Seventh-day Adventism and the Holiness Influence
This section must be brief to fit in with the scope of this review. To begin with, more Adventists came out of a Methodist background than from any other religious environment. Norval F. Pease (By Faith Alone) considers that the Seventh-day Adventist focus on righteousness by faith is more in the flavor of Wesley than Luther. Judging by L. E. Froom's The Coming of the Comforter, it is clear that Dr. Froom thinks so too. There seems to be good evidence that these authors are right in this evaluation.
Whether Mrs. White was more Wesleyan than Lutheran (as Pease says) is open to serious question. Judging by Dr. H. K. LaRondelle's scholarly treatise, Perfection and Perfectionism, it would seem that here is one Seventh-day Adventist theologian who would have real difficulty accepting that evaluation of Mrs. White. It is clear that Mrs. White did not accept Wesley's view of a sudden, second blessing of entire sanctification.
In Testimonies, volume 1, page 335, Mrs. White writes against a certain man who was teaching what she calls a "Methodist sanctification" among God's people. In another place she speaks disapprovingly about our people attending "holiness meetings" (Evanglism, pp. 598, 599).
But what about the rest of the Advent body? Adventism in the last century was never seriously in danger of the extreme, fanatical style manifested among some of the "holiness" groups. Adventism was too practical and doctrinal in its outlook for that. But the "holiness" emphasis can be staid and conservative too. Yet the central thrust of subordinating justification to the attainment of acceptable Christian experience, as the means of final salvation, is still there.
In 1864, Elder D. T. Bourdeau published Sanctification or Living Holiness. It is an excellent and very practical treatise on the scope of holy living. It presents before the reader the challenge of entire sanctification in view of the soon coming day of God. But it is completely silent on "the righteousness [justification] which is of faith." Now, many may reply, "But the book was only about sanctification." Yet we must ask, How can anyone deal with sanctification without showing that justification is the very root of it? The author exhorts us to entire sanctification and holy living, but he never even suggests that we need something other than holy lives to stand in the day of God. He does not even hint that the holiest life of the holiest saint could never equal the claims of God's law without the imputed righteousness of Christ. The whole emphasis is on becoming holy enough to live in God's sight during the time of trouble—by the holiness that God puts within us.
In 1884, Elder Butler wrote an article in The Review and Herald wherein he expressed his view on righteousness by faith. To him, it was simply getting God's help to perfectly fulfill the law, and by thus keeping the law in God's strength, we would be able to pass the coming judgment. He said that this was the Pauline message of righteousness by faith (see Review and Herald, Sept. 23, 1884; also see Through Crisis to Victory, pp. 45, 46, where it is suggested that this was in harmony with the 1888 message).
The first generation of Adventists were quite perfectionistic. They were trying to see God's purpose in the third angel's message with "holiness" glasses on. No wonder Ellen White declared that things became as "dry as the hills of Gilboa."
In 1888, God tried to take off those "holiness" glasses, and to restore the primacy of justification by faith. Some of the brethren were so alarmed that they thought the preaching of justification by faith would tear down "the pillars of the faith."
Dr. Froom says that, despite the initial opposition, the message of justification was not rejected in 1888. He also says:
"But because of the conflicting and therefore neutralizing attitude of a vocally resistant group concerning the message of Righteousness by Faith, the Adventist Church did not become the 'head' as it should have (Deut. 28:13, 44), in uplifting Christ and His righteousness preeminently before the world at the time. As a result, certain other godly men forged to the front in preaching Righteousness by Faith to the best of their knowledge." [In a footnote he mentions some of these outside exponents of righteousness by faith: "The annual Keswick Conference in England . . . Andrew Murray, A. B. Simpson, F. B. Meyer," etc.] - L. E. Froom, Movement of Destiny, pp. 257, 258.
Further on, Dr. Froom says:
"It is a sobering fact that when we failed to take the clear united lead as the pre-eminent exponents of Righteousness by Faith in Christ as all the fullness of the Godhead, as we should have done; when we failed speedily to become foremost among all professing Christians in uplifting Christ as transcendent in all doctrine; when we failed to take the lead in stressing the Person, power, and paramount place of the Holy Spirit in the finishing of the work of God under the power of the Latter Rain and Loud Cry, then some of these other organizations and individuals became conspicuous exponents of the Spirit-filled life and victorious living, thus helping to maintain aspects of that emphasis. It must be stressed before mankind. And it was.,, - Ibid., p. 321.
