Reflections on the Seal and Image of God from the Adventist Pioneers
While researching the image of God in the writings of the Adventist pioneers, I came across many statements that I had never heard before. Some of these related directly to the seal of God, and by inference, to the mark of the beast. What thrilled, and to be honest, surprised me most, was how these ideas focused on the person of Jesus. Here are some of these quotations, particularly from A. T. Jones and W. W. Prescott which I hope will speak for themselves.
The Seal and the Image of God
In 1895, W. W. Prescott summarized some of the issues other Adventist writers had discussed concerning “the closing work”:
Now when we come to the closing work just before the second coming of Christ, the Father’s name is written in their foreheads, or they are sealed with the seal of the living God, or the character of God in Christ is fully reflected in them, or the law of God is written in their hearts, — all meaning this one thing, that the image of God is restored.1
Prescott seems to suggest that the restoration of the image of God is synonymous with the Father’s name, the seal of God, the character of Christ, and the law of God written in human hearts. So the seal of God is intimately associated with human restoration in the image of God.
The Seal and the Sabbath
The Sabbath has often been linked to the seal of God but within the context of law keeping. In other words, we should keep the Sabbath because it is part of the law of God that is still binding and should be obeyed, and this loyalty to God’s law is the sign of those who are sealed.
While this is not untrue, Ellen White puts the significance of the Sabbath in a different light when she describes how the Sabbath commandment is specifically a witness to the restoration of the divine image, “The Sabbath is a sign of creative and redeeming power; it points to God as the source of life and knowledge; it recalls man’s primeval glory, and thus witnesses to God’s purpose to re-create us in His own image.”2
Perhaps in an effort to ward off a potential drift to legalistic Sabbath keeping, and to keep the focus of the restoration process on the person of Jesus, A. T. Jones carefully asserted that “Saturday keeping is not the seal of God.” This must have come as a shock to his audience but he immediately continues, “Christ, as he is reflected in the Sabbath of the Lord, and in it, in the mind and heart of the believer, in the living image of God completed, — that is the seal of the living God.”3
Again, Jones highlights the person of Jesus as he is revealed in the Sabbath:
The Sabbath being the sign of what Christ is to the believer, will the believer know fully what the Sabbath is until he knows fully what Christ is? [Congregation: “No.”] So then when the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ has absorbed all of the mind itself, then the Sabbath will be also known fully to the mind itself. But the Sabbath is the sign of what God is in Christ, and when that is brought fully to the mind itself, what is that but the image of God, the name of God, in the mind of the believer, and that the seal of the living God, through the Sabbath of the Lord?4
Prescott then tackles the potential confusion between understanding the Sabbath as the seal and Christ as the seal, by showing the Sabbath and Christ in their true perspective:
But we have always been told that the Sabbath is the seal…You will remember in our talk some time since about the Sabbath, we tried to show that in the Sabbath, from every standpoint and on every side, Christ appeared: Christ the creator; Christ the one who makes holy; Christ the sanctifier; Christ the one who blesses us and in whom we are blessed. No one can really and truly keep the Sabbath in whom Christ does not dwell; and the Sabbath is the seal in so far as Christ is recognized in it. Just that far and no farther. It will not seal anyone simply to observe the Sabbath in a formal way, as an outward ceremony. To keep Saturday does not seal anyone any more than to keep Sunday or Monday, in that sense; but only in so far as Christ is seen in the Sabbath is the Sabbath a seal. But the Spirit is the agency by which we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, that Christ may be formed within. Now when the Sabbath is recognized as the institution of Christ, and that Christ is the very essence of the Sabbath, do you not see that when the Sabbath is properly and really kept in the spirit of it, that it is when Christ is received in his fullness. That is to say, you cannot keep the Sabbath without receiving the righteousness of Christ. The fact is, you cannot do anything without receiving it. You may view it on every side, but you will come back to that one point where everything centers, that you must have the righteousness of Christ; you must have Christ dwelling in you.5
As the Sabbath was so bound up with the work of Jesus in restoring the image of God in man, Adventists saw this as a critical issue in the time just before Jesus returns. Here Prescott explains how this is linked to the honoring of God, and a key element in the great controversy theme:
