Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

October 29, 1896

The Law Exalted by Obedience

By Mrs. E. G. White

In speaking of the true doctrines of his kingdom, Jesus said: “No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.”

The priests, rabbis, Sadducees, scribes, and Pharisees, who had hitherto held undisputed authority in matters of religion, and who were unwilling to give place to Christ, and to receive the truths of his kingdom, were represented as old bottles. They were found unfit to contain the new wine of his doctrines, and it was necessary to find depositories for the truth outside of those who were satisfied with their own spiritual attainments. In the teaching of Christ provision was made for a change of heart, for a new development of character. His system was designed for the whole human family. It was founded on faith that works by love, and purifies the soul. The truth received into the heart would make decided changes in the character. Brought into the soul temple, it would cleanse from all moral defilement. Those who profess to receive the truth, and yet who are unchanged in character, make it manifest that they have received but a theory of the truth, and do not know what is the vital influence of its operations. Practical godliness leads its possessor to keep the commandments of God. It lifts the soul out of its moral depravity, and the believing, repenting one realizes not only that his sins are forgiven, but that he is cleansed from all unrighteousness. By faith he beholds the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world.

These developments were not seen in the life and character of those who followed the religion of the scribes and Pharisees. Their dry forms and set ceremonies were destitute of vital power, and they were represented as salt that had lost its savor. They did not bless the ones with whom they came in contact. There was no preserving quality in their religion to keep the world from going into complete corruption. Their religion was of no more value than savorless salt, that was only fit to be cast out and trodden under foot of man. It is only those who preserve the saving power of Christianity who cooperate with God in saving the world. Such are represented as the salt of the earth. But if men lose their spirituality, if their piety becomes sickly, if, because iniquity abounds, their love grows cold, then their religion has lost its savor. Their energy and efficiency has gone.

But Christ represents his people who have not lost their vital connection with God, as the light of the world. He says: “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill can not be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The Jews had erected a partition wall between themselves and every other people, but this was not after the direction of the Lord. When the Lord gives light and knowledge, it is not that men may exclude themselves from others, that they may hide the light in selfishness, so the divine rays shall not come to the people through the human channel that God has appointed; but he gives light, that it may be diffused, that men may see the good works of his followers, and be led to glorify God.

What is Necessary

The scribes and the Pharisees listened to the words of Christ, and decided that he was making light of the law. Instead of this he was showing them distinctly that the law must be enshrined in the heart, and revealed in the character. Outward conformity to the letter of the law was not sufficient. The very principles of the law must be planted in the heart, and love to God and love to man must be revealed in the character, words, and actions. Those who believe in Christ as their personal Saviour would have the faith that works by love, would manifest his Spirit and grace, and cooperate with him in educating and disciplining souls for his heavenly kingdom. In his own life he gave the world an example of what he meant by his sermon on the mount, for he kept his Father's commandments. He stripped from the holy precepts the human inventions and exactions with which men had covered up the true principles of the standard of righteousness. He showed the law of God to be holy, just, and good. He showed that it had power to convert the soul, and that it required from the human race a whole-hearted service to God and to man. Instead of depreciating the law, he showed that the commandments of God are the foundation of his kingdom, a reflection of the divine character. Those who were to be subjects of his kingdom were to reach a higher standard than that of the scribes and Pharisees. He presented the spirituality of the law, and said, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” His own life was a constant expression of the law of God, and he gave to his followers an example that they should walk in his steps.

Christ was the foundation of the whole Jewish system, and he swept aside the maxims, injunctions, traditions, and precepts with which men had encumbered the plan of salvation. When he swept away the rubbish with which men had buried up the truth, they thought he was sweeping away the truth itself. But he met their unspoken thoughts, saying: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” The maxims, traditions, and doctrines of men had served the purpose for which Satan had instigated them, and had eclipsed the dignity and honor of the holy law. Forms and ceremonies had taken the place of vital godliness; but Christ came to exalt the law, to rid it of the rubbish that men had placed upon it, and thus to let it shine forth in its exalted character, and reveal to the world the divine glory of its Author.

The religious teachers of the Jewish age were very jealous of their authority and doctrines, and to condemn the sternness of their exactions, to seek to lighten the intolerable burden which they urged upon the people and failed to lift themselves, was regarded as treasonable and blasphemous. The words of Christ stirred up their hatred. They termed him a meddler, an intruder, one who was seeking to overturn the established customs of the nation. Satan had almost undisputed sway upon the earth, and this was the secret of the enmity manifested against Christ, who, as the Light of the world, was shining amid the moral darkness. Darkness had covered the earth, and gross darkness the people, and the god of this world stirred up the hearts of his subjects to war against him who had come to condemn evil and to exalt righteousness. The time had come when a work must be done upon the earth. When the earth was in such a condition as this, the Lord had promised: “The Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” The prophet said Christ was to come when “judgment was turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity can not enter. Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey; and the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him. For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head .... So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob.”

As in the days of the Jews, so it is in our day. We see the same enmity manifested against the word of God in our own day as was manifested in the time when Christ was upon the earth. Men still cling to their traditions, and revere their customs, and feel hatred against those who show them that they are in error. In this day, when we are bidden to call attention to the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, and point out the fact that it is vain to think we are worshiping God in teaching for commandments the traditions of men, we see the same enmity manifested. Of the remnant people of God it is written: “The dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

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