Where does Mrs. White stand on the great central issue of justification by faith? Is her emphasis essentially Lutheran, Reformed, Arminian, Wesleyan or Roman Catholic? Is her doctrine a radical departure from historic Protestantism? Was the question of justification by faith central in her thinking, or was it drowned out by her concern for things like the Sabbath, health reform or other heterodox matters?
We will endeavor to answer these questions by doing two things:
(1) We will survey Mrs. White's estimate of the importance of the subject.
(2) We will then examine her actual doctrine of the sinner's justification before God.
Mrs. White's Estimate of Justification
Possessing a sensitive awareness of church history and historical theology, Mrs. White had a profound respect for the Reformers and was a fervent believer in the divine origin of the Protestant Reformation. She was thoroughly acquainted with J. H. Merle D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation and suggested that Adventist families ought to read it on long winter evenings.
For those who can procure it, D'Aubigne's History of the Reformation will be both interesting and profitable. From this work we may gain some knowledge of what has been accomplished in the past in the great work of reform. We can see how God poured light into the minds of those who searched his word, how much the men ordained and sent forth by him were willing to suffer for the truth's sake, and how hard it is for the great mass of mankind to renounce their errors and to receive and obey the teachings of the Scriptures. During the winter evenings, when our children were young, we read from this history with the deepest interest.1
Mrs. White's writings reveal her tremendous admiration for Luther as God's man of the hour.(2) The light of the Reformation was "the great doctrine of justification by faith, so clearly taught by Luther. . ."(3) She also salutes the contributions made by Zwingli, Farel, Bucer, Calvin and other Reformers, and writes understandingly of their work.(4) Passing to the age of the Puritans, she shows an appreciative knowledge of some of the leading figures and their works.
In a loathsome dungeon crowded with profligates and felons, John Bunyan breathed the very atmosphere of heaven; and there he wrote his wonderful allegory of the pilgrim's journey from the land of destruction to the celestial city. For over two hundred years that voice from Bedford jail has spoken with thrilling power to the hearts of men. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners have guided many feet into the path of life.
Then Mrs. White dwells on the spiritual awakening under the ministry of Whitefield and Wesley.(6) Her high regard for Wesley is reflected not only in her biographical comments, but in certain areas of her own theology. The power of Wesley's revival is attributed to a rediscovery of "the great doctrine of justification by faith, so clearly taught by Luther. . . . "(7) "Wesley's life was devoted to the preaching of the great truths which he had received—justification through faith in the atoning blood of Christ, and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit upon the heart.8
Baxter, Flavel, Alleine, and other men of talent, education, and deep Christian experience stood up in valiant defense of the faith which was once delivered to the saints. The work accomplished by these men, proscribed and outlawed by the rulers of this world, can never perish. Flavel's Fountain of Life and Method of Grace have taught thousands how to commit the keeping of their souls to Christ. Baxter's Reformed Pastor has proved a blessing to many who desire a revival of the work of God, and his Saints' Everlasting Rest has done its work in leading souls to the "rest" that remaineth for the people of Cod.5
Mrs. White's estimate of the doctrine of justification by faith as given by the Reformers is expressed in these comments: "Christ was a Protestant. . . . Luther and his followers did not invent the reformed religion. They simply accepted it as presented by Christ and the apostles."(9) She therefore did not see herself as a Johnny-come-lately religious innovator. Neither did she pass by centuries of church history without believing that the Holy Spirit was leading and guiding the church. Rather, she felt deeply indebted to the Protestant heritage.
What is especially interesting is Mrs. White's relation to the doctrine of justification by faith among her own Adventist people. As a teen-age girl, she had experienced an evangelical conversion years before a single Seventh-day Adventist existed, attributing the birth of faith in her heart to "clear views . . . of the atonement and the work of Christ."(10) Along with others, she also became interested in the doctrine of the second advent of Christ, the Sabbath, and certain of the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation—matters which in a few years became the distinctive teachings of the fledgling Seventh-day Adventist denomination.
It generally happens that in the atmosphere of religious controversy the distinctive and controverted points tend to overshadow what the Bible calls "the common faith."(11) It may be remembered that Luther ended up writing as much about his disputed view of the supper as about justification by faith. Lutherans gave the impression of preaching "the gospel of the sacraments." With the Reformed branch of the Reformation, Calvin's awesome doctrine of predestination was the point of special controversy. As a result, predestination was moved to the center, and Calvinism became noted for "the gospel of the five points."
In the case of the Adventists, controversy set them to vigorously defending those points before which people balked like cows at a new barn door. They were in grave danger of heading down the road of legalism with "the gospel of sabbatarianism." As the years passed, Mrs. White became increasingly uneasy and burdened for a genuine evangelical revival within Adventist ranks.
