Herbert E. Douglass, Th.D.

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100th Anniversary-- Sheridan, IL on July 16, 2005

What a glorious time for memories!  Young children now have gray heads.  Fathers and mothers are resting awaiting the trumpets and the Voice of Jesus.  We all are living in the “in-between-times.”  The “now” and the “not yet.”

I remember anniversaries well: In 1950, the Advent Review, our church paper, celebrated its 100th birthday; in 1975, it’s 125th; in 2005, it’s 161st.  In 1970 the Illinois Conference celebrated its 100th anniversary, complete with the costumes, the impersonations, the horse-drawn carriages and the nostalgia. 

In Battle Creek today, the Historic Adventist Village reminds us of the grit and sacrifice and excitement of a small group of men and women who made Battle Creek the center of the Adventist world, as well as the cereal capital of the world, more than a century ago.

And here we are in old Sheridan.  In 1900, Ellen White gave some strong counsel to be followed for the “school to be established in Sheridan . . . (Illinois) you will have the blessing of God, and complete success. Letter 152, 1900, (To Roy F. Cottrell, November 20, 1900.)  {6MR 308.4} In that year, the Sheridan Industrial Academy, later known as the Fox River Academy, was established.  But in 1933, the Fox River Academy was closed and consolidated with the school at Broadview, which at that time was an academy and junior college.  So your roots are deep!

How do Adventists celebrate centennials?  Are we supposed to be happy or sad?  In view of the Adventist mission, is a centennial a sign of success, and achievement, or something much less?

From 1844 to _______ is a long time.  Were the Adventists in 1850 premature in announcing that Jesus was to return in their day?  Were they commendably zealous but theologically incorrect when they proclaimed that our Lord’s coming was near, even at the door? _______ years is a long time to preach that the Second Advent is very near!   What does language mean when we say something is “near” for over 160 years?  So, we are forced to ask ourselves another question: What happened!


Some of us come down on the side of our early Adventists--they were not wrong!  The generation that proclaimed the judgment hour message from 1844 on could have been and should have been the last generation--as a very special lady has often told us.

For example, she wrote in 1888, in The Great Controversy, p. 458: “It was not the will of God that the coming of Christ should be so long delayed and His people should remain so many years in this world of sin and sorrow.” 

In 1901, writing to P. T. Magan, that remarkable leader who led out in the early years of Emmanuel Missionary College, Madison College, and then Loma Linda University, Ellen White penned sorrowfully: “God’s people have been far behind.  Human agencies under divine planning may recover something of what is lost because the people who had great light did not have corresponding piety, sanctification, and zeal in working out God’s specified plans.  . . . We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel; but for Christ’s sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action.” MS 184, 1901, in MR 20, pp. 310-314.

So the question: How would Adventists charge God with the consequences of “their own wrong course of action”?  Surely, not directly.  Yet, could it be possible that some of the reasoning used over the years to explain why Jesus has not returned, may have done just that—blamed God for man’s failure?

For example, such explanations as, a) Jesus has not come because the angels have not yet turned all the pages in the books of judgment—when the last pages of those living have been turned, probation is then closed and the plagues will fall.  Or, b) God has His own celestial clock; its hands move inexorably—when the clock strikes twelve, probation will close, ready or not. Or, c) the Lord can’t come because the world is not evil enough but when the cup is full, then God says, “That’s enough, I’ve had it!” Or, d) He can’t return because we have not seen a universal Sunday law.  Or, e) another reason that has become fashionable in the last few years in many pulpits and classroom is this lame excuse— we have no idea when Jesus will return—and there’s nothing that human beings can do to hasten the Advent.

The Bible or Ellen White or common sense supports none of these explanations!  But what is worst, these excuses have lifted the responsibility for the delay of the Advent from God’s professed people and “their own wrong course of action” and thrown it back on God.  Unintentionally, of course, but the effect is the same: Satan is pleased with these decoys, and the real solution to the delay in the Advent is overlooked

Let’s look at how Jesus referred to the end of the world in Mark 4: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground. . . . The earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.  But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come” (4:26-29, NKJV).

