Chapter 9—The Quality of Our Faith
Sermon preached by Ellen G. White at Ottawa, Kansas, on Sabbath, May 11, 1889, just a few months after the minneapolis conference, representing her simple, practical presentation of the subject. On file as Manuscript 1, 1889.
Text: John 3:1-16 (read by the speaker)
If there is nothing more in all the Scriptures which point out definitely the way to heaven, we have it here in these words. They tell us what conversion is. They tell us what we must do in order to be saved. And, my friends, I want to tell you that this strikes directly at the root of the surface work in the religious world. It strikes directly against the idea that you can become a child of God without any particular change. There is a decided change wrought in us if the truth of God has found a place in our hearts, for it has a sanctifying power upon life and upon character. When we see the fruits of righteousness in those who claim to have advanced truth, as we claim to have it, then there will be a course of action which testifies that we have learned of Christ.
When Christ, the Hope of Israel, was hung upon the cross and was lifted up as He told Nicodemus He would be, the disciples’ hope died with Jesus. They could not explain the matter. They could not understand all that Christ had told them about it beforehand.
But after the Resurrection their hopes and faith were resurrected, and they went forth proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. They told how by wicked hands the Lord of life and glory had been taken and crucified, but He had risen from the dead. And thus with great boldness they spoke the words of life at which the people were much astonished.
The Pharisees and those who heard the disciples boldly proclaim Jesus as the Messiah interpreted it that they had been with Jesus and learned of Him. They talked just as Jesus talked. This settled it in their minds that they had learned of Jesus. How has it been with His disciples in all ages of the world? Why, they have learned of Jesus; they have been in His school; they have been His students and have learned the lessons of Christ in regard to the living connection that the soul has with God. That living faith is essential for our salvation that we should lay hold upon the merits of the blood of the crucified and risen Saviour, on Christ, our righteousness.
There seems to be a cloudy atmosphere that has gathered about the soul of man and that has shut in the mind. It is next to impossible to break through this atmosphere of doubt and unbelief. It is next to impossible to arouse his vital interests so that he may understand what he must do to be saved.
The Simplicity of Being Saved
He who will lay hold of Christ's righteousness need not wait one moment that he himself may blot out his own sins. He need not wait until he has made a suitable repentance before he may take hold upon Christ's righteousness. We do not understand the matter of salvation. It is just as simple as ABC. But we don't understand it.
Now, how is it that a man will repent? Is it anything of himself? No; because the natural heart is at enmity with God. Then how can the natural heart stir itself up to repentance when it has no power to do so? What is it that brings man to repentance? It is Jesus Christ. How does He bring man to repentance? There are a thousand ways that He may do this.
The God of heaven is working upon human minds all the time. An invitation is given in the Word of God, and it is not only given there, but it is given by all those who believe on Jesus Christ and are revealing Christ in their characters. They may not preach a discourse; they may not come directly to a person and speak to him in regard to his condition of impenitence, yet such a one sees when brought into connection with any of the disciples of Jesus Christ that there is something there that he does not have. The Pharisees saw that there was something in the disciples that they could not interpret. They saw something wonderful and were settled in their minds that the disciples had been listening to Jesus and they had learned their lessons from Him.
There are the impressions that are going forth all the time. There is an atmosphere that surrounds the human soul and that atmosphere is a heavenly atmosphere or a hellish atmosphere. There are but two distinct lines. Either we are on Christ's side of the question or on the enemy's side. And if we are continually drawing rays of divine light from glory, angels of God are around about us and there is an atmosphere that surrounds the human soul. Our very attitude, our very words, witness genuine conversion to all who come within the sphere of our influence. “The Spirit and the bride say come, and let him that heareth say come, and let him that is athirst come.”
Now that we are branches of the Living Vine we will be nourished by the sap that flows from the Vine. It flows all the time to every branch, and every branch will bear fruit to the glory of God. “It is your Father's good pleasure” “that ye bear much fruit.” Well then, what is our position? It must be a position of living faith.
