How this doctrine of the investigative judgment continues to be taught by the Seventh-day Adventist Church might come as a surprise.
Notwithstanding the fact that sacrificial blood made atonement (Leviticus 17:11), cleansed (Leviticus 16:19, 30) and consecrated (Exodus 29:19-21), and that burnt offerings (Leviticus 1:2-4) and sin offerings, whether for a commoner, a priest, the whole congregation, or a ruler, all provided atonement and forgiveness (Leviticus 4), justification for this doctrine is made by asserting that
in the religion of Israel in Old Testament times
● the blood of the sacrifices of penitents polluted the earthly sanctuary
(At this point the “correction” is often made with, “It was not the blood of the sacrifices that polluted the sanctuary but the sin of the penitent who had put his hand on the head of the animal prior to its being killed.” However, Edward Heppenstall in Our High Priest, page 83, wrote, “Sin defiles. Blood cleanses.” Herein lies a conundrum for, on the one hand, it is asserted that the blood conveyed the sin and on the other hand that the blood cleansed. Would it not be better, and more consistent, to accept that the blood of the sacrifice, administered in one way or another, was evidence that atonement had been made for the penitent person?)
● this pollution had to be removed and was accomplished by the yearly Day of Atonement ritual which involved the blood of a specially chosen goat, and that
● the blood of Christ, pled in behalf of penitent believers, does secure their pardon, but
● their sins still remain upon the books of record, thus “polluting” the heavenly sanctuary, and this record requires removal, and
● this removal is the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary spoken of in Daniel 8:14 (KJV) despite its context, and that
● this cleansing was begun to be accomplished on October 22, 1844
Notwithstanding the fact that the Scriptures (See, for example, Hebrews 9:24-26, below) go so far as to tell us that Christ’s entry into the presence of the Father was subsequent to Calvary and His ascension
● it is asserted that this was not effected until October 22, 1844. “In 1844, at the end of the prophetic period of 2300 days, He entered the second and last phase of His atoning ministry, which was typified by the work of the high priest in the most holy place of the earthly sanctuary (See Resources for this appendix, below).”
For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:24-26, NIV).
● This one event, namely Christ’s ascension and, as a member of the human race, going into the presence of His Father, is compared with the entry of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies on the yearly Day of Atonement. Although the Greek in Hebrews 9:25 reads “holy place”, and this is reflected in the KJV, et. al., the circumstances indicate that the Most Holy Place is intended.
Reasons for an investigative judgment
Apart from the heavenly sanctuary’s need for “cleansing” (as indicated above) the Seventh-day Adventist Church offers more reasons for this “investigative” judgment.
1. The 1980 statement of fundamental belief informs that it reveals to heavenly intelligences who should be saved.
2. Further, the 1980 statement claims that it vindicates the justice of God in saving those who believe in Jesus.
3. Earlier statements (1872 and 1970) asserted that it determines who are worthy of salvation (See Damsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission, pp. 304, 308) Ellen White, in The Great Controversy, uses the word “determine”. (page 480)
4. Even so, the SDA Encyclopedia (1976) says this: “To be sure, God does not need to investigate the records in order to learn or to determine who is eligible to be saved. It is for the benefit of all created beings that the facts with respect to each person’s fate should be known, as an assurance to all that justice has been done and as a guarantee of the eternal stability of the divine government”. (art. “Investigative Judgment”)
In order to grasp the importance and influence of the doctrine of the investigative judgment on the thinking of Seventh-day Adventists, consider these quotations from Ellen White’s The Great Controversy.
“As in the typical service there was a work of atonement at the close of the year, so before Christ’s work for the redemption of men is completed there is a work of atonement for the removal of sin from the sanctuary. This is the service which began when the 2300 days ended. At that time, as foretold by Daniel the prophet, our High Priest entered the most holy, to perform the last division of His solemn work-to cleanse the sanctuary.” (421)
“Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil. While the investigative judgment is going forward in heaven, while the sins of penitent believers are being removed from the sanctuary, there is to be a special work of purification, of putting away of sin, among God’s people upon earth.” (425) [Emphasis mine.]
