The Law In Galatians (SOURCE)

It may appear to the reader that the theme is changed in this chapter from the love of Christ to the justice of the law; but you will not find this to be true if you read the whole chapter. It is the purpose of this chapter to establish that all that has been presented thus far is the foundation for a correct understanding of the law in Galatians.

As the students of 1888 and Christ Our Righteousness realize, the law of Galatians 3 was the specific subject around which most of the controversy of that time revolved. Both before and after 1888 it seemed to arouse controversy and severe disagreement.

Let us first review those controversial verses:

Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. Galatians 3:21-25.

For many years Adventists had explained, taught, and preached that the schoolmaster was only the ceremonial law and not the Ten Commandment Law. Now (1888) an Adventist minister was teaching that it was also the Ten Commandment Law. The question then is: Why teach law-keeping and Sabbath observance if we are no longer under the ten commandments? It appeared that Waggoner was destroying the law and any obligation to observe it. However, he was still a faithful Sabbath keeper and observer of the whole law. Why? If we are no longer under the law, why obey it?

Several years later Ellen White agreed with him and supported this interpretation in writing:

I am asked concerning the law in Galatians. What law is the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ? I answer: Both the ceremonial and the moral code of ten commandments.[1]

The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). In this scripture, the Holy Spirit through the apostle is speaking especially of the moral law.[2]

For many decades following the era of 1888, most Adventists taught that the schoolmaster was only the ceremonial law and not the ten commandment law. Somehow, this teaching on the schoolmaster was buried or neglected. In more recent years, several Adventist theologians have taught that the schoolmaster is the ten commandment law and have based their views on these quotations. By now many of our ministers have learned this interpretation.

In this process, it has not been made clear (at least from the knowledge of this writer) why we should observe the law since we are no longer under it. The attempts to explain this are rather strained and vague and not specifically an answer to this question.

Some have quoted the earlier statement of Ellen White that this debate about the schoolmaster and this interpretation were not of that degree of importance. By 1896, she apparently thought it was of the greatest importance.

An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth, lay at the foundation of a large share of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lord’s message through Brethren (E.J.) Waggoner and (A.T.) Jones. By exciting that opposition Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them. The enemy prevented them from obtaining that efficiency which might have been theirs in carrying the truth to the world, as the apostles proclaimed it after the day of Pentecost. The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world.[3]

“This truth” must be that the schoolmaster is the moral law. (See context Selected Messages, Vol. 1 p. 233.) It produced “a large share of the opposition … at Minneapolis against the Lord’s message.” And “that opposition” “shut away” “in a great measure the special power of the Holy Spirit.” That opposition prevented them from obtaining the efficiency in carrying the truth to the world.

These words describe what many Adventists would term “the Latter Rain of the Holy Spirit and the Loud Cry of the Third Angel.” And of course as all students of the 1888 message know, Ellen White did term that message as the beginning of the Loud Cry.

The loud cry of the third angel has already begun in the revelation of the righteousness of Christ, the sin-pardoning Redeemer. This is the beginning of the light of the angel whose glory shall fill the whole earth.[4]

Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, “It is the third angel’s message in verity.”[5]

If one is to believe and accept these statements as truth, then one must conclude that the teaching that the schoolmaster is the ten commandment law is of extreme importance and great urgency. Most important of all we must find the answer to the question: if we are no longer under the ten commandment law, why the need to observe it? This is the primary reason for this book.

Obviously, if the Spirit of Prophecy fulfills the purposes for which prophets wrote, the answer should be found in her writings and the answer has been there for many years.

Strangely, before she agreed in writing with Waggoner, she wrote the answer to the question and problem which his teaching produced. Notice her criticism of the manner in which we had preached the law:

… You will meet with those who will say, “You are too much excited over this matter. You are too much in earnest. You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law.” As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God.[6]

Apparently, something was wrong with the way in which we had been preaching the law. Many have read and quoted this statement for years. Some then assume that we must discontinue the emphasis on the law. It is also assumed that preaching Christ our righteousness should take the place of it and that will fulfill Ellen White’s recommendations.

But she did not express such ideas. While her suggested correction is related to Christ our righteousness, it is quite different from these suggested remedies.

Immediately following the criticism of the manner in which we preach the law is this statement:

We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God.[7]

The remedy for the dryness in preaching the law is to “preach Christ in the law.” Here is the key. It may seem rather vague, and difficult to comprehend what she means. How does one preach Christ in the law? She explains this in other articles found in our periodicals. “The Relation of Christ to the Law Is Not Understood” is the title of her article in the Review and Herald for Feb. 4, 1890. Scattered excerpts from this article state:

We have only glimmering light in regard to the exceeding breadth of the law of God. The law spoken from Sinai is a transcript of God’s character. Many who claim to be teachers of the truth have no conception of what they are handling when they are presenting the law to the people, because they have not studied it; they have not put their mental powers to the task of understanding its significance … they do not understand the relation of Christ to the law and cannot present it in such a way as to unfold the plan of salvation to their hearers.

Christ’s relation to the law is but faintly understood. … We should understand the relation of Christ to the moral law. … We should dwell on the law and the gospel, showing the relation of Christ to the great standard of righteousness.

