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

Taking this position, the analysis of the two pamphlets become very interesting. Butler never had a complete grasp of the gospel despite his frequent statements that he firmly believed in righteousness by faith.43 Butler never did ever specifically explain how man is to keep the law of God or how He will write the law within the hearts of man. The old covenant was a compact that God made with the Israelites where He would bless them if they would abide by the rituals and ceremonies given at Mt. Sinai. This condition would make this covenant in simple terms, "obey and live, disobey die." This is a legalistic arrangement, an arrangement that, if not contrasted with the true gospel, will suggest that salvation is really legalistic procedure. This Butler never attempted such a contrast. He correctly believed that the law was to be kept but he could not present the gospel as a means for God to work out His will in the lives of men. His interest was not the gospel only the law, especially the Sabbath, and man's obedience to that law.

Butler did give some evidence of his position on the covenants when he stated that it was God's purpose to separate the Israelites from the other nations by giving them the ceremonial law. This arrangement was to establish them as God's special people.44 The interesting point here is that Butler believed that God's people were "elected" in the sense of the Reformed tradition. They were special because God decided to make them His people. Furthermore, his argument in regards to the law in Galatians led him to suggest that salvation was only figurative in the Old Testament. It was as if there were two different plans of salvation, one in the old and one in the new.45 This seriously affected his understanding of the relationship of law and the gospel by suggesting different methods for different dispensations.

Waggoner was convinced that the law in Galatians was the moral law. The function of the moral law was that of pointing out sin by revealing the standard of righteousness.

The reason for the giving of the moral law at Sinai was because the people were not clear in their hearts that they were sinners.46 The ceremonial law was the means by which a believer exhibited or exercised his faith. This was is in direct contrast to Butler's view on the need for the ceremonial law. By following the rituals and ceremonies, he saw in the symbols the real truth that by faith his sins were truly forgiven. Justification by faith had not been revealed only at the coming of Christ; it had always been understood by any sincere Jew. The whole of Waggoner's presentation emphasizes strongly that law, any law, did not make a person righteous. What makes men righteous is the condition of man's heart response of faith which is brought about by the Holy Spirit.47

At this point, the counsel of Ellen White in this matter of the law in Galatians is very important. She did not really get involved with this debate until, 1888 in Minneapolis. There, she heard Waggoner for the first time and was enthralled. Soon after that time she began to make statements to the effect that the law in Galatians was not the issue; in fact, it had never been. The true issue was that of righteousness by faith.48 Uriah Smith, a close friend and supporter of Butler, disagreed. He believed that the subject was the law and that Waggoner was undermining the truth.49 Then Ellen White began to question the spirit that Butler and his supporters were exhibiting. She called it an unchristlike spirit, one that resembled the spirit of the pharisees of the New Testament. She questioned any position that needed such a negative spirit to sustain it.50

She saw the theological issues in the debate and encouraged all to study and come to a unified position from prayer and Bible study. She also revealed that the struggle was for the heart of man. Correct theology would produce spiritual fruit.51 This viewpoint became increasingly more vital as the conflict progressed because it was the only way that the real issues could be discerned.

Waggoner set the groundwork for the covenant concept

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Waggoner's View of the Covenants