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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster


II. The Christology of E. J. Waggoner

We wish to present the Christology of Waggoner in three chronological periods as already indicated. In each period we will seek to describe Waggoner's Christology thematically.

A. The First Period: 1883 to 1888

During this period E J Waggoner emerged as a theological writer of no mean ability. Only 29 years of age in 1884, a perusal of his articles during that year in The Signs of the Times indicates a theological grasp and a clear style of writing. His pen was rapidly to bring him into prominence within his church and would lead to his being one of the two main speakers at the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference session, the highest deliberative gathering of the church.

The main platform of Waggoner during this period was The Signs of the Times printed in California, U.S.A., with some articles appearing in the Australian counterpart, Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, from 1886 to 1888. A careful analysis of the articles would indicate that Waggoner specialized in the theological study of the law and the gospel.
15 Intermingled with these themes was the role of justification by faith and the important place and role of Christ. It is as Waggoner discusses the involvement of Christ in the law and the gospel that we are able to obtain glimpses of his Christology.

1. The Divinity of Christ

Waggoner taught that all things were created by Christ and therefore angels worship the only-begotten Son with equal reverence as the Father.16 Christ partakes of the attributes of God and has life within Himself.17 In speaking of the Lord's day Waggoner says that the title 'Lord' can be applied to both Christ and the Father, thus indicating their equality.18

In an article appearing in the June 19, 1884, The Signs of the Times, Waggoner discusses the Biblical story of the rich young man and Christ as recorded in Matthew 19:16-22. In commenting on Christ's remark, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is God" (Matt.19:17), Waggoner says: "Our Saviour did not mean to intimate by this that He was not good."19 He then proceeds to show Biblical evidence that Christ knew no sin and that He was absolutely good and the very embodiment of goodness. He then concludes by stating:

"This being the case, we can understand His words, 'there is none good but one, that is God,' as nothing but a statement of the fact that He Himself was entitled to be called God. If there is but one that is good, viz., God, and Christ is good, then Christ must be God."20

Waggoner then shows that this is in harmony with the sentiments of Isaiah 9:6 and John 1:1 and that as the Son of God He partakes of the attributes of God. He is far more exalted than the angels and has life within Himself, being the Creator of all things. Waggoner states that God alone may be worshipped but it is clear from Scripture that Christ accepted worship. The Father and Son are, therefore, one. This unity is expressed in somewhat anthropomorphic terms:

"This oneness, then, is that of two distinct individuals having the same thoughts, the same purposes, the same attributes. The Father and the Son were one in creating the earth, and one in devising and carrying out of the plan of salvation."21

2. Christ the only Saviour in both Dispensations

Waggoner presents a strong view of Christ functioning as Mediator in Old Testament times. "Did the Patriarchs Know Christ?"22 he answers in the In his article, affirmative and shows from Abel's offering, Abraham's faith in Christ, Moses' esteeming the reproach of Christ and the experience of the Israelites drinking from the spiritual Rock that this is so. In answering the charge that men in the Old Testament had very limited knowledge of Christ, Waggoner says:

"If it were true, it would show that God's ways are not equal, and that in different ages of the world He has different ways of saving men; and still worse, the holding of such a view dishonors Christ by virtually denying that in all things He has the pre-eminence."23

Waggoner believed that Christ was the Lamb "slain from the foundation of the world" and it was on the basis of the clear promise of the Old Testament regarding immortality through Christ that any were resurrected in Old Testament times.24

In this connection we must look at a 71-page pamphlet which Waggoner wrote in 1887 entitled, The Gospel in the Book of Galatians, in answer to a 85-page pamphlet put out by G. I. Butler entitled The Law in the Book of Galatians: is it the Moral Law or does it refer to that system of laws peculiarly Jewish?"25 While the pamphlet by Waggoner deals primarily with the law in Galatians we do find some of His Christological views surfacing.