And John was given a picture of this kingdom being harvested in Rev. 14: “And I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat one like the Son of Man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.  And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat upon the cloud, ‘Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the hour has come o reap, for the harvest of the earth is y ripe” (14:14, 15, NKJV).

WISE FARMERS KNOW WHAT JESUS KNOWS—THEY WAIT FOR THEIR SEED TO MATURE!  Anyone with a backyard garden understands our Lord’s words just as much as a corn farmer in Illinois.  What is Jesus saying here?  The first lesson I hear is that the purposes of the kingdom of God and of your backyard gardens or your huge farms are the same--the harvest is ready when the seed has matured.  Who plants tomatoes or corn just for the fun of it?  Of course there is pleasure in planting the seed; yes, there is even fun in cultivating growing plants.  But we don’t plant seeds merely for the fun of weeding the rows.  We plant because we enjoy juicy red tomatoes or full, golden ears.

In other words, just as farmers must wait for their seed to mature, so Jesus has told us that He will wait until the gospel seed has produced a harvest that He can stamp with His seal of approval.  When that harvest is ripe, when the wheat and the tares are fully mature, all the events we associate with the end will happen very quickly, such as Latter Rain, Loud Cry, Sunday laws, etc. For example, the “latter rain” falls only on mature, prepared Christians, which makes possible the “loud cry.”

Jesus is telling us that the harvest is ready when the seed is mature, both tares and wheat!  The wise Heavenly Reaper waits until the harvest is ready!  The sealing work of Revelation 7 is another way to describe the ripening of the harvest.  The end comes when the harvest is ripe (Rev 14), that is, when God’s people are sealed (Rev 7). Use COL:67, 68, and DA:633, 634 (if time)

THE SECOND LESSON OF OUR LORD’S HARVEST PRINCIPLE IS THIS: FARMERS AND PROPHETS ENGAGE IN CONDITIONAL PROPHECIES.  Farmers know, for example, that early corn should be ready in 68 days, some corn, in 74, late corn in  88 days.  That is what the seed catalogue promised, if!  If, the corn gets enough rain, but not too much, if the nights stay warm in July, if the birds don’t eat the seed--all these ifs, the farmer has no control over.

Jesus is saying, Listen to the parable of the farmer.  The delay in the harvest of this world has not been due to a change of mind on the part of the divine Farmer.  As far as God’s seed catalog is concerned, the harvest could have and should have ripened decades ago.  We have been living in the time of the delayed harvest for far too long.  The fruit, the fruits of the Spirit that reflect the character of Jesus, have not yet matured.

This line of thought is not new to Seventh-day Adventists.  In 1883, Ellen White pleaded with fellow church members to understand why Jesus was delaying His return: “It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message.  Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped.  But has the word of the Lord failed?  Never!  It should be remembered that the promises and threatenings of God are alike conditional.  [God and farmers work with conditional promises.]

“Had Adventists, after the great disappointment in 1844, held fast their faith, and followed on unitedly in the opening providence of God, receiving the message of the third angel and in the power of the Holy Spirit proclaiming it to the world, they would have seen the salvation of God, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts, the work would have been completed, and Christ would have come ere this to receive His people to their reward.”--Selected Messages, book 1, p.  67, 68.  (Manuscript 4, 1883)

As clearly as words can convey thought, Ellen White on many occasions declared the sad yet challenging truth that the return of Jesus was already delayed in the 1880s!  Further, God would continue to wait until His people were ready for His endorsement and sealed with His approval.

Why is Jesus waiting?  Because He wants the gospel to go to all the world-- but it must be a clear gospel without confusion.   The gospel in every church, Catholic and Protestant, often in our own, is strangely confused for two basic reasons: 1) A limited gospel focuses on forgiveness as the purpose of salvation but the everlasting gospel includes the sinner’s restoration wherein all sin is worked out of the life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 And the second reason:  The everlasting  gospel is the good news about our Heavenly Father—that was our Lord’s earthly assignment and it is ours.  God is not the Cosmic Cop or the Stern Judge.  He is the Good Shepherd, our Waiting Father who is always reaching for His lost sons and daughters. Only when God is truly known can people make an informed choice.  And Jesus makes it very clear that He will not return until every living person in the last generation has had enough information to say Yes or No to the Light of Truth.  Not equal information but enough!

