Chapter 5—Faith and Works
Morning Talk at Basel, Switzerland, September 17, 1885. Published in The Signs of the Times, June 16, 1890.
“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). There are many in the Christian world who claim that all that is necessary to salvation is to have faith; works are nothing, faith is the only essential. But God's Word tells us that faith without works is dead, being alone. Many refuse to obey God's commandments, yet they make a great deal of faith. But faith must have a foundation.
God's promises are all made upon conditions. If we do His will, if we walk in truth, then we may ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us. While we earnestly endeavor to be obedient, God will hear our petitions; but He will not bless us in disobedience. If we choose to disobey His commandments, we may cry, “Faith, faith, only have faith,” and the response will come back from the sure Word of God, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Such faith will only be as sounding brass and as a tinkling cymbal. In order to have the benefits of God's grace we must do our part; we must faithfully work and bring forth fruits meet for repentance.
We are workers together with God. You are not to sit in indolence, waiting for some great occasion, in order to do a great work for the Master. You are not to neglect the duty that lies directly in your pathway, but you are to improve the little opportunities that open around you....
To Wrestle, Labor, and Strive
We are to do all that we can do on our part to fight the good fight of faith. We are to wrestle, to labor, to strive, to agonize to enter in at the strait gate. We are to set the Lord ever before us. With clean hands, with pure hearts, we are to seek to honor God in all our ways. Help has been provided for us in Him who is mighty to save. The spirit of truth and light will quicken and renew us by its mysterious workings; for all our spiritual improvement comes from God, not from ourselves. The true worker will have divine power to aid him, but the idler will not be sustained by the Spirit of God.
In one way we are thrown upon our own energies; we are to strive earnestly to be zealous and to repent, to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts from every defilement; we are to reach the highest standard, believing that God will help us in our efforts. We must seek if we would find, and seek in faith; we must knock, that the door may be opened unto us. The Bible teaches that everything regarding our salvation depends upon our own course of action. If we perish, the responsibility will rest wholly upon ourselves. If provision has been made, and if we accept God's terms, we may lay hold on eternal life. We must come to Christ in faith, we must be diligent to make our calling and election sure.
The forgiveness of sin is promised to him who repents and believes; the crown of life will be the reward of him who is faithful to the end. We may grow in grace by improving through the grace we already have. We are to keep ourselves unspotted from the world if we would be found blameless in the day of God. Faith and works go hand in hand; they act harmoniously in the work of overcoming. Works without faith are dead, and faith without works is dead. Works will never save us; it is the merit of Christ that will avail in our behalf. Through faith in Him, Christ will make all our imperfect efforts acceptable to God. The faith we are required to have is not a do-nothing faith; saving faith is that which works by love and purifies the soul. He who will lift up holy hands to God without wrath and doubting will walk intelligently in the way of God's commandments.
If we are to have pardon for our sins, we must first have a realization of what sin is, that we may repent and bring forth fruits meet for repentance. We must have a solid foundation for our faith; it must be founded on the Word of God, and its results will be seen in obedience to God's expressed will. Says the apostle, “Without ...[holiness] no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Faith and works will keep us evenly balanced and make us successful in the work of perfecting Christian character. Jesus says, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter in the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Speaking of temporal food, the apostle said, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The same rule applies to our spiritual nourishment; if any would have the bread of eternal life, let him make efforts to obtain it.
We are living in an important and interesting period of this earth's history. We need more faith than we have yet had; we need a firmer hold from above. Satan is working with all power to obtain the victory over us, for he knows that he has but a short time in which to work. Paul had fear and trembling in working out his salvation; and should not we fear lest a promise being left us, we should any of us seem to come short of it, and prove ourselves unworthy of eternal life? We should watch unto prayer, strive with agonizing effort to enter in at the strait gate.
Jesus Makes Up for Our Deficiency
There is no excuse for sin or for indolence. Jesus has led the way, and He wishes us to follow in His steps. He has suffered, He has sacrificed as none of us can, that He might bring salvation within our reach. We need not be discouraged. Jesus came to our world to bring divine power to man, that through His grace, we might be transformed into His likeness.
When it is in the heart to obey God, when efforts are put forth to this end, Jesus accepts this disposition and effort as man's best service, and He makes up for the deficiency with His own divine merit. But He will not accept those who claim to have faith in Him and yet are disloyal to His Father's commandment. We hear a great deal about faith, but we need to hear a great deal more about works. Many are deceiving their own souls by living an easy-going, accommodating, crossless religion.