No doubt God had a galaxy of spiritual champions outside the Advent movement. But why single out leaders in the "holiness" movement as the foremost champions of righteousness by faith?
Wieland and Short suggest that the church was definitely influenced by the "victorious life" teaching of the "holiness" movement, which was very active after 1888. Did we, as Wieland and Short suggest, confuse that "victorious life" emphasis with the light on justification by faith in that one victorious life lived two thousand years ago? In the words of Mrs. White, "Christ received His death wound, which was the trophy of His victory, and the victory of all who believe in Him."—Questions on Doctrine, p. 670.
Soon after 1888, Hannah Whitehall Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life was being widely read in the church. Some spread the rumor that A. T. Jones was getting his light out of that little book, and they studied it all the more for the light on righteousness by faith. The book was a classic on the "holiness" doctrine.
On March 29, 1892, an article by Asa Smith on "Sanctification" appeared in The Review and Herald. The writer even quotes from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life. This article says:
"We all believe Jesus is able to save us from our past sins; that He removes them from us. But not all are willing to believe that he is able to save us from sinning; that he is able to take out all sin from our nature. . . . sanctification is the complete destruction of the carnal nature. . . Sanctification means to have the carnal nature entirely removed, with all its desires."
Much more could be quoted of the same, but the scope of this presentation will not permit it. Yet we should notice the most astounding fact of the drama. Dr. E. J. Waggoner, one of the two men who came with the message of justification by faith in 1888, became very confused and finally lost the truth of the gospel altogether.
Dr. Froom informs us that Dr. Waggoner's Christ and His Righteousness was the nearest thing to what he actually presented to the historical conference in 1888. This book is a much clearer presentation of righteousness by faith than Waggoner's later writings. It was great light for that time. Yet it was not perfect. Mrs. White warned the brethren not to expect perfection in the presentations of Waggoner and Jones. 1888 was the beginning of a new era of light on justification by faith. God did not intend that it should all break upon the church at once. Apparently He wanted the brethren to join Waggoner and Jones in the search until the truth stood thoroughly winnowed from human suppositions.
In his Christ and His Righteousness, Waggoner says that justification means to make righteous. As students of the Reformation know, the Reformers were forever trying to refute that error. Also, Waggoner tended to confuse justification itself with the inward work of regeneration.
If progress had been made in the right direction, Dr. Waggoner would have corrected these aberrations and stood clearly on the great Pauline platform. But instead of developing his insight into justification, Waggoner developed the erroneous aspects of his teaching as time went on. More and more he began to swing away from, even criticize the Reformation teaching of forensic righteousness. He fell into the error of Osiander, who broke from Luther and began teaching justification by an indwelling of Christ's righteousness.
Waggoner's Bible Studies on the Book of Romans in 1891 show a marked shift away from the Pauline and Reformation emphasis on forensic righteousness, to the "holiness" emphasis on indwelling righteousness. In fact, it is hard to tell whether Dr. Waggoner had any place at all for the mediation of an "outside" righteousness. Justification was interpreted to mean to make righteous, or God's act of putting righteousness into a man's heart. The mighty gospel concept that God counts the believer as if he were righteous because he looks to his substitute, is strangely absent from Waggoner—yet here he was giving Bible studies in Romans. On Romans 5:19 he says: "If we have his [Christ's] life, we have a righteous life; his obedience works in us, and that makes us righteous. . . . It is not our obedience, but the obedience of Christ working in us. These comments would be quite in order if the subject matter were sanctification, but Romans 5:19 is speaking about the personal doing and dying of Christ, which was in behalf of the human race. On Romans 7:14-25, Waggoner gave the "holiness" interpretation.
