I. Limitations of "Firm Platform" Statement. To understand both the implications and limitations of the "Firm Platform" statement, it is essential to bear in mind two historical facts:
(1) This declaration is part of the vision of 1848 on the "great controversy," received at the time of the epochal Sabbath conferences of that year.
(2) Ten years later, in 1858, this great panoramic vision was repeated, with instruction this time to write it out. Here is Mrs. White's own explanatory statement :
"In this vision at Lovett's Grove [outside Bowling Green, Ohio], most of the matter of the great controversy which I had seen ten years before, was repeated, and I was shown that I must write it out." 1
This she did, and it comprises Spiritual Gifts, Volume I, reprinted later in Early Writings. While the full scope of the 1848 vision is not a matter of record, the statement that it comprised "most of the matter . . . I had seen ten years before" justifies the conclusion that what was written in 1858 was essentially a repetition of the view of 1848. The entire content of Spiritual Gifts, Volume I, then, is one continuing, connected view, and not a series of visions at different times brought together in co-ordinated form. The seeming chapter headings are really but subheads in one continuous and progressive vision.
However, the essential point for us is that the warning against tampering with the blocks and "pins" there portrayed, must be limited to the historic positions already established by 148 and 1858. Even a cursory reading reveals the fact that this particular discussion is confined to the basic first, second, and third messages, the sanctuary, and the Sabbath, and their inception prior to i88; not strained and spread out to include positions, details, and developments that did not come into existence for years or even decades thereafter. It is to be regretted that some have sincerely but wrongly attempted to apply this counsel to details of exposition not yet formulated and to positions in books as yet unwritten. (Thoughts on the Revelation, for example, was not published until 1867, nine years later, and Thoughts on Daniel not issued until 1872, or fourteen years thereafter.) We cannot rightly apply the Spirit of prophecy injunction, to issues and positions developed and introduced subsequent to 1858.
2. Regrettable Confusion of Issues. With such an understanding of the basic principle involved, we would now call attention to the fact that occasionally there arises an unfortunate confusion of issues and a regrettable failure to distinguish between the fundamentals which constitute the actual foundation pillars of this movement and those minor or incidental items in prophetic interpretation that do not involve or affect the fundamentals, and upon which there always has been, and still is, legitimate difference of individual view.
It is the confusion of these two radically different categories, with the magnifying of nonessential details into parity with the fundamental pillars of our faith, that periodically causes needless and regrettable controversy, and which, on the part of some, forms the basis of a misconceived devotion to truth, as well as a gratuitous defense of the faith against fancied assaults. It is this fallacious reasoning that arouses resentment and opposition on the part of truly loyal men who naturally resent being stigmatized as disloyal on the basis of artificial issues and tests that are explicitly condemned by the Spirit of prophecy.
It will be conceded by every true Adventist that in both the voluminous writings of the Spirit of prophecy and its silences which are often truly significant and determinative—we find safe and sure guidance as to what may properly be denominated the "foundation stones" in the "firm platform" of this message—the actual "old landmarks" of this movement that are really "tests," and which cannot be tampered with save with peril to all concerned. When the gift has clearly spoken in definition, support, or condemnation upon a given point, or has distinguished by its utterances or silences between essentials of the message that call for agreement and nonessentials wherein uniformity is not material, the matter has been settled for all who accept that gift as of inspired origin and authority.
3. Classic Example At Minneapolis Institute. An illuminating example of the principle involved is provided by the issue that came to the forefront at the Bible institute held at Minneapolis, in 1888, preceding the General Conference of the same year. Certain Biblical and historical topics were scheduled for discussion. Along with the issue of righteousness by faith and the law in Galatians, the question of the Alemanni instead of the Huns in the list of kingdoms became the subject of sharp discussion at this Bible institute. The Review and Herald of October 16, 1888, gives this intimation as to the scope of the discussions of this "General Conference Institute":
"The subjects proposed to be considered in the hours for Bible and historical study are, so far, a historical view of the ten kingdoms, the divinity of Christ, the healing of the deadly wound, justification by faith."
