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St. Augustine, also called Saint Augustine of Hippo, has been recognized as one of the most significant Christian thinkers after Paul. He represents the most influential adaptation of the ancient Platonic tradition with Christian ideas that ever occurred in the Latin Christian world. His writings were so widely read and imitated throughout Latin Christendom that his particular synthesis of Christian, Roman, and Platonic traditions defined the terms for much later tradition and debate. Both modern Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity owe much to Augustine, though in some ways each community has at times been embarrassed to own up to that allegiance in the face of irreconcilable elements in his thought. {https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Augustine#ref24810}

Born in a family with a pagan father and a Christian mother, Augustine attributes much of his conversion to Christianity to the book, Hortensius, written by Cicero, a Roman philosopher -“…I studied books of eloquence, wherein I was eager to be eminent from a damnable and inflated purpose, even a delight in human vanity. In the ordinary course of study, I lighted upon a certain book of Cicero, whose language, though not his heart, almost all admire. This book of his contains an exhortation to philosophy, and is called Hortensius. This book, in truth, changed my affections, and turned my prayers to Thyself, O Lord, and made me have other hopes and desires. Worthless suddenly became every vain hope to me; and, with an incredible warmth of heart, I yearned for an immortality of wisdom, and began now to arise that I might return to Thee.” {Confessions of Augustine, 3}

For nearly nine years Augustine was a devoted Manichaean. Manichaeism was started by Manichaeus (A.D. 215-275), who was a Persian, teaching that all matter is inherently evil. Everything that exists is evil. This was something that Agustina heavily embraced and became evident through his later work. As previously mentioned in our discussion on sin, Augustine formulated the doctrine of original sin, which was later embraced by Protestants such as Luther and Calvin. In a nutshell, original sin, just like Manichaeism, teaches that we are born evil, in a state of sin which gets passed on from one generation to the other. Sin is not only a choice (the consent of the will to transgress the law), but also a state and reality for every newborn baby. As a result, all men are born condemned because of Adam and the nature that he passed onto them. Many Protestants today teach that “we are not sinners because we sin; rather, we sin because we are sinners. We are all born totally imprisoned in original sin. There is no island of goodness left in us…original sin is something inherent in us–it is a morally ruined character.” {John Piper’s website https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-difference-between-original-sin-and-imputed-sin}

The doctrine of original sin led Augustine to another conclusion known as predestination. Although presented in different forms, this doctrine, just as original sin, was embraced by different Protestants. That doctrine teaches that since man is evil because of his genetic makeup, i.e. the human nature, and could not put away sin, God intended only to save certain people, doing this automatically. We have little or nothing to do with His decision of who will be saved and who will be lost. We are born evil because of our nature, but only some of us are saved. Who is saved is arbitrarily decided on by God. This was Augustine’s thinking. However, over the years his teachings have taken different forms. Many Protestants today only accept the first portion of what he presented, the doctrine of original sin, while others subscribe to predestination as well. Nevertheless, as we already established from Scripture, sin and an evil character are not passed on from one generation to another, but are rather the result of each individual’s decision.

“The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Ezekiel 18:20

If we look at one of the prophecies concerning Jesus, we will clearly see that babies coming into this world are unaware of the difference between good and evil and one becomes good or evil based on the choice of which master he or she will serve. In Isaiah chapter 7 we read:

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.” Isaiah 7:14-16

The child spoken of here is Jesus Christ, who took upon himself the nature of the seed of David to become one with the human race. Christ, just as any other child, came into this world with the free wil006C to choose. Evidently that choice was not predetermined for him or for any other child for that matter. Choice is the result of free will. Children cannot exercise that choice in infancy for their minds are not fully developed yet. This is why the shaping and molding of character in these earliest moments falls upon the parents. It is their responsibility to keep these children under the shadow of the Almighty and protect them from the snares of Satan. The great controversy is part of our lives from the very beginning to the very end of our life. We are but a vessel for righteousness or wickedness. It is for this very reason that Paul wrote:

“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Romans 14:12

The gospel that he preached and taught was about personal accountability. Our ancestors do not determine who we shall be. If it were so, then every time a thief had a child, that child should have been put into prison upon birth for he or she was predetermined to become a thief. Although we inherit evil tendencies and predispositions, Christ has not left anyone without divine help.

The question we need to ask here is how did the 1888 messengers present the gospel in light of what we learned so far? How is free will and choice incorporated into the Gospel? Does having a sinful fallen nature automatically mean that we are born sinners with ruined sinful characters, or did they believe that sin and righteousness were the result of our personal choices? We can only know this if we allow them to speak for themselves.

