The Devil’s Lie, 1888 and Today

Airplane pilots are constantly checking their instruments to determine their exact location, and boat captains and truck drivers often consult maps to pinpoint where they are and where they are going. We, as Seventh-day Adventists, are also traveling down a road with an exact destination in mind, and, in this article, we will look at where we are on this journey to the everlasting kingdom. We will start at the very beginning of the great controversy with Revelation 12:7. “And there was war in heaven: Michael and His angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was there place found any more in heaven.”

Why were the devil and his angels cast out of heaven? We all know that the controversy began with the devil trying to overthrow his Creator and take His place. His presumptive boast was “I will be like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:14. I would like for you to focus your attention on how the devil tried to do this and the lever that he used in his attempt to pry God off His throne.

“When Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of.” Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, 109. They operated on the law of love; love for their Creator and love for their fellow beings and, for them, that was sufficient. It was not necessary to explain to an unfallen angel that if you loved someone you would not lie to him. That was self-evident to him. It was not necessary to explain to an unfallen angel that if you loved someone you would not steal from him. He could figure that out by himself. The law of love was all the angels needed and it was all they had.

However, when God saw the rebellious thoughts in Lucifer’s heart, He spelled out His law in a heavenly council. “The Son of God presented before him [Lucifer] the greatness, the goodness, and the justice of the Creator, and the sacred, unchanging nature of His law.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 36. The devil saw in this a chance to accuse God. He launched the accusation against God that He was not a just and loving God because He had given a law that His creatures could not obey. If this was true, how could He possibly be a God of love?

Christ, the Son of God, heard that lie and determined that He would prove it to be false. He made plans to come to this world to live the law in humanity, that Satan’s charges, that man cannot keep the law, might be demonstrated to be false.

Revealing the Devil’s Lie

There were two aspects to Satan’s accusation that had to be met. If Christ came to this earth with any advantage over us He could not truly be our example. Also, if Christ had access to any power to help Him resist temptation that we do not have access to, then His demonstration would be phony and would prove nothing.

Christ accepted these two challenges, and promised to come to this earth in the human nature of man, with no advantage because of His birth or any power that is not available to you and me. He would resist temptation in the same manner in which every tempted soul may resist the evil one. Through His humiliation and poverty, Christ would identify Himself with the weakness of the fallen race. The great work of redemption could be carried out only by the Redeemer taking the place of fallen Adam. The king of glory proposed to humble Himself to fallen humanity, and so the plan of redemption was devised.

When Adam fell in the Garden of Eden, Satan said, “See, that proves that God gave a law that no one can obey.” When the conditions reached such a terrible state before the flood, again he said, “See, that proves that God has given a law that man could not obey.” When the Jewish church wandered so far away from God during the time before Christ came, again the devil said, “You see now, how can there be any doubt that God’s law cannot be kept.”

Then Jesus came. He did not argue. He just quietly, from infancy through childhood and adolescence and all the way to the cross, lived a sinless life with no advantage of any kind over us. At the end of His life He could say, “Who convinceth Me of sin?” “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me.” John 8:46; 14:30. The victory was full and complete and it once and for all disproved the devil’s greatest lie.

Are you beginning to understand the meaning of Ellen White’s first vision? In this vision she seemed to be above the world and she was looking for the Adventist people. She could not find them looking down at the earth. The angel said, “Look again, and look a little higher.” God’s last day people have been called to follow our Lord in that magnificent demonstration that He gave to us-to prove to the universe that God’s law can be kept perfectly by the fallen sons of Adam.

The Birth of Two Heresies

Continuing down through history we come to the reformation. In the reformation days the state church, the Catholic Church, stood on the principle that man could not obey the law of God. Maybe a few saints could, but the rest could not. They had to invent the doctrine of purgatory in order to take care of the problem of man’s inability to stop sinning while on this earth.

The reformation went very well in the beginning, but quickly ran into trouble. Since that time there have been two theological opinions coming to us from the reformation. One is what we call Armenian-Wesleyan-Methodist-Seventh-day Adventist theology. The other is called Calvinism, which embraces the Reformed, the Presbyterians and the majority of those churches who, today, call themselves Evangelicals.