In the next number (October 23) the depth of feeling astir over the Huns-versus-the-Alemanni issue, and the inconcealable heat engendered, are disclosed in these editorial words of the advocate of the Hun view:
"The principal question thus far discussed is that of the ten kingdoms that arose out of the Roman Empire, as represented by the ten horns of the fourth beast of Daniel 7. The claim is set up, as our readers are aware, that the enumeration usually given of those kingdoms should be changed, and the Alemanni be put in place of the Huns as one of the ten. This position was advocated at great length, and as much was said on the other side as the limited state of preparation would allow. In view of all that was said on both sides, the sentiment of the delegates appeared, from unmistakable indications, to be overwhelmingly on the side of established principles of interpretation, and the old view. Whether or not this will make any difference with those who are urging the new position, remains to be seen."
The charge was made by some that this adjustment in the detail list of the ten kings was an attack upon the foundation pillars of our faith, a removing of the old landmarks, a tampering with the firm platform. So strong were partisan feelings that when men would greet each other they would ask, "Are you a Hun or an Alemanni ?" Appeal was made for the traditional position to be maintained. One prominent leader, ill and absent at Battle Creek, telegraphed the message, "Stand by the old landmarks!"
It was after all this that Ellen White was directed to write out that classic message of rebuke concerning false issues versus actual landmarks of the message, and the discussion at the institute and conference. It clearly and sharply defined the only true "old landmarks," and distinguished for all time between fundamentals that are vital and secondary matters that are only incidental, and which are confused only at ruinous cost. Here are her sobering words, comprehensive in scope, crystal-clear in perception and analysis, timeless in their applicability, and bearing the insignia of heaven:
"In Minneapolis God gave precious gems of truth to His people in new settings. This light from heaven by some was rejected with all the stubbornness the Jews manifested in rejecting Christ, and there was much talk about standing by the old landmarks. But there was evidence they knew not what the old landmarks were. There was evidence and there was reasoning from the Word that commended itself to the conscience; but the minds of men were fixed, sealed against the entrance of light, because they had decided it was a dangerous error removing the 'old landmarks' when it was not moving a peg of the old landmarks, but they had perverted ideas of what constituted the old landmarks.
"The passing of the time in 1844 was a period of great events, opening to our astonished eyes the cleansing of the sanctuary transpiring in heaven, and having decided relation to God's people upon the earth, [also] the first and second angels' messages and the third, unfurling the banner on which was inscribed, 'The commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.' One of the landmarks under this message was the temple of God, seen by His truth-loving people in heaven, and the ark containing the law of God. The light of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment flashed its strong rays in the pathway of the transgressors of God's law. The nonimmortality of the wicked is an old landmark. I can call to mind nothing snore that can come under the head of the old landmarks. All this cry about changing the old landmarks is all imaginary.
"Now at the present time God designs a new and fresh impetus shall be given to His work. Satan sees this, and he is determined it shall be hindered. He knows that if he can deceive the people who claim to believe present truth, [and make them believe that] the work the Lord designs to do for His people is a removing of the old landmarks,—something which they should with most determined zeal, resist, then he exults over the deception he has led them to believe. The work for this time has certainly been a surprising work of various hindrances, owing to the false setting of matters before the minds of many of our people. That which is food to the churches is regarded as dangerous, and should not be given them. And this slight difference of ideas is allowed to unsettle the faith, to cause apostasy, to break up unity, to sow discord, all because they do not know what they are striving about themselves.
"Brethren, is it not best to be sensible? Heaven is looking upon us all, and what can they think of recent developments? While in this condition of things, building up barriers, we not only deprive ourselves of great light and precious advantages, but just now, when we so much need it, we place ourselves where light cannot be communicated from heaven that we ought to communicate to others."
In the light of this inspired declaration we are compelled to deny and to reject the contention that an adjustment in the listing of the ten horns, in order to bring them into harmony with better-understood facts of history, constitutes a departure from the faith or an attack upon the foundations. The central point of Daniel's prophecy concerning the horns is positive identification of the Papacy as the little horn arising among the divisions of Rome, with its allotted period from A.D. 538 to 1798. That is as far as the Spirit of prophecy goes.'
