The Great Controversy Story in Steps to Christ
(March 16, 1997) ©Herbert E. Douglass
I am doing something very different today but I think we will focus on Jesus as effectively as any ordinary sermon would do, if not even more so. I want to introduce you to a special way of looking at a book that has been printed in about 150 languages at the moment, more than any other book except the writings of Lenin, the founder of Communism. This book has been and continues to be circulated by the millions everywhere. It is not even a Stephen King thriller, or another book on Men from Mars, Women from Venus.
This little book, this marvelous, remarkable book, Steps to Christ, was written by Ellen G. White.
Other interesting facts: This is the only book written by Mrs. White that was first published by a non-Adventist publisher. And it is the only book that Mrs. White added a chapter to, after it was published for several years. And it is the only book by Mrs. White for which someone else claimed to be the author! And some today still believe this wild claim!
You ask, Why was this remarkable book first produced in 1892 by a nondenominational publisher? It all started in the summer of 1890.
In that year, the first volume of the Conflict of the Ages set, Patriarchs and Prophets, was released. Two years before, in 1888, the revised and enlarged edition of The Great Controversy (the fifth and last volume of the Conflict set) had been published. Work had already begun on "The Life of Christ," which eventually became The Desire of Ages (the third in the Conflict set). In addition, week after week Ellen White and her assistants prepared articles for the Review and Herald, Signs of the Times, and Youthís Instructor.
During this busy time, the request came for smaller books that could be sold in book stores or distributed by evangelists in their public meetings. Literature on the subject of conversion was especially needed. Ellen White knew that the time had come to present her favorite topics in book form. She had spoken and written often, in simple, clear terms, about the steps sinners must take in finding their way to Christ; or to put it another way, how to respond to Godís knocking at the sinnerís door..
Marian Davis was assigned the work of gathering from Mrs. Whiteís diaries, manuscripts (published and unpublished), periodical articles, and previous books those materials that would make up the proposed chapters of this new book on how people can find a close relationship with Jesus. When she saw all her materials in front of her, she often recognized that more was needed to fill out each chapterís thought. To meet this need and to provide necessary transitions, she would compose additional copy.
The work went slowly because of all her other writing commitments. In 1891, the manuscript was presented to a convention of ministers and teachers at Harbor Heights, Michigan, where it was read with great enthusiasm. At this meeting, it was decided that the book should be called Steps to Christ. Further, it was strongly suggested that it be published by a nondenominational publishing house for wider circulation in the popular book storesóa proposal that Fleming H. Revell accepted gladly.
Ellen White was also pleased with this suggestion for other reasons. It permitted her to be totally responsible for seeing that the manuscript got through to printing without going through the slow-moving, publishing house book committees.
This Fleming Revell publication was an instant success (see copyright page).. Within six weeks of its initial printing, a third reprint had been issued, and within the first year, seven reprints. Soon after the initial printing, the publisher printed the following advertisement: "It is not often that a publisher has the opportunity of announcing a third edition of a new work within six weeks of the first issue. This, however, is the encouraging fact in connection with Mrs. E. G. Whiteís eminently helpful and practical work, Step to Christ. If you will read this work, it will ensure your becoming deeply interested in extending its circulation. Steps to Christ is a work to guide the inquirer, to inspire the young Christian, and to comfort and encourage the mature believer. The book is unique in its helpfulness."
But what about that remarkable first chapter that was not in the first printings? How did this chapter, "Godís Love for Man," ever get into this instant best-seller, so that we now have 13 chapters instead of 12?
No great mystery! Fleming Revell had waived publication rights for publishing outside of the United Sates, which made it possible for this book to be reprinted at our overseas publishing houses. In 1892, our house in Great Britain requested that new material be added to the book so that Steps to Christ could be properly copyrighted in Great Britain. That simple request made possible the inclusion of the most awesome chapter of all Ellen Whiteís books.