You Can't Reason It Out
“I want,” says one, “to reason out this matter.” Well, reason it out if you can. “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” and you hear the sound thereof, but you cannot explain it. And no more can you explain the things of God upon the human heart. You cannot explain this faith that lays right hold upon the merits of the blood of a crucified and risen Saviour to bring Christ's righteousness into your life. Clothed with the righteousness of Christ and not your own righteousness, you will not depend upon what you can do or what you will do. Don't you know you cannot do anything without Christ? “Without Me,” He says, “ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
When you sit down at your table the food that you eat is an expression of Christ's love. And the listening to the truth of God's words from the desk is a message that is sent to proclaim unto us the words of life.
Who of you have been gathering all the doubts and questions that you could gather and heap up against this righteousness of Christ? Who has been doing this? What side are you on?
Have you been grasping the precious truths point after point as they have been presented? Or have you been thinking that you follow your own ideas and opinions and read and judge the Word of God by your opinions and theories? Or will you take your ideas and theories to the Word of God and let the living oracles reveal to you where the deficiencies and defects are in your ideas and theories? We cannot take a position that we will judge the Word of God because we believed thus and so. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
If ever a people needed light, it is those who are living in the very closing days of this earth's history. We want to know what saith the Scripture. We want to come to the living oracles of God. We want that living faith which grasps the arm of infinite power, and we want to rely with all our being upon Jesus Christ, our righteousness. And we may do it. Yes, we do it profitably to our own soul's interest.
You may be united to the Living Vine. Every member of your whole being may be united to that Vine, and the sap and nourishment that come from the Vine will nourish the branch that is in the Vine, until you are one with Christ as He was one with the Father. Thus His blessings will be imparted to you. But brethren, we have not had faith. We have dishonored God by unbelief long enough.
The Faith of the Paralytic
I will refer to the paralytic who had not used his limbs for many years. There he was. The priests, the rulers, and scribes examined his case and pronounced it hopeless. They told him that by his own sin he had brought himself into this condition, and there was no hope for him. But the word was brought to him that there was a man called Jesus who was doing mighty works. He was healing the sick, and He had even raised the dead. “But how can I go to Him?” he said.
“We will carry you to Jesus,” his friends replied, “right into His presence; we have heard He has come to such a place.”
And so they took the hopeless man and bore him to where they knew Jesus was. But the multitude surrounded the building so closely where Jesus was that there was no chance for them, not so much as to come at the door. What were they going to do? The paralytic suggested that they open the roof and take off the tiling and let him down through the roof.
And so he manifested his earnest faith. They did it, and he was brought right before Jesus, where He could look at him. And Jesus as He looked at him, pitied him, and He said, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5). Well, what a joy that was! Jesus knew just what that sin-sick soul needed. He knew that he had been tortured on account of his own conscience, so He said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” What a relief came to his mind! What hope filled his heart!
Then the feelings arose in the hearts of the Pharisees, “Who has this power to forgive sins? It is God alone that has this power.”
Then Jesus said to them, “That ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (He said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house” (Luke 5:24). What, take up his bed with his palsied arms! What, get upon his feet with his palsied limbs! What did he do? Why, he just did as he was bidden. He did what the Lord told him to. The power of the will was set to move his palsied limbs and arms, and they responded, when they had not responded for a long time. This manifestation showed before the people that there was One in their midst that could not only forgive sins but that could heal the sick.
But that mighty evidence given to the Pharisees did not convert them. Men can so encase themselves in unbelief, doubt, and infidelity that the raising of the dead would not convict them. Because of their unbelief they would be in the same unbelieving position, unconvicted, unconverted. But all those who have hearts to receive the truth and ears to hear, glorify God. They exclaim, “We have never seen it on this wise before!”
