The message of Righteousness by Faith came clearly and fully into the open at the General Conference held at Minneapolis, Minn., in November, 1888. It was made the one great subject of study in the devotional part of the Conference. It would seem that the presentation of the subject had been anticipated, and that there was an understanding that it would receive a thorough discussion in the Conference. At any rate, that was what took place.
The message was not received alike by all who attended the Conference; in fact, there was serious difference of opinion concerning it among the leaders. This division of opinion may be classified as follows:
Class 1. – Those who saw great light in it and gladly accepted it; who believed it to be a most essential phase of the gospel, and felt that it should be given great emphasis in all efforts to save the lost. To this class the message appeared to be the real secret of a victorious life in the conflict with sin, and that the great truth of being made righteous by faith in the Son of God was the most pressing need of the remnant church in preparing for translation at the second advent.
Class 2. – There were some, however, who felt uncertain about the "new teaching," as they termed it. They seemed unable to grasp it. They could not reach a conclusion. As a result, their minds were thrown into a state of perplexity and confusion. They neither accepted nor rejected the message at the time.
Class 3. – But there were others who were decidedly opposed to the presentation of the message. They claimed that the truth of righteousness by faith had been recognised by our people from the very first, and this was true theoretically. For this reason they saw no occasion for placing such great stress and emphasis upon the subject as was being done by its advocates. Furthermore, they feared that the emphasis placed upon this theme of righteousness by faith would cast a shadow upon the doctrines that had been given such prominence from the beginning of our denominational history; and since they looked upon the preaching of those distinctive doctrines as the secret of the power and growth of our movement, they were fearful that if these doctrines were overshadowed by any teaching or message whatsoever, our cause would lose its distinctive character and force. Because of these fears, they felt in duty bound to safeguard both cause and people by decided opposition.
This difference of views among the leaders led to serious results. It created controversy, and a degree of estrangement which was most unfortunate. But through the intervening years there has been steadily developing the desire and hope - yes, the belief - that someday the message of Righteousness by Faith would shine forth in all its inherent worth, glory, and power, and receive full recognition. And during this same time, misapprehension and opposition have been disappearing. With many, there is now a pressing conviction that this message of Righteousness by Faith should be studied, taught, and stressed to the fullest extent that its importance demands.
No complete report of the presentation and discussion of the message of Righteousness by Faith at the Minneapolis Conference was published. Oral reports were given by those in attendance. But through subsequent writings of the Spirit of prophecy, information is furnished regarding the developments in connection with the giving of the message and its reception and also its rejection, and it is quite necessary to become familiar with this inspired information in order to understand better our present situation. It would be far more agreeable to eliminate some of the statements given by the Spirit of prophecy regarding the attitude of some of the leaders toward the message and the messengers. But this cannot be done without giving only a partial presentation of the situation which developed at the Conference, thus leaving the question in more or less of mystery.
The Source From Which the Message Came
It became necessary for positive assurance to be given that the message of Righteousness and Justification by Faith that came at that time was by the direct leading of God, because of the confusion that had resulted by the opposition raised against it. The statements which follow should remove all question of doubt regarding the source of the message set forth at the Minneapolis Conference:
"The present message - Justification by Faith - is a message from God; it bears the divine credentials, for its fruit is unto holiness." – Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1889.
"Messages bearing the divine credentials have been sent to God's people; the glory, the majesty, the righteousness of Christ, full of goodness and truth, have been presented; the fullness of the Godhead in Jesus Christ has been set forth among us with beauty and loveliness, to charm all whose hearts are not closed with prejudice. We know that God has wrought among us. We have seen souls turned from sin to righteousness; we have seen faith revived in the hearts of the contrite ones." – Review and Herald, May 27, 1890.
Its Varied Reception
As previously stated, some who attended the Minneapolis Conference received the message of Righteousness by Faith with great satisfaction. It was to them a message of life. It gave them a new appreciation of Christ, a new vision of His great sacrifice on the cross. It brought to their hearts peace and joy and hope. It was the supreme element needed to prepare a people to meet God.
