By Mrs. E. G. White
There are many who have erroneous ideas in regard to the nature of repentance. They think that they cannot come to Christ unless they first repent, and that repentance prepares them for the forgiveness of their sins. It is true that repentance does precede the forgiveness of sins; for it is only the broken and contrite heart that will feel the need of a Saviour. But must the sinner wait until he has repented before he can come to Jesus? Is repentance to be made an obstacle between the sinner and the Saviour? Jesus has said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Christ is constantly drawing men to himself, while Satan is as diligently seeking by every imaginable device, to draw men away from their Redeemer. Christ must be revealed to the sinner as the Saviour dying for the sins of the world; and as he beholds the Lamb of God on the cross of Calvary, the mysteries of redemption begin to unfold to his mind, and the goodness of God leads him to repentance.
Although the plan of salvation calls for the deepest study of the philosopher, it is not too deep for the comprehension of a child. In dying for sinners, Christ manifested a love that is incomprehensible; and in beholding this love, the heart is impressed the conscience is aroused, and the soul is led to inquire, “What is sin, that it should require such a sacrifice for the redemption of its victim?” John, the beloved disciple, declares that “whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.” The apostle Paul instructed men in regard to the plan of salvation. He declares, “I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” John, speaking of the Saviour says, “Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”
The living oracles do not teach that the sinner must repent before he can heed the invitation of Christ: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Men must come to Christ because they see him as their Saviour, their only helper, that they may be enabled to repent; for if they could repent without coming to Christ, they could also be saved without Christ. It is the virtue that goes forth from Christ that leads to genuine repentance. Peter makes the matter clear in his statement to the Israelites, when he says, “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” Repentance is as much the gift of Christ as is forgiveness, and it cannot be found in the heart where Jesus has not been at work. We can no more repent without the Spirit of Christ to awaken the conscience, than we can be pardoned without Christ. Christ draws the sinner by the exhibition of his love upon the cross, and this softens the heart, impresses the mind, and inspires contrition and repentance in the soul.
Paul says, “I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” What was it that brought that commandment to the mind of Paul but the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom Jesus said, “the Father will send in my name? He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” Paul continues, “And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which was good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
Men sometimes become ashamed of their sinful ways, and give up some of their evil habits, before they are aroused to manifestly come to Christ; but it is the power of the gospel, the grace of Christ, that is drawing them to make reformation in their conduct. An influence of which they are unconscious works upon the soul, and the conscience is quickened, and the outward life is amended. And as Christ draws them to look upon his cross, to look upon him whom their sins have pierced, the commandment comes home to the conscience. The wickedness of their life, the deep-seated sin of the soul, is revealed to them. They begin to comprehend something of the righteousness of Christ, and exclaim, “Was all this love, all this suffering, all this humiliation demanded that we might not perish, but have everlasting life?” They then understand that it is the goodness of God that leadeth to repentance. A repentance such as this lies beyond the reach of our own powers to accomplish; it is obtained only from Christ, who ascended up on high, and has given gifts unto men. Christ is the source of every right impulse. He is the only one who can arouse in the natural heart enmity against sin. He is the source of our power if we would be saved. No soul can repent without the grace of Christ. The sinner may pray that he may know how to repent. God reveals Christ to the sinner, and when he sees the purity of the Son of God, he is not ignorant of the character of sin. By faith in the work and power of Christ, enmity against sin and Satan is created in his heart. Those whom God pardons are first made penitent.
The pleasing fable that all there is to do is to believe, has destroyed thousands and tens of thousands, because many have called that faith which is not faith, but simply a dogma. Man is an intelligent, accountable being; he is not to be carried as a passive burden by the Lord, but is to work in harmony with Christ. Man is to take up his appointed work in striving for glory, honor, and immortality. God calls upon men for the use of every talent he has lent them, the exercise of every power he has given; for man can never be saved in disobedience and indolence. Christ wrestled in earnest prayer; he offered up his supplications to the Father with strong crying and tears in behalf of those for whose salvation he had left heaven, and had come to this earth. Then how proper, yea, how essential that men should pray and not faint! How important that they should be instant in prayer, petitioning for the help that can come only from Christ our Lord! If you will find voice and time to pray, God will find time and voice to answer.
Some of our brethren have expressed fears that we shall dwell too much upon the subject of justification by faith, but I hope and pray that none will be needlessly alarmed; for there is no danger in presenting this doctrine as it is set forth in the Scriptures. If there had not been a remissness in the past to properly instruct the people of God, there would not now be a necessity of calling especial attention to it. Some of our brethren are not receiving the message of God upon this subject. They appear to be anxious that none of our ministers shall depart from their former manner of teaching the good old doctrines. We inquire, Is it not time that fresh light should come to the people of God, to awaken them to greater earnestness and zeal? The exceeding great and precious promises given us in the Holy Scriptures have been lost sight of to a great extent, just as the enemy of all righteousness designed that they should be. He has cast his own dark shadow between us and our God, that we may not see the true character of God. The Lord has proclaimed himself to be “merciful and gracious, long- suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.”
Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel's message, and I have answered, “It is the third angel's message in verity.” The prophet declares, “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.” Brightness, glory, and power are to be connected with the third angel's message, and conviction will follow wherever it is preached in demonstration of the Spirit. How will any of our brethren know when this light shall come to the people of God? As yet, we certainly have not seen the light that answers to this description. God has light for his people, and all who will accept it will see the sinfulness of remaining in a lukewarm condition; they will heed the counsel of the True Witness when he says, “Be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
The Church is presented as standing in a self-satisfied, pleased, proud, independent position, ignorant of her destitution and wretchedness. By her attitude she says, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing.” How many who claim to be keeping the commandments of God are in this position today! The charge against the Church is, “Thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot.” But while many may be satisfied with their lukewarm condition, the Lord is far from pleased, and declares that unless you are zealous and repent, he will spue you out of his mouth. But he warns you, he entreats you. He says, “Thou knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.”
The gold that Jesus would have us buy of him is gold tried in the fire; it is the gold of faith and love, that has no defiling substance mingled with it. The white raiment is the righteousness of Christ, the wedding garment which Christ alone can give. The eye-salve is the true spiritual discernment that is so wanting among us, for spiritual things must be spiritually discerned.
To our brethren who are standing in this self-confident, self-satisfied position, who talk and act as if there was no need of more light, we want to say that the Laodicean message is applicable to you. Many professed Christians are without Christ because they refuse to weave his principles of truth into their life. The word of God declares, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” We should pray earnestly and inquire with sincere hearts as to what the will of the Lord is, that we may be ready to receive the blessing we so much need.
We must have oil in our vessels with our lamps, and not be like the foolish virgins of the parable whose lamps went out as they slumbered and slept, and who had no oil to replenish them, and so failed to be ready to meet the bridegroom. We should seek for a living experience, and obtain the grace of Christ. We need his love and gentleness; we need our faith revived. Let no one disregard the counsel of God, but let us all buy of him gold, and white raiment, and plead for the anointing of his Holy Spirit. Jesus desires us to have a personal knowledge of the truth, and we should search the heart carefully, critically, cease to do evil, and learn to do well. Jesus says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore, and repent.” No one should feel like rebelling, like standing in defiance of God, because he rebukes you on account of your lukewarm condition and spiritual pride. God condescends to entreat you that he may talk with you, and invites you to open the door of the heart, that he may come in and sup with you, and you with him. He declares, “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.”