We would not deny that souls were blessed by Waggoner's studies. The church was coming out of a period of legalism. But on righteousness by faith, Waggoner and Jones were grasshoppers compared with the mighty giant of the Reformation. As early as 1891, by Waggoner's own testimony given just before his death in 1916, Waggoner gave up believing in the judgment mediation of Christ in the most holy place—the most cardinal doctrine of Adventism (see Robert Haddock's thesis, A History of the Doctrine of the Sanctuary in the Advent Movement, 1800-1905, pp. 279-281). When we look at his developing teachings on righteousness by faith, Waggoner began to place such emphasis on the indwelling righteousness of Christ, that he saw no need for the mediation of an extrinsic righteousness. For him, the temple of primary, indeed, only concern, was the soul temple. He therefore cut himself adrift from faith in Christ's mediation in the temple above. Soon he was teaching that Christ dwelt in every man, the only difference between the sinner and the saint being that the saint discovers the glory of the Christ within him. In his lectures before the General Conference in 1897 (see General Conference Bulletin, 1897), Waggoner confused the breath in a man's nostrils with the Holy Spirit. He was suggesting that the brethren could open the window and let the Holy Spirit in. Waggoner's Everlasting Covenant also contains pantheistic sentiments, and completely spiritualizes the sanctuary in heaven. For him, it is not a literal temple in heaven, but is simply the church and every member of it.
Finally Waggoner was involved with Dr. Kellogg in the pantheistic crisis in the church at the beginning of this century (which Mrs. White called the alpha of deadly heresies).
But we must press on in the stream of history. The 1920's witnessed another revival of interest in the subject of righteousness by faith. An examination of the evidence will reveal that the Pauline and Reformation emphasis on justification by faith was not brought to the front. Instead, it was the Adventist counterpart of the "holiness" emphasis which was going on outside the church. Even the language was a real reflection of the "holiness" revival: "victorious life," "the Spirit-filled life," "the indwelling Christ," etc. Not that there is anything wrong with these expressions as such, but the revival was focused primarily on Christian experience rather than on the gospel, which is Christ's experience.
A well-known book on the Holy Spirit (written at that time) presents the subject of the Holy Spirit in the decidedly "holiness" manner. For example:
"Paul's question marks the boundary line between two classes in the Christian church—those who know Jesus only as a Saviour, who forgives their sins and gives them a hope of heaven, and those who know Him as Lord over the power of sin, who abides in the soul of the worker as a living presence and personal reality, thus equipping him for fullest service."
In fact, the whole chapter, which is a commentary on Acts 19:1-5, presents the "holiness"-Pentecostal idea of a post-conversion infilling of the Spirit, rather than the apostolic and Reformation position of the infilling of the Spirit taking place upon faith in Jesus and Christian initiation (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:12-14; Eph. 1:13, etc.). The idea of a post-conversion infilling of the Spirit shifts the focus away from justification and subordinates it to the supposedly "higher life" of sanctification. This is the essence of the "holiness" emphasis. The preceding statement should be compared with Mrs. White's commentary on Acts 19 presented in The Acts of the Apostles.
We must pass quickly to the 1952 Bible Conference, where the righteousness by faith studies dominated the conference. At the close of the presentation, it was predicted that the church would no longer ask, 'What was the attitude of our workers and people toward the message of righteousness by faith in 1888?' From now on the great question must be, 'What did we do with the light on righteousness by faith as proclaimed in the 1952 Bible Conference?' —Our Firm Foundation, vol. 2, p. 617.
The section on "Imputed Righteousness" sounds quite orthodox. It clearly distinguishes the work of Christ for us from the work of Christ in us. It does not confuse justification with regeneration. It clearly presents the truth that justification is not a making righteous, but an accounting righteous. We are all indebted to the presentation for making these points so clear.
The deviation from the sound apostolic and Reformation platform starts with the section on "Imparted Righteousness. The presentation takes leave of imputed righteousness as if that were merely the initiating step. It sets before us the challenge of really duplicating the sinless life of Christ by imparted righteousness. It very positively tells us that by imparted righteousness we can meet all the claims of God's law to perfection (see Our Firm Foundation, vol. 2, pp. 594, 595, 589, 600, 601, 607).