But that gospel can be given only by those who know this truth about God and can give a personal witness to what this truth has meant to them: “And this good news about the Kingdom will be preached through all the world for a witness to all mankind; and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14, TEV). In other words, when people look at you and listen to you, what kind of a God are you representing? Are you a good witness?

But here’s our problem: we may be using the right words but still not telling the truth about God and how the world will end and when Jesus will return.  We may not be truthful witnesses.  Many Christians use the right words, such as grace, faith, righteousness by faith, justification and sanctification, but they put different definitions on them; they are not telling the truth about God, even in our own church.  We end up in theological fog.

 What is even worse is that many Christians may have the truth about God but they are not good witnesses—they do not walk the talk!  If they were charged in a court of law for saying that they were good Christians, would there be enough evidence to be convicted?  

In Matthew 24 and 25, Jesus kept His eyes on the church rather than on the world.  Why?  For this reason: to place undue emphasis on world conditions, which are always in distress, would be similar to a farmer saying: “I oiled my combine, it must be time to harvest the wheat.”  Or, “It looks like there will be a bad thunderstorm.  It must be time to pick my corn.”  There is as much relationship between a thunderstorm and picking ripe corn as there is between distress in the world and the readiness of the church for the Advent.


The story travels across Illinois, not far from here. On the first weekend of December 1856, Ellen, now 29, and James at 35 were in Round Grove, Illinois, to meet with Adventist believers, some they had known in New England.  This was a time when the “west” was opening up to new settlers.  Compared to New England, the fertile land on both sides of the Mississippi River was compared to heaven. Many Adventists had said good-by to the rocky farms of New England where poverty was pervasive.  The call of the rich prairies was very strong and compelling. Among those who had gone west were the Andrews, the Stevens, and the Loughboroughs—some of the strongest Adventist families.

For example, the Loughboroughs at 25 struggled through 1856 in tent meetings, working during the week haying and harvesting, averaging $4-5 dollars per week.  After the fall settlement, Mary Loughborough said, “This is too much, we can’t live any longer in this way.”  John had been a good cabinet-maker and he told Mary that they would go to Waukon, Iowa, and rejoin John Andrews and his family who were already there. 

 In Iowa, they found a very sick Andrews at 28 (our best theologian at that time). John Loughborough, much discouraged, had little energy to help restore the wavering families who were buying up more land and working even harder to find the end of the rainbow.

 Now, back to Round Grove, Illinois: On December 9, Ellen White had a vision: “I was shown that the company of brethren at Waukon, Iowa, needed help; that Satan's snare must be broken, and these precious souls rescued. My mind could not be at ease until we had decided to visit them.” 

But an Illinois winter had set in and the Mississippi River had no bridge; it had to be crossed, either by boat or on the ice. The Whites were staying with the Harts and the Everts, former New England families These two men had learned to trust Ellen’s convictions and they were impressed to take the Whites by sleigh.  

Ellen White tells the story:  “It was then good sleighing, and preparations were made to  go with two horses and a sleigh; but as it rained for twenty-four hours, and the snow was fast disappearing, my husband thought the journey must be given up. Yet my mind could not rest; it was agitated concerning Waukon.  Brother Hart said to me, ‘Sister White, what about Waukon?’ I said, ‘We shall go.’ ‘Yes,  he replied, ‘if the Lord works a miracle.’         

 “Many times that night I was at the window watching the  weather, and about daybreak there was a change, and it commenced snowing. The next evening, about five o'clock, we started on our way to Waukon. . . . Arriving at Green Vale, Illinois, we held  meetings with the brethren there.

But at Green Vale another severe snowstorm struck, delaying the journey nearly a week. But they pressed on. As they neared the Mississippi River they made many inquiries about crossing. No one thought it could be done. The horses were breaking through the crusted snow at almost every step. A foot of water was flowing over the ice on the Mississippi. Ellen White recounted the breathtaking experience.