But Jesus says, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).
Chapter 6—A Warning Against Counterfeit Sanctification
From a report of “The Conference in Sweden” In Mid-June, 1886. Published in The Review and Herald, October 5, 1886.
During the meetings at Orebro I was urged by the Spirit of the Lord to present His law as the great standard of righteousness and to warn our people against the modern, counterfeit sanctification which has its origin in will-worship rather than in submission to the will of God. This error is fast flooding the world, and as God's witnesses we shall be called to bear a decided testimony against it. It is one of the veriest delusions of the last days and will prove a temptation to all who believe present truth. Those who have not their faith firmly established upon the Word of God will be misled. And the saddest part of it all is that so few who are deceived by this error ever find their way to the light again.
The Bible is the standard by which to test the claims of all who profess sanctification. Jesus prayed that His disciples might be sanctified through the truth, and He says, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17); while the psalmist declares, “Thy law is the truth” (Psalm 119:142). All whom God is leading will manifest a high regard for the Scriptures in which His voice is heard. The Bible will be to them “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16). “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).
We need no other evidence in order to judge of men's sanctification; if they are fearful lest they shall not obey the whole will of God, if they are listening diligently to His voice, trusting in His wisdom, and making His Word the man of their counsel, then, while they make no boasts of superior goodness, we may be sure that they are seeking to attain to perfection of Christian character. But if the claimants of holiness even intimate that they are no longer required to search the Scriptures, we need not hesitate to pronounce their sanctification spurious. They are leaning to their own understanding instead of conforming to the will of God.
What God Requires
God requires at this time just what He required of the holy pair in Eden—perfect obedience to His requirements. His law remains the same in all ages. The great standard of righteousness presented in the Old Testament is not lowered in the New. It is not the work of the gospel to weaken the claims of God's holy law but to bring men up where they can keep its precepts.
The faith in Christ that saves the soul is not what it is represented to be by many. “Believe, believe,” is their cry; “only believe in Christ, and you will be saved. It is all you have to do.” While true faith trusts wholly in Christ for salvation, it will lead to perfect conformity to the law of God. Faith is manifested by works. And the apostle John declares, “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
It is unsafe to trust to feelings or impressions; these are unreliable guides. God's law is the only correct standard of holiness. It is by this law that character is to be judged. If an inquirer after salvation were to ask, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” the modern teachers of sanctification would answer, “Only believe that Jesus saves you.” But when Christ was asked this question He said, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” And when the questioner replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, ...and thy neighbour as thyself,” Jesus said, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:25-29).
True sanctification will be evidenced by a conscientious regard for all the commandments of God, by a careful improvement of every talent, by a circumspect conversation, by revealing in every act the meekness of Christ.
A Sanctification That Leads Away From the Bible
A number of persons were present at this meeting who held to the popular theory of sanctification, and as the claims of God's law were presented and the true character of this error was shown, one man was so much offended that he rose abruptly and left the meeting hall. I afterward heard that he had come from Stockholm to attend the meeting. In conversation with one of our ministers he claimed to be sinless and said that he had no need of the Bible, for the Lord told him directly what to do; he was far beyond the Bible teachings. What can be expected of those who follow their own imaginings rather than God's Word but that they will be deluded? They cast away the only detector of error, and what is to prevent the great deceiver from leading them captive at his will?
This man represents a class. Spurious sanctification leads directly away from the Bible. Religion is reduced to a fable. Feelings and impressions are made the criterion. While they profess to be sinless and boast of their righteousness, the claimants of sanctification teach that men are at liberty to transgress the law of God and that those who obey its precepts have fallen from grace. A presentation of its claims arouses their opposition and excites anger and contempt. Thus their character is shown, for “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7).
The true follower of Christ will make no boastful claims to holiness. It is by the law of God that the sinner is convicted. He sees his own sinfulness in contrast with the perfect righteousness which it enjoins, and this leads him to humility and repentance. He becomes reconciled to God through the blood of Christ, and as he continues to walk with Him he will be gaining a clearer sense of the holiness of God's character and the far-reaching nature of His requirements. He will see more clearly his own defects and will feel the need of continual repentance and faith in the blood of Christ.
He who bears with him a continual sense of the presence of Christ cannot indulge self-confidence or self-righteousness. None of the prophets or apostles made proud boasts of holiness. The nearer they came to perfection of character, the less worthy and righteous they viewed themselves. But those who have the least sense of the perfection of Jesus, those whose eyes are least directed to Him, are the ones who make the strongest claim to perfection.