Friday, May 30, 2014

Christ, the Law and the Gospel

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 9: Christ, the Law and the Gospel
Ellen White declared in 1889 that "we have preached the law, the law, until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa." In that corporate sense "we" thought we were doing great, fulfilling Revelation 12:17 and 14:12 which say that the "remnant" church is distinguished before the world by "keeping the commandments of God." "We" were sincere.
The question naturally arises, How does the gospel/1888 message (which Ellen White endorsed so heartily) relate to God's law? Does it proclaim cheap grace? Does it encourage disobedience to the law of God? Does the message lower church standards? Does it dwell too much on the cross of Christ and what happened there, and then neglect to remind us of our works, the obedience we must continually demonstrate?
We know that Ellen White was overjoyed to hear Jones and Waggoner present the message. She declared it to be the clearest presentations of the gospel she had heard publicly "for the past forty-five years." [1] She also said that if they had not brought the message, we wouldn't have had it, meaning that the Lord laid a burden on them He had not laid on her. [2] If in any way their message weakens obedience to God's law, it could not be "precious," let alone "most precious." What made her so happy was that their understanding of justification by faith was fresh, unique, and dynamic. It set the law before the people in its true light. [3]
She was painfully aware that the views held by the Sunday-keeping Evangelical churches denigrated God's law, declaring either (a) that it had been abolished at the cross or (b) it was impossible for us fallen humans to obey. Either way, this popular view of justification by faith was employed to refute the Sabbath truth. She rejoiced that the 1888 message presented the Ten Commandments as ten promises--glorifying obedience.
The 1888 view became clear as follows: Justification by faith is far more than a legal declaration. The legal proclamation (or declaration) of "acquittal for all men" was made at the cross (John 12:32, 33; Rom. 3:23, 24; 5:15-18; anything that Christ accomplished at His cross cannot be restricted or denied to anyone). The 1888 message went a step further; it made the believer become "obedient to all the commandments of God."
Justification by faith now became a personal experience. The heart of the one who believes is now reconciled to God. And since no one can be reconciled to God and not at the same time be reconciled to God's holy law, it follows (says Ellen White) that genuine justification by faith makes the believer manifest "obedience to all the commandments of God." [4] That of course includes the Sabbath commandment (but it also includes obedience to the seventh commandment). In the 1888 era, Ellen White was especially concerned: a minister who breaks the seventh commandment "is a traitor of the worst type. From one such tainted, polluted mind the youth often receive their first impure thoughts. ... A second trial would be of no avail ..." [5]
Thus the 1888 message proved to be a first "clear" message in Adventism that joined "the faith of Jesus" to God's law. The message produces the kind of obedience that will enable "His people to stand in the day of God." Ellen White so recognized it, which is why she declared it to be the initial "showers from heaven of the latter rain" and "the beginning" of the message of Revelation 18:1-4 that will close the great gospel commission. [6]
All "obedience" which is motivated by fear of punishment or by the egocentric hope of reward comes far short of true obedience. It is the righteousness of the Pharisees. Outward compliance with the stipulations of the law when the heart is unreconciled is the lukewarmness plague of the "church of the Laodiceans." This was the problem which "the Lord in His great mercy" sought to heal by sending His 1888 message.
Thus Jones and Waggoner caught a vision of the cross in the third angel's message. They glimpsed what will be the light that enlightens the world at last: the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified which leads to self being crucified with Him.
But we must beware of the counterfeits. Movies about the cross cannot proclaim "the third angel's message in verity," which is "Christ and Him crucified." Movies have not made "the foolishness of preaching" passé. Audiences cry "buckets of tears" as people are led to an infatuation with the human character portrayed in the movie as "Jesus," and then mourn as "he" is tortured in the crucifixion pain. But those tears are human emotion, easily aroused; the audience can go out of the theater as world-loving as they entered. Movies do not (cannot!) portray "Jesus" as dying the second death for the sins of the world. That truth is still left to be proclaimed by flesh-and-blood people.
But is there danger that presenting too strongly the truth of what happened on the cross may lead people to neglect obedience to the law? The 1888 message has the answer: "The theme that attracts the heart of the sinner is Christ, and Him crucified. ... Present Him thus to the hungering multitudes, and the light of His love will win [people] from darkness to light, from transgression to obedience and true holiness. Beholding Jesus upon the cross of Calvary arouses the conscience to the heinous character of sin as nothing else can do." [7] That phrase "nothing else can do" must include our famous preaching "the law, the law, until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa." "We" learned a better way in the 1888 message. And the future still awaits lightening the earth with glory (Rev. 18:1-4).
Never in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist church has a message been more powerfully demonstrated to produce obedience to God's holy law. The opponents of a century-plus ago were afraid that too much grace would undermine obedience. Paul says that nothing but proclaiming that "grace of God" can motivate us to "say No to ungodliness, and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age" (Titus 2:11, NIV). Fear won't do it; hope for heavenly real estate won't do it; only Christ's grace can do it.
--Paul E. Penno
[1] "Christ Preached Unity Among the Disciples," Review and Herald(March 11, 1890).
[2] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 608; Ellen White never claimed that she herself was bringing the message of the latter rain or the loud cry; she said that of their message.
[3] Cf. Waggoner on Romans, p. 368, 69.
[4] Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 91, 92. See also Waggoner on Romans, p. 3.77.
[5] General Conference Bulletin, 1893, p. 162.
[6] Special Testimonies, Series A. No. 6, p. 19; Review and Herald, Nov. 22, 1892; cf. Early Writings, pp. 277, 278.
[7] "The Perils and Privileges of the Last Days," Review and Herald(Nov. 22, 1892).
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