Friday, December 25, 2015

Lesson 13: Lessons From Jeremiah

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic


Lesson 13: Lessons From Jeremiah

"THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (Jer. 23:6) is a moniker of the 1888 message. [1] What does it mean?

Proclaiming true justification by faith has always been the Lord's method of meeting apostasy. That is how Paul met the Galatian apostasy. Jeremiah presented "THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" to ancient Judah. Isaiah was the gospel prophet. We misunderstand Elijah's ministry unless we see that he proclaimed a reconciling message to Israel that "turned their heart back again" and healed alienation (1 Kings 18:37; Mal. 4:5, 6). The Lord's methods of healing are not blood, thunder, lightning, and earthquakes that shatter the rocks. To "cry aloud" effectively is through that "still, small voice" of pure gospel truth. Understand and proclaim God's pure Good News!

The Lord has something special for His people living in the very end of time: "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Rev. 3:21). He ministers this special privilege now when sin and temptation seem stronger and more alluring than ever before and when we humans are still weaker and more susceptible to falling.

In these last days, therefore, the Savior taking our fallen, sinful flesh, becomes a more precious truth than ever before. His overcoming is not only an example to us. An example is useless if you don't know how to follow it! Our Example becomes our training-Exemplar. He identifies with you and you identify with Him. Your temptation becomes His temptation; and your failure becomes His concern. Your success is His victory, for you are joined in a yoke with Him, and He does the pulling of the heavy weight. Our job is to stay with Him and to cooperate with Him, yielding our will to Him. Don't ever leave the happy yoke that binds you to Him. That's the best place to be, forever.

Christ knew that in these last days Satan would lead multitudes of human beings into drug addiction, alcoholism, crime, lust, child abuse, homosexuality, pornography, fornication, adultery, bulimia--all temptations that seem irresistible because we have a sinful nature. The lost sheep has strayed further from the fold than ever before, but the Good Shepherd goes further than ever before "until He finds it." This means that as a divine Psychiatrist He probes ever more deeply into the why of our last-day weaknesses, and provides full healing. Sin abounding means that there is grace much more abounding.

Jeremiah and Paul speak of "the righteousness" of Christ (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:18). This significant phrase implicitly requires the understanding that in His incarnation Christ took the fallen, sinful nature of man. The reason is obvious.

"Righteousness" is a word that is never used of beings with a sinless nature. We read of "holy" angels or unfallen angels, but never of righteous angels. Adam and Eve before the fall were innocent and holy, but never do we read that they were righteous. They could have developed a righteous character if they had resisted temptation, but righteousness has become a term that means holiness that has confronted temptation in sinful human nature and has perfectly overcome. And that is what Christ as the true God-man has done.

The word means justification, and something that is sinless can not need justification. The innate meaning of the word is straightening something that is crooked, correcting something that is unjust.

One who has only a sinless nature would be holy, but could not be said to be righteous. Christ was sinless, but He "took" our sinful, crooked nature and in it lived a perfect life of holiness. This gives Him title to that glorious name, "THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS" (Jer. 23:6).

Therefore Jude says He "is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (vs. 24). Revelation corroborates this promise by displaying a people who stand "without fault before the throne of God." Thus He can say of His people, "Jerusalem will ... be called, The LORD Our Righteousness" (Jer. 33:16).

The secret of their overcoming is not a special works program of trying harder than ever before. It is the recovery of a purer faith than any former generation have attained, a previously unrealized intimacy of sympathy with Christ, a heart-appreciation of Him, a "surveying" of His cross with all the melting of frozen hearts that follows. Nothing else but that contrite concern for the honor of Christ can "keep you from falling." Selfish concern, fear of hell, working for reward in heaven, will fail.

Ellen White was overjoyed when she heard the message of justification by faith from the lips of A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. To her this clear teaching was consonant with the message of the three angels: "The hour of His judgment is come" and our Priest is cleansing the heavenly sanctuary. What connection is there between justification by faith and the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary by Jesus our High Priest?

The answer is that since 1844 Jesus has been performing the Day of Atonement ministry--the final blotting out of sins. But before the sanctuary could be cleansed in heaven the temple of His people on earth must be cleansed. The source of sin pollution must be ended in His people. The honor of God and the integrity of His covenant were at stake. God has the solution to the problem of sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ can forgive sins, and His righteousness has the power by virtue of the Holy Spirit to cleanse the soul temple. This God has promised in His everlasting covenant (Jer. 31:33).

