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Waggoner's 1888 Message
Waggoner's name will always be associated with justification by faith and the Minneapolis conference of 1888. Mrs. White declared it was the beginning of the light which was to propel the little Advent body into the latter rain and loud cry. If accepted, the 1888 message would have brought the speedy finishing of God's work on earth. If Mrs. White is to be believed, the appallingly simple fact is that Minneapolis itself explains why Christ has not come. The issue of that conference has returned to the Seventh-day Adventist church with new urgency. The burning question is, What did Waggoner actually present in 1888? We have no record of Waggoner and Jones' actual presentations. Uriah Smith, however, briefly summarized the first three of Waggoner's eleven studies. Here is his report as it appeared in the General Conference Daily Bulletin:
72Wednesday, October 17, 1888
73Friday, October 19, 1888
74various relations, coming under the general head of justification by faith. These subjects have aroused a deep interest in the minds of all present; and thus far during the Conference one hour a day has been devoted to a continuance of their study.5
Robert J. Wieland has a special affection for The Glad Tidings, Waggoner's commentary on Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. This was first published in the Signs of the Times in 1898-1899 as a series entitled "Studies in Galatians." It was repeated in the Review and finally published as a book in 1900. In 1972 it was reprinted by the Pacific Press Publishing Association after Wieland had editorially removed some pantheistic statements.
The myth that The Glad Tidings of 1900 represents the 1888 message has been promoted by the advertising on the back cover of the 1972 reprint. Here Waggoner's 1888 lectures on Galatians are virtually identified with his 1900 commentary revised by Wieland. This myth seems to suggest, "Do you want to know all about the 1888 message? Then read The Glad Tidings!"
Froom fostered a similar myth when he proposed that some of the works published after 1888 presented the light that began to break at the conference. Froom, of course, did not originate this myth. A. G. Daniells apparently felt that Waggoner's 1891 studies on Romans,6 or even his pantheistic book, The Everlasting Covenant,
75were the light of 1888.7
These myths are based on a common fallacy. They look to Waggoner's subsequent works for evidence of what he taught in 1888. Some clues can be found in these works. But Waggoner's writings prior to 1888, and especially his articles written on the verge of the conference, basically represent his presentations at that time.
Before 1888 Waggoner had been writing extensively on the law in Galatians and its connection with justification by faith. As mentioned earlier, a controversy on the law in Galatians had flared between him and George Butler. Butler had written a book to refute Waggoner.8 And Waggoner had replied in a seventy-one page open letter dated February 10, 1887.9 He released this for publication one month after the Minneapolis conference, presumably because Mrs. White had decided that the controversy over the law in Galatians should be settled by fair and open discussion.10
76Uriah Smith's report on Waggoner's presentation at the conference confirms that his subject was the law in Galatians in connection with justification by faith.11 This agrees with Mrs. White's recollection of Dr. Waggoner's studies.
An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth, lay at the foundation of a large share of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lord's message through Brethren [E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones.]12
I see the beauty of truth in the presentation of the righteousness of Christ in relation to the law as the doctor has placed it before us. You say, many of you, it is light and truth. Yet you have not presented it in this light heretofore. Is it not possible that through earnest, prayerful searching of the Scriptures he has seen still greater light on some points? That which has been presented harmonizes perfectly with the light which God has been pleased to give me during all the years of my experience. If our ministering brethren would accept the doctrine which has been presented so clearly—the righteousness of Christ in connection with the law—and I know they need to accept this, their prejudices would not have a controlling power, and the people would be fed with their portion of meat in due season.13
77It is obvious that what had preoccupied a man up to the time of the conference and what he himself had published one month after the conference would provide the clue to what he presented at the conference.
Just before the conference of 1888 Waggoner clearly taught a purely forensic justification. In the year of that conference he wrote two articles in the Signs which demonstrate his reliance on Luther and show that he was moving toward the recovery of the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith. These two articles, we believe, hold the key to the light of 1888.
Two Kinds of Righteousness
On February 24, 1888, Waggoner published an article entitled "Different Kinds of Righteousness.,, 14 He obviously received his inspiration for this article from Luther. In fact, he quoted rather extensively from Luther's Commentary on Galatians.