In May she wrote:

There should be deep searching of the Scriptures that the ministers of God may declare the whole counsel of God. The relation of Christ to the law is but faintly comprehended. Some preach the law, and feel that their brethren are not doing their whole duty if they do not present the subject in the very same way in which they do. These brethren shrink from the presentation of justification by faith, but just as soon as Christ is discovered in his true position in relation to the law, the misconception that has existed on this important matter will be removed. The law and the gospel are so blended that the truth cannot be presented as it is in Jesus, without blending these subjects in perfect agreement. The law is the gospel of Christ veiled; the gospel of Jesus is nothing more or less than the law defined, showing its far reaching principles.[8]

In the Review and Herald for November 18, 1890 she wrote:

The law of God is the only genuine standard for the measurement of character. Christ displayed to the world by his life and teaching, by his divine character; what obedience to the law means.

When one recognizes that Mrs. White understood the law to be a transcript of God’s character, then we find other articles in 1890 which speak of Christ in the law such as “Christ Revealed the Father,” Signs of the Times, 1/7/1890; “God Manifest in Christ,” Signs of the Times, 1/20/1890.

Thus in one year at least six articles were calling attention to Christ’s relationship and connection with the moral law. All of this was written within two years after the controversy over the law in Galatians at Minneapolis in 1888. What was she telling us in these articles?

Perhaps the finest explanation of what she meant came in 1895 in the article entitled “Christ The Impersonation of the Law,” Signs of the Times, March 14, 1895:

The Lord Jesus came to our world to represent the character of his Father. He came to live out the law, and his words and character were daily a correct exposition of the law of God.

… Jesus was a living manifestation of what the law was, and he revealed in his personal character its true significance.

The Lord Jesus gave to men a representation of the character of God in his life and example. The law of God is the transcript of the character of God. And in Christ they had its precepts exemplified, and example was far more effective than the precept had been.

… Jesus was a living illustration of the fulfillment of the law, but his fulfilling it did not mean its abolition and annihilation. In fulfilling the law, he carried out every specification of its claims.

… Of Christ it was written, “He will magnify the law, and make it honorable.” How did he do this?–He lived out the law in the sight of the heavenly universe, in the sight of unfallen worlds, and in the sight of sinful men.

Other articles described Jesus and the law in these terms: “He was a living representation of the law of God.”[9] From an article entitled “The Law Revealed in Christ” she writes “He was the embodiment of the law of God.”[10] Again she wrote an article, “The Law Revealed in Christ,” “His character is an expression of the law of God.”[11] “In human nature he lived the law.”[12] “He made a living application of that law.”[13]

She is telling us in all of these descriptions, that Jesus was the living law. He was not a description of the character of God as was the ten commandments on tables of stone, but a demonstration. He is the law personified; walking, breathing, talking in our humanity. While it is the same law as the law written on stone, how different it is when seen in Jesus.

So when the ten commandment law, the schoolmaster, brings me to Christ and faith is come, I am no longer under the moral law on stone, but I am under Christ, Who is the same law with a new dimension which we will see in a later chapter.

When the schoolmaster (the ten commandment law) brings me to Christ and I am no longer under the schoolmaster, Christ, the Living Law says: “Follow Me.” Matthew 4:19. It is impossible to follow Jesus and not keep God’s law, for Jesus declared, “I have kept my Father’s commandments …” John 15:10.

So when Ellen White spoke of putting Christ in the law, she referred to the righteousness or righteous character of Jesus which was His obedience to the law. This is what she had termed “the matchless charms of Christ.” Therefore when we put Christ in the law we put His perfect character in the law and when the moral law brings one to Christ, it brings us to Christ our righteousness, His perfect obedience to the law. When the law is received from this perspective it too is “matchless charms.” When this is discovered and experienced we too will say with David, “I delight in thy law, O how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” Psalm 119:70, 97.



  1. Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 233.
  2. Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 234.
  3. Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 234-235.
  4. Review and Herald, 11/22/1892; also Christ Our Righteousness, by Daniels, p. 62.
  5. Review and Herald, 4/1/1890; also Christ Our Righteousness, by Daniels, p. 64.
  6. Review and Herald, 3/11/1890.
  7. Review and Herald, 3/11/1890.
  8. Review and Herald, 5/27/1890.
  9. Review and Herald, 1/7/1890.
  10. Signs of the Times, 11/15/1899.
  11. Signs of the Times, 7/3/ 1907.
  12. Signs of the Times, 11/29/1899.
  13. Review and Herald, 4/5/1898.

1888 Minneapolis

Chapter 29 “Matchless Charms of Christ” from the book “Tell It to the World” by Mervyn Maxwell


The twenty-seventh  General  Conference session convened from October 17 to November 4, 1888, in the brand-new Seventh-day Adventist church at the corner of Lake and Fourth in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What is still remembered is that “the Lord in His great mercy sent a most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones. … It presented justification through faith in the Surety. It invited the people to receive the righteousness of Christ, which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God.” [5]

Unfortunately, however, this is not quite all that is remembered about  Minneapolis 1888. Ellen White also wrote, “I have been instructed [by God] that the terrible experience at the Minneapolis Conference  is one of the saddest chapters in the history of the believers in present truth.” [6]

The two men who made a most outstanding contribution to this General  Conference were  Alonzo  T.  Jones and Ellet J. Waggoner. Elder A. T. Jones had been born in Ohio in 1850. At twenty he enlisted in the army, where he served for three years, some of the time at a camp near Walla Walla. To make use of his spare hours he studied history, the Bible, and Seventh-day Adventist literature that came his way. After his discharge he was baptized by I.D. Van Horn, married the minister’s sister-in-law, and, in course of time, was called to unite with E. J. Waggoner as coeditor of Signs  of the  Times.  In 1886  he and Waggoner became coeditors as well of American Sentinel, the predecessor of Liberty. Jones was especially interested in church-state relations and in the fulfilment of prophecy.

