Before some of our Adventist brothers might exclaim in alarm, "Soon we'll only have justification by faith left!" Well, that is what we are aiming for. If justification by faith is "the third angel's message in verity," what more do we need? Everything else is a human embellishment. Every position must meet the test of justification by faith. So let us look at Acts 3:19:
"Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord."
Let us remind ourselves again of Paul's message. In a word, it is justification by God's grace through Christ by faith. Christ hung on the cross for our justification. Here He purged our sin (Heb. 1:3). Here "Christ . . . utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads, and has completely annulled it by nailing it over His own head on the cross. And then, having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, He exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in His final glorious triumphant act!" Col. 2:14, 15, Phillips.
At the cross He redeemed the race (Heb. 9:12), secured our full release and made us accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:5, 6).
"Every barrier was then broken down which intercepted the freest fulness of the exercise of grace, mercy, peace and love to the most guilty of Adams s race." —Questions on Doctrine, p. 669.
"By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. . . . For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Heb. 10:10, 14.
The gospel takes the law seriously. The Spirit can only be poured out on condition of perfect obedience to God's law—indeed, absolute fulfillment of it. But the message of the gospel is that Christ has fulfilled the law for us, met all its claims; and it is on this basis that the Spirit is poured out. Notice:
"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law . . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Gal. 3:13, 14.
"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" Gal. 3:1, 2.
The Spirit is poured out on the basis of Christ's atonement. He has entitled us to the gift of the Spirit. Every barrier has been removed. In Christ, our old man is gone, the law is perfectly fulfilled and we are fully justified, sanctified, even perfected forever in the sight of God (Heb. 10:14). Then, if we are in Christ by faith, we are ready for the latter rain. Indeed, the blessing is already ours in Jesus, for "in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete [made full] in Him." Col. 2:9, 10.
A justified repentant believer stands in the sight of God as if he has never sinned. Then before God he is a sinless man. This does not mean that he appears before himself or others as a sinless man. He is justified in God's sight—as righteous as Jesus Himself; and God can in perfect justice give him everything Jesus is entitled to. Who will dare say Jesus is not entitled to the latter rain? A believer in Jesus is fully entitled to every blessing of the new covenant (Desire of Ages, p. 659). We have already seen that he who accepts Paul's gospel (which is not his, but the gospel of Christ) comes "behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." He is blameless and faultless, has free access by faith into the fulness of grace, and not only waits but rejoices in hope of the glory of God. In view of all this, who can withstand the gospel and demean the power and glory of God's justification by saying that it is not sufficient to bring the latter rain?
The ministry of Jesus in the most holy place does not add something to Calvary. Nothing can be added to a finished work. The sanctuary ministry puts the cross on display. It reflects the light from the cross of Calvary (Great Controversy, p. 489). At the sanctuary we see the sins of the people placed upon the lamb or the priest. That happened at Calvary. On the Day of Atonement the high priest dressed in the priest's common dress and offered sacrifice. That happened on Calvary. The high priest sprinkled the blood before the law and made full satisfaction for its claims. Mercy and peace thus met together; righteousness and peace kissed each other. That happened at Calvary. The high priest parted the veil, and the holy of holies stood revealed. That happened at Calvary (see SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1109). Israel was judged on the Day of Atonement, and her sins were blotted out. In Christ, all that happened at Calvary. This is Paul's message to the Hebrews. He compares the high priest's ministry in the holy of holies to the suffering of Christ on the cross (see Heb. 9:25, 26). Now, because it was all done in the holy temple of His body on the cross (for Jesus Himself is also the antitype of the ancient tabernacle), that gave Him the right to go into the literal heavenly sanctuary at His ascension. It gave Him the right to enter upon His final work in the holy of holies. It gave Him the right to judge His people and pronounce them eternally righteous. There in the most holy place we see the full significance of the cross. The blood is sprinkled on the law. Law and gospel are forever combined. The law points us to the blood, and the blood points us to the law.
Now let us go back to this point on the latter rain. There is one reason why we as a people have not received the latter rain. We have not fully accepted the truth of justification by faith. We can go on writing all the books we like to prove the contrary, but the latter rain depends upon our acceptance of the Pauline truth of justification. ("Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law . . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Gal. 3:13, 14.)
Yet the opinion generally prevails that our sanctification brings the latter rain. This outlook is given clear expression by a certain author. First he cites the familiar words of Mrs. White:
"Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us as the early rain fell upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 214.
Instead of understanding this statement in the gospel sense of 1 John 1:9, this certain author says Mrs. White is not speaking about justification, but reaching a state of "complete sanctification," "state of perfection," "state of holiness." He then observes, "I believe that we must come to know and experience this sanctification, before we can reform, revive and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit" (see entire statement, quoted in A Warning and Its Reception, p. 251).
No one wants to admit that we have not come to terms with justification by faith. We will all admit that we could do with some more sanctification. So the latter rain is made to rest on the acquirement of sufficient sanctification to receive it. Sanctification is keeping God's commandments. Then the reception of the Spirit is made to depend on whether we have kept the law sufficiently well enough. While it is abundantly clear that the latter rain will not fall on disobedient people, our keeping of the law, with or without God's enabling help, cannot bring the latter rain with a thousand years of trying.
