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Archives / 1988 / February

 

Book review: 1888 Re-examined: 1888-1988, the Story of a Century of Confrontation Between God and His People

C. Mervyn Maxwell

 

You may not agree with everything in it, but this book deals with an important topic. It is a crusading book. The original edition was almost too intense to read. But the new edition speaks lovingly of wayward brethren, hopefully of an erring church, and thankfully of God's invitations to repent.

Mercifully, no mention is made of "corporate repentance" and very little of the "sinful nature of Christ," terms that have been stumbling blocks to many erstwhile Wieland and Short admirers.

In order to understand what people say, we need to know where they're "coming from." This is especially true when people say crusading things.

So where are the authors of this crusading book coming from? Robert Wieland and Donald Short prepared the manuscript that became the original edition of 1888 Re-examined for review by a General Conference study committee. The occasion was the dismay they felt over certain features of the 1950 General Conference session, which they had attended as career missionaries on furlough from Africa. What bothered them at the 1950 session was what they perceived as a contrast to what had happened in 1888 and a similarity to what had happened in 1893.

Wieland in particular had been immersing himself in the writings of E. J. Waggoner and the sermons of A. T. Jones, and digging into what Ellen White had said about Waggoner's 1888 messages and about Waggoner and Jones themselves.

At the 1950 General Conference session Wieland and Short heard a newly elected official urge the delegates to "double our membership" during the upcoming quadrennium and to receive latter-rain power to accomplish this worthy goal by simply believing that they received the latter rain. This sounded all too similar to what the young missionaries knew W. W. Prescott had urged the delegates at the 1893 session to believe.

But merely believing that they had received the latter rain had not given the 1893 Adventists power to preach the "loud cry" that was to enlighten the world with God's glory, and the authors saw no reason to expect anything different in 1950. Rather, Wieland and Short urged the leaders, we should go back to the 1888 session.

At the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference session, they said, a message was presented that Ellen White had specifically alluded to as the beginning of the loud cry of Revelation 18:1-4 just the thing the General Conference officer was looking for. She had called it "the third angel's message," and had pointed out that it presented "justification through faith in the Surety" in a way that led to "obedience to all the commandments of God." It was an intensely Christ-centered message that exalted the cross and led to heartfelt repentance for sin, thus helping people meet a principal condition for receiving the latter rain.

Wieland and Short mimeographed only 17 copies of their 204 page study, intending it only for the eyes of leadership. But someone shared a copy with someone else, and soon people here, there, and everywhere were typing full-length copies for themselves and for their friends. In time, first one printer and then another distributed copies by the thousand.

The circulation of the first edition of 1888 Re-examined, plus the circulation of the books written to refute it, and of news about the committees that met from time to time to discuss the situation, along with the career of Robert Brinsmead, who made his own use of 1888 Re-examined, contributed so much to today's interest in 1888 that it seems correct to say that Wieland and Short are responsible more than anyone else now living for current interest in 1888.

Wieland and Short assert emphatically that the 1888 message is not the same message of righteousness by faith taught by Luther, Wesley, the Keswick confreres, Hannah Whitall Smith, or the Victorious Life people, all of which, they say, have been preached by Seventh-day Adventists. It cannot be so, they insist, if it is the third angel's message and combines the faith of Jesus with obedience to all the commandments of God.

Another of the authors' concerns is that many Adventist leaders and writers have tried to prove that 1888 was a grand triumph, that only a few leaders opposed the message, and that even they soon accepted it.

In reply, 1888 Re-examined marshals documentation to show that in 1902 Ellen White reported that she had been "instructed that the terrible experience [not the glorious message]] at the Minneapolis Conference is one of the saddest chapters in the history of the believers in present truth." Elsewhere she said that the spirit that prevailed among church leadership at the 1888 meeting was one of rejecting the message, that the denominational leadership there revealed the spirit of those who drove Jesus out of Nazareth, in deed, the spirit of Satan himself. She regret fully observed that some of the principal confessions made by leaders after Minneapolis were not deep enough to expunge their roots of bitterness.

In the early 1970s Emmett K. Vande Vere, Richard W. Schwarz, and I were appointed by a General Conference committee to look into the historical aspects of Wieland and Short's position. We concluded unanimously that though we didn't like the way these men sometimes said things, their analysis of history was quite accurate. But their perception of the content of the 1888 message was not as accurate.

The book has its weaknesses. It is less gloomy than the first edition, but it is hardly sunny. Testimonies to Ministers seems sunnier even though it is just as serious. Wieland and Short defend Waggoner and Jones too much, I think. Compared with some of the brethren they were gentlemanly, I'm sure, but I doubt that I would have been comfortable discussing things with the sharp debater (Waggoner) who wrote The Law in the Book of Galatians.

One inaccuracy shows up when Wieland and Short refer repeatedly to the 1888 mes sage as the beginning of "the latter rain and of the loud cry." The loud cry is understandably a message, and there is Ellen White's authority for applying the term to the 1888 message. But I don't understand how a message could be the latter rain. In support of this concept, they have only the words of A. T. Jones.

At the 1893 General Conference session an Ellen White statement promised that the 1888 experience will "sometime" "be seen in its true bearing with all the burden of woe that has resulted from it." Wieland and Short hope that that "sometime" is near at hand. They hope that the revised 1888 Re-examined will prove to be a contribution in due season.

 

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