.One of the most popular Ellen White statements among opponents of Last Generation Theology is found in Selected Messages, volume 1, p. 344.  It reads as follows:

The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary, but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God.  They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor, who is at God's right hand, presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God.  All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ.  He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption.  He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness.  Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ's propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable.  Then gracious answers are returned.

This statement is being read and explained by certain ones as though it teaches that the blood and merits of Jesus and the incense of His righteousness as described in this passage, mediated by our Lord in the heavenly sanctuary, refer to forensic (legal) righteousness only.  The assumption is that because of original sin (a doctrine held by nearly all opponents of Last Generation Theology), even the conduct of the sanctified Christian is polluted and therefore unacceptable to God.  Thus, it is believed, the declarative righteousness of justification is placed by Jesus as a cover, not only for the believer’s past sins (a point on which we all agree), but also for the Christian’s sanctified performance, which—in the view of those holding this perspective—will never be perfect this side of heaven on account of inborn (or original) sin.

A recent book designed as a rebuttal to Last Generation Theology quotes the above Ellen White statement repeatedly [1]/  Another contemporary Adventist author with similar theology wrote some years ago, using the above Ellen White statement as proof, that “even our prayers need forgiveness” [2].

The Inspired Writings Explain Themselves

But is this in fact what Ellen White is saying?

We must ever bear in mind the rule of self-interpretation that applies both to Scripture and the writings of Ellen White:

The testimonies themselves will be the key that will explain the messages given, as scripture is explained by scripture [3].

We therefore must examine other Ellen White statements that use language similar to the one cited at the beginning, in order to grasp what the inspired writer is truly saying.  Below are some notable examples:

Before the believer is held out the wonderful possibility of being like Christ, obedient to all the principles of the law.  But of himself man is utterly unable to reach this condition.  The holiness that God's Word declares he must have before he can be saved is the result of the working of divine grace as he bows in submission to the discipline and retraining influences of the Spirit of truth.  Man's obedience can be made perfect only by the incense of Christ's righteousness, which fills with divine fragrance every act of obedience.  The part of the Christian is to persevere in overcoming every fault [4].

The merit of Jesus must be mingled with our prayers and efforts, or they are as worthless as was the offering of Cain.  Could we see the activity of all human instrumentality, as it appears before God, we would see that only the work accomplished by much prayer, which is sanctified by the merit of Christ, will stand the test of the judgment [5].

There is none too much of any of the workers, be they possessed of large or small talents, to render themselves to God that they may be sanctified and fitted for His service.  Give all you have and are, and it is all nothing without the merit of the blood that sanctifies the gift.  Could those who hold responsible positions multiply their talents a thousandfold, their service would have no worth before God unless Christ was mingled with all their offerings [6].

Man is permitted to handle the Lord's goods.  Thus he is tested and proved.  His heart must be perfumed with the incense of Christ's righteousness, the Saviour must work in him to will and to do of His good pleasure, in order for the handling of the goods entrusted to him to bear the endorsement of the God of heaven [7].

The offering that is made to God without a spirit of reverence and gratitude, He does not accept.  It is the humble, grateful, reverential heart that makes the offering as a sweet-smelling savor, acceptable to God [8].

Shall we not, then, give to Christ that which He has died to redeem?  If you will do this, He will quicken your conscience, renew your heart, sanctify your affections, purify your thoughts, and set all your powers at work for Him.  Every motive and every thought will be brought into captivity to Jesus Christ.

Those who are sons of God will represent Christ in character.  Their works will be perfumed by the infinite tenderness, compassion, love, and purity of the Son of God.  And the more completely mind and body are yielded to the Holy Spirit, the greater will be the fragrance of our offering to Him [9]

All these statements give evidence that the purification by Jesus' merit which our prayers, our worship, and our service must experience is an internal, sanctifying process, not a forensic or declarative one.  None of the above passages bespeak forgiveness or some kind of judicial pronouncement to cover "inevitable" sin.  This is not a legal purification applied simply to the books of heaven, but an internal purification applied to the heart.  Our words and efforts do ascend through the corrupt channels of our fallen natures to heaven, but if the above passages mean what they say, it is while they ascend through those channels—not when they get to heaven—that they receive purification.  