Elder E. J. Waggoner was born in 1855, took a medical degree from Bellevue Medical College in New  York  (the  same  school  where  Dr.  J.  H. Kellogg earned his degree), and served as a physician at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. After a number of years he left medicine  for the gospel ministry and in 1884 joined the staff of Signs of the Times.

In the meantime, on an overcast day in 1882, at a camp meeting near Healdsburg, California, Elder Waggoner  enjoyed  a  noteworthy  experience.  He was seated at the edge of the congregation. “Suddenly,” he wrote later, “a light shone around me, and the tent was, for me, far more brilliantly lighted than if the noon-day sun had been shining, and I saw Christ hanging on the cross, crucified for me. In that moment I had my first positive knowledge,  which  came  like  an  overwhelming flood, that God loved me, and that Christ died for me.” [7] This wonderful assurance was to have an effect, of course, on all his future career.

Waggoner  and  Jones  were  different  men  in rather   conspicuous   ways.   Jones   was   tall   and angular, Waggoner, short and slight. Both became highly  effective  speakers.  The  two  also  became such close friends that they thought alike. On one occasion, when they were scheduled to preach in the same church on two successive Sabbaths, they were  surprised  later  to  learn  that  they  had  both preached the same sermon. [8]

In a moment we shall look at the message they presented at Minneapolis; first, however, let us ask why  it  was  not  accepted  by  the  delegates  as  it should have been.

For one thing it was, as we indicated in beginning, a new emphasis on Christ, or at least a renewed one. And it wasn’t altogether clear to everyone  that  the  message  was  indeed  the  truth about Jesus. Waggoner’s sermons (he was the principal speaker in this area) were formulated as an  interpretation  of  the  “law”  in  the  books  of Romans and Galatians. His object was to show that men are saved by the righteousness of Christ, not by obedience to the law. With this basic concept everyone agreed.

But in developing his theme, Waggoner interpreted some verses as referring to the moral law which many Adventists had supposed referred to  the  ceremonial  lawGalatians  3:24, 25,  for example, refers to a “schoolmaster”   law   that brought us to Christ but whichwe are no longer under”   now   that   faith   has   come.

For years Adventist evangelists had interpreted this as the ceremonial law, but now Waggoner said it was the moral law, the Ten Commandments.

It is perhaps understandable  that some in the audience, not knowing at first what he had in mind, suspected Waggoner of undermining the Sabbath. But this scarcely excuses their hostility. “Many had lost sight of Jesus,” Ellen White wrote later. “For years the church has been looking to man … but not looking to Jesus.” [9] Waggoner, however, in connection with what he said about the law had a great deal to say about Jesus. Many in the audience felt he said too much about Him. The world did need  to  hear  about  Christ,  they  conceded,  but present truth was the fourth commandment, and if we  don’t  emphasize  that,  they  said,  people  will think they can go to heaven without it. So Waggoner’s emphasis on Jesus (in relation to  the  law)  was  unfamiliar,  arousing  suspicion.

Something else, however, was all too familiar, and it aroused quarrels. This was a debating spirit. Theological debates are rare today, but a century ago they were popular. The position of Adventist evangelists on the Sabbath and the state of the dead was so soundly biblical that they could beat almost anyone;  and debates  stirred  interest in  a community, drawing out crowds and leading to baptisms.

But they also nourished an instinct for combat. At the 1888 General Conference some of the delegates, instead of discussing Dr. Waggoner’s sermons   with   him  quietly,   challenged   him  to debate. Both he and Jones refused. They had not come to debate, they said, but to study the Bible and to talk about Jesus. A minister,  nonetheless, was  appointed  to  take  a  service  and  to  preach against their position.

At the following service Waggoner and Jones “replied” in a manner that many delegates remembered ever after. They did not argue. Instead Waggoner stepped into the pulpit, opened the Bible, and read an extensive passage that revealed the truth and soundness of his emphasis on Jesus. The brethren assumed that he was reading the text for his sermon and waited impatiently for him to get through. But when he finished the passage he simply sat down without adding a word of his own.  Then  A.  T. Jones got up, read another passage, and sat down. The two of them kept this up alternately until they had read sixteen passages. The meeting was closed with prayer. That was all. The impression was profound.

A third problem at this meeting, in addition to the spirit of debate and the newness of emphasis, was  the  difference  in  age  between  the  two  men from California and the leaders from Battle Creek who  opposed  them.  Whereas  the  General Conference  president  was  fifty-four  and  Uriah Smith was fifty-six, Jones was thirty-eight and Waggoner, only thirty-three.

But we need not make much of this generation gap. Mrs. White, who took her stand firmly beside Waggoner and Jones, was one of the oldest people at the session. She was sixty!

But not everyone at the Minneapolis  General Conference  rejected  the  message.  Not  by  any means. For some it was the beginning of a thrilling new   experience.   One   delegate,   for   instance, returned  to  his  church  in  Wisconsin  so  excited about righteousness  by faith that a farmer in his congregation caught his enthusiasm, sold his farm at once, gave a large donation to the denomination, and was accepted into the ministry. A young pastor who arrived in Minneapolis “full of prejudice” (to use his own words) was totally surprised at the beauty  of  the  presentations,  went  out  into  the woods  near  the  church,  spent  an  afternoon  with God and his Bible, and then and there found Christ as His personal Saviour. Elder S. N. Haskell, the chairman,   Elder   Louis   Johnson,   Elder J. O. Corliss, and others were also greatly blessed. One minister, and possibly others, recognized that their new relationship with Jesus was so different from the old that they actually asked to be rebaptized.

