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The Doctrine of the Everlasting Covenant in the
Writings of Ellet J. Waggoner

The Covenant Controversy of 1890

Waggoner was asked in 1889 to rewrite some Sabbath school lessons on the book of Hebrews because the originals, which had been written by his father, had been lost and the elder was unable to rewrite them himself. The younger had re-written five or six of the lessons because he could not agree with some of the ideas concerning the covenants. He was given the freedom to write his own views and the lessons were hastily sent to the different committee members for criticism. Unfortunately, Uriah Smith's name had been accidentally left off that list of review members. To atone for the mistake, C. H. Jones, the manager of the Pacific Press, sent a set of the lessons to Smith with all the additions. But Smith, seeing the name of J.H. Waggoner on the front, passed them on since he agreed with him theologically on the subject. Jones had sent a note explaining the mix-up and the changes that the son had made, but Smith did not notice the attached explanation and sent them on for publication for the first quarter of the year 1890.59 This oversight was to cause Smith a great deal of trouble.

At the same time this was taking place with the Sabbath school lessons, Waggoner was teaching at the ministerial school in Battle Creek. He had begun a verse by verse study of the prophecies found in the book of Isaiah with the emphasis upon the nature and work of Christ.60 However, at the beginning of the year, 1890, he abruptly changed his topic to the covenants. This was done without consulting either Uriah Smith or Dan Jones, the secretary of the General Conference and the board member in charge of the school. Dan Jones suggested that the subject be left out of the school, due to its sensitive nature. He went to Sister White and she felt that it should be studied but should be investigated more thoroughly before taking it into the school. There was a meeting the night before Waggoner was to begin his study. It was unfruitful. The next morning Waggoner turned in his resignation to teach that particular class period forcing Dan Jones to cover the class. Finally U. Smith took over.61

By this time the Sabbath school lessons that Waggoner had edited concerning the book of Hebrews were being studied by the whole church. Dan Jones had noticed the situation when the lessons first appeared. Smith, however, "saw them for the first time" and claimed a dirty trick had been played. He wrote a disclaimer in the Review saying that "none need feel bound to accept any doctrine simply because it appears in the S. S. lessons or Review."62 People had become interested in the subject of the covenants. The ministerial students complained that they were unable to study the subject; yet, the children could study the covenants in the Sabbath school lesson.63 Ellen White wrote Smith after observing his strong efforts to oppose Waggoner's views.

Night before last I was shown that evidences in regard to the covenants were clear and convincing. Yourself, Brother Dan Jones, Brother Porter and others are spending your investigative powers for naught to produce a position on the covenants to vary from the position that Brother Waggoner has presented. Had you received the true light which shineth, you would not have imitated or gone over the same manner of interpretation and misconstruing the Scriptures as did the Jews. What made them so zealous? Why did they hang on the words of Christ? Why did spies follow Him to mark his words that they could repeat and misinterpret and twist in a way to mean that which their own unsanctified minds would make them to mean. In this way, they deceived the people. They made false issues. They handled those things that they could make a means of clouding and misleading minds.

The covenant question is a clear question and would be received by every candid, unprejudiced mind, but I was brought where the Lord gave me an insight into this matter. You have turned from plain light because you were afraid that the law question in Galatians would have to be accepted. As to the law in Galatians, I have no burden and never have.64

It is evident that Ellen White saw more
in this situation than did most of the people.

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Waggoner's View of the Covenants