The Scope of Biblical Justification

The theory that God’s justification, or forgiveness, functions as a continuous covering for not only the past, but the present and the future—called at times by its promoters “overarching forgiveness” [10] or “the umbrella of eternal grace” [11]—is not supported by the inspired pen.  The Bible is clear that only those sins that are confessed and forsaken are eligible for forgiveness (II Chron. 7:14; Prov. 28:13; Isa. 55:7).  Ellen White is likewise clear that only past sins and sins of ignorance receive the divine covering often called forgiveness, or justification:

The law requires righteousness—a righteous life, a perfect character, and this man has not to give.  He cannot meet the claims of God’s holy law.  But Christ, coming to earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character.  These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them.  His life stands for the life of men.  Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God.  More than this, Christ imbues me with the attributes of God.  He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty.  Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ [12].

There is no way back to innocence and life except through repentance for having transgressed God's law, and faith in the merits of the divine sacrifice, who has suffered for your transgressions of the past; and you are accepted in the Beloved on condition of obedience to the commandments of your Creator [13].

Christ bears the penalty of man's past transgressions, and by imparting to man His righteousness, makes it possible for man to keep God's holy law [14].

The minds of all who embrace this message are directed to the most holy place, where Jesus stands before the ark, making His final intercession for all those for whom mercy still lingers and for those who have ignorantly broken the law of God.  This atonement is made for the righteous dead as well as for the righteous living.  It includes all who died trusting in Christ, but who, not having received the light upon God’s commandments, had sinned ignorantly in transgressing its precepts [15].

The apostle John describes the forgiveness offered by Jesus’ mediation as something available if needed, not something inevitably needed on account of presumably inevitable sin,  In the apostle’s words: "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.  And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I John 2:1).  Notice that forgiveness is available if we sin, not when.  God’s plan for us is that through claiming heaven’s power, we refrain from sinning.  But if we should fall, our Lord’s advocacy in our behalf can be claimed as well.

One wonders how this notion of sanctified, Spirit-empowered works supposedly “needing forgiveness” comports with the apostle Paul’s listing of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), following which he declares, “Against such there is no law” (verse 23), along with his subsequent statement, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (verse 24).  How can these verses be true if the law still condemns sanctified performance for falling short of its requirements?  How can the flesh be described here as crucified if it still involuntarily pollutes the words and behavior of the most consecrated?

Sanctification and the Law’s Demands                                                   

Ellen White is clear in another statement that imputed righteousness is synonymous with justification, and imparted righteousness with sanctification:

The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted.  The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven [16]                                                

When Ellen White declares in one of the above statements that “by imparting to man His righteousness, [Christ] makes it possible for man to keep God’s holy law” [17], it becomes clear that in Ellen White’s theology, imparted righteousness is capable of meeting the law's demands.  Other statements affirm the same thing:

It was impossible for the sinner to keep the law of God, which was holy, just, and good; but this impossibility was removed by the impartation of the righteousness of Christ to the repenting, believing soul.  The life and death of Christ in behalf of sinful man were for the purpose of restoring the sinner to God’s favor, through imparting to him the righteousness that would meet the claims of the law and find acceptance with the Father [18].  

What is sanctification?  It is to give one's self wholly and without reserve--soul, body, and spirit--to God; to deal justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God; to know and to do the will of God without regard to self or self-interest; to be heavenly minded, pure, unselfish, holy, and without spot or stain [19].

True sanctification is nothing more or less than to love God with all the heart, to walk in His commandments and ordinances blameless.  Sanctification is not an emotion, but a heaven-born principle that brings all the passions and desires under the control of the Spirit of God; and this work is done through our Lord and Savior [20].

True sanctification consists in the cheerful performance of daily duties in perfect obedience to the will of God [21]. 