Furthermore,  during  the early 1890s some of the delegates  who had taken  the wrong  stand in 1888   made   heartfelt   confessions.   Elder   Uriah Smith was one of these. Shortly before Ellen White left for Australia in 1891, he not only apologized to her and to others in private, but he also stood in front  of  the  great  Tabernacle   congregation   to confess  the  wrong  he  had  committed  at Minneapolis. That took courage!

And many of the rank and file responded to the new message with hungry eagerness. Elder Waggoner,  Elder  Jones,  and  Mrs.  White  spent much of the year following Minneapolis 1888 conducting revival services in local churches, ministerial  institutes,  and camp meetings.  In that one  year  between  General  Conference  sessions, Ellen White, often in the company of one or both of the two men, visited Battle Creek (seven times), Potterville,  Des  Moines,  South  Lancaster, Brooklyn, Washington, Williamsport (twice), New York (twice), Chicago, Ottawa, Wexford, Kalamazoo, Saginaw, the state of Colorado, Healdsburg, and Oakland.

These were not casual contacts  but  occasions  of  herculean  labor, preaching,  appealing,  counseling,  exhorting, praying, until opposition melted, tears flowed, sins were  confessed,  hands  were  reclasped  in friendship,  and radiant faces attested  victory  and new birth. On a Friday night at the end of a series in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, a testimony service started on its own accord and went on for several  hours.  Ellen  White  commented:  “I  have never seen a revival work go forward with such thoroughness,  and  yet  remain  so  free  from  all undue  excitement.”  [11]  In  July  1889  she  could say,  “In  every  meeting  since  the  General Conference   souls   have   eagerly   accepted   the precious message of the righteousness of Christ.” [12] And a few months later: “They [people attending  the 1889 General  Conference]  say that the past year has been the best of their life.” [13]

Elder  Jones  was  soon  looked  up  to  as  the leading theologian in the denomination. Elder Waggoner, sent as a missionary  to England, was also highly regarded.

So wonderful, indeed, was the response that membership grew at an average rate of nearly 10 percent a year, almost  tripling  the 1888 total by 1901 despite the problems we shall have to take up in our next chapter.

Many looked for the latter rain to fall and for the  work  to end  in  a short  while.  In  fact,  Ellen White wrote, “The dispensation  in which we are now living is … the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. … It is the time of the latter rain.” [14]

So much for the setting. Now for a look at the 1888 message itself.

As we have said, Waggoner’s sermons in Minneapolis focused on Jesus Christ. Ellen White enthusiastically and gratefully summarized them as “the matchless charms of Christ.” [15]

We do not possess  today  the actual  message that Waggoner delivered. We may, however, arrive close to it if we examine the books he published before  and after  the conference.  One of these is appropriately titled, Christ and His Righteousness.

The entire book talks about Jesus. Christ is our Saviour in the fullest sense of the word. There is no other name than His whereby men can be saved. Jesus is filled with all the fullness of the Godhead, and He desires to fill us too with divine power. Colossians 2:9; Ephesians 3:19.

This wonderful Jesus offers freely to forgive all our sins and to clothe us with His righteousness. And the righteousness He wants to give us is not something make-believe. God does not forgive us while leaving us the same as we were before. God “does not furnish a cloak for sin, but takes the sin away. … The forgiveness of sin is something more than  a  mere  form,  something  more  than  a  mere entry in the books of record in heaven. … The forgiveness of sins is a reality; it is something tangible, something that vitally affects the individual.” When he is forgiven, a sinner becomes a new creature. [16]

But, Waggoner suggested, it may be that you feel so unworthy that you cannot believe God can accept you as His child. To  settle  this  problem  he  asked  a  question: “Will a man receive that which he has bought?” If a man goes to a store, Waggoner inquired, asks for something  and then pays for it, will he suddenly change his mind and leave the place without taking it with him? Of course he won’t. If he pays for it, he will take it. And the more he pays for it, the more certain he is to take it. Now, Jesus has paid for us. He has paid the highest price possible, “the precious blood of Christ.” (1Peter 1:19)  Indeed,  He  “gave  himself  for  us.”  (Titus 2:14)  Thus,  Waggoner  concluded,  you  can  be certain that He will accept you!

But why would He pay so much for someone who is so very unworthy? He bought you because you are unworthy, Waggoner replied–so that when He has transformed you and is able to present you faultless before the universe, He can rejoice over the marvelous change He has made in you. [17]

But righteousness by faith is much more than forgiveness; it is also victory over sin. In His humanity  Christ  lived  a righteous  life,  and  “you may have the same power that He had if you want it,” Waggoner continued. “What wonderful possibilities  there  are  for  the  Christian!  …  No matter how much Satan may war against him, assaulting him where the flesh is weakest, he may abide under the shadow of the Almighty, and be filled with the fullness of God’s strength.” Christ, who   is   far   stronger   than   Satan,   may   dwell continually   in   the   Christian’s   heart;   “and   so, looking at Satan’s assaults as from a strong fortress, he [the Christian] may say, ‘I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.’ ” [18]

Strange as it seems, many Christians find that praying for help to overcome their sins only leaves them more inclined to do wrong than if they didn’t pray. Why? What do they do wrong? They make the mistake, Waggoner explained, of  telling  God  their  problems  before  reminding Him  of  His  promises.  Praying  about  problems directs  our  attention  to  our  weakness,  and  thus makes us weaker. To get real help we should direct our attention to God’s power and to His promises. At  the  very  least,  Waggoner   said,  a  tempted Christian can remember the promise, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1Timothy 1:15) He can therefore begin His prayer by quoting this promise and fastening his attention on it; and as he does so, he will have faith.