Waggoner believed that the only method of approach to God in Old Testament and New Testament times was through Christ.26 This also meant that the forgiveness in Old Testament times was real.27 He was convinced that God only has one method of salvation and Christ was the Saviour throughout.28 He believed that no one could build on anything except Christ.29 To depend on anything except Christ for justification is the rejection of Christ.30 Waggoner states that Christ was the One who spoke the ten commandments from Sinai and, therefore, He was the great Mediator of the law in Galatians 3.31 He also maintained that the term 'until the seed should come' (Galatians 3:19), not only applied to the first advent of Christ but to the second advent and thus for him the function of the moral law remained to lead men and women experientially to faith in Christ at all times.32

3. Christ and Sin

With regard to the problem of sin, Waggoner taught that man was sinful and Christ was holy and righteous. In 1884 he was teaching that all of Adam's posterity were born into a state of sin.33 As far as Christ was concerned, Waggoner believed that He came into the same position as the sinner and bore the guilt of the sins of man from his entrance into the world and yet was inherently righteous and holy. Note this contrast in his words:

"Christ was sinless; the law was in His heart. As the Son of God His life was worth more than those of all created beings, whether in heaven or on earth...He took upon Himself our nature, Heb. 2:16,17; and on Him was laid 'the iniquity of us all.' Isa. 53:6. In order to save us, He had to come where we were, or, in other words, He had to take the position of a lost sinner...And because Christ was 'numbered with the transgressors,' He suffered the penalty of transgression.

"But the suffering of Christ was not on His own account. 'He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.' Pet. 2:22."34

In an article in The Signs of the Times Waggoner shows that Christ "had to put Himself in the exact condition of those whom He would save."35 Does this mean that Christ was a sinner? No, Waggoner says that Christ was "absolutely good, the embodiment of goodness, yet He was counted as a sinner."36 So Waggoner says that Christ was counted as a sinner although He was not one. He says that "He bore the sins of the world as though they were His own."37 Waggoner believed that the innocent assumed the crimes of the guilty and the sinless One was made sin for us. He wrote:

"None can die except those in whom sin is found; our sins were laid on Christ, and accounted as His; and so, although personally 'He knew no sin,' He was made to suffer the penalty of the law as a transgressor."38

In this article, "Under the Law," Waggoner takes the position that the term 'made under the law' relative to Christ means not merely that Christ was subject to the law but that He was subject to its penalty as an accounted sinner. Christ put Himself in the place of those who had violated the law and were under the condemnation of death and thus suffered the penalty of the law. Waggoner states his position very clearly in his article, "A New Creature in Christ":

"God made Christ (the sinless one) to be sin for us. He was made in all things 'like unto His brethren;' and that means not simply as to the outward, physical frame, but that he bore sin, just as we do. The sins that he bore were not his own, but ours. He 'knew no sin,' yet 'the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.' Isa. 53:6. Although the sins that he bore were ours, they were counted as his own, and so caused his death." (Isa. 53:5 quoted).39

In his booklet, The Gospel in the book of Galatians, Waggoner deals with Galatians 4:4 and the fact that Christ became flesh. After quoting John 14 and Romans 8:3, Waggoner says: "Christ was born in the likeness of sinful flesh."40 He then proceeds to quote Phil. 2:5-7 and Heb. 2:9 and writes:

"These texts show that Christ took upon Himself man's nature, and that as a consequence He was subject to death. He came into the world on purpose to die; and so from the beginning of His earthly life He was in the same condition that the men are in whose place He died to save."41

After quoting Romans 1:3, Waggoner states that Christ was made of the seed of David. The nature of David was sinful and Waggoner says: "Don't start in horrified astonishment; I am not implying that Christ was a sinner. I shall explain more fully in a few moments."42 After quoting Heb. 2:16,17 he says that Christ's being made in all things like unto His brethren is the same as His being made in the likeness of sinful flesh. The ancestors of Christ had all the weaknesses and passions that we have and we cannot excuse our sinful acts on the ground of heredity. He says:

"If Christ had not been made in all things like unto His brethren, then His sinless life would be no encouragement to us. We might look at it with admiration, but it would be the admiration that would cause hopeless despair."43

