Perfection in the Light of the Incarnation
The book of Hebrews takes up the theme of Christian perfection in the light of the incarnation, atonement and intercession of Jesus Christ.
"If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Meichisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
"For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God." Heb. 7:11, 19
"The law made nothing perfect." Law in this context refers to the old covenant system of sacrifices and offerings. It could not bring in perfection. It merely prefigured the perfection which would be ushered in by the new and better covenant.
In chapters 9 and 10 the writer to the Hebrews expands the thought of the limitations of the earthly types and shadows. He declares that they were only carnal ordinances which "could not make him that did the service perfect." Heb.9:9-10 Even the great services on the Day of Atonement could not "make the comers thereunto perfect" Heb. 10:1.
By His incarnation Christ did away with those sacrifices and offerings which were unable to perfect the worshippers.
"Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." Heb. 10:5-14
In the fullness of time Christ appeared at the Head of the human race as our Substitute and Surety. His life and death accomplished the will of God, it established a perfection which made all the animal sacrifices obsolete. Notice: "The law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God" Heb. 7:19. Jesus has established a perfection by which we can draw nigh to God. We do not draw nigh to God in order that this perfection might be established. No! No! The only way to approach a holy God is in perfection—in the perfection of the righteous character of our Substitute and Surety.
We go back in the book of Hebrews and see how God has established a perfection by which we can draw nigh to Him. Hebrews 1 presents to us the exalted majesty of Christ's divine Person. He is described as "the brightness of His [God's] glory, and the express image of His person", the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Hebrews 2 presents to us the true manhood of Christ. He assumed our flesh and blood and in all things partook of the substance and essence of human nature.
"For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." Heb. 2:10
Here is the first instance where the word perfect is used in the book of Hebrews. Christ stood at the Head of the human race. By infinite suffering He was made that perfection which the law required of all of us. God brings many sons to glory, not by making them the perfection required, but by making "the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." His total sinlessness and unblemished offering of Himself to God is sufficient to bring many sons unto glory. This is the perfection that we need in order to draw nigh to God. There is no other perfection sufficient in the Universe. The perfection of the angel Gabriel would be far too inadequate. No wonder we have a better hope by which we can draw nigh to God.
Again in the fifth chapter, the apostle declares,
"Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;" Heb. 5:8, 9.
His substitutionary perfection not only designates Him as Captain, but Author of our salvation.
We come to chapter 8:
"Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Ma4esty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices: wherefore it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer." Hebrews 8:1-3
"It is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer." Before Jesus could return to heaven to be our Intercessor at the right hand of God, He must first have something to offer. The law requires perfection. Jesus had to establish this perfection for us here on earth before He could return to heaven.
"But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:" Heb. 8:6-8
In the old covenant the people pledged themselves to satisfy all that the law required of them. But they fell far short of the standard of that perfect law. So God said, "I find fault with them." God then makes a better covenant. He gives us Jesus to stand in our place before the law. The Lord cannot find fault with our Substitute. He is well pleased with Him, for in Him humanity is all the perfection which the law demands. The verdict pronounced on all who are in Christ by faith is, "No fault." Every sincere believer stands "without fault before the throne of God" through the perfection of his great Head and Captain.
"And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:" Col.l:21, 22
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy," Jude 24.
"Jesus stands in the holy of holies, now to appear in the presence of God for us. There He ceases not to present His people moment by moment, complete in Himself." 7 B.C. 933
We have been so prone to read the book of Hebrews as if it teaches thus: "The earthly sanctuary with its blood of bulls and goats could not perfect the worshipper; but the new covenant sanctuary with the efficacious blood of Christ will perfect the believers in Jesus." But this is not what the apostle teaches. He does not say "will perfect," but "has perfected". See the contrast between type and antitype.
"For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year." Heb.10:2-3
"But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected forever them that are sanctified." Heb. 10:12-14
The apostle does not say that Christ will perfect God's people. He declares that He has perfected them with an everlasting perfection. (Compare Dan.9:24). This perfection is in their great Captain. Yet it is their perfection because Christ is theirs, and they are "perfect in Christ Jesus" Col. 1:28.
