Calvary At Sinai

Paul Penno, Jr.

Chapter 5

Waggoner on Galatians (continued)

Waggoner was fully conscious of the controversial position he was taking on the law in Galatians 3. He observed: “Since some . . . have supposed that the third of Galatians refers principally to the ceremonial law, it may not be amiss to show briefly why it is impossible that the ceremonial law should be the subject of discourse in that chapter.”8

First, the ordinances never condemned anyone. They taught the gospel in the “Jewish age.” Second, neither we today nor the Gentile Galatians could be said to have been redeemed from the ceremonial law. But we Gentiles are under the condemnation of the moral law and locked up by it. It revealed all mankind to be sinners.9

The apostle Paul explained the relationship between the law and the promise: “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect” (Galatians 3:17). 
Waggoner pointed out that the law “was the basis” or “foundation of the promise” or “one of the terms of the covenant.” On this point he was in agreement with other Adventist writers. A little further on he said:  “As the commandments were the condition of the Abrahamic covenant, so they are of what is known as ‘the second covenant,’ which is in every respect the same as that made with Abraham. See Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10.”10

From these comments we can see that Waggoner did not understand the new covenant as beginning with the first advent of Christ. The new covenant was ratified by the blood of Christ. But “the covenant was confirmed in Christ to Abraham . . . in anticipation.”

“The commandments were the condition of the Abrahamic covenant. . . . Christ taught . . . obedience to the law. . . . Matthew 5:17-19; 19:17; Luke 16:17.”11

Waggoner’s further exposition dealt with Galatians 3:15: “. . . Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.” Waggoner explained: “It is admitted, even by antinomians, that the law of God was in full force until the death of Christ, and therefore Gal. 3:15 should convince them that it is in full force now.”12 So Waggoner was not a covenant dispensationalist and not an antinomian, though he agreed along with the antinomians that the law in Galatians 3 was the Ten Commandments. The antinomians attempted to do away with the law because they were covenant dispensationalists.

Where Waggoner really distinguished himself from his Adventist contemporaries was in seeing the covenant made by God with Abraham as “in every respect” the new covenant. The old covenant, on the other hand, was made by Israel’s promise to God as a nation at Sinai. Picking up the phraseology of Galatians 3:17 Waggoner asked:

What covenant was it that “was confirmed before of God in Christ”? . . .

The promise was that Abraham should be “heir of the world” (Rom. 4:11), and that in his seed all nations should be blessed. The condition was that he should walk before God and be perfect. Gen. 17:1-8. But this was not such a covenant as was made with the Israelites at Horeb. That one contained no reference to Christ, and no provision for the forgiveness of sins; the one with Abraham was confirmed “in Christ” (Gal. 3:17) and was made not on condition that he should be righteous by his own unaided efforts, but was made on condition of his having the righteousness of faith. Compare Rom. 4:11 with 3:22-25. This of course involved the forgiveness of his sins; and so we see that the covenant with Abraham (which is the one referred to in this chapter) was exactly the same as “the second covenant,” which is made with us. The covenant made at Horeb, and called “the first covenant,” although it was after that made with Abraham, was, as we have before learned, only for the purpose of showing the people the need of the help promised in the Abrahamic or second covenant.13

For Waggoner the condition of the new covenant given to Abraham was the law of God. The condition was fulfilled by Christ who gave “the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:14). There was only one condition for salvation. Waggoner said:  “Faith in Christ is the only condition of salvation.”14
Why then the law? Waggoner contemporized the question. “If we are saved by grace, what need have we of the law?”15 The apostle Paul answered: “It was added because of transgression, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (Galatians 3:19).
George Butler had already gone on record with Ellen White about the “added” law. He had written to Ellen White:

“It would be a most bitter pill to many of our leading brethren to be compelled to see the idea taught generally, that the law which was added because of transgression was the moral law itself.”16

He believed the whole church would be sold over to antinomianism if the ceremonial law interpretation of Galatians 3:19 was surrendered.

The idea of the law being “added” sounded like it just came into existence at Mount Sinai. No law-abiding Seventh-day Adventist would hear of such a thing. They believed the law was co-existent with God. It was no wonder then, that Butler and others viewed the “added” law as the typical remedial system given to Moses.

But Waggoner pointed out that the words “spoken” or “emphasized” were more precise than the King James Version translation “added” (Galatians 3:19). “It was spoken because of transgression.” Waggoner affirmed: “. . . the law was already in existence, and known to man, although only by tradition; but now the Lord added it in written form.”17

8. E. J. Waggoner, “Comments on Galatians 3. No. 9,” ST 12, 34 (September 2, 1886), p. 534. [back]

9. Ibid. [back]

10. E. J. Waggoner, “Comments on Galatians 3. No. 2,” ST 12, 27 (July 15, 1886), p. 423. [back]

11. Ibid. [back]

12. Ibid. [back]

13. Ibid. [back]

14. E. J. Waggoner, “Comments on Galatians 3. No. 3,” ST 12, 28 (July 22, 1886), p. 438. [back]

15. Ibid. [back]

16. G. I. Butler, Letter to Ellen G. White, June 20, 1886, Madison, Wisconsin. [back]

17. loc. cit [back]