I Want to Give my Heart to Jesus part 7: Advent Awakening and Rise of the Seventh-day Advent Movement
Today we reach the seventh installment of our series, "I Want to Give My Heart to Jesus." In a world filled with the cheapest of theological substitutes and carefully honed allurements of false salvation plans, some weeks ago we embarked on a foundational study of what it means to give our hearts to Jesus. Surrounded by a multitude of stray theories and undefined words, we've sought for an increased clarity in our understanding of our human nature after the fall, the nature of Christ, the teaching of the Bible on salvation, and last time, a look into 1700 years that intervened between the end of the Bible time and the rise of our movement in the early and mid 1800s. Today we are going to look more closely at this rise of the Great Advent Movement and Seventh-day Adventism.
We Came into Being Because of a Particular Attitude about Scripture
As we begin our study today, consider four points. First, we came into being because of a particular attitude about Scripture. Jesus said, "Search the Scriptures" (John 5:39)," and that's exactly what the pioneers did. They came to the world at a time when there was still belief in the Bible, still a recognition that humanity needs what God speaks. The age of enlightenment and reason went down in flames with the French revolution not much longer ago for them than the Vietnam War was before us today. The age of modernity was yet to dawn, with its over-reliance and overconfidence in science. Our people were much closer to their Puritan and Pilgrim roots. James White's grandfather Perigrin White was even among those who came across on the Mayflower. These were active people. God opened the door for the mission of the Seventh-day Advent people at a carefully chosen time in the flow of all history.
Our spiritual forebears searched the Scriptures because in their day they were willing to search, and thought they might find something there. Oh how we must rise above the rank unbelief of our age and follow that example.
We Rose Out of a Particular Hermeneutical Plan
Second, we did not arise willy-nilly; we arose as a people who came to the Bible with a serious attitude and extracted from that Word a series of propositions for interpreting it. Miller's rules of interpretation. By the way, you'll spot those on the insert in your bulletin. This list is quite a precious part of our heritage. It is the outgrowth of the faith of William Miller, whom we'll be talking about in just a moment. Here is what Ellen G. White said about these principles:
"Those who are engaged in proclaiming the third angel's message are searching the Scriptures upon the same plan that Father Miller adopted. In the little book entitled "Views of the Prophecies and Prophetic Chronology," Father Miller gives the following simple but intelligent and important rules for Bible study and interpretation . . ." (RH November 25, 1884).
Look at these principles, if but briefly, with me. William Miller derived these simply from his study of the Bible. He had laid aside all the commentaries and just himself, his Bible, and his concordance, along with his willing spirit conspired to discover these principles. Realize that in Miller's world, the early work of higher criticism was being pressed forward; a flood of skepticism was washing into Christianity. Back then they also called it "neology," and "infidelity."
Again, to get a sense about what was happening in that hour, listen to this:
The warnings of the word of God regarding the perils surrounding the Christian church belong to us today. As in the days of the apostles men tried by tradition and philosophy to destroy faith in the Scriptures, so today, by the pleasing sentiments of higher criticism, evolution, spiritualism, theosophy, and pantheism, the enemy of righteousness is seeking to lead souls into forbidden paths. To many the Bible is as a lamp without oil, because they have turned their minds into channels of speculative belief that bring misunderstanding and confusion. The work of higher criticism, in dissecting, conjecturing, reconstructing, is destroying faith in the Bible as a divine revelation. It is robbing God's word of power to control, uplift, and inspire human lives. By spiritualism, multitudes are taught to believe that desire is the highest law, that license is liberty, and that man is accountable only to himself.
The follower of Christ will meet with the "enticing words" against which the apostle warned the Colossian believers. He will meet with spiritualistic interpretations of the Scriptures, but he is not to accept them. His voice is to be heard in clear affirmation of the eternal truths of the Scriptures. Keeping his eyes fixed on Christ, he is to move steadily forward in the path marked out, discarding all ideas that are not in harmony with His teaching. The truth of God is to be the subject for his contemplation and meditation. He is to regard the Bible as the voice of God speaking directly to him. Thus he will find the wisdom which is divine.
The knowledge of God as revealed in Christ is the knowledge that all who are saved must have. This is the knowledge that works transformation of character. Received into the life, it will re-create the soul in the image of Christ. This is the knowledge that God invites His children to receive, beside which all else is vanity and nothingness. (Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, pp. 474-475).
We cannot understand clearly enough that in that day the walls were coming down, the Bible was being assaulted. And yet, this faithful soul William Miller evening by evening searched the Scriptures by lamp-light. That's where these principles came from. Look them over. If we will follow them, many of the trends that bedevil us today will be swept away under the power of the Scriptures.