The Response to the Impotent Man
There was the impotent man, and as Christ talked with him, he told the pitiful story of how, just as soon as he would go down into the water to be healed, somebody else would step in before him. Christ asked him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” (John 5:6). What a question! That was what he was there for, but Christ wanted to call forth the expression of desire in that man's heart to be made whole. And when Christ bade him to rise, take up his bed and walk, he did just as Christ told him to do. He did not say, “Why, I have been here thirty years and have not taken a step during that time.” He did not stop to argue, but did just as he was bidden. He took up his bed and walked out and was healed from that time.This is the faith that we need. But if you stop to explain everything and reason out every point, you will die in your sins, because you will never be satisfied.
The Brazen Serpent
Here is another case Christ presented before Nicodemus—the serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness—and declared, “Even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). And if He is lifted up, He will draw all men unto Him, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (Verse 15). Now just look at that brazen serpent. The children of Israel had not realized that God had been keeping them by His angels sent to be their help and their protection. The people had not been destroyed by the serpents in their long travels through the wilderness. They had been an ungrateful people.
We are just so. We do not realize the thousand dangers that our heavenly Father has kept us from. We do not realize the great blessing that He has bestowed upon us in giving us food and raiment, in preserving our lives by sending the guardian angels to watch over us. Every day we should be thankful for this. We ought to have gratitude stirring in our hearts and come to God with a gratitude offering every day. We ought to gather around the family altar every day and praise Him for His watchcare over us. The children of Israel had lost sight that God was protecting them from the venomous beasts. But when He withdrew His hand their sting was upon them.
What then? Why, Christ Himself told Moses to set up a pole and make a brazen serpent and put it upon that pole and to raise it in the sight of the Israelites, that everyone who looked upon it might live. They had no great work to do. They were to look because God said it should be.
Now, suppose that they had stopped to reason it out and said, “Why, it cannot be that by looking at that brazen serpent we will be healed! There is no life in it!” But the look of faith did heal them just as God had told them it would. Those who looked lived. Those who stopped to argue and explain it, died.What are we to do? Look and live. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14). The reason? That those who behold Him “should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
What kind of faith is that? Is it to believe simply, or is it a faith of admission? There are many here who have that kind of faith. You believe that Jesus was the Son of God; but do you have a personal faith in regard to your own salvation? Do you believe that Jesus is your Saviour? that He died on Calvary's cross to redeem you? that He has offered you the gift of everlasting life if you believe on Him?
This is Righteousness by Faith
And what is it to believe? It is to fully accept that Jesus Christ died as our sacrifice; that He became the curse for us, took our sins upon Himself, and imputed unto us His own righteousness. Therefore we claim this righteousness of Christ, we believe it, and it is our righteousness. He is our Saviour. He saves us because He said He would. Are we going to go into all the explanations as to how He can save us? Do we have the goodness in ourselves that will make us better and cleanse us from the spots and stains of sin, enabling us then to come to God? We simply cannot do it.
Don't you know that when the young man came to Christ and asked Him what he should do that he might have life, Christ told him to keep the commandments. Said he, “I have done it.” Now the Lord wanted to bring this lesson right home. “What lack I yet? I am perfectly whole” (Matthew 19:20). He did not see that there was a thing the matter with him or why he should not have eternal life. “I have done it,” he said. Now Christ touches the plague spot of his heart. He says, “Come, follow Me, and ye shall have life.”
What did he do? He turned away very sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Now he had not kept the commandments at all. He should have accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour and taken hold of His righteousness. Then, as he had the righteousness of Christ, he could keep the law of God. The young ruler could not trample that law under his feet. He must respect it; he must love it. Then Christ would bring divine power to combine with man's efforts.Christ took upon Himself humanity for us. He clothed His divinity, and divinity and humanity were combined. He showed that that law which Satan declared could not be kept, could be kept. Christ took humanity to stand here in our world, to show that Satan had lied. He took humanity upon Himself to demonstrate that with divinity and humanity combined, man could keep the law of Jehovah. Separate humanity from divinity, and you can try to work out your own righteousness from now till Christ comes, and it will be nothing but a failure.