So when she heard this message she recognized in it the power and force of the gospel which would prepare God's people to stand with a pure character in the day of Christ's second coming. They would be a living testimony for God through the crisis hour. They would be part of the 144,000 who would be translated without seeing death at His return. They would be a living testament to the power of God unto salvation from sin. Living in sinful flesh, tempted, tried and afflicted, the mystery of godliness would be revealed in them--"Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

--Paul E. Penno

[1] "God looks upon His Son dying upon the cross and is satisfied, and Jesus is called 'the Lord Our Righteousness.' Then let the sinner by faith appropriate the merits of the blood of a crucified Redeemer to his own case--'the Lord my righteousness.'" Ellen G. White, "Experience Following the 1888 Minneapolis Conference," The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 375 (Manuscript 30,1889).

Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at:

Raul Diaz

Sabbath School Lesson 13 | "Lesson From Jeremiah" | Pastor Paul Penno

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Lesson 12: Back to Egypt

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic


Lesson 12: Back to Egypt


We must address a statement that was made on the first page of this week's lesson (Sabbath afternoon): "the Lord spoke to them, offering them salvation ..." The 1888 message dispels the idea of the Lord merely offering salvation, an idea that is closely related to the Old Covenant, which we studied last week.

The New Covenant is God's one-way promise to write His law in our hearts, and to give us everlasting salvation as a free gift "in Christ." The Old Covenant is the vain promise of the people to obey, and "gives birth to bondage" (Gal. 4:24). This is the essence of this week's lesson on turning "back to Egypt," which is Old Covenant "bondage."

The New Covenant truths were the central issues in the 1888 message story. Young Ellet J. Waggoner had been gifted by the Lord with an understanding that far surpassed that of his silver-haired elder brethren. Ellen White declared that the Lord had done this for him. She said, "Since I made the statement last Sabbath that the view of the covenants as it had been taught by Brother Waggoner was truth, it seems that great relief has come to many minds." [1]

Old Covenant thinking on the part of sincere Christians who want to follow Jesus "gives birth to bondage," and takes them "back to Egypt." It's tragic that they do not realize that the Old Covenant ideas that have enslaved their thinking are a counterfeit of the pure, true gospel. They wonder why their "Christian experience" is so disappointing; they do not know the truth of the New Covenant. They assume therefore that the gospel is impotent, when they have inherited only a distorted view of it.

If the idea of salvation being only offered is true, then your salvation is due to your taking the first step to believe. It depends on your initiative. God's great mechanism of salvation stands idle so far as you're concerned until you press the switch to get it activated for you--it's when you "accept Christ" and believe and keep His commandments, etc. Otherwise, Christ died for you in vain, and you have not realized any of the "benefits" He wants you to have. Sounds very good, but is it true?

If it is true, then the lost in the final judgment can shake their fist at God and tell Him, "You didn't do anything for me, all you did was make me an offer; You didn't actually give me anything." But the truth is that the very life they have had while they "enjoyed the passing pleasures of sin" (Heb. 11:25) has been a gift that God has given them by virtue of the sacrifice of Christ. They are already infinitely and eternally in debt to Jesus for their food, the pleasures of life, and yes, for their next breath. They have already realized the "benefits" of the cross of Christ. He has "made His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sent rain on the just and on the unjust," blessed their crops, shielded them repeatedly from ruin, sent angels to care for them, and they have received all these "benefits" with unthankful hearts.

This misunderstanding of salvation leads to going "back to Egypt," back to the Old Covenant. The people in Jeremiah's time made the same "promise" to God as did the people in the time of the Exodus: "Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God ... that it may be well with us" (Jer. 42: 6). The Old Covenant was formally endorsed by the leaders of Israel at Mount Sinai when they got together and voted to respond to the Lord's Good News Gospel declaration of what He would do for them, "All the people answered together and said, 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do'" (Ex. 19:8; in a matter of days they were worshipping a golden calf!).

Now the question arises, How does this relate to God's law? Is the message of grace "cheap grace"? Does it encourage disobedience to the law of God? Lower church standards? Fixate on the grace of Christ and what happened at the cross to the neglect of our "works"?

Ellen White said the message given in 1888 was the clearest presentation of the gospel she had heard publicly "for the past forty-five years." [2] She also said that if those two young messengers (A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner) 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. [3] 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. [4] 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. She rejoiced that "1888" finally portrayed the Ten Commandments as ten promises upholding heart-obedience.

Unlike the "remnant" in Jeremiah's day, around the world in every nation and culture of people, the Holy Spirit is now preparing a "remnant" who have overcome the old egocentric motivation of self-righteousness, and received in their hearts joyfully the new motivation of grace. Who are they? They are the people symbolized by the story of the "144,000" who by the grace of God are "without guile," who "follow the Lamb [the crucified Christ] wherever He goes" (see Rev. 14:1-5).

Is there room among them for us?

