The Good News in the Bible

A Brief History of the Message of Justification by Faith in the Advent Movement Since 1888 (Part 1)
William Diehl

The question on the minds of many within the Advent movement today is simply this, "If the '1888 message' was the beginning of the loud cry of the angel of Rev 18, why did the message not swell to the Loud Cry that all are anticipating and what went so wrong with Jones and Waggoner that they both left the Advent Movement." Many have written on this subject (see— Ellet Joseph Waggoner: The Myth and the Man) and offered some excellent commentary on the issues involved as well as attempts to analyze the characters of the men who brought the message to the Minneapolis delegates. Why did Waggoner join Dr. Kellogg in his pantheism detour. Why did he reject the sanctuary truth that our Lord is our great high priest in the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary?

Even though we do not have an actual transcript of the messages brought to the General Conference session of 1888, I think we can come to some conclusions regarding what the "new light" was that made such a stir, and what happened to cause the light to be resisted by the majority of the delegates at the session.

If one looks over most of the literature which the pioneers of the movement produced, one sees a very obvious common thread running throughout. The topic of "justification by faith" was almost entirely missing, or if not missing, it was very poorly presented. The pioneers were so busy confronting the objections of the Antinomians (those who reject the Third Use of the Law as the standard of morality, including the Sabbath commandment) that they fell into the opposite error of Semi-Pelagian and Council of Trent legalism.

This type of legalism is not the type of righteousness by works that immediately comes to our minds when we think of legalism. This is the type of legalism which blends and co-mingles the imputed righteousness of Christ with the imparted righteousness of Christ. Waggoner's great breakthrough was that he began to see that justification was much more than just forgiveness of the sins of the past, but included a covering for our good works and obedience to the Commandments of God even after we are forgiven and converted to Christ.

Briefly stated he began to see that even our sanctification by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit needed to be "accounted" perfect, because the character of even the best of saints is still imperfect and does not measure up the perfect righteousness of Christ. Thus even our "new man" in Christ must be continually justified by the incense of Christ's imputed righteousness.

Waggoner began to teach that obedience to the Law of God— the Ceremonial law (Levitical) and the Moral law (the Ten Commandments)— can never be the basis of our acceptance before God. Prior to 1888, the position of the Advent pioneers was that the law of which Paul was speaking in Galatians was only the ceremonial law and that Paul was only referring to the law of circumcision or ceremonial law when he said "the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come we are no longer under a tutor." Gal 3:24-25.

Waggoner began to teach that we are never accepted before God on the basis of our law keeping— be it the keeping of the ceremonial law or the moral law. This new teaching seemed to cut right across the "old line" teaching of the pioneers that the law in Galatians only referred to the ceremonial law and not the moral law of God, the Ten Commandments.

The delegates viewed this new teaching regarding the "law in Galatians" as a threat to the teaching that Christians were to still to keep the moral law, the Ten Commandments. They thought that if they conceded that the law in Galatians included the moral law, the entire systematic theology of Adventism would come crumbling down— including the Sabbath, the Sanctuary, and the Ten Commandments— and thus the opponents of Adventism would be vindicated. The matter of the law in Galatians was hotly debated and finally (despite the pleadings of Ellen White not to openly discuss the matter and bring in division within the ranks of the ministry) erupted in the pages of the Review and Herald.

Well now over 100 years later, we can take a more objective view and most realize that the law in Galatians to which the apostle Paul refers is, as Waggoner stated, both the ceremonial and moral law of God. Most now agree that by our keeping of the Law, even with the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer, "no one can be justified in His sight."

This brings us to the question of why Waggoner joined Kellogg in pantheism. We also want to ask ourselves if we can learn some lessons from the Jones and Waggoner episode.

Briefly, Waggoner, in 1888 very correctly and properly distinguished between justification and sanctification. But after 1889 and in the years following, he began to teach that when God justifies a sinner by grace through faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ, God not only declares a sinner righteous, but by imparting the Holy Spirit to the believing sinner, He actually removes all sin from the heart of the believer so that what God imputes to the sinner (perfect obedience to the Law), He actually imparts to the believing sinner (perfect obedience). This teaching laid the ground work for the perfectionism which followed after 1890 when both Jones and Waggoner began to teach that what God imputes to the sinner He actually imparts to the believer in equal measure.

Jones' book, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection develops this line of reasoning as does Waggoner's book, The Glad Tidings. In both of these books we can see that confusion overtook both Jones and Waggoner regarding the matter of justification and sanctification. They confused the work of the blood of Christ with the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer and came to believe that the indwelling righteousness of the Holy Spirit is what justifies us before God and His Holy Law.

Thus the way was opened to believe that there was no need for a sanctuary in heaven where Christ as our great High Priest was standing in the place of the believer and presenting His perfect sinless righteousness before the law of God for us.

Jones and Waggoner began to reason that if God has imparted a perfect life to the believer in the gift of the Holy Spirit, the believer has no further need of the imputed righteousness of Christ and can rely on the imparted perfect life inside of his heart to base his acceptance with God. They falsely taught that, since God is now living in the heart of the believer, He can now accept all of our Law keeping because this imparted righteousness is perfect without a spot of sin.

The more that Waggoner began to focus on imparted righteousness in the believer, the more he began to think that the gospel focus of the atonement and the cleansing of the believer is not imputed righteousness but rather imparted righteousness. More and more Waggoner began to reject the idea of the need for a Savior and high priest in heaven and justification by faith in the imputed righteousness of the Sinless One. Atonement in the heart completely replaced atonement at the Cross and through the imputed merit of our High Priest. Believing that God saves and accepts us by abiding in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit is only one step away from "God in all" pantheism.

There is still a very vocal segment within the Advent movement advancing the perfectionism of these two men, along with their corollary teaching that Christ had a sinful human nature and that final salvation depends upon perfectly reproducing the life of Christ in the life of the believer.

The only hope for the Advent movement is to keep the great evangelical teaching of justification by faith in the imputed righteousness of Christ clear and distinct from, and never confused with, the imparted righteousness of Christ in the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Only the imputed righteousness of Christ is perfect and complete and is the basis for our acceptance before the Law of God on this the great antitypical day of atonement. The plea of our Priest "My blood, my blood" is the only hope we have in the judgment when we all must stand before the Law of God to be judged by our works. Even unto the second coming of our Lord, our only plea will always be the blood of Jesus and His perfect imputed righteousness reckoned to the repentant believing sinner by faith alone.

Sanctification, even though the work of the Holy Spirit, is never enough to allow us to stand before a holy God, for now, in the judgment of the living, and at the second coming of our Lord in the clouds of heaven.