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


A Closer View of the Approaching Crisis

In 1899 the General Conference session was held in South Lancaster, Massachusetts. Into that session the mail from Australia brought messages regarding the peril that was wrapped up in subtle teachings knocking at our doors.

At that time, so far as I know, no one connected up these messages of caution with the warnings against the revival of old controversies, and the mingling of new and old, which had come to us in the message of 1892:

"Old controversies which have apparently been hushed for a long time will be revived, and new controversies will spring up; new and old will commingle, and this will take place right early."

To this 1899 Conference came ringing messages to be on guard, especially in our educational plans, against the commingling of true and false. Of the consequences of partaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in our work and teaching, the message said:

"We can not consent, at this period of time, to expose our youth to the consequences of learning a mixture of truth with error."

This exhortation continued:

"Satan, in a deceptive garb, still lurks in the tree of knowledge. The words of God, spoken at creation, 'But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it,' come sounding along the line of ages to us today; for 'they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.' "—Bulletin," 1899, P. 158.

In a message entitled, "Reform in our Educational Work," it was said:

"The Bible has been brought into our schools to some extent; but teachers and students have depended largely upon books, containing ideas and sentiments that are misleading. When the light of truth for these last days came to the world in the proclamation of the first, second, and third angel's messages, we were shown that a different order of things must be brought in; but it has taken much time to understand what changes should be made in lines of study in our schools.

"It is most difficult to practise right principles after having been so long accustomed to the practices of the world; but reforms must be entered into with heart, and soul, and will. Errors may be hoary with age; but age does not make error truth, nor truth error....The Lord would now have every idea that is false put away from teachers and students. Above all other books the word of God must be our study 


book, the basis of all our education....Its living principles woven into our lives like threads of gold will be our only safeguard in trials and temptations....Teachers are to bring this instruction into their class work, yoking up with Christ, the great Educator."

Our educators of the time heard in these and many further messages a clarion call to weed out the worldly elements from the educational program. They began anew in dead earnest to build up the system of Christian education for which we thank God today, though still our school men tell us they are strugglers toward yet higher standards.

To this General Conference of 1899, also, came definite warning against ancient systems of error that we hardly thought could ever press dangerously upon us. But from far off Australia, the trans-ocean mail had brought into the South Lancaster Conference, as it sat in session, a message entitled, "The True Relation of God and Nature." In earnest words it set forth the truth of a personal God in heaven. We had known, of course, that the ancients made of Him a mystical personality pervading all nature—an error that seemed far from touching us in this advent movement. But like a sudden flash of light out of the blue came these messages insisting on the true view. Old controversies, remember, were to be revived, as we had been forewarned some years before—"and this will take place right early." Now, in greater detail came the admonitions to beware of ancient error:

"The ancient philosophers prided themselves upon their superior knowledge, but God has said of them: 'Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, ... and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator...

" Christ came to the world as a personal Saviour. He represented a personal God. He ascended on high as a personal Saviour, and He will come again as He ascended to heaven—a personal Saviour. We need carefully to consider this; for in their human wisdom, the wise men of the world, knowing not God, foolishly deify nature and the laws of nature....

"The Father in heaven has a voice and a person which Christ expressed. Those who have true knowledge of God will not become so infatuated with the laws of matter and the operations of nature as to overlook or refuse to acknowledge the continual working of God in nature."— Id. P. 157.

It is not God Himself in plant and tree, but the "working of God in nature,"


in the things that are made. Over and over was stressed the fact of a personal God in heaven, with Christ the "express image" of the Father's person. The power of God, whose throne is in heaven, works in the things of nature—

"Vegetation flourishes because of the agencies employed by the great and mighty God. He sends the dew and the rain and the sunshine, that verdure may spring forth."

He is not in person in the dew and the rain; He sends the dew and rain to cause the plants to spring forth. That seems so self-evident that one might wonder why it should be so stressed in a communication sent to the General Conference in session, in South Lancaster, in the year 1899. What could it mean to those brethren?

But the fact was, in just a short time, the brethren were to meet the very subtleties of ancient pantheistic error—the doctrine of a personality in the blade of grass and plant and tree—and all in the name of the third angel's message. Strange it was, that with this development just before us, this warning message should come from far across the sea. None understood the reason then, but we were to understand the need of this instruction a little later, to the full.

At this time, in 1899, I was living and working in old India, The General Conference Bulletin with this insistence on the true view of God and nature came to us in a field where we were daily face to face with the erroneous view. We were of necessity stressing this truth of the personal God in heaven, working by the Word of His power in the things that are made, as opposed to the idea of deity or personality in the things. All about us in India was the idea of the worship of a divine personality in animals and plants.

In the country, especially, one saw on every side signs of worship of plant and tree. The deity was supposed to be in the grass, in the plant, the "imaginary personality," as writers on the animistic philosophy described it.

But down in India these mystical ideas of the old heathen philosophy carried not the remotest suggestion, in our minds, of anything that could take troublous form among us. And we in India had no more idea of the meaning to us of this urgent message on the relation of God to nature than had our brethren in the 


South Lancaster session, in 1899. It was later that we understood the timeliness of this stressing of the fundamental truth of a personal God in heaven, sending forth the word of His power to work in creation. For we came face to face with the insistent teaching among us of the idea of a personality in grass and tree.

We had not the slightest idea that we were anywhere near facing such issues at our own door. How was it that away across the Pacific, a sister burdened with close contact with a growing work in a new field, could turn aside and pen such instruction regarding as issue soon to press upon the brethren at the general headquarters? There is but one answer—the Spirit of Prophecy.

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