The Sabbath is the seal of God. What is the image that God wants to impress upon us? Why, the very purpose of all this time of probation has been that the image of God as manifested in Jesus Christ when he was here, shall be received by us. And just as when Christ was here and walked the earth he was to the world an interpretation of the character of God, so everyone of his followers is to be a living epistle, known and read of all men, and is to show forth the excellencies, the praises, of him who has called him out of darkness into his marvelous light; and the Christian walking the earth now is to show forth the character of God as Christ did of old when on the earth. That is the image of God restored, and that image is to be restored in humanity, just as that image was in Christ when he was here in humanity; for what Christ was in his perfect humanity, that we must be.6
Again, Prescott argues for the Sabbath as the sign of the image of God restored:
The Sabbath is the seal of God, because, when the Sabbath is accepted as the Sabbath of the true God, in the meaning that God intended it to be for us, and we really keep it that way, the image of God is being, and is, restored in the soul; so that when God looks upon his Sabbath-keeping children, who are indeed Sabbath-keepers, he sees in them the image of his own Son.7
Consequently, Prescott believed that when “the image of God [is] again restored in man, then the Sabbath idea comes in again as the sign of this work completed.”8
The Seal and the Holy Spirit
Sohow is this work of restoration accomplished? A. T. Jones answers this by linking the seal to the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart:
Then, I say, don’t you see that it is impossible to keep the righteousness of God and the Holy Spirit separate? So then, “changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord;” and when the image of God in Jesus Christ is found in us, what then? There is the impress, the seal of God…When by looking into the face of Jesus Christ, and there alone, having received the righteousness of God which is by faith in him; and looking ever into his glorious face, that reflects, the glory of God, the effect of that is to change us into the same image, to perfect the image of God, and restore it in us, by the working of the Spirit of God upon the soul. And when that is done, then the same Spirit of God is there to affix the seal of the living God, the eternal impress of his own image.9
W. W. Prescott emphasizes how the seal of God comes by the Holy Spirit who alone is responsible for enabling an individual to reflect Jesus:
Now someone places a piece of paper in a seal and presses down the lever, the paper is taken out and here is an impression. Now there is a certain agency that does that work. After it is done a certain impression remains. Now the Spirit is the agency in the sealing work. What is the impression that remains? It is the image of God restored in the soul. Who is that image of God? Christ. Then it will be Christ in you, the hope of glory. It all comes right back to that. And the work of the Spirit is to prepare us for, and impress that image upon us. On this point I will read a few words from the REVIEW of Nov. 1, 1892:— “As the wax takes the impression of the seal, so the soul is to take the impression of the Spirit of God and retain the moral Image of Christ.10
Seal vs. Mark
I think the contribution of Prescott particularly has been invaluable in maintaining a healthy perspective on the relationship between the seal of God, the Sabbath, and Jesus.
Of course, throughout these quotations, there has not been any reference to the mark of the beast which stands in contrast to the seal. However, if the core of the seal of God is the imaging of Christ, by inference, the core of the mark of the beast would be the imaging of Satan. It then becomes fairly clear that the mark of the beast can be seen as the inevitable and natural consequence of disconnection from the person of Christ, with the result that human lives, made in the image of God, become increasingly disfigured from their original design.
Historically, Seventh-day Adventists have viewed the seal of God as observing the Sabbath as the biblical day of worship, in contrast to the mark of the beast which is linked to observing Sunday as a counterfeit day of worship. While I believe this is still true, I also believe it is critical to maintain the Christocentric emphasis that these pioneers have demonstrated concerning the seal of God.
So as a transformational community in the last days, we wave the Sabbath flag clearly. As we do, we alert all those around us to the army of people under it who are devoted to restoring the image of God in broken human lives—to restore Christ to His rightful place in the hearts of His children. And so the seal of God is made visible.
Notes & References:
1. W. W. Prescott, General Conference Bulletin, March 5, 1895, 483.
2. Ellen G. White, Education, 250.
3. A. T. Jones, General Conference Daily Bulletin March 2, 1893, 455.
4. A. T. Jones, General Conference Bulletin/General Conference Daily Bulletin, March 2, 1893, 455.
5. W. W. Prescott, General Conference Daily Bulletin February 24, 1893, 388.
6. W. W. Prescott, General Conference Daily Bulletin, February 11, 1893, p. 224.
7. W. W. Prescott, General Conference Daily Bulletin February 11, 1893, 224.
8. W. W. Prescott, General Conference Bulletin, March 5, 1895, 482.
9. A. T. Jones, General Conference Daily Bulletin February 27, 1893, 415.
10. W. W. Prescott, General Conference Daily Bulletin February 24, 1893, 388.
Gavin Anthony's primary interest is looking at how we can inspire the development of transformational communities of disciple-makers who honour God by devoting themselves to restoring the image of God in broken people’s lives. He is British and lives in Reykjavik while serving as the president of the Iceland Conference.
Image credit: Flickr.com / Léa
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