FAITH AND WORKS
HAND IN HAND
Sermons by Ellen G. White
(July 21, 1890 Signs of the Times, EGW)
Jesus died to save his people from their sins, and redemption in Christ means to cease the transgression of the law of God, and to be free from every sin; no heart that is stirred with enmity against the law of God, is in harmony with Christ, who suffered on Calvary, to vindicate and exalt the law before the universe.
Those who make bold assumptions of holiness give proof in this that they do not see themselves in the light of the law; they are not spiritually enlightened, and they do not loathe every species of selfishness and pride. From their sin-stained lips fall the contradictory utterances: “I am holy, I am sinless. Jesus teaches me that if I keep the law I am fallen from grace. The law is a yoke of bondage.” The Lord says, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” We should study the word of God carefully, that we may come to right decisions, and act accordingly; for then we shall obey the word and be in harmony with God’s holy law.
NOT SAVED BY LAW NOR IN DISOBEDIENCE
While we are to be in harmony with God’s law, we are not saved by the works of the law, yet we cannot be saved without obedience. The law is the standard by which character is measured. But we cannot possibly keep the commandments of God without the regenerating grace of Christ. Jesus alone can cleanse us from all sin. He does not save us by law, neither will he save us in disobedience to law.
Our love to Christ will be in proportion to the depth of our conviction of sin, and by the law is the knowledge of sin. But as we see ourselves, let us look away to Jesus, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity. By faith take hold of the merits of Christ, and the soul cleansing blood will be applied. The more clearly we see the evils and perils to which we have been exposed, the more grateful shall we be for deliverance through Christ. The gospel of Christ does not give men license to break the law; for it was through transgression that the flood-gates of woe were opened upon our world. To-day sin is the same malignant thing that it was in the time of Adam. The gospel does not promise the favor of God to anyone who in impenitence breaks his law. The depravity of the human heart, the guilt of transgression, the ruin of sin, are all made plain by the cross where Christ has made for us a way of escape.
A DOCTRINE FULL OF DECEPTION
Self-righteousness is the danger of this age; it separates the soul from Christ. Those who trust to their own righteousness cannot understand how salvation comes through Christ. They call sin righteousness, and righteousness sin. They have no appreciation of the evil of transgression, no understanding of the terror of the law; for they do not respect God’s moral standard. The reason there are so many spurious conversions in these days, is that there is so low an appreciation of the law of God. Instead of God’s standard of righteousness, men have erected a standard of their own by which to measure character. They see through a glass darkly, and present false ideas of sanctification to the people, thus encouraging egotism, pride, and self-righteousness.
The doctrine of sanctification advocated by many is full of deception, because it is flattering to the natural heart; but the kindest thing that can be preached to the sinner is the truth of the binding claims of the law of God. Faith and works must go hand in hand; for faith without works is dead, being alone.
THE TEST OF DOCTRINE
The prophet declares a truth by which we may test all doctrine. He says, “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Is.8:20) Although error abounds in the world, there is no reason why men need remain in deception. The truth is plain, and when it is contrasted with error, its character may be discerned. All the subjects of God’s grace may understand what is required of them. By faith we may conform our lives to the standard of righteousness, because we can appropriate to ourselves the righteousness of Christ.
In the word of God the honest seeker for truth will find the rule for genuine sanctification. The apostle says: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. . . . For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally-minded is death; but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” (Romans 8:1-9)
IN THE LIGHT OF THE CROSS
Only in the light shining from the cross of Calvary can we estimate the value that God places upon man. He says, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold, even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.” Man can be thus elevated through the merits of Jesus. How few look at religion in its true light. Many have it confused with traditions and ceremonies. The religion of Christ will convert men, and separate them from the world; but it does not take them out of the world, for God has said, “Ye are the light of the world.” Our work is to reflect light in good works to those who know not God. God has given us a cross to bear, but under no circumstances does he want us to manufacture tests and crosses for ourselves. Jesus says: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls; for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Why is it that so many wear a sad countenance, that so many complain of the cross and of the hardness of the way that leads to heaven? It is because they are yoked up with the world, and not with Christ. They do the very things that Christ has told them not to do. They place their affections upon the things of earth; but Christ says: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
We are to make God the supreme object of our affection. There are many who are seeking to serve God and mammon at the same time; but if they continue in this course, they will lose both worlds. Everyone that truly submits to the yoke of Christ will say that his yoke is easy; all who bear his burdens will say that they are light. The religion of Christ never degrades the receiver. When the truth of God takes possession of the mind and soul, it purifies, refines, and ennobles the character.
