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