Within each of these two schools of thought the devil developed a theory to destroy their testimony to the world. In the Armenian ideology, he developed the doctrine that the law of God has been nailed to the cross so that it no longer needs to be kept explicitly. Within Calvinism he took an entirely different approach. He led men to teach that the law of God was not nailed to the cross, it is still binding, but it cannot be obeyed. And, that since God knows we cannot obey His law, He does not want us to waste our strength in vain endeavors to do that which is impossible, so we must just trust in Him to forgive us. And so the argument in Calvinism has been simply a repetition of the devil’s great lie.

I must point out that neither of these errors were in the original Armenianism or the original Calvinism. John Wesley preached a rip-roaring sermon once in which he said that anyone who declares that the law of God is nailed to the cross is one of the worst enemies the gospel ever had. He would never have said that the law of God was abolished, and neither would John Calvin have ever said that the law of God could not be obeyed. And so it was a corruption in Armenian Methodism and a corruption in Calvinism that brought us to the point where Adventism was in 1888.

Calvinism and 1888

In 1888 there were three major issues that were contended: an organizational problem of kingly power reaching out over the world, a spiritual problem which was rebellion against the Spirit of Prophecy, and a theological problem, an invasion of Calvinism.

In this article we will focus on this third major issue, the invasion of Calvinism. Many have thought that the theological issues at the 1888 General Conference centered on a controversy over the law in Galatians. But the hassle over the law in Galatians was only a symptom, not the problem. Ellen White said that there was no sense in making such a debate over that. It is not that important. But the larger problem, an angel told her in vision, had been going on for years. In Testimonies, vol. 5, 76, she wrote this warning: “Many who preach the truth to others are themselves cherishing iniquity.” “What can I say to arouse our people? I tell you not a few ministers who stand before the people to explain the Scriptures are defiled. Their hearts are corrupt, their hands unclean.” Ibid., 78. These ministers had been living failures in their Christian life, and, in order to excuse their failures, they were advancing the arguments of Calvinism.

On the first Sabbath of the 1888 General Conference, Ellen White spoke these words to the assembled ministers and delegates. “Now, what we want to present is how you may advance in the divine life. We hear many excuses: I cannot live up to this or that. What do you mean by this or that? Do you mean that it was an imperfect sacrifice that was made for the fallen race on Calvary, that there is not sufficient grace and power granted us that we may work away from our own natural defects and tendencies, that it was not a whole Saviour that was given us? or do you mean to cast reproach on God?” 1888 Materials, 122.

The idea that God has given a law that His creatures cannot obey, is the devil’s greatest lie, and it was invading the Adventist Church in 1888. At that time, Ellen White took a firm and powerful stand against it. Over the years she continued to emphasize that theme. In 1892 she wrote on the subject, pointing out the very same kind of reasoning. And so, Calvinism was refuted and did not give the church very much more trouble for about a half a century. In the 1950s, Calvinism invaded the church again, this time much more successfully by using a more subtle approach.

A Harmless Concession?

A certain scholar, named Walter Martin, visited with some leaders in Adventism. He wanted to write a book about Adventists, describing us as a cult. After some hesitation, the brethren set up conferences with him, and in an attempt to persuade him that we were not a cult, they gave him a statement to the effect that the Seventh-day Adventist Church had always believed just like the Calvinists believe: that our Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth in the human nature of unfallen Adam.

To refute this claim, my wife and I compiled a book called The Word Was Made Flesh, which contains twelve hundred statements about the human nature of our Lord, from many different Adventist publications, four hundred of them by Ellen White. In these twelve hundred statements, written over a one hundred year period, there was not one that claimed that Christ came in the unfallen nature of Adam. In spite of that, our brethren gave Walter Martin a statement that the opposite was true: that we had always believed, except for a poorly informed minority, that our Lord came to this earth, like the Calvinists believe, in the human nature of the unfallen Adam.

Apparently no one realized that that was a Trojan horse-it seemed like a harmless doctrine. I find people to this very day who will look at me, and ask, “Brother Larson, What difference does it make?” It makes a lot of difference. If our Lord Jesus Christ came to this earth in the human nature of the unfallen Adam, He knows nothing at all about the problems that I struggle with because of my heredity. He knows nothing at all about the weaknesses that have come to me through generation after generation down the stream of time. It would be utterly ridiculous to say that He was tempted in all things as I am tempted and it would be utterly unfair to say that I ought to live like He lived. How could I? How could I, four thousand, five thousand, six thousand years down the stream of time, live like He lived? The unfallen Adam! Why it would be utterly unfair.