The efficacy of Christ's s intercession at God's right hand rests in that which He perfected for us on this earth. "The bow of promise encircles our Substitute... He reverently presents at the mercy seat His finished redemption for His people." T.M. 21 On this basis He is able to "save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him." Heb. 7:25
We are inclined to think that the perfection which God requires of us is like the roof of the building. But according to the book of Hebrews it is the foundation of the whole structure. While the law made nothing perfect the bringing in of the better hope has established perfection, and in the boldness and confidence of this perfection we may draw nigh to God.
"Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith..." Heb. 10:19-22
Certainly perfection is the theme of Hebrews, but we must see it is the perfection of our Captain and Author of eternal salvation. If we don't see the splendour and magnificence of this perfection God has provided for us, we shall be like the Jews, who being ignorant of the righteousness which God provided in His Son, went about to establish their own righteousness. It requires faith to see this perfection because it is now in heaven at the right hand of God. Indeed this perfection stands right before the law of God, just where we need it. This perfection is absolute; it has no degrees. And Christ ever lives to present it on our behalf before the eternal throne.
There is also a subjective perfection mentioned in the epistle to the Hebrews — that is to say, a perfection that is required in the believer.
The first instance is in Hebrews 5:14: "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age." The margin says The same word is used in 1 Cor.14:20: "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men." The margin reads perfect, or of a ripe age. (See also Phil. 3:15). The word clearly signifies Christian maturity, spiritual adulthood in contrast to spiritual babyhood. The writer of Hebrews longs for the Jewish Christians to progress beyond the spiritual immaturity of their Christian birth. He wants them to get beyond the stage of needing to be spoon-fed or milk fed by Christian teachers. He wants them to grow up to be men in the faith, to come to the full noontide of gospel faith. So he continues: "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection." Heb. 6:1
The word perfection here refers back to what he has said in the preceding verse about being of full age. This subjective perfection (maturity) is a settled, well grounded and unshakeable faith in the perfection that has been ushered in by the Mediator of the new covenant. It means, as Paul writes to the Ephesians, to "be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine." Eph. 4:14. It means to have boldness and confidence to approach the throne of God through faith in the perfection of our Substitute, to know our rights and titles through Him, as well as our responsibilities. Of course, this faith can only be matured through trial, through steadfastly obeying the truth, by conflict, suffering and patience. We may attain this perfection or maturity only through "slow toilsome steps". The perfection which we have in Christ does not release us from the necessity of earnestly pressing on to Christian maturity; rather it motivates us and spurs us on to maturity. His perfection is our ideal. The law is satisfied with nothing less; and we can be satisfied with nothing less. Therefore, we can never be satisfied with ourselves, but always and only find our satisfaction in Him, and by faith claim the promise,
"And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." Col. 2:10
There is also a sinless perfection which shall finally be the experience of all the saints. It is mentioned toward the end of the book of Hebrews:
"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Heb. 11:13
"And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." Heb. 11:39-40
The N.E.B. says, "Only in company with us should they reach their perfection." So all of God's children realize the final promise together.
Speaking of this time, the apostle Peter declares:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 1:3-5, 13
Paul also says:
"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." 1 Cor. 13:9-10
"But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead bell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
"For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
"For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." Romans 8:11, 18, 22-25
John the Beloved testifies:
"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:2
And lest anyone should think that the doctrine of the empirical realization of perfection at the Advent takes away the spur to present sanctification, John adds:
"And every man that; hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." 1 John 3:3
Some Further Discussion on Perfection
Our reasons for discarding the idea of attaining a condition of sinlessness in this life may be classified under three headings: Biblical reasons, historical reasons, and Spirit of Prophecy reasons.
We trust the reader has already seen that the kind of perfection brought to view in the book of Hebrews is not a condition of human sinlessness. Nor can any real Bible evidence be marshaled which teaches it. Since this ground was more or less covered in Part I of the REVIEW, we will briefly summarize the salient Biblical points:
1. All men are born with a sinful nature in consequence of Adam's sin. They are therefore sinners before they commit any act of sin. Nowhere does the Bible teach that God's people can expect to have this sinful nature eradicated from their persons in this life. We cannot escape the evidence of Romans 6, 7, 8 and Gal. 5:17. The sinful nature remains in the saints until Jesus comes; yet it does not reign, for by the Spirit God's people continue to fight and mortify their sinful inclinations. Yet they must all confess indwelling sin (Rom. 7:18). None are sinless (1 John 1:8).
