In studying or presenting the Third Angel's Message, we often dwell on the results - the reception of "his mark" - rather than on what the message is really warning us about. Because of this we have difficulty in understanding the counsel which came to the Church regarding the 1888 Message of Righteousness by Faith through Elders A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. Ellen G. White answered an inquiry concerning the message by stating - "the message of justification by faith ... is the third angel's message in verity." (SM, bk i, p. 372) The "testimony" of these brethren was declared to be "the truth as it is in Jesus, which is the third angel's message, in clear, distinct lines." (TM, p. 93)
How do we get the Mark of the Beast into a positive presentation of Justification by Faith? We don't! It is the result which will follow a rejection of the warning of the Third Angel. The cry of the Third Angel is against the "worship of the beast and his image." What does this mean? Who is the beast? "Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man." (Rev. 13: 18) Thus to worship the beast is to worship a man, and the image is merely the image of a man. The outcome or results lead to a "number" - and a "mark." In this essay, these results will only be incidental to the general theme. We want to go to the heart of the warning as given in the Third Angel's Message.
True worship constitutes the reverence and respect we pay to the God of Heaven. A blasphemous worship is reverence and respect we pay to a human being as a god, or to one we place between ourselves and God. Such worship is clearly a violation of the First Commandment - "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." (Ex. 20:3) In meeting the temptation suggested by Satan to violate this commandment, Jesus resolutely declared - "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve." (Matt. 4:10) We may fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ; we may enter into the intimate fellowship that marks the home; we may work together in fulfilling the great commission; but in all of these relationships, we are to worship and serve only God. When we in any of these relationships of life, honor a fellow man before duty to God and truth, we become a candidate for the mark of the beast.
There is much more to the first great line prophecy of Daniel than we have perceived. The story of the nations from Daniel's day to the final hour of human history is all enfolded in one image - the image of a man. All that man devises and accomplishes ultimately becomes dust "like the chaff of the summer threshing floors." (Dan. 2:35) All the kingdoms - represented by the gold, silver, brass, and iron - were built by the prowess of men. To accomplish their objectives, the men who established these kingdoms of earth demanded of their subjects - fellow man - devotion, loyalty, and worship. Being themselves formed from the dust of the ground, they and all with them have or will return to dust. Thus the lesson of Daniel 2 is but an illustration of the words of the Lord to Jeremiah - "Cursed is the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord." (Jer. 17:5)
The only thing that will stand forever is the stone cut out "without hands" - not of human prowess. This is the stone which the builders rejected, and upon whomever it falls, it will grind to powder. (Matt. 22:44) But whoever falls upon this rock and is "broken" the same shall find life. This is justification by faith as portrayed in the symbolism of parable and prophecy the Third Angel's Message in verity.
As the prophetic messages of Daniel continue to unfold, there is pictured the beasts of Daniel 7. But "the saints of the most High" ultimately possess the kingdom. It is given to them. (Dan. 7: 22, 27) They have declared their citizenship in harmony with the One who justifies them in Judgment before the Ancient of Days. Their's and His kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36). Not only are the "saints" other worldly in their attitude toward material things, but they are other worldly in their belief and worship. They worship only God - not man. They possess the truth as it is in Jesus. This truth was emphatically stated in a question Jesus asked - "How can ye believe (The basis of Justification by Faith) which receive honor one from another, and seek not that honor that cometh from God only." (John 15:44) We miss the First Angel's Message - "Fear God and give glory to Him" - we condition ourselves to reject the Third. So long as we are looking to men, to seek their guidance, follow their leadership, instead of seeking to glorify God, believe and follow His truth, we cannot perceive nor believe in righteousness by faith. The prophet declared - "Cease ye from men, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?" (Isa. 2:22) When we are willing to do this, then we are ready to turn to our only source of help - God alone.
How is all this related to Justification by Faith? I recognize my need. I am a sinner. Neither the works of my hands the deeds I do - will justify me before God for "by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight." (Rom. 3:20) Thus I cannot rely upon myself - a man. To believe that there are things which I can do which will merit me the favor of God and heaven, is to receive the mark of the beast. To trust in some man to get me through is equally disastrous. There is only one mediator between God and man, and that is the Man, Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 2:5)
Those who are justified by faith wherein the glory of man is laid in the dust, and God does for him what he cannot do for himself - receive from God His seal, not the mark of a man. That seal is "the sign of the cross of Calvary." (Letter 26, 1898: 7BC:978) It means simply that we have fallen on the Rock and have been "broken." A man with his "bones" broken can do little. He is totally dependent.
It is at the Cross, and over the Cross that the great struggle concerning justification is centered. In the Cross is gathered all aspects of travail resultant from sin. To refuse to follow the enemy of God brings stigma and reproach - the Cross. To surrender to the call of the Cross, means death to self, and all that self desires to do - even to merit salvation. To behold the Cross is to see God's wrath against sin. But to take our cross is to find life. Jesus said - "If any man will come after Me - [not the beast] - let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life shall find it." (Matt. 16:24-25)
What has been the story of the Church in its rejection of the message of Justification by Faith? What is the story today? "Now it has been Satan's determined purpose to eclipse the view of Jesus, and lead men to look to man, and trust to man, and be educated to expect help from man. For years the church has been looking to man, and expecting much from man, but not looking to Jesus, in whom our hopes of eternal life are centered. Therefore God gave to His servants (Jones and Waggoner] a testimony that presented the truth as it is in Jesus, which is the third angel's message, in clear, distinct lines. " (TM, p. 93)
The present crisis in the Church has produced two distinct groups. One is identified by their advocacy of neo-Adventism. These can best be described by a paraphrase on the words of a well-known hymn:
Nothing in my hands I bring,
These still want the world and all that the world offers. They seek to preach Paul, but forget that Paul confessed "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal., 6:14)
Due to the emphasis on what is termed, "cheap grace" - a reactionary group has galvanized which also sing the same tune, but with different words:
Very much in my hands I bring
In between stands "the bleeding Lamb, our Saviour" - with hands outstretched, still pleading: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." (Matt. 11:28-30)
Here is the essence of the Third Angel's Message. Our faith and our confidence is not in the "beast" - man - but in God manifest in the flesh, "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised for our justification." (Rom. 4:25) We today who are willing to take up our cross will follow Him to where His cross was placed. "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." (Heb. 13:12-13) (Bold emphasis added.)