--From the Writings of Robert J. Wieland

[1] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, Letter to "Children Willie and Mary," March 10, 1890, p. 623.
[2] Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, March 11, 1890.
[3] 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.
[4] Cf. Ellet J. Waggoner, Waggoner on Romans, pp. 3.68, 69.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Lesson 11: The Covenant

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic


Lesson 11: The Covenant

I have had an interest in the covenants of Scripture, but could not make complete sense of them until the 1888 messengers pointed out some basic themes that I had not noticed in the Bible. It was the Bible truth of the everlasting covenant which sparked my interest in the 1888 message. I was to discover that all the truths of that message radiated outward, as it were, like spokes on a wheel from the hub of God's covenant. Jeremiah's covenant is our future hope (Jer. 31:33, 34).


Jeremiah's new covenant will be made by God "after those days" (Jer. 31:33), that is after Israel's return from exile. "The days come" (31:31) refer to the idyllic future. The new covenant encompasses a repopulation of the earth and a New Jerusalem. This covenant is given to Israel. God will make a new covenant with all Israel no longer divided; people from both Israel and Judah. The promise is given to a people who are in exile because of their pervasive unfaithfulness to God. This promise is a word from God given to a defeated and dispirited people, who wonder whether God may, in fact, have rejected them.

The "new covenant" encompasses the "new earth" to come. In that post-exilic Babylonian world there is no need for neighbor teaching neighbor or brother teaching brother for all will "know the Lord." "They shall all know Me" (31:34).

It is clear that this was the word of the Lord for ancient Israel. But it did not happen after Judah returned from Babylon. Why? Again, the people did not believe God's promise. Remember the Lord's dictum pronounced to the house of Israel and the men of Judah "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them" (18:9, 10).


However, this did not make void God's new covenant promise. In the book of Hebrews the everlasting covenant is quoted from Jeremiah: "Whereof the Holy Spirit also is a witness to us; for after that He had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord. I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them" (Heb. 10:15, 16). The Holy Spirit directs "us" to understand that God's covenant is our future hope.

The book of Hebrews was originally written for Jewish Christians. God's covenant is always given to Israel. God does not make His covenant with the Gentiles. However, we who are by born Gentiles, come into the picture because of Christ. We read: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, ... ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:28, 29).

God's new covenant in Jeremiah includes nothing that was not in the covenant with Abraham, but it is simply an act constituting "the commonwealth of Israel" (Eph. 2:12), including the Gentiles (vs. 11), God's people for evermore. God's covenant has not yet been made, as can be seen by reading Jeremiah 30-33, but it is a matter of promise, to be fulfilled at the second coming of Christ. The fact that Christ is the "Surety" or pledge of this covenant (Heb. 7:22) shows that the covenant itself has not yet been made; for we need no Surety for that which we already have.

The house of Israel has not yet been gathered out from among the nations. Among every people there are "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 15:24; Jesus spoke these words of "a woman of Canaan"), and these must be gathered out before the second covenant with that people can be made. When it is made, there will be no more need for the preaching of the gospel, for all will know the Lord, from the least to the greatest.


Inspiration describes God giving His everlasting covenant to His people at the hour when they have overcome the mark of the beast. "With shouts of triumph, jeering, and imprecation, throngs of evil men are about to rush upon their prey, when lo, a dense blackness, deeper than the darkness of the night, falls upon the earth. Then a rainbow, shining with the glory from the throne of God, spans the heavens, and seems to encircle each praying company. The angry multitudes are suddenly arrested. Their mocking cries die away. The objects of their murderous rage are forgotten. With fearful forebodings they gaze upon the symbol of God's covenant, and long to be shielded from its overpowering brightness. ... In the midst of the angry heavens is one clear space of indescribable glory, whence comes the voice of God like the sound of many waters, saying. 'It is done.' Revelation 16:17. That voice shakes the heavens and the earth. There is a mighty earthquake, 'such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake and so great.' Verses 17, 18. ... Graves are opened, and 'many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth ... awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.' Daniel 12:2. All who have died in the faith of the third angel's message come forth from the tomb glorified, to hear God's covenant of peace with those who have kept his law." [1]

A. T. Jones remarks: "And when the saints of God have thus attained to the fullness of the everlasting covenant, the covenant with Abraham, when the object of the giving of the law from Sinai, and in the Bible, has thus been accomplished, the law will not then be abolished, but will be kept in mind, in heart, in soul, just as it was by Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, when as yet there was 'no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai, or written on the tables of stone.' Instead of being then abolished, it will be observed and lived more fully and more perfectly than ever before by men." [2]


God's everlasting covenant is His promise to write the law in our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit. His promise is forgiveness of sin and to save us from sin. This is the at-one-ment with God.

God's covenant is the foundation of the sanctuary truth. It is an understanding of justification by faith which is parallel to and consistent with the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. God has promised a practical demonstration of the law and the gospel in perfect harmony in the lives of redeemed sinners. Surely this is the heart and soul of the 1888 message.