THE TRUE MEANING OF REPENTANCE
Christ Gives Repentance
(Signs of Times 1890 August EGW)
“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick of his place, except thou repent.” (Rev. 2:5)
Many think that repentance is a work which wholly devolves upon man as a preparation to come to Christ, his mediator; but this is an error and deception. Repentance must precede forgiveness, but the sinner does not repent until he has faith in Christ as his mediator. The Bible does not teach that man must repent before he comes to Christ. Our Saviour has been lifted up upon the cross of Calvary, and the love of Christ shining from the cross speaks constantly to the sinner of the sufferings of Jesus for fallen man. His love for the fallen race constantly draws sinners to him. The transgressor may resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist, he will be drawn to Jesus, and a knowledge of the plan of salvation will lead him to the foot of the cross in repentance for his sins, which have caused the sufferings of God’s dear Son.
Could sinful man repent of his sins in his own strength, there would be no more virtue in that repentance than in the offering made by Cain. Christ is the author and finisher of our faith. If it were possible for man to repent of himself, the virtue of the atoning sacrifice would be in vain. But this is not possible. As Peter bore his testimony before the high priest and the Sadducees, he spoke by the power of God in reference to Christ, and said, “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.” (Acts 5:31)
Repentance comes from Christ just as much as does pardon for transgression. That repentance is a work which man must do without any special help from Christ, is a false theory. The sinner cannot take the first step in repentance, without the help of Christ. He cannot keep the moral law unless Christ imputes to him his righteousness. The grace that works contrition and repentance, as well as the forgiveness of sins, is the grace of Christ. If one step could be taken without Christ, every step in the way of salvation might be taken without him. It is true that great reformations in outward conduct are often made where there is no expressed faith in Christ; many have not even a knowledge of Jesus; but it is a divine influence that makes man capable of any change, and leads him to reformation.
This reformation is the result of a blind faith, and the one who changes the habits of his life without an intelligent faith in Jesus, worships he knows not what, but he worships that which leads him to respect his own manhood; and as he takes steps toward the light, increased light will shine upon him, that he may see the sinfulness of sin, and be led to recognize the fact that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
The repentance required of those who seek God is that repentance that needs not to be repented of,-a repentance manifested in a radical change of mind and heart. The heart must be brought in subjection to Christ, and a repentance that works such a result can never be brought about by man; it can only proceed from Christ, who has ascended on high, and has imparted gifts unto men.
Christ said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32) When the heart and mind submit to the drawing power of Christ, the love of Jesus will lead the sinner to repentance, and as he earnestly seeks help from God, power from on high will be given him. The Saviour says, “Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.” (Is. 27:5) We are to watch unto prayer, and our earnest efforts to overcome evil in our character, will make manifest the sincerity of our prayers. We are to look into the royal mirror, the law of God, that we may understand our moral standing, and detect the imperfections of our character; then we are to appropriate the righteousness of Christ, that we may keep the law of God.
As we realize the worthlessness of our own righteousness, as we feel our dependence upon Christ, we fall upon the Rock and are broken, and then Jesus molds and fashions our characters after his own divine character. Let us all bear in mind that those whom God pardons are first made penitent. Some will say that we leave man with nothing to do, with no task to take up in the struggle. This is not so; all the powers with which God has endowed man must be employed in order that we may do the will of God.