Waggoner then quotes 2 Cor. 5:21 and indicates that Christ was made sin for us from His birth when He was made flesh. He was made like men that He might undergo the suffering of death. Waggoner says that Butler would agree that if Christ was under the condemnation of the law on the cross without being a sinner Himself, then, why could He not be under the condemnation of the law from birth and still be sinless? Quite clearly Waggoner regards Christ as being accounted a sinner and not made one Himself inherently. He goes on to say: "I do not know how the pure and holy Savior could ensure all the infirmities of humanity, which are the result of sin, and be reckoned as a sinner, and suffer the death of a sinner."44 With Waggoner we find this tension between a Christ who knew no sin and did no sin and yet was counted as guilty and covered with degradation.45

On the one hand, for Waggoner, Christ "was made on a level with man"46 and He took the position of the lost sinner. It was in this sense that Christ came in "the likeness of sinful flesh."47 In 1886 Waggoner was speaking of human flesh being depraved and having no good thing in it,48 and at the same time, Christ being the embodiment of goodness and so He could only have depraved flesh in an accounted sense. On the other hand, Waggoner proclaimed Christ as the sinless One,49 the perfect Pattern,50 the One who is perfect righteousness,51 who did no sin52 and knew no sin.53

For Waggoner Christ was sinless and the embodiment of holiness but "He went to the very lowest depth of which man had fallen, in order that He might lift man to His own exalted throne; yet He never ceased to be God, or lost a particle of His holiness."54

In discussing Christ's baptism, Waggoner makes it clear that we are dealing not merely with an example, but with the vicarious nature of the atonement. It must have been for the same reason that He died, namely, for sin. And then Waggoner makes a statement showing clearly the vicarious nature of Christ's whole life:

"Not His own sin, but ours; for as in His death, so in His life, our sins were counted as His. And thus it is that He could be all His life, even from His birth, under the condemnation of the law. It was not on His own account, but on ours."55

Thus, for Waggoner, Christ ever remained sinless but He was verily made or accounted a sinner and a transgressor with the sins of the world upon Him. This was a vicarious atonement for Christ from His birth to His death.

During this period of 1883-1888 we have observed Waggoner's position with regard to the divinity of Christ and Waggoner's high regard for a Saviour who possessed the same attributes as God the Father. Moreover, we have seen Waggoner's insistence on Christ's uniformity of mission and work during both the Old and New Testament dispensations. Finally, we paused to consider Waggoner's view of Christ and sin and found that while Waggoner has Christ coming to the place and position of the sinner from birth, it is in an accounted sense. Thus, while Christ is made sin in a vicarious manner, He remains pure and sinless in Himself.


15 Notice some of the titles of his articles in The Signs of the Times during 1884 to 1888. The figures behind the titles indicate the number of articles by that name in a series: "Nature of the Law," (3), June 26, 1884, January 21, 28, 1886; "Under the Law," (8), August 28, September 4, 11, 18, 1884; May 6, 13, 27, June 3, 1886; "Jurisdiction of the Law," (4), February 4, 11, 18, 25, 1886; "Comments on Galatians 3," (9), July 8, 15, 22, 29, August 5, 12, 19, 26, September 2, 1886; "Christ the end of the Law," (2), July 24, August 7, 1884. [back]

16 E. J. Waggoner, "Eternal Life," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 10, No. 33, August 28, 1884, p.522: "Yet He gave His only-begotten Son, - the one by whom all things were made, whom angels worship with reverence equal to that which they yield to God, - that man might have eternal life." [back]

17 "> Ibid., No. 34, September 4, 1884, p.538: "...we turn to John 5:26 and read Christ's words: 'For as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.' Christ, then being the only-begotten Son of God, partakes of His attributes, and has life in Himself. That is, He is able to impart life to others." [back]

18 E. J. Waggoner, "Eternal Life," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 10, No. 46, December 4, 1884, p.729: "The title Lord is applied to both Christ and the Father. Since these two are one, that which belongs to one must be the property of the other also, there can be no division between them." See also November 27, 1884, p.713. Waggoner wrote a series of five articles on the divinity of Christ appearing in The Signs of the Times from March to May 1889 but we will present their main points in the second period of Waggoner. [back]