“Then,”  Waggoner  continued,  “we  remember that … if God  gives  a promise,  it is as good  as fulfilled already. And so … we count the victory as already  ours,  and  begin  to  thank  God  for  His ‘exceeding  great  and  precious  promises.’  As  our faith grasps these promises and makes them real, we  cannot  help  praising  God  for  His  wonderful love; and while we are doing this, our minds are wholly taken from doing evil, and the victory is ours.” [19]

So much  for Waggoner’s  presentations.  Ellen White also spoke frequently at Minneapolis 1888. The sermon she preached on Sabbath afternoon, October 13, was especially helpful. [20] Her text was, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us,” and her message was that we should do just that; we should train our minds to “behold,” or think about, God’s love for us. It was the same point Waggoner made–about thinking of God’s promises instead of our own troubles.

How is the water lily able to float so pure and white above the scum and dirt of the lake?  She asked.  Because  it  selects  out  of  its  environment only that which will make it a pure white lily! In the same way, she counseled the delegates, “do not talk of the iniquity and wickedness that are in the world, but elevate your minds and talk of your Saviour. … Talk of those things that will leave a good impression on the mind.”

If you are down in a basement of discouragement,  she said, do not complain  about the  darkness.  Grumbling  won’t  make  the  lights come on. Step up out of the basement! “Come out of the dark into the upper chamber where the light of God’s countenance shines brightly.” Don’t complain, either, about the thorns and brambles of life. Gather the flowers! “We want to have our minds on the encouraging things.”

“Let  the  sound  be  heard  of  what  Christ  has done for me,” Elder Waggoner showed that righteousness by faith  happens  when  Christians  claim  God’s promises. Similarly, Ellen White said, “I want you to   take   the   rich   promises   of   God   and   hang memory’s  halls  with  them.  …  Oh,  I  want  the promises of God to be the living pictures on memory’s walls, that you can look at them. Then your heart can be filled with His grace and you may exalt Jesus.”

The congregation listened with hushed rapture as she closed her sermon: “Oh, I love Him. I love Him, for He is my love. I see in Him matchless charms, and oh, how I want that we shall enter in through the gates into the city. … I wish you would educate your hearts and lips to praise Him, to talk of His power and glory. … God help us to praise Him more and to be found faultless.”

In  another  major  sermon,  [21]  Ellen  White spoke of Christ at work in the heavenly sanctuary, making atonement  for us. While He is cleansing the heavenly sanctuary, she said, we should cleanse our own “soul sanctuaries” by entering into the heavenly sanctuary with Him, confessing our sins,  and grasping His arm by faith.

In this relationship with Jesus there is not only forgiveness but also power to overcome. “We hear many   excuses,”   she  observed   in  this   sermon. People say, “I cannot live up to this or that. What do you mean by this or that?” she asked. “Do you mean that it was an imperfect  sacrifice  that was made for the fallen race upon Calvary, that there is not sufficient grace and power granted us that we may work away from our own natural defects and tendencies?”

(It was hard for many Adventists to believe this wonderful promise. Sixteen years later, in 1904, Ellen  White  lamented:  “In  the  lives  of  many  of those whose names are on the church books there has been no genuine  change.  … They profess  to accept  Christ  as  their  Saviour,  but  they  do  not believe that He will give them power to overcome their sins.” [22])

Shortly    after    1888  Ellen   White   published   Steps   to Christ. In it she continued to explain righteousness by faith and how it works.

For instance, speaking of how fully and wonderfully  God  forgives  sin,  she  said,  “If  you give yourself to Him, and accept Him as your Saviour, then, sinful as your life may have been, for His sake you are accounted righteous. Christ’s character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before God just as if you had not sinned.” [23]

This is marvelous; but it isn’t all. We can go on from day to day, knowing that He loves us and not worrying   about   our   salvation.   (The   way   to salvation  is  righteousness  by  faith,  not righteousness by worry!) “We should not make self the  center  and  indulge  anxiety  and  fear  as  to whether we shall be saved,” she wrote. [24]

Does this mean there is nothing that we should do? No, there is something we must do. It is, again, the same thing Elder Waggoner and Ellen White emphasized in 1888. We must choose to think and talk of His promises. “Commit the keeping of your soul to God, and trust in Him. Talk and think of Jesus. … Put away all doubt; dismiss your fears. … Rest in God. … If you will leave yourself in His hands, He will bring you off more than conqueror through Him that has loved you.” [25]

But doesn’t the Bible say that Christians should watch and strive and pray? Yes it does, as in Matthew 26:41 and Luke 13:24. But Ellen White told Adventists in 1892 that they were not so much to  strive  against  sin  as  to  strive  to  think  about Jesus. “Here is where we need to watch, to strive, to  pray,  that  nothing  may  entice  us  to  choose another master; for we are always free to do this. But let us keep our eyes fixed upon Christ, and He will preserve us. Looking unto Jesus, we are safe.

… In constantly beholding Him, we ‘are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.’ (2 Corinthians 3:18)” [26] It was a fresh breeze blowing in the church, this emphasis on the matchless charms of Christ.



