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The Revelation Becomes Church of God Theology


What you see, write in a book. Revelation 1:11.


F. G. Smith


John Stanley states in his paper, “It was F. G. Smith, preacher, missionary, writer, editor, and executive who firmly established the church historical interpretation of Daniel and Revelation among the Church of God.”

Frederick George Smith was born on a farm near Lacota, MI, November 12, 1880. His parents took their stand out of the Methodist Church in 1883 during a meeting conducted by Samuel Speck and Sebastian Michels. In the fall of 1890, at the age of 10, F. G. Smith gave his heart to God during a meeting conducted by D. S. Warner. In 1897 Smith was hired by E. E. Byrum to work at the Gospel Trumpet Company. He was self-taught in shorthand and quickly became Byrum’s personal secretary. He began preaching in 1898 and in 1900 he was active in evangelistic work.

At the age of 28, he had risen to prominence within the Movement as its ablest authority on church history and biblical interpretation. In 1906 he published his first book, The Revelation Explained. In the summer of 1912 he was urged by G. P Tasker, a notable Church of God Missionary to India, to go to Syria to preach and evangelize. As a missionary working with new converts in Lebanon, he felt it was necessary to have some kind of textbook for them to be grounded in biblical truth. The textbook he wrote in 1913 was published under the title What The Bible Teaches.

In 1916, Smith became the third editor of The Gospel Trumpet following E. E. Byrum who had replaced D. S. Warner at his death. Smith was the editor for 14 years. After his time with The Gospel Trumpet he served as a pastor in Ohio for 17 years, after which he returned to Anderson, IN to serve as President of the Gospel Trumpet Company until his death in 1947.

In our previous lecture we noted similarities in the interpretations of the books of Daniel and Revelation of Uriah Smith, the Adventist writer, and D. S. Warner. With F. G. Smith the similarities become perhaps more obvious. Some among the church of God will firmly object that our use of the Revelation has anything to do with the Adventists. The belief has been that as the church of God we have the truth and we are the repository of truth. The understanding of the Revelation was given to us by God through such persons as D. S. Warner, F. G. Smith, and other respected writers and teachers of the church of God.

The truth is truth, regardless of who teaches it, is not confined to a church, movement, or fellowship. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  He is the repository of truth and He reveals truth to any and all that sincerely seek it. If Uriah Smith understood some elements of the Revelation prophecy and Warner accepted that understanding, it does not lessen anything Warner, or any subsequent church of God person has taught. And this is true of F. G. Smith. In this lecture we will explore some similarities and differences between the works of Uriah Smith and F. G. Smith.


Similarities Between F. G. Smith and Uriah Smith


Beginning in the 1920s some that had become aware of the similarities between the work of F. G. Smith and the Seventh Day Adventists became concerned that perhaps Dr. Smith was teaching something too close to the views of the Adventists. While there are some parallels between the work of F. G. Smith and Uriah Smith, an unbiased comparison of the works of the two men will remove that concern. There are three possible explanations for these similarities. The first is the possibility of mere coincidence that both authors arrived at the same conclusions independently. Second, it could have been that F. G. Smith drew upon the same reference sources as did Uriah Smith. The third, and most probably explanation, is that F. G. Smith knew and utilized the work of Uriah Smith. While the conclusions drawn by both authors differ, it is a fact that six similarities appear between the works of both men.

The first similarity is that both writers use the church-historic method of interpreting the prophecies of Daniel and the Book of Revelation. This is not surprising as any number of persons can be convinced of the validity of the same methodology and incorporate it into their work. Both Smiths use the “a day equals a year” principle in explaining date symbolism. Both divide history into distinct periods basing their systems on the 2300 years of Daniel 8:14. Uriah Smith determined there to be three periods of history F. G. Smith determined some different dates from those of Uriah Smith and added a fourth period of history. Both saw a pagan Roman period at the beginning of the Christian Era. Uriah Smith dated this period from 31–538 a.d.; F. G. Smith dated this period from 1–270 a.d. Both saw a period of papal Roman supremacy. Uriah Smith dated this period from 538–1798; F. G. Smith dated this period from 270–1530. Both saw a period of apostate Protestantism. Uriah Smith dated this period beginning in 1798 and continuing. F. G. Smith set the date for the beginning of this period at 1530 and continuing until 1880. Here is where a major difference occurs between the two authors. F. G. Smith adds a fourth period beginning in 1880. F. G. Smith held that by this time Protestantism had run its course and history had entered the age of the evening light as taught by D. S. Warner.

The second similarity is their understanding of the Biblical symbol of Babylon as seen in Revelation 16:19. Both authors see Babylon consisting of three parts: paganism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. The only point of difference is that F. G. Smith preferred the word heathenism to paganism as used by Uriah Smith.