But where was this chapter to come from? Something else had also been happening during this short period of time. Ellen White had just finished Manuscript 41, in 1892 and now she saw that it would provide an appropriate beginning for the already best-seller. You read it for yourself and judge. Who told Mrs. White to write that manuscript just in time to respond to this simple request?
Now, what about that charge that someone else has claimed authorship for Steps to Christ? Unfortunately, Fannie Bolton, one of Ellen Whiteís editorial assistants for a few years, claimed that she had written Steps to Christ "in toto." This allegation has been kept alive through various channels. Obviously, it was impossible for Fannie Bolton to have written the materials penned by Ellen White before 1890, which made up most of the book, because that was before Fannie Bolton was hired by Mrs. White-- but critics keep on forgetting this basic fact.
Now, letís begin our look at this remarkable book that unfolds the Great Controversy Theme. If you had only this book you would know clearly the basic issues in this long conflict between Christ and Satan--and how you are involved. It is not possible to lay out the full banquet of good things in one sermon but we shall make a start.
This book includes the following issues in the great controversy:
1. What are Satanís charges against God that most of the world still believes?
2. Why did Jesus come to this earth? Why did He die?
3. Why is Jesus our example?
4. Why does each act or thought make it easier to repeat that thought or act?
5. Why did Jesus become a truly human being?
6. What is meant by Godís wrath?
7. What is the nature of the new birth?
8. What are the appropriate incentives that God offers men and women?
9. What are the essential components of righteousness by faith?
10. What is the nature of happiness?
11. How do human beings achieve harmony with God?
12. What is the ultimate purpose of salvation?
13. How should we handle doubt?
14. What is the place of reason in thinking through what truth is?
15. What should we expect when we pray?
16. How significant is our part in the divine-human co-op plan?
17. What is the value of "self-esteem"?
And on it goes.
Letís look at the basic issues that have caused the controversy in the first place. Remember, the controversy erupted in heaven when Satan circulated his charges which were flat out lies. What were those lies? And what do these charges have to do with us today?
Letís look at page 10 and 11: "The enemy of good [has] blinded the minds of men, so that they looked upon God with fear; they thought of Him as severe and unforgiving. Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice,--one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor. He pictured the Creator as a being who is watching with jealous eye to discern the errors and mistakes of men, that He may visit judgments upon them."
Wherever one looks in philosophy and theology through the centuries, we find that Satan has done his job of deception well. We even find his lies about God in Judaism and Christianity as well as in all pagan religions. Anytime we hear of such "Christian" doctrines as eternal punishment, predestination, universalism, "name it, claim it," God causes suffering, etc., we know that Satanís deceptions have been effective. In pagan philosophies that describe a deity that must be appeased by human sacrifice, physical mutilation, or extravagant offerings, we know that Satan has done his job well. Whenever God is depicted as the Grand Exterminator rather than the Loving Father or as Cosmic Policeman rather than the God-Who-Cares, we know that Satan has tilted the truth.
How has God met these misrepresentations, these efforts to cloud His character so that men and women will be confused about Godís way of running the universe? The answer is: Jesus came. He came primarily to tell the truth about God. He came to "remove this dark shadow [Satanís charges] by revealing to the world the infinite love of God." SC:11; John 1:18; Matt. 11:27; John 14:8, 9. Much of the arguments within Christianity regarding such subjects as the atonement, the problem of suffering, judgment, etc., would vanish if arguing Christians would understand the main reason for Christís coming to earth. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And what is the main thing? To clear the name of God from all these lies so that men and women and children would admire Him, not fear Him.
And this basic truth in unfolding the Great Controversy shows how everything is connected to everything else. We donít have paradoxes or tensions when we are connecting truth issues. One truth leads to another. Hereís how it works. If God has been wrongly misrepresented, how does He respond? He responds by sending Himself to this earth to tell the truth about Himself.
So now we have the reason Jesus came to this earth--He "came to remove this dark shadow." Whatever else you may think are the reasons Jesus came, all those reasons must unfold out of this primary reason: He came to tell the truth about God. And telling that truth about God has everything to do with how we understand the plan of salvation.
