The men and women who would eventually become known as Seventh-day Adventists spent the first few years after 1844 studying the Scriptures to understand the “present truth” more deeply. During this time they established a platform of teaching which has stood for over 170 years until today.
In November, 1848, Ellen White was given a message for her husband, that he was to embark upon a new venture of publishing the message of the sealing and the Third Angel. She recounted it like this, in Life Sketches, p. 125:
“At a meeting held in Dorchester, Mass., November, 1848, I had been given a view of the proclamation of the sealing message, and of the duty of the brethren to publish the light that was shining upon our pathway.
“After coming out of vision, I said to my husband: ‘I have a message for you. You must begin to print a little paper and send it out to the people. Let it be small at first; but as the people read, they will send you means with which to print, and it will be a success from the first. From this small beginning it was shown to me to be like streams of light that went clear round the world.’”
James White followed this instruction. The first paper was called The Present Truth. It was published from Middletown, Connecticut.
In the very first issue, dated July 1849, the first of a two-part segment appeared entitled “Scriptures usually quoted to prove the abolition of the Sabbath, examined.” Passages such as Galatians 3 and Romans 14 were examined.
The next month, in August 1849, the second number of the paper opened with a conclusion of this two-part series. The very first text which is covered is Colossians 2:14-17. Br. White wrote:
“The hand-writing of ordinances that was nailed to the cross at the crucifixion of the Messiah, was the typical, ceremonial law of Moses, which was written by the hand of Moses in a book.
“The crucifixion was the dividing line between the two dispensations. ‘In the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.’ Dan.ix:27.
“The first covenant which had ‘ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary,’ was a shadow of the second, and better covenant. The law was the shadow, and the Gospel is the body, that cast the shadow; and as all shadows reach to their body, and no farther, it is very clear that the sacrifices and oblations, new-moons, feast days, and Sabbaths of the Jewish law ceased, when the precious body and blood of the Lamb of God was sacrificed on the cross. This is what Paul calls ‘nailing it to his cross.’”
In November of the next year, 1850, in the very first issue of The Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, objections to the seventh-day Sabbath were again dealt with, and an exposition of Colossians 2:14-17 was offered:
“By ‘the hand-writing of ordinances,’ is most evidently meant the ceremonial law – not the Decalogue, or the moral law. – This is never characterized as ‘the hand-writing of ordinances.’ Therefore, the ‘blotting out,’ ‘taking away,’ and ‘nailing to the cross,’ spoken of, have no reference to this law, but to the Mosaic ritual. This is particularly distinguished from the Decalogue, and fitly described as ‘the law of commandments contained in ordinances.’ It was this, and this only, which was ‘blotted out’ and ‘nailed to the cross.’ As, therefore, the reference made by the Apostle is expressly to this law, it follows, by a fair inference, that ‘the sabbath days’ alluded to, or, strictly rendered ‘sabbaths,’ are those which were contained in this law, or among these ‘ordinances,’ and do not include the Sabbath of the fourth commandment. There were, besides the weekly Sabbath, various other sabbaths appointed, which belonged to that ritual, and not to the Decalogue. Accordingly, these were expressly included in ‘the hand-writing of ordinances,’ and like the rest were ‘a shadow of things to come,’ and ceased to be obligatory at the death of Christ. There is evidently no authority in this passage for including any sabbaths but what properly belonged to the Mosaic ritual. This view of the matter is corroborated by a more literal rendering of the 17th verse, viz: ‘Let no one therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in a part or division of a festival, or of a new moon, or of sabbaths.’ The sabbaths alluded to are obviously those which are found in the same place with meats and drinks, festivals and new moons, and which were of the same general character. – The weekly Sabbath, therefore, is not affected at all by their abrogation, but remains in full force, as does every other precept of the Decalogue.”
These are a couple of examples out of many which show that from the very beginning Seventh-day Adventists clearly understood the two laws and the distinction between the ceremonial sabbaths and the seventh-day Sabbath of the Lord.
Ellen White wrote in Patriarchs and Prophets, regarding the two laws, and referring to Colossians 2:
“There are many who try to blend these two systems, using the texts that speak of the ceremonial law to prove that the moral law has been abolished; but this is a perversion of the Scriptures. The distinction between the two systems is broad and clear. The ceremonial system was made up of symbols pointing to Christ, to His sacrifice and His priesthood. This ritual law, with its sacrifices and ordinances, was to be performed by the Hebrews until type met antitype in the death of Christ, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Then all the sacrificial offerings were to cease. It is this law that Christ ‘took … out of the way, nailing it to His cross.’ Colossians 2:14. But concerning the law of Ten Commandments the psalmist declares, ‘Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven.’ Psalm 119:89. And Christ Himself says, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law…. Verily I say unto you’—making the assertion as emphatic as possible—’Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ Matthew 5:17, 18. Here He teaches, not merely what the claims of God’s law had been, and were then, but that these claims should hold as long as the heavens and the earth remain. The law of God is as immutable as His throne. It will maintain its claims upon mankind in all ages.” Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 365:1.
Today, with the legacy of this clear and harmonious explanation of Scripture in our hands, we should take our position with the faithful pioneers in the message of the Third Angel.