Things came to a head in the year 1888 when two young ministers began a justification by faith crusade within the church. The old guard felt uneasy about the new emphasis, thinking that it would distract from the task of preaching "the third angel's message" (as they called their distinctive emphasis). Preferring to keep emphasizing the Adventist distinctives as they had done for the past forty years, they took it for granted that Mrs. White, a fellow pioneer in the cause, would support them and check the enthusiasm of the young preachers. But she proved that she was one of the few people who could pass sixty years of age without becoming stereotyped and set in the old ways. In the presence of the startled delegates at the Minneapolis Conference session, she got up and unequivocally took her stand with the young preachers of righteousness by faith. What is more, she lashed out at the legalism of the opposers. Her sentiments are well expressed in her own words which were written some time later:
You will meet with those who will say, "You are too much excited over the matter. You are too much in earnest. You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law." As a people we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa, that had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God. We must not trust in our own merits at all, but in the merits of Jesus of Nazareth.12
In another place Mrs. White calls the message of justification by faith "the sweetest melodies that come from human lips. . . 15
Christ has not been presented in connection with a law as a faithful and merciful high priest, who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. He has not been lifted up before the sinner as the divine sacrifice. His work as sacrifice, substitute, and surety, has been only coldly and casually dwelt upon; but this is what the sinner needs to know. It is Christ in His fullness as a sin-pardoning Saviour, that the sinner must see; for the unparalleled love of Christ, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, will bring conviction and conversion to the hardened heart.13
The present message—justification by faith—is a message from God; it bears the divine credentials, for its fruit is unto holiness.14
Some were apparently asking, "Since when is justification by faith the third angel's message?" (The third angel's message" had become practically synonymous with the preaching of the Sabbath question.) In this context Mrs. White makes the most surprising statement of all:
"Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, 'It is the third angel's message in verity. '"(16) She also said, "The doctrine of justification by faith has been lost sight of by many who have professed to believe the third angel's message."(17) " . . . this I do know, that our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and on kindred truths."18
In a revealing statement to some of her brethren, she expressed her true feelings on justification by faith and the resistance to a genuine evangelical revival:
Mrs. White never waivered in her conviction that the Advent movement, of which she was a part, had a divinely appointed role to play on the religious stage before the entire world The "third angel's message" would yet swell to "a loud cry, arrest the attention of the world, and become the focal point in events leading to the eschaton. But Adventism would not fulfill this role until it took hold of the truth of justification by faith and became the world's foremost exponent of the gospel of Christ's righteousness. In that phase of the Advent movement "one interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other,—Christ our righteousness."20
The danger has been presented to me again and again of entertaining, as a people, false ideas of justification by faith. . . . The law of God has been largely dwelt upon, and has been presented to congregations, almost as destitute of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His relation to the law as was the offering of Cain. I have been shown that many have been kept from the faith because of the mixed, confused ideas of salvation, because the ministers have worked in a wrong manner to reach hearts. The point which has been urged upon my mind for years is the imputed righteousness of Christ. I have wondered that this matter was not made the subject of discourses in our churches throughout the land, when the matter has been kept so constantly urged upon me, and I have made it the subject of nearly every discourse and talk that I have given to the people. . . .
There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly, repeated more frequently, or established more firmly in the minds of all, than the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. . . .
Let the subject be made distinct and plain that it is not possible to effect anything in our standing before God or in the gift of God to us through creature merit. Should faith and works purchase the gift of salvation for anyone, then the Creator is under obligation to the creature. Here is an opportunity for falsehood to be accepted as truth. If any man can merit salvation by anything he may do, then he is in the same position as the Catholic to do penance for his sins. Salvation, then, is partly of debt, that may be earned as wages. If man cannot, by any of his good works, merit salvation, then it must be wholly of grace, received by man as a sinner because he receives and believes in Jesus. It is wholly a free gift. Justification by faith is placed beyond controversy. And all this controversy is ended, as soon as the matter is settled that the merits of fallen man in his good works can never procure eternal life for him.
The light given me of God places this important subject above any question in my mind. Justification is wholly of grace and not procured by any works that fallen man can do. . . .
There has been too little educating in clear lines upon this point. . . .
"All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee." No work of man can merit for him the pardoning love of God, but the love of God pervading the soul will lead him to do those things which were always required of God and that he should do with pleasure. He has done only that which duty ever required of him. . . .
Discussions may be entered into by mortals strenuously advocating creature merit, and each man striving for the supremacy, but they simply do not know that all the time, in principle and character, they are misrepresenting the truth as it is in Jesus. They are in a fog of bewilderment. . . .
I ask, How can I present this matter as it is? The Lord Jesus imparts all the powers, all the grace, all the penitence, all the inclination, all the pardon of sins, in presenting His righteousness for man to grasp by living faith—which is also the gift of God. If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man, and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason. Standing in the presence of their Creator and looking upon the unsurpassed glory which enshrouds His person, they are looking upon the Lamb of God given from the foundation of the world to a life of humiliation, to be rejected of sinful men, to be despised, to be crucified. who can measure the infinity of the sacrifice!
Christ for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. And any works that man can render to God will be far less than nothingness. My requests are made acceptable only because they are laid upon Christ's righteousness. The idea of doing anything to merit the grace of pardon is fallacy from beginning to end.
"Lord, in my hand no price I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling. . ."
We hear so many things preached in regard to the conversion of the soul that are not the truth. Men are educated to think that if a man repents he shall be pardoned, supposing that repentance is the way, the door, into heaven; that there is a certain assured value in repentance to buy for himself forgiveness. Can man repent of himself? No more than he can pardon himself. Tears, sighs, resolutions—all these are but the proper exercise of the faculties that God has given to man, and the turning from sin in the amendment of a life which is God's. where is the merit in the man to earn his salvation, or to place before God something which is valuable and excellent? Can an offering of money, houses, lands, place yourself on the deserving list? Impossible!
