The Gospel Herald -- Promoting the fundamentals of the 1888 message.

 

BIBLE STUDY SEVEN

The Powerful Message of the Two Covenants

A. INTRODUCTION

One of the most important of the 1888 message essentials was Jonesí and Waggonerís view of the two covenants. It has within it an effective evangelism appeal that God intended should characterize the Revelation 18 loud cry of "the everlasting gospel." Unfortunately within 20 years of the Minneapolis Conference, the opposersí view prevailed in the denomination, with the result that to this day confusion and spiritual apathy continue. Children and youth in Sabbath School and the Pathfinders Club are especially affected by a "gospel" that embodies old covenant motifs. In 1890 Ellen White was shown in vision that Waggonerís view was correct and that the brethren were wasting their time trying to oppose it. 1 A world church cannot understand the truth of the new covenant and also remain lukewarm.


B. THE BIBLE EVIDENCE

Exodus 19:4-8. The old covenant was initiated by the people at Mt. Sinai, established on their promise to obey Godís commandments. 2

Hebrews 8:6, 7. The new covenant is established on "better promises," that is, Godís.

Exodus 32:7, 8. The people could not keep their promise to obey. Even today, they cannot.

Galatians 4:24. The old covenant is not merely a minor mistake: it produces slavery to spiritual discouragement, and thus to failures. 3

Exodus 19:5. The Hebrew word translated "obey My voice" means "listen to My voice" (shamea), and the Hebrew word translated "keep My covenant" means "cherish My covenant" (shamar). 4 While human covenants are indeed "mutual agreements" or contracts, Godís covenant is always a one-sided promise on His part, for He knows we cannot keep our promises. "Cherish My covenant" therefore meant "cherish My promise to Abraham." 5

Galatians 3:17; Romans 4:13. Godís "covenant" is His unilateral "promise." 6

2 Chronicles 36:14-17. The tragic failures of old covenant theology led to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, and the captivity of Judah. 7

Genesis 12:1-3; Hebrews 13:20, 21. The new covenant was Godís seven-fold promise to Abraham and to his descendants "in Isaac."

Genesis 13:14-17; 15:4, 5. The promises were repealed and amplified. Never did God ask Abraham to promise anything in return.

Genesis 15:8-18. With a solemn bloody oath God pledged His existence and His throne on His fulfillment of those promises. 8

Hebrews 9:1. The Levitical sanctuary services were old covenant in nature.

Jeremiah 7:22; Amos 5:21-26. God "hated" the sacrifices offered in an old covenant spirit.

Exodus 25:8. As a consequence of the peopleís old covenant promise at Sinai, the Lord had to "dwell among them," rather than where He wanted to "dwell," that is, in their hearts, as with their "father" Abraham.

2 Kings 18:4. Due to old covenant encouragement to idolatry, Hezekiah had to destroy Mosesí bronze serpent. 9

Revelation 3:16, 17. A basic problem in the remnant church is old covenant spiritual pride and idolatry, and arrogance. 10

Isaiah 50:4, 5; Luke 19:10. The old covenant idea of "righteousness by faith" majors in our initiating and maintaining a "relationship" with Jesus; the new covenant demonstrates that He is initiating and maintaining a relationship with us, which will succeed if we do not resist Him by hard-hearted unbelief. 11

2 Corinthians 5:14, 15. The faith that "justified" Abraham was his believing Godís new covenant promises. Thus the faith that works in "righteousness by faith" is a heart appreciation of Godís new covenant promise to the individual believer today: the promise of the new earth as an "everlasting possession" requires Him to make the believer righteous, for in "the new heavens and new earth dwelleth [only] righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13).

Isaiah 41:10, 13. Salvation does not depend on us holding on to Godís hand; but upon our believing that He is holding on to our hand. The former is old covenant in nature; the latter is new.

Hebrews 8:6-8. The cleansing of the sanctuary, the latter rain, the loud cry, the finishing of the gospel commission, embody the ultimate fulfillment of Godís new covenant promises.

Hebrews 8:10. When "the house of David [and] the inhabitants of Jerusalem" in Laodicea understand their corporate involvement in the crucifixion of Christ, Godís law will be written in their hearts and minds (see Zechariah 12:10; 13:1).


C. SUMMARY

Old covenant "righteousness by faith" has us taking the initiative to promise God to be faithful and keep our promises. It is essentially the "faith-plus-works" brand of the gospel. The new covenant has God more actively involved in our salvation, initiating the entire process ("from first to last this has been the work of God," 2 Corinthian 5:18, NEB), so that the only reason one can be lost is his own personal unbelief and resistance and rejection. Old covenant Adventists fear the new covenant message lest it lower standards of Law-obedience, unmindful that only "agape is the fulfilling of the Law," and that all egocentric motivation produces either lukewarmness or eventual falling-away (Romans 13:10; only "agape never faileth," 1 Corinthians 13:8).