--Paul E. Penno

[1] "The voice of God is heard from heaven, declaring the day and hour of Jesus' coming and delivering the everlasting covenant to His people. ... Soon there appears in the east a small black cloud, about half the size of a man's hand. It is the cloud which surrounds the Saviour and which seems in the distance to be shrouded in darkness. The people of God know this to be the sign of the Son of man. In solemn silence they gaze upon it as it draws nearer the earth, becoming lighter and more glorious, until it is a great white cloud, its base a glory like consuming fire, and above it the rainbow of the covenant" (Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 635-641).
[2] Alonzo T. Jones, "Studies in Galatians. Gal. 3:19," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (March 13, 1900).

Note: "Sabbath School Today" and Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson are on the Internet at:


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Lesson 10: The Destruction of Jerusalem

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Lesson 10: The Destruction of Jerusalem

"For the vision is yet for the appointed time. It hastens toward the goal, and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay. Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by His faith" (Hab. 2:3, 4).
The context of this verse is predicting the Babylonian captivity of Judah. But the language is broad enough to encompass much of human history, even to the end of time. No longer does God speak in conditional terms. The centuries of conditional warnings to repent have all been given and each has been ridiculed, explained away, and the messengers discredited or simply ignored. Judgment has occurred and will be executed; "it will certainly come." Even if it seems unlikely because it "tarries," or delays, "it will certainly come."
In Jeremiah 37:1-10, the Lord gave instructions for King Zedekiah that his attempt to ally with Egypt for their assistance against the Chaldean's siege would fail and they would be captured. Jeremiah was called a traitor and thrown into prison.
What lesson does this sad time in Judah's history have for us today? If we see it simply as detail to embellish the historical record we miss a vital blessing. Judah's march into apostasy was completely unjustified and avoidable. God's plain instructions and warnings for centuries seem, from our vantage point, curious and inexplicable. We think "we would never do that." But, before we indulge in too much self-satisfaction, some soul searching is in order.
At the 1901 General Conference, W. W. Prescott compared the time just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity:
"And now we are passing the same circumstances over again. [The church] is threatened with destruction. And why?--For the very same reason as in the olden time--because they refused the truth, because they had refused the message of God, because they had turned away from heart service and had accepted form and ceremony in place of that working of God's life in the heart and soul." [1]
Referring to the 1901 General Conference session, Ellen White said: "The result of the last General Conference has been the greatest, the most terrible, sorrow of my life. No change was made. The spirit that should have been brought into the whole work as the result of that meeting was not brought in because men did not receive the testimonies of the Spirit of God. ... So today upon those who have had light and evidence, but who have refused to heed the Lord's warnings and entreaties, heaven's woe is pronounced." [2]
On February 18, 1902, the main Battle Creek Sanitarium building--the hospital--burned down. Ten months later, on December 30, 1902, the Review and Herald experienced the same fate.
"Today God is watching His people. We should seek to find out what He means when He sweeps away our sanitarium and our publishing house. Let us not move along as if there were nothing wrong." [3]
"A short time after the fire had destroyed the Review and Herald Office, an article by Ellen White was printed in the Review, "in which it was plainly stated that the destruction of the Sanitarium and the Review office by fire was a visitation from God on account of the persistent departure from his ways, and the failure to act upon the warning and instruction which had been given for many years through the Spirit of Prophecy." Yet, a short time after the 1903 General Conference Session, at a "meeting of the stockholders of the Review and Herald the statement was reiterated before a public audience that these fires were not the judgments of God. ...
"Those who are familiar with the circumstances of our work and our institutions here, especially for the last ten or fifteen years, need not be reminded of the many words of warning and instruction which the Lord has sent to us through His chosen mouthpiece, until the judgment of God has fallen upon us for our failure to obey, and it is utterly useless, and worse than useless, to attempt to hide this from our own eyes or from the eyes of the world. What we might have saved by heeding the words of instruction and warning has now become a public calamity upon us, but in spite of all this there are still voices raised which say this is no judgment upon us." [4]
Israel's main problem was pride. Pride causes us to reject the counsel of God in favor of our own imaginings no matter how far from the truth. There are those who claim we as a church accepted the truth of the 1888 message. They say we have been teaching it ever since so there is no need for further investigation. This is a "spirit of Pharisaic prejudice and criticism. As soon as this is indulged, the holy angels depart from you; for they cannot administer to sin. You possess in a large degree the same spirit that was revealed in the Conference at Minneapolis. The deception that was upon minds there still exists. Some have not been willing to see and acknowledge their errors, and their blindness of mind remains." [5]
"Some speak in commendation, [of the message] as though it were a horse or a cow they were inspecting with a view to purchasing, if the terms suited them. The truth needs to be brought into their very life experience, the Holy Spirit to be an abiding power in the life, sanctifying the soul day by day, and preparing, moulding, and fashioning the character after the divine model." [6]
If the unbelief that resulted in the woes sent by God to our church in the destruction of our major publishing house and hospital so many years ago persists today, can we expect different consequences in our own generation? Maybe it won't come in the form of burning buildings, but most thoughtful people today are concerned about the tragic loss of so many of our youth. They have heard Old Covenant ideas that religion is difficult, and pleasing God is almost impossible. The New Covenant message that we can believe that righteousness really is by faith is what youth of any age need to hear. We should see the loss of our youth as a much greater calamity than the loss of a couple of buildings.
--Arlene Hill
[1] W. W. Prescott "Sermon," April 15, 1901, General Conference Bulletin, April 17, 1901.
[2] Ellen G. White to Judge Jesse Arthur, Letter, Jan. 14, 1903, in Manuscript Releases, vol. 13, pp. 122, 123.
[3] Ellen G. White, "Lessons from Josiah's Reign," sermon given March 30, 1903, General Conference Bulletin, April 1, 1903.
[4] Editorial note, "Instruction and Response," Review and Herald, May 19, 1903.
[5] Ellen G. White, General Conference Daily Bulletin, April 13, 1891.
[6] Ellen G. White to O. A. Olsen, Letter 22, Nov. 23, 1892; in Pamphlets, No 2, "Appeal and Suggestions to Conference Officers," 1893.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Lesson 9: Jeremiah's Yoke