  1. L. H. Christian, Sons of the North (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1942), p. 130
  2. Review and Herald, August 23, 1881, p. 143
  3. Michael McGuckin, “The    Lincoln    City Mission: A. J. Cudney and Seventh-day Adventist Beginnings in Lincoln, Nebraska,” Adventist Heritage, Summer, 1975
  4. For further reading   see   especially   Olson, Through Criss to Victory, and LeRoy Edwin Froom Movement of Destiny (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pubhshing Association, 1971), p. 237-268. Unfortunately both of these present a somewhat more optimistic picture than the Ellen White testimonies warrant
  5. Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 91, 92
  6. Ellen G. White, Letter  179,  1902,  in  Olson, Through Crisis to Victory, p. 39
  7. E. J. Waggoner, “Confession of Faith,” p. 5, copy deposited in the Heritage Room, James White Library, Andrews University
  8. A. T. Jones,   funeral   sermon   for   E.   J. Waggoner,   The  Gathering   Call,  November 1916,  copy  deposited  in  the  Ellen  G. White Estate
  9. Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 92, 93
  10. Ellen G.  White,  Counsels   to  Writers   and Editors, pp. 75, 76
  11. Review and Herald, March 5, 1889, p. 146
  12. Review and Herald, July 23, 1889, p. 466
  13. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, bk. 1, pp. 361, 362
  14. Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 511, 512
  15. Ellen G. White, Manuscript 5, 1889, in Olson, Through Crisis to Victory, p. 48
  16. E. J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness (Oakland, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Company, 1690 [Facsimile reproduction, Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Publishing Association, 1972], p. 66. Another of Waggoner’s works,  The  Glad  Tidings, published originally in 1900, was republished in  an  edited  edition  in  1972  by  the  Pacific Press Publishing Association
  17. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 69-73
  18. Ibid., pp. 29-31
  19. Ibid., pp. 78-84
  20. This sermon  is  printed  in  Olson,  Through Crisis to Victory, pp. 246-256
  21. Ibid., pp. 260-269
  22. Ellen G. White, Review  and Herald,  July 7, 1904, p. 7
  23. Ellen G.  White,  Steps  to  Christ  (Mountain


Brief Comments on Romans 7

E. J. Waggoner


The seventh chapter of Romans may be said to be Rom. 6:14 expanded. It is a masterly argument for the holiness and perpetuity of the law, and is all the stronger because the nature or the perpetuity of the law is not the subject under discussion. The apostle showing, in the sixth and seventh chapters, what true Christian life is, and how one is brought to be a Christian. The references to the law are, we may say, incidental, and show how impossible it is to ignore the law when speaking of Christian experience. We shall give this chapter a brief exposition, dwelling only on the portions that are often misunderstood by the casual reader.

We have already shown from Rom. 6:14; Gal. 5:18-23; 4:4, 5; and 4:21-31, that “under the law” indicates a condition of condemnation on account of sin; and that persons are freed from the law, or redeemed from under the law, only through faith in Christ, by which they are thenceforth enabled to comply with its just demands. In this chapter the apostle carries out the figure of life and death, introduced in the sixth chapter, representing the one still under the condemnation of the law as alive, and the justified one has been dead. The relations of the man to his sins, to the law, and to Christ, are first indicated by an illustration, which we quote:—

“Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law), how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.” Rom. 7:1-3.

In this illustration we have four terms, namely, a woman, her first husband, her second husband, and the law. The law says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and thus defines marriage as the union of one woman and one man. Such a union the law sanctions. Not only does the law sanction such a union, but it binds the parties during life. While her husband lives, the law binds the woman to him; but when the husband dies, then of course the union is at an end. Now, says the apostle, she may be married to another man, and she will be no adulteress, because she is freed from the law that bound her to her first husband. How was she freed from that law? By the death of her husband, which rendered further union impossible. But did the law itself change in any particular? Not in the least: It performs the same office that it did before. The law binds the woman to the second husband just the same as it did to the first; and if while her second husband lives she should be married to a third, the law will condemn her as an adulterous just the same as it would if she had married her second husband while the first husband was living. Thus we see that the law is the one thing that remains unchanged. Now read the application:—

“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead [or, “being dead to that”] wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Rom. 7:4-6.

Here, as in the illustration, we have four parties, namely, the man, his sins, Christ, and the law. In the first place, the man is united to his sins. That is when he is “in the flesh,” under the law (Gal. 5:17, 18), and unable to please God. Rom. 8:7. Here is a union in which the law holds him fast. “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit and unto death.” The apostle says that the sins were “by the law.” This is the same as “where no law is there is no transgression.” If no law existed, there could be no such thing as sin, and therefore Paul says that the motions of sin were by the law. “The strength of sin is the law.” Now we say that the law holds the man fast in this union with sin. That does not mean that the law delights to have the man a sinner; nothing of the kind. The law has no choice in the matter. By his own voluntary action the man has transgressed the law and thereby become a sinner, and now the law can do nothing else than declare him to be such. If the man, through fear of the consequences of his sins, or for any other reason, wishes to escape from this union, he cannot. The law still reiterates, “You are a sinner.” If the law could die, or could be made void, then the man at it once would be free; but that cannot be.

There is, however, a way by which the man may be freed from the galling bondage to sin, if he feels it to be a galling bondage, and that is through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. He may be “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are passed, to the forbearance of God.” Rom. 3:24, 25. When “the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ,” has been imputed to the man, the law no longer calls him a sinner. He is justified, freed from the body of sin.