There is danger in regarding justification by faith as placing merit on faith. when you take the righteousness of Christ as a free gift you are justified freely through the redemption of Christ. what is faith? "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It is an assent of the understanding to God's words which binds the heart in willing consecration and service to God, who gave the understanding, who moved on the heart, who first drew the mind to view Christ on the cross of Calvary. Faith is rendering to God the intellectual powers, abandonment of the mind and will to God, and making Christ the only door to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity. . . .
"By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Here is truth that will unfold the subject to your mind if you do not close it to the rays of light. Eternal life is an infinite gift. This places it outside the possibility of our earning it, because it is infinite. It must necessarily be a gift. . . .
The absence of devotion, piety, and sanctification of the outer man comes through denying Jesus Christ our righteousness. . . .
. . . . when I see my own brethren in the faith, responsible men, working in darkness, my heart aches. .. .
While one class pervert the doctrine of justification by faith and neglect to comply with the conditions laid down in the Word of God—"If ye love Me, keep My commandments"—there is fully as great an error on the part of those who claim to believe and obey the commandments of God but who place themselves in opposition to the precious rays of light—new to them—reflected from the cross of Calvary. The first class do not see the wondrous things in the law of God for all who are doers of His Word. The others cavil over trivialities, and neglect the weightier matters, mercy and the love of God.
Many have lost very much in that they have not opened the eyes of their understanding to discern the wondrous things in the law of God. On the one hand, religionists generally have divorced the law and the gospel, while we have, on the other hand, almost done the same from another standpoint. We have not held up before the people the righteousness of Christ and the full significance of His great plan of redemption. We have left out Christ and His matchless love, brought in theories and reasonings, and preached argumentative discourses.
Unconverted men have stood in the pulpits sermonizing. Their own hearts have never experienced, through a living, clinging, trusting faith, the sweet evidence of the forgiveness of their sins. How then can they preach the love, the sympathy, the forgiveness of God for all sins? How can they say, "Look and live"? Looking at the cross of Calvary, you will have a desire to bear the cross. A world's Redeemer hung upon the cross of Calvary. Behold the Saviour of the world, in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Can any look, and behold the sacrifice of God's dear Son, and their hearts not be melted and broken, ready to surrender to God heart and soul?19
Have Adventists succeeded in "out-gospeling" the Lutherans, "out-evangelizing" the evangelicals, and "out-gracing" the Baptists as Mrs. White envisaged they should? That is a devastating, heart-searching question that weighs heavily on the Adventist consciousness today. Among many evangelicals the image of Adventists is still no better than second-class evangelicals at best, or cultists at worst. In recent years they have been forced to reappraise the painful experience of 1888 while these words of that indefatigable little woman have returned to confront Adventism with a vengeance: "It [justification by faith] is the third angel's message in verity."21
Mrs. White's Doctrine of Justification
Being very conscious of what she calls "the hereditary trusts" of the Reformation,(22) Mrs. White's doctrine of justification by faith conforms very closely to the Protestant tradition. We know, of course, that the great Protestant teachers, like Luther, Calvin and Wesley, expressed the message in slightly different accents. Mrs. white does not consistently follow any of the varying streams of thought. At times her Wesleyan background shows through in her doctrine of justification; but then she surprises the reader by taking a very Reformed or Lutheran line on other points.
The Meaning of Justification
Although it is very characteristic of Mrs. white to avoid technical theological jargon as far as possible, it is clear that she recognizes the judicial, declaratory nature of justification. "Justification is the opposite of condemnation.(23) "The great work that is wrought for the sinner who is spotted and stained by evil is the work of justification. By Him who speaketh truth he is /declared righteous. The Lord imputes unto the believer the righteousness of Christ and pronounces him righteous before the universe."(24) Justification means being "accounted righteous."(25) The one whom God justifies stands right before the law.26
Like Luther before her, Mrs. White can also speak of justification as being made righteous. But it is clear from the context that this does not mean to make righteous subjectively, but rather judicially (or positively, as in 2 Corinthians 5:21). "Having made us righteous through the imputed righteousness of Christ, God pronounces us just, and treats us as just."(27) "They are justified alone through the imputed righteousness of Christ."(28) Imputation is a transaction whereby Christ's righteousness is placed to the believer's account.(29) Furthermore, justified sinners are treated "as if they were righteous," "as though he were righteous. "(30) All these expressions—imputed, accounted," "as if"—make it clear that the writer does not subscribe to the Roman Catholic idea that justification means to make righteous subjectively.
The following statement is a very representative definition of justification:
Sinners can be justified by God only when He pardons their sins, remits the punishment they deserve, and treats them as though they were really just and had not sinned, receiving them into divine favor and treating them as if they were righteous.31
The Work of God
Justification is seen as "a great work that is wrought for [not in] the sinner."(32) "The whole work is the Lord's from the beginning to the end."(33) Man is not called upon to contribute anything. " . . . God Himself has the honor of providing a way, and it is so complete, so perfect, that man cannot, by any works he may do, add to its perfection."(34) As for man, "He has nothing of his own but what is tainted and corrupted, polluted with sin, utterly repulsive to a pure and holy God."35
All human works and merits are excluded from justification. "No one can be justified by any works of his own."(36) "Works will not buy for us an entrance into heaven."(37) "You are not to depend on your own goodness or good works."(38) "Let no one take the limited, narrow position that any of the works of man can help in the least possible way to liquidate the debt of his transgression. This is a fatal deception."39
No inwrought holiness is required before the sinner comes to Christ for justification. "My brethren, are you expecting that your merit will recommend you to the favor of God, thinking that you must be free from sin before you trust His power to save? If this is the struggle going on in your mind, I fear you will gain no strength, and will finally become discouraged."(40) "The condition upon which you may come to God is not that you shall be holy. . . ." (4l) "Some seem to feel that they must be on probation and must prove to the Lord that they are reformed, before they can claim His blessing. . . . Jesus loves to have us come to Him, just as we are—sinful, helpless, dependent."42
"Salvation is God's free gift to the believer, given to him for Christ's sake alone."(43) This sounds like the good old Lutheran slogan—"by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith." Since there are many who only superficially subscribe to an orthodox slogan, let us probe into this understanding of justification by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith.
