The Sabbath Sunday Issue, part 1

There have arisen in our Conference questions that need to have careful attention, whether the Sabbath keepers in the Southern States where they are liable to feel the oppressive power of their State laws if they labor on Sunday shall rest on Sunday to avoid the persecution which must some if they do any labor. Some of our brethren seem anxious that a resolution shall be passed by the General Conference advising our Sabbath keeping brethren, liable to imprisonment and fines, to refrain from labor on that day. Such resolutions should not be placed before this Conference, requiring their action.

There are questions about which it is far better to have as little notoriety given as possible, in either case,—for, or against. And our brethren would be wise in not bringing questions of this character to the front, to obtain decisions from the Conference in regard to them. They can be understood and adjusted in a more private way. There are many things that should be conducted in a silent, unobserved way, which would have altogether a better influence upon all minds.

Some minds are so constituted that they can not treat these questions wisely. When the Sunday question is legislated to become a law, there will not be so great a danger of taking steps that are not of a character to receive the sanction of Heaven, though they may receive the sanction of the General Conference,— for the reason that the Lord gives light and knowledge just when it is most needed.

I am afraid of these many resolutions. One year ago resolutions were brought into the Conference for adoption that, had they all been accepted, would have bound about the work of God. Some resolutions were urged by young, inexperienced ones, that never should have received the consent of the Conference. Human traditions and permits and nonpermits have been of a character that would have bound them about with restrictions that were wholly unnecessary, out of God’s order, and that would have created a condition of things that would have been detrimental to the progress of the work. If some resolutions that were accepted had not been proposed, it would have been better, for those who presented them were in darkness and not in the light. Had they been laid upon the table, it would have been far more in accordance with the will of God because all these many resolutions, voting what shall be, and what shall not be, are not after God’s order. What this man shall do, and shall not do, making laws that God has never made, has created principles which should not prevail among us. As reformers, if we had less talk and more of Christ, there would be far greater modesty and humility and we would do far more good.

There are many things that require the wisest and most careful counsel, and should be done without making any noise about it; but there is want of wisdom in throwing every action open to all. Many things are kept reserved through the year for the General Conference to act upon which should be faithfully carried by the State Conferences, a mass of matter that need not be brought before the Conference at all.

Many things had better never see the light of day. They are originated by minds that are not under the light of the Sun of righteousness. It increases the work of the Conference and it might just as well be acted upon in their several churches and councils and take off the Conference a large amount of perplexing questions with which they should not be burdened. Let them be faithful stewards, to pray much, to work diligently, and act discreetly. In [the] General Conference, many things are rushed through without being duly canvassed. All have not had opportunity to think and pray over these things and those who do have the opportunity do not improve it and use their brain power. They devise and execute without God’s counsel. There are councils that should be held of less importance and less expense with less weariness to our leading, responsible men. All minor matters should be settled in the State Conference, thus dealing with many questions that will save time and care and burdens that have greatly taxed the General Conference.

The question of the great need of the soul deserves in these meetings of the Conference far more attention, and many questions that are tossed into the Conference should never appear, but be worked out in your State Conferences. It has become habit to pass laws that do not always bear the signature of heaven. The question of the color line should not have been made a business for the Conference to settle. It is a question which involves principles needing much careful, prayerful thought.

The question that has been before the Conference, whether the brethren where oppressive laws exist should be advised not to work on Sunday, is not a question to be brought before an open Conference. It could not be voted upon without misunderstanding and mismoves and bad results.

I am led to inquire with pain of soul what do our brethren mean by presenting questions of this order before an open conference. If the disciples of Christ needed to assemble together in one place after the ascension of Christ and pray for the descent of the Holy Spirit, there would be greater need of their doing so now when solemn and farreaching principles are involved. Ten days were devoted to earnest seeking of God and ten days would need to extend to twenty before men should venture to put their pens to write out a decision for the people on this point. Much earnest prayer and nothing less than the descent of the Holy Ghost would settle these questions. Then to toss these questions into the Conference without the prayerful consideration of the subject would be the greatest folly.