One of the main teachings found within our faith is the fact that we are all born on probation. But what does this imply?

According Noah Webster’s Dictionary probation is a:

“Moral trial; the state of man in the present life, in which he has the opportunity of proving his character and being qualified for a happier state.”

This definition falls perfectly in line with what our pioneers understood and taught. Let us now examine a few statements in the writings of the 1888 messengers that will allow us to see this clearly:

“The period of probation is the time granted to all to prepare for the day of God.” {1SP 124.1}

“God has given His word for all to investigate, that they may learn the way to life. None need err if they will submit to the conditions of salvation laid down in the word of God. Probation is granted to all, that all may form characters for eternal life. An opportunity will be given to all to decide for life or death. Men will be judged according to the measure of light given them. None will be accountable for their darkness and their errors if the light has not been brought to them. They have not sinned in not accepting what has not been given them. All will be tested before Jesus leaves His position in the most holy place. The probation of all closes when the pleading for sinners is ended and the garments of vengeance are put on.
Many entertain the view that probation is granted after Jesus leaves His work as mediator in the most holy apartment. This is the sophistry of Satan. God tests and proves the world by the light which He is pleased to give them previous to the coming of Christ. Characters are then formed for life or death. But the probation of those who choose to live a life of sin, and neglect the great salvation offered, closes when Christ’s ministration ceases just previous to His appearing in the clouds of heaven.” {2T 691.2}

“A multitude at first apparently received the warning of Noah, yet did not fully turn to God with true repentance. There was some time given them before the flood was to come, in which they were to be placed upon probation—to be proved and tried. They failed to endure the trial. The prevailing degeneracy overcame them, and they finally joined others who were corrupt, in deriding and scoffing at faithful Noah. They would not leave off their sins, but continued in polygamy, and in the indulgence of their corrupt passions.” {3SG 66.3}

“I saw that God could carry on his work without any of man’s help; but this is not his plan. The present world is designed as a scene of probation for man. He is here to form a character which will pass with him into the eternal world. Good and evil are placed before him, and his future state depends upon the choice he makes. Christ came to change the current of his thoughts and affections. His heart must be cut off from his earthly treasure, and placed upon the heavenly. By his self-denial, God can be glorified. The great sacrifice has been made for man, and now man will be tested and proved to see if he will follow the example of Jesus, and make a sacrifice for his fellowman. Satan and his angels are combined against the people of God; but Jesus is seeking to purify them unto himself.” {4bSG 37.3}

“Why don’t God kill the devil?” some people foolishly ask. The answer is that God believes in religious liberty, and is now giving the human family an opportunity, through the enjoyment of that liberty, to develop character. God purposes to dispose of the devil and sin and all that is evil at one and the same time; for all these things belong together and all tend toward the same end. But if God were to destroy sin now, all sinners would be destroyed with it; but sinners are yet on probation, and have an opportunity to separate from sin, so that the destruction of sin will not involve them with it; and besides, God is able to deliver all persons from the devil, so that so far as that is concerned, the devil doesn’t need to be destroyed.” {A. T. Jones, AMS June 30, 1898, p. 416.8}

These statements clearly demonstrate that we are born on probation – a period of test for the individual where he has been given the liberty to choose God and do right or fall for the temptations of the adversary and choose evil.

Someone who ascribes to the teaching of original sin, might argue and say that though we are born on probation, the Bible also teaches that we are born evil and that the probationary period is actually the time given to mankind to allow God to transform us from being evil to being good – for Him to transform our morally ruined characters we were born with, into characters of love. But if our sinful fallen nature is what condemns us and puts us on such probation, then Adam and Eve before the fall should not have ever been on probation. In other words, we know that Adam and Eve were holy and pure before they sinned. They most certainly did not possess a morally ruined character. Thus, the above definition of probation given by a person who ascribes to original sin does not allow Adam and Eve to have been on probation before the fall. This however was not so. Adam and Eve’s free will was tried and tested. The period of probation, as outlined even by Websters, is indeed a period which is given to test and prove man of his loyalty to God and to allow man to form a character which will pass with him into the eternal world. No one is born with a predetermined character. Character is something we develop based on the choices we make in life. Our only hope is to choose Christ, for it is through the divine Spirit, the divine nature, that our characters can be molded for eternity.