But this freedom from sin, and consequent deliverance from the condemnation of the law, has been accomplished only through Christ. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new. And all things are of God.” 2 Cor. 5:17, 18. Now the man is united to Christ, and by the same law which before held him to be a sinner. While he was in the flesh, the law would not for a moment allow that he was righteous; now that he is in Christ, the same law witnesses to his righteousness. The law remains the same; the man only has changed.

Notice the parallel between the illustration and the application. The law binds the woman to her husband. She cannot escape from that union, even though it be disagreeable to her. But the husband dies, and she is a free woman, and may legally be married to another man. So a man is united to sin, and the law, true to itself, holds him to that account. But by Christ the body of sin is destroyed; and now the man, being free from sin, is a united to Christ, and the law sanctions the union. As a woman cannot legally be united to two husbands at the same time, so no person can be united at the same time both to his sins and to Christ. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Matt. 16:24. Union with Christ while we are in sin is impossible; and if, while professing Christianity, a person still clings to sin, he is guilty of spiritual adultery. “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship with the world is enmity with God?” James 4:4. The law sanctions no such union as that.

The reader may, however, think that he detects a flaw in our reasoning, because in the application {360} the apostle tells us that we have to die in order to become united to Christ. This, he will say, is not an exact parallel to the case of a woman whose husband dies that she may be joined to another. The difficulty is only apparent, not real. The parallel is as close as it is possible for any parallel to be. In the illustration the husband dies, and thus the woman may be united to another. Now if you should suppose a case in which the woman died with her first husband, and then have a resurrection, and was thus united to another, we have an exact parallel to the case of the sinner being freed from sin and united to Christ. The case is of sufficient importance to warrant a more detailed investigation. The following verses contain the whole argument:—

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” Rom. 6:1-7.

“The wages of sin is death.” Rom. 6:23. The law demands the death of every sinner. But “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16. For Christ “bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sin, should live unto righteousness.” 1 Peter 2:24. By baptism we show our belief in the death and resurrection of Christ, and our acceptance of him as a propitiation for our sins. Indeed, by baptism we are joined to Christ: “As many of you as have been baptized in the Christ hath put on Christ.” Gal. 3:27. But we are baptized into Christ, by being “baptized into his death.” “We are buried with him by baptism into death.” And thus it is that we receive the penalty of the law; not in person, but in figure. Christ has suffered for sin; and if we are “in him,” we also are accounted as having received the penalty. And since it is by baptism that we become united to him, we become dead to the law and united to Christ at the same time.

“Dead to the law.” What does the apostle mean by that expression? Simply that we have (in Christ) received the penalty of the law, and that it now regards us as dead. To illustrate: A man guilty of stealing is by the law sentenced to a term of years in the penitentiary. He serves his sentence, and then is set at liberty. Now he has no fear of the law. He may go boldly into the court-room, and even into the prison; for he knows that, having received the penalty for his crime, the law will not molest him. Now carry the illustration a little further: A man commits murder and is sentenced to death. When he has been executed, the law is satisfied. Suppose now that it were possible for the man to come to life again. Having received the full penalty of the law, he is, so far as his past offense is concerned, thenceforth considered by the law as a dead man. So with the sinner’s relation to the law of God. It condemned him to death. In Christ he received the death penalty, and now that he is raised to walk in newness of life, the law considers him to be a dead man. He is now a new man; the man who sinned is dead, and the man who takes his place shuns those things which the former man did, and therefore the law declares him to be righteous. In harmony with the above quotation and explanation are the following words:—

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Col. 3:1-3.

Read also of the following statement by the same apostle: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Gal. 2:20.

Now why was it necessary for us to go through this process of dying and being raised to new life? Because we have upon us a burden of sin from which we could not otherwise be free. Did we get rid of this body of sin by that means? Yes; hear the apostle: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” The body of sin was the first husband. We became disgusted with that union, and desired to become united to Christ, but could not as long as the first husband was living; and in order for that husband to die, we ourselves have to die. For the moment, both are dead; then we are raised to be henceforth joined to Christ in a new life, because the first husband, the old man, the body of sin, remains dead. So long as that body of sin remains dead, we, although alive in Christ, are dead in the eyes of the law. But if at anytime the old man should come to life by our calling back going back to our old sins, that moment the law would condemn us as adulterers.

The remainder of the seventh chapter of Romans is a graphic account of the steps which lead the sinner to hate the sin in which he was bound, and to his freedom therefrom. It is not, as some have supposed, a Christian experience; it is simply an account of the experience of a man passing from a state of sin, through conviction, to a new creature in Christ. It will be worth our while to give it a little study, that we may learn more of the law’s dealings with the sinner.

The apostle first declares (verse 7) that the law is not sin; this is proved by the fact that it points out sin. But for the law he could not have known what sin is. “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.” Verse 8. Here sin is regarded as a person, producing all manner of evil in the heart. And since without the law there would be no sin he says that sin took occasion by the commandment. In the next verse he embodies this idea and carries it farther. He says:—

“For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Verse 9.

The first clause of this verse presents to us a picture of carnal security. It is the confidence of the man who is insensible to danger. “Without the law” means that the law had not been driven by the Spirit into his heart. Many a man who has read the ten commandments scores of times, has never felt them searching his heart. Therefore his way is right in his own eyes, and he feels secure. An easy mind is by no means a sure test of acceptance with God. It was forgetfulness or ignorance of this fact that caused David so much trouble. Ps. 73. He saw the wicked wholly at ease, and that there were no bands even in their death. But when he learned their end, he found that such a condition is not an enviable one.