The Merits of Christ—Both Imputed and Imparted

Too much of contemporary Adventist thought assumes that trusting in "Christ's merits alone"—which we all agree with—means trusting in justification alone.   But the following statements from Ellen White—the only inspired writer to use the term merit in the context of salvation—make it clear that the merits of Christ are just another term for the righteousness of Christ, and that these merits are imparted as well as imputed to believers:

Becoming partakers of His divine nature, we are to learn to discern the temptations of Satan, and, in the strength of His grace, overcome the corruptions that are in the world through lust.  He who was once a sinful human being may be refined and purified through the imparted merits of Christ, and stand before his fellow men as a laborer together with God [22].

The more we contemplate these riches, the more we will come into possession of them, and the more we shall reveal the merits of Christ's sacrifice, the protection of His righteousness, His inexpressible love, the fullness of His wisdom, and His power to present us before the Father without spot or wrinkle or any such thing" [23].

When the law of God is thus implanted in the soul of the believer, he is approaching eternal life through the merits of Jesus. . . .

Here in this life is the testing, trying time.  The angels of God are watching the development of character, and weighing moral worth.  The whole question is settled in this, Is he obedient or disobedient to the commandments of God? has the sinner been transformed in this world, through the merits of Christ, so that he is fitted to join the heavenly society? [24].

Those who accept Christ as their Saviour, becoming partakers of His divine nature, are enabled to follow His example, living in obedience to every precept of the law.  Through the merits of Christ, man is to show by his obedience that he could be trusted in heaven, that he would not rebel [25].

Through the merits of Christ man may be able to exercise the noblest powers of his being, and expel sin from the soul [26].

Through the merits of His blood, you may overcome every spiritual foe, and remedy every defect of character [27].

Selfishness and the Christian

The late Desmond Ford, in a sermon he preached during the 1970s, disparaged sanctified obedience by insisting that “it all deserves damnation because there is some of self in all of it” [28].  Recent critics of Last Generation Theology have made similar statements, declaring:  “All that human beings do, however good and righteous it may be, is tainted by selfishness and sin” [29]. 

Ellen White, by contrast, makes a clear distinction as to which human actions are polluted by selfishness and sin, and which are not:

He who is trying to reach heaven by his own works in keeping the law, is attempting an impossibility.  Man cannot be saved without obedience, but his works should not be of himself.  Christ should work in him to will and to do of His good pleasure.  If a man could save himself by his own works, he might have something in himself in which to rejoice.  The effort that man makes in his own strength to obtain salvation, is represented by the offering of Cain.  All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin, but that which is wrought through faith is acceptable to God” [30]                                                                                                                       

We saw earlier Ellen White’s statement that Jesus restores the sinner to God’s favor “through imparting to him the righteousness that would meet the claims of the law and find acceptance with the Father” [31].  And Ellen White is clear that the impartation of righteousness constitutes sanctification [32].  Any notion, therefore, that imparted righteousness (sanctification) is unacceptable to God because of “inevitable” tainting by selfishness and sin, runs counter to the teachings of the Spirit of Prophecy.

In further contrast with the above statements from uninspired theologians, Ellen White makes the following observations about the relationship of selfishness to the truly sanctified Christian:

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour.”  Ephesians 5:1,2.  This is the height of the love we are required to reach.  And the texture of this love is not tainted with selfishness [33].

In the life of the true Christian there is nothing of self.  Self is dead.  There was no selfishness in the life that Christ lived while on this earth.  Bearing our nature, He lived a life wholly devoted to the service of others [34].

When the Saviour abides in the heart the work bears the impress of the divine touch.  Self does not appear.  Christ is revealed as the One altogether lovely [35].

The Word of God instructs us to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves,” and it is the duty of every Christian to bring himself under discipline to the rules of the Bible, that he may be “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.”  The work coming from the hands of those who do this, will be as lasting as eternity.  It will not be mingled with a thread of selfishness, and it will not be loose, careless work [36].

In word and deed Christ’s followers are to be pure and true.  In this world—a world of iniquity and corruption—Christians are to reveal the attributes of Christ.  All they say and do is to be free from selfishness [37].