“God, in counsel with his Son, formed the plan of creating man in their own image. He was placed upon probation. Man was to be tested and proved, and if he should bear the test of God, and remain loyal and true after the first trial, he was not to be beset with continual temptations; but was to be exalted equal with the angels, and henceforth immortal.” {RH February 24, 1874, par. 3}

“Adam’s sin plunged the race into hopeless misery; but by the sacrifice of the Son of God, a second probation was granted to man. In the plan of redemption a way of escape is provided for all who will avail themselves of it. God knew that it was impossible for man to overcome in his own strength, and he has provided help for him. How thankful we should be that a way is open for us, by which we can have access to the Father; that the gates are left ajar, so that beams of light from the glory within may shine upon those who will receive them!” {CTBH 15.3}

“For our sakes He became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich. What kind of riches? It was not the riches of this earth, but it was the eternal riches, the knowledge of God communicated through Jesus Christ. He consents to become man’s substitute and surety; He engages to bear the penalty of the debt which man had incurred by transgression. It is He that loved us, and so loved us that He offered His life as a living sacrifice to bear the sins of a guilty world, that man should have a second probation, that man should be tested and proved and tried to see whether he will stand under the bloodstained banner of Prince Emmanuel, or whether he will choose to stand under the banner of the prince of darkness.” {Ms43a-1894.3}

“This is the origin of the philosophy of the immortality of the soul, in this world. And the only reason why that man did not die that day, even in the very hour when he sinned, is that there, at that moment, Jesus Christ offered himself in behalf of man, and took upon himself the death that would then have fallen upon the man; and thus gave to man another chance, a probation, a breathing-space, that he might choose life. This is why God could immediately say to the deceiver: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” 18 And so it is written: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” 19 He came that they might first have life; and, without His then offering himself, man never would have had life after he sinned.” {A. T. Jones, ECE 110.1}

Adam, a transgressor, was given another chance. With him, all of humanity was given a chance to prove and choose who they will serve. This is why there is a judgement. Every person will be judged based on the light given them and the only reason why someone will be kept out of heaven is if they chose to ignore the prompting of the Holy Spirit and have chosen to live according to the flesh and commit sin. It is a known fact that probation will close for humanity at the time when Michael shall stand as outlined in Daniel 12:1. Past that point, no one will have the opportunity to change their course in life. The sinner will remain a sinner and the righteous will remain righteous, sealed with the Spirit of Christ. Past that point there will be no other probation for humanity and sin and sinners will suffer the penalty for their transgressions.

A thought to keep in minds is that the fact we are born on probation is not to be confused with the process of conversion. God does not require of sinners to make up their past mistakes. Justification comes by grace. E. J. Waggoner puts it beautifully:

“Note that it is by being justified by His grace that we are made heirs. We have already learned from Romans 3:24, 25 that this justification by His grace is through our faith in Christ, but Galatians 3:26 tells us that faith in Christ Jesus makes us children of God; therefore, we know that whoever has been justified by God’s grace—has been forgiven—is a child and an heir of God.
This shows that there is no ground for the idea that a person must go through a sort of probation and attain to a certain degree of holiness before God will accept him as His child. He receives us just as we are. It is not for our goodness that He loves us but because of our need. He receives us, not for the sake of anything that He sees in us but for His own sake and for what He knows that His Divine power can make of us. It is only when we realize the wonderful exaltation and holiness of God and the fact that He comes to us in our sinful and degraded condition to adopt us into His family that we can appreciate the force of the apostle’s exclamation, “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” 1 John 3:1. Everyone upon whom this honor has been bestowed will purify himself, even as He is pure.” {E. J. Waggoner, CHR 68.2}

We see the love of God so well exemplified through the Gospel. All He bids us do is come to Him. That has always been the case with God. It is our sins that separate us from God. Many people however confuse sin with temptation. Our nature, although weakened and predisposed to sin, is not sin in and of itself. Again, the Bible is clear:

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” James 1:13-15

The sinful tendencies that we have in our nature entice us to sin. But sin originates only when lust conceives, when the consent of the will is given:

“The lower passions have their seat in the body and work through it. The words “flesh” or “fleshly” or “carnal lusts” embrace the lower, corrupt nature; the flesh of itself cannot act contrary to the will of God. We are commanded to crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts. How shall we do it? Shall we inflict pain on the body? No; but put to death the temptation to sin. The corrupt thought is to be expelled. Every thought is to be brought into captivity to Jesus Christ. All animal propensities are to be subjected to the higher powers of the soul. The love of God must reign supreme; Christ must occupy an undivided throne. Our bodies are to be regarded as His purchased possession. The members of the body are to become the instruments of righteousness.” {AH 127.2}