By Grace. Although Mrs. White can use the word grace to include the operations of God's Holy Spirit in the heart, when dealing with justifying grace, she understands it to mean unmerited favor in the classical Protestant sense. The grace which justifies is not a quality within the believer, but a quality in the heart of God.
Grace is unmerited favor. The angels, who know nothing of sin, do not understand what it is to have grace exercised toward them; but our sinfulness calls for the exercise of grace from a merciful God. It was grace that sent our Saviour to seek us as wanderers and bring us back to the fold.44
This grace does not search out those who are worthy, but "reaches out to embrace the lowest, vilest sinner that will come to Christ with contrition."47
Grace means favor to one who is undeserving, to one who is lost. The fact that we are sinners, instead of shutting us away from the mercy and love of God, makes the exercise of His love to us a positive necessity in order that we may be saved. 45
Grace is unmerited favor, and the believer is justified without any merit of his own, without any claim to offer to God.46
By Christ. In this doctrine of justification the greatest accent falls on the work and merit of Christ. Grace is presented as the impelling cause which moved God to put His saving plan into action. But our forgiveness and acceptance do not merely rest on the general benevolence of God—as if He good-naturedly winks at sin and says, "Let bygones be bygones." God is too holy and too just to do that. His way of salvation shows us that he hates sin. He can never excuse it, but must deal with It.
God must have just grounds upon which He can forgive. The basis upon which He justifies is Christ alone.
By reason of the sacrifice made by Christ for fallen men, God can justly pardon the transgressor who accepts the merits of Christ. Christ was the channel through which the mercy, love, and righteousness might flow from the heart of God to the heart of the sinner.48
God requires perfect righteousness—the perfect honoring of His law—as the only title to eternal life.(50) Since fallen man could not do this, God Himself undertook to do it for him in the Person of Jesus Christ.(51) Both the life and death of Christ (active and passive obedience) were the necessary grounds of salvation. In life Christ fulfilled the precepts of the law for us, and in death He satisfied its penalty.(52) His doing and dying are the righteousness by which God saves men. "what is righteousness?—It is the satisfaction that Christ gave the divine law in our behalf."53
How is God reconciled to man?—By the work and merit of Jesus Christ, who . . . put aside everything that would interpose between man and God's pardoning love. The law that man has transgressed is not changed to meet the sinner in his fallen condition, but is made manifest as the transcript of Jehovah's character,—the exponent of His holy will,—and is exalted and magnified in the life and character of Jesus Christ. Yet a way of salvation is provided; for the spotless Lamb of God is revealed as the One who taketh away the sin of the world. Jesus stands in the sinner's place, and takes the guilt of the transgressor upon Himself. Looking upon the sinner's Substitute and Surety, the Lord Jehovah can be just, and yet be the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. To him who accepts Christ as his righteousness, as his only hope, pardon is pronounced; for God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. The justice, truth, and holiness of Christ, which are approved by the law of God, form a channel through which mercy may be communicated to the repenting, believing sinner.49
If Christ alone—His obedience and blood—is the only basis upon which God can justify the sinner, it is the only basis upon which man can claim the blessing. In this respect Mrs. white stands unequivocally on the principle of "Christ alone."
By Faith. Turning to the human side of justification—the response to the offer of grace in Jesus—it comes by faith alone.