Waggoner's basic thesis was that there are two kinds of righteousness—Christ's righteousness, also called the righteousness of faith, and our righteousness, which is the righteousness of the law. The connection between this theme and Luther will be obvious to those acquainted with the birth of the Protestant Reformation.
According to Luther's own testimony, it was in 1519 that he came to a Reformational understanding of "the
78righteousness of God" and justification by faith.15 Early in that year Luther wrote his pathfinding sermon on Two Kinds of Righteousness.16 One righteousness was the infinite righteousness of Christ, His suffering and dying for us. The other righteousness was the godly life of the believer. Luther was not yet able to articulate his doctrine of righteousness by faith in terms of imputed or forensic righteousness. And not everything in his sermon represents the clear Protestant doctrine. But as John Dillenberger's selections from Martin Luther's writings demonstrate, this sermon on Two Kinds of Righteousness was the basic structure on which Luther built his Reformation theology.17 Luther's great Commentary on Galatians shows that he built everything around this basic distinction between gospel righteousness
79and law righteousness.18
In his Galatians commentary Luther called the first righteousness "passive righteousness," "gospel righteousness," "the righteousness of faith," "imputed righteousness." The second he called "active righteousness," "good works" and "the righteousness of the law." The first righteousness is not a quality in the heart, for the heart possesses it only in faith. But the second is a quality, for it consists in love and good works by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This clear distinction—but not separation—between gospel and law, justification and sanctification, was the Magna Charta of the Reformation. As Dr. Lowell C. Green demonstrates, this was the great hermeneutic principle of the Reformation.19 Luther declared that whoever blurs or destroys that distinction blurs or destroys the light of the Reformation.
Waggoner had been moving toward the recovery of Reformation theology since 1884. But his article on "Different Kinds of Righteousness" shows he had not fully penetrated the Reformation position. Waggoner apparently thought the righteousness of the law refers only to
80efforts to keep the law by unaided human effort. He failed to see that "the righteousness of the law" (Rom. 8:4) also refers to genuine sanctification, which the Bible does call "our righteousness" (Deut. 6:25), "his [the believer's] righteousness" (Ezek. 3:20), "your good works" (Matt. 5:16), "mine own righteousness" (Phil. 3:9) and "your work of faith" and "labour of love" (1 Thess. 1:3).20 In other words, what Luther called "active righteousness" refers to the sanctified living of the believer. This must not be confused with passive righteousness—the righteousness of faith.
Although Waggoner distinguished "our righteousness" "of the law" from the righteousness of faith, his distinction did not go far enough. He failed to see that works done after grace as well as before grace must be excluded from the article of the saving righteousness of faith. Otherwise sanctification can be included in the righteousness of faith. Salvation is then based partly on what Christ has done and partly on what the believer does.21
81Waggoner's February 24 article on "Different Kinds of Righteousness," however, gave conclusive evidence that he was struggling to grasp the light which broke mightily on the world in the sixteenth century.22 This, of course, belies the claim that Waggoner was far in advance of the Reformation.
In July, 1888, three months before the Minneapolis conference, Waggoner gave further evidence that he was struggling to recover the light given to Luther. He wrote a significant article, entitled "Lawful Use of the Law," in which he extensively reflected Luther.23 This article provides greater insight into Waggoner's contribution to the doctrine of justification by faith than anything else he wrote.
In order to understand the significance of Waggoner's use of Luther, we need to reflect on the law in Reformation history. Melanchthon was the first Reformation theologian to define what became known as the three uses of the law:
1. In the social use the knowledge of the law acts as a restraint on sin and for the promotion of right doing in society.
2. In the pedagogic use the law brings man under the conviction of sin, makes him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law, works wrath and acts as a tutor to bring him to Christ.
3. In the didactic or normative use, also called the tertius usus legis or third use of the law, the law becomes a
82rule of life for the believer after he is justified. It reminds him of his duty and leads him in the way of life and salvation.
In teaching the gospel and justification unto life eternal, the law is used as the "schoolmaster" (Gal. 3:24) to drive us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. But it is the third use of the law that teaches the true way of sanctification.