2. "All.. .continue to come short of the glory of God" Romans 3:23 (Literal tense). Now sin in Hebrew and Greek, literally means to come short. So as long as God's people fall short of the glory of God they are sinners. How long will they continue to fall short? Obviously, until they attain to the glory of God. Says the apostle:
"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.. .and rejoice in hope of the glory of God." Rom. 5:1, 2
"And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
"For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body." Rom. 8:17, 18, 22, 23
Plainly, these Scriptures point to the time of the Second Advent. Until the saints are glorified and immortalized at the coming of Jesus, they will fall short of that glory. In that sense they will be sinners.
3. The only way God's people can be righteous or perfect in the sight of God in this life is by grace, by Christ and by faith (Rom. 3:24, 25).
By Grace: "The grace which accepts us as perfect is simply the mercy and favour of God to count those who fall short as reaching the highest ideal (See Rom. 3:23, 24). To be righteous by grace is inimical to being righteous by nature. Paul's message is clear: Grace must reign until glory.
"That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord." Rom. 5:21
The apostle Peter also says:
"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 1:13
By Christ: God graciously accepts those who continue to fall short as righteous on the grounds that their Substitute is righteous (Gal. 3:17). As believers, "we are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but about what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute." 2 S.M. 32, 33. To be righteous before God by Christ (Gal. 3:17) is the same as being "perfect in Christ Jesus." Col. 1:28
By Faith: Faith brings to God the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, and God places this obedience to the sinner's account. This is what it means to be righteous by faith. (See 1 S.M. 367) In this life the saints are righteous before God only by faith, and never by works, by love, by sanctification or by nature. Of course the saints do good works, they love God and their neighbours, they follow sanctification by obedience to His commandments, but in all these things they continue to fall short and are therefore righteous before God only by faith.
The close of human probation does not mean that God puts an end to the saints being righteous by grace, by Christ, and by faith. It simply means the temple is shut and sinners are no longer able to run into the covering which God has provided. And the saints, being settled and matured in the faith, will not go out of the covering of Christ's blood.
From age to age in the history of the church, different individuals and groups have arisen with a formula of arriving at a state of perfection or sinlessness. Again and again have these perfectionistic aspirations been repudiated by those who stood in the true stream of Christian teaching. The Reformers to a man utterly repudiated the idea of attaining sinlessness as contrary to the whole Biblical concept of righteousness by faith.
Generally, the perfectionistic sects have either begun or ended up in a very fanatical or bizarre imitation of Christianity. John Wesley is one of the few exceptions. Not only was his Methodist perfection more moderate, but it never became the centre of his Christian witness. Unfortunately, his concept of the "second blessing" of entire sanctification lived on after him and gave birth to the "Holiness Movement" of the 19th century. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of history. We prefer to learn the lessons. The idea of attaining a condition of sinlessness prior to Jesus' coming has been soundly repudiated by the true evangelical line in every age of the church. And we remember what Dr. Buchanan said: "It is almost impossible to invent a new heresy."
The Spirit of Prophecy:
There is no doubt that the Spirit of Prophecy writings contain a lot of statements which say that God requires perfection. These statements will continue to be misused as long as we fail to go back to the foundation of the Reformation—which Luther says was a proper distinction between the law and the gospel. God's word comes to man in two forms—as law and gospel. Law is what God requires at the hand of man, i.e. be perfect, love thy neighbour, be holy, pure, unselfish, humble and obedient. Everything that tells us what we should do, how we should live, what we must be, is law. On the other hand the gospel tells us what God gives us freely in Jesus Christ. In short, He gives us all that the law demands, "for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" Rom. 10:4.
Law and gospel must be preserved in proper tension so that gospel does not weaken the power and authority of the law; nor must law be used to diminish the free gift of the gospel. As Luther often pointed out, if they are mingled so that the gospel dilutes the law of its full strength or law dilutes gospel of its promise, the message becomes poison.
The law, being an expression of what God eternally is, demands perfection. The condition of eternal life is the same for us as it was for man in his sinless state—perfect obedience to the law. That divine standard must always be upheld so that people will never get the idea that God will ever make a compromise by accepting a lower standard which will meet man in his fallen condition.
The Spirit of Prophecy contains much law, and because of that it demands perfection in everything. Unfortunately, Protestantism has not preserved the proper tension between law and gospel. The demands of the law have been eclipsed by a wrong emphasis on grace, and consequently the gospel has lacked power in proportion to the weakened claims of law. But in the Spirit of Prophecy the law once again receives full emphasis so that the stage is set for the full proclamation of the gospel.