This is the third angel’s message to our world and men had better keep their hands off the ark. There has been revealed the disposition to cavil over some questions that are plainly revealed in the word of God. Let not any move in their blindness to make decisions on so momentous subjects. Do we [receive] the Bible as the oracles of God? In every State there should be wise instructions given on this point, and can be better given in these States more silently, giving as little notoriety to these points as possible, but advising, counseling in the fear of God after much prayer and fasting and seeking counsel from the unerring Counselor.

No haphazard advice should come from the lips of any ambassador of Christ. He should fear the Lord and have his words in accordance with the will and ways of God. This is a time for much praying and less talking. This subject is not a matter to which to give an off-hand assent or dissent. It is wonderful, sacred, solemn ground on which we stand and we cannot move tecklessly without dishonoring God and ruining souls. All the universe of heaven is astir, looking to us to see what course we will pursue in this matter. While all Sabbath-keepers are anxious and troubled, seeking to penetrate the mysteries of the future, and to learn all they can in regard to the correct position they shall take, be careful that they are advised correctly in regard to Sunday observance. Action cannot be taken in regard to this matter here, and our people of all classes of minds and of varied temperaments should treat it wisely. There will ever be danger of going to extremes. Christ says, “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:14). Then to your knees in prayer, have far less of self and depend wholly on the counsel of God. Then, if all would be under the control of the Spirit of God there would be nothing to fear, for all would adorn the doctrine of Christ our Saviour.

He who has Christ abiding in his heart will so order his conversation as to bring no dishonor or reproach on the sacred truth of God. He will give no occasion to its enemies to blaspheme, will not be filled with self-confidence, but his confidence will be in God. He will not be revealing inconsistencies that are not in harmony with the precious truth of sacred origin. He will not be found going to extremes and furnishing scandal to be circulated far and near in the most exaggerated form. He must be a man that holds communion with God; a man that prays and does not pray in vain: “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” (Psalm 17:5).

If the decision is made that our people shall not labor on Sunday and that our brethren in the Southern States shall appear to harmonize with the Sunday law, because of oppression, how long before all over the world [our people] shall be in like circumstances as they are in the South? The decision is to be a universal one. If it comes to the light of day as it will in degrees and there will be concessions and servile bowing to an idol god by those who claim to be Sabbathkeepers, there will be a yielding of principles until all is lost to them.

If we counsel them not to respect the idol Sabbath exalted to take the place of the Sabbath of the Lord our God, then instruct them in this matter in a quiet way and encourage no defying of the law powers in words or actions unless called to do this for the honor of God to vindicate His downtrodden law. Let there be no unnecessary act of arousing the combative spirit or passions of opponents. There is a selfdeluded enthusiasm in this, bringing in an elevation of Sunday that it will be difficult to handle because “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

The counsel to be given is “Finally, my brethren, be strong, in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that ye may be able to stand”—in harmony in outward appearance with? No, but “against the wiles of the devil.”

There are some trying testimonies to be manfully borne by Sabbathkeepers and some bitter persecution finally endured, for, says Christ, “Ye are my witnesses.” Yes, witnesses for God, standing in defense of His holy law. We are a light to reveal the moral darkness, and the reward will be given to the overcomer.

Let no resolutions be passed here which will encourage half-hearted service or cowardly hiding our light under a bushel or under a bed for we will certainly be tried and tested. The Bible heroes of faith are to be our example and the Bible readers and Bible workers, if truly on the Lord’s side, will be earnest, whole-souled, humble, meek, and lowly of heart, and God will teach them. We need not make any special rules for those who are not dyspeptic Christians; on the other hand, should resolutions be passed that because of the trials and inconveniences that arise because of our faith such ones should cease their labor on Sunday, bowing to the idol Sabbath,will it give those who do this vigorous, spiritual sinew and muscle or will they grow into cowards and be swept away with the delusions of these last days? Leave these precious souls to God’s dictation. Be sure the Sabbath is a test question, and how you treat this question, places you either on God’s side or Satan’s side. The mark of the beast is to be presented in some shape to every institution and every individual.

