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How the Spirit of Prophecy Met a Crisis:
Memories and Notes of the "Living Temple" Controversy
by W. A. Spicer


Forewarnings from Afar

In point of time, the instruction of the Spirit of prophecy sought to give us forewarnings from afar of subtle dangers that were preparing to spring into action against the Advent Movement. When the peril arose and was recognized as the very thing against which the warnings had been uttered, we realized that truly the Word of the Lord had been fulfilled again, as of old: "Before it came to pass I showed it thee." Isa. 48:5.

It is interesting, also, to note that the specific messages that dealt with an approaching crisis at the old headquarters came from over the sea. The agent of the gift was far remote from any personal contact with circumstance and personalities involved.

At the end of 1891 Mrs. E. White had gone to Australia at the request of the General Conference Committee. It was felt her help was needed in that field, where it was evident a strong over-sea base was to be built up. While there, the messages by the Spirit of Prophecy began to come in greater volume of detail than ever before it seemed, bearing upon the ministry in general, upon the work in North America, and upon the responsibilities of the General Conference executives.

While the human agent in this gift was far away and immersed in the affairs of a growing cause in the new Australasian field, the burden of instruction for the cause at the old headquarters seemed only to be increased.

In a communication from Melbourne (dated February 18, 1892), entitled "An Appeal to Ministers"—sent out in leaflet form O.A. Olsen, then president of the General Conference—we were told:

"Prophecies are being fulfilled, and stormy times are before us. Old controversies which have apparently been hushed for a long time will be revealed, and new controversies will spring up; new and old will commingle, and this will take place right early....


"Intensity is taking possession of every earthly element . While a new life is being diffused and is springing up from beneath and taking fast hold of all Satan's agencies, preparatory to the last great conflict and struggle, a new light and life and power is descending from on high, and taking possession of God's people who are not dead, as many now are, in trespasses and sins."—Special Testimonies for Our Ministers," No. 1 (of a series of envelope-size booklets.)

Older workers will well remember the awakening influence of this instruction in those early nineties. But we little realized than how near to us was this revival of "old controversies," and this commingling of "new and old." Nor did we foresee the nature of the peril. True, the phrases suggested just such controversies as disturbed the ancient church in New Testament days. We catch the earnest note of anxious warning against such commingling of new and old in the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Colossians. (In fact in later messages to us from the Spirit of prophecy we were urged: "Read Paul's exhortation to the Colossians.")

The history of the early church makes very clear what that subtle philosophy was that tried to fasten itself upon the church of apostolic times. These very Colossians, warned by Paul, were face to face with this deceptive commingling of old and new. One historian says:

"We have in Colossae the first appearance of that syncretism [commingling] of Oriental theosophy and Christian faith which in one form or another characterized all the Gnostic systems of the second century. It was not a mere form of Jewish Christianity which Paul attacked in his epistle, but a superimposition of Jewish and heathen elements...upon the Christian faith and life."—"History of Christianity in the Apostolic Age," p. 369, McGiffert.

This early attack upon the Christian movement was, says another writer, "Christianity perverted by learning and speculation."—"Early Church History," p. 73, Gwatkin.

The perversion of the terms of Christianity itself in the systems of error that sought to take over the control and teaching in the church made the attack the more dangerous . The very phrases and truths of the gospel were perverted, and that, too, in the name of Christianity. To quote only one more writer on this period

"If indeed the tumult in men's minds had been of a nature wholly 


hostile to the Gospel, they might perhaps have allowed it to exhaust itself by its own struggles; but that which rendered it peculiarly dangerous was the false appearance it assumed of relationship to the Christian movement. Christian truth was imperiled by the inability of many minds to distinguish the radical difference in the two currents of ideas."—"History of Christian Theology in the Apostolic Age," Vol. 1, P.326, Reuss.

This was the mixture of spiritualistic heathen philosophy with Christian truth that sought to capture a dominating place in the early apostolic church. And now to our own church of the nineties, there came these earnest warnings that old, old controversies, long silent, would be revived, new controversies were to spring up; "new and old will commingle, and this will take place right early."

What face this revival of old controversies would present we knew not. We could only pray that while new life and power were springing up from beneath, we might be sharers in the "new light and life and power" descending from on high to prepare God's people for the times before us. There was an awakening power in these messages to ministers and people and to General Conference leaders in those years. As one of the young men at headquarters—as secretary of the Mission Board—I well remember how the leading brethren of that time called us to consecration and earnest preparation for a time of crisis that was drawing near for the advent movement.

In those same years also—the message was read to us in the Battle Creek tabernacle, in 1893—earnest instruction came from over sea, saying that the Lord was in earnest about the repeated counsels that had been given concerning so many believers moving in about the general headquarters. This tendency to gather in centers was contrary to the gospel plan of diffusing the light. No more Jerusalem centers did the Lord want on earth we were told, but a devoted people living the truth in many places where the light was needed. We were told that the presence of so many not needed at the institutions there was imperiling the very institutions; and if it continued, the Lord would allow the institutions themselves to be laid in ruins.


So, in the early nineties, came very earnest and definite counsels from over the sea. We were to see the meaning of these cautions in the years to come. We were to see our two largest institutions in ruins, and round that same time, also, we found ourselves involved in conflict with old controversies revived.

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