Sanctification by faith

(Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series I’m doing on “Three Wrong Views of Minneapolis,” which discusses three of the most prevalent wrongly-held views among Adventists about what happened at the 1888 General Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For my introductory thoughts on this entire topic, click hereFor Part 1, entitled, “Too Much Jesus?” click herePart 3, to come in the near-future, is called “Nothing to See Here.”)

Many times, when I hear people talk about “1888,” there seems to be a preoccupation with a narrow explanation of the event and message. This emphasis usually comes from the more “conservative” end of the spectrum and it essentially goes thusly: the main point, and grand theme, that Jones and Waggoner brought to our attention is that we can, by faith, live completely victorious lives. We can overcome sin, attain perfection, live righteously by faith.

This is the “most precious message” that they brought to our consciousness.

Indeed, the thinking goes, their primary focus was sanctification by faith and imparted righteousness. And this is what we should talk about today because the church never accepted that message.

First, let me be clear: Jones and Waggoner did spend a lot of time talking about victorious living and imparted righteousness. One of their common refrains, for example, was that the word “justify” means not only that God declares us righteous, but that He actually makes us righteous. Indeed, in perhaps one of the most shocking quotes from Waggoner, he proposed, “Let no professed Christian take counsel of his own imperfections and say that it is impossible for a Christian to live a sinless life. It is impossible for a true Christian, one who has has full faith, to live any other kind of life” (The Glad Tidings, p. 81).

Let that one sink in!

It cannot be denied that these two men spent a great deal of time talking about God’s ability to completely transform the sinner who is living by faith. One need only read the classic Lessons on Faith to see how important this was for them.

And yet, if this is the full picture that we paint of Minneapolis, or even the most important of a few different ingredients from the event, we have missed the mark. If, for us, the main message of Minneapolis is that God can perfect us by His grace, then we’ve actually undermined the very thing we’re trying to achieve.

This is because Jones and Waggoner, and Ellen White, spent a great deal of time talking about the objective truths of the Gospel – God’s love for man; Christ’s death on the cross; His forgiveness of sin.

I was reminded of this again as I leafed through Waggoner’s The Glad Tidings today – and though there is definitely a lot of talk about overcoming faith, he opens the book focusing chiefly on the love of God and sacrifice of Jesus. He thus says stuff like, “Christ has by grace tasted death for every man, so that every man in the world has received the ‘unspeakable gift'” (p. 15), and, “The love of God embraces the whole world, but it also singles out each individual” (p. 16). He even goes so far as to address this hypothetical question – which many of my sanctification-heavy brothers and sisters have a hard time with:

‘What! do you mean to teach universal salvation?’ We mean to teach just what the Word of God teaches,—that ‘the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men.’ Titus 2:11, R.V. God has wrought out salvation for every man, and has given it to him; but the majority spurn it, and throw it away. The Judgment will reveal the fact that full and complete salvation was given to every man, and that the lost have deliberately thrown away their birthright possession.” (p. 22)

So even from this very cursory survey of the first few pages of just one of Waggoner’s books it is evident that the objective elements of the Gospel – what God has done for us in Christ – was an absolutely essential component to Jones and Waggoner’s “most precious message.”

Indeed, I’ve written before on the revival meetings that took place in South Lancaster in 1889 – which served as the very first stop after Minneapolis for Jones, Waggoner, and Ellen White, in their attempt to bring directly to the people this message that was rejected by church leadership – and noted how this was foundational to their preaching. Recounting in the Review and Herald what took place, Ellen White talked about how they seemed to “breathe in the very atmosphere of heaven” at these meetings.

And what was so enrapturing? She mentions how “the knowledge of God’s love is the most effectual knowledge to obtain,” adding that Jesus “leads us as children to take views of his goodness, mercy, and love.” Further, Christ “ever directed the minds of his disciples to God as to a loving Father,” educating his followers to “look upon God with confidence and love.” We see the “Father revealed in the Son, for God is love” (Review and Herald, March 5, 1889). She also noted specifically how attendees rejoiced in the knowledge that their sins had been forgiven.

In fact, when she recounted the story five years later at a Camp Meeting in Australia, she noted how “every student” in the college in South Lancaster was converted during those meetings, and it was due to their preaching on the “simple story of the cross” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, p. 308).

The importance of this must not be overlooked. Perhaps Ellen White, herself, best underscores the significance of this in her classic Steps to Christ. There, she explains how it all works:

When, as erring, sinful beings, we come to Christ and become partakers of His pardoning grace, love springs up in the heart. Every burden is light, for the yoke that Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure. The path that before seemed shrouded in darkness, becomes bright with beams from the Sun of Righteousness. (p. 57)

Don’t miss it: it is the objective, pardoning grace of God that creates a love in our hearts, which results in a life of joyful obedience. In other words, the key to sanctification – which is the fruit – is a firm grounding in justification – which is the root.

Though I wouldn’t make a huge deal of it, this is perhaps why Ellen White often preferred the term “justification by faith” to “righteousness by faith” (if you search for the terms in the 1888 Materials on the CD-Rom, the former phrase comes back with 30 hits, while the latter has only 4 – and yet we often use the latter phrase in our modern conversations more frequently). The term “justification” seems to center us more on Christ’s work for us, whereas the term “righteousness” seems to often entail Christ’s work in us to a greater extent. But the key here is that Christ’s work for us is that which prepares our hearts for Him to do a work in us – and when we focus more on the latter, Christ won’t be able to accomplish the former. This is the great irony.

It is any wonder, then, that we must return to this quote – which I shared twice in my last post:

There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly, repeated more frequently, or established more firmly in the minds of all than the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. (Faith and Works, p. 18)

Let us thus not turn Minneapolis – and its message – into an unbalanced presentation of the subjective fruits of obedience and sanctification. Because, if that is the message, we ultimately won’t be able to move beyond the legalism that characterized Adventism before 1888 – and still haunts us today.

This article was originally published at New England Pastor. It is reposted with permission.

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