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic


Lesson 9: Jeremiah's Yoke


There is never a time when one is not bearing a yoke--either a yoke of bondage or the yoke of Christ which is received by accepting the invitation of Jesus to be crucified with Him.

Jeremiah brought a message from God to leaders of the nation and it was rejected--in 1888, Waggoner and Jones brought a message from God to the leadership of this church and it also was rejected. Nothing has changed since Jeremiah's time. Just as there were consequences then, so there will be now.

"There are two yokes and two burdens. The burden of sin is indeed heavy; if it is not lost at the foot of the cross, it will sink the bearer into perdition. To all who are heavily laden with sin, Jesus says, 'Come unto me, ... and I will give you rest.' There is no doubt about this. If they come, he says, 'Ye shall find rest unto your souls.' Then why not go? Why carry a heavy burden, when somebody freely offers to carry it for you? In exchange he will give his own burden, which is light. The 'yoke of bondage' is a galling yoke. From this Christ will set all free who will come to him, and he says, 'If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.' John 8:36." [1]

The only part of this lesson we are told to commit to memory is: "Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me" (Luke 9:23, NKJV).

Ellen White, a strong supporter of the 1888 message, writes: "We are to bear the yoke of Christ that we may be placed in complete union with Him. ... Hear what God says: 'If any man will come after me,let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.' The yoke and the cross are symbols representing the same thing." [2; emphasis supplied.] The Bible has made it clear that anything leading to salvation that has man's fingerprints on it, is a yoke of bondage--continuing sin.

"The failure with many people is that they make a distinction between the cross of Christ and their own crosses. There is no cross that comes to any person on earth, except the cross of Christ. If we will always remember this, it will be life and joy to us.

"The Lord does not give us some crosses of our own,--little crosses adapted to different ones,--one having one cross and another another. We cannot separate Christ from His cross. Christ is crucified; He is the only crucified one; therefore whatever cross comes to us must be the cross of Christ; and that cross is with us continually. But in the cross of Christ we find Christ Himself.

"What do we get through the cross?--Forgiveness of sins, reconciliation. 'Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.' 1 Peter 3:18. 'That He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross.' It is the cross, then, that unites us to God, and makes us one with Him. Everything then that is a real cross is life to us, because it brings us to God. Take the things that come to us; new duties, perhaps, are revealed to us; sins, it may be, are shown to us, that must be denied. Different things come up that cut directly across our habits and our own way and convenience. We can take them in a hard and cheerless way, groaning over our religion, and giving everybody that comes near the idea that it does not agree with us, but that we must endure the service of Christ, hoping that by and by we shall get something better, when we get out of this grinding service. Or we can find joy in the cross, and salvation and peace and rest, by recognizing that cross as the cross of Christ.

"Suppose we are stingy. Well, we have to make sacrifices for the cause of God, and so we know we must give something. We groan over it, and shrink from it, but finally by dint of hard work, will manage to give something. Then we think afterwards of what a hard cross we have borne. ... Not so; when we take it that way it is our own cross, with Christ left out; and there is no salvation except in the cross of Christ.

"With a thousand other things it is the same. We mourn over them, and it is only by will power that we force ourselves up to the rack, and take the bitter medicine, consoling ourselves with the thought that by and by all this will be ended. We shall not have such hard times when we get into the Kingdom.

"Possibly we put this rather strongly and yet this is the idea of the Christian life with a great many people who profess to be Christians. We sing of the 'resting by and by,' and of joys to come, giving the world the idea that there is no joy in the present. The idea too commonly is that the harder the cross is, the more joy there will be when it is done with. [3] This is not Christianity at all but heathenism.