But as soon as a personal application of the law is made to one’s heart, the sin stands out in bold relief. “When the commandment came, sin revived.” The law did not create the sin; it simply brought to his view that which already existed. A room may be very dusty and dirty, yet if it is dark, the filth will not appear. But let a bright light be brought in, and the foulness becomes all too noticeable. So the law of God lights up the dark corners of the heart and reveals the depravity within.

When this had been done, says Paul, “I died.” He does not here mean death to sin; for the next verse says: “And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” The law had shown him that he was a sinner, and “the wages of sin is death;” therefore he felt himself to be virtually a dead man. He did not actually die, but he speaks as though that which was inevitable had already come. In like manner the Lord said to Abimelech, who had taken Abraham’s wife, “Thou art but a dead man.” Ex. 20:3. “For sin taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” Rom. 7:11. Sin is deceitful; it arrays itself in a pleasing garb so that to the unsuspecting one it appears to be good. But underneath its pleasing exterior it carries a weapon that wounds to the death all who come in contact with it.

Notwithstanding all that the law had revealed to Paul, he could say, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” Verse 12. He would uphold the dignity of the law, and shield it from all blame for his present deplorable condition. Although he had before said that the law, which was ordained to life, he found to be unto death, he insists that it was not the law,—“that which is good” (verse 13),—that was made death to him, but that it was sin that condemned him to death, and that the commandment had simply made sin “become exceeding sinful.” Happy is the awakened sinner who views the law in this light. Such a one is “not far from the kingdom of Heaven.” Unfortunately too many rail at the law, as though it were the cause of their lost condition, and then, as if they could avert the danger by shutting their eyes, they turn away from the law, and relapse into their old state of false security.

“For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.” Rom. 7:14, 15.

Again we must caution the reader against supposing that in these verses Paul is relating a Christian experience. Up to this point he has shown how any a person is convicted of sin. He has related the experience of one who, when the law convicts him of sin, does not turn from the light, but honestly desires to obey. Now he proceeds to give the experience of one under conviction, until he is made a free man in Christ. He uses the first person and the present tense in order to make the narrative more vivid, as he portrays the sinner’s struggle for freedom. It was once a present matter with him, and is the experience that all pass through, though with various modifications, before they find peace with God.

“Sold under sin.” This idea is carried out in many places. Peter says that the sinner is “in bondage.” 2 Peter 2:19. Paul says that he is in bondage “to the weak and beggarly elements of the world.” Gal. 4:3, 9. He is a slave to sin. Rom. 6:16, 17. In a future article we shall see the case stated in even stronger terms. The idea is that the sinner is helpless. He may “consent unto the law that it is good” (verse 16), and may with his mind serve the law of God (verse 25); that is, he may desire to obey it, yet sin has dominion over him, and he is forced to serve the law of sin, namely his natural, sinful habits. As Paul elsewhere says, “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7); and “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and theSpirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Gal. 5:17.

This is the condition of the awakened sinner. He would do good, but evil is present with him, so that he does the very thing that he has resolved not to do. The flesh is depraved, having no good thing in it, so that although he may determine to do good, he will not find any power in him to carry out his determination. The trouble is, sin dwells in him; it has never been killed.

Let the reader imagine a man bound with fetters and having a dead carcass fastened to him by a strong chain. He is fully conscious of the seriousness of the situation, and knows that death must be the inevitable result. Every day the load which hangs to him becomes more noxious, and the whole air becomes putrid. Imagine the terror of the man as he contemplates the steady and sure approach of a horrible death, and imagine his despair when he finds that all his frantic efforts to escape from the disgusting cause of that death are in vain. It would be impossible for the imagination to overdraw the feelings of horror and despair that would fill the soul of the unfortunate man. This was the condition in which Paul found himself. Sin was upon him as a terrible burden; he knew that unless he could get rid of it and lead a life of righteousness it would sink him into perdition; and he found that his most desperate efforts to get rid of it, and to do the good that he longed to do, were unavailing. It was the law that revealed his condition to him. As he continues to look into that holy law, his sin becomes more and more disgusting to him, and yet the more he looks, the larger and more revolting does the burden of sin become. What shall he do? Must he sink into perdition? In the agony of his despair he cries out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” Even as he utters this wail for help, the help appears, and he immediately answers his own question, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He has found peace and rest in Christ. His condition now is presented in the following words,—a Christian experience:—

“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Rom. 8:1-4.

“No condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,” because they are new creatures. They are not the ones against whom the law had such a terrible indictment. The condemned ones have died, have been crucified with Christ, and now although they live, it is no more they, but Christ dwelling in them. Once sin dwelt in them; now Christ has taken its place.

Verse 2 is a parallel to Rom. 3:21, 22. The righteousness of Christ being imputed to the sinner, frees him from sin and the fear of death. For a long time he may have tried to make himself righteous, but he found his best deeds so far below what the law requires that they alone would have been sufficient to ruin him. Even if he could have fulfilled the requirements of the law, that would not have removed past transgression. What the law cannot do is to make a sinner righteous. This is not on account of any defect of the law, but is solely owing to the weakness of the flesh. The law points out the disease and shows what a condition of health would be; then the man begins an ineffectual struggle to reach that high condition; the law goads him on until he finds that he has not power to accomplish his desire; and when he has lost all confidence in himself, he accepts Christ as the only source of help, and at once becomes free. Thus the law drives the sinner to Christ that Christ may free him from his past sins and enable him to keep the law.