This magnification of detail is in contrast to the great foundation stones or blocks of the message, which cannot be moved, and tallies precisely with later statements, such as this uncompromisingly strong declaration :
"Our faith in reference to the messages of the first, second, and third angels was correct. The great way-marks we have passed are immovable. Although the hosts of hell may try to tear them from their foundation, and triumph in the thought that they have succeeded, yet they do not succeed. These pillars of truth stand firm as the eternal hills, unmoved by all the efforts of men combined with those of Satan and his host."
4. Involvements of the threefold message. Do these three great steps, or platforms, seem too simple and elementary, and not comprehensive enough? Review again what is really involved. The flight of the first angel symbolizes the bearing of the everlasting gospel in its final form and application to mankind, increasingly understood and declared throughout the flight of the third angel.
The second angel's message involves the revealing of the fatal apostasy of Christendom and its willful rejection of God's last-day reformatory call to mankind. It embraces the faithful exposure of nominal Christianity's unlawful alliances with the spirit and practices of the nations of earth, the excuseless pollution of pure doctrine, and faithlessness to Christ as her true and only lawful Head, with a summons to come out from such to join God's commandment-keeping, Spirit-of-prophecy-guided, faith-of-Jesus, remnant people.
The third angel's message involves clear and sure identification of the Papacy as the prophetically portrayed beast with its paralleling symbols, together with the image of the beast. The all-embracing involvements of the three angel's messages embody every great essential of our full message to mankind. These are but the amplifications of the pillars of the faith, the firm platform, the old landmarks, owned and approved by heaven. These basic truths make us and keep us Seventh-day Adventists.
5. Not an endorsement of Secondaries.— That the 1858 statement about not moving a block or stirring a pin cannot be rightly construed as an inspired endorsement of all minor or detail positions held or advocated prior to the vision of 1858 is also evident from the following:
1. James White, though clear on the Sabbath and sanctuary truths, still contended in 1854 that swine's flesh was not unclean.'
2. Joseph Bates, as late as 1855, still clung tenaciously to his equatorial time theory of the Sabbath from 6 P.M. to 6 P.M.'
3. The Philadelphia church was, in 185o, believed destined to go through to the kingdom—not Sardis, which was too early ; nor Laodicea, which was too late and was believed to be confined to the nominal Adventists who had rejected the third angel's message, the Sabbath, the sanctuary, and the Spirit of prophecy.'
4. Others believed that the events under the fourth seal—death on the pale horse—meant persecution by pagan Rome, while the fifth seal—souls under the altar—represented persecution by papa/ Rome.'
The men holding these positions later changed their views on these items, of course—and very properly and necessarily. But never did their allegiance to the actual foundation pillars vary. On these there could be and was no change, and on these they were absolutely united. The founding fathers of this message were not infallible, but no one, in the light of all the facts, can rightfully charge either them or the Spirit of prophecy statements concerning them with inconsistency. James White wrote, "Now we never claimed that we wrote by inspiration, and have supposed that we had the same privilege of learning and exchanging error for truth with other men." The Spirit of prophecy declaration of 1858 cannot therefore be justifiably construed to mean the admonishing of men not to move a pin or stir a peg on these secondary matters that obviously needed to be, and were, adjusted with Spirit of prophecy approval. As an illustration, note specifically Mrs. White's early endorsement of the Crosier article on the heavenly sanctuary :
"The Lord shew me in vision, more than one year ago, that Brother Crosier had the true light, on the cleansing of the Sanctuary, &c; and that it was His will, that Brother C. should write out the view which he gave us in the Day-Star, Extra, February 7, 1846. I feel fully authorized by the Lord, to recommend that Extra, to every saint."
Such approval was never construed, however, as endorsement of all details, such as an erroneous age-to-come item that was in the original presentation. Never in the four or five reprints of the Crosier material in our early publications was this portion of the article included. But the tremendous central truth of the twofold ministry of Christ in the sanctuary was light from God. This was one of the great foundation stones of the message that must not be tampered with or abandoned.
6. Relentless Battle over fundamentals.—But this very sanctuary light, publicized through the Crosier article, and taught by the Sabbatarian Adventists, was rejected and opposed by the nominal, or first-day, advent body and their former leaders. In fact, it was the object of severest attack. Together with the Sabbath, as the third of the three great steps in the threefold message, the sanctuary message became the center of relentless conflict lasting for years. These discussions literally filled our early periodicals—The Present Truth, The Advent Review, and the succeeding Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Their defense was Mrs. White's burden. Attack upon the fundamentals was constant, and stalwart defense was needed. That was unquestionably why she was led to write as she did in 1858. Only those who have read through these early periodicals can sense the terrific struggle.