Christ's righteousness alone can avail for his [man's] salvation, and this is the gift of God.55
. . . he is justified because of the merit of Christ. . We are accepted through Christ's merit alone. . . .56
No one can be justified by any works of his own. He can be delivered from the guilt of sin, from the condemnation of the law, from the penalty of transgression, only by virtue of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.57
The brand of sin upon the soul can be effaced only through the blood of the atoning Sacrifice.58
The repentant soul realizes that his justification comes because Christ, as his substitute and surety, has died for him, is his atonement and righteousness.59
We must center our hopes of heaven upon Christ alone, because He is our substitute and surety.60
It is only through Jesus, whom the Father gave for the life of the world, that the sinner may find access to God. Jesus alone is our Redeemer, our Advocate and Mediator; in Him is our only hope for pardon, peace, and righteousness. It is by virtue of the blood of Christ that the sin-stricken soul can be restored to soundness. Christ is the fragrance, the holy incense which makes your petition acceptable to the Father. Then can you not say:
"Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come."61
Faith is the only condition upon which justification can be obtained.62
Of course, we should realize that a person can repeat the Reformation slogan "by faith alone" and still be far from the Reformation meaning. All that glitters is not gold. "Faith alone" can mean totally different things to different people. So we need to do some probing to see what the author really means by "faith alone":
The only way in which he [the sinner] can attain to righteousness is through faith.63
The one great Offering that has been made is ample for all who will believe.64
. . . .justification will come alone through faith in Christ. . . .65
We have transgressed the law of God, and by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified. The best efforts that man in his own strength can make, are valueless to meet the holy and just law that he has transgressed; but through faith in Christ he may claim the righteousness of the Son of God as all-sufficient. Christ satisfied the demands of the law in His human nature. He bore the curse of the law for the sinner, made an atonement for him that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.66
1. It is "faith alone" because all that is necessary for a man's acceptance with God has already been done. " . . . . through Christ the grace of God has worked out our complete salvation."(67) "All that God and Christ could do has been done to save sinners."(68) "Christ satisfied the demands of the law in His human nature. "(69) "The atonement of Christ . . . was the fulfilling of every condition upon which God suspended the free communication of grace to the human family."(70) "No sin can be committed by man for which satisfaction has not been met on Calvary."(71) "The Lord would have His people sound in the faith—not ignorant of the great salvation so abundantly provided for them. They are not to look forward, thinking that at some future time a great work is to be done for them; for the work is now complete."72
Since all that is necessary for acceptance has been done in God's redemptive act, how else can man receive it but in faith alone? "All that man can possibly do toward his own salvation is to accept the invitation. . ."73
2. Faith is in no sense man's contribution to salvation. There is no "virtue in faith whereby salvation is merited."(74) "Faith is not the ground of our salvation, but it is the great blessing—the eye that sees, the ear that hears, the feet that run, the hand that grasps. It is the means, not the end. If Christ gave His life to save sinners, why shall I not take that blessing? My faith grasps it, and thus my faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen."75
Faith does not bring saving righteousness into existence, but merely confirms its existence.(76) Neither is faith itself the righteousness which pleases God. It is not a quality in a man's heart which causes God to accept him as righteous. "Faith alone" does not mean that whereas God once required perfect obedience to His law, He now requires only faith instead of (in lieu of) righteousness. In short, Arminian ideas on how faith is counted for righteousness are clearly rejected.
3. What is affirmed is the orthodox Lutheran and Reformed position on the instrumental nature of faith. That is to say, faith does not bring the blessing into existence; it simply acknowledges its existence.(77) It is the eye of the soul which sees what God has already done.(78) It not only ''appropriates the righteousness of Christ,"(79) but it presents that righteousness to God for the sinner's acceptance.(80) The following statements illustrate how Mrs. white carefully distinguishes between the meritorious cause (Christ) and the instrumental means (faith) of justification:
Through faith we receive the grace of God; but faith is not our Saviour. It earns nothing. It is the hand by which we lay hold upon Christ, and appropriate His merits, the remedy for sin.81
4. Justifying faith is not merely a trust in the general benevolence of God. (Some do teach that all God requires is that men trust His love and kindness. In this scheme the cross displays God's love and inspires man to trust.) Of course, we ought to trust God's love and be moved to such trust by the vision of Calvary. But faith and Calvary are much more than this. Justifying faith must have a specific object.(83) That object is the work and merit of Christ. Faith must both see and grasp what Christ has done. The eye of faith fixes on the cross of Christ.(84) This is the only way that the sinner can honor God and be brought into a true relationship to His law.
Faith is the condition upon which God has seen fit to promise pardon to sinners; not that there is any virtue in faith whereby salvation is merited, but because faith can lay hold of the merits of Christ, the remedy provided for sin. Faith can present Christ's perfect obedience instead of the sinner's transgression and defection. When the sinner believes that Christ is his personal Saviour, then, according to His unfailing promises, God pardons his sin, and justifies him freely. The repentant soul realizes that his justification comes because Christ, as his substitute and surety, has died for him, is his atonement and righteousness.
"Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Righteousness is obedience to the law. The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner's account. Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of man's failure, and God receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son. This is how faith is accounted righteousness. . . .82
When Mrs. White deals with the gospel, the law is neither out of sight nor out of mind—or vice versa. God's holy, just and good law ought to be honored. In fact, man's justification depends on the justification of God and His law. Man must honor the law or he cannot be saved. Christ became the Man. He did it for us, and by faith we do it in Him.
