“Amazing grace” is the only kind there is. Those two words sum up the message and meaning of the 1888 event. Photo: istock

January 4, 2021

Retrospect on Minneapolis

Thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

The 1888 General Conference session was one of the great turning points in Seventh-day Adventist history.

We cannot have the slightest doubt about its accomplishments. It directed the church back to the Bible as the only source of authority in both doctrine and practice; it uplifted Jesus and placed salvation by grace through faith at the center of Adventist theology; it contested the proper role of the law within the gospel of grace; and it led to a restudying of the topics of the Trinity, the full divinity of Christ, and the personhood of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps most important, it gave Adventism a fuller understanding of the third angel’s message in Revelation 14:12 — the central text in Seventh-day Adventist self-understanding. Not only did that passage identify the Adventists as they patiently waited for their Lord while keeping all of God’s commandments, but it also set before them the gospel message in the fact that God’s last message to the world before the Second Advent (verses 14‒20) would center on having faith in Jesus.

In short, the 1888 message transformed the way Adventists thought about their message. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the devil is always out to make sure that we forget or neglect the good news. Thus it is that some Adventists in the 1890s and beyond continued to focus on the law rather than the gospel, while others used the message of Jones and Waggoner as a new gate into the old legalism and human perfectionism that they had been raised up to stand against.

The whole story of the Minneapolis saga brings to mind two of the greatest facts on earth. First, the utter perversity of human beings. Second, the unbounded grace of God. Looking back on the history of the church in the Minneapolis era, what comes to my mind are the works of John Newton’s great hymn: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”

“Amazing grace” is the only kind there is. Those two words sum up the message and meaning of the 1888 event.


George R. Knight is a retired professor of Church History at the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. This article is from his book, Lest We Forget, a daily devotional, published by the Review and Herald Publishing Association, page 300, reprinted with permission.