We must be convinced that we have no hope of receiving the latter rain on this program of attainment. The atonement brings the latter rain, and not our attainment. What joyous freedom there is in the thought!
In the gospel of the Christ we find out that the atonement which brings the latter rain is not future, but DONE! Now which is better: to have the promise of the latter rain on the basis of a future work, or on the basis of a work which is already done? In this light, we can read Selected Messages, book 1, page 191, correctly, and be ready for the latter rain today.
"That," "So That," "In Order That"
We all know that the word "when" in Acts 3:19 means "that," "so that," or "in order that" in the Greek. "When" is an old English word that can mean "and then," or "whereupon." So the translators of the Authorized Version did not mistranslate the Greek. (See Early Writings, pp. 79, 83, for examples of old English use of "when," which means "and then.")
But consider: What is the antecedent of the word "that" in the clause, "that times of refreshing may come ? R.S.V. Might not this clause just as well refer to "Repent ye therefore, and be converted" as to "sins may be blotted out"? Is that why Mrs. White sometimes reverses the order as follows: " . . . that when the times of refreshing shall come, his sins may be blotted out"? —Review and Herald, Apr. 29, 1884; see also Ibid., Oct. 21, 1884.
"Repent"! This is the major point of Acts 3:19. At least this is what God calls for on our part. The rest is entirely over to Him. He and He alone blots out the sins of His people in the judgment. He and He alone sends the latter rain.
"Repent"!—in view of two things:
1. " . . . [ye] killed the Prince of life. . . . through ignorance. Acts 3:15, 17. "Upon all rests the guilt of crucifying the Son of God." —Desire of Ages, p. 745. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do!"
2. " . . . that your sins may be blotted out." The word "that" means "to," "toward," "unto," and in this connection can mean "with a view to." Because of Calvary, there is going to be a judgment, even for the servants of God. There the final accounting of all takes place. Now notice how Ellen White makes this point in The Great Controversy (The Spirit of Prophecy volume 4 edition of 1884), page 308: "In view of this Judgment, Peter exhorted the men of Israel: 'Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. . .'
We are now in the hour of the judgment (Rev. 14:7). Therefore this call to repentance in Acts 3:19 is of special application to us. It parallels the Laodicean call to "be zealous and repent." Rev. 3:19. It is the call to afflict our souls on the day of atonement (Lev. 23: 27-32). It is the call of Joel 2:12-17 and Zephaniah 2:1-3. So, with a view to this judgment, God calls us to repent and turn to Christ, "in order that times of refreshing may come."
Peter and Paul agree. Says Paul: " . . . that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." Gal. 3:14. Says Peter: Repent and turn, that times of refreshing may come.
It is through faith in Christ's work for us that His Spirit comes to us. His work includes His ministry in the sanctuary above. Faith must enter the second veil. Faith must lay hold of that justifying righteousness by which alone we can stand in the judgment. Faith must grasp the promise of the blotting out of sins. The judgment tests our faith in the truth of justification. Who believes that the righteousness of Christ is sufficient now? Whose hand of faith reaches the judgment bar of God to accept the promise that God blots out sins, to remember them no more? When God's people accept by faith the blotting out of sins in this hour of God's judgment, and count the thing as done in so far as their decision to have and accept it is concerned, they will "receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."
"But," says one, "be more precise. Just exactly when does the Lord give the judgment decree to blot out our sins?" If the Lord told you in audible words that your sins were forgiven, you would only have His word for it. But you may have that even now. When we look to Calvary, we know that, as far as God is concerned, it is done! And we may now receive His gospel so fully that, as far as we are concerned, it is done.
Jesus has signed our emancipation papers with His own blood. The Holy Spirit convinces us it is true and gives us both faith and free will to give our signature of consent. The time has even arrived when the contract must go to the title office. The title must be searched before it is declared eternally valid for both parties. We give Christ the sins which He has bought, send them all beforehand to the judgment, that all may be blotted out. We know He will not change His mind before the contract is declared eternally valid. We choose not to change our minds. Therefore we can draw a breath of restfulness and count the thing as done and act as if it is done. Furthermore, since the promise of the Spirit comes through faith, we must know that the Spirit is given without measure in Christ, for every believer is filled with all the fulness of God in Him (Col. 2:9, 10; see also Desire of Ages, p. 181). When the test comes in earnest (Rev. 13:14-17) and the time has fully come for the Lord to meet the emergency by special tokens and manifestations of His power, the blessing will be realized in the lives of God's people in that hour when it is needed most.
As for the actual blotting out of sins in the books of record, that is sola fide. The saints simply take God's word for it. In the time of trouble, they have no evidence for it except sola fide. Satan does not even know (Great Controversy, pp. 618, 619). The only solid thing God's people have is that faith can say, "It is God that justifieth." Rom. 8:33. Angels unseen put the seal on God's people. Satan does not see them do it. Neither do the saints. It is put in their foreheads, where they cannot see it. What then are we left with? Justification by faith alone.