Over the last few years, I have had a couple people assert to me that believing in Universal Justification leads one to ultimately reject the Investigative Judgment. The latter is a logical conclusion of the former.
The prime example of this dynamic that is appealed to is the life and theology of A. F. Ballenger, who was one of the earliest and foremost rejecters of the Investigative Judgment. An article, entitled, “Universal Justification and the Demise of a Preacher,” traces out the path that allegedly led to Ballenger’s demise and ultimate rejection of the Investigative Judgment.
I have read the article on a number of occasions. It was first brought to my attention four or five years ago. Someone again shared it with me this week. Both times that I have read it, I have been impressed with the evidence that links Ballenger’s views on justification with his rejection of the Investigative Judgment. Evidence is presented from Ellen White that warns about Ballenger’s “new light,” and how accepting the “new light” would ultimately lead to an obliteration of the sanctuary teaching.
A book by A. F. Ballenger, The Proclamation of Liberty and the Unpardonable Sin, is also cited in which Ballenger heralds Universal Justification. Thus, the author of the article posits, it is clear that the “new light” Ellen White warned would lead to a rejection of the Investigative Judgment, is Ballenger’s teaching on Universal Justification.
As I said, the evidence the author presents in the article is very convincing and compelling.
There’s just one problem: the evidence is not completely accurate. It is circumstantial at best and completely off-target at worst.
I have spent a great deal of time the last couple days examining the evidence from the primary sources. The overwhelming impression I have come away with is that there was not a hint of connection between Ballenger’s views on Universal Justification and his ultimate rejection of the Investigative Judgment.
Consider: in all of Ellen White’s warnings regarding Ballenger’s views, not once does she mention anything about Universal Justification or even hint at anything that speaks about his views on salvation. Thus, interpreting her warnings about Ballenger’s “new light” as being about Universal Justification is inserting into her writings that which she herself does not affirm.
In fact, Ellen White shares this interesting insight into part of Ballenger’s challenges: “A stronger determination to know nothing among men but Christ and Him crucified,” she writes, “would have given a different character to the work of Brother Ballenger on this ground” (MR 760 9.1). Again, she counseled: “Hold up the cross of Calvary. This will rebuke heathen philosophy and pagan idolatry. Lift up the cross of Calvary higher and still higher as the identified reality of Christianity. Let all our works, our every enterprise, show forth the sacred principles of the gospel” (MR760 25.2).
Thus, instead of asserting that Ballenger was placing too much emphasis on the cross, to the diminishing of the sanctuary, she actually proclaimed that he wasn’t lifting up the cross and “Christ and Him crucified” enough! This is especially provocative considering the fact that, four years later, Ballenger would write his infamous book which he asserted that he was “cast out” of the Adventist Church “for the cross of Christ.”
Which leads to the other challenge to the article’s assertion: Ballenger, himself, never made a connection between Universal Justification and rejecting the Investigative Judgment. When he met with the General Conference brethren for three hours in 1905, which ultimately led to his dismissal from Adventist ministry, he presented “Nine Theses” that took umbrage with the Adventist doctrine of the sanctuary. Nowhere in those “Nine Theses” (available here, on page 42) does he talk about Universal Justification or go anywhere near the teaching.
Four years later, when Ballenger published his book Cast Out For the Cross of Christ, he expounded upon his concerns with the Adventist teaching on the sanctuary and why he was “cast out” of the denomination. Again, nowhere in the book does he mention anything about Universal Justification or even hint at it.
Instead, his basic reasoning for why he rejected the traditional teaching on the sanctuary was as follows (I have read about 75% of the book and skimmed the rest):
1. Christ did not begin His ministry in the Holy Place of the sanctuary upon His ascension, but began His Most Holy Place ministry.
2. It leads, therefore, that the Holy Place ministry took place before the cross. “Then you place the first apartment ministry of the heavenly sanctuary, or the ministry ‘before the veil,’ from creation to the cross?” Ballenger asks, “Yes, a hundred times, Yes!” he answers, “and here is where a flood of light from the sanctuary falls on the path of the searching, praying pilgrim.”
3. The daily sacrifice did not secure pardon; it was merely a request from the sinner for pardon. Only the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, which contained the blood from the “Lord’s goat,” was able to provide pardon.
The reason why the priest did not enter the holy place within the veil until the day of atonement was because he did not have the blood of the Lord’s goat, a substitute for his own blood, to offer until that day. He could present the prayers of the penitent, represented by the blood which the penitent brought – he could present this “before the veil,” and obtain pardon for the sinner – in and through the merits of Christ’s coming death on the day of atonement; but he, being the sinner’s substitute, could not enter within the veil until he had the substitute for his own blood, which alone could, in type, meet the penalty of a broken law.