The church before the Reformation was much like the Adventist community before 1888. All the emphasis was placed on the third use of the law. Men tried to obtain life by keeping the law—with God's help of course! They thought they could finally stand in the judgment if they kept the law well enough or if Christ kept it in them— really the same in principle. But no one could be sure of salvation or acceptance in the final judgment, for no one could be sure he was keeping the law to the full satisfaction of divine justice.
Luther's great emphasis was the second use of the law, especially in his Commentary on Galatians.24 With powerful assaults on the legalism of the church, Luther showed it was vain to expect life from the law "before grace or after grace." The law works wrath (Rom. 4:15). Its office for fallen man is not to give life but to terrify, to kill and to hammer all human righteousness into powder. Luther's emphasis on this use of the law was so great that his lectures on Galatians seem to have a negative attitude to the law. In the same way, the careless reader might also think Paul speaks against the law in passages like Romans 7 and Galatians 3.
In Adventism nearly all the emphasis was placed on
83the third use of the law. This is not surprising since the Adventist mission was to urge obedience to all the Ten Commandments. Many apparently took considerable satisfaction in the thought that they alone were God's favored "remnant" because they kept all God's commandments. Even men like Smith, Butler and, yes, Waggoner, rested in the hope that successful lawkeeping would enable men to finally stand in judgment and win the verdict of eternal life. Even what Mrs. White had said before 1888 was insufficient to expose this vain Laodicean hope.25
Waggoner came to this law-loving, law-boasting community like a Martin Luther. He unveiled the fierce face of the law in its terrible greatness, its wrath against imperfection and its righteousness that can only condemn and never justify the sinner. Adventists had evaded the force of Galatians 3 by saying Paul was only discussing the ritual law. They could not bear the fierce face of the moral law, which tore their Laodicean righteousness to shreds. To Smith and Butler it seemed that Waggoner's position on the law in Galatians would pull down the pillars of the Advent faith and weaken its stand on the Ten Commandments. Before leaving for Minneapolis Waggoner fired Martin Luther's words on the use of the law at his would-be opposition.26
Again, this resort to Luther explodes the myth that Waggoner was far in advance of the sixteenth-century Reformation. The facts of history reveal that the little
84Adventist community were reliving the controversy of the sixteenth century. They had the opportunity to rediscover what the Reformers had said long before them. When Luther began preaching justification by faith, his Roman Catholic opponents argued that Paul's disparaging remarks on the law as a method of salvation referred to the ceremonial law rather than the moral law. The Adventist understanding of the law before 1888 was like the church's view of the law before the Reformation.
Waggoner's discovery that the moral law was the particular issue in Romans and Galatians 3 was part of the heritage of the Protestant Reformation. There is no evidence, however, that he ever fully recovered that heritage. What might have been the blessing if his brethren had heartily joined him in a corporate recovery of the gospel—a recovery far exceeding the light of the Reformation! But this was not to be. Waggoner was part of his community. He could not transcend its limitations. Did he try to press on alone, only to stumble and fall?
We have shown why we believe that Waggoner's pre-1888 material best represents his mind at the conference. All the available evidence confirms this. The great issue at the conference was the law in Galatians. It involved Waggoner's recovery of the Reformation heritage on the second use of the law. The light was unwelcome.
Wieland's suggestion that the central issue at Minneapolis was justification by faith and that the argument on the law in Galatians was only a distraction is another myth.27 Just as Luther's use of law was an integral part of his message on justification, so the use of the law was an essential part of Waggoner's message on
85justification. Luther's message was law and gospel. And from 1884 to 1888 law and gospel was Waggoner's constant theme.
Ellen G. White understood that Waggoner's light at Minneapolis was light on the relation of the law to the gospel. She commented that this light was to lighten the earth with the glory of God (Rev. 18:1).28 Mrs. White was impressed with Waggoner's message on the law and the gospel when she first heard him at Minneapolis. She
86responded with her whole being29 — even though there were some points on which she thought Waggoner may have been wrong.30 Significantly, after 1888 she made the second use of the law more prominent.31
The Uriah Smith-Ellen G. White Misunderstanding
Uriah Smith was distressed when this "mother in Israel" took E. J. Waggoner's position on the law in Galatians. He had expected her to take the same position she did in the similar controversy with Waggoner's
87father in 1856. Her apparent about-face astonished him. What is more, Mrs. White had sent a testimony telling J. H. Waggoner he was wrong.
