Preparation for the Sealing
In this third installment of our series on the heresy taught by Robert Brinsmead during the 1960s—which, as we have seen, attempted to combine the classic Adventist paradigm many call Last Generation Theology with the doctrine of original sin as taught by Augustine and the magisterial Reformers—we will consider what is taught by the inspired writings regarding preparation for the end-time sealing, an event inspired writings place just before the close of probation. We will especially consider whether, according to the inspired pen, the sealing/latter rain experience involves any change in the believer beyond a settling and confirmation of an experience already possessed.
From our earlier study of Robert Brinsmead’s 1960s theology, we saw how he taught that when the Christian is sealed at the end of time, “because of imparted and imputed righteousness God performs a miracle and erases all sinful thoughts and emotions within us” (1). It wasn’t without cause, as our study has also noted, that many at the time of the 1960s Brinsmead movement considered his teaching disturbingly similar to the Holy Flesh heresy of sixty years before (2). For those who may not remember, the Holy Flesh doctrine held that in order to be ready for translation, the Christian must experience the eradication of one’s inherited fleshly nature before the second coming, and thus be given fleshly desires which are entirely holy.
In his letter to Ellen White explaining his and others’ dealings with the Holy Flesh movement, Stephen Haskell described the Holy Flesh doctrines relative to the humanity of Christ as well as the supposed eradication of humanity’s fleshly nature, which advocates of this teaching considered necessary in order for one to be ready for Jesus’ coming:
When we stated that we believed that Christ was born in fallen humanity, they would represent us as believing that Christ sinned, notwithstanding the fact that we would state our position so clearly that it would seem as though no one could misunderstand us.
Their point of theology in this particular respect seems to be this: They believe that Christ took Adam’s nature before he fell, so He took humanity as it was in the Garden of Eden; and this humanity was holy, and this was the humanity that Christ had; and now, they say, the particular time has come for us to become holy in that sense, and then we will have “translation faith,” and never die (2).
Notice how the Holy Flesh movement equated fallen human nature with sin itself, and how, because of this, they couldn’t accept either the belief that Christ had been born with such a nature, nor that the saints could be ready for translation unless their fallen natures were removed in advance of Jesus’ return. Brinsmead’s 1960s theology, though in some respects different from the Holy Flesh doctrine, essentially taught the same thing—that without the eradication of sinful thoughts and emotions within the believer, one wasn’t yet ready to meet Christ in peace at His coming.
Those interested in a more in-depth study of the Holy Flesh heresy and its theological implications should consult the recent series by Pastor Kameron DeVasher in the Adventist Review, titled, “Confronting a Crisis: The Holy Flesh Movement in Adventism” (3).
Preparation for the Sealing
The writings of Ellen White are explicitly clear that before Christians at the end of time receive the seal of the living God and experience the outpouring of the Latter Rain of the Holy Spirit, all sin will have been purged from their lives through conversion and sanctification.
Those who come up to every point and stand every test, and overcome, be the price what it may, have heeded the counsel of the True Witness, and they will receive the latter rain, and thus be fitted for translation (4).
The refreshing or power of God comes only on those who have prepared themselves for it by doing the work which God bids them, namely, cleansing themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (5).
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 upon the day of Pentecost (6).
Now is the time to prepare. The seal of God will never be placed upon the forehead of an impure man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of the ambitious, world-loving man or woman. It will never be placed upon the forehead of men or women of false tongues or deceitful hearts. All who receive the seal must be without spot before God—candidates for heaven (7).
The latter rain will come, and the blessing of God will fill every soul that is purified from every defilement. It is our work today to yield our souls to Christ, that we may be fitted for the time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord—fitted for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (8).
May the Lord help His people to cleanse the soul temple from every defilement, and to maintain such a close connection with Him that they may be partakers of the latter rain when it shall be poured out (9).
In other statements she writes of those who think the Latter Rain will make up for a lack in their experience not filled before that time, and how this will be a terrible mistake on their part:
Those who receive the seal of the living God and are protected in the time of trouble must reflect the image of Jesus fully.
I saw that many were neglecting the preparation so needful and were looking to the time of “refreshing” and the “latter rain” to fit them to stand in the day of the Lord and to live in His sight. O, how many I saw in the time of trouble without a shelter! They had neglected the needful preparation; therefore they could not receive the refreshing that all must have to fit them to live in the sight of a holy God. . . . I saw that none could share the “refreshing” unless they obtain the victory over every besetment, over pride, selfishness, love of the world, and over every wrong word and action (10).
Many have in a great measure failed to receive the former rain. They have not obtained all the benefits that God has thus provided for them. They expect that the lack will be supplied by the latter rain. They are making a terrible mistake. The work that God has begun in the human heart by giving His light and knowledge must be continually going forward. Every individual must realize his own necessity. The heart must be emptied of every defilement and cleansed for the indwelling of the Spirit (11).