19  Ibid., No. 24, June 19, 1884, p.377. [back]

20  Ibid. See also "Which is Evangelical?" The Signs the Times, Vol. 11, No. 43, November 12, 1885, where he applies Heb. 1:2,3 and Col. 2:9 to Christ. [back]

21 E. J. Waggoner, "An Important Question," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 10, No. 24, June 19, 1884, p.377. See also "Comments on Galatians 3, No. 7" The Signs of the Times, Vol. 12, No. 32, August 19, 1886, p.502: "Thus in everything that concerns man, we see oneness of thought and action between the Father and the Son." [back]

22 Waggoner, "Did the Patriarchs Know Christ?" The Signs of the Times, Vol. 12, No. 50, December 30, 1886, p.790. See also "The Oracles of God," Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, Vol. 3, No. 7, July 1888, p.106. Waggoner applies Isaiah 6:1 to Christ in "Thine is the glory," Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, Vol. 3, No. 12, December 1888, p.166. back]

23 Waggoner, "Did the Patriarchs Know Christ?" The Signs of the Times, December 30, 1886, p.790.back]

24 See Waggoner, "Lesson for the Pacific Coast," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 10, No. 22, June 5, 1884, p.342. [back]

25 In 1886 Waggoner wrote a series of articles in The Signs of the Times on Galatians in which he advocated that the law in Chapter 3 was the moral law. This disturbed Uriah Smith, editor of the Review and Herald, and George Butler, president of the General Conference. Butler then wrote his pamphlet in favor of the ceremonial law in Galatians and the pamphlet was issued to coincide with the commencement of the 1886 General Conference session on November 18.Butler also brought the matter to the Theological Committee at the General Conference session of December 6. Although Waggoner was a member of this committee, a resolution was passed with the idea that theological views not held by the majority should not be published unless they had first been presented to leading brethren of experience. On February 10, 1887, Waggoner prepared his 71-page reply to the pamphlet issued by Butler. For some reason he held this back for almost two years, only releasing it in December 1888, after the Minneapolis Conference. It could be that a letter from Ellen White dated February 18, 1887, led Waggoner to hold his pamphlet back. In this letter Ellen White spoke words of caution to Waggoner and appealed for unity between the Review and Herald and The Signs of the Times. She expressed her conviction that the matter was not of sufficient importance to have caused Waggoner to have published his views in The Signs of the Times. A copy of Ellen White's letter to Waggoner and Jones was sent to Smith and Butler and they took the opportunity to attack Waggoner's views in the Review and Herald. This led to a letter from Ellen White to Butler and Smith dated April 5, 1887, in which she stated that because of their actions, matters were now different and it would only be fair for open discussion to take place, and for Waggoner to have a fair opportunity to put his case. No doubt, this led to the development of discussion leading to Waggoner's presentation of his talks at the Minneapolis Conference of 1888. In December 1888, Waggoner issued his pamphlet and in the explanatory note he wrote: "The delay of nearly two years has given ample time to carefully review the subject again and again, and to avoid any appearance of heated controversy." McMahon says: "The clash between Butler and Waggoner was a classic conflict between ecclesiastical conservatism and the real spirit of Protestantism" (David P. McMahon, Ellet Joseph Waggoner: The Myth and the Man, p.56). For details see Ibid., pp.53-62. [back]

26 "Do you mean to intimate by this that there was ever a time when any people could approach God except through Christ?...Your words seem to imply that before the first advent men approached God by means of the ceremonial law, and that after that they approached Him through the Messiah; but we shall have to go outside the Bible to find any support for the idea that anybody could ever approach God except through Christ" (Waggoner, The Gospel in the Book of Galatians, Oakland, California: 1888, pp. 11,12). [back]

27 "How could this be? Simply because Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. That He should offer Himself as a sacrifice, was promised to our first parents in Eden, and confirmed to Abraham by an oath from God, and, therefore, by virtue of that promise, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all who wished, could receive as much virtue from the blood of Christ as we can" (Ibid. p.30). [back]

28 Waggoner accuses Butler of having two plans of salvation, one for the Jews before the cross and one for Christians after the cross. To counter this, Waggoner asks: "Were they [the people before the cross] accepted in any other way than by humility of heart, repentance, confession of sins, faith in the blood of Christ, and a determination to obey God? Nay, verily" (Ibid., p.56). [back]