The third similarity lies in their understandings of the six seals of Revelation chapter 6. It is only on the sixth seal where they differ significantly. Both see the Protestant Reformation in the fifth seal, but F. G. Smith is more specific in his writing about the Protestant reformers.

The fourth similarity is that both authors appear to have borrowed from the same source on some points. In some instances both use almost identical language. With regard to the trumpet series in the Revelation, both are in agreement: The first trumpet symbolizes the decline of the Western Roman Empire; The second trumpet symbolizes the Vandals; The third trumpet symbolizes Attila and the Huns; The fourth trumpet symbolizes the collapse of the Roman Imperial government; The fifth trumpet symbolizes Mohammed; And, the sixth trumpet symbolizes the Turks and the decay of the Ottoman Empire.

The fifth similarity concerns the interpretation of the leopard beast of Daniel 7:6. Both authors say that it represents the papacy and the papal period of history. A comparison between the works of both authors shows that F. G. Smith quoted from Uriah Smith without crediting him other than to call him a “certain expositor.”

The sixth similarity has to do with the charts and diagrams utilized by both writers. Charts depicting scenes of the Revelation visions have been effective tools in teaching the Revelation. There is no real reason why charts depicting the same scenes would be significantly different.


Differences Between F. G. Smith and Uriah Smith


While it is obvious that F. G. Smith used the work of Uriah Smith extensively, there are some basic differences between them. First, they disagreed on the internal chronology of the 2300 years of Daniel’s prophecy. For Uriah Smith, the end of the 2300 years marked the beginning of the work of atonement in heaven in 1844. For F. G. Smith it marked the beginning of the final reformation in 1880.

Second, they differed significantly in their interpretation of the two-horned beast of Revelation 13:11–18. Uriah Smith said it symbolizes a government that is Protestant in religion, or at least, not Roman Catholic. He felt that this government was the United States of America. F. G. Smith, on the other hand, taught that this beast represented Protestantism as it developed after the Augsburg Confession in 1530. So, F. G. Smith retains a purely religious view of history whereas Uriah Smith sees political events as well as religious events.

A third difference is their interpretations of the seven bowls (vials) of Revelation chapter 16. Uriah Smith relegates the pouring out of the vials to some time in the future. F. G. Smith believed that the first five of the vials were poured out between 1765 and 1870; the sixth vial represents the downfall of Babylon, which was starting to happen with the restored church of God; and the seventh bowl was to be poured out at the final judgment.

In spite of the similarities between the writings of the two Smiths, these differences indicate they embraced different theologies. Eschatology, the study of the end-times, was the guiding principle underlying the work of Uriah Smith. Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, was the guiding principle of F. G. Smith. Both Smiths read the prophecies of Daniel and the Book of Revelation from the perspectives of their own faith communities.


Going Forward


As mentioned above, F. G. Smith was the premier teacher of prophecy in the early years of the Church of God Movement. His scholarship, perhaps defective in some ways, gave him the credibility to be the unquestioned authority on the subject. As Dr. Smith spoke and wrote, it carried the weight of the word of God in the minds of most of the people associated with the church of God at the time.

The church-historic interpretation of Daniel and Revelation were unchallenged until the 1920s when several other scholarly ministers began to suggest the possibility for other methods of interpreting the Book of Revelation. We will not explore their suggestions in our studies. Also, others came into prominence, whom we have mentioned earlier, who revived and enlarged upon the traditional interpretation of the Book of Revelation. We will not explore their suggestions either; but not because we disagree with them or believe them to be incorrect. Many of us are familiar with those presentations, and perhaps we are just as confused as anyone in spite of them. A great deal of what has been preached on the Revelation in the past makes sense; but the truth is that we have not yet come upon the final answer.

As we get into our study, you will hear many familiar things; but you will also hear some different things. You may disagree with those things, you may say those things make sense, or you may have to put them on the “back burner” and let them stew. This study will be the product of my study—and I certainly make no pretense at being an authority on prophecy.

Again, I acknowledge the paper Unity Amid Diversity: Interpreting The Book Of Revelation In The Church Of God (Anderson) by John E. Stanley for the comparisons between the work of Uriah Smith and D. S. Warner and F. G. Smith. In going forward, I acknowledge the work of Philip Mauro in his book Of Things Which Must Shortly Come To Pass. (1933) His presentation is from the historic perspective rather than the church-historic perspective, although the Christian church is significant in it. The value I found in this work was his research into the Scriptures to explain many of the symbols in the Book of Revelation. Our lessons will not be a reworking of his book; I use his work only to achieve clarity on some points that may have been overlooked or are ambiguous in our traditional teaching.