Unlike most evangelicals whose view of the redemptive act is focused almost exclusively on Christ's act of dying, Mrs. white sees this redemptive act as both the life and death of Christ. Her teaching is not new. It is the old Reformed doctrine of the active (life) and passive (death) obedience of Christ. Often she combines both together, as the old Lutheran divines did, and calls both together "the righteousness of Christ. Her doctrine of justification rests on both aspects. In life Christ fulfilled the precepts of the law for us, and in death He satisfied the penalty of the law for us.85
Faith grasps both aspects of Christ's work, and both are imputed, or reckoned, to the believer. On the one hand, justification means forgiveness, or pardon, because we have been punished in Christ.(86) On the other hand, justification means that we are accepted as righteous because Christ's obedience to the law is reckoned to our account.(87) Notice how Christ's life and death are said to be involved in the transaction of justification by faith:
By reason of the sacrifice made by Christ for fallen men, God can justly pardon the transgressor who accepts the merits of Christ. . . . Every soul may say: "By His perfect obedience He has satisfied the claims of the law, and my only hope is found in looking to Him as my substitute and surety, who obeyed the law perfectly for me. By faith in His merits I am free from the condemnation of the law. He clothes me with His righteousness, which answers all the demands of the law. I am complete in Him who brings in everlasting righteousness. He presents me to God in the spotless garment of which no thread was woven by any human agent. All is of Christ, and all the glory, honor, and majesty are to be given to the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world."88
Justification by faith is very closely linked to ethics. The greatest enemies of the gospel are those who use "faith alone" as if it were a substitute for obedience to the law of God. Since faith grasps Christ's honoring of the law on our behalf, it becomes fruitful in a life of willing obedience to that law which Jesus honored. (90) Faith does not compose its possessor for sleep in the nonperformance of duty, but it both inspires and strengthens the soul to obey the law of God.91
Through the imputed righteousness of Christ, the sinner may feel that he is pardoned, and may know that the law no more condemns him, because he is in harmony with all its precepts. It is his privilege to count himself innocent when he reads and thinks of the retribution that will fall upon the unbelieving and sinful. By faith he lays hold of the righteousness of Christ. . . . Knowing himself to be a sinner, a transgressor of the holy law of God, he looks to the perfect obedience of Christ, to His death upon Calvary for the sins of the world; and he has the assurance that he is justified by faith in the merit and sacrifice of Christ. He realizes that the law was obeyed in his behalf by the Son of God, and that the penalty of transgression cannot fall upon the believing sinner. The active obedience of Christ clothes the believing sinner with the righteousness that meets the demands of the law.89
Like Wesley, Mrs. White feared an indolent sola fideism. But in one respect her emphasis was different from Wesley's. In his letters to Hervey the Calvinist, Wesley expressed his fear that the Reformed doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active obedience would encourage antinomianism—as if men would say, "Christ kept the law for us; why then should we bother to keep it?" Hence Wesley, at least for a time, denied the doctrine of justification by the imputation of Christ's life of obedience to the law. Mrs. white shares Wesley's fear of antinomianism, but embraces the Reformed view of Christ's imputed righteousness. She evidently thinks that faith in Christ's vicarious obedience not only inspires our obedience, but utterly rules out any pretext for disobedience.
5. Faith is spoken of as a "condition" for justification,(92) but it is not correct to take this to mean condition in the sense of ground, foundation, or basis, of salvation. The ground, foundation, or basis, of acceptance with God is the righteousness of Christ—His obedience and blood.(93) If "condition" means the ground of acceptance with God, then Christ's death on the cross "was the fulfilling of every condition.(94) Mrs. White agrees with the Reformed doctrine which says that perfect obedience (or righteousness) is the conditional ground of salvation.(95) And Christ alone met those conditions.
Some Lutheran theologians (e.g., Walther in The Proper Distinction Between the Law and the Gospel) do not like to call faith a condition. Others, like Owen the Puritan expositor, argue that it is quite proper to call faith a condition—not a meritorious condition, but an instrumental condition. If we put aside arguing about semantics, all sound Bible scholars confess that faith is absolutely indispensable for salvation. Christ's death is eternally efficacious only for those who believe. In that sense "faith is the only condition upon which justification can be obtained."(96) "The only-begotten Son of God has died that we might live. The Lord has accepted this sacrifice in our behalf, as our substitute and surety, on the condition that we receive Christ and believe on Him."97
6. Repentance is inseparable from faith.98
Repentance is associated with faith, and is urged in the gospel as essential to salvation. Paul preached repentance. He said, "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." There is no salvation without repentance. No impenitent sinner can believe with his heart unto righteousness. Repentance is described by Paul as a godly sorrow for sin, that "worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of." This repentance has in it nothing of the nature of merit, but it prepares the heart for the acceptance of Christ as the only Saviour, the only hope of the lost sinner.99
Although repentance and faith are inseparable, their action is different. Repentance is "toward God because of his [the sinner's] transgression of the law."(100) Faith is directed to Christ, who has satisfied the claims of the law on the sinner's behalf.101
7. Faith (as well as repentance) is a gift of God. Man is unable to originate it in his heart.(102) Faith is the result of the gracious operation of God's Spirit in the heart as Christ's cross and the gospel are presented to sinful man.103
The faith that is unto salvation is not a casual faith, it is not the mere consent of the intellect, it is belief rooted in the heart, that embraces Christ as a personal Saviour, assured that He can save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by Him. To believe that He will save others, but will not save you is not genuine faith, but when the soul lays hold upon Christ as the only hope of salvation, then genuine faith is manifested. This faith leads its possessor to place all the affections of the soul upon Christ; his understanding is under the control of the Holy Spirit, and his character is molded after the divine likeness.104
Faith, Regeneration and the Action of the Will
Mrs. White does not devote time to making fine distinctions in the ordo salutis. In fact, she appears to be critical of too much effort to do so. The general approach, however, appears more like the the ordo salutis found in Wesley than the the ordo salutis found among the Calvinists or later Lutherans. For instance, most systematic Calvinists dogmatically place regeneration before justification. However, there is no evidence that John Calvin did this. Kuyper, the great Dutch Calvinist does not agree with this order either. Perhaps Buchanan is wise, for he refuses to debate the order, commenting that one thing is certain—no one can be justified who is not also regenerated, and no one is regenerated who is not at the same time justified. Wesley agrees that justification and regeneration take place at the same moment. The sequence is not temporal, he says, only logical. In order of thinking justification comes first. Mrs. white would agree with Wesley. God justifies the ungodly, then regenerates them by His Spirit.