“Solemn are the scenes connected with the closing work of the atonement. Momentous are the interests involved therein. The judgment is now passing in the sanctuary above. For many years this work has been in progress. Soon — none know how soon — it will pass to the cases of the living. In the awful presence of. God our lives are to come up in review.” (490)
The author vividly remembers a discussion which he had in the early 1980s with a church administrator and an elderly pastor who were questioning him about his beliefs. In response to the author’s questioning the need for an investigation by God, the elderly pastor suggested that the investigative judgment was to benefit the angels regarding God’s character in his dealings with humanity. The author said that the angels had seen what had happened at the Cross and would have had no doubts about God’s character. The elderly pastor then asked, “But what about the angels that have been created since then?” The author then said that this was like the medieval argument about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Further, he pointed out that it was an aspect of angelology about which the Bible tells us nothing.
The “best” presentation of the doctrine
According to the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (art, “Investigative Judgment”) “The best presentation of the investigative judgment in current SDA literature is the chapter entitled ‘The Investigative Judgment,’ [in later editions, this chapter is titled “Facing Life’s Record] in The Great Controversy, by Ellen White, from which the following summarizing sentences are taken:
● “The work of the investigative judgment and the blotting out of sins is to be accomplished before the second advent of the Lord” (p. 485).
● “He comes to the Ancient of days in heaven . . . at the termination of the 2300 days in 1844. . . . Our great High Priest enters the Holy of Holies, and there appears in the presence of God, to engage in the last acts of His ministration in behalf of man-to perform the work of investigative judgment” (p. 480).
● “Jesus will appear as their [His people’s] advocate, to plead in their behalf before God” (p. 482).
● “The intercession of Christ in man’s behalf in the sanctuary above is as essential to the plan of salvation as was His death upon the cross” (p. 489).
● “In the great day of final atonement and investigative judgment, the only cases considered are those of the professed people of God” (p. 480).
● “Beginning with those who first lived upon the earth, our Advocate presents the cases of each successive generation, and closes with the living” (p. 483).
● “Every man’s work passes in review before God, and is registered for faithfulness or unfaithfulness” (p. 482).
● “The books of record in heaven, in which the names and the deeds of men are registered, are to determine the decisions of the judgment” (p. 480).
● “The law of God is the standard by which the characters and the lives of men will be tested in the judgment” (p. 482).
● “All who have truly repented of sin, and by faith claimed the blood of Christ as their atoning sacrifice, have had pardon entered against their names in the books of heaven; as they have become partakers of the righteousness of Christ, and their characters are found to be in harmony with the law of God, their sins will be blotted out, and they themselves will be accounted worthy of eternal life” (p. 483).
● “When any have sins remaining upon the books of record, unrepented of and unforgiven, their names will be blotted out of the book of life, and the record of their good deeds will be erased from the book of God’s remembrance” (p. 483).
● “When the work of the investigative judgment closes, the destiny of all will have been decided for life or death” (p. 490).
● “When the investigative judgment closes, Christ will come, and His reward will be with Him to give to every man as his work shall be” (p. 485).
Students of the Bible would be well-advised to turn to Daniel chapter 8 and engage in the following:
● Divide the chapter: the prologue, the vision, the angel’s interpretation and explanation
● Match the particulars in the vision (vss 3-14) with the interpretation/explanation (vss.20-25) or vice versa
● Does the angel’s interpretation and explanation allow for, or hint at, a Day of Atonement scenario or ritual as described in Leviticus 16 and 23:26-32?
But, hadn’t Hiram Edson received a vision?
Arthur Whitefield Spalding, in a chapter titled “Vision in the Cornfield” in his book Captains of the Host, wrote the following about an incident on the morning of October 23, 1844, the day after the Great Disappointment,when the Lord had not returned as expected by the followers of William Miller:
After breakfast [Hiram] Edson said to one who remained (some say it was Crosier), “Let us
go out to comfort the brethren with this assurance [that their disappointment would be explained].” Perhaps because it was a short cut to their first destination, perhaps because they shunned the road, where they might meet mocking enemies they struck back through the farm, crossing a field where Edson’s corn still stood in the shocks. They walked with bowed heads and meditative hearts, each half oblivious of the other. About midway of the field Hiram Edson was stopped as with a hand upon his shoulder. He turned his face to the gray skies, and there seemed to open a view into the third heaven. In a vision as of the Mosaic sanctuary he saw Christ as the great high priest going from the holy place of the sanctuary into the most holy. “And I saw distinctly and clearly,” writes Edson, “that instead of our High Priest coming out of the Most Holy of the heavenly sanctuary to come to this earth on the tenth day of the seventh month at the end of the 2300 days, He for the first time entered on that day the second apartment of that sanctuary; and that He had a work to perform in the most holy before coming to this earth.”