By living faith, by earnest prayer to God, and depending upon Jesus’ merits, we are clothed with His righteousness, and we are saved. “Oh, yes,” some say, “we are saved in doing nothing. In fact, I am saved. I need not keep the law of God. I am saved by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.” Christ came to our world to bring all men back to allegiance to God. To take the position that you can break God's law, for Christ has done it all, is a position of death, for you are as verily a transgressor as anyone.
Then what is it? It is to hear and to see that with the righteousness of Christ which you hold by faith, righteousness supplied by His efforts and His divine power, you can keep the commandments of God.
Not Saved in Indolence
Now we want that faith. But will man be saved in indolence? Can he be saved in doing nothing? Never, never! He must be a colaborer with Jesus Christ. He cannot save himself. “We are labourers together with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9). And how is it? All heaven is laboring to elevate the human race from the degradation of sin. All heaven is open to the inhabitants of earth. The angels of God are sent to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
And it is that faith which works that you want. How does it work? It works by love. What love? Why, the love flashing from the cross of Calvary. It is set up midway between earth and heaven, and salvation is gained by looking at this cross. The Father has accepted it, and the angelic host have come to that cross, and God Himself has bowed in acceptance of the sacrifice. It answers the demand of Heaven, and man can be saved through Jesus Christ, if we only have faith in Him. Man is reconciled to God, and God to man, through the full and perfect and entire sacrifice.
Now, brethren, we want faith; we want to educate the soul in faith; we want every step to be a step of faith. We want faith in this sacrifice that has been made for us. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10). Now, when we see a ray of light we want to lay hold upon it. The devil is working against this all the time. It is the faith that works by love that is witnessed by Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. It is the love that He has had for my soul. Christ has died for me. He has purchased me at an infinite cost, and He has atoned for everything that is offensive to Him. I must be a laborer with Him. I must take His yoke upon myself. I must wear the yoke of Christ. I must lift His burdens. I must teach others how to be lifted from the sinful state that I was in and to grasp by living faith the righteousness that is in Christ Jesus. That is the only way that the sinner can be saved.
You Cannot Save Yourselves
Now you may cling to your righteousness, and you may think that you have tried to do about right, and that, after all, you will be saved in doing this. You cannot see that Christ does it all. “I must repent first,” some say. “I must go so far on my own without Christ, and then Christ meets me and accepts me.”
You cannot have a thought without Christ. You cannot have an inclination to come to Him unless He sets in motion influences and impresses His Spirit upon the human mind. And if there is a man on the face of the earth who has any inclination toward God, it is because of the many influences that are set to work to bear upon his mind and heart. Those influences call for the allegiance to God and an appreciation of the great work that God has done for him.
Then don't let us ever say that we can repent of ourselves, and then Christ will pardon. No, indeed. It is the favor of God that pardons. It is the favor of God that leads us by His power to repentance. Therefore, it is all of Jesus Christ, everything of Him, and you want to just give back glory to God. Why don't you respond more when you meet together in your meetings? Why don't you have the quickening influence of the Spirit of God when the love of Jesus and His salvation are presented to you? It is because you do not see that Christ is first and last and best, and the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the very Author and Finisher of our faith. You don't realize this, and therefore you remain in your sins. Why is this? It is because Satan is here wrestling and battling for the souls of men. He casts his hellish shadow right athwart our pathway, and all that you can see is the enemy and his power.
Look away from his power to the One that is mighty to save to the utmost. Why doesn't your faith plow through the shadow to where Christ is? He has led captivity captive and given gifts unto men. He will teach you that Satan claims every soul that does not join with Him as his property.
The Crucial Point in the Great Controversy
Satan is the author of death. What did Christ do after He brought Satan under the dominion of death? The very last words of Christ while expiring on the cross were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). The devil saw that he had overdone himself. Christ by dying accomplished the death of Satan and brought immortality to light.
And after Christ came up from the Resurrection, what did He do? He grasped His power and held His scepter. He opened the graves and brought up the multitude of captives, testifying to everyone in our world and in creation that He had the power over death and that He rescued the captives of death.
