Willard Saxby and the Laodiceans


ACCORDING to the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbooks for 1890 to 1894, Willard H. Saxby, an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, served in Ohio during those years. He may have ministered there as late as 1902 or 1903. During those years no Yearbooks were published. Consequently, we cannot be sure when he moved from Ohio to Washington State, where his address is listed in the 1904 Yearbook.

Sometime during the five or six or more years Elder Saxby worked in Ohio, Ellen White wrote a letter that told him some things about himself he had trouble seeing and accepting.

Elder Saxby received the testimony during a camp meeting he was attending in Ohio. It was part of a letter dealing with other matters, sent in care of a leading brother. The testimony for Elder Saxby was delivered to him following the close of one of the evening meetings.

While the other minister, whom Elder Saxby refers to as Elder A, and he sat together in the latter's tent, Elder A asked Elder Saxby whether he believed in the Testimonies. To this question Saxby answered decidedly in the affirmative. Then, after they had prayed together, Elder A slowly read the letter, which was in Mrs. White's handwriting.

The manuscript was eleven pages long. The first five were for Elder Saxby personally.

After Elder A had read a few paragraphs he came to a statement to which Saxby strongly objected. "That is not so!" he exclaimed, emphatically.

"Brother Saxby, you say it is so, and the Lord will help you to see that it is so."

"But how can I say a thing is so when I know it is not so?" Elder Saxby protested.

"Brother Saxby, you say it is so, and the Lord will help you to see that it is so," Elder A repeated. With that he continued reading.

A page or so farther along Elder A read another statement to which Willard Saxby objected, "That is not so!"

Again Elder A answered the protestation by saying substantially what he had said before. Then, after making a few other observations, he began to read the letter again.

There were four personal statements in the letter to which Willard Saxby took exception. On the first he was especially positive.

The letter finished, Elder Saxby received permission to take it home and return it the next day.

When he got to his room Willard Saxby found his wife in bed, but awake, anxiously wondering what had detained him. When he told her his experience she asked him to read the testimony from Sister White. He demurred, saying it was too late to read it all. But he agreed to share with her the one paragraph with which he had his greatest problem. Before he read it he told his wife that he had insisted to Elder A that what Sister White had written was not so.

The statement in question had to do with a matter between Saxby and his wife. After he had read it, Mrs. Saxby abruptly sat up in bed and, emphatically pointing her finger at him, said with all the earnestness of which she was capable, "Willard, that is so!"

Three Against One

Describing his reaction to his wife's exclamation, Elder Saxby wrote:

I began to reason very seriously, like this: My wife says it is so; and Elder A, because of his confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy, says it is so; and, above all, the Lord through His servant says it is so: it must be so--three against one. As I sought the Lord by fasting and prayer, I soon saw things in the true light. The testimony was a photograph of my inner life, and I could see that it was. -Review and Herald, May 18, 1916.

Let us leave Willard Saxby for a little and consider another matter.

Picture a man walking down a street naked, blindly groping around, not knowing where he is or where he is going---.a most pitiable wretch indeed.

But when he is approached by a concerned would-be benefactor, he says, "I am rich! I am doing very well. I have everything I want."

We would hardly know what to make of such a person.

But suppose that, instead of one man, there were a hundred, a thousand, a million in that miserable condition, all protesting, "I am rich. I have prospered. There is nothing I need."

The idea is, of course, too preposterous to think about seriously. How could a single normal person, to say nothing of scores, or thousands, or more, be wretched and not know it? How could he be miserable and totally unaware of it? Poor, and think himself prosperous? Blind and naked, fancying that he could see and that he was clothed?

We say again, the idea is too preposterous to consider seriously.

Or is it?

We hesitate to make an application, but Inspiration does it for us.

To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ... You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:14-17, R.S.V.).

The Laodicean message applies to the people of God who profess to believe present truth. The greater part are lukewarm professors, having a name but no zeal. -Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 87.