Our minds, without the aid of the divine Spirit, will not be able to overcome temptations. Regardless, sin has always been and will always be a choice. We become sinners because of the choices we make, not because of the choices our parents made:

“Always bear in mind the fact that there is something God hates with a perfect hatred, and that is sin. It will prove the ruin of thousands, yea, millions of souls, because they choose to sin, and in sinning make themselves characters after Satan’s likeness, and such, unless they repent, forsake sin, and believe in Jesus Christ, will never find a place in heaven.” {Ms1-1894.12}

“Christ speaks of the church over which Satan presides as the synagogue of Satan. Its members are the children of disobedience. They are those who choose to sin, who labor to make void the holy law of God. It is Satan’s work to mingle evil with good, and to remove the distinction between good and evil. Christ would have a church that labors to separate the evil from the good, whose members will not willingly tolerate wrong-doing, but will expel it from the heart and life.” {RH December 4, 1900, par. 6}

“There are many who in their hearts murmur against God. They say, “We inherit the fallen nature of Adam, and are not responsible for our natural imperfections.” They find fault with God’s requirements, and complain that he demands what they have no power to give. Satan made the same complaint in heaven, but such thoughts dishonor God.“ {ST August 29, 1892, par. 2}

Why would the above words dishonor God? It is evident from what we have discussed so far that our nature, although fallen and predisposed to sin, is not an excuse for any of our sins. Being enticed to sin is a temptation, but sin conceived is a result of our personal choice. Anyone who entertains the idea that our nature is the cause for our sins should consider these powerful words from A.T. Jones:

“As soon as Adam sinned, God gave him a second chance and set him free to choose which master he would have. Since that time every man is free to choose which way he will go; therefore he is responsible for his own individual sins. And when Jesus Christ has set us all free from the sin and the death which came upon us from the first Adam, that freedom is for every man, and every man can have it for the choosing.
The Lord will not compel any one to take it. He compels no one to sin and He compels no one to be righteous. Everyone sins upon his own choice. The Scriptures demonstrate it. And every one can be made perfectly righteous at his choice. And the Scriptures demonstrate this. No man will die the second death who has not chosen sin rather than righteousness, death rather than life. In Jesus Christ there is furnished in completeness all that man needs or ever can have in righteousness, and all there is for any man to do is to choose Christ and then it is his.” {A.T. Jones, GCDB 1895, p. 269.6}

Sin is a mystery. We are not to seek to find an excuse for it nor a cause:

“Sin is an intruder, for whose presence no reason can be given. It is mysterious, unaccountable; to excuse it is to defend it. Could excuse for it be found, or cause be shown for its existence, it would cease to be sin.” {Ellen White, GC 492.2}

Any man who attempts to give us the cause for the existence of sin is giving you the cause for something that is not sin. In other words, if a cause for sin can be shown it would cease to be sin. So anyone making the claim to know the cause for sin has simply misunderstood sin. The Bible plainly states that it is the mystery of iniquity.

This intruder is part of the world we live in, but Christ has suffered everything, so He can become the surety for man and give him the ability to overcome temptation. God created us with the ability to choose. We have a free will that is ours to exercise.

“In faith the woman of Phoenicia flung herself against the barriers that had been piled up between Jew and Gentile. Against discouragement, regardless of appearances that might have led her to doubt, she trusted the Saviour’s love. It is thus that Christ desires us to trust in Him. The blessings of salvation are for every soul. Nothing but his own choice can prevent any man from becoming a partaker of the promise in Christ by the gospel.” {DA 403.2}

The 1888 messengers believed in a Gospel of choice. Just like Paul, they believed in personal accountability. We ourselves are to blame for what we have done and who we have become. They believed in a God of second chances. Sin is a horrible thing and we have all sinned, but glory be to God and His mercy, for no one can prevent us from becoming partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel. As we mediate upon these thoughts, let us also remember the following counsel:

“Right physical habits promote mental superiority. Intellectual power, physical strength, and longevity depend upon immutable laws. There is no happen-so, no chance, about this matter. Heaven will not interfere to preserve men from the consequences of the violation of nature’s laws. There is much of truth in the adage that every man is the architect of his own fortune. While parents are responsible for the stamp of character, as well as for the education and training which they give their sons and daughters, it is still true that our position and usefulness in the world depend, to a great degree, upon our own course of action. {ST February 11, 1886, par. 8}

May God help us to humble our hearts and surrender our will to His will, so we can develop Christian characters that rightfully represent Christ to a perishing world.

“Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:2