Perfection and the Last Generation Confusion
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There is a strong movement amongst Adventists which advocates that the final generation must achieve a condition of sinless perfection prior to the coming of Christ and that this final generation must perfectly reflect the character of Christ before His coming. Certain statements in the Spirit of Prophecy are normally quoted to substantiate this view, in particular the following quote:

Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of the Saviour shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim His own. It is the privilege of every Christian, not only to look for, but to hasten, the coming of our Lord. Were all who profess His name bearing fruit to His glory, how quickly the whole world would be sown with the seed of the gospel! Quickly the last great harvest would be ripened, and Christ would come. { CT 324.3}

Taken by itself, this statement certainly seems to suggest such a state of perfection in the final generation, but the theological issues are more complex than a cursory reading of the text suggests because the terminology employed must be interpreted in the light of other statements which place them in perspective.

There are numerous web pages, publications and videos making the rounds which advocate this mode of thinking and we need to address them.

The Problem

In a video recently circulated on WhatsApp titled:

“Last Warning to Adventists before The Sunday Law” with the subtitle:

“This is a warning to all Seventh Day Adventist (sic) of where we need to be spiritually before the Sunday Law. It is also a call for unity amongst all Adventist preachers and members alike to come together before the Sunday Law.”

The author, Gerald Johnson of ‘3am Loud Crier Ministries’ quotes Ellen White:

“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 on the day of Pentecost”. (CET 189.2)

This quote, taken out of the larger context of Ellen White’s writings, may leave the impression that it is on us to remedy the defects in our characters and that we will not be sealed, by implication, saved without this work that we have to accomplish on our own. In the context of all her other statements, however, this would be a totally unwarranted conclusion.

This video is only one of many such examples. Another quote of Ellen White also taken out of context is the following:

“What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will.” (SC 47.1, emphasis my own)

Taken on its own this quotation can again give the impression that it depends on us, or our will to rescue us from our nature of sin.

A third statement of Ellen White to which I want to give particular attention is one she makes in The Great Controversy:

“Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator.” (GC 425.1 emphasis my own)

Yet again, taken out of context, this quotation can leave the impression that there will be a time when the sinner will have to qualify for salvation without a mediator or without Christ.

Because of these three quotations of Ellen White, taken out of context as we will show, many people became discouraged and some became so despondent that they left the church! I am convinced that this way of using her writings, is the reason why many ignore her writings or totally reject her as a last day prophet. The same also applies to Scripture.

In the Philips translation of the Bible we read:

"Meanwhile, consider that God’s patience is meant to be man’s salvation, as our dear brother Paul pointed out in his letter to you, written out of the wisdom God gave him. In that letter, as indeed in all his letters, he referred to these matters. There are, of course, some things which are difficult to understand, and which, unhappily, ill- informed and unbalanced people distort (as they do the other scriptures), and bring disaster on their own heads." (2Peter 3:15-16, emphasis my own)

Just as there are people who misapply the Bible by using it out of context to promote a particular agenda and in so doing miss the marvellous message of the gospel, so people can do the same to the writings of Ellen White. This can lead to great unhappiness and can paint a picture of Ellen White and what she was all about which is totally divorced from reality. The joy of the gospel and the good news of salvation can be changed to feelings of despondency and gloom. In contrast, those who take the time to study what she says in context (inform themselves) will “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”(2Peter 3:18 KJV)

Two important principles

Before we continue, two very important principles must be clarified. Let’s take them from Ellen White herself.

"Lay Sister White right to one side: lay her to one side. Don't you never quote my words again as long as you live, until you can obey the Bible. When you take the Bible and make that your food, and your meat, and your drink, and make that the elements of your character, when you can do that you will know better how to receive some counsel from God. But here is the Word, the precious Word, exalted before you today. And don't you give a rap any more what "Sister White said"-- "Sister White said this," and "Sister White said that," and "Sister White said the other thing." But say, "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel," and then you do just what the Lord God of Israel does, and what he says," (The Spalding-Magan collection of unpublished manuscripts by Ellen G. White p.137.3)

She repeats the same sentiment in numerous other places (3SM 29.1; 3SM 29.3; 3SM 30.1 and many more), but I prefer the Spalding-Magan collection quotation on this particular issue because of the unfiltered nature of her exasperation with people going to her writings first and then on top of it to take them out of context. So the first principle is very clear: GO TO THE BIBLE FIRST and hear its message BEFORE you go to her writings.

The second principle is well worded in the following quote:

“regarding the testimonies, nothing is ignored; nothing is cast aside; but time and place must be considered (1SM 572 emphasis my own).”