The message to the Laodiceans is applicable to Seventh-day Adventists who have had great light and have not walked in the light. It is those who have made great profession, but have not kept in step with their Leader, that will be spewed out of His mouth unless they repent. --Selected Messages, book 2, p. 66.

Diagrammatically, then, the Laodicean message may be depicted like this:

As with other passages of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy we have examined, the implications of this picture are solemn. For we read, "Because thou art lukewarm ... I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3: 16). Says The SDA Bible Commentary on the text: "The figure of tepid water is pressed to its logical conclusion. Such water is disappointing and nauseating, and the one who drinks it almost involuntarily expels it."

I must ask myself, In which of the three groups am I? The cold, lukewarm, or hot? 3

"What Greater Deception?"

What greater deception can come upon human minds than a confidence that they are right when they are all wrong! The message of the True Witness finds the people of God in a sad deception, yet honest in that deception. They know not that their condition is deplorable in the sight of God. While those addressed are flattering themselves that they are in an exalted spiritual condition, the message of the True Witness breaks their security by the startling denunciation of their true condition of spiritual blindness, poverty, and wretchedness. The testimony, so cutting and severe, cannot be a mistake, for it is the True Witness who speaks, and His testimony must be correct. -Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 252, 253.

The Ellen G. White Comments in the message to the Laodicean church in volume seven of The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary comprise some eight pages (pp. 959-967). In these pages are found more than a score of words and phrases that she used to describe the Laodicean condition. Other descriptions may be found in other places in her writings.

Each individual church member is called upon to examine frankly and prayerfully his own religious experience in the light of these descriptions. Among them are: "selfishness"; "destitute of ... meekness"; a "tame, lifeless, emotionless religious experience"; "halfhearted Christians"; "self-sufficiency"; "spiritual self-deception"; the taking of a "noncommittal position" in spiritual things; lacking lowliness; satisfied in their own "self-security"; "selfish egotism"; "self-exaltation"; "hypocrisy"; "self-love"; "vain conceit"; "willfully ignorant"; "indulgence of pride"; "covetousness"; "worldly ambition."

These are stark, flinty, brutally frank observations. "The testimony of the True Witness is not a smooth message." Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 257. It is a "fearful message" (ibid., vol. 1, p. 186). We rebel at making personal applications. Our instinct is to turn from them and to think of more pleasant things, or to decide they do not apply to us.

But dare we so quickly push them aside? Only, perhaps, at the peril of our souls.

Let us turn to another message brought to the church of the last days by the Lord.

In Matthew 25: 1-13 is recorded Christ's parable of the ten virgins, which virgins represent those who await His return.

Invited to a wedding, which in the East frequently was held at night, the ten maidens took their lamps with them. But five neglected to take sufficient oil. The hour began to grow late; yet the bridegroom had not come, so all ten went to sleep.

Then, at midnight, a shout went up, "Look, the bridegroom is coming. Go out to meet him."

Startled, the ten awoke and looked at their lamps. Then the foolish maidens were dismayed to discover that their lamps were going out, and they had no oil in their flasks. An appeal to the other five for oil brought refusal-they had only enough for themselves.

Greatly worried, the five hastened to find oil. But, when they returned to the house where the marriage was being held, they found the door closed and locked. Their urgent call to be let in only brought the chilling response from the bridegroom, "I tell you, I do not know you."

This parable applies to the Laodiceans who do not heed the warnings and invitations that come to them to secure the oil, which is "the righteousness of Christ. It represents character, and character is not transferable." -Testimonies to Ministers, p. 234.

Finally they awake and endeavor to correct their mistake, to remodel their characters. But, unutterably sadly, it is too late! Probation has closed. 4

Not Hypocrites

But notice:

The class represented by the foolish virgins are not hypocrites. They have a regard for the truth, they have advocated the truth, they are attracted to those who believe the truth; but they have not yielded themselves to the Holy Spirit's working. They have not fallen upon the Rock Christ Jesus, and permitted their old nature to be broken up. -Christ's Object Lessons, p. 411.

Continuing, Ellen White says:

The class represented by the foolish virgins have been content with a superficial work. They do not know God. They have not studied His character; they have not held communion with Him; therefore they do not know how to trust, how to look and live. -Ibid.

