The “justification by faith” taught by Waggoner and Jones was not the same as the doctrine taught in the Protestant churches of their day. It was distinctly Adventist, focusing on:
- Christ’s complete identification with sinful human flesh, which proved that humanity combined with divinity can live without sin;
- And therefore the ability of His life in us to keep all the commandments of God.
- The cleansing of sin’s power from the heart by the power of God’s word.
- No excuses were made for sin, all could reach the high standard of the Law and the Judgment through the grace that Jesus would impart.
- The nature of the image of the beast, and the Sabbath/Sunday conflict (ie. that the conflict was not just a struggle over two different days of worship, but rather a struggle over two different gospels).
- The finishing of the gospel call to the world and perfection of the church.
- The cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven (precluded by the cleansing of the church from all sin), and the great final struggle after that, in which God’s character would be revealed in its fullness through the saints, and be finally vindicated.
These were some of the elements of the revived Adventist gospel.
But many did not recognize it. They had been taught a different gospel. They wrote to Ellen White and said, “Is this the third angel’s message? Because it isn’t what we thought the third angel’s message was.” She replied:
Review and Herald, April 1, 1890
Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, “It is the third angel’s message in verity.”
Frank Belden was one of the men who had much difficulty with the 1888 message. So much so, in fact, that he never really accepted it, and some time after became bitter towards Ellen White, and the church, and became separated from the denomination around 1907.
His songs never supported this clear Adventist gospel. Instead, they were very much like the Protestant hymns of the day, speaking much about the love, forgiveness, and blood of Jesus, but never coming down to the details of defining what these things are, how they are ministered, and what is the difference between the true and false teaching on these points.
And the compromising principles by which his songwork was done, continued as standard practice in the Seventh-day Adventist church until the Awakening message. When the Brinsmead Awakening message was given, real Adventist song was revived again, and music was made to serve as a vessel for the clear gospel light God was giving through the messages of Revelation 14 (and 18). You can verify this by simply reading some of the lyrics of the few songs we have posted in the Awakening section of this website.
When those of us in the Sabbath Rest Advent Church, who were involved in starting our first songbook, considered what songs we would put into it, we assumed that we would take many songs from other Protestant hymnals, just as Frank Belden and other Adventists in his time had done. But we had also written a few new songs specifically for our message (even though it was only a handful at that time).
Then we ran into the problem of getting copyright permissions for some of the songs we wanted to use, which would have delayed the printing of our songbook. So we hesitated, and then as we worked on the project, we began to write many more new songs, and eventually filled our book with almost all new compositions, written by members of our church, and usually clearly supporting our message. So there was no need to include many other songs from the past, or from other denominations. And we never had to obtain copyright permissions.
Writing our own songs has now become our standard practice, and I believe it is the correct course. If the good work James White began had been continued in the same spirit, we would not have had 100 years of drought, during which the clear Adventist gospel teaching through sacred song was almost utterly silent. The trumpet gave no sound, and the people were not warned.
Only as we appreciate the light God has given to us, and put our own talents into the work of presenting that light, can it be something that God can really bless. We are not to speak our own words, or our own gospel. But like Jesus, we must pay close attention to what our Father is doing and saying, and then do and say the same, in every area of our lives including the message of our songs. And though our talents be small and perhaps weak, yet God highly esteems, and will support, the willing offering from a pure heart.
Then waken into sound divine
The very pavement of Thy shrine,
Till we, like Heaven’s star-sprinkled floor,
Faintly give back what we adore.
Childlike though the voices be,
And untunable the parts,
Thou wilt own the minstrelsy,
If it flow from childlike hearts.
- John Keble, The Christian Year, Palm Sunday (“The Children in the Temple”)