"Now all these things we have been laboring over may be things that God requires us to do. He doesn't require us to scourge ourselves with whips, or to go on pilgrimages on our knees; but the only difference between ourselves, when we have made burdens of our duties, and the man who has scourged himself or worn a hair shirt, is that we make our penances out of those things which God requires, and he makes his out of those things which the Lord has not required. Yet we have thought we were better than he!

"Both classes are trying to put up a cross that would take the place of the cross of Christ. People ask the Lord to accept their offering for sin. Every cross men bear in that way is hard. If that were all that is in the cross, those crosses ought to have served the purpose; for they were bitter and cruel enough. Then there must be something else in the cross besides hardness. Popularly the idea is that anything that is a discomfort--that a person doesn't like to do--is a cross, and some men perform their duties ... to make themselves uncomfortable all the time.

"The idea has been, 'No cross no crown;' the more we suffer, the more we shall enjoy by and by. This is the time of suffering; by and by we shall have the time of enjoyment. So we will endure it. Certainly, we thought, these crosses will bring us nearer to God.

"We were always wanting to get nearer, and yet finding ourselves afar off. Then we did not have Christ in the cross, although we persuaded ourselves that we were believing in Christ and bearing His cross. ... The trouble was that we had a cross in the place of the cross of Christ,--a substitute for it.

"Who was on that cross?--Self. The power of the cross of Christ is the power of His life,--the power of an endless life. The power in our crosses was only the power of our own life, which is nothing, and could not bring us nearer to God. We were crucifying ourselves on our own crosses; and as we thought that those crosses were the cross of Christ, we were putting ourselves in the place of Christ." [4]

Remember, there is only one actual cross in the world, and that is the cross of Jesus Christ. To accept the popular old covenant view that Christ is only near us, we would need to crucify ourselves on our own cross near Christ. This is a false "truth" with no salvation or forgiveness of sin in it.

The message brought to us in 1888 refuted this popular view and restored the cross of Christ to its rightful place within the church--within the believer. It was this restoration that was rejected.

"The question for everyone is, 'Do you know that Christ lives in you? Are you joined to Him?' There are many who are workers for Him professedly, who dare not say that Christ lives in them; they do not know that Christ is one with them. When we were bearing crosses after the manner we have described, we could not say, 'Christ liveth in me.' So we were separated from Him, and thus separated from His cross. It was self in the place of Christ, 'a form of godliness but denying the power thereof,' for the power of godliness is the cross of Christ. We denied the cross of Christ, and so denied the power of the Gospel.

"Christ was crucified for sin. There was no cross except for sin. He bore our sins. There is wonderful joy that comes to us in this, that while we are yet in sin we are permitted to claim Christ as ours, and to say, 'I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.' If we could not assert this with all assurance while yet sinners, we never could assert it. But while in sin we may claim Christ as ours, and that He is in us. We know it because the Holy Spirit says that it is so. To the man who believes the Lord and dares assert it, it is everlasting strength.

"Christ is the present Saviour of all men. ... To take up the cross is to take Him. To deny self is to own Him. To crucify self indeed is to take His life, and the life we live with Him is not one of hardness and discomfort, and the performance of disagreeable duties for the sake of joy by and by, but it is the constant springing up of life and joy; so that with joy and not groaning we draw water from the wells of salvation. It makes all the difference when we have His cross." [5]

Will we accept the message God sent to us in 1888, or will we blindly remain under the yoke of bondage while awaiting further eternal consequences? Will we accept the message of Christ in us--not just near us?

--Daniel Peters


[1] E. J. Waggoner, "Judgment and Mercy," The Signs of the Times, Nov. 3, 1887.
[2] Ellen G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1090.
[3] E. J. Waggoner, "The Cross and Crosses," The Present Truth, Feb. 22, 1894.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Lesson 8: Josiah's Reforms

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic


Lesson 8: Josiah's Reforms


"For hundreds of years after the death of Solomon, a strange and melancholy sight could be seen opposite Mount Moriah. Crowning the eminence of the Mount of Olives, and peering above the groves of myrtle and olive trees, were imposing piles of buildings, for the idolatrous worship of gigantic, unseemly images of wood and stone. ... Little did Solomon think when he built the unholy shrines on the hill before Jerusalem, that these evidences of his apostasy would remain from generation to generation, to testify against him. Notwithstanding his repentance, the evil that he did lived after him, witnessing to the terrible fall of the greatest and wisest of kings.

"More than three centuries later, Josiah, the youthful reformer, in his religious zeal demolished these buildings and all the images of Ashtoreth and Chemosh and Moloch. Many of the broken fragments rolled down the channel of the Kedron, but great masses of ruins remained. Even as late as the days of Christ, the ruins on the 'Mount of Offense,' as the place was called by many of the true-hearted of Israel, might still be seen. Could Solomon, when rearing these idolatrous shrines, have looked into the future, how he would have started back in horror to think of the sad testimony they would bear to the Messiah!