Note such phrases as “every defilement,” “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” “without spot,” and “reflect the image of Jesus fully”—all cited as conditions to be achieved by the Christian through God’s power before the sealing and Latter Rain take place. No hint is found in any of these statements, or any others, of some further cleansing from sin yet to be accomplished through the actual sealing itself.
Because Robert Brinsmead had accepted the doctrine of original sin, which teaches that sinful emotions and tendencies are sinful in and of themselves, he believed that the Latter Rain experience had to rid the saints of these feelings in order for them to be sealed. But the above statements are clear that “every defilement” within believers has to be expelled before the sealing occurs. No additional cleansing from “subconscious” sins, or the “scars of sin,” as taught by Brinsmead in his “Awakening” message (12), is allowed for in these or any other inspired statements.
Ellen White describes the substance of the end-time sealing process as “a settling into the truth, both intellectually and spiritually, so they cannot be moved” (13). No inspired statement says anything about the sealing bringing about an eradication of sinful emotions, “subconscious sins,” or the “scars of sin.”
Not Till the Second Coming
While the statements quoted earlier are clear that all sin is to be removed from the Christian prior to the end-time sealing experience, Ellen White is clear that the inherited sinful nature—the fleshly nature received at birth by all men and women (which the incarnate Christ also inherited—see Rom. 1:3; 8:3; Heb. 2:14-17), is not to be removed until the second advent. The following Ellen White statements establish this point beyond question:
So long as Satan reigns, we shall have self to subdue, besetting sins to overcome; so long as life shall last, there will be no stopping place, no point which we can reach and say, I have fully attained (14).
So long as life shall last, there will be need of guarding the affections and the passions with a firm purpose. Not one moment can we be secure except as we rely upon God, the life hidden with Christ. Watchfulness and prayer are the safeguards of purity (15).
Appetite and passion must be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. There is no end to the warfare this side of eternity (16).
Just as long as Satan urges his temptations upon us, the battle for self-conquest will have to be fought over and over again; but by obedience, the truth will sanctify the soul (17).
And in response to the Holy Flesh heresy, which—as we have seen—taught that our fallen fleshly nature was to be eradicated before Jesus comes, Ellen White stated:
When human beings receive holy flesh, they will not remain on earth, but will be taken to heaven (18).
In other words, the perfect reflection of the image of Christ by the saints prior to probation’s close does not require the absence of a fallen nature, whose divinely-empowered subduing was continually necessary for the human Christ just as it is for the sanctified Christian. Just as Jesus was constantly required to claim the Spirit’s power to resist His inherited fallen nature and live a victorious life, so the saints who will live till Jesus’ coming will be required, through the same grace and power available to their Lord, to vanquish the urges of the flesh and live the same stainless, unsoiled life of purity as did their Savior.
The next installment of our series will focus on a particular statement in the writings of Ellen White which has often been misunderstood with regard to the impact of fallen human nature on the conduct of sanctified believers. We will consider the effect the misunderstanding of this statement exerted on the 1960s theology of Robert Brinsmead, and the effect this misunderstanding continues to exert on the salvation theology of certain contemporary Adventists as well.
1. Robert D. Brinsmead, quoted by Richard W. Schwartz, Light Bearers to the Remnant (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1979), p. 458.
2. Stephen Haskell, letter to Ellen White, Sept. 25, 1900, quoted by Ralph Larson, The Word Was Made Flesh: One Hundred Years of Seventh-day Adventist Christology, 1850-1950 (Cherry Valley, CA: The Cherrystone Press, 1986), p. 126.
3. Kameron DeVasher, “Confronting a Crisis: The Holy Flesh Movement in Adventism,” Part 1, Adventist Review, Sept. 9, 2010, p. 16; “Confronting a Crisis: The Holy Flesh Movement in Adventism,” Part 2, Adventist Review, Oct. 21, 2010, p. 25.
4. Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 187.
5. Ibid, p. 619>
6. Ibid, vol. 5, p. 214.
7. Ibid, p. 216.
8. Evangelism, p. 702.
9. SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1055.
10. Early Writings, p. 71.
11. Testimonies to Ministers, p. 507.
12. Richard W. Schwartz, Light Bearers to the Remnant (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1979), p. 458; Geoffrey J. Paxton, The Shaking of Adventism (Wilmington, DE: Zenith Publishing Co, 1977), p. 99.
13. White, SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 1161.
14. White, Acts of the Apostles, pp. 560-561.
15. Prophets and Kings, p. 84.
16. Counsels to Teachers, p. 20.
17. From the Heart, p. 297.
18. Selected Messages, vol. 2, p. 33.T