We Rose as an Alternative to the Then Wide-spread Peace-and-Safety Ideas
Thirdly, it may not be mentioned often, but at the time when the Seventh-day Adventist movement came into being, most Christians in North America were amillenial or postmillennialists. They believed that things would just be getting better and better and then they would hand it all off to Jesus at the end of the 1000 years of the millennium which some felt was already underway. They were expanding into a new continent and it seemed that anyone who wanted to could acquire and build up their own piece of land for almost no cash and just the price of elbow grease
We looked at some of the texts about "peace and safety" last time we were together, so we won't go there now. But suffice it to say, we were then an alternative, and there were many takers. God grant us today that we will continue to be a Bible-based alternative to all Christendom so swept up in fads and emptiness and trivialities and the cry "peace, peace, when there is no peace."
We Arose as a God-Guided Fulfillment of Prophecy
Again, we arose as a God-guided fulfillment of prophecy. This is our original, our religious DNA. We are a movement designed to teach present truth, to make plain before the people the testing truths of our time. Every step along the pathway of the history of God's people there have been particular points that heaven sought to emphasize. Our day is no different. The movement of which we are a part is itself a deeply-laid fulfillment of prophecy planned by our Father.
Brothers and sisters, this is our background, our family history. It is who we are. Let's settle this once and for all: we are a prophetic movement. We have so much trouble remembering that. We mustn't forget. But now, let's proceed. Let us spend the bulk of our time here today in getting a grip on the rise of our movement.
A Word about Our Origins
OK, we went ahead of ourselves there for a moment, but now let's capsulize at least the origins of this movement. Seventh-day Adventism is, first and foremost, founded upon the idea of following Jesus all the way (Revelation 14:4), and letting Him do anything that He wishes to do both for us and in us and by us. Nothing could be farther from the truth that our faith is just built up of dusty old doctrines cobbled together by a backward group of bored farmers and malcontents. No way. Those who stepped out to join this movement were people of backbone, and willing to explore the Scriptures. The dry husks of the opinions of creeds and councils, the sit-back kind of religion known by so many, the shallow acquaintance with Jesus, were not the stuff of which these stalwarts were made.
They searched their Scriptures, they arrived at sound conclusions; moreover, they studied together, something very much lacking today. Today, we tend, when we want to understand something, to what? Appoint a committee. And then that committee appoints a scholar. And then that scholar writes a paper. And then it sifts back up through the committees and comes out the other side. God grant us to be a people of the Word again
This movement arose when God impressed upon William Miller (1782-1849) the truth of man's need and Jesus' love. Miller had been raised in a religious environment, but fell in with the Deists for a time. Later, events led to his deep conviction and commitment to Christianity. His old Deist friends challenged him and he determined that he would study through the Bible and endeavor to let it explain itself. His friends had spoken of its many supposed contradictions, and now he sought to demonstrate to his own satisfaction the truth of God's Word.
If we are, in a sense, children of William Miller, it is only because William Miller was a child of God. He was no simpleton, but a deep student! He became who he was through practical toil and real living rather than the less substantial and more artificial life of the schools. His approach to the Scriptures, again, announces the essence of our movement's hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures. Hermeneutics are, simply put, rules or overarching principles. These are the presuppositions, the starting places at which we approach the Bible. Miller called them his "rules." We would call them our "hermeneutics." That's right
More on "Miller's Rules"
But what of these "rules"? Look there on your handout. The first one says, "All Scripture is necessary" (2 Timothy 3:16). And here we find a distinctive element of our approach. We do not pare away the Old Testament or chop all the Bible up into arbitrary slices and dispensational pigeon-holes. We let everything have its weight. Many are willing to examine the Scriptures only through a subset of their own choosing. They will use just certain portions, sometimes even only certain texts, from the New Testament, and rule everything else out that doesn't match their ill-founded foundation. So here is one of the major dividers between this movement and the other directions people are going in Christianity.
Look there at the third rule. There we again find a distinctive point: "Scripture must be its own expositor" (Isiaiah 8:20). We let the Bible interpret the Bible. Now this is of interest. My dictionary says that an "exposition" is "a systematic explanation of a subject." An expositor would be "one that gives a systematic explanation of a subject." The Bible then, as its own expositor, is the means God has given to systematically explain, and not only one subject, but numerous subjects and their interrelationships. But here is where so many get into so many problems. They would prefer that God's system worked differently than it does when it rules out their pet points and teachings and desires. And so then the philosopher, the scholar, the pastor, becomes the expositor
Again, the fourth rule of Miller says that "To understand doctrine, bring all the Scriptures together on the subject you wish to know." That is, if in the Bible there are 16 passages on a given topic, we study those 16 in particular. If there are 130, we study those 130 in particular. If there are three, we look closely at those three. Practice in the Christian world too often is to restrict the study to certain passages and rule out others, or to sieve everything through certain ideas. We seek to sieve everything through all the Scriptures that pertain to that issue. And so we come out in very different places sometimes than others do.
