When we read of what might have been experienced at the Minneapolis Conference in 1888 and during the years immediately following, we sense what a tragic loss it was to the church. Approximately 30 years after the Minneapolis Conference, Elder A.G. Daniells reflected: “Who can tell what would have come to the church and the cause of God if that message of Righteousness by Faith had been fully and wholeheartedly received by all at that time? And who can estimate the loss that has been sustained by the failure of many to receive that message? Eternity alone will reveal the whole truth regarding this matter” (Christ Our Righteousness, 40).
The events in the world during the Minneapolis Conference and the time leading up to it were in step with what was happening in the church. The US congress was deliberating a Sunday law bill at the very time that the Third Angel’s Message was beaming it rays of penetrating light upon God’s people. Tragically, when the message was rejected, the light began to be withdrawn, and a period of wandering in the wilderness began.
A.T. JONES MADE A STARTLING PREDICTION
Today the events in the world and in the church indicate we are once again approaching the borders of the Promised Land. We can expect another Minneapolis, a second call to the marriage as depicted in Matthew 22. A.T. Jones seemed to have a premonition of this. In one of his 1893 General Conference talks, he reminded the congregation of the prejudice and negative attitude that was manifested toward the message at Minneapolis, and then he predicted, “There will be things to come that will be more surprising than that was to those at Minneapolis, - more surprising than anything we have yet seen. And, brethren, we will be required to receive and preach that truth. But unless you and I have every fiber of that spirit rooted out of our hearts, we will treat that message and the messenger by whom it is sent, as God has declared we have treated this other message” (GCDB, February 7, 1893).
In order to avoid repeating the errors of Minneapolis, it is imperative that we understand how the Third Angel’s Message in verity is the message of justification by faith. The question might be asked, wasn’t the truth of justification by faith taught from the very beginning? Yes! Didn’t all the righteous men from Abel’s time to the apostle Paul’s day believe in justification through the merits of Christ? Indeed they did! Therefore, we can understand why the people who heard the preaching of Jones and Waggoner were surprised when Ellen White stated so unequivocally that “justification by faith is the Third Angel’s Message in verity.” That would seem to make the Third Angel’s Message nothing new or unique to the remnant church. However, we have many statements from Ellen White telling us that the Third Angel’s Message began in 1844, and that this truth was given to Seventh-day Adventists as the most solemn, the most important message ever given to mortals (Early Writings, 254; and Testimonies Vol 9, 19). Therefore, the truth of justification by faith as revealed in the Third Angel’s Message must be something in advance of what was preached before that time.
A CRUCIAL POINT ILLUSTRATED BY THE SANCTUARY SERVICE
One very crucial point regarding justification by faith that can be learned from the typical sanctuary service is that the sin offering in the daily ministry “had not made a full atonement for the sin. It had only provided a means by which the sin was transferred to the sanctuary...but he [the sinner] was not entirely released from the condemnation of the law” (White, Patriarchs & Prophets, 355). This may come as a surprise and even a shock to many people, but it is a very vital point.
If the sacrifice by which the sinner was pardoned and justified had typified a full atonement, if he were entirely released from all responsibility for his sin, there would be no Third Angel’s Message and no Seventh-day Adventist movement. Daniel 8:14 would be meaningless because it would indicate that the atonement was finished at the cross. Then there would be no need for a day of atonement cleansing or an investigative judgment to see who is entitled to Christ’s final atonement. However, in The Great Controversy we read: “Attended by heavenly angels, our great High Priest enters the holy of holies, and there appears in the presence of God, to engage in the last acts of his ministration in behalf of man, - to perform the work of investigative Judgment, and to make an atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to its benefits” (White, 479). This passage reveals a missing link in the usual teaching on the investigative judgment. The examination of the books is not to see who is already prepared for heaven and who is not. Rather, it is to see who is entitled to the benefits of the atonement to be made in the most holy place which will prepare for His coming.
The atonement is represented by a final cleansing “that ye may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (KJV, Lev. 16:30). In Malachi 3:2-3 the atonement is shown to be the refining and purifying of the sons of Levi that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. In Acts 3:19 it is the blotting out of sins and the outpouring of the refreshing latter rain. In Zechariah 3:1-5 it is taking away the filthy garments, (the corrupt channel of humanity), and placing the fair mitre, or seal of God, upon the forehead. Finally, we read in Great Controversy that in the judgment, Christ asks for His people, “pardon and justification, full and complete” (White, 484). This indicates that pardon and justification were not full and complete before then.
