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

From its beginning, the Christian church has been in constant turmoil, and sometimes great conflict, in regards to the relationships between the law and the gospel, faith and works, and the goal of the Christian life. This discussion has never really been resolved so that the church could realize the practical application of Biblical counsel to the daily life. Questions such as, "What is the duty of man in response to God's commands?", and, "What is the mission of the church to the world?", have not been answered to the place where the laity can readily relate their spiritual experience to their personal and collective lives. Furthermore, little headway has actually taken place in the theological areas of sanctification and the transformation of the believer's character. For many church members, the call to higher standards of ethical and moral living appears to be theoretically correct, but in actual practice, it becomes a source of frustration and of perpetual failures. In short, the church has not been able to clarify the relationship of the theory of salvation to the experience of the believer.

Attempts have been made to bridge the gap between theory and practice; yet, they have been inadequate because there has not been proper attention to a basic tenet of Christian living, known as the everlasting covenant of God. This doctrine holds the key to the problem because it provides a setting for the gospel that allows God to determine rightly what He expects from man and what man should expect from Him.

Several men have recognized the covenant concept as being the solution to this gap. Peter De Jong described American Protestantism as lacking any "unified and unifying conception of the Christian life" because it has failed to understand the covenants.1 He further states, "Too much of our religious life, also in its practical expression, is at loose end."2 This is due to improper concepts of the Christian life. David Neilands, another Reformed writer, suggests that the church has failed to understand the promises of God or the covenants, as given in the Old Testament; there is a need to establish unity between the Old Testament and the New Testament, because those promises are still applicable today.3

Others have also attempted to deal with the covenant concept by interpreting the covenants as being different periods of time in which God makes specific agreements with specific individuals or groups with varying restrictions and requirements. This view tends to follow the doctrines originally taught by the Anabaptists. These two views, the Reformed and the Anabaptist, have been predominant in today's theological world, but neither has really produced results that fit the description of God's vision for His people. The Reformed position has been greatly influenced by predenstinarian beliefs that frustrate the quality of the covenant relationship. The Anabaptist-based view focuses upon a more narrow application which fails to understand the everlasting covenant as a whole. It also has portrayed God as One who changes His requirements for salvation for different people.

This paper is concerned with a view that is neither predestinarian nor dispensationalistic, although it incorporates selected points of the two above views. This view was primarily presented by a young Seventh-day Adventist in the 1880's, Ellet J. Waggoner, and secondarily by his friend and close colleague, Alonzo T. Jones. Their understanding was excitingly simple, and yet profound. They saw history as an unfolding drama of the everlasting covenant, from Eden before the Fall through the ages to Eden restored. God was portrayed as One who was seeking sinful man to restore the dynamic relationship they once had before sin entered the world. Salvation was understood as God's means of restoring this relationship and delivering man from its counterfeits. God's people were those who responded to God's invitation to enter this relationship regardless of nationality, race, or the like. The law and the gospel were uniquely linked together without encountering the problems of legalism, or espousing cheap grace. This view of the covenant, combined with a special understanding of eschatology due to the doctrine of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, paved the way to prepare a people to witness to the world God's complete power to redeem sinners and make them obedient to His law.

Not only is the view of these two men important of itself, so also are the various steps which led up to their presentation. The Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century brought about movements that should have given great strength and power to the Christian church through the covenant concept. However, the paths which many churches took after the middle of the century reveal serious weaknesses inherent within their beliefs. These weaknesses are still producing damaging consequences today.

The Development of the Covenant Doctrine

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Waggoner's View of the Covenants