The first angel’s message of the everlasting gospel combined with the warning that the hour of judgment had commenced did not bring joy to everyone who heard it. The message worked its ministry in all the churches with a power to save or destroy. During the mid-1800s, with the rejection of the first angel’s message, those looking forward to the second coming of Christ started preaching, “And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” (KJV, Revelation 14:8.)
Ellen White described this transition, “As the churches refused to receive the first angel’s message, they rejected the light from heaven and fell from the favor of God. They trusted to their own strength, and by opposing the first message placed themselves where they could not see the light of the second angel’s message. But the beloved of God, who were oppressed, accepted the message, ‘Babylon is fallen,’ and left the churches.” (White, Early Writings, 237.)
From that time to the present, the fallen churches have been drinking and leading others to drink the wine of fornication. What is this wine, and from where does it come? Moses said to the children of Israel regarding the false doctrines of the nations around them, “For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges. For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.” (KJV, Deuteronomy 32:31-33.)
But while Babylon has fallen in that sense, there are still true Christians in those churches that are still defending the faith once delivered to the saints. This is why I want to draw your attention to the curious trial in 1863 of John William Colenso, Anglican Bishop of Natal and Cape Town, South Africa.
It is important to understand that this theologically progressive bishop was actively teaching that Jesus didn’t die for our sins. Furthermore, such a teaching called Moral Influence Theory of Atonement is directly linked to the concept of unconditional love. Bishop Colenso wrote, “Once for all, let it be stated distinctly there is not a single passage in the whole of the New Testament which supports the dogma of modern theology, that our Lord died for our sins, in the sense of dying instead of us, dying in our place, or dying so as to bear the punishment or penalty of our sins.” (Trial of the Bishop of Natal for Erroneous Teaching, 1863, 5.) Clearly, the bishop did not comprehend precisely what is meant when Paul wrote, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (KJV, 2 Corinthians 5:21.)
Additionally, the bishop was accused of teaching that “the Holy Scriptures contain the word of God, but are not the word of God.” (Trial of the Bishop of Natal for Erroneous Teaching, 16.)
What makes the trial so very curious, however, is the line of reasoning used by the Dean of Cape Town, H. A. Douglas, to demonstrate how unconditional love removes faith, righteousness, repentance, baptism, and salvation from proper theology. He stated:
“It is easy, indeed, to understand the reasons which have led the Bishop to sweep from Christianity these several portions of the truth. If God is absolute benevolence, as he would teach; if love absorbs into itself the whole Divine nature, and all that we are wont to call Divine attributes, he must at once get rid of faith. To allow that faith must go before righteousness, and penitence before baptism, and baptism before salvation, would be to grant that God’s love, however large, works upon conditions; and he would have it unconditional. He cannot for a moment grant that God can make terms with man, or enter into covenant and agreement with him. Any conditions whatsoever are in some sense a restraint and limitation of the Divine love. It is true, no doubt—as I concede willingly—that we may speak of terms and covenant in too dry, and matter-of-fact, and business-like a way, forgetting that they are but human and imperfect modes of speech, applied to Divine and transcendent mysteries; and that, so speaking, we may bind, as it were, in chains of bondage the large and unfettered love of God. But language is our only instrument, and we must express in some form or other the nature of the Divine dealings with us. And, in the view of the Bishop, God so deals with man that He only loves man and makes no conditions; whereas the Church has always held that God so loves man as to give him life in Christ, the meritorious cause; by faith, the apprehending instrument; through baptism, the outward means of inward grace; the Spirit intervening as the effecting agent, and the Church being that mystic company and divine society in which life is. But I believe that further argument on this point is needless. It has been shown that the opinions of the Bishop amount to a complete subversion of the Gospel, as commonly understood by all Christians. In fact, having before denied that our Lord removed sin by His atoning sacrifice, the Bishop proceeds to show that nothing is needed upon man’s side to apply to himself the work of the atonement and bring to his heart that fountain for sin and all uncleanness which springs and flows unceasingly for all believing souls.” (Trial of the Bishop of Natal for Erroneous Teaching, 74.)
The Metropolitan presiding over the trial, Bishop Gray, in his judgment regarding Colenso’s guilt of heresy, informs us: “That which has led the Bishop (Colenso) into his grave error is that he has dwelt exclusively upon God’s most gracious attribute of love. He has refused to look at his sterner attribute of justice; ‘God is love,’ has been his one thought, and from that he has drawn out a system which is at variance with the scheme of our redemption, as taught by the Church out of God’s most holy Word. Being all love, God had no justice to be satisfied, no anger against us to be appeased. He could forgive sin without an atonement being made (Letter IV). Christ’s death was, therefore, not the efficient cause of man’s salvation. It did not (to use the language of his accuser) by its own proper virtue wash out sin, and by its infinite preciousness purchase our forgiveness.” (Ibid., 351, 352.)
