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


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

The National Reform Movement

During this period of religious revival many people believe Whitby's postmillennium theory that the world was becoming better and better until Christ would come.21 However, with the coming of the American Civil War, the churches saw that the nation was not "co-operating with God" and sought to bring the country back to God. Instead of relying upon personal conviction or the doctrine of election, this reform tended towards government legislation to prepare the world for Christ's reign.

In 1863, the first National Reform Association convention was held. The principle speaker stated that the Civil War resulted because of America's failure to acknowledge God's authority and declare itself a "Christian nation."22

This movement set out to purify the nation by intitiating a constitutional amendment acknowledging the authority of God.23 Although this amendment was to be defeated, it was the beginning of a drive to coerce the nation to unite "under God."

With the defeat of the amendment, there came a move to restrict work and close businesses on Sunday. Here the reformers were more successful. These "blue laws" were passed by different states which cause considerable persecution of several denominations.24 The opposers say that the real issue was the uniting of church with state which would limit the freedom of others.

The struggle came to a crescendo in 1888 with the alliance of several church reform groups bent upon national Sunday legislation. This alliance was made of various temperance organizations as well as missionary societies of the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, the Reformed church and others.25 When this coalition introduced it bill, most of the religious community appeared to be in favor of such actions. This bill, the Blair Bill, failed to pass in Congress by a single vote. It was followed by the Breckenridge bill of 1890, which would have prevented any work to be done on Sunday in the District of Columbia.

Finally, there was a bill that did pass in 1892 that required that "no exposition or exhibition for which appropriation is made by Congress shall be opened on Sunday.26

In taking these steps, the popular churches revealed their relationship to the concepts of the law and the gospel. Instead of preaching the gospel and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work through personal conviction, they were trying to legislate it. By doing so, they exhibited a spirit quite contrary to the Bible. The situation is made clear in the words of Mario Cuomo, the present governor of New York State. During the 1984 elections, the issue of abortion was transformed into an important debate. Cuomo was upset that the Catholic church was attacking a woman candidate's spiritual commitment, because she refused to encourage legislation of her church's line on abortion. His response to this was, "Are we asking government to make criminal what we believe is sinful because we ourselves can't stop committing the sin?"27 This action would suggest that if a church seeks outside help to make people good, the reason might well be due to the lack of spiritual depth inside. It would also reveal the church's understanding of law and grace, law and the gospel, and covenantal living. It is interesting to note that the opponents of this movement recognized that the leaders of this National Reform Association were all Reformed Presbyterians and the theological base was deeply involved with the covenant concepts of the Reformed tradition.28

The Rise of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

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Waggoner's View of the Covenants