I’d like you to read this quote from Ellen White from 1889:
There are grand truths, long hidden under the rubbish of error, that are to be revealed to the people. The doctrine of justification by faith has been lost sight of by many who have professed to believe the third angel’s message. The Holiness people have gone to great extremes on this point. With great zeal they have taught, “Only believe in Christ, and be saved; but away with the law of God.” This is not the teaching of the word of God. There is no foundation for such a faith. This is not precious gem of truth that God has given to his people for this time. This doctrine misleads honest souls. The light from the word of God reveals the fact that the law must be proclaimed. Christ must be lifted up, because he is a Saviour who forgiveth transgression, iniquity, and sin, but will by no means clear the guilty and unrepentant soul. (RH August 13, 1889)
What are your impressions of her overall attitude toward the version of “justification by faith” that the “Holiness people” were sharing in her day? Did she think that their version of the teaching was positive; that all one needed to do was add the commandments and Sabbath-keeping and it could be repackaged as a uniquely-Adventist message?
Such an interpretation of this quotation, if promoted, would be a contradiction of the point she is making. In fact, she is quite clear. Though the Adventist people needed a greater emphasis on justification by faith, the Holiness people, who had gone to “great extremes” on the point, were not properly teaching justification by faith. In fact, she plainly states, “This is not the teaching of the word of God. There is no foundation for such a faith. This is not precious gem of truth that God has given to his people for this time. This doctrine misleads honest souls.” She even started the paragraph by saying that there are “grand truths” that have been “long hidden under the rubbish of error.”
To whom was she referring when she said that these grand truths had been hidden under a “rubbish of error”? She answers in the next few sentences: the “Holiness people.”
It doesn’t get any plainer. Any teaching on justification by faith that the Adventists in her day were to present (and, in fact, had been presenting) was not simply a Holiness version, plus the commandments of God. It was a unique understanding of justification by faith that went beyond “only believe in Christ, and be saved.”
And yet here is the great tragedy: there have been many who have used this precise quote to claim that Ellen White said the message that A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner shared in 1888 was merely a brand of justification by faith that the Holiness people of their day were sharing – plus the commandments of God.
I’m not sure how it can get any plainer, however. One cannot merely take an “extreme” version of justification by faith and add the commandments of God, and think that this is a coherent message. Implicit in the “Holiness people’s” version of justification by faith was doing away with the law; you cannot simply add the law to this version of justification by faith and achieve a coherent message. And Ellen White was certainly not claiming you could.
Sadly, many people have bought into this popularized version of our 1888 history – when all one has to do is read the very quotes some of our people refer to in their justification for their questionable views. They have been led to believe that Jones and Waggoner’s message was merely “basic Christianity” that Luther, Calvin, and the Holiness people of their time were sharing. But such was not the case. They brought a unique understanding of justification by faith that stood on the shoulders of these great men, going beyond their understanding of the cross (it takes little thought to realize how this could be so, considering that most Christians do not understand what happens when a person dies) and salvation.
We need to be students of this history ourselves, friends, and not just believe what someone else tells us! Let us be Bereans.
We would also see in the next few paragraphs these words where Ellen White points to Jones and Waggoner who brought a contrasting message to the Holiness people (as well as that of their fellow Adventists in their time – and ours):
God has raised up men to the meet the necessity of this time who will cry aloud and spare not, who will lift up their voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgressions and the house of Jacob their sins. Their work is not only to proclaim the law, but to preach the truth for this time, – the Lord our righteousness. . . . All heaven is interested in the work that is going on upon the earth. But there are those who see no necessity for a special work at this time. While God is working to arouse the people, they seek to turn aside the message of warning, reproof, and entreaty. . . . Those who are doing this, are giving the trumpet no certain sound. . . . Those who have the truth open before them for this time, bear a solemn responsibility. They must proclaim repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. They must dwell upon the cross of Christ, and call the attention of every soul to the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. Christ in his [sic] self-denial, Christ in his humiliation, Christ in his holiness, Christ in his matchless love, – this is the theme that needs to be brought out in every discourse.
May we all, with one heart, turn toward the cross and come before Christ in repentance. – something that starts with me!