His companion, not noticing his pause, had reached the other side of the field. At the fence he turned, and seeing Edson far behind, he called, “Brother Edson, what are you stopping for?” And Edson replied, “The Lord was answering our morning prayer.”
From this, it is said, came the concept of a “cleansing of the sanctuary”, the true fulfillment of the words “then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” in Daniel 8:14.
- Spalding, in his appendix, informs us. “The narrative in this chapter, “Vision in the Cornfield”, is based on a manuscript account written by Hiram Edson many years later, now in the Adventist Source Collection, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Washington, D.C.; and upon other contemporary records (page 670).”
- Hiram Edson had no vision per se but what R.W. Schwarz in Lightbearers to the Remnant called a ”reverie” (p. 62).
- Hiram Edson’s own words, written many years later and now in the form of a “fragment of a manuscript on his life and experiences” (See F.D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry, pp 478-479). were, “Heaven seemed open to my view, and I saw distinctly and clearly that . . . our High Priest . . . for the first time . . . entered the second apartment . . .” Damsteegt comments (p. 117), “Although Edson’s MS is an autobiographical source, it has been used because to Seventh-day Adventists it represents the classical illustration of the interpretation of the Disappointment.”
- George R. Knight in Millennial Fever called the experience a “vision” [the inverted commas are Knight’s] (pp. 305-306).
- Emma Howell Cooper, on page 29 in The Great Second Advent Movement, a textbook issued by the Young People’s Department of Missionary Volunteers, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, called it a conviction.
- Robert M. Johnston’s article, “A Search for Truth” in Adventist Review‘s ADVENTIST HISTORY ISSUE of September 15, 1983 includes the illustration of Hiram Edson pausing in the cornfield. The caption reads, “While crossing a cornfield that morning, Edson was impressed that Christ had just gone into the Most Holy Place of the heavenly sanctuary.” (Emphasis mine.)
- Don F. Neufeld, in the October 22, 1970 issue of Review and Herald, wrote in an article called “Anniversary of an Important Event in Sacred History” that it was a conviction that came upon Edson. For the reader’s interest, a copy of the relevant section of the manuscript was published on page 3.
- Desmond Ford reported in Daniel 8:14 etc, popularly known as “the Glacier View Manuscript”, (page 163):
The story was part of a manuscript of some 230 pages, most of which was theoretical in nature, and unable to stand the scrutiny of James White, Uriah Smith, J. N. Andrews, and Loughborough. They refused to print it in the Review, though willing to use the biographical portion which was comparatively slight. Edson demanded that all or nothing be used, so it proved to be nothing. As a result, Hiram ceased to attend church. But there is no reason to doubt the essence of the account, provided we do not follow the error of many claiming that a vision was vouchsafed him. Edson never claimed that. See “The Life and Work of Hiram Edson” by James Rosco Nix, Heritage Room, Andrews University. This work, written in the early seventies, is the most comprehensive and accurate account of Edson that we have. For an E. G. White allusion see Counsels to Writers and Editors, page 155.
Gary Land, Seventh-day Adventist historian, in Adventism in America wrote, “The doctrines of the heavenly sanctuary and the investigative judgment had their origins in Hiram Edson’s explanation of the 1844 disappointment.”
- Having now read about this incident, one would be justified in wondering if Edson (and his “descendants”) was familiar with the importance of scriptures like these:
● “I am returning to my father and your father, to my God and your God (John 20:17
● the Lord Jesus . . . was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God ( Mark 16:19).
● “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56).”
● Christ Jesus . . . is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us (Romans 8:34).
● Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1).
● But when this priest [Jesus Christ] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12).