D. CONCLUSION

The truth of the two covenants is part of the "latter rain" message that would have prepared the church to proclaim the loud cry message to lighten the earth with glory. It is impossible for the "grain" in the "harvest" to "ripen" if this greater Good News concept is absent. The Seventh-day Adventist Church desperately needs a clear revival and proclamation of this truth as the Lord in His great mercy sent it through Jones and Waggoner. Do not fear that the "most precious" Good News will weaken the devotion of our youth; nothing else will produce a lasting commitment on their part. Only then can they sense the motivation to take up the cross to follow Christ "whithersoever He goeth" ó which means more than a brief missionary trip to Mexico or Honduras, etc.

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Notes

  1. "Clear and convincing," "plain light," "the truth," "brought great relief" (Letters 59, 82, 30, 1890). [return to study]
  2. A mistaken view of Deuteronomy 5:2, 3, 28 gives rise to the view that God Himself initiated the old covenant, which would mean logically that He led Israel into spiritual "bondage." The account in Exodus 19:4-8 shows God as seeking to restore the new covenant with Israel. The only sense in which Moses said that "the Lord our God made ... this covenant ... with us" is that He was forced to ratify the covenant that the Israelites had mistakenly initiated. If they would not keep step with Him, He must humble Himself to keep step with them. Paul was probably the first to clearly understand what happened: "the law" had to become "our schoolmaster [pedagogue] bringing us" on a long detour of centuries until finally we should see the outworking of the old covenant "that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:22-24). Godís statement that Israel "have well spoken all that they have spoken" can only be understood in the context of the next verse: their "heart" was not in their words and could not be, so long as they did not believe Godís new covenant promise. "That was a great speech! I just wish they had a heart ..." (Deuteronomy 5:28, 29). [return to study]
  3. Steps to Christ, p. 47, says that "the knowledge of our broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens our confidence in our own sincerity and causes us to feel that God cannot accept us." This sense of spiritual failure "genders to bondage," and is as poison to children and youth. The argument that we must lead children through the old covenant first is fallacious, because many never get out of it. They must be taught the new covenant from the first. [return to study]
  4. The Hebrew verb shamar is used in Genesis 2:15 to indicate Adamís care or cherishing of the Garden of Eden. Thus what the Lord said to Israel was: "If you will listen to My voice, and cherish My promise [made to your father Abraham], you will be a special treasure, etc." [return to study]
  5. See Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, chapters 3, 4. Jones was in full agreement throughout (see his The Everlasting Gospel of Godís Everlasting Covenant, July 20, 1907). [return to study]
  6. Godís requirement of obedience must not be construed as a contract with Israel, else we have God again leading Israel into bondage. In the new covenant that God made with Abraham the only response He wanted was for Abraham to "believe in the Lord" (Genesis 15:6). The essence of "the everlasting gospel" of the plan of salvation is Godís "faith" or confidence: when we learn to believe, such "faith works by love" and produces total obedience. The old and new covenants ore not dispensational, that is, matters of time. They are present realities. Many today live under the old covenant; some anciently lived under the new (as Abraham). [return to study]
  7. The revivals and reformations led by kings of Judah such as Hezekiah and Josiah were short-lived because they were old covenant in nature. [return to study]
  8. There is no Bible record that God asked Abraham to "pass between" the divided "pieces" of the animals, and thus bind himself to this terribly awesome oath that he (Abraham) would be torn to pieces if he should fail to obey perfectly. In fact, he did fail; but God did not cut him in pieces! [return to study]
  9. See Exodus 32:1-7. The old covenant promise to obey the ten commandments functioned as "working wrath" (Romans 4:15) that led the people to make the golden calf. They were angry with God and with Moses. Due to the pervasive teaching of the old covenant in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, we now see that same "wrath" operating in rebellions of youth and even of Adventist ministers such as Dale Ratzlaff and Richard Fredericks. [return to study]
  10. Our denominational spiritual pride ("rich and increased with goods") is old covenant in nature. Dale Ratzlaffís and Richard Frederickís core idea is based on a false view of the two covenants. It is sobering to realize that Ratzlaff claims to have gone through the entire Seventh-day Adventist educational system from elementary school to Theological Seminary at Andrews University, yet the evidence indicates that he was never exposed to the 1888 view of the covenants and of its history. [return to study]
  11. Again, the 1888 concepts emphasize the much more abounding nature of grace. [return to study]

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