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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 Time of Waiting and Perplexity

Late in the summer of 1902 the chairman of the General Conference Committee and others returned from the European meetings. By that time it was apparent that a real issue was developing between the general executives and the leadership of the medical work, not only over teaching, but over administrative organization and finance, and over the counsels of the Spirit of prophecy that had been coming in.

As to the teaching, it seemed at the headquarters' office that warnings should be sounded, to put our workers and people on guard.

But just then came a message from the Spirit of prophecy, from California, telling the brethren to hold still, to be quiet, to wait.

Wait? Keep quiet? It was hard counsel to take. How could we keep quiet when we saw the new-old teaching getting out into the open. We saw friends accept-it as something fine and new and advanced. And were we to keep quiet? I recall that it seemed to me I would have to cry out openly against it or deny my own deepest convictions. It was a painful situation. We did not discuss it much among ourselves. It was a time when each one had to feel his way along, not leaning on anyone else.

But as though the Lord knew how painful it was to be told to wait quietly, another message soon came. We were told that we must remember the rebellion in heaven, and how mysterious was the working of evil principles and mystifying error even among the angels. The Lord had to wait, and allow error to develop. Had He acted at once, angels would not have understood. There would have been greater loss still in the family of heaven. That thought of delay in heaven, waiting for error to work out, brought wonderful relief. And when, a year or two later, the issues involved were brought fully into the open, and workers and people 


had had an opportunity to see for themselves what was involved, the crisis was fully met with much less confusion and loss than would likely have followed had we at once started in to sound warning to all.

Throughout these times of perplexity that followed our first views of the dangers involved, we saw how steady and sure and unhurried was the work of the Spirit of prophecy in giving guidance. The agent of the gift was thousands of miles away, out of personal contact with matters at headquarters. Yet there came surer and more timely counsel than any leader among us could have given, though living in personal contact with affairs.

Late in the summer of 1902, as general representatives were returning from Europe and summer meetings, messages began to come from the Spirit of prophecy that plans for the rebuilding of the sanitarium at headquarters contemplated a larger building than should have been. It was not the Lord's will, for Mrs. White had been shown anew that our people should not erect very large institutions in any place. Counsels of former times were repeated that instead of large institutions in a few places, the funds should be divided and plants made in many places.

In October a group of brethren representing the sanitarium work called at the General Conference office, seriously questioning the attitude of Mrs. White and of the executives of the General Conference. It was interpreted that the instruction meant that the sanitarium now well under way, should have been moved from Battle Creek. But no instruction to this effect was ever produced. The trend of all that was available in the general office was after this order (letter of May 1, 1902):

Do not erect an immense institution in Battle Creek, which will make it necessary for you to draw upon our people for means. Such a building might far better be divided, and plants made in many places. Over and over again this had been presented to me.

On the misinterpretation of the counsels, it was declared that if the General Conference men believed what was written, they should build a sanitarium elsewhere and turn this one over to the board and faculty.


In November of this year, 1902, came the Autumn Council. The matter of General Conference relationship to the Sanitarium enterprise came in for consideration. Attention was also given to the teaching in the book Living Temple, which was to have been sold to raise funds for this and other sanitariums. Some things in the book were reviewed by W.W. Prescott. The author made explanations. A. T. Jones appealed that we should read the book "with confidence." The minutes record:

[ATJ]: He had found recognition of Christ as a personal Saviour in at least 23 galleys [proofs] of the work before him, although many chapters are strictly physiological in their nature. This, he believed, should commend the book to our confidence."

There was a strange influence attending dipping into this philosophy of God in nature with a consenting confident attitude toward it. There was a bewitching atmosphere about it. Professor Prescott labored to show how phrases and ideas here and there thrown into the matter of the book seemed to mystify the scriptural view of God. The author told the council that while it was serious, it seemed also absurd—the idea that there was a mysterious something undefined pervading the book. But that was the very fact — there was a spiritualistic mysticism in the ideas that no one could safely delve into with a consenting mind. More than one who went into it in that attitude of approach was taken captive by it.

A subcommittee of four was appointed to go through the proofs together and report. On a later date, the minutes show the majority report was made as follows:

"That, we find in the book, Living Temple, nothing which appears to us to be contrary to the Bible or the fundamental principles of the Christian religion, and that we see no reason why it may not be recommended by the Committee for circulation in the manner suggested." A.T.J., J.H.K., D. Paulson.

One member, W.W. Prescott, presented a separate report:

"I am compelled to say that I regard the matter, outside those portions of the book which deal with physiology and hygiene, as leading to harm rather than good; and I venture to express the hope that it will never be published."

In the discussion which followed, the minutes tell us, "the author 


requested the privilege of withdrawing the book from consideration."

Even those who were not present can well understand how all these issues brought question, and anxiety, and more or less confusion in the field. About a month after the Autumn Council, occurred the burning of the Review and Herald office. Troubles certainly abounded. There began a promotion of the idea in the field that these teachings that the general brethren objected to could be taught from the writings of the Spirit of prophecy. So events traveled on toward the General Conference session in the Spring of 1903.

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