The position taken by some is, that this evil enactment has no relation to the present observance of the Sabbath. Here again great blindness is shown to be upon them. In this they are not correct,for every move from the first made by Satan was the beginning of his work to continue to the end to exalt the false, to take the place of the genuine Sabbath of Jehovah. He is just as intent now and more determined to do this than ever before. He has come down with great power to deceive them who dwell on the earth with his Satanic delusions. His work has a direct reference to the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, and should the resolution be passed that because of inconveniences and loss of property, imprisonment and fines, the enactment of laws of the State shall compel Sunday observance, all must obey these laws God would certainly be dishonored; and the lesson given to those who need better advice shall be of a character to open the way and make it easy for souls to be carried away with the bold, swift current of evil. They will be tempted strongly because of the universal scorn which they see thrown upon the law of God to think slightly of it and to place the laws of men on an equality with the laws of God and give less and less reverence to the laws of Jehovah. Shall the overseers of the flock work with the great deceiver to make apostasy from God easy?

We have all the way along known that this battle must come and the two great powers, the Prince of Darkness and the Prince of Light, will be in close battle, and not one of God’s people who understand the truth, if in the light where God would have them to stand, will teach by precept or example any soul to shirk now. Give them strengthening Bible diet and Bible duty to strengthen and brace the soul for the coming conflict. But there will be need at this time of men who have been leaders in this work of keeping step where Jesus leads the way. If they do not walk in the light as Christ leads the way and advance with the increasing light of the third angel’s message,they will surely become blind leaders of the blind. (Exodus 31:12–17).

It is a time now when God calls for brave men having on the whole armor of God, presenting a united front to the foe. And as we meet the emergency the law of God become[s] more precious, more sacred, and as it is more manifestly made void and set aside, in proportion should arise our respect and reverence for that law. David said, “They have made void Thy law; therefore I love Thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.” (Ps. 119:126–7).

The Lord will be constantly leading and guiding His people to meet this emergency if they ask the help of God. It is a high point of spiritual advancement they have reached that the love of God’s commandments grows with the contempt which is manifest to that law by those around them. There are great principles in the reformation which must not be overlooked or disregarded. God forbid we should be self-made invalids in this great crisis. Paul prayed for the removal of the aggravating thorn but God sees this is not the best and sends the blessed promise, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” (2 Cor. 12:9). The Lord does not remove the trial, but gives him all that is needed that he can endure it.

In the exercise of the long suffering of God, He gives to nations a certain period of probation, but there is a point which if they pass, there will be the visitation of God in His indignation; He will punish. The world has been advancing from one degree of contempt for God’s law to another, and the prayer may be appropriate at this time, “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work; for they have made void Thy law.” (Ps. 119:126). In answer to this prayer [ere]long the wrath of an offended God will be poured out without mercy, then as we approach this time, be careful what advice and counsel we give to the people who need to be strengthened in Christian experience, lest you prove yourself to be like Aaron who consented to make the golden calf.

This was a terrible thing for him to do because all Israel looked up to him as their leader, a good man. If he had given his voice against this in a certain, decided manner, this wicked worship of an idol would not have been to disgrace the people of God. We do not want to repeat Aaron’s cowardice or Israel’s sin. Let the Lord work for His people, and be careful that you give to the trumpet a certain sound now. We must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Let all be careful what they say and what they do; be careful to move in God’s order. Keep step with the Captain of the Lord’s host. Let not anyone make any proud boast either by precept or example to show that he is defying the laws of the land. Make no resolutions as to what persons in different States may do, or may not do. Let nothing be done to lessen individual responsibility. To their God they must stand or fall. Let none feel it his duty to make speeches in the presence of our own people, or of our enemies, that will arouse their combativeness and they take your words and construe them in such a way that you are charged with being rebellious to the government, for this will close the door of access to the people.

Let Christ be seen in all that you do. Let all see that you are living epistles of Jesus Christ. Let the soft fillings in the life of character appear. Be lovable. Let your life win the hearts of all who are brought in contact with you. There is too little done at the present time to render the truth attractive to others. There has been some who have in speaking to the people, felt like making a raid on the churches. They sour minds by their censoriousness. We want our hearts mellowed by the love of Jesus. That is in God’s order. If not presented in the most pleasant, acceptable form, truth will be unpalatable to many. While we must present the truth in contrast with error, let it be presented in a manner that shall create as little prejudice as possible.