All too often people have taken these Spirit of Prophecy statements which exalt the divine standard, and having separated them from the gospel, make it appear that Ellen White must have been the greatest teacher of perfectionism of all time. But since the statements are an expression of law, what else can they demand but utter perfection and holiness?
Yet when Ellen White's view of gospel is considered, it is seen that she does not teach that our inward experience could be great enough to satisfy the highest demands of the law. Consider how law and gospel are contrasted in these two classic statements:
"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." R. & H., 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." S.T., Sept. 5, 1892.
Now if the first part (that is to say, the law part) of these two statements were separated from the gospel part, the writer may appear to be advocating perfectionism. But viewed as a whole, she takes the orthodox Reformation position. The reader will notice that Mrs. White does not say we can meet the demands of the law by infused righteousness—for that would be advocating the Roman Catholic concept of ontological perfection through gratia infusia.
An examination of both law and gospel in the Spirit of Prophecy will show that the servant of the Lord was uncompromising in her stand against perfectionism. In her view of the Christian life, there are no illusions about sinlessness because:
1. She viewed the Christian life as a constant warfare against the flesh (Gal. 5:17). Nowhere does she teach that God's people will have any release from conflict with the sinful nature this side of heaven. (See C.T.20; R. & H., Nov.29,1887).
2. She often declared that God's people would experience a deepening repentance throughout this life (A.A. 561). Righteous beings need no repentance (Luke 15:7). The saints in heaven will need no repentance. Only sinners need repentance. In the time of trouble, God's people are called, " . . . .helpless, repenting sinners". 1 S.P. 121,122
3. An increasing awareness of personal imperfection is promised to the advancing believer.
"The closer you come to Jesus, the more faulty you will appear in your own eyes; for your vision will be clearer, and your imperfections will be seen in broad and distinct contrast to His perfect nature... No deep-seated love for Jesus can dwell in the heart that does not realize its own sinfulness." S.C. 70
If in this life a man loses his sense of sinfulness, it would not be because sin was gone, but because the Holy Spirit and a true knowledge of the law was gone (Rom. 3:20).
4. The apostles and prophets are held up as examples to us who live in earth's last hour.
"None of the apostles and prophets ever claimed to be without sin. Men who have lived the nearest to God, men who would sacrifice life itself rather than knowingly commit a wrong act, men whom God has honored with divine light and power, have confessed the sinfulness of their nature." A.A. 561
The Background of "The Sanctified Life"
In the year 1881 Ellen White wrote a series of articles on sanctification which appeared in the Review and Herald. They were later printed in the little book which now bears the title The Sanctified Life. It is very enlightening to consider the background of this series of articles. Her first article launches into a refutation of a theory of sanctification which at that time was being agitated in the religious world.
Beginning about 1840, as a direct counter to the great Advent Awakening or Millerite Movement, America witnessed a revival of interest in the Wesleyan doctrine of the "second blessing" of entire sanctification, also known as "Methodist perfection". Says a religious historian of those years:
"The decade of the 1840's, therefore, witnessed a veritable flood of perfectionistic teaching in the Methodist Church. Leading pastors, bishops, and theologians led the movement, giving it institutional and intellectual respectability... The year 1839 also saw the beginning of the first periodical in America devoted exclusively to holiness doctrine, The Guide to Christian Perfection... Ministers of most denominations joined in the campaign for perfection . . . Everywhere men were seeking perfection." Vinson Synan The Holiness-Pentecostal Movement pp. 28, 29, 30.
By the 1860's this agitation became known as the Holiness Movement:
"During the 1880's the holiness awakening reached its peak of acceptance and popularity in America... The Augusta News reported that Christians of all denominations were discussing his (a renowned Methodist minister) question, "Is it possible for one to live without sin?"' Ibid, p.43.
It is interesting and also vital to see the contrast between the two movements—one absorbed in the hope of the second coming, and the other in the hope of the second blessing. Those who were taken up with the second blessing doctrine generally opposed the hope of the soon coming of Jesus. They were more enamored with the hope of some sort of spiritual fulfillment on earth than life's real and only fulfillment at the coming of Jesus.