These individuals returned to their churches with a new unction to preach the gospel of salvation from sin, and to help their brethren to accept by faith the righteousness of Christ as revealed in the gospel. Sister White herself took a very active, earnest part in this work, and reported through the Review some of her experiences. For example:
We thank the Lord with all the heart that we have precious light to present before the people, and we rejoice that we have a message for this time which is present truth. The tidings that Christ is our righteousness has brought relief to many, many souls, and God says to His people, 'Go forward.' The message to the Laodicean church is applicable to our condition. How plainly is pictured the position of those who think they have all the truth, who take pride in their knowledge of the word of God, while its sanctifying power has not been felt in their lives. The fervour of the love of God is wanting in their hearts, but it is this very fervour of love that makes God's people the light of the world....
"In every meeting since the General Conference, souls have eagerly accepted the precious message of the righteousness of Christ. We thank God that there are souls who realise that they are in need of something which they do not possess, - gold of faith and love, white raiment of Christ's righteousness, eye salve of spiritual discernment. If you possess these precious gifts, the temple of the human soul will not be like a desecrated shrine. Brethren and. sisters, I call upon you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, to work where God works. Now is the day of gracious opportunity and privilege. " – Review and Herald, July 23, 1889.
Eight months later this word from her pen appeared:
I have travelled from place to place, attending meetings where the message of the righteousness of Christ was preached. I considered it a privilege to stand by the side of my brethren, and give my testimony with the message for the time; and I saw that the power of God attended the message wherever it was spoken." – Review and Herald, March 18, 1890.
Of a meeting in South Lancaster she stated:
“I have never seen a revival work go forward with such thoroughness, and yet remain so free from all undue excitement. There was no urging or inviting. The people were not called forward, but there was a solemn realisation that Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. The honest in heart were ready to confess their sins, and to bring forth fruit to God by repentance and restoration, as far as it lay in their power. We seemed to breathe in the very atmosphere of heaven. Angels were indeed hovering around. Friday evening, the social service began at five, and it was not dosed until nine.... There were many who testified that as the searching truths had been presented, they had been convicted in the light of the law as transgressors. They had been trusting their own righteousness. Now they saw it as filthy rags, in comparison with the righteousness of Christ, which is alone acceptable to God. While they had not been open transgressors, they saw themselves depraved and degraded in heart. They had substituted other gods in the place of their heavenly Father. They had struggled to refrain from sin, but had trusted in their own strength. We should go to Jesus just as we are, confessing our sins, and cast our helpless souls upon our compassionate Redeemer. This subdues the pride of the heart, and is a crucifixion of self." – Review and Herald, March 5, 1889.
What a mighty revival of true godliness, what a restoration of spiritual life, what a cleansing from sin, what a baptism of the Spirit, and what a manifestation of divine power for the finishing of the work in our own lives and in the world, might have come to the people of God if all our ministers had gone forth from that Conference as did this loyal, obedient servant of the Lord!
How sad, how deeply regrettable, it is that this message of righteousness in Christ should, at the time of its coming, have met with opposition on the part of earnest, well-meaning men in the cause of God! 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. The seriousness of exerting such an influence is indicated through the reproofs that were given. These words of reproof and admonition should receive most thoughtful consideration at this time:
"God has raised up men to 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 transgression, 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....
"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. Their influence tends to quiet the fears of the people, and to prevent them from awaking to the solemnity of this time. Those who are doing this, are giving the trumpet an uncertain sound. They ought to be awake to the situation, but they have become ensnared by the enemy." – Review and Herald, Aug. 13, 1889.
Mark the serious indictment which follows:
“You will meet with those who will say, 'You are too much excited over the matter. You are too much in earnest. You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law.' As a people we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa, that had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God. We must not trust in our own merits at all, but in the merits of Jesus of Nazareth.” – Review and Herald, March 11, 1890.