4. Contrary to Adventist teaching, which maintained that the sanctuary was defiled by the blood of the sacrifices through confession, Ballenger proposed that the sanctuary was defiled by sin, not by blood. “The blood of Christ is represented in the scriptures as cleansing – never defiling,” Ballenger wrote.
Thus, the transference of blood into the sanctuary, according to him, was an act of cleansing rather than an act of defiling.
5. Because of this, he proposed that Adventists were unwittingly buying into a Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement – that Christ died only for the elect. “Another baneful fruit of this error lies in the fact that it logically leads to the view that Christ died only for those sins which are confessed by the sinner. . . . This as before stated, leads directly into the camp of the Calvinists who teach that the death of Christ was on behalf of those only who will repent.”
6. He did not reject the significance of 1844, at least at this point. Instead, he said that the “cleansing of the sanctuary” in 1844 was for the purpose of ultimately atoning for the sins of Satan. “On this great day, there were two atonements made,” he writes, “the first on the mercy seat, on account of the iniquities of man; the other atonement on the head of the scapegoat, the type of the instigator of sin, Satan.”
7. Prior to Christ’s ascension after His resurrection, when He began His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, angels, which serve as “ministering spirits,” were those whom conducted the daily ministry in the sanctuary on behalf of sinners.
8. Lastly, Ballenger charged that “lurking in the doctrines of the denomination” is the teaching that prior to the cross, people were saved by works, “without the righteousness of Christ.”
This is, essentially, the explanation of Ballenger as to why he was “cast out” of the Church.
A couple realities should be pointed out: at this point, in 1909 when the book was published, and even back in 1905, Ballenger had not outright rejected the sanctuary teaching, nor the Investigative Judgment. He still believed in a heavenly sanctuary, in the 2300 days, and many of the other teachings surrounding the doctrine. Thus, the views he presented to the GC brethren were not a rejection of the sanctuary but challenges he had with parts of the Adventist explanation of it. Thus, Ellen White rightfully warned that if Ballenger’s “new light” was accepted that it would “would unsettle our faith in the sanctuary question.”
What the original article asserted, however, was that the “new light” Ballenger was teaching that would “unsettle our faith in the sanctuary question,” was the teaching of Universal Justification. But this was not the “new light” that Ballenger presented at all. Instead, it was what was outlined in his “Nine Theses” and expounded upon in his book.
Secondly, as I have already asserted, Ballenger did not talk about Universal Justification in his book. In fact, he hardly touched upon the salvation question at all. Contemporary historians recognize this and have noted what it was that Ellen White found so troubling about his teaching. “In brief,” R. W. Schwarz writes, “he held that the two apartments of the sanctuary represented the two phases of Christ’s work before and after His crucifixion. Whereas the Seventh-day Adventist teaching was that Christ entered the second apartment of the heavenly sacntuary (the holy of holies) only in 1844, Ballenger believed He had done so immediately after His ascension. At this time, according to Ballenger, the antitypical day of atonement began, not in 1844 as Seventh-day Adventists held” (Light Bearers to the Remnant, p. 448).
Herbert Douglass echoes Schwarz’s analysis: “At the 1905 General Conference session in Washington, Ballenger presented his ‘new’ light on the sanctuary doctrine,” Douglass posits. “His main thrust was that Jesus, on ascending to heaven, entered the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. Prior to the cross, He had been functioning in the first apartment, the Holy Place” (Messenger of the Lord, p. 205).
Again, based upon a personal study of Ballenger’s own writings, what historians also affirm, and what Ellen White herself explained were her concerns regarding his views, it seems to be a complete projection into the testimony of all involved that the “new light” Ellen White was so concerned about was Universal Justification.
In fact, what seems to be taking place is anachronistic thinking – ie., interpreting earlier events, thoughts, and ideas through the lens of later events, thoughts and ideas. This is because the foundation to the article’s assertion is based upon Ballenger’s book, The Proclamation of Liberty and the Unpardonable Sin. In this book, which, from my perspective, clearly teaches Universal Justification (though it is never put in these terms), Ballenger illustrates his views on salvation by appealing to Abraham Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation,” which unconditionally legally freed all slaves in the Southern states during the Civil War. Ballenger spends the first quarter of the book playing off this theme.
Interestingly, Ellen White, herself, used the “emancipation” analogy in her book, Ministry of Healing, published in 1905. “With His own blood,” she wrote, Jesus “has signed the emancipation papers of the race.” As far back as 1895 she used similar language to describe salvation, and again repeated it in a 1900 article in The Youth’s Instructor.