You ask, What do you mean? I thought Jesus came to die for my sins. But Satan doesnít mind anyone saying that--because many people say that and repeat Satanís lies when they do. Calvinists with their doctrine of predestination believe that--but what does their picture of God tell us? Here is their picture of God: The God of stern justice is offended by sin and thus no one deserves salvation--but to make sure that some are saved to show His mercy, He will select a few lucky ones to be saved --and they will be saved regardless of their life choices and character. So that is why Jesus, in the opinions of Calvinists, came to this earth--to suffer enough to satisfy an offended God, enough to let God be merciful to those He arbitrarily elected to be saved.
That picture of God does not inspire admiration and trust and love--only fear. Because if you are not one that is arbitrarily selected to live forever, you will suffer in hell forever. Do you want to live throughout eternity with a God like that?
No, the plan of salvation is much bigger than that. Jesus came to tell us the truth about God. In revealing the Father, Jesus gave us many illustrations of how the Father would act or what the Father would say in similar human situations. Watch how Jesus brought the truth to the scholar Nicodemus; or dealt with Mary Magdalene, a sex addict--so graciously, so respectfully to both. Note His grief at Lazarusí tomb or His long-suffering patience with dissembling Judas. Observe how He welcomed Zacchaeus, the profiteering extortioner and children who climbed on His lap. Add to this list dozens of other human situations where He revealed some fresh aspect of Godís character--the character He wants us to emulate through His Spiritís enabling power.
To doubting Philip and His disciples Jesus said, "Believe because of the things I do" (John 14:11). Believe what? Believe that God the Father is just like what you see me do!" The main subject Jesus talked about, whether to individuals or the crowds, was His Father, the kind of God who runs the universe. His main subject was not our sins and Godís wrath. All preachers everywhere should take a lesson from Jesus: Every preacherís first duty is to tell the truth about God and to help God expose Satanís lies.
Telling the truth about God as seen through the words and deeds of Jesus will lower the heat that is unfortunately generated by doctrinal debates. Most doctrinal debates are caused by a misunderstanding of how God runs the universe and thus a misunderstanding of how He is leading men and women to get right with Him. How one understands how to get right with God depends on a clear picture of what God is like.
We have only begun to open up Steps to Christ. I hope that I have aroused some interest in taking another look at this much read, as well as much overlooked book. This book is more than a devotional treasure; this book is a theological well that never runs dry no matter how many times it is read.
I remember a precious experience I had in 1947 at the New England Sanitarium and Hospital. My Greek teacher was dying slowly from cancer. He became an Adventist while he was a professor at Tufts University--a tremendously educated scholar. I asked Dr. DeLuca which of Ellen Whiteís books He valued the most. I was expecting The Desire of Ages or The Great Controversy but he quickly said, "Steps to Christ." I was astonished. I had not lived long enough to appreciate this remarkable book. I had not had enough tough times. I had not yet seen the great issues in the Great Controversy. I asked the doctor, Why? He said, "That book is so simple, so clear."
I want everyone of you to discover that simplicity, that clearness, as to how you can find and maintain that closeness with God we all covet. Take this book as Godís love letter to you. Itís more than a book, listen to it as you would the radio or a tape. Listen for your name on every page. Thank Him that you matter that much to Him that He has been willing to contend patiently with Satan for so long..
But you say, Why so long, so many thousands of years? So that we could have enough information to make intelligent decisions about Him.
Why do we need to be intelligent about all these things? So that we can make decisions based on plenty of evidence.
Why is that so important? Because Satanís deceptions will never be more enticing, more frightfully confusing than in the days ahead. We can not love God enough to die for Him, if we are not sure we can trust Him. This book indeed will continually be the steps you will need every day to deepen your trust in God.
The more you know, the more you will admire Him and then love Him. And you will never want to disappoint Him. Ever.
Copyright © 2000 Herbert E. Douglass. All rights reserved.
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