With the Kellogg crisis she said:

“There may be in this book expressions and sentiments that are in harmony with my writings. And there may be in my writings many statements which when taken from their connection, and interpreted according to the mind of the writer of "Living Temple" would seem to be in harmony with the teachings of this book. This may give apparent support to the assertion that the sentiments in "Living Temple" are in harmony with my writings. But God forbid that this opinion should prevail.” (Letter 211, 1903 in SpM 320, emphasis my own)

The second principle is also very clear: CONTEXT, which includes time, place, circumstances and the text itself which must always be considered. This is why she said:

“My mind has been greatly stirred in regard to the idea, ‘Why, Sister White has said so and so, and Sister White has said so and so; and therefore we are going right up to it.’ God wants us all to have common sense, and He wants us to reason from common sense. Circumstances alter conditions. Circumstances change the relation of things.” (emphasis my own SM 217, Book 3).

In another clear statement, she states:

“the extracts may give a different impression than that which they would were they read in their original connection.” Letter 49, 1894. See Selected Messages, Book 1, 58

When we talk about context in Ellen White we must realise that we should take a broad look at everything that she says. Some of her earliest sayings are balanced by things that she said in the last decade of her life. We should also take the broad scope of what she says into consideration. In other words all of her writings. It is like looking at a mosaic. If you look at only a few blocks, it is impossible to extrapolate from that miniscule part of the much greater whole to discern what the rest of the mosaic looks like. She indeed employed this principle with the Bible:

“Scripture must be compared with Scripture with careful research and prayerful reflection to understand the passages whose meanings do not appear on the surface.” (Steps to Christ, p. 90-91).

She also said:

“I saw that the Word of God, as a whole, is a perfect chain, one portion linking into and explaining another (EW 220.2, emphasis my own).

This is indeed a Biblical principle:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2Timothy 3:16, emphasis my own).

Now if she utilizes this principle with Scripture it surely is prudent to use it when we read her inspired writings.

It will be helpful to take into consideration what the Ellen White estate has to say on this topic:

“When we read the full range of counsel that Ellen White has on a topic, the picture is often quite different than when we are dealing with only a part of her material or with isolated quotations.… It is important to listen to all the counsel” (Ellen G. White Estate, ‘Some Principles for Correctly Interpreting the Writings of Ellen G. White’, https://whiteestate.org/legacy/issues-herm-pri-html/#info, Retrieved 07-04-2020)

Putting it all together (The proper place of the will, power of choice, or decision.

“What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will.” (SC 47.1, emphasis my own)

If we apply our first principle we must start with John 6:44 “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him:” and Eph 2:1-2,4-5 “1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins ; 2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: … 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)”

In other words, even before we can exercise the true force of the will or the power to decide for Christ, we have to be ‘drawn’ by God AND we have to be ‘made alive’. We were ‘dead’ in our ‘trespasses and sins’ and as you well know, a corpse can do nothing for itself!

Now we have to ask the question whether this is what we see in EG White’s writings:

“Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within, a new life from above, BEFORE men can be changed from sin to holiness. That power is Christ. His grace alone can quicken the lifeless faculties of the soul, and attract it to God, to holiness.” SC 18.1 (emphasis my own).

Every element that we found in scripture can be found here. It is very clear, the exercise of the will has its ‘proper sphere’, and it is here. Before we can exercise the will, God has to ‘attract’ us to Jesus and we have to be quickened, the ‘springs of life’ must be purified. This is done by Christ, “His grace alone” can “quicken the lifeless faculties of the soul”, only then can we ‘exercise the will’ and choose to put our lives in His hands. Otherwise the will is ‘powerless’ to do anything.

John 15:5 underscores this: “...”for without me ye can do nothing” Scripture is clear just as is the Spirit of Prophecy, and it states that He began the good work in us. Moreover, Paul writes: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: (Phil 1:6 emphasis my own).

Until the day of Christ Jesus

This we also see in the words of Ellen White:

“There is but one power that can break the hold of evil from the hearts of men, and that is the power of God in Jesus Christ. Only through the blood of the Crucified One is there cleansing from sin. His grace alone can enable us to resist and subdue the tendencies of our fallen nature.” 8T 291 This is true and will be true for ever on this earth because Phil 1:6 states that He will “perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. (emphasis my own)”.

In other words it is God who started the good work, who will also continue or sustain the good work in us. We also read in Phil 2:12-13 “12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Emphasis my own).

This salvation (that is, we have been drawn, quickened and we are being sustained in our Christian walk), we have to handle with great respect “with fear and trembling” as Paul says, because it was obtained at great cost and we have to continually obey him who is working in us “to will and to work according to His good pleasure”. This is a continual work that will continue “until” the second coming. That is why we read:

“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. Sanctification is the result of lifelong obedience. (AA, 560-561)

We will never attain to His exalted character

She also quotes the apostle Paul:

“I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom 7:18). To those who have tried so hard to obtain by faith so-called holy flesh, I would say, You cannot obtain it. Not a soul of you has holy flesh now. No human being on the earth has holy flesh. It is an impossibility.” (SM2, p.32, par 2).