Man can never be saved in indolence. Christ has said, “My Father works hitherto, and I work;” (John 5:17 and man, for whom Christ has given his life, is designated as a co-laborer with him. No one can be saved in idleness and slothfulness. We must watch and pray lest we enter into temptation. We must keep down pride, self-esteem, envy, jealousy, evil-surmising, evil-speaking, and refrain from evil-doing. We must wrestle with infirmities, with human passions; we must keep the perfect Pattern before us; we must search the Scriptures for their hidden treasures of truth. We should be diligent to dig in the mines of truth for new and precious gems; we should bring forth from the treasure-house of God’s word things new and old.
Those who are indeed followers of Christ must leave the ninety and nine and go into the wilderness to hunt for the lost sheep that has strayed from the fold. He who loves Jesus must seek to convert sinners from the error of their way, must seek to save souls for whom Christ has died, and hide a multitude of sins. To every man the Master has given his work; and in order to do this work acceptably, he must gather every ray of light God sends, and reflect it upon others. He must abase self and exalt Jesus, realizing more and more his own unworthiness and the worthiness of Christ. Through an experimental knowledge of the way of life, he must be able to lead the sinner to repentance, faith, and obedience. He must cast down the idea that has prevailed, that repentance is to spring from ourselves, and that then we are to come to Christ; this is a false theory, a deception fatal to the soul.
There are many who conclude that they are saved, simply because they have good impressions; but this is not enough. The entire affection must be renovated. Every individual must learn by experimental knowledge where lies his true strength. No one can leave his first love without a forfeiture of the Christian character. The Church must come up out of the wilderness, leaning upon the arm of her Beloved. When each member of the church can say, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me,” (Romans 2:20) then Christ, the hope of glory, will be revealed in his people.
Faith is the gift of God, and “without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) Those who feel that they are sinful and poor and wretched, are the very ones to whom the invitation of mercy is extended; they may ask and receive. Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous,”-those who are clothed with the garments of their own righteousness,-“but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17) Those who are rich and honorable in their own eyes cannot hunger and thirst after righteousness, therefore they cannot ask in faith and receive the blessing of God; for they feel no need. They are full, therefore they must go away empty. We must not think for a moment that we can do anything to merit the blessing of God. It is by faith alone that we can claim his promise; by faith alone we can say, “I receive the things I ask for of thee; for thy word is sure, it cannot fail.”
How precious to the believer are the rich promises of God! Jesus himself endured the penalty of the law in his own body upon the accursed tree, that he might make it possible for all the human family to keep the commandments of God. Without the merits of the blood of a crucified and risen Saviour, fallen man could never meet the claims of the law, God could not sustain his holiness and justice, and justify the sinner; but how glorious is the truth of the atonement! what a firm foundation have the saints of the most high God upon which to rest their salvation! Not one of the promises can fail; the condemned sinner may be purified and made white through the righteousness of Christ.
Those who love Jesus will love the law of God, because it is a transcript of his character. Through the merit of Christ the transgressor is freed from the charges the law held against him. The world’s Redeemer has carried the burden of guilt and woe that rested upon the sinner, and he is able to strengthen him for the conflicts he will meet day by day in his pathway to heaven. Why should not the Christian rejoice always? By faith the followers of Christ may view the eternal glory of their Redeemer. The thought that we are privileged to commit the keeping of our souls to God as unto a faithful Creator, is a most precious thought; for he says that those who love him shall be his when his jewels are made up. Oh, what love God has manifested for his church, that he has purchased with his own precious blood!
From the beginning of my labor with pen and voice, my greatest fear has been that I should make altogether too feeble efforts in seeking to set forth Christ crucified among you. I have never feared that I should place the subject before you in too strong a light. Every line my pen has traced, has been unsatisfactory because of the feebleness of my language to unfold the wonderful theme of redemption. My expressions have fallen far below the magnitude of the subject. The pen of man, the tongue of an angel, can never adequately describe the love of God as manifested in Christ. We see through a glass darkly; we have but dim and imperfect glimpses of him who is the expression of his Father’s glory. Oh, that every worker in the cause of God might have a practical experience in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! Oh, that every ambassador of Christ might raise his hands, as did John, and say to the people, not with lips only, but with heart and soul, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!”