After much testimony on, and deliberation of, several other matters for which Bishop Colenso was tried, the Metropolitan Bishop Gray pronounced sentence. John William Colenso would be deposed from his church office, and prohibited from the exercise of any divine office within the Metropolitical Province of Cape Town.
What shall we learn from this trial? Well, primarily, unconditional love was repudiated. Clearly it sweeps away the Gospel economy.
Ellen White wrote, “These theories, followed to their logical conclusion, sweep away the whole Christian economy. They do away with the necessity for the atonement and make man his own savior. These theories regarding God make His word of no effect, and those who accept them are in great danger of being led finally to look upon the whole Bible as a fiction…. I have seen the results of these fanciful views of God, in apostasy, spiritualism, and free-lovism. The free love tendency of these teachings was so concealed that at first it was difficult to make plain its real character. Until the Lord presented it to me, I knew not what to call it, but I was instructed to call it unholy spiritual love.” (White, Vol. 8, Testimonies for the Church, 291, 292.)
The free-lovism to which Ellen White here refers is unconditional love. The terms were synonymous during the period of her ministry. Note how one Presbyterian clergyman used the terms interchangeably in an article he wrote on the subject: “This is the central and distinctive mark of Spiritualism. The life and power of this delusion is Free Loveism. It comprehends vastly more however than orthodox professors generally dream. Multitudes who are themselves Free-lovers, and leading advocates of the same, would be astonished and horrified to have this reputation, just because they don’t know what it means and are ignorant of the Spiritualist power they are under. But what is this Free Loveism by a gospel estimate? It is simply this: LOVE WITHOUT A CONSCIENCE, or LOVE REGARDLESS OF GOD’S LAW. This, and this only is the horrible sin and delusion. It is the whole of it, and this is the substance and whole of Spiritualism the damning moral epidemic of these lost days.
“The essential character of Spiritualism is also marked by either denying or subverting the atonement. Even the wicked world have in every age recognized the true nature of sin by offering sacrifice, and seeking to propitiate deity in times of peril. But Spiritualism, true to its nature, having no sense of sin discards this idea of sacrifice, and makes love take its place as the ground of atonement and reconciliation of God to the sinner…. They, shrewedly employ orthodox words, but wholly reject that view of sin which requires a sacrifice to [propitiate] God or to satisfy justice. They base salvation on the unqualified and unconditional love of God to the sinner, but a love which turns God into a devil. The radical idea of the gospel, essential to its moral character and to infinite purity, is ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.’ That God could not forgive it, or even love the sinner without a sacrifice which righteous law demanded. O the depths of that subtlety which makes love the basis of the sinner’s hope, and the cross only a farce sweeping justice and purity from the throne of God betrays more than any thing else the mind and genius of the father of lies! This theology of spiritualism pervades nearly the whole orthodox church.“ (Lyman H. Johnson, “Spiritualism, Or Devil Worship,” The Stumblingstone, Vol. 2, No. 12, Beloit, Wisconsin, January, 1872.)
In 1863 the Anglican Church averted disastrous doctrinal error in the trial of Bishop Colenso. But since that time, unconditional love has made deep inroads to nearly the whole of Christianity, and yes, even in the Seventh-day Adventist movement. What fruit has been borne out? Today, the Anglican Church teaches unconditional love wholesale. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Kathrine Jefferts Schori recently said, “I no longer see the point of sin, it’s all really rather passe and boring. The church has legitimized most forms of sexual expression so there is really no such thing as sexual sin…”, and that she arrived at her conclusion that sin is no longer a concern because God has “eternal” mercy and forgiveness for all. (https://www.virtueonline.org/its-official-episcopal-churchs-coo-says-jefferts-schori-has-abolished-sin)
Ellen White’s warning is for us today! “Few can discern the result of entertaining the sophistries advocated by some at this time. But the Lord has lifted the curtain, and has shown me the result that would follow. The spiritualistic theories regarding the personality of God, followed to their logical conclusion, sweep away the whole Christian economy. They estimate as nothing the light that Christ came from heaven to give John to give to His people. They teach that the scenes just before us are not of sufficient importance to be given special attention. They make of no effect the truth of heavenly origin, and rob the people of God of their past experience, giving them instead a false science.” (White, Testimonies for the Church Containing Letters to Physicians and Ministers Instruction to Seventh-day Adventists, 1904, 54.)
May we accept by faith the warnings given us, and cling to the truth as it is in Jesus!