"How sad the thought that the far-reaching influence of Solomon's apostasy could never be fully counteracted! The king confessed his sins, and wrote out, for the benefit of after generations, a record of his folly and repentance; but he could never hope to destroy the baleful influence of his evil deeds. Emboldened by his apostasy, many continued to do evil, and evil only. And in the downward course of many of the rulers that followed him, may be traced the sad influence of the prostitution of his God-given powers (Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, Feb. 15, 1906).


What is there about the story of "Josiah's Reforms," that occurred in the time of the Kings of Old Testament times, that can possibly relate to the 1888 message? And to the Seventh-day Adventist Church (us) today?

There is one word that stands out in the above quotation from Ellen White, and the story as discussed in the quarterly: repentance!

Moses called upon succeeding generations to recognize and confess their corporate guilt with "their fathers": "If they shall confess their trespass which they trespassed against Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me; and that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept the punishment of their iniquity ... I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 26:3-40). They were explicitly to confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers.

Succeeding generations often recognized the truth of this principle. King Josiah, seeking to promote corporate repentance in his day, confessed that "great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us" (2 Kings 22:13). He said nothing about the guilt of his own generation, so clearly did he see their involvement with the guilt of previous generations. The writer of the Book of Chronicles agrees with this confession of corporate guilt (2 Chron. 34:21).

This young king's zeal for the Lord was unbounded. Again, in deep piety he sought to renew the old covenant: "He caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to [take their stand for it]" (vss. 31, 32).

King Josiah's revival and reformation were based upon leading all the people into making a promise to God that they would "perform" "His commandments." We read: "And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant" (2 Kings 23:3).

We might be inclined to think, this was a good thing. But it is essentially the same mistake their ancestors made when God gave them His everlasting covenant promise at Mount Sinai. God's covenant was the same which He gave to Abraham.

Abraham's justification by faith was to have been the guiding light of a nation's world mission. "In thee shall all families of the earth shall be blessed," the Lord promised (Gen. 12:3). Abraham made no promise in return; all he did was believe the Lord's promise (Gen. 15:6). That promise of God was the new covenant.

Before the giving of the law at Sinai with "thunders, and lightnings," earthquake, fire, and the death boundary, the Lord tried to re-establish the same new covenant with Abraham's descendants: "If ye will obey [listen to, Hebrew] My voice indeed, and keep [cherish, Hebrew] My covenant [His new covenant promise to Abraham], then ye shall be a peculiar [special] treasure unto Me above all people" (Ex. 19:5). [1] Of all nations in the world, they were to be "the head, and not the tail" (Deut. 28:13). But Mount Sinai was the turning point in the nation's destiny, for they refused the Lord's new covenant of justification by faith. Instead of humbly saying "Amen" to God's promise as Abraham did (the Hebrew word for "believe" is amen), the people promised a work's program of obedience, "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do" (Ex. 19:8). That was the old covenant. The nation bound themselves to a long detour that would finally lead them to the terrible deed of Christ's crucifixion.

God told Josiah through the prophetess Huldah that He appreciated that his "heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before Me" (2 Kings 22:19). It's readily apparent what motivated Josiah's repentance. It was God's words against Judah and the curse of desolation. Josiah's faith was motivated out of fear for what God had predicted was to befall them. This fear motivation was old covenant through and through. Such fear-based faith could never produce a heart reconciliation, an at-one-ment with God.

Huldah prophesied of Josiah's early demise. God speaking through her said: "Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place" (vs. 20). Josiah rendered all manner of outward changes of reform. God appreciated his efforts. But the changes were only cosmetic in nature. Neither the king's heart nor the peoples' hearts experienced genuine faith, which is a heart appreciation for God's loving and giving Himself to them for their salvation from sin.

While maintaining such devotion to the written Spirit of Prophecy, Josiah managed to reject its living demonstration. The problem was that the renewed "spiritual gift" came through the most unlikely avenue that king or people could imagine--the mouth of a supposedly pagan king!

Pharaoh Necho of Egypt was leading his army in opposition to the rising power of Babylon. Josiah thought it his duty to attack him. Didn't Moses in the Spirit of Prophecy tell Israel to oppose the heathen? But the zealous king couldn't discern how Necho was on God's errand. He warned Josiah, "Forbear thee from meddling with God, who is with me, that He destroy thee not" (2 Chron. 35:21). The Chronicler says the king "hearkened not unto the words of Necho from the mouth of God." The Lord was forced to let the young king die of his battle wounds (vss. 22-24). Jeremiah was heart-broken, for Josiah's revival fizzled out with his untimely death. From then on it was downhill all the way.

