Business Unusual: Its Roots
I must admit that when we voted on the theme of “Business Unusual” for this year’s ASI convention, I was not enthusiastic. However, as I pondered what to write for this article, a thought flashed through my mind: re-read Madison, God’s Beautiful Farm by Ira Kish and Harry Christman. As I re-read this brief historical book, it dawned on me that ASI was founded because of two men, E.A. Sutherland and P.T. Magan, who exemplified business unusual. Ellen White says that “We have nothing to fear for our future except as we forget God’s leading in our past and His teaching in our past history.”1 What is it that motivated Edward A. Sutherland and Percy T. Magan? Why were they successful?
In June of 1904, Sutherland, recently resigned from Emmanuel Missionary College, was on the missionary steamboat, the Morning Star, with Ellen White and a few others, hoping to establish a training school for the young people in the south. Magan was to join them further down river the next day, but alas, the boat broke down at a most peculiar spot—the Ferguson-Nelson farm.2 When asked to come ashore to view the farm per Mrs. White’s request, he reportedly replied, “No indeed, I’ve already seen that place, and I’m not the least bit interested.”3 At the insistence of W.O. Palmer, Sutherland went and looked at the property.
The next day, the boat picked up Magan, who happened to know the property well. Upon hearing the details of the delay, he exclaimed, “Just like your crazy boat to break down where we don’t want her to.”4 When Sutherland and Magan were called into Mrs. White’s cabin on the boat, she asked what they thought of the property, to which Magan replied, “I think of it as little as I can!”5 Later, the two of them recounted that all they wanted was to start a small school “back in the woods.” “Our idea,” they said, is to “take a small place back in the hills where we can make friends with our neighbors and help them and build slowly.”6 They decided that they would never go to see that farm again. Mrs. White’s words to them bear repeating: “I am afraid you will make your plans too small and set your aim too low. If you follow the counsel of the Lord, He will set your feet in a large place and provide the money to pay for it.”7
The next day, after looking at another farm, the two men returned to the Ferguson-Nelson farm and sat down and looked at the “loathsome old barn and those stinking hog pens.”8 As they sat there feeling utterly dejected, Sutherland, turning to his great friend Magan, began to blame and chastise him for getting them into this mess. Seeing the incredulous look on Magan’s face, “Sutherland burst into tears.”9 However, after that night of wrestling with God, they declared “we are in it.” These were men on the verge of business unusual. Praise God.
These two men providentially met at Battle Creek college in the fall of 1888. According to Kish and Christman, “God kindled a great light at the Minneapolis Conference through the message of righteousness by faith. That light changed Edward’s life and motivated his plans and actions for his remaining years.”10 “No chance circumstance placed Edward Sutherland and Percy Magan directly under Mother Ellen White’s influence in the late autumn of 1888, when she herself was filled to overflowing with joy and interest in the message of righteousness by faith, which she declared to be the third angel’s message in verity.”11 “In late October, 1888, the youth [P.T. Magan] attended the General Conference in Minneapolis…It was at the Minneapolis meeting that Percy heard Elders Jones and Waggoner propound the doctrine of righteousness by faith, and he accepted this vital Bible truth as a part of his Christian philosophy.”12 “Percy had yielded the inner citadel of his life to God and had accepted righteousness by faith in Jesus without question or reservation.”13 “Little by little, Percy led Edward [Sutherland] into a full acceptance of the righteousness of Christ” and both were “rooted and grounded.”14 in the message. Just before a convention of SDA educators, Sutherland “wondered why these messages which the church had been so slow to follow had come to seem of urgent importance now. Could it be that the Minneapolis message of righteousness by faith had opened enough hearts and minds that maybe God would do something important at this convention for educators?”15
One cannot help but notice the number of references (a minimum of 11 in this 184-page book) to the effect of the message, presented at the Minneapolis General Conference in 1888, on Sutherland and Magan. Could it be that herein lay the key to their ability to do business unusual? What is it about that message that is our only hope of doing business unusual?
Here are statements from Ellen White on the power of the message these men so cherished: “Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message in verity.’” 16 , 17 “The Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders [E.J.] Waggoner and [A.T.] Jones. This message was to bring more prominently before the world the uplifted Saviour, the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. It presented justification through faith in the Surety; it invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God.”18
“Many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent. This is the message that God commanded to be given to the world. It is the third angel’s message, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure.”19, 20
“The message of Christ’s righteousness is to sound from one end of the earth to the other to prepare the way of the Lord. This is the glory of God, which closes the work of the third angel.”21, 22
It is interesting to note that she gives a reason for the message given in 1888. She said “many had lost sight of Jesus.” As I have reflected on this message, there are a few points that have motivated me to earnestly share Jesus Christ. One point is that Jesus Christ demonstrated an other-centered love for the human race, in that while we were yet sinners, He thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant and coming in the likeness of men.23 The pen of inspiration says, “The humanity of the Son of God is everything to us. It is the golden chain that binds our souls to Christ, and through Christ to God. This is to be our study. Christ was a real man; He gave proof of His humility in becoming a man”.24 We as Seventh-day Adventists were given this powerful and unique message of what “God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh on account of sin…”25 This is the essence of the 1888 message.
We have a message of justification by faith that is uniquely different from other denominations’ understanding of justification by faith, in that our view is intended to prepare a people for translation as we cooperate with Christ in His ministry in the sanctuary. We have a Saviour nigh at hand, who has actually done something for every person on planet Earth. The three angels’ messages are not nebulous, it is the message of “justification by faith in verity.” Herein lies the power of business unusual. It would do us well to rediscover this message. It worked mightily in the lives of Sutherland and Magan.
These words from Madison, God’s Beautiful Farm are powerful: “God accomplished this wonderful thing because He found a handful of men and women who believed in Him from the depth of their natures. Also they believed His messenger, and through them He worked His wonders. They had, in their youth, accepted the message of righteousness by faith and yielded their lives to the control of God’s Holy Spirit.”26 It is my prayer that we too will believe this powerful message so we can do business unusual for Him.