Ballenger’s book, The Proclamation of Liberty and the Unpardonable Sin, was not published until 1915. The author of the article asserts that Ballenger actually wrote the book in 1905 but it was rejected for publication, but this assertion is based upon a later recollection in 1921 by a friend who wrote a life sketch after Ballenger died.
For the most part, however, it is immaterial when Ballenger wrote the book. He could have very well written it prior to 1905, for all we know. But it does not change the reality that the book and its contents has no connection to the sanctuary question.
This is because, in the book, Ballenger does not talk whatsoever about the sanctuary or the Investigative Judgment. He, himself, does not make any connection between his views on salvation – and on Christ emancipating the entire race – and the sanctuary, whether for or against it. (In full disclosure, I have read about 50 pages of the 200+ page book – but I did not find any mention of a connection between his views on salvation and his views on the sanctuary. I also skimmed the rest of the book and did a word search for “sanctuary” and “judgment” and “investigative” and there is no presence, whatsoever, of a linking of the two ideas. In fact, he talks about the “sanctuary” just once in the whole book, and it is just in passing with no theological significance linked to the discussion.)
Furthermore, even if it could be demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ballenger held his Universal Justification views as far back as 1905, he makes no mention of this in his “Nine Theses” he presented to the GC brethren, nor in his later reflections on the issues in Cast Out For the Cross of Christ. Neither does Ellen White warn against these views, if he did, in fact, hold them at that point.
Lastly, I find it to be very intriguing that Ballenger and Ellen White both used the same theme when talking about salvation. They both appealed to Lincoln’s “emancipation” to explain the realities of salvation. So, either Ballenger utilized Ellen White’s analogy in his later book, or Ellen White utilized Ballenger’s teaching on it, or they both just happened to be using the same illustration for salvation at the same time. Either way, Ellen White definitely never warned Ballenger – or anyone else – about his views on salvation, maybe because she, at least in part, agreed with him.
So where does this leave us? First, I believe I have demonstrated unequivocally that no one has ever made the assertion – besides the author of the article – that Ballenger’s views on salvation, including Universal Justification, had any link to his rejection of Adventism’s historic view of the sanctuary. Ballenger never made the connection; Ellen White never made the connection; Adventist historians since then have never made the connection.
Secondly, I think we are on thin ice when we make ad hominem assertions about a particular theological idea. I know the author of the article is not seeking to establish the supposed falsehood of Universal Justification solely on the idea that Ballenger, who rejected the Adventist teaching of the sanctuary, subscribed to Universal Justification. But he is certainly trying to discredit, in part, the teaching on Universal Justification based on this alleged historical connection.
The challenge when one takes this route is that A. F. Ballenger is the only Adventist I have ever come across who both subscribed to Universal Justification and rejected the Investigative Judgment. Every single person I know who subscribes to Universal Justification – and they are many – is also a very committed adherent to the sanctuary and Investigative Judgment teaching. In fact, I would venture to say that the one person I know (or, in this case, knew) – Elder Robert Wieland – who was the strongest adherent to Universal Justification, was also the single strongest adherent to the sanctuary, Investigative Judgment, and Most Holy Place message.
Again, if one is seeking to bolster his or her argument as to the veracity of Universal Justification based upon the fruit of its adherents, I think the argument could actually be made that believing in Universal Justification actually insures that a person will embrace the Investigative Judgment. Based on numbers alone, there have been more Adventists who did not subscribe to Universal Justification that rejected the Investigative Judgment than there are who rejected it while subscribing to Universal Justification.
Which leads us back to my post about “necessary” and “sufficient” causes. It’s important we draw the distinction. While it could be argued – though, I would say, rather weakly – that Universal Justification is a “necessary” cause for rejecting the Investigative Judgment, it can, in no way, be argued that it is a “sufficient” one. Believing in Universal Justification does not logically conclude in one rejecting the Investigative Judgment. In fact, based on the fruit of its adherents alone, it could be argued just as convincingly that Universal Justification is actually a “sufficient” cause for embracing the Investigative Judgment. I am not prepared to go to this extreme, but in light of the fact that A. F. Ballenger appears to be the only one to ever both embrace Universal Justification and reject the Investigative Judgment (though, I do believe that one could make an historical argument that he first rejected the Investigative Judgement and then later embraced Universal Justification), it does give one reason to pause about the connection between the affirmation of both Universal Justification and the Investigative Judgment.
In closing, I, for the most part, dealt with part of the history of Universal Justification. I did not, in this post, deal with the theology of Universal Justification vis-a-vis the Investigative Judgment. But very briefly: I am not convinced, at this point, that the two teachings are at odds with one another. I do continue to grapple with the allegation but, thus far, I have found nothing in either teaching that rules the other out.