These are the great blessings that the message in 1888 was ultimately to bring to God’s people. But due to the determined opposition, it was not allowed to go very far beyond the basic truth of justification as taught before 1844. The revival of the truth of daily justification did bring great relief to many souls who were trapped in a system of trying to gain acceptance by the deeds of the law. It was a precious truth for those steeped in legalism to realize that repentant sinners can be clothed with the garments of Christ’s righteousness and accepted before God as though they had never sinned. And we still need that kind of experience today as we prepare for the experience of justification, full and complete.
PREPARING TO STAND WITHOUT A MEDIATOR
Daily justification will prepare souls for death and the resurrection. But they will need justification, full and complete to be prepared to stand without a mediator and be translated without seeing death. The difference between dying in the Lord and standing alive to meet Him in power and glory is but dimly understood. In fact, Elder James White pinpointed the problem when he wrote:
The mass of people think that if a person is prepared to die, he is prepared for the coming of the Lord. But they do not consider the difference between dying, and standing alive to meet the Lord at His appearing. It is one thing to die in Christ, to yield our spirits to Him while He is pleading for us before His Father’s throne, and quite a different thing to stand in the time of trouble, after Jesus has ceased to plead in man’s behalf; after His priesthood is closed, and He is preparing to come to redeem His own, and to take vengeance on His foes. They who realize these things will bless Heaven that means has been devised in the mercy of God for the perfecting of the saints, and that we are not left without direct help from on high to carry on such a work as that which lies before us" (Life Sketches 431).
Christ did not enter the most holy place to provide daily pardon and justification for sin. He has done that ever since man fell. Nor did He enter the most holy place to provide sanctifying grace and power to overcome every besetment and sin. He has done that from the beginning. He has gone to the most holy place to provide “for His people...pardon and justification, full and complete...” (White, Great Controversy, 484). He has gone to take away the filthy garments, the corrupt channel of humanity that defiles even the prayers and good deeds of the saints.
The Third Angel’s Message in verity is to produce that spiritually unique company of saints called the 144,000 who are without fault before the throne of God. They are designated as virgins, the bride of the heavenly Bridegroom. A virgin is a woman who has never known a man. If a woman has once known a man, she can never become a virgin again, even if she remains celibate the rest of her life. Similarly, anyone who has once sinned can never become a virgin spiritually, even if he or she never sins again. And we know that all have sinned and come short of God’s glory. Yet Christ can only marry a virgin. According to Leviticus 21:10-14, the High Priest, who was a symbol of Christ, could only marry a virgin. He couldn’t even marry a widow. So how does Christ find a virgin to be His bride? On page 280 in Early Writings, the pen of inspiration describes how the saints will be restored and reconstructed through Christ’s atoning work in the judgment so that the marriage of the Lamb can be consummated.
This is the experience to which the Third Angel’s Message directs the minds of God’s end-time people and the reason why the blessings which Christ longed to bestow at Minneapolis didn’t materialize was due to the failure of His people to enter by faith into the most holy place where Jesus had gone to make the atonement for them. We read in the Review and Herald:
We are not called to worship and serve God by the use of the means employed in former years. God requires higher service now than ever before. He requires the improvement of the heavenly gifts. He has brought us into a position where we need higher and better things than have ever been needed before. The slumbering Church must be aroused, awakened out of its spiritual lethargy, to a realization of the important duties which have been left undone. The people have not entered into the holy place, [obviously referring to the most holy place] where Jesus has gone to make an atonement for his children. We need the Holy Spirit in order to understand the truths for this time; but there is spiritual drought in the churches, and we have accustomed ourselves to be easily satisfied with our standing before God” (White, February 25, 1890).
THE LATTER RAIN WILL COMPLETE THE WORK OF GOD’S GRACE
We will never finish the work that we have been commissioned to do without those higher and better things that Christ will bestow at the judgment. We will never be able to prepare ourselves and others to stand without an intercessor after the close of probation, to be translated without seeing death without those benefits. The means by which the blessings of the most holy place will come to God’s people are through the latter rain. In the Desire of Ages it says, “It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world's Redeemer. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure” (White, 671). The blotting out of sins is connected with the refreshing latter rain in Acts 3:19. They cannot be separated. The latter rain will complete the work of God’s grace and perfect the moral image of God in the soul (White, Testimony to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 506). When that is accomplished, the mystery of God will indeed be finished and Christ can throw down the censer and prepare to come back to earth to receive to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.