Note also the serious implication in the following statements:
“Some of our brethren are not receiving the message of God upon this subject. They appear to be anxious that none of our ministers shall depart from their former manner of teaching the good old doctrines. We inquire, Is it not time that fresh light should come to the people of God, to awaken them to greater earnestness and zeal? The exceeding great and precious promises given us in the Holy Scriptures have been lost sight of to a great extent, just as the enemy of all righteousness designed that they should be. He has cast his own dark shadow between us and our God, that we may not see the true character of God.” – Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.
"God has sent to His people testimonies of truth and righteousness, and they are called to lift up Jesus, and to exalt His righteousness. Those whom God has sent with a message are only men, but what is the character of the message which they bear? Will you dare to turn from, or make light of, the warnings, because God did not consult you as to what would be preferred? God calls men who will speak, who will cry aloud and spare not. God has raised up His messengers to do His work for this time. Some have turned from the message of the righteousness of Christ to criticise the men. – "Review and Herald, Dec. 27, 1890.
"The Lord has sent a message to arouse His people to repent, and do their first works; but how has His message been received? While some have heeded it, others have cast contempt and reproach on the message and the messenger. Spirituality deadened, humility and childlike simplicity gone, a mechanical, formal profession of faith has taken the place of love and devotion. Is this mournful condition of things to continue? Is the lamp of God's love to go out in darkness?" – Review and Herald, Extra, Dec. 23, 1890.
Lest we miss the force of these heart-searching messages, let us recount the salient points:
1. God raised up men to meet the necessity of the time.
2. Some sought to turn aside the message, and to prevent an awakening among the people.
3. Such persons were ensnared by the enemy, and gave the trumpet an uncertain sound.
4. These men declared that the law should be preached, - not the righteousness of Christ.
5. The exhortation is to preach Christ in the law.
6. Some were fearful of a departure from the former manner of preaching the good old doctrines.
7. God raised up men to herald the message of Righteousness by Faith.
8. The challenge: “Will you dare to turn from, or make light of, the warnings?”
9. The twofold result of rejecting the message.
a. Deadening of spirituality.
b. Influx of a mechanical, formal profession of faith.
10. The climactic question: "Is this mournful condition of things to continue?"
Verily it is a sobering resume!
The Results of Division of Opinion
The division and conflict which arose among the leaders because of the opposition to the message of righteousness in Christ, produced a very unfavourable reaction. The rank and file of the people were confused, and did not know what to do. Concerning this reaction, we read:
“If our brethren were all labourers together with God, they would not doubt but that the message, he has sent us during these last two years is from heaven. Our young men look to our older brethren, and as they see that they do not accept the message, but treat it as though it were of no consequence, it influences those who are ignorant of the Scriptures to reject the light. These men who refuse to receive truth, interpose themselves between the people and the light. But there is no excuse for anyone's refusing the light, for it has been plainly revealed. There is no need of anyone's being in ignorance. . . . Instead of pressing your weight against the chariot of truth that is being pulled up an inclined road, you should work with all the energy you can summon to push it on.” – Review and Herald, March 18, 1890.
"For nearly two years, we have been urging the people to come up and accept the light and the truth concerning the righteousness of Christ, and they do not know whether to come and take hold of this precious truth or not. They are bound about with their own ideas. They do not let the Saviour in." – Review and Herald, March 11, 1890.
“Some have turned from the message of the righteousness of Christ to criticise the men. . . . The third angel's message will not be comprehended, the light which will lighten the earth with its glory will be called a false light, by those who refuse to walk in its advancing glory. The work that might have been done, will be left undone by the rejectors of truth, because of their unbelief. We entreat of you who oppose the light of truth, to stand out of the way of God's people. Let Heaven sent light shine forth upon them in clear and steady rays.” – Review and Herald, May 27, 1890.