● Proof-texting, often the unfortunate result of the configuration of the KJV, ignores the context. The context is important, for it is in that that the author develops his theme and aim.
● The weight of Scriptural evidence should be considered before a conclusion is reached and promulgated.
● In the interpretation of Scripture, visions (no matter whose), impressions and dreams, should not be considered as primary sources of information to dictate how the Bible should be interpreted.
● Extra-biblical literature employed in Biblical research is valuable but should be used intelligently and selectively depending on its author’s agenda. This requires of the researcher an open mind, and a patient willingness to both learn and to be corrected.
● Ellen White wrote (MS1, 1874), “all the excellencies that have come through belief of the truth, from past ages to the present time, are to be treated with the utmost respect (Damsteegt, p. 259).”
The person who might hesitate to investigate further, these paragraphs from a morning talk given by Ellen White, February 6, 1890, and printed in the “Review and Herald” for March 25, 1890, might be an encouragement and a guide.
● One of the great troubles with us has been that we have looked upon men as infallible. But no matter how high a position a man may hold, it is no reason that he should be looked upon as incapable of making mistakes.
● We must not think, “Well, we have all the truth, we understand the main pillars of our faith, and we may rest on this knowledge.”The truth is an advancing truth, and we must walk in the increasing light. A brother asked, “Sister White, do you think we must understand the truth for ourselves? Why can we not take the truths that others have gathered together, and believe them because they have investigated the subjects, and then we shall be free to go on without the taxing of the powers of the mind in the investigation of all these subjects? Do you not think that these men who have brought out the truth in the past were inspired of God?”I dare not say they were not led of God, for Christ leads into all truth; but when it comes to inspiration in the fullest sense of the word, I answer, No.
● Do not trust to the wisdom of any man, or to the investigations of any man. Go to the Scriptures for yourselves, search the inspired word with humble hearts, lay aside your preconceived opinions; for you will obtain no benefit unless you come as children to the word of God.
● We do not claim that in the doctrines sought out by those who have studied the word of truth, there may not be some error, for no man that lives is infallible;
● Our brethren should be willing to investigate in a candid way every point of controversy. If a brother is teaching error, those who are in responsible positions ought to know it; and if he is teaching truth, they ought to take their stand at his side. We should all know what is being taught among us, for if it is truth, we need to know it. The Sabbath-school teacher needs to know it, and every Sabbath-school scholar ought to understand it.
● No matter by whom light is sent, we should open our hearts to receive it in the meekness of Christ. But many do not do this. When a controverted point is presented, they pour in question after question without acknowledging, without admitting a point when it is well sustained. O may we act as men who want light!
Resources for this appendix:
● Cooper, Emma Howell, The Great Second Advent Movement (Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1935)
● Damsteegt, P. Gerard, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company © 1977)
● Ford, Desmond, Daniel 8:14, the Day of Atonement and the Investigative Judgment, (Casselberry, FL: Euanggelion Press, 1980)
● Heppenstall, Edward, Our High Priest (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1972)
● Knight, George R., Millennial Fever (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1993)
● Land, Gary, ed., Adventism in America (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986)
● Neufeld, D.F. ed., Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia: art. “Investigative Judgment”
● Neufeld, Don F., Review and Herald, October 22, 1970, pages 2-4
● Nichol, F.D., The Midnight Cry (Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1944)
● Schwarz, R.W., Lightbearers to the Remnant (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1979)
● Spalding, Arthur Whitefield, Captains of the Host (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1949)
● Wallenkampf, A.V. and Lesher, W.R., eds., The Sanctuary and the Atonement (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, © General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1981)
● White, E.G., The Great Controversy (1911), chapters 23, 24, 28. On page 480 this process is called the “final atonement”.
● The relevant statement of belief voted at the 2015 General Conference session can be accessed at https://www.adventist.org/en/beliefs/restoration/christs-ministry-in-the-heavenly-sanctuary/
Illustration: “The Vision in the Cornfield” as depicted by Harry Anderson, ©1944, by R&H, and published on page 93 in Captains of the Host. Undoubtedly, this picture has given credence to the idea that Hiram Edson indeed had had a vision.
© Angus McPhee, 2016 (revised, November 2020)