We also read:

“man can never attain to his exalted character”(3SP 77.2 emphasis my own).

In other words right up to the second coming we will not be sinless (that is what it means to not attain to “his exalted character”).

This is no easy matter for we read in Hebrews 12:4 “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” Ellen White confirms it:

“Christ has given us no assurance that to attain perfection of character is an easy matter. A noble, all-around character is not inherited. It does not come to us by accident. A noble character is earned by individual effort through the merits and grace of Christ.” 2MCP 546.1 –

But note, this not our merit but Christ’s, not through our effort but by His grace. We are not marionettes, we co-operate with Him. It is not Christ plus anything of us (This will become abundantly clear in another statement of Ellen White). This is us totally given to His grace and paid for by His merits living a life where God is working in us to will and to work according to His will.

In Christ's Name

Further clarity comes in this next statement:

“In My name,” Christ bade His disciples pray. In Christ’s name His followers are to stand before God. Through the value of the sacrifice made for them, they are of value in the Lord’s sight. Because of the imputed righteousness of Christ they are accounted precious. For Christ’s sake the Lord pardons those that fear Him. He does not see in them the vileness of the sinner. He recognizes in them the likeness of His Son, in whom they believe (The Desire of Ages, p.667, par 5).

This is a very important fact of salvation: we are “accounted precious”, we can “stand before God” because of His imputed righteousness, not because of our “imparted” righteousness. In other words it doesn’t matter how good the deeds are that we live out in our lives because of His grace empowering us to do so. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10 KJV). These deeds do not and cannot merit or qualify us for the sealing or for heaven because they are never good enough as is made clear by the previous two verses. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph 2:8-9). We cannot “boast” about the “good works” or claim any merit because of it to enter Heaven. They are not good enough at all “ all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa 64:6, emphasis mine). Ellen White again makes this abundantly clear in the following statement:

“We cannot say, “I am sinless,” till this vile body is changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body. But if we constantly seek to follow Jesus, the blessed hope is ours of standing before the throne of God without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; complete in Christ, robed in His righteousness and perfection.—(The Signs of the Times, March 23, p.2, par 7, 1888, Vol 14, no 12).

We will be complete in His righteousness and perfection when our bodies are changed to be like His glorious body. Scripture is clear when that will be “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” 1Cor 15:52. Again Ellen White is in agreement with Scripture. There is no such thing that we will have to reach a state of sinlessness before we can be sealed. That is unbiblical and it is not according to the writings of Ellen White. Of that we can now be sure.

Biblical perfection

Only one thing remains to be determined, what is the definition of Biblical perfection? For this we have to go to Phil 3:15 “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you” (KJV, emphasis mine). Paul challenges those who think of themselves as perfect to see that their “perfection” is only a state in which they are continually conscious of their state of imperfection! They always strive but never arrive!  If that is not the case, God will eventually reveal that to them. In other words, biblical “perfection” is a state where we continually “press” towards the goal, while always aware of the fact that we have not “already attained” it, and are not “already perfect” (vs 12). Or as the NIV states it we nevertheless “press on” to “lay hold” of the prize, but we can only do it because Jesus has already “laid hold” of us (vs 12). In this biblical state of “perfection” we “cannot consider” ourselves “to have taken hold of it”, that is perfection, but we have to forget what is behind us, both the good things we have achieved and the bad things we have done and strain towards the goal (vs 13) that is still ahead of us. We press towards the prize (heavenward), which we already have in Jesus (vs 14).

Jesus’ perfection or sinlessness is in stark contrast to our “perfection”. He “knew” no sin (2Cor 5:21). The verb “knew” is an Aorist Participle Active, it is in other words something He already achieved, a fact that states that he never sinned. We on the other hand are in the process to “become” like Him, the verb here is an Aorist Subjunctive Middle, we are in other words still “to become” righteous. We still have to reach the sinless state that He always had. Ellen White again agrees, she says that “perfect Christians, deny” themselves, they “tread the narrow, thorny pathway” (Letter no 5, 1851). We will keep doing this until the day of translation, as we saw earlier because we will “never attain to his exalted character” (3SP 77.2, emphasis my own). Even though we will not sin in heaven anymore this growing will continue. As a matter of fact we will grow towards this goal for all eternity (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, 51 (1913)).

This makes good sense since God is eternal, Every aspect of Him is unlimited, thus our growth toward that goal will be unlimited. It will never end.

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