Of the man who is noted for his meekness, Christ says, He can be trusted.  Through him I can reveal Myself to the world.  He will not weave into the web any threads of selfishness [38].

The above statements should be sufficient to demonstrate that when Ellen White speaks of the need for the prayers, praise, and service of believers to be purified by the merits of Jesus' blood, that this purification is an internal, practical reality.  Both justification and sanctification constitute the pure, spotless righteousness of Jesus.  Neither is depicted in the inspired writings as superior or inferior to the other.  Nor is sanctification ever depicted in the inspired writings as perpetually falling short of God’s law because of our inherited fallen natures.  The writings of Ellen White make it clear, as does the Bible, that both phases of our Lord’s righteousness are accomplished in Christian lives through the blood of Jesus (Eph. 1:7; Heb. 10:29; 13:12,20-21), and that both constitute the means of our salvation (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7; II Thess. 2:13; Titus 3:5). 



1.  Jiri Moskala and John C. Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 2018), pp. 57,76,85,111,198-199,262,269,280,286.

2.  Martin Weber, More Adventist Hot Potatoes (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Assn, 1992), p. 51.

3.  Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 42.

4.  ----Acts of the Apostles, p. 532 (italics supplied in this and all subsequent references).

5.  ----Christian Service, p. 263.

6.  ----Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, p. 337.

7.  ----Review and Herald, Nov. 26, 1901.

8.  ----SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1118.

9.  Ibid, vol. 7, p. 909.

10.  Colin Cook, “Which Door to Heaven?” These Times, September 1979, p. 14.

11.  Keavin Hayden, Lifestyles of the Remnant (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Assn, 2001), p. 24; see also Steve Marshall, What’s the Difference? (Arroyo Grande, CA: Concerned Communications, 1979), on the cover; J. Robert Spangler, “Ask the Editor,” Ministry, October 1978, p. 11; J. David Newsman, “Can I Know I’m Saved?” Adventist Review, Aug. 24, 2006, p. 26.

12.  White, The Desire of Ages, p. 762.

13.  ----Signs of the Times, Dec. 15, 1887.

14.  ----SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1092.

15.  ----Early Writings, p. 254.

16.  ----Messages to Young People, p. 35.

17.  ----SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1092.

18.  ----Faith and Works, p. 118.

19.  ----Our High Calling, p. 212.

20.  ----From the Heart, p. 298.

21.  ----Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 360.

22.  ----This Day With God, p. 151.

23.  ----In Heavenly Places, p. 34.

24.  ----Sons and Daughters of God, p. 50.

25.  ----That I May Know Him, p. 292.

26.  ----This Day With God, p. 124.

27.  ----Sons and Daughters of God, p. 227.

28.  Desmond Ford, Taped Sermon on Romans 4-8, quoted by A. John Clifford and Russell R. Standish, Conflicting Concepts of Righteousness by Faith in the Seventh-day Adventist Church—Australasian Division, p. 109.

29.  Moskala and Peckham (eds.), God’s Character and the Last Generation, p. 110; see also pp. 114,262; Martin F. Hanna, Darius W. Jankewicz, and John W. Reeve (eds.), Salvation: Contours of Adventist Soteriology (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2018), p. 163.

30.  White, Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 364.

31.  ----Faith and Works, p. 118.

32.  ----Messages to Young People, p. 35.

33.  ----Our High Calling, p. 176.

34.  ----In Heavenly Places, p. 166.

35.  Ibid, p. 237.

36.  ----Sons and Daughters of God, p. 83.

37.  ----In Heavenly Places, p. 57.

38.  ----Sons and Daughters of God, p. 94.


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Pastor Kevin Paulson holds a Bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, a Master of Arts in systematic theology from Loma Linda University, and a Master of Divinity from the SDA Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He served the Greater New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists for ten years as a Bible instructor, evangelist, and local pastor. He writes regularly for Liberty magazine and does script writing for various evangelistic ministries within the denomination. He continues to hold evangelistic and revival meetings throughout the North American Division and beyond, and is a sought-after seminar speaker relative to current issues in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He presently resides in Berrien Springs, Michigan