“When we came to the river, Brother Hart arose in the sleigh and said, ‘Is it Iowa, or back to Illinois?’. . . . We answered, ‘Go forward, trusting in Israel's God.’  We ventured upon the ice, praying as we went, and were  carried safely across. As we ascended the bank on the Iowa side of the river, we united in praising the Lord. A number of persons told us, after we had crossed, that no amount of money would have tempted them to venture upon the ice, and that several teams had broken through, the drivers barely escaping with their lives.”

After spending the Sabbath with church members in Dubuque, six miles from the crossing, they moved on to Waukon, still four days sleighing away, near the Minnesota border.

After reaching Waukon Ellen wrote: “We reached Waukon Wednesday night, and found nearly all the Sabbathkeepers sorry that we had come.”

Years later Loughborough gave a vivid description of the meeting of the travelers with the believers in Waukon. “As Brother Hosea Mead and I were working on a store building in Waukon, a man looking up saw me, and inquired, ‘Do you know a carpenter around here by the name of Hosea Mead?’  I replied, ‘Yes, sir, he is up here working with me.’ 

Brother Mead said, ‘That is Elon Everts' voice.’ Then he looked down, and Brother Everts said, "Come down; Brother and Sister White and Brother Hart are out here in the sleigh.’          As I reached the sleigh, Sister White greeted me with the question ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’ Astonished at such a question, I replied, ‘I am working with Brother Mead at carpenter work. The second time she repeated, ‘What doest thou here, Elijah?’ . . .

“I was brought by these bare questions to very seriously consider the case of Elijah, away from the direct work of the Lord, hid in a cave. . . . The salutation most thoroughly  convinced me that there was going to come a change, and a ‘go-back’ from the labor in which I was then engaged.”

At one of the meetings Ellen White was taken off in vision, and in vision solemnly repeated the words “Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord.” These words brought consolation and hope to Mary Loughborough, who in days past had been left at home alone while her husband was away preaching, and she was tempted to murmur. She confessed her bitterness of spirit in a powerful testimony and urged her husband to return to his ministry.   

At another meeting John Andrews renewed his consecration to God and to service in the Lord's cause. The few days James and Ellen White spent in Waukon were not in vain.

Think about it!  Besides reestablishing a growing church in Iowa, two special leaders in the development of the Adventist Church were reclaimed.  John Andrews, after he regained his health, returned to Battle Creek and elsewhere, a remarkable Bible student and historian, and our first foreign missionary. Today, we remember this man who turned his back on a fortune to be made in Iowa when we think of Andrews University.  John Loughborough returned with his valiant wife, and entered a distinguished career as conference president of five conferences, treasurer of the General Conference, church planter in many fields, and author of several books that are prized today.

Never again did those two men waver. At one of the Waukon meetings,  young Loughborough rose and said: “I have laid up my hammer!  I have driven the last nail!  Henceforth my hand shall hold the sword of the Spirit, and never give it up.  So help me, God!”

The Waukon dash was just one example of how far Ellen White would go to encourage two great preachers to do their duty.  All because of a vision in the middle of winter in frozen Illinois somewhere close to Sheridan.

There would be no centennial anniversary in Sheridan today if men like Andrews and Loughborough stayed in Iowa.  Or if Ellen White did not trust the vision and the men folk around her did not trust her! 

One of these days, finally, the Lord’s bride will be ready for the wedding.  Read about it in Revelation  19. She has left the Lord standing at the altar for a long, long time. Some bride!  But, one of these days, the Lord will declare the waiting over. The bride will have made herself ready.  And then our Lord Jesus will invite the redeemed of all the ages, beginning with Adam and Eve, to “the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

What a table that will be!  Wedgewood china, Rogers Silverware, angelic music and a place card at every seat.  Fathers and mothers will go up and down the rows, looking for their sons and daughters.  Sweethearts will look for lovers once lost in war. Spouses will look for their faithful mates. When your father or mother looks for you, or your earthly mate, will you be at your seat or will your seat be empty?  That’s the question only you can answer and only you and Jesus can do anything about it.  Before you leave this church today, I think we all should be making some promises that we will be found in our places at the Lamb’s marriage supper.

- Herbert E. Douglass, ThD

This Site Last Updated: Friday, October 10, 2014 03:20 PM
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