Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Lesson 2: Abraham: The First Missionary
Last week's "Sabbath School Today" concluded with the statement: After sin had caused man to run away from God, He called a man who was willing to listen to His voice, Abraham: "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing" (Gen. 12:1, 2). ... The purpose of this special call was to make Abraham and his "nation" to be a blessing to the whole world: "And in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed" (vs. 3).
Because our Sabbath School lesson gives an interesting account of the progression of Abraham's life and calling, we will not revisit that ground. Our focus will be on God's promises to Abraham, and how an understanding of the two covenants became one of the most important aspects of the 1888 message.
What impresses many people with the beauty of the message is its unique view of the New Covenant, it's "most precious Good News." Simply stated, the 1888 message view is this: (1) the New Covenant is the promises of God; (2) the Old Covenant is the promises of the people.
Inherited from centuries of controversy, the general Christian view of the two covenants was that they are two "dispensations." It was assumed that God had invented the Old Covenant to be in force until the time of Christ, when a new "dispensation" would begin as the first manifestation of the New Covenant.
At the time of the 1888 General Conference Session, it was difficult to find any two of our ministerial leaders who could agree on the details. Into this situation stepped the "special messengers" (A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner) whom the Lord had "sent." They declared that the "dispensational" idea is not taught in the Bible. The two covenants are not matters of time, or dispensation: they run side by side all through history since the fall of man at the Garden of Eden. They are matters of heart-conviction. It was possible for people living in Old Testament times to be living under the New Covenant if they had true faith in Christ; it is possible for us living today to be under the Old Covenant if we don't understand the Good News of the gospel. 
Ellen White's testimony is vital, but she has always wanted us to rely primarily on Bible evidence on this important subject. Waggoner and Jones had been enabled by the Holy Spirit to break through the fog that had enclosed this subject for many centuries. The Bible became clear to them once they grasped the import of the theme of the great controversy between Christ and Satan and saw justification by faith in this light. In a vision given her in 1890 she was shown, "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." 
The original New Covenant promise was what God promised in Genesis 3:15--a Saviour who would bruise the head of our enemy, Satan. God made no mention that Adam and Eve were to promise anything in return.
The Apostle Paul cites God's promises to Abraham as the clearest statement of the New Covenant (Gal. 3:8-18). There are seven wonderful promises in Genesis 12:2, 3, all for Abraham and his descendants by faith: (1) "I will make of thee a great nation; (2) and I will bless thee, (3) and I will make thy name great; (4) and thou shalt be a blessing; (5) and I will bless them that bless thee, (6) and curse him that curseth thee; (7) and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
Later (Gen. 13:14-17; 15:5) God promised to give Abraham not only the land of Canaan, but the whole earth for his "everlasting possession," which Waggoner wryly remarked must include also everlasting life or he couldn't enjoy it and that meant also it must include the righteousness by faith necessary to inherit it.  In other words, in Waggoner's view (which, as mentioned previously, Ellen White endorsed by vision), the New Covenant was the essence of the "everlasting gospel," the righteousness by faith which is the "third angel's message."
Waggoner and Jones were impressed that when the Lord made those seven promises (and others) to Abraham, He did not ask Abraham to make the same kind of promises in return. Instead, He asked Abraham to believe that His word would come to pass. They insisted that when the Lord "makes a covenant," it's a one-sided promise on His part.
"That is all we can do--receive. God promises us everything that we need, and more than we can ask or think, as a gift. We give Him ourselves, that is nothing. And He gives us Himself, that is, everything. That which makes all the trouble [here he refers to the opposition he has been receiving from the brethren] is that even when men are willing to recognize the Lord at all, they want to make bargains with Him. They want it to be an equal, 'mutual' affair--a transaction in which they can consider themselves on a par with God." 
"The gospel was as full and complete in the days of Abraham as it has ever been or ever will be. No addition to it or change in its provisions or conditions could possibly be made after God's oath to Abraham. Nothing can be taken away from it as it thus existed, and not one thing can ever be required from any man more than what was required of Abraham." 
Abraham's response to God's promises was the simple Hebrew word AMEN, which implies a heart-felt appreciation, a heart-agreement with God, a heart-commitment to Him just as when we say "amen" to something we heartily agree with. That's what God wants from us, for He knows that it will also produce all the obedience the law requires.
The New Covenant was the central pillar in the "most precious message" of 1888, and is the best mission-focused Good News that could be given to the world. May its truth be resurrected in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland
 Waggoner's clearest presentations of this subject are found in his two books, The Glad Tidings, and The Everlasting Covenant (a series of Present Truth articles published in the 1890s). Both can be found on 1888mpm.org in the Book section.
 The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, letter 30, 1890, pp. 622-626; see also letter 59, 1890, pp. 599-605. For easy reference, both letters are posted on 1888mpm.org.
 Ellet J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 72.
 Ibid., p. 71.
 Ibid., p. 73.
Note: "Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: 1888mpm.org. Due to travel, there is no video this week of Pastor Paul Penno's Sabbath School class.