Not all that believed in Jesus were brought to life at that time. It was only a specimen of what would be, that we may know that death and the grave are not to hold the captives, because Christ took them to heaven. And when He comes again with power and great glory, He will open the graves. The prison house will be opened, and the dead will come forth again to a glorious immortality.
Here are the trophies which Christ took up with Him and presented to the universe of heaven and the worlds that God has created. Any affection that ever they had for Lucifer, who was the covering cherub, is now destroyed. God gave him a chance to work out his character. If He had not done this, there might have been those who felt the accusation he brought against God that He didn't give him a fair chance was justified.
The Prince of Life and the prince of darkness were in conflict. The Prince of Life prevailed, but at an infinite cost. His triumph is our salvation. He is our Substitute and Surety, and what He says to him that overcometh tells whether man has anything to do or not. How? “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne” (Revelation 3:21).
The Overcomer's Portion
Did not our Saviour have something to overcome? Did not He keep up the battle with the prince of darkness until He was a victor on every point? Then He left the work right in the hands of His followers. We have something to do. Have we not the overcomers’ portion, to work out and gain the victory? Have we not to follow on step by step to know the Lord until we shall know His goings forth are prepared as the morning? Their light will shine forth until we come to the brighter light. You will grasp it and go on and gather brighter light from the oracles of God as you supplicate the God of heaven.
Jacob was ensnared. He defrauded his brother of his birthright. As he wrestled with Christ, his sins came up before him. And the angel wrestled with him and said, “Let Me go,” and Jacob said, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26).
Will you do that? Will you wrestle with God at this meeting until you know that He reveals Himself to you? There are sins that afflict your souls; your sins grieve you. Will you say, “Now, Lord, I must have pardon written opposite my name,” and wrestle and plead with God, laying hold upon the righteousness of Christ. “He must save; I believe in Him; I take Him at His word.” Now, brethren, what shall we do?
Jacob obtained the victory, and his name was changed that day. It was when he prevailed with God. I am so thankful that God has made a way that we may have full and free salvation. We need not look at the shadows that Satan casts on our path. He would eclipse heaven and Jesus and the light and power of heaven to us, and we keep talking of the power of Satan. But we need not talk of that. Isaiah presents it this way: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Does not that say that I and My Father are one?
God help us, brethren, to wake up and stir ourselves now to do as much as the paralytic did; to do as much as the impotent man did and as much as the one with the palsied arm did. They did just as they were told. God help us to believe on the Son of God and that He can save us to the utmost, and we shall have everlasting life.
But many of you act as though there wasn't enough animation in your souls to respond to the truth. Some of you act as though you thought Jesus were locked up in Joseph's new tomb. He is not there: He is risen from the dead, and we have a living Saviour today who is making intercession for us.
Then talk of His love, talk of His power, praise Him. If you have a voice to say anything, talk of God, talk of heaven, talk of eternal life. I have heard persons who in their homes would speak so loud that their neighbors could hear them, but they would get up in meeting and mumble over a few words that could not be heard. You want to show that you have been learning in the school of Christ and that you have been making progress. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10). How many believe the truths you have heard today? Do you want to go a few months before you will acknowledge there is light in it? Do you want to stop to reason it all out? You will die before that time.
Believe Because God Says It
Believe it because it is the truth, because God says it, and lay hold upon the meritorious blood of a crucified and risen Saviour. He is your only hope, He is your righteousness, your Substitute and Surety, your all in all. When you realize that, you can bring to Him only an offering of praise. But when you are not willing to come to Christ and acknowledge that He does it all, when you feel that you must first take a few steps, and come so far, and then God will meet you; that is just exactly like Cain's offering. He did not know Jesus, and he did not know that the blood of Jesus could cleanse his sins and make his offering acceptable to God. There are more Cains than one, with tainted offerings and polluted sacrifices and without the blood of Jesus. You are to come to Jesus Christ at every step. With the blood of Jesus and its cleansing power, offer your petitions to God and pray to Him in earnest, and study your Bibles as never before.