While we cannot bow to an arbitrary power to lift up the Sunday by bowing to it, while we will not violate the Sabbath, which a despotic power will seek to compel us to do, we will be wise in Christ—Christ’s wisdom and not in our own spirit. A consistent, substantial, lovable Christian is a powerful argument for the truth. We must say no words that will do ourselves harm, for this would be bad enough, but when you speak words, and when you do presumptuous things that imperil the cause of God, you are doing a cruel work, for you give Satan advantage. We are not to be rash and impetuous, but always learning of Jesus how to act in His Spirit, presenting the truth as it is in Jesus.

Do not, in this critical time, mark out ways for God’s people, for how do you know what God designs to do with and for His people? He means to make exhibitions of His power before our enemies. The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord, and His wisdom and His strength are their present and sufficient help in every time of need. We can work for them whatsoever seemeth good in His sight, and nothing can be done for or against them, other than His providence shall permit to be done. The children of light are wise and powerful, according to their reliance upon God, and the wisdom and help of men may defeat the very purpose of God.

The world is against the disciples of Christ but they will obtain help of God, and then, God working for them, they will enlighten and bless those who are not in the truth. In all ages, the righteous have obtained help from God, and the enemies of His people can never put down those whom God would lift up. How often has Satan sought to destroy those whom God is leading and guiding. The faithful disciples of Jesus need not be terrified by the rulers of darkness of this world, because the power of the enemy is limited and beyond his limits he cannot go.

Great and precious promises are to be kept before God’s people that they may have every confidence in God. Then let no decision be made by this Conference to get in the way of the work of the Lord, give Satan’s agents a chance to be provoked and present the rash ones as the representatives of our people. They will have power to present these matters in an exaggerated light, that in the place of these persons removing prejudice and enlightening minds, the prejudice is strengthened and deepened, and the case of God’s people made far worse, and our means of bringing the truth before the people who are in darkness is cut off.

One indiscreet, high-tempered, stubborn-willed man will, in the great question introduced before us, do much harm. Yes, he will leave such an impression that all the force of Seventh-day Adventists could not counteract his acts of presumption because, Satan, the arch deceiver, the great rebel, is deluding minds to the true issue of the great question, and its eternal bearings. He is an accuser of the brethren. Then let everyone be careful and not step off from the ground where God is, on Satan’s ground. Many did this in the ranks of the reformers of past ages. Luther had great trouble because of these elements. Rash persons stepped out of their place and rushed heedlessly forward when God did not send them to do a very objectionable, impulsive work. They ran ahead of Christ and provoked the devil’s wrath. In their untimely, misguided zeal, they closed the door to great usefulness of many souls who might have done great good for the Master.

We have all kinds of material to deal with. There are those who will, through hasty, unadvised moves, betray the cause of God into the enemy’s power. There will be men who will seek to be revenged who will become apostates and betray Christ in the person of His saints. All need to learn discretion; then there is danger on the other hand of being conservative, of giving away to the enemy in concession. Our brethren should be very cautious in this matter for the honor of God. They should make God their fear and their dread. Should this Conference make resolutions and pass them, that it would be right and proper for Seventh-day Adventists to rest on the first day of the week in order to avoid arrests and what might probably arise if they did not obey the laws, would this be showing that we stand in right relation to God’s holy law? Exodus 31:12–17.

I have been shown that from the first rebellion Satan was working to this end, to exalt his own power in contradiction to God’s law and God’s power. He does this in exalting Sunday observance, and anything that shall by this people go forth as their voice, to respect the idol sabbath, would it not dishonor God and confuse minds and place them where they will be deceived by Satan’s devices? Anything we may do that lifts up the spurious to take the place of the true and genuine Sabbath, is disloyal to God and we must move very carefully lest we exalt the decisions of the man of sin. We are not to be found in a neutral position on this matter of so great consequence. The commandments of God and the faith of Jesus must be from conviction of duty inscribed on our banners.

If we shall do as some of our brethren in sympathy with our brethren of the South have urged, then where do God’s people stand? Where will be the distinction from the Sunday observers? How will we be recognized as the Sabbathkeeping people of God? How shall we show that the Sabbath is a sign?