In presenting only one side of the Biblical paradox, the presentation falls into the "holiness" distortion. Great stress is laid on the "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." No mention is made of the other side of the paradox, which is equally true, "Ye cannot do the things that ye would." The presentation does not reckon with the reality of sin in the Christian man. The great Reformation insight into "original sin" is absent. It does not tell us that no amount of sanctification can fully satisfy the demands of an infinite law unless it is presented to God "through Jesus Christ." It does not tell us that the very best deeds of the saints are unavoidably defiled by the taint of human sinfulness (Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 344), or that all sanctified obedience needs the cleansing of Christ's blood because it can never meet the claims of an infinite law. In short, the presentation fails to uphold the primacy, supremacy and superiority of imputed righteousness, through which alone perfect obedience to God's law is possible. People need to be warned that, while the righteousness imputed in justification is complete, righteousness imparted through the Spirit is only the first fruits, or down payment, of God's gift (Rom. 8:23; Eph. 1:14). Hence we can never reach a point where our fellowship with God does not rest entirely on the gift of justification. As Mrs. White says, "The incense, ascending with the prayers of Israel, represents the merits and intercession of Christ, His perfect righteousness, which through faith is imputed to His people, and which can alone make the worship of sinful beings acceptable to God."—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 353.
If anyone thinks that "holiness" thinking is dead within Adventism, he should have a look at Elder Gordon Collier's latest book, God's Eternal Purpose in the Great Controversy. It has a circulation already of 70,000, and it claims to be picking up a great deal of support from leadership down. On page 2 the author says: "The Great Advent Movement is a Holiness Movement." No one should doubt that it should be a true holiness movement. But the whole book is an elaborate exercise in subjectivity and human perfectionism. We sincerely hope that Brother Collier is not seized upon and cast out for his teaching. He is only the product of our Adventist heritage like all of us. We helped him get into the hole, and we ought to help him get out of it. He is only carrying some of our hereditary ideas to their logical end. (Editorial update: Gordon Collier has now repudiated the contents of his book.)
Then there are Elders Wieland and Short, earnest men who have been involved in the agitation for the past twenty years, though in a different sphere. We are all indebted to 1888 Re-examined, the same as we are indebted to Dr. Frooms's Movement of Destiny. But Wieland and Short have been searching for a righteousness by faith far in advance of Luther, or even more developed than the apostle Paul. Small wonder that their theory is entirely contrary to Paul and Luther. Say Wieland and Short:
"Abraham was not accounted righteous when he was not righteous. His faith was accounted to him for righteousness. . . . Abraham's faith, being genuine, was righteousness. . . ."—A Warning and Its Reception, p. 222.
" . . . justification by faith is a 'declaring' what is now a fact—the contrite soul is delivered from the power of known sin." —Ibid., p. 227.
This is contrary to Paul's doctrine of God justifying the ungodly and the uncircumcized (Rom. 4:5, 10, 11). God does not declare the believer righteous because he himself is righteous. No! No! God declares him righteous because He finds that the believer's substitute is righteous. And as anybody who has read Luther knows, he was forever refuting the idea that the righteousness which is of faith is some quality within a man—be it even faith. There is a world of difference between saying that "righteousness is of faith" and "righteousness is faith." Faith is not righteousness (Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 438). There is no merit in faith, but there is merit in the righteousness of Christ.
Wieland and Short's statement reads just like it comes right out of the Council of Trent, or remarkably parallel to the thought of Cardinal John Henry Newman in his celebrated Lectures on the Doctrine of Justification (see Present Truth Magazine, volume 47).
All this goes to show that there has been a definite confusion with the counterfeit "holiness" teaching throughout the ranks of Adventism. Not that this "holiness" teaching is an inherent part of the God-given Advent message. Adventism is, fundamentally, wholesome virility itself. It is not sentimentally pietistic nor effeminately subjective like the "holiness" movement. But Adventism has been immature. Seventh-day Adventists will yet become the foremost exponents of the Pauline message of justification. After all, that is, to quote the familiar words of Ellen White, "the third angel's message in verity." —Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 372. Who else could proclaim the gospel as fully as those who know, more than any other people, the power, glory, breadth and enduring nature of God's law. Like Paul, Luther and Wesley before us, many of God's people have wrestled hard and long with the law's immense demands. This is a necessary training for the true preaching of justification by faith.