Step by step, men in the First-day Adventist ranks departed from the basic landmarks of the first and second angels' messages—separating the synchronous beginning of the seventy weeks from the 2300 days, maintaining that the 2300 years had not yet ended, and setting time forward for their termination and the coming of the Lord. And no other course was possible, once they rejected the sanctuary key that alone unlocked the mystery of their past disappointment and opened the future glories and implications of the threefold message. They still held that the earth was the sanctuary, first questioning and finally repudiating the year-day principle. They denied the fall of Babylon, contending it was the literal city of Rome. They yielded to uncertainty as to the antichrist, making it an individual yet to come for three and one-half literal years, rather than the papal system of the centuries. They finally suggested that the first angel's message probably began back in Reformation times, or before, and averred that the 1844. movement was a tragic mistake and the Spirit of prophecy was spurious.
That was the battleground, and those were the issues. During the first twelve years after the disappointment the efforts of our pioneers were practically confined to working for the nominal Adventists who had been in the first message. That is why we find an article on "Removing the Landmarks," dealing specifically with these issues—the separation of the seventy weeks from the 2300 days, the Sabbath, and related questions. The struggle was chiefly with those who had been in the first and second messages but refused to go on to perfection. Such, then, was the setting, and such was the intent of that important Spirit of prophecy passage on "The Firm Platform." Again and again the thought is repeated:
"I have seen the danger of the messengers' running off from the important points of present truth, to dwell upon subjects that are not calculated to unite the flock and sanctify the soul. Satan will here take every possible advantage to injure the cause.
"But such subjects as the sanctuary, in connection with the 2300 days, the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, are perfectly calculated to explain the past advent movement and show what our present position is, establish the faith of the doubting, and give certainty to the glorious future. These, I have frequently seen, were the principal subjects on which the messengers should dwell." "
Again and again solemn warning is brought to us, as ministers and teachers, not to become diverted by fascinating fields of study that lead us from the things of greater moment, that would draw us away from the primary study and emphasis of the great centralities of the threefold message, becloud our minds, or bring doubts concerning the Word of God and our basic message and mission for today.12 Warning was at one time given, for example, against allowing the rapidly developing city slum work phase of our medical missionary work to absorb too much of our time, "eclipsing the work that needs to be done"—"the proclamation of the soon coming of Christ."" When these departures or diversions take place, others are to speak out plainly.14 And we are expressly counseled, "Listen not a moment to the interpretations that would loosen one pin, remove one pillar, from the platform of truth." 15
7. Distinguish Centralities from Details.— Let us therefore avoid the tragic trends of some who would blur and undermine the truly fundamental verities of the faith. And, on the other hand, let us shun the equally regrettable confusion of issues on the part of others who, in ostensible defense of this heaven-born message, misuse the Spirit of prophecy "block" and "pin" counsel to arraign those who differ from them as to secondary details that in no way involve the centralities of this message, upon which there is and always must be unity. The raising of false issues can only cause division and estrangement, when we should all be standing shoulder to shoulder in battle against our common and relentless foes—the world, the flesh, and the devil.
L. E. F.
1 Spiritual Gifts, Vol. II, p. 270;
2 Life Sketches, p. 162. E. G. White MS. 33, 3889; Counsels to Editors, pp. 21, 22.
3 The Great Controversy, PP. 439, 579.
4 Review and Herald, Nov. 27, 1883.
5 Ibid., May 23, 1854.
6 Ibid., April 21, June 2, Aug. 5, 39, 1851; Dec. 4, 1855.
7 The Advent Review, November, 185o, p. 4.
8 James White in Review and Herald, Feb. 12, 1857; Uriah Smith in Review and Herald, Dec. 25, I860.
9 Review and Herald, April 26, 186o.
10 A Word to the Little Flock (Brunswick, Maine, 3847; facsimile reprint, 1944), p. 12.
11 Early Writings, p. 63.
12 E. G. White Letter 230, 3906.
13 Letter 95, 1905.
14 Letter 55, 3899.
15 Letter 230, 3906.