Another point: The dogmatic Calvinists (with considerable logic, too) say that God must regenerate the soul who is dead in sin in order that the person can believe unto justification. The choice of man does not enter into regeneration any more than the choice of Lazarus entered into his resurrection when Christ called, "Lazarus, come forth." God alone chooses who will be regenerated, and His grace is irresistible.
Wesley disagrees with this scheme and virtually says, No, the sinner must have faith in order to be regenerated. And since faith is rooted in the heart, it is a the voluntary act. Therefore the will of man must cooperate with God in regeneration. On this point Mrs. White also believes that the will of man must cooperate with God in regeneration. Her position is as follows:
1. Faith is (at least) a conscious, intelligent, voluntary act(105) which unites the soul to Christ.(106) (That faith is union with Christ receives great emphasis.)
2. Union with Christ brings the double benefit of justification by imputed righteousness and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. These are never separated.(107) There is no justification without regeneration.(108) Sometimes Mrs. White links both together in such a way that she does not bother to define or distinguish between the two.(109) In other places, however, she sufficiently distinguishes them by speaking of justification as a work done for us (imputation)(110) and regeneration as a work done in us (infusion)(111). In logical order, she speaks of Christ's justifying the ungodly before the Holy Spirit renews.(112) And, as in Wesley's view, regeneration is seen as the beginning of the sanctification process. In this way of thinking it would be impossible to place regeneration before justification, for then justification would no longer be the justification of the ungodly, but only the justification of the sanctified.
3. Although Mrs. White sees the will of man cooperating with grace in conversion(113) (in agreement with Melancthon's so-called synergism), she does not believe in free will after the fashion of Arminianism. Free will is not a native ability in sinful man.(114) The will of man was involved in the fall and man became a total captive (slave) of the devil. He is as helpless as Satan himself.(115) Mrs. White seems to be following the thought of Wesley when she says, "The penalty of the law fell upon Him who was equal with God, and man was free to accept the righteousness of Christ. . . ."(116) That is to say, any freedom which man may now have is because Christ died for the lost race. Free will is of grace, not nature.
Even here we must not too quickly conclude that since Christ has died for all men, all men are, ipso facto, free—as if they could come to Christ and accept salvation any time they please. This is a fatal deception.(117) No man is free to come unless Christ actually puts into effect the victory He has gained for man on Calvary. This He does by His intercession. " . . . He gained the right to rescue the captive from the grasp of the great deceiver. . . .(118 )"He holds a just claim to every human being. . . .He has been given the deed of possession, which entitles Him to claim them as His property.(119) In His office of Intercessor "He works earnestly for them. He grants them life and light, striving by His Spirit to win them from Satan's service."(120) Exercising His blood-bought rights, He interposes against this demonic control over man's will. In sending forth the gospel of His cross in the power of His Spirit, He draws the sinner to Himself. At that very point He offers man the freedom to accept salvation.(121) This freedom is not in man by nature, but comes to him in the word of grace. The sinner may resist this drawing of divine grace, but if he does not resist, he will be led to accept Christ and salvation.122
So much for some of these finer points of theological distinction in the ordo salutis. The reader of Mrs. White could easily get the impression that she would not be very impressed with this attempt to dissect her ordo salutis. Certainly she is critical of those who want to know all the whys and wherefores of the new birth.(123) Her emphasis is personal and practical, and she has little time for abstract theology. Man needs to be impressed by the necessity of the new birth more than by the manner of its accomplishment.(124) "It is not theoretical knowledge you need so much as spiritual regeneration."125
Not through controversy and discussion is the soul enlightened. We must look and live. Nicodemus received the lesson, and carried it with him. He searched the Scriptures in a new way, not for the discussion of a theory, but in order to receive life for the soul. He began to see the kingdom of heaven as he submitted himself to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
We have quoted the preceding passage at length because by theological analysis (which we must grapple with in this outline) it is so easy to lose touch with the real emphasis and spirit of the literature under examination.
There are thousands today who need to learn the same truth that was taught to Nicodemus by the uplifted serpent. They depend on their obedience to the law of God to commend them to His favor. When they are bidden to look to Jesus, and believe that He saves them solely through His grace, they exclaim, "How can these things be?"
Like Nicodemus, we must be willing to enter into life in the same way as the chief of sinners. Than Christ, "there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Through faith we receive the grace of God; but faith is not our Saviour. It earns nothing. It is the hand by which we lay hold upon Christ, and appropriate His merits, the remedy for sin. And we cannot even repent without the aid of the Spirit of God. The Scripture says of Christ, "Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. Repentance comes from Christ as truly as does pardon.
How, then, are we to be saved? "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness," so the Son of man has been lifted up, and everyone who has been deceived and bitten by the serpent may look and live. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." The light shining from the cross reveals the love of God. His love is drawing us to Himself. If we do not resist this drawing, we shall be led to the foot of the cross in repentance for the sins that have crucified the Saviour. Then the Spirit of God through faith produces a new life in the soul. The thoughts and desires are brought into obedience to the will of Christ. The heart, the mind, are created anew in the image of Him who works in us to subdue all things to Himself. Then the law of God is written in the mind and heart and we can say with Christ, "I delight to do Thy will, O my God. "126
The Benefits of Justification
Mrs. White's concept of the blessings and benefits of justification is quite fully developed.
