment, but also that through Christ alone can we attain to that perfect righteousness which the law demands. If Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, then we can exhibit in our actions the righteousness of the law, for if we have Christ in the heart we must have the law there also. And having lived thus, when we are brought before the judgment-seat, and God fixes upon us his piercing gaze, he will see, not us, but the image of Christ, and because he lives we shall live also.3
This statement by Waggoner is disappointing. But let us not be too harsh on one who ranks among Adventism's most brilliant exponents of the gospel. His teaching on a believer's acceptance in the judgment was contrary to justification by faith. But the principles he was advocating on the law and the gospel would have eventually corrected that misunderstanding. The great Reformation historian, Philip Schaff, once said that Luther understood justification by faith in his heart long before he could clearly articulate it.4 When the young Reformer was shaking Europe with the gospel, he believed in prayers for the dead, the mass, "good" indulgences and the authority of the pope, and could still enunciate only an Augustinian view of justification by
69faith.5 But the early Luther possessed the ingredients which were to explode his own errors and break the stranglehold of the papacy. Likewise, Waggoner's light on the law and the gospel contained the vital ingredients to explode his own errors and to lighten the earth with the glory of God.
1 E. J. Waggoner, The Gospel in the Book of Galatians: A Review,
p. 70. [back]