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

The Rise of the Seventh-day Adventist Church

The roots of the Seventh-day Adventist Church are in the Millerite movement which arose during the Second Great Awakening. The main distinguishing characteristic of this group was their calculation of the coming of Christ based upon the prophecies of Daniel. They were at first accepted in the mainstream churches as reformers but were later ostracized for setting a specific date for the coming of Christ.

After the disappointment at the passing of October 22, 1844, the shut-door Millerites, one of the groups that survived, restudied their calculations and discovered that what was to happen in 1844 was not the cleansing of the earth by the coming of Jesus. Instead, there was to be a change in Christ's mediatorial work in heaven. This change consisted of the final work to be done in the redemption of man and the final judgment of the earth. This conclusion was to build a base by which the covenants could be better understood. The reason for this is simple. The other churches had generally disregarded the Covenant of Grace, leaving the subject of the covenants primarily in the areas of church organization and membership. The doctrine of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary opened the door for an intimate view of the closing events that would completely restore the covenant relationship of Eden before the entrance of sin. This understanding was not apparent to the shut-door Millerites at first; another subject took precedence, the law. The evidence shows that the Millerites, who became the Seventh-day Adventists, arrived at the decision to keep the seventh-day Sabbath by an understanding of the heavenly sanctuary and the Sabbath as an everlasting covenant given to Godís people.29 They also believed that the health reform that had been previously espoused during the time of Great Awakening was to be followed since it affected one's spiritual and moral life.30 When the goal of obedience to the whole law of God and the affects of one's daily health habits were established, many Adventist sought to convert the world to these insights. This generally took the form of defensive debates with those who did not see the Sabbath issue. The Seventh-day Adventist church was in danger of neutralizing their spiritual gains by becoming legalistic in their approach to the gospel. Ellen White was to call the preaching of some during this time, "as dry as the hills of Gilboa."31

A.T. Jones was to say in retrospect of this period,

Twenty years ago God sent the Seventh-day Adventist denomination a message of the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ to deliver them from any appearance of liability to the charge of legalism Ö At Minneapolis, in 1888, the General Conference 'administration' did its very best to have the denomination committed by a vote of the General Conference to the covenant of 'Obey and live,' to righteous-ness by works. The attempt failed then; but from that day till this, that spirit and that element have never ceased that endeavor; though when they found that they could not accomplish it just then, they apparently and professedly accepted righteousness by faith. But they never did accept it in the truth that it is. They never did accept it as life and righteousness from God; but only as 'a doctrine' to be put in a list or strung as a 'subject' with other 'doctrinal subjects.'32

Jones here has connected the problem of legalism in the church with the message of 1888, a message that both he and E.J. Waggoner presented. Their message was to deliver the church from the charge of legalism. Furthermore, Jones has identified the problem of legalism with the old covenant as well as stating that the message of Minneapolis was the answer to avoiding the old covenant experience. This is important to note for these connections have not been always seen in this light. Without the unique understanding of the covenants, the presentation of Christ's righteousness as given by Waggoner and Jones becomes a theoretical concept that fails to capture the heart of man and draw him back to the relationship that God wants. Thus when one approaches the writings of these men, the covenant concept must be always in the forefront in interpreting their views of righteousness by faith.

The Law in Galatians Controversy

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Waggoner's View of the Covenants