I'm going to skip over most of the other rules for now but let's look at the last one. There he says, and so do we, that "the most important rule of all is that you must have faith." We do not start from doubt, but from belief, not from distrust but from trust. Towards God that is. The reverse point is that we start by adding special caution to anything that could be an imposition of man onto or into God's Word. "Prove [Test] all things, hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
We take these things for granted. My brothers and sisters, that is because we are the ideological children of William Miller. And that is just fine with me! I am rather proud, in the right sense, of this link between he and ourselves, this Bible heritage. Very largely, these stand as some of the strong reasons why today, you and I are Seventh-day Adventists.
Those Mighty Days
In those mighty days Miller began to preach. His studies over many years brought him to a point of thorough conviction that according to the Word of God, the 2300 day/year prophecy of Daniel 8:14 would reach its fulfillment in 1843 (later understood to be 1844). Eventually he was led to share these convictions and thousands soon were flocking to his meetings as he explained by the Bible only the Bible prophecies. The result is variously called the "second great Advent awakening," or the "Millerite movement." Preachers and parishioners from many faiths came together in harmony as they searched the Scriptures. In a way, it was the original ecumenical movement, but one which was well-intended, the true preceding all the counterfeits. Whether Baptist, Methodist, Congregationalist, or other faith, people came together in this mighty movement in those mighty days.
The preachers of that movement sought not to forge a new denomination but to give a bright and hopeful message: Jesus was coming soon! The judgment hour was near! Soon the Father would deliver His people from their wearying earthly pilgrimage. The songs that sprang forth from that era were mighty. They were filled with themes mostly lost to us today. They sang of holiness, of reunion on day with deceased loved ones, of pilgrimage, of active Christianity, of the joys of heaven, of resurrection, and of finally seeing Jesus. Their music was very different from what in some circles is currently popular.
But as the time of the expected return of Jesus drew near, the churches became afraid. It was one thing to rejoice in the reformations that swept the land in the wake of Miller's preaching, but another to stare in the face the reality of the second coming. Miller and those anxious for the return of Christ
During 1842-1844 these precious believers began to be cast out of their churches. They had not sought to start a new church; they had remained very largely in the churches where they already had their membership. But if what Miller and the Adventists was saying were to be true, their churches would soon be closed. Jesus would come! Rather than rejoicing in that light, it was rejected. The call to prepare for the return of Jesus, to adhere to the Bible and seek Jesus for salvation in a true and deep way
We'll address the three angel's messages at greater length in an upcoming message devoted to them exclusively. But for now let us notice that those who believed in the nearness of the "cleansing of the sanctuary" were rejected. Some were literally disfellowshipped; others were strongly encouraged to leave. As this happened these Adventists began to build their own meeting houses. Those who loved the light came to the light. Those who hated it refused its entrance. And so, a thoroughly Bible-saturated group of Jesus'-followers stepped out in faith and kept right on going forward. The Bible says that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). What a surprise; that's exactly what happened!
In the Scripture-based teaching of Miller, he showed how the 2300 years of Daniel 8:14 would end with the return of Jesus to His sanctuary to cleanse it. This was understood by the Adventists to mean Jesus' return to the earth in the second coming as they thought that the earth was the sanctuary. Miller was right about the time periods (they finally settled on October 22, 1844). But regrettably, they were wrong about what would happen at the time, for they had misunderstood what the sanctuary was.
Even they had not detected that the teaching that the earth was the sanctuary was but a human teaching, that they had not on that point let the Bible interpret, exposit itself. In fact, that time came
Thus, God was raising up a people, a unique people, a Bible people, a people through whom He would do something that the universe had never before seen. He would, in these humble people, develop a group that would be guided by His Word, and who would let Him make them prototypical Christians. They would be alphas, the originals, loving and desiring to follow the Lamb Jesus wherever He would go (Revelation 14:4). And they would be omegas, the last and ultimate development of the plan of God. But how God would get them
Light Breaks Forth From the Word
After the disappointment there was turmoil. The experience was so devastating that many gave up on their understanding of the time prophecies, some went back to their churches, some remained "Adventist" but refused to advance in the light that now came. Some gave up their belief in God altogether. All around them, those who had scoffed at the message now ridiculed the messengers. "I see you're still here, brother," was a line often followed by heartless and unkind crack. It was a time of deep sorrow. But it had a place in God's plan.
