Rethinking Uriah Smith's assessment of Laodicea

A friend recently posted the excerpt below from Uriah Smith’s renowned commentary on the books of Daniel and Revelation. Smith unwittingly fulfills the Laodicean prophecy of Revelation 3, claiming that Seventh-day Adventists have actually received all that they need, they just need to use or apply it better:

It will be observed that no fault is found with the Laodiceans on account of the doctrines they hold. They are not accused of a Jezebel in their midst, or of countenancing the doctrines of Balaam or of the Nicolaitanes. So far as we can learn, their belief is correct, & their doctrine sound.  The inference therefore is that having a correct form of religion without its power. Having received the light concerning the closing events of the gospel era, & having a correct theoretical knowledge of the truths that pertain to the last generation of men, they are inclined to rest in this to the neglect of spiritual power which changes the life & builds strong character. It is by their actions, doubtless, not by their words, that they say they are rich & increased with goods. Having so much light & so much truth, what can they want besides? If they defend the theory, & as far as their outward life is concerned, conform to the increasing light upon the commandments of God & the faith of Jesus, is not their righteousness complete? Are they not rich, & increased with goods, & in need of nothing? Here is their failure. Their whole being should cry out for the spirit, zeal, the fervency, the life, the power, of living Christianity. (Uriah Smith,  The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation, 398)

These words sadly express the very blindspot in Smith's ideas that prepared him to reject the message of Christ's righteousness that came to the Seventh-day Adventist church in 1888. In his opinion we didn't need it. Theoretically, we were already spot on, he said, but a church that does not have the gold of faith, does not have all of its doctrine in order. This would be an impossibility. Uriah Smith's solution--we need to do more--suggests that he misses the main point of righteousness by faith. We do not do more to apply the truth, but the truth takes a hold of us and will automatically work in us as long as we exercise simple faith in the revealed Word. The Word works effectually in all them that believe. Jesus does not say the Laodicean church has received everything that she needs and just needs to apply it better, but actually points out the church has not received what she needs; the gold of faith, the robe of righteousness and the eyesalve of the Holy Spirit. If we had the truth, then we should also have had the eyesalve, for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Smith makes the strange assumption that Laodicea, doesn’t actually say she is increased with goods and in need of nothing, but only reveals this by her actions.

Couldn’t he hear what he was saying? Smith thus totally missed the import of the Laodicean message in the above citation. Greater light came to Seventh-day Adventists in 1888, but according to Uriah Smith, we didn't need any change or further development in our doctrine.  So he became one of those foremost in rising up against Bible truth. It was a loss that he almost certainly never was able to make up, and his influence undoubtedly has contributed to the long, continued delay in Christ's coming to this very hour. Legalism never pays. The first person that we deceive when self remains uncrucified is ourselves. Our self-satisfaction may manifest itself in forms that we do not suspect. To be sure Laodicea needs a living experience of fervent Holy Spirit empowered Christianity. The truths of the Word of God are the source of such an experience.   Jesus prayed for His disciples thus, “Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth” (King James Version, John 17:17). Laodicea’s increasingly dire condition demonstrates conclusively the inadequacy of her doctrine. 

No, we do not have all our teachings in order. We cannot with safety assume that all of our theories or doctrinal formulations are correct. God has always had greater light for Seventh-day Adventists. To deny this is to continue echoing the “rich and increased with goods and having need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17) refrain which has saddened the heart of God for over 120 years. God's greater light will not contradict points of established Bible truth, but it may contradict our opinions which we have maintained as if they were Bible truth. Isn’t it about time we accept the assessment of Him who is faithful and true and repent?

At the 1888 General Conference session, Ellen White had some strong words for those who felt they needed nothing in the matter of truth and doctrine, also.

I know it would be dangerous to denounce Dr. Waggoner's position as wholly erroneous. This would please the enemy. I see the beauty of truth in the presentation of the righteousness of Christ in relation to the law as the doctor has placed it before us. You say, many of you, it is light and truth. Yet you have not presented it in this light heretofore. Is it not possible that through earnest, prayerful searching of the Scriptures he has seen still greater light on some points? That which has been presented harmonizes perfectly with the light which God has been pleased to give me during all the years of my experience. If our ministering brethren would accept the doctrine which has been presented so clearly--the righteousness of Christ in connection with the law--and I know they need to accept this, their prejudices would not have a controlling power, and the people would be fed with their portion of meat in due season. Let us take our Bibles, and with humble prayer and a teachable spirit, come to the great Teacher of the world; let us pray as did David, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law (Psalms 119:18). (1888 Materials, 164.)

At these meetings in Minneapolis, some of the leading ministers appear to have held the same as Uriah Smith. They seemed amazed at the idea of Seventh-day Adventists needing more doctrinal knowledge. Ellen White records their questioning of her:  

Questions were asked at that time. "Sister White, do you think that the Lord has any new and increased light for us as a people?" I answered, "Most assuredly. I do not only think so, but can speak understandingly. I know that there is precious truth to be unfolded to us if we are the people that are to stand in the day of God's preparation."  (1888 Materials,  219.)

At the General Conference meetings of 1891, the servant of the Lord would reiterate this matter of increased light:

In the fear and love of God I tell those before whom I stand today that there is increased light for us, and that great blessings come with the reception of this light. And when I see my brethren stirred with anger against God's messages and messengers, I think of similar scenes in the life of Christ and the reformers. The reception given to God's servants in past ages is the same as the reception that those today receive through whom God is sending precious rays of light. The leaders of the people today pursue the same course of action that the Jews pursued. They criticize and ply question after question, and refuse to admit evidence, treating the light sent them in the very same way that the Jews treated the light Christ brought them. (1888 Materials,  910, 911) 

She then ominously warned the brethren of the danger of so ignoring the evidences of the Holy Spirit’s working as to place oneself where God Himself cannot reach their soul:

Some in Battle Creek will surely reach this point if they do not change their course. They will place themselves where none of God's ordained means will be able to set them right. Their will is not God's will, their persistency is not the perseverance of the saints. To speak against Christ, charging his work to Satanic agencies, and attributing the manifestations of the Spirit to fanaticism, is not of itself a damning sin, but the spirit that leads men to make these assertions places them in a position of stubborn resistance, where they cannot see spiritual light, Some will never retrace their steps, they will never humble their hearts by acknowledging their wrongs, but like the Jews will continually make assertions that mislead others. They refuse to investigate evidence candidly and frankly, but like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, set themselves against the light.

The evil heart of unbelief will make falsehood appear as truth and truth as falsehood, and will adhere to this position, whatever evidence may be produced. The terrible accusation against Christ, if perseveringly persisted in, places the guilty ones in a position where rays of light from heaven cannot reach them. They will continue to walk in the light of the sparks of their own kindling, until they will blaspheme the most sacred influences that ever came from heaven….” (1888 Materials,  912)

So, let us beware. The 1888 message is just that, a message. It is doctrinal, it is about distinctive teaching and truth and light on the matter of Christ’s righteousness as it relates to the law of God, the way of salvation and the final effect it is to have in the church when it is received by faith alone. We cannot ignore the content of the message, in the self-assurance we already have the truth, have the light, that we just need to try harder to apply the truth better in our lives. No. We have not had the truth, as yet God intends for us to have it, and as He sent it to us. The counsel of the True Witness, Jesus Christ, to us, the Laodicean church demands that we stop contradicting His words, believe that we need to receive something that we have been thinking we already had, and in brokenness surrender to finally accept the message that God has sent to us, learning to depend then upon His Word alone for the accomplishment of everything that pertains to life and godliness.