Keeping God's Law Perfectly
Someone is sure to bring up the question, "What about those statements from Mrs. White which tell us that Jesus has proved that everyone may keep God's law perfectly?" There is a certain writer who seems to specialize in seeing how many of those statements he can find. One would think two or three would be enough, but he presents the reader with about one hundred of them. Now it all depends on whether we read these statements with the gospel glasses or the old "holiness" glasses.
Mrs. White gives a very beautiful balance between "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" and "Ye cannot do the things that ye would." As well as making statements about keeping the law perfectly, Mrs. White makes numerous statements about how Jesus purifies our acts of obedience with His own divine merit. In one place we are told that the worship of true believers is "so defiled" by the corrupt channel of humanity, that it would not be acceptable to God unless it were all passed through the mediation of Christ's blood (Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 344).
The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary, but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God. They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor, who is at God's right hand, presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God. All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ. He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption. He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness. Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ's propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable. Then gracious answers are returned.
Oh, that all may see that everything in obedience, in penitence, in praise and thanksgiving, must be placed upon the glowing fire of the righteousness of Christ. The fragrance of this righteousness ascends like a cloud around the mercy seat.
Here is just one other of the many statements which show how imperfect good works become perfect obedience:
"Man's obedience can be made perfect only by the incense of Christ's righteousness, which fills with divine fragrance every act of obedience."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 532.
To propose that we can do perfect works by the indwelling of Christ alone, is the essence of Roman Catholic perfectionism. This does not establish the law, but is in fact the antichrist that makes war on the law. It takes both the water of God's Spirit and the blood of Christ's mediation to make our obedience perfect.
Then what about that text which says, . . . working in you that which is wellpleasing in His sight. . . ."? Heb. 13:21. Let us finish the text: . . . . through Jesus Christ" (see also 1 Peter 2:5). Maybe we could learn something from The Church of England Prayer Book about what "through Jesus Christ our Lord" means. Those old divines who came through the battle with Romanism had good reason to offer all their prayers, obedience and service to God "through Jesus Christ our Lord." All would be tattered and corrupted without the precious offering of His merit. Our good works are only perfect in the merciful reckoning of God.
"Jesus lived the law in the sight of heaven, in the sight of unfallen worlds, and in the sight of sinful men. Before angels, men, and demons, He had spoken, unchallenged, words that from any other lips would have been blasphemy: 'I do always those things that please Him.'"—Desire of Ages, pp. 467, 468.
"But he who is truly seeking for holiness of heart and life delights in the law of God, and mourns only that he falls so far short of meeting its requirements." —Sanctified Life, p. 81.
Therefore, when Mrs. White speaks of the full and perfect fulfillment of God's law, she shows that it is possible only through the imputed righteousness of Christ.
"But that which God required of Adam in paradise before the fall, He requires in this age of the world from those who would follow Him,—perfect obedience to His law. But righteousness without a blemish can be obtained only through the imputed righteousness of Christ." —Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1901. "Under the covenant of grace God requires from man just what He required in Eden—perfect obedience. The believing sinner, through his divine Substitute and Surety renders obedience to the law of God." —Signs of the Times, Sept. 5, 1892.
"Jesus is our great High Priest in heaven. And what is He doing? He is making intercession and atonement for His people who believe in Him. Through His imputed righteousness, they are accepted of God as those who are manifesting to the world that they acknowledge allegiance to God, keeping all His commandments." —Testimonies to Ministers, p. 37.
Yes, of course Jesus has made it possible for everyone to perfectly obey the law. All may render that perfect obedience in Christ. Faith brings to God the perfect obedience of Christ. Everything Christ has belongs to the faithful, obedient child of God. Jesus' merit covers the human deficiency (Selected Messages, bk. 1, pp. 367, 382). Daniel was commended for his obedience. Yet when the Impersonation of the divine law appeared before him, his comeliness was turned into corruption.
It is just as if the law required us to run the 100 meters in 8 seconds. Most of us are so lame and halt that we could not run it in 80 seconds. But here comes a tremendous athlete. In fact he is the only one capable of doing the distance in 8 seconds. We do not look at him green with envy, because he graciously comes to do it as our substitute; and we leap for very joy because he succeeds on our behalf. Now, does he then approach us and say, "Come on, throw away your crutches and get going. I did it in 8 seconds and have shown you how to do it. And remember, whoever doesn't make it in 8 seconds is condemned." Ah, that is no gospel. As the Reformers would say, that is only making a new law out of the gospel.
Rather, the good news is that when the substitute succeeded, all succeeded in Him. How do we show that we accept our substitute? By saying with David, "I will run the way of Thy commandments." Ps. 119:32. Everyone who honestly and sincerely runs the way of God's commandments to the best of his ability, will be more than a conqueror. Past habits have left some pretty lame. Some do not seem to run as fast as others. But this is a race in which all who run lawfully will receive the reward. We can even pause to help those who find it so hard to run. But thanks be unto the substitute, everyone who runs is counted as a mighty athlete who did the distance in 8 seconds.
Of course Jesus has proved that everyone may render perfect obedience to His law! That is the good news of the gospel. "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness [the complete fulfillment of all its requirements] to every one that believeth." Rom. 10:4. It is by faith and faith alone that we perfectly fulfill the law; yet, as Melancthon would say, "faith . . . is never alone." It works!
"But," says one, "what about after the close of probation when Jesus ceases His mediation and the great day of wrath comes?" This question has perplexed many of us; but instead of driving us to grasp the gospel more securely, it has often led us away from the gospel to seek out many inventions. As faithful priests, God's people will then take up the censer, full of Jesus' merits, and "offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." Mal. 3:3 (see SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1078, for how Jesus will now teach us to use this censer, full of His merits). God's people will then be shut in the temple. They will go no more out.
"For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me; He shall set me up upon a rock. And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in His tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord." Ps. 27:5, 6.
If ever God's people live by faith in the blood, it is then. " . . they must depend solely upon the merits of the atonement." —Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 203. Such a faith will not cause God's people to carelessly regard His law. If Jesus upheld it at the cost of His precious life, the saints will be willing to uphold it at the cost of their lives. They will stand to vindicate it before men and to defend it at the risk of reputation, property and life itself. Their lives will reveal the beauty of God's law, and Christ shall be honored by their fidelity. But to speak of vindicating God's law once-and-for-all, as Jesus did, is to speak without a true knowledge of the glory of the cross.
Paul speaks of justification by faith. James speaks about justification by works. These statements are not contradictory. Before God, we are justified by faith, and faith alone. But before men, we are justified by works. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matt. 5:16. In the same way, we should understand what it means to vindicate God's law. On a human, horizontal level, God's people are required to obey God's law "perfectly." There is no excuse for any defection. Exact obedience is required of all. Yet having done all this, we are still unprofitable servants. The law requires an even higher obedience, and only in Christ and through faith can its highest claims be met.