There is another interesting aspect to this matter. In her February 18, 1887, letter to Waggoner and Jones, written from Basel, Switzerland, Mrs. White said the dispute over the law in Galatians was an unimportant side issue which should not disturb the unity of the church. But when she actually heard Waggoner on this disputed matter in 1888, she thought it was worth risking a denominational revolution.
A little over a year after Minneapolis, Uriah Smith wrote a letter to Mrs. White on the issue of the law in Galatians. He expressed considerable surprise at the change in her position. He reminded her of the 1856 debate over J. H. Waggoner's position, of her part in silencing him and of her testimony to J. H. Waggoner stating he was wrong. Smith stated that E. J. Waggoner's articles in the Signs of 1886 had seemed to him then, as well as at the time of writing in February, 1890, to directly contradict Mrs. White's counsel to J. H. Waggoner.
According to Smith some had tried to make it appear that Mrs. White did not have J. H. Waggoner's stand on the law in Galatians in mind when she said his position was wrong. Smith was adamant, however, that the only issue involved in 1856 was whether the law which Paul said was "added" was the moral law.32
Mrs. White, however, was not as clear on the subject as Smith appeared to be. In her February, 1887, letter to Waggoner and Jones, she said:
88written nearly twenty years ago  in reference to the "added law." I read this to Elder [J. H.] Waggoner. I stated then to him that I had been shown that his position in regard to the law was incorrect, and from the statement I made to him he has been silent upon the subject for many years....
I have sent repeatedly for my writings on the law, but that special article has not yet appeared. There is such an article in Healdsburg, I am well aware, but it has not come as yet. I have much writing many years old on the law, but the special article I read to Elder Waggoner has not come to me....
I have wanted to get out articles in regard to the law, but I have been moving about so much, my writings are where I can not have advantage of them.... But I did see years ago that Elder Waggoner's views were not correct, and read to him matter which I had written.33
89oath at a court of justice, I should be obliged to testify that to the best of my knowledge and belief, that was the only point then at issue [whether the law in Galatians 3 was the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic law system]; and on that you [Ellen G. White] said that Brother Waggoner was wrong.35
He then added: "I may state, however, that the view which I have taught is quite materially different from that which father held. I do not know whether or not he now holds the same view."36 However, an examination of J. H. Waggoner's book, The Law of God: An Examination of the Testimony of Both Testaments, shows that he and his son took substantially the same position on the
90law in Galatians 3.37 Why then did E. J. Waggoner plead that his position differed from his father's? Was it to protect himself from the charge of guilt by association? Or was it a wish to be judged on his own merits? Furthermore, what happened to the testimony Mrs. White wrote to father J. H. Waggoner, saying he was wrong? No one seems to know.
Some conservatives will think it irreverent to raise these problems. But with their rigid view of "spiritual gifts," some have virtually dehumanized Mrs. White. Is
91there not a danger in assuming personal infallibility in all she did? Regardless of the answers to these questions, Mrs. White emerges in our research as more human and more resourceful than many have thought. She was one of the few who enlarged their theological boundaries after the age of sixty.
As for Waggoner, he had already done the work for which he was born. We will see that his star never rose any higher.
1 Uriah Smith, "First Day's Proceedings," General Conference Daily Bulletin 2, no. 1 (19 Oct. 1888): 2. [back]
2 Uriah Smith, "Second Day's Proceedings," General Conference Daily Bulletin 2, no. 1 (19 Oct. 1888): 2. [back]
3 Uriah Smith, "Third Day's Proceedings," General
Conference Daily Bulletin 2, no. 2 (21 Oct. 1888): 1. [back]
11 See notes 1-4. [back]
30 In her closing address at Minneapolis, Ellen G. White stated:
"Some interpretations of Scripture given by Dr. Waggoner I do not
regard as correct" (White, Manuscript 15, 1888; cited in Olson, Crisis
to Victory, p. 294). One example that she probably had in mind was
Waggoner's interpretation of the phrase in Galatians 3:19, "till
the Seed should come to whom the promise was made." Waggoner
believed that this referred to the second advent of Christ. [back]
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