"There is sadness in heaven over the spiritual blindness of many of our brethren. . . . The Lord has raised up messengers and endued them with His Spirit, and has said, 'Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.' Let no one run the risk of interposing himself between the people and the message of Heaven. The message of God will come to the people; and if there were no voice among men to give it, the very stones would cry out. I call upon every minister to seek the Lord, to put away pride, to put away strife after supremacy, and humble the heart before God. It is the coldness of heart, the unbelief of those who ought to have faith, that keeps the churches in feebleness." –
Review and Herald, July 26, 1892.
The solemn import of these Heaven-indited words should not be missed. Mark well these crystal-clear statements:
1. The message of 1888-90 was from heaven.
2. Its rejection by some of the more experienced brethren led the younger men into uncertainty and confusion.
3. Those who rejected the message, interposed themselves between the people and the light.
4. There is no excuse; the light has been plainly revealed.
5. The reason men are slow to take hold of this precious truth is that they are bound about with their own ideas.
6. The course of some has been to turn from the message to criticise the messengers.
7. Those who refuse to walk in this advancing light, will be unable to comprehend the third angel's message.
8. Those who refuse to walk in this heavenly light, that is to lighten the earth with its glory, will call it a “false light.”
9. As a result of their unbelief, important work will be left undone.
10. Solemn entreaty to those who oppose the light to "stand out of the way" of the people.
11. Such spiritual blindness causes "sadness in heaven."
12. The positive assurance that God "raised up messengers and endued them with His Spirit."
13. If there had been no human voice lifted to give the message, the very stones would have cried out.
14. The call to every minister to humble the heart before God in order that spiritual strength may come to the church.
Surely comment on such solemn warnings and entreaties would be superfluous.
Fundamental Principles Involved
Back of the opposition is revealed the shrewd plotting of that master mind of evil, the enemy of all righteousness. The very fact of his determination to neutralise the message and its inevitable effects, is evidence of its great value and importance; and how terrible must be the results of any victory of his in defeating it! Concerning Satan's shrewd planning, we are given plain warning:
"The enemy of man and God is not willing that this truth [justification by faith] should be clearly presented; for he knows that if the people receive it fully, his power will be broken. If he can control minds so that doubt and unbelief and darkness shall compose the experience of those who claim to be the children of God, he can overcome them with temptation." – Review and Herald, Sept. 3,1889.
"Our present position is interesting and perilous. The danger of refusing light from heaven should make us watchful unto prayer, lest we should any of us have an evil heart of unbelief. When the Lamb of God was crucified on Calvary, the death knell of Satan was sounded; and if the enemy of truth and righteousness can obliterate from the mind the thought that it is necessary to depend upon the righteousness of Christ for salvation, he will do it. If Satan can succeed in leading man to place value upon his own works as works of merit and righteousness, he knows that he can overcome him by his temptations, and make him his victim and prey. Lift up Jesus before the people. Strike the doorposts with the blood of Calvary's Lamb, and you are safe." – Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1889.
Once more let us summarise these statements, because of their far-reaching importance:
1. It is Satan who is unwilling that the truth of Righteousness by Faith shall be presented.
2. The reason is that, if this truth is fully received by the people, his power will be broken.
3. If Satan can throw about the people doubt and unbelief, he can overcome them through temptation.
4. It is Satan's endeavour to obliterate from the mind that it is necessary to depend upon the righteousness of Christ for salvation.
5. Satan knows that if he can lead men to depend upon their own works for righteousness, they will be his victims.
6. Therefore the call is sounded: Lift up the crucified Saviour, and place your trust in His blood.
What a challenge to prayer is here presented! How we should seek God in humility for the anointing of the heavenly eyesalve! Only by the full acceptance and appropriation of these glorious provisions can a people be prepared to stand without spot or wrinkle before a holy God at His coming. Only thus may His commandments be truly kept, and only by this divine power can the church finish its great commission.