29 "Those who attempt to build their house on anything except the rock Christ Jesus, are building for destruction" (Ibid., p.11). [back]

30 See Ibid., pp.9,11,15,16. [back]

31  Ibid., p.36. [back]

32  Ibid., pp.37-42. It is questionable whether Waggoner was correct in applying the term 'until the seed should come' (Gal. 3:19) to both the first and second advents. It appears reasonable that the phrase has primary application to the historical coming of Christ and the first advent. [back]

33 E. J. Waggoner, "The Mission of Christ," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 10, No. 41, October 30, 1884, p.650: "The stream, unassisted, cannot rise higher than the fountain, and therefore Adam's posterity were necessarily born into a state of sin. When Adam sinned, God looked down the ages and saw the whole human race in a state of rebellion, and, consequently, of condemnation; and then it was that His great love was manifested, in giving His only-begotten Son to die for a rebellious world." See also "Inheritance of the Saints," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 11, No. 12, March 19, 1885, p.182: "By his sin, Adam not only lost the dominion for himself, but he made it impossible for any of his posterity to possess it. For since it was forfeited through sin, his descendants could not possess it, because they were born sinful. Moreover his whole posterity were, with himself, doomed to death." [back]

34 E. J. Waggoner, "Condemned and Justified," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 10, No. 26, July 3, 1884, p.409. See also "Justified by Faith," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 12, No. 12, March 25, 1886, p.183: "Christ's righteousness was perfect. He delighted to do the will of God, because the law - God's will - was within His heart." See also "Justification and Sanctification," The Signs of the Times, April 1, 1886, p.199. [back]

35 For the source of the statements found in this paragraph see E. J. Waggoner, "Under the Law," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 10, No. 36, September 18, 1884. p.569. [back]

36 E. J. Waggoner, "Under the Law," The Signs of Times, Vol. 10, No. 36, September 18, 1884, p.569. [back]

37  Ibid. [back]

38  Ibid. [back]

39 E. J. Waggoner, "A New Creature in Christ," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 10, No. 27,July 17, 1884, p.425. [back]

40 E. J. Waggoner, The Gospel in the Book of Galatians, p.60. [back]

41  Ibid. [back]

42  Ibid., p.61. [back]

43  Ibid. [back]

44 E. J. Waggoner, The Gospel in the book of Galatians, p.62. [back]

45 "And so the Innocent suffered for the guilty. Man had been overcome by sin, and by it brought into bondage (2 Pet. 2:19), and in order to redeem him from this corruption, and the death that must necessarily follow (James 1:15), the spotless Son of God took upon Himself the form of a servant of sin, and consented to be covered with the same degradation into which man had plunged himself." E. J. Waggoner, "Under the Law," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 12, No. 18, May 13, 1886, p.279. [back]

46 E. J. Waggoner, The Signs of the Times, Vol. 11, No. 41, October 29, 1885. [back]

47 E. J. Waggoner, "Principles and Precepts," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 11, No. 48, December 17, 1885, p.761. At this stage Waggoner does not elaborate on an explanation of Christ coming "in the likeness of sinful flesh." We will note further development in the next period. [back]

48 E. J. Waggoner, "Brief Comments on Romans 7," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 12, No. 24, June 24, 1886: "The flesh is depraved, having no good thing in it so that although he may determine to do good, he will not find any power in him to carry out his determination" (p.374). [back]

49 E. J. Waggoner, "Judged 5y the Law," The Signs of the Times, Vol. 11, No. 45, November 26, 1885, p.713. [back]

50  Ibid., Vol. 11, No. 46, December 3, 1885, p.729. [back]

51  Ibid., Vol. 12, No. 13, April 1, 1886, p.199. [back]

52  Ibid., Vol. 10, No. 47, December 11, 1884, p.744.back]

53  Ibid., "Things We Should Know," No. 2, The Signs of the Times, February 10, 1887. [back]

54 E. J. Waggoner, The Gospel in the book of Galatians, p.63. [back]

55  Ibid. [back]

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