Reviewing the lesson this week a couple of thoughts related to the 1888 message immediately jump out. First the lesson author points us to the love that John expressed toward one of his fellow believers, the one to whom the letter was addressed, Gaius.
John wrote: "The elder unto the well beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth. Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth" (3 John 1:1-2). The original terms for love which John used were agapao and agapatos. It is easy to discern that these words both come from the root word agape. By using this terminology, John indicates that his affection for Gaius was no mere human sentimentality. He loved him with the love which comes only from God.
Human beings were originally created with hearts full of agape. Unselfish, Christ-like love was natural to our first parents. However, when Adam sinned, we are told "... man's powers were perverted, and selfishness took the place of love" (E. G. White, Counsels to Teachers, p. 33). Thus, as a result of the fall, mankind has no natural conception of true love. We tend to confuse it with human love which is anything but selfless. But agape, the term used most often to denote God's love, is completely unrelated to human love and completely selfless.
It is described for us in the thirteenth chapter of Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. In the first three verses we are told of the significance of agape. It is more essential than eloquence. It is more necessary than prophecy. It is even more important than faith. These are startling qualifications. Eloquence may seem like a luxury, but prophecy and faith are important elements indeed. Yet without love they are virtually ineffective, all but useless.
The description continues and again we are shocked by the revelation of agape. "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:3, ESV). Extravagant generosity and even sacrificial martyrdom are vain and empty without the essential motivating qualifier called agape.
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends" (1 Cor. 13:4-8). Human love, which consists of self-love, embodies the exact opposite of all of these qualities. Yet there is hope in Christ "because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5, ESV).
As we consider the love of God and the grace which that love prompted Him to extend to humanity, we find the courage to face the echoes of the other 1888 related topic which leaps from the pages of our Sabbath School lesson this week. In Friday's lesson we find a statement which calls to mind similar statements from our history at the 1888 conference and its aftermath.
"Those who are inclined to regard their individual judgment as supreme, are in grave peril. It is Satan's studied effort to separate such ones from those who are channels of light, through whom God has wrought to build up and extend His work in the earth. To neglect or despise those whom God has appointed to bear the responsibilities of leadership in connection with the advancement of the truth, is to reject the means that He has ordained for the help, encouragement, and strength of His people" (E. G. White, Gospel Workers, p. 444).
As this statement concerning "channels of light" and "truth" and their rejection is read, one cannot help but remember many similar statements of warning from the pen of inspiration.
"Prompted by pride, prejudice, and hatred, the Pharisees, priests, and rulers rejected the Lord of glory. His mighty works had no softening influence upon their minds; for they hardened their hearts lest they should be converted. When evidence is given that a man is a messenger of the Lord of hosts, that he speaks in God's stead, it is perilous to the soul to reject and despise the message. To turn away from heaven's light and refuse the light-bearer, is to take a course similar to that which Satan took in the courts of heaven when he created rebellion in the ranks of the angels" (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1062).
"I have no smooth message to bear to those who have been for so long as false guideposts, pointing the wrong way. If you reject Christ's delegated messengers, you reject Christ. Neglect this great salvation kept before you for years, despise this glorious offer of justification through the blood of Christ and sanctification through the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, and there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation. I entreat you now to humble yourselves, and cease your stubborn resistance of light and evidence" (ibid., p. 1342).
"My brother, why do you cherish such bitterness against Elder A. T. Jones and Elder Waggoner? It is for the same reason Cain hated Abel. Cain refused to heed the instruction of God, and because Abel sought God, and followed His will, Cain killed him. God has given Brother Jones and Brother Waggoner a message for the people. You do not believe that God has upheld them, but He has given them precious light, and their message has fed the people of God. When you reject the message borne by these men, you reject Christ, the Giver of the message. Why will you encourage the attributes of Satan?" (ibid., p. 1353).
Why should we be reminded of this dark period of our history? A wise philosopher once remarked, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana). Our history is of such a character that we dare not repeat it. It is perilous to resist the advances of the One who loves us with such extravagant "agape." Yet this is what we are all so prone to do, apart from intelligent and conscious, Spirit led, corporate repentance. We must remember our history and learn its lessons, for "We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history" (E. G. White, Life Sketches, p. 196).
--Kelvin (Mark) Duncan