With the global reaction to the Coronavirus thousands are thinking more about the end times now than they ever have in their lives. Country living is a hot topic now that people have witnessed the horrors of being on lockdown in some of the most famous cities in the world. Job loss, food shortages, and lack of resources due to widespread fear have sent an alarming wake-up call to many whose spiritual lives have been lethargic. Christians are becoming increasingly serious about the fulfillment of prophecy as strong sermons and appeals are preached and made through online platforms.
Is this the first time that some in the Adventist church has been hyped up and eagerly expecting the close of probation and the end of all things? Certainly not! There is much to gain from a study of an earlier time in church history when eschatological expectations were rampant, and many were moved to make huge changes in their lives as they expected a rapid close of world events.
The period I am speaking of was a time where people were wondering, just like many are today, if they were indeed witnessing the closing scenes of earth’s history. Back then, just as we see happening today, decisions were being made by the U.S. government that many found to be disturbing. There were also, as there are today, persuasive preachers moving people to make big decisions without personally understanding God’s true will for their lives.
Jones, Prescott, and the Great Revival of 1893
The year was 1893, and the General Conference session was soon to convene. The atmosphere was supercharged with end-time expectations, largely due to the huge emphasis on the righteousness by faith message of 1888, recent Sunday law legislation passed in the previous summer, and thundering statements like this made at the end of 1892:
“The time of test is just upon us, for the loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth.”
A.T. Jones, the leading advocate in the denomination for religious liberty, preached strongly that the image to the beast spoken of in Revelation 13 had been manifested. Church leaders and laypeople alike were on the edge of their seats as the GC session commenced.
A.T. Jones and W.W. Prescott were two of the keynote speakers for the session. They brought a one-two punch that was both theologically edifying and emotionally moving. Prescott focused on the need of the church to receive the Holy Spirit, while Jones spoke on the third angel’s message, putting the spotlight once again on righteousness by faith. Together they helped to rouse the church into a great revival that could easily be ranked among the largest spiritual highs in our denomination’s history.
Now, although there was no coronavirus flying around from country to country, and no global lockdown procedures were put in place, there are still some similarities to the year 1893 that we can learn from in our present time. The things that were being taught and discussed theologically, along with questionable government legislation led some people to make some interesting life changes.
Extremism and Ellen White’s Response
As they continued to ride the cascading waves of revival through the year of 1893, Jones and Prescott led many in the Adventist mecca of the time, Battle Creek, to go to extremes. Taking advantage of the repeated counsel of Ellen White that too many Adventists were gathered together in Battle Creek for no good reason, and that many should be looking for different places to live and spread the gospel, the two high powered preachers began to push for the selling of houses and lands, and immediate removal to either country locations or places in great need of present truth. Their preaching had a dramatic effect on a large portion of the Adventists living there, and many started to sell their possessions and prepared to head out immediately.
The “success” of these well-meaning, but overly excited, preachers was short-lived, however. A letter from Ellen White soon came to Battle Creek concerning what she saw as extreme behavior.
“Take heed that there shall be no rash movements made in heeding the counsel in moving from Battle Creek. Do nothing without seeking wisdom of God, who hath promised to give liberally to all who ask, and upbraideth not…
“Think candidly, prayerfully, studying the Word with all carefulness and prayerfulness, with mind and heart awake to hear the voice of God… To understand the will of God is a great thing…
“While some teachers may be strong and efficient in teaching in the lines of Bible doctrines, they will not all be men who have a knowledge of practical life, and can advise perplexed minds with surety and safety.”
These words, which can also be found in the small book Country Living (see pg. 25-28 for most of the letter), were very timely then, and give to all a good lesson in proper balance concerning end-time issues. It is important that we put ourselves in positions where we are not so easily moved by emotional preaching or the emphasis put on surprising current events in order to pound home a point. We also do not want to be controlled by fear of what may be coming upon us in society.
As today’s Adventist church faces a global pandemic, there are many voices calling for similar extremes as Jones and Prescott. Paul gave a warning in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, “(1) Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, (2) not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.” The Apostle to the Gentiles understood that certain things needed to happen before Christ would appear again.
Ellen White also had a deep yearning for the people in the church in her day to have a personal understanding of the word of God so that they would not easily be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” Still today, all need a knowledge for themselves of what needs to take place in Bible prophecy before the end will come. This will help us to not be so easily “shaken” when we hear about fantastical theories, or actually see governments tightening their control over citizens.
The Covid-19 pandemic is indeed a serious epoch in recent history. But, let us not respond to it in any extreme or “rash” manner. Let this pandemic be a motivator to prayerfully dive deeper into what Bible prophecy has to teach us about end-time events. Let us seek God more earnestly to know whether He would have us make a serious change in our lives. Let us remember that powerful, life-changing sermons can be preached, but that we never want to simply follow what man may say without individually checking in with our Lord first. Let us heed the words of scripture, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength,” and look unto Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith.”
 RH Nov. 22, 1892
 E. G. White, Letter 45, 1893
 All scriptures are taken from the New King James Version
 Eph 4:14
 Jer 17:5
 Heb 12:2