A small group, a little flock, remained. These faithful few went back over the prophecies they had studied; they went back over the prophetic time periods with a fine-tooth comb, and still the result was the same. Still the Scriptures said just what they had said before the disappointment. Clinging to their faith in the Bible, they sought for more light from God. Where had they been wrong? Where had they misunderstood? They were led to further and deeper study of the Word.
Now things developed in rapid order. In the next few years after the disappointment, truths were embraced including the seventh day Sabbath, the state of man in death being (for lack of a better description) a "sleep," and also the sanctuary teaching. Seventh-day Adventists found strong evidence that the sanctuary that Jesus would cleanse was indeed to be cleansed starting in 1844. But it was not the earth. The book of Hebrews plainly indicates that a sanctuary does exist in heaven (Hebrews 8:1-5, Hebrews 9:22-24), that "the Lord pitched and not man," and that Jesus had entered into the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, not "the figures of the true," but was "now to appear" in the presence of God for us. This led to study of the Hebrew sanctuary which had foreshadowed and illustrated the actual heavenly one.
And so, where the original Adventists had been blocked by their mistaken idea of what the sanctuary was, now with persisting faith in God and His Word, with additional study, they saw what it was and rejoiced. New light broke forth onto Christianity, light that had always been there in the Word but had been obscured by the traditions and the teachings of men. Out of the disappointment and their slowness to repudiate all the teachings tracing to man and not to God, heaven now brought forth its baby. This was the message God had waited with divine patience for ages to bring. Now the table was set. Now a people could be prepared to follow the Lamb Jesus into the fire of the end-time. Now the movement was risen and put in place. Now the gospel would go to every nation and kindred and tongue and people. This is how the Seventh-day Advent movement arose.
Comfort My People -- the Gift of Prophecy
Now take a look at this when you study your Bible. When God's people obey Him, when they decide to be faithful, He rewards them so very richly. And when the law is exalted, the prophets come out! To God's disappointed people, quivering in their sorrow and reaching out in faith, our Father sent the gift of prophecy.
Ellen G. White, then but a teenager, began to experience visions and dreams in December of 1844 just after the great disappointment. As in most prophesy, she did not immediately launch into mighty foretellings of the future (although her writings contained at least some of that), but was instead given visions of comfort and guidance. Through her the Holy Spirit came to God's faithful and reassured them to hold on, to stay the course, to search the Bible yet more deeply. And this they did.
Through her work God sent many great visions that helped us to refocus. The great controversy theme, potentially our most important teaching, was expanded upon through her work, resulting in the book Great Controversy, the most timely book we can read today! Through the visions given her, God helped us and showed us the importance of health reform as elder Steinweg shared with us last Sabbath. It is safe to say that without this work of the Holy Spirit, Loma Linda University and our health work probably would not even exist today. The world is a different place than it otherwise would be, because a young woman was faithful, and in spite of ridicule and pressure to conform, gave the message God had given her. Today we are the inheritors of that message.
Now here is the fascinating thing. In spite of the help and importance of the gift of prophecy, still the message we bear is a biblical message. Still we prove it out with Scripture as our foundation. And so those writings do not go above the Word or beyond the Word, but they direct us back to the Word and amplify crucial features necessary as we traverse the end-time. Much more might be said, but my enemy on the wall says it is time to close. The clock says we must conclude.
Again, a sweeping message, perhaps more explanation than exposition. But important none the less. If we want to give our hearts to Jesus we must know who we are and what God's purpose is. In the next two parts of our series we'll look into what she had to say about salvation, for that will be of very great interest to us, and we'll take a focused look at the three angel's messages of Revelation 14:6-12. We'll follow that with a look at all this noise and fury about 1888, and then advance to our own day with "It's 1979 Again," and then tie it all together and close out the series afterwards, pulling all these lines together and coming back full circle to the idea of giving our hearts to Jesus in the end-times.
In closing, what shall we say in closing of what we have heard today? This movement came into being because of a trusting attitude about Scripture, it came from a very distinctive approach in looking at the Bible, it came as an alternative to the deceptions then being foisted upon Christendom, and it arose as the fulfillment of God's prophetic purpose. Because the pioneers were still learning their lesson about how easily the ideas of men are engrafted into Christian thought, they suffered a great disappointment, but the outflow of that disappointment was the rise of the Seventh-day Advent movement. Many precious truths and elements flowed out of that including the return of obedience to the seventh day Sabbath commandment, and even the gift of prophecy being restored to God's people. And so that brings us up to the beginning of this movement: a movement focusing on bringing our hearts to Jesus, and giving them to Him to heal. God grant us each the measure of faith necessary to be faithful in living and giving this message, and letting Jesus do just what He would do, though the heavens fall.
Mentone CA SDA 2001-08-25