Like Josiah, is it possible for us as Seventh-day Adventists to think we are super-loyal to "the Spirit of Prophecy" while at the same time rejecting its living demonstration? That happened in 1888; our brethren were replaying Josiah's "tape." In rejecting that "most precious message" "sent from heaven" they imagined they were loyal to Ellen White's past writings while setting aside the Lord's living message. [2]

Are we replaying Israel's old covenant revivals and reformations? Sober reflection forces an answer: as a body we are as lukewarm now as we were over a century ago. When "we" "in a great degree" and "in a great measure" rejected that "most precious" new covenant truth that came in the 1888 era, "we" locked ourselves into "many more years" of an old covenant detour as surely as did Israel at Sinai. [3]

The faith-experience of the new covenant was the main focus of leadership opposition to the 1888 message. While they opposed the "messengers," A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, they actually preferred the essential elements of the old covenant. Ellen White was shown in vision that these revered leaders were wasting their time trying to urge a view different from Waggoner's, for she was "shown" that he was right. [4]

Old covenant ideas have continued to predominate in our experience. Our revivals and reformations have followed the pattern of those of Israel. Not yet have we as a church body truly recovered the new covenant which "we" largely rejected a century ago.

In the great final Day of Atonement, all the failures of ancient Judah and Israel must and will at last be rectified in a repentance of the ages. Jesus says, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:19).

Is there a special reason why our Lord calls the "remnant church" to repent? It is easy to assume that only false or apostate churches need to repent. The more convinced we are that a certain denomination represents the true "remnant church" of Bible prophecy, the more perplexed we are to understand how she seriously needs an experience of repentance. But her only hope lies in that possibility.

The bedrock sin of all mankind is hatred and rejection of Christ, manifested in His crucifixion. Repentance for this sin is where the miracle of the atonement takes place. Our 1888 history illustrates this truth, and the inspired messenger of the Lord was quick to discern its significance. The 1888 Conference was a miniature Calvary. It afforded a public demonstration of the same spirit of unbelief and hatred of God's righteousness that inspired the Jews to murder the Son of God.

Ellen White explains why we need to repent, and how we relate to God's "ancient people":

"If with all the light that shone upon His ancient people, delineated before us, we travel over the same ground, cherish the same spirit, refuse to receive reproof and warning, then our guilt will be greatly augmented, and the condemnation that fell upon them will fall upon us, only it will be as much greater as our light is greater in this age than was their light in their age." [5]

"All the universe of heaven witnessed the disgraceful treatment of Jesus Christ, represented by the Holy Spirit [at the 1888 Minneapolis Session]. Had Christ been before them, they [the leaders] would have treated Him in a manner similar to that in which the Jews treated Christ." [6]

Men professing godliness have despised Christ in the persons of His messengers [E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones]. Like the Jews, they reject God's message." [7]

She believed to the end that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the true "remnant church" of Bible prophecy, entrusted with the proclamation to the world of God's last gospel message of mercy; and that repentance and humbling of heart before God is the only appropriate response that "we" can make that will enable Heaven to pour out the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the accomplishment of the task.

Our denominational history is in fact one continual call to repentance.

The repentance Christ calls for is beginning to be realized. When one member in a congregation falls into sin, a little reflection can convince many members that they share in his or her guilt. Had we been more alert, more kindhearted, more ready to speak "a word in season to him who is weary," more effective in communicating the pure, powerful truth of the gospel, we might have saved the erring member from falling. Therefore, it is encouraging to believe that within the generation a large sense of loving concern can be realized on a worldwide scale. With "the mind of Christ," a bond of sympathy and fellowship is established "in Him." This miracle will follow the laws of grace.

Such an experience will transform the church into a dynamo of love. It is God's plan that no church will have seating capacity for the converted sinners who will want to stream into it. Corporate and denominational repentance is the whole church experiencing Christ-like love and empathy for all for whom He died.

"The time has come for a thorough reformation to take place. When this reformation begins, the spirit of prayer will actuate every believer, and will banish from the church the spirit of discord and strife. ... All will be in harmony with the mind of the Spirit." [8]

--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland

[1] The Hebrew word often translated "obey" means "listen" (shamea). The word translated "keep" in this text is shamar, which in Genesis 2:15 means to "cherish," to treasure, to prize highly, but not explicitly "obey."
[2] See, for example, Uriah Smith's and G. I. Butler's letters to Ellen G. White of Feb. 17, 1890, Sept. 24, 1892 (Manuscripts and Memories of Minneapolis 1888, pp. 152-157, 206-212). The Lord not only sent "prophets" to Israel, but "messengers" also (2 Chron. 36:16).
[3] See E. G. White Letter 184, 1901; Evangelism, p. 696.
[4] See E. G. White Letters 30, 59, 1890.
[5] E. G. White, Review and Herald, April 11, 1893.
[6] E. G. White, Special Testimonies, Series A, No. 6, p. 20.
[7] E. G. White, Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 472.
[8] E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, p. 251.