The two armies will stand distinct and separate, and this distinction will be so marked that many who shall be convinced of truth will come on the side of God’s commandment-keeping people. When this grand work is to take place in the battle, prior to the last closing conflict, many will be imprisoned, many will flee for their lives from cities and towns, and many will be martyrs for Christ’s sake in standing in defense of the truth. They will be brought before kings and rulers, and before councils to meet the false, absurd, and lying accusations brought against them, but they must stand firm as a rock to principle, and the promise is, “As thy days so shall thy strength be.” (Deuteronomy 33:25.) You will not be tempted above what you are able to bear. Jesus bore all this and far more. The express command of God must be obeyed, for God has been working.Luke 21:8–19.

An intelligent knowledge of His Word has been given to prepare men and women to contend zealously for the law of Jehovah; to reestablish the holy law; make up the breech that has been made in the law of God and restore the tables of stone to their ancient, exalted, honorable position. And God’s faithful servants when brought into straight places should not confer with flesh and blood.

There will be, even among us, hirelings and wolves in sheep’s clothing who will persuade the flock of God to sacrifice unto other gods before the Lord. We have reason to know how Paul would act in any emergency. “The love of Christ constraineth us.” (2 Corinthians 5:13.) Youth who are not established, rooted and grounded in the truth, will be corrupted and drawn away by the blind leaders of the blind; and the ungodly, the despisers that wonder and perish, who despise the sovereignty of the Ancient of Days and place on the throne a false god, a being of their own defining, a being altogether such an one as themselves,—these will be agents in Satan’s hands to corrupt the faith of the unwary.

Those who have been self-indulgent and ready to yield to pride and fashion and display, will sneer at the conscientious, truth-loving, God-fearing people, and will, in this work sneer at the God of heaven Himself. The Bible is disregarded, the wisdom of men exalted, and Satan and the man of sin worshiped by the wisdom of this age, while the angel is flying through the midst of heaven crying “Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth.” (Revelation 8:13.)

I have been shown that the hand of the Lord is stretched out already to punish those who will become monuments of divine displeasure and holy vengeance, for the day of recompense has come when men who exalted the man of sin in the place of Jehovah in worshiping an idol sabbath in the place of the Sabbath of the Lord Jehovah will find it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for he is a consuming fire.

We say to our brethren, Do not for Christ’s sake, get in the place of God before the people. Enough of this kind of work has been done. Let God work human minds. Do not hinder the workings of God for His people in this important period of time, when tremendous interests are being enacted among God’s people. Do not in your human wisdom fix up things too much bearing the human imprint. Leave God something to do. Let the hand of God appear in moulding and fashioning men’s minds and character, and let man walk softly and humbly with God. Lift no burdens from God’s people that He would have them to bear. Jesus bore the cruel cross to Calvary. Do not cast burdens upon any class that He would have them released from.

Satan’s work is constantly to perplex, to mix up things, to confuse, to get things into a tangle that is hard to straighten out. It is not a desirable job to be engaged in, to take the work out of God’s hands into your own finite arms. It is best for all parties concerned to leave the people of God in God’s hands for Him to impress and teach and guide their consciences. It is not safe for any one to attempt to be conscience for God’s people. If the servants of God will patiently instruct them by precept and example, to patience, to faith, and to look to God for themselves, to understand their own duty as God would have them, then many, in trying circumstances would obtain a rich experience in the things of God. Teach man to ask wisdom of God. There should be precept and example in lessons given, that God is our only trust and wisdom, and we must pray to Him without ceasing for light and knowledge.

Taken from: Manuscript 6, 1889

Editor’s note: In 1889 Ellen White wrote about the Sabbath-Sunday crisis in the Southern United States and the relation of Adventists to it. This manuscript is found in the 1888 Materials starting on page 471. (Part of it has been printed in Selected Messages, vol. 3 and Manuscript Releases, vol. 6.) However, many Adventists do not have the 1888 Materials and because the content of this manuscript is especially for our time, the editors plan to publish the entire manuscript in Land Marks magazine.