The dynamic truth of God's everlasting covenant formed the foundation of the 1888 message. The old covenant motivation of fear of hell and hope of reward is what it means to be "under law." The new covenant motivation is a heart appreciation for Jesus' love that caused Him to go all the way to hell for you on the cross. This is what it means to be "under grace."
Understanding the new covenant is the heart preparation for receiving the "seal of God" and discerning the "mark of the beast" crisis. The new covenant is vital for the Fourth Angel, "having great power; and the earth was lightened with His glory" (Rev. 18:1), to unite with the three angels having "the everlasting gospel" (Rev. 14:6).
God's promise in the everlasting covenant is to write "My laws into their hearts, and in their minds" (Heb. 10:16), which is parallel to the cleansing of the sanctuary truth. Our heavenly High Priest purifies the character of His Bride with agape in readiness for the last plagues, the time of trouble, so that she may stand by her Husband's side, ready for His second coming in consuming fire.
But thus far in "our" 170 [since 1844] year history of development, "our" faith is in the first apartment of the sanctuary. For 1800 years Christ performed a wonderful ministry there preparing people to die in order to come up in the first resurrection at His second coming. But He is not there anymore. Now He is in the second apartment, preparing the character of His Bride for translation without seeing death at His coming.
His corporate body, the church, resisted the call to the wedding in 1888. Until this rejection of Christ is clearly understood and its subsequent history of repeated refusal to receive His love recognized, there will be no reconciliation with Him. Systemic repentance at every level of the church regarding our history must occur in order to clear the alienation of our hearts with Christ.
We are repeating our 1888 history today. There was a time when the inspired pen wrote these words about our pulpits and evangelism: "we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa."  "We" thought we were doing great, fulfilling Revelation 12:17 and 14:12; we were the great "remnant" distinguished by "keeping the commandments of God." Then came "1888."
In 1888 "our" leading brethren resisted the everlasting covenant as presented by A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, because they thought there was too much emphasis on grace and not enough focus on obedience to the law. Leaders felt the 1888 understanding of the covenant was just like the Evangelicals who taught that grace does away with the law.
But Ellen White saw the implications of the law and the covenants in 1888. She was overjoyed to hear it, said it was the clearest presentation of the gospel she had heard publicly "for the last 45 years."  She also said that if those two young messengers had not brought the message, we just wouldn't have had it, meaning that the Lord had laid a burden on them He had not laid on her. If in any way their message weakens obedience to God's law, it cannot be "precious," let alone "most precious." 
What made her so happy was that at last it set the law before the people in its true light. The young messengers' understanding was fresh, unique, dynamic. She was painfully aware that the Sunday-keeping Evangelical churches denigrated God's law, declaring either that it had been abolished at the cross or was impossible for us humans to obey. Either way, the popular view of justification by faith was employed to refute the Sabbath truth. She rejoiced that "1888" finally portrayed the ten commandments as ten promises glorifying heart-obedience. 
"1888" was clear this way: Justification by faith is far more than a legal declaration. The legal declaration of "acquittal for all men" was made at the cross (John 12:32, 33; Rom. 3:23, 24; 5:15-18). Anything accomplished there cannot be restricted or denied to anyone because Christ's sacrifice was universal. "1888" took a giant step further: faith in Jesus makes the believer "manifest ... obedience to all the commandments of God." 
Justification by faith now became a personal experience. The heart of the one who believes is reconciled to be at-one with God. And furthermore: since no one can be reconciled to God and at the same time not be reconciled to God's holy law, it follows (says Ellen White) that genuine justification by faith makes the believer demonstrate obedience to the Sabbath commandment.
Thus "1888" was the first powerful message in Adventism that joined "the faith of Jesus" to God's law. It produces the kind of non-egocentric obedience that will enable "His people to stand in the day of God." That's why it was the initial "showers from heaven of the latter rain" and "the beginning" of Revelation 18:1-4 that will close the great gospel commission.
All "obedience" which is motivated by fear of punishment or by a hope of reward is the "righteousness" of the Pharisees.  Outward compliance with the law when the heart is unreconciled is the lukewarmness plague of the world "church of the Laodiceans." This was the problem which "the Lord in His great mercy" sought to heal by sending "1888." That's why the new covenant was its focal point of controversy with the brethren.
Jones and Waggoner caught a vision of the cross in the third angel's message. They glimpsed a bit of the light that will lighten the earth at last.
--Paul E. Penno
Endnotes: Ellen G. White, "Christ Prayed for Unity Among His Disciples," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (March 11, 1890).  The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, pp. 348, 349.  Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 91.  The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 1105 (1896).  Op. cit., p. 92.  In Monday's lesson a very significant question is asked: "How can we obey God's commandments wholeheartedly without falling into similar hypocrisy [of the Jews] and legalism?" Unfortunately, the lesson never answers the question and fails to point the student to the cleansing of the sanctuary truth of agape. Jesus points the way by saying, "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Legalism is faith motivated by fear and hope of reward in exchange for actions performed, and, as such, is egocentrically motivated [old covenant]. How ironic then that in Tuesday's lesson the fear motive meets with approval by these words, "If this warning ["pluck out an eye or cutting off a hand"] scares you, good. It should!" The "under grace" motivation for faith is agape which "exceed[s] the righteousness of the scribes." There is no egotism in agape. Thus "love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10).
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