The condition of the Laodiceans and the ten virgins is essentially the same, except that the parable describes their condition when probation closes.

The Laodiceans are not "cold," meaning they are not totally rebellious. It is not that they never made a profession of Christianity; they are just not "hot," not fully given over to God. They are "lukewarm," uncommitted, unsurrendered to God. "The message of the True Witness finds the people of God [the Laodiceans] in a sad deception, yet honest in that deception." -Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 253. The parallel description of the ten virgins is that they are not hypocrites, but have been content with a superficial work. Like the

Laodiceans, they are in an uncommitted, unsurrendered condition.

Willard Saxby was at first positive that the message from Ellen White did not apply to him, that she was mistaken. But the realization that she, his wife, and Elder A all felt that it did, caused him soberly and seriously to examine himself. As a result of his consequent examination of his heart and life, he was led to the conclusion that the message did indeed apply to himself.

We, the Seventh-day Adventist people today, may be tempted to feel that the Laodicean message in it~ interpretation and application in the Spirit of Prophecy writings does not apply to us, personally. To Brother Jones and Sister Smith, possibly. But to me! 5

Ellen White stated that the message applies to "the greater part" of the church. Note: The message is recorded in Scriptures for the last church, for us who are living today. The messenger to the remnant church states that it applies to us. Does my conscience, and does yours, suggest that perhaps the message does apply to us, personally? Three to one?

"Examine yourselves: are you living the life of faith? Put yourselves to the test" (2 Cor. 13:5, N.E.B.).*

Determine to know the worst of your case. Ascertain if you have an inheritance on high. Deal truly with your own soul. -Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 163.

With fasting and earnest prayer, with deep heart searching, stern self-examination, lay bare the soul; let no act escape your critical examination. -Ibid., vol. 2, p. 158.

Those who have no time to give attention to their own souls, to examine themselves daily whether they be in the love of God, and place themselves in the channel of light, will have time to give to the suggestions of Satan and the working out of his plans. Selected Messages, book 2, pp. 20, 21.

Not a Hopeless Case

The Laodicean message is not a hopeless case but a most sobering one.

But the counsel of the True Witness does not represent those who are lukewarm as in a hopeless case. There is yet a chance to remedy their state, and the Laodicean message is full of encouragement; for the backslidden church may yet buy the gold of faith and love, may yet have the white robe of the righteousness of Christ, that the shame of their nakedness need not appear. Purity of heart, purity of motive, may yet characterize those who are half-hearted and who are striving to serve God and Mammon. They may yet wash their robes of character and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. -Review and Herald, Aug. 28, 1894.

The True Witness faithfully diagnoses the case and prescribes the remedy: the white raiment, the righteousness of Christ wrought out in the character; gold, faith in God; and eyesalve, which is God's Word. This "salve" "makes the conscience smart under its application; for it convicts of sin. But the smarting is necessary that the healing may follow, and the eye be single to the glory of God." -The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Rev. 3: 18, p.965.

Each of these gifts-the gold, the eyesalve, and the white raiment--comes through the grace of God. "It is through the impartation of the grace of Christ that sin is discerned in its hateful nature, and finally driven from the soul temple." -Review and Herald, Nov. 4, 1890.

The Laodicean message is a frank, unflattering, soul searching message. But it is one we need to be glad God brings to us. For without it we would continue in our spiritual lethargy until it was too late.

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches (Rev. 3: 19-22).

Can we go on being unresponsive to Jesus' love? Can we permit Him to stand waiting outside our lives, patiently seeking an invitation to come in? Shall we not open our hearts and minds and allow Him earnestly and candidly, but compassionately, to unfold to us our needs? Shall we not accept from Him the only remedy that is available for our spiritual ills?

If we do not, we shall be cheating ourselves of forgiveness, the removal of the sense of guilt, of peace, of eternity. What rational being could choose such loss?

* Texts credited to N.E.B. are from The New English Bible. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1970. Reprinted by permission.