The question is, “What is truth?” It is not how many years have I believed that makes it the truth. You must bring your creed to the Bible and let the light of the Bible define your creed and show where it comes short and where the difficulty is. The Bible is to be your standard, the living oracles of Jehovah are to be your guide. You are to dig for the truth as for hidden treasures. You are to find where the treasure is, and then you are to plow every inch of that field to get the jewels. You are to work the mines of truth for new gems, for new diamonds, and you will find them.
You know how it is with the papal power. The people have no right to interpret the Scriptures for themselves. They must have someone else interpret the Scriptures for them. Have you no mind? Have you no reason? Has not God given judgment to the common people just as well as He has to the priests and rulers? When Christ, the Lord of life and glory, came to our world, if they had known Him, they never would have crucified Him. God had told them to search the Scriptures: “In them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).
God help us to be Bible students. Until you can see the reason for it yourself and a “thus saith the Lord” in the Scriptures, don't trust any living man to interpret the Bible for you. And when you can see this, you know it for yourself, and know it to be the truth of God. You will say, “I have read it, I have seen it, and my own heart takes hold upon it, and it is the truth God has spoken to me from His Word.” Now this is what we are to be—individual Christians. We need to have an individual, personal experience. We need to be converted, as did the Jews. If you see a little light, you are not to stand back and say, “I will wait until my brethren have seen it.” If you do, you will go on in darkness.
God help us to have a knowledge of the truth, and if you have seen the truth of God, press right to the light and put up the bars behind you. Make not flesh your arm; but have a living experience for yourselves, and then your countenance will shine with the glory of God. You have walked with Him, and He has upheld you. You have wrestled with Him and pleaded with Him, and He has let His light shine upon you.
Talk Faith, Live Faith, Act Faith
Now, brethren, you have educated yourselves so much in doubts and questionings that you have to educate your souls in the line of faith. You have to talk faith, you have to live faith, you have to act faith, that you may have an increase of faith. Exercising that living faith, you will grow to strong men and women in Christ Jesus. God grant that this meeting that we are holding may be a meeting where the Sun of Righteousness may rise upon you and shine in your hearts with its clearest rays, making you all lights in the world.
You can be just what Christ said His disciples should be—“the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). You should diffuse that light, hope, and faith to others. You are not to go groaning your way onward in His service, as though He were a hard taskmaster, laying upon you burdens that you cannot carry. This is not the case. He wants you to be filled with joy, to be filled with the blessing of God, to know the length and breadth and height and depth of the love of God, which passeth knowledge. When His name is mentioned He wants it to strike the keynote, and there will be a response in your hearts. Then you can offer up thanksgiving and glory and honor and praise to Him that sitteth on the throne and to the Lamb.
You should learn to sing that song here; and when you are changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, you will know just where to strike the song of triumph with the heavenly angels and with the redeemed saints. We shall make heaven's arches ring with praise and glory. Now, let the arches ring here. Let this place waken praise in your hearts. While you are upon this ground look at the lofty trees, the green velvet carpet, and let praise awaken in your hearts. Praise God that we are privileged to be in this world, as beautiful as it is. We are going to a better place. This earth is going to be purified, melted over, and made without sin.
Have we not everything to make us heavenly minded? Have we not everything to bring us right up from this earthliness and sensuality, this cheap and nonsensical talk, this jesting and joking, this false reporting, babbling, and evil surmising? Put it all away! It is a disgrace to the church! It enfeebles and weakens the church.Let our conversation be holy. As God is holy in His sphere, let us be holy in ours. Let us rejoice in the precious Saviour, who has died to redeem us, and reflect glory back to God. Let us join with heaven in our praises here and unite with the songs of the heavenly angels in the city of our God.
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Jesus showed His disciples through His daily life how to maintain a connection with His Heavenly Father. What He taught them is also vitally important for us today. We pray that you are blessed by this short devotional sharing time with Elder Wilson.
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