1. "Justification is a full, complete pardon of sin."127
2. Justification means that Christ's righteous life is credited to the believer, and he stands before God as faultless as Jesus Himself.128
3. The justified sinner receives adoption. "He becomes a member of royal family, a child of the heavenly King, an heir of God, and joint with Christ."129
4. He is in full harmony with the law. "Through the imputed righteousness of Christ, the sinner may feel that he is pardoned, and may know that the law no more condemns him, because he is in harmony with all its precepts."130
5. He is precious in God's sight. "It is because of the imputed righteousness of Christ that we are counted precious by God."131
6. Justification is our title to heaven.132
7. The gift of justification is equivalent to the gift of eternal life. "The righteousness of Christ is placed on the debtor's account, and against his name on the balance sheet is written, Pardoned. Eternal Life."133
8. Justification means that God can treat the sinner "as though he were righteous"(134)—as if he were as deserving as Christ Himself. "Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His."(135) "It would not satisfy the heart of the Infinite One to give those who love His Son a lesser blessing than He gives His Son."136
9. Justification entitles believers to all the blessings of the covenant of grace.(137)"Can we with keen, sanctified perception appreciate the strength of the promises of God, and appropriate them to our individual selves, not because we are worthy, but because Christ is worthy, not because we are righteous, but because by living faith we claim the righteousness of Christ in our behalf?"138
10. Justification by Christ qualifies the believer to receive the Holy Spirit and to begin living the life of holiness. "He died on the cross as a sacrifice for the world, and through this sacrifice comes the greatest blessing that God could bestow,—the gift of the Holy Spirit. This blessing is for all who will receive Christ."(139) "Justification means pardon. It means that the heart, purged from dead works, is prepared to receive the blessing of sanctification."140
In short, justification is the blessing that embraces every other blessing, for in this transaction God gives a man Christ, and with Christ He gives him absolutely everything. "Kneeling in faith at the cross, he [the sinner] has reached the highest place to which man can attain."141
1 RH Dec. 26, 1882
2 GC 120-170
3 GC 253
4 GC 171-244
5 GC 252, 253
6 CC 253-264
7 GC 253-256
8 CC 256
9 RH June 1, 1886
10 LS 40 (cf. 28-39)
11 Tit. 1:4
12 RH Mar. 11, 1890
13 RH Nov. 29, 1892
14 RH Sept. 3, 1889
15 RH Apr. 4, 1895
16 1SM 372
17 RH Aug. 13, 1889
18 GW 301
19 MS 36, 1890
20 SD 259
21 1SM 372
22 1SM 402
23 6BC 1070
24 1SM 392 (emphasis supplied)
25 SC 62
26 SD 240; 1SM 367, 396
27 1SM 394 (emphasis supplied)
28 OHC 52 (emphasis supplied)
29 OHC 53; 1SM 367
30 OHC 52; 1SM 389
31 OHC 52
32 1SM 392 (emphasis supplied)
33 1SM 392
34 1SM 184
35 1SM 342
36 1SM 389
37 1SM 388
38 1SM 328
39 1SM 343
40 1SM 351
41 1SM 332
42 1SM 353
43 1BC 1122
44 1SM 331, 332
45 1SM 347
46 1SM 398
47 1SM 313
52 SC 62; 1SM 250, 341
53 RH Aug. 21, 1894
54 1SM 331
55 1SM 398
56 5BC 1122
57 1SM 389
58 1SM 371
59 1SM 367
60 1SM 363
61 1SM 332, 333
62 1SM 389
63 1SM 367
64 1SM 388
65 1SM 330
66 1SM 363
67 1SM 364
68 QD 673
69 1SM 363
70 QD 669
71 1SM 343
72 1SM 394, 395
73 1SM 343
74 1SM 366
75 6BC 1073
76 1SM 395
77 Ed 253
78 ST 167
79 1SM 363
80 1SM 36?
81 DA 175
82 1SM 366, 367
83 DA 175; 6BC 1073
84 ST 167
85 1SM 363, 367, 396; SD 240; SC 62; 7BC 931
86 QD 672; 6BC 1070, 1071
87 1SM 367; SC 62
88 1SM 396
89 SD 240
90 6BC 1073; GC 472
91 2SM 20; PP 524; 3BC 1137
92 1SM 389
93 6BC 1073
94 QD 669
95 SC 62
96 1SM 389
97 1SM 215
98 COL 112; 1SM 324
99 1SM 365
100 1SM 324
101 1SM 396
102 1SM 393, 366, 367; Ed 253; 6BC 1080; PP 431
103 2SM 20; DA 175, 176
104 1SM 391
105 1SM 256; COL 112; GC 190
106 DA 347, 675, 676
107 GC 256; SC 62
108 COL 112, 113
109 MB 114; COL 163
110 1SM 367, 392, 394; SD 240
111 GC 256; 1SM 366
112 PP 372
113 1SM 381; ML 318; TM 518
114 ST 515 (cf. footnote 55 in the chapter on man)
115 6BC 1077
116 CC 503
117 SC 33
118 QD 672
119 QD 670
120 QD 688
121 DA 175, 176; 1SM 349; 6BC 1113
122 DA 176
123 1SM 177
124 DA 172, 173
125 DA 171
126 DA 175, 176
127 6BC 1071
128 SD 240; 1SM 367, 392; SC 62
129 1SM 215
130 SD 240
131 OHC 53
132 MYP 35
133 OHC 53
134 1SM 367
135 DA 25
136 TM 518
137 PP 431
138 1SM 108
139 SD 242
140 ST Dec. 17, 1902
141 AA 210