Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Proverbs: Words of the Wise
Lesson 8: "Words of Wisdom"
In his book Animal Farm, George Orwell describes the disintegration of his imaginary animal society by saying that "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." We use this common phrase to describe a situation where we are expected to think we are equal, but in actuality are not. It's frustrating, but by tacit agreement, no one is supposed to discuss it.
God is not deceitful like that. He tells us we are all equal but the reason is not flattering. Proverbs 20:9 tells us that all humans are equal because no one can claim "I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin." We are all equally sinners standing at the foot of the cross in need of grace.
Over the centuries, the Christian church has struggled with the clearly biblical teaching that all humanity is equally guilty. If that is true, the problem presents as to who will be saved and that is where things get confusing. Theories were developed to explain how equally guilty people could somehow differentiate themselves before God so He would take them to heaven. Very soon the early Christian church developed an intricate system of confession, penance and indulgences for those who could afford them. The system was not completely reassuring in that it was impossible to verify that one's efforts were sufficient to please God. This situation also perpetuated the system, at least until Martin Luther took his famous stand that mankind is saved by grace alone, apart from works. For a time, it looked as if the church was moving away from error into truth.
However, the problem of who gets to heaven persisted. The idea that grace had been accomplished for everyone was untenable, because it might mean everyone is saved. The bible clearly teaches otherwise.
Initially the problem was resolved when John Calvin developed his interpretation and exposition of scripture found in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). It emphasizes the sovereignty of God in the selection of candidates for salvation and is closely associated with Puritanism which is best summarized by the acronym TULIP:
(1) Total depravity of humanity.
(2) Unconditional election by God of those who will be saved.
(3) Limited atonement in that nothing was done for those who are not the elect.
(4) Irresistible grace, in that once God elects someone, they cannot reject it.
(5) Perseverance of the saints.
Thus, the "elect" are more equal than those among the not part of the elect. The idea is that Christ's death on the cross only included those elected people, and nothing at all was achieved for the others, thus no matter what they do or don't do, they cannot be saved.
The teachings of Jacobus Arminius and his followers were summed up in five points which were designed to counter the prevailing Calvinist orthodoxy of his day. They are:
(1) God from all eternity predestined to eternal life those of whom He foresaw would remain steadfast in faith to their end.
(2) Christ died for all mankind, not only the elect.
(3) Through free will man cooperates in his conversion.
(4) Humans may resist divine grace.
(5) It is possible for humans to fall from divine grace.
A modified form of Arminianism characterized the Methodist revival of the eighteenth century and dominates much Evangelical theology in America today.
The message of the atonement that A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner brought to the Church in 1888 captures what is true in Calvinism and what is true in Arminianism, but rejects what is error in both.
John 3:16 tells us that God took, has taken, and still continues to take, the initiative in man's salvation. In this respect, Calvinism is true. But John 3:18, 19 teaches that those who are lost at last have taken, and continue to take the initiative in their own damnation. In this respect Calvinism is wrong.
Although God is sovereign of the universe, unlike what Calvin taught, the sacrifice of Christ has given liberty of choice to all the inhabitants of the land (Lev. 25:10). In this respect Arminianism is right. However, it also teaches that the sacrifice of Christ does no one any good unless he first believes, accepts, and obeys, thus denying that Christ is actually the Savior of all mankind, only those who do something first.
"'By the righteousness of One the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.' [Rom. 5:18]. There is no exception here. As the condemnation came upon all, so the justification comes upon all. Christ has tasted death for every man. He has given himself for all. Nay, He has given Himself to every man. The free gift has come upon all.The fact that it is a free gift is evidence that there is no exception. If it came upon only those who have some special qualification, then it would not be a free gift. ... There is not the slightest reason why every man that has ever lived should not be saved unto eternal life, except that they would not have it. So many spurn the gift offered so freely" (E. J. Waggoner, Waggoner on Romans, p. 101, emphasis supplied).
"'Do you mean to teach universal salvation?' someone may ask. We mean to teach just what the Word of God teaches--that 'the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men' (Titus 2:11, RV). God has wrought out salvation for every man and has given it to him, but the majority spurn it and throw it away. The judgment will reveal the fact that full salvation was given to every man and that the lost have deliberately thrown away their birthright possession" (Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, Galatians Made Clear, pp. 13, 14).
This wonderful truth remains controversial. Why does it matter as long as the Sacrifice was made? So many people have been kept away from having anything to do with religion because "they could never be good enough for God to accept them." They have heard that before God all are equal, but there is an implicit back message that some are more equal than others. If they knew that God has accomplished salvation for them even before they were born, not because of their merit, but because God is the loving God He is. It lifts all the burdens placed on people in the name of religion.