Through this seemingly harmless doctrine, a way was opened for the wave of Calvinism to sweep into Adventism. Within an incredibly short time, as theological trends go, the Calvinistic doctrine, embracing Satan’s greatest lie, began to creep into colleges, academies and churches all over North America, and to a lesser extent all over the world. The Calvinistic doctrine which says that man cannot stop sinning is now being heard in Seventh-day Adventist churches all across the country.

Today, Adventism is divided into two camps: those who are embracing Calvinism and those who recoil from it in horror. A great shaking is occurring, and many are wondering who can withstand the test? If everything we have trusted in fails, what will we do. Let me remind you of a story that I think will help us understand what our position should be in these days of seeming uncertainty.

If They Had Only Listened

Do you remember the story of the two men who walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the Sunday of the resurrection? Now the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is not an easy road. It goes downhill sharply. The hills are very steep and the valley is very narrow. If you and I could have placed ourselves on that steep slope and watched on that Sunday afternoon, we would have seen these two men coming along the trail obviously despondent. Their shoulders slumped, their feet dragging and, in spite of the fact that another man walks with them for a way before they go out of our sight and into one of the villages, they still seem very, very cast down and discouraged because the Lord had been crucified.

Then, in a little while, we suddenly see that door open and those two men come out of that little house like they were shot out of a gun. They start rampaging up that narrow zigzag road back toward Jerusalem in such haste that they overrun the corners in some places and have to come back and find their way again in the deepening shadows. They cannot rest until they get all the way back to Jerusalem. They find that upper room and they pound on the door. When they are let in, they say, “He is alive! He is alive! We have seen Him! He is alive!”

Can you imagine the change? We like to think about that night when Jesus appeared among them and they saw, with their own eyes, that it was really true. But what I want to ask you to consider is what might have been. Jesus had told them, not less than three times, what was going to happen to Him. Three times He had told them that He was going to go to Jerusalem, to be crucified and would rise again. But when He came to the part about the crucifixion, they stopped listening. If they had fully internalized the promise of the resurrection, just imagine where they would have been early Sunday morning. They would not have been mourning in the upper room; they would have been out at the gravesite, would they not? And they would have seen that glorious moment when the angel of God came down and said, “Son of God, come forth. Thy Father calls Thee.” How much power that would have given to their witness if everywhere they went they could say, “We saw Him come out of the tomb with our own eyes.” They suffered much sadness because they did not listen to everything Jesus said.

You and I should now listen to what God has told us through His prophet about the great shaking time. If we do not listen, we might be as overcome with discouragement and despondency as they were. Carefully note these unfailing promises.

“God will arouse His people; if other means fail, heresies will come in among them, which will sift them, separating the chaff from the wheat.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 707. Why is God allowing these heresies to come in among us? He is sifting His people, preparing those who are faithful to withstand the final test.

“Many will stand in our pulpits with the torch of false prophecy in their hands, kindled from the hellish torch of Satan.” Testimonies to Ministers, 409, 410. Again people say, Why? And the answer is, He is purging the wheat from the tares.

“The days of purification of the church are hastening on apace.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 80. (For further study read the chapter in Testimonies, vol. 5, 62-84, entitled “The Testimonies Slighted.”)

“Every wind of doctrine will be blowing.” Ibid., 80

“Many a star that we have admired for its brilliancy will then go out in darkness. Chaff like a cloud will be borne away on the wind, even from places where we see only floors of rich wheat.” Ibid., 81.

“Standard after standard was left to trail in the dust as company after company from the Lord’s army joined the foe.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 41.

In Selected Messages, Book 2, 36, we are told that at our camp meetings there will be dancing and horrible music. (We are certainly seeing at least the beginnings of this already.) The question is, How are we going to handle all of this? Are we going to be overcome with discouragement? It all depends on how well we listen. If we have properly listened to the Lord, we will be successful. It will be hard, but we will make it. Take the following promises to heart:

“The world is not without a ruler. The program of coming events is in the hands of the Lord. The Majesty of heaven has the destiny of nations, as well as the concerns of His church, in His charge.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 753.

“Not one cloud has fallen upon the church that God has not prepared for.” Selected Messages, Book 2, 108.

God knows what He is going to do. He has told us what to expect. There is no reason in the world why we should let it discourage us or dishearten us or confuse us, if we will listen. Let the chaff blow. Let the brilliant stars go. Let company after company join the foe. Let the people dance. Let the drums beat. Let the heresies arise. May God grant that we shall stand for the right though the heavens fall. God bless you.