Yet a large proportion of early Seventh-day Adventists came out of the Methodist Church. At the time of her conversion Mrs. White (as young Ellen Harmon) says that she was confused with the Methodist theories of sanctification (see L.S.28). And no doubt other Adventists were hampered by these Methodist views of sanctification. The year 1861 finds Ellen White writing a Testimony against a Seventh-day Adventist minister, Elder K. "Brother J. received from Elder K. a false theory of sanctification, which is outside of the third angel's message... He has brought along with him a theory of Methodist sanctification..." 1 T 334-5
Mrs. White's articles on The Sanctified Life were obviously designed to counteract the erroneous theories of sanctification which were sweeping America and to prevent the erroneous concepts of the Holiness Movement from taking root in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The main features of the much preached holiness doctrine were:
1. Holiness consisted in a very intense, rapturous feeling of holiness. Consequently holiness meetings were often marked by great emotional outbursts.
2. This blessing of entire sanctification was attained suddenly.
3. Inbred or indwelling sin was generally thought of as being eradicated in this sudden "second blessing".
4. Those who attained this "second blessing" of entire sanctification would be entirely without sin. Many advocates in the Holiness Movement claimed to be fully sanctified.
In decided contrast to these claims, Mrs. White declared:
1. "Bible sanctification does not consist in strong emotion." S.L.10 It is not a rapturous, mystical experience of religious euphoria that so many looked for in the Holiness Movement. The Sanctified Life stresses the very real and practical nature of sanctification, — a living, active principle, entering into the everyday life. It is obeying God's Word, keeping His Commandments, controlling the appetites and passions, being patient in trial, bearing the fruit of Christlikeness in day to day living, growing in grace. Rather than offering the exciting adventure of religious ecstasy, the way of sanctification is shown to require "earnest effort" and "constant warfare".
2. "True sanctification is a daily work, continuing as long as life shall last." Ibid, 10 "Sanctification is a progressive work." Ibid, 94. It holds out no hope of any sudden attainment, and there is no place where the believer can rest self-satisfied as if he had attained.
3. The Sanctified Life does not follow the Holiness Movement nor even the great Wesley in holding out the hope of having inbred sin rooted out of the nature. Rather it says, "The Christian will feel the promptings of sin, for the flesh lusteth against the Spirit; but the Spirit striveth against the flesh, keeping up a constant warfare." Ibid, 92
4. Nowhere does The Sanctified Life suggest that God's people are to attain to a condition of sinlessness. Rather, as they follow Jesus they are promised an ever-deepening awareness of their own sinfulness.
"The more closely they contemplate the life and character of Jesus, the more deeply will they feel their own sinfulness, and the less will they be disposed to claim holiness of heart or to boast of their sanctification." 79
"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." 81
"The more we contemplate the character of Christ, and the more we experience of His saving power, the more keenly shall we realize our own weakness and imperfection, and the more earnestly shall we look to Him as our strength and our Redeemer." 83
"Those who are really seeking to perfect Christian character will never indulge the thought that they are sinless. Their lives may be irreproachable, they may be living representatives of the truth which they have accepted; but the more they discipline their minds to dwell upon the character of Christ, and the nearer they approach to His divine image, the more clearly will they discern its spotless perfection, and the more deeply will they feel their own defects." Ibid, 7
We cannot escape the import of these statements by saying that they apply to everyone except the final generation. This book was intended for the final generation—for every generation since 1844 has been the final generation potentially. Then we put with these statements another from S.T., March 23, 1888:
"We cannot say, I am sinless, till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body."
Notice that the statement does not say, "will not say", but "cannot say". This means that the saints' failure to claim sinlessness is not just a matter of humility, but inability.
Someone says, "What about the statement in 6 B.C. 1118 which says, 'Those only who through faith in Christ obey all of God's commandments will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression."'
It will be noticed that the statement does not say that they will reach the condition of sinlessness in this present life. It simply says they will (future) reach that condition. Since the statement would include all who obey God by faith, it must mean the hereafter, for the worthies who died in faith did not reach that condition while they lived on earth (Heb. 11:40).
When Ellen White's presentation in The Sanctified Life is considered against the background of the perfectionistic Holiness Movement, it is clearly seen that the servant of the Lord takes her stand with the Reformers and the true evangelical line as the uncompromising foe of any perfectionism this side of eternity.