Troubling Statements of Ellen White

I have had some comments recently about contradictory statements that Ellen White makes concerning salvation. In order to shed more light on the issue I am re-posting an old blog-post that deals with that topic. This blog is really an excerpt from my paper on the Investigative Judgment doctrine taught by the SDA church. I am also adding some other quotes at the very bottom that help shed more light on the issue of salvation as Ellen White and SDA's understand it. Those same quotes along with official SDA statements concerning our understanding of salvation can be found in the post The SDA Gospel is Legalistic - Isn't It? Blessings!

Troubling Statements of Ellen White 

Even though Ellen White is not necessary for an understanding of the investigative judgment, a review of some of her statements is necessary. At first glance, it appears that many of Ellen Whites statements are inherently legalistic.

In her book, Christ Object Lessons, White says, “Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.”[1] Again she writes in Our High Calling, “Are we striving with all our power to attain to the stature of men and women in Christ? Are we seeking for His fullness, ever pressing toward the mark set before us—the perfection of His character? When the Lord’s people reach this mark, they will be sealed in their foreheads.”[2] In her highly esteemed book The Great Controversy, White once again deals a “devastating blow” to righteousness by faith when she says, “Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain the victory. He had kept His Father’s commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could use to his advantage. This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble.”[3] A similar thought can be found in Early Writings when White writes, “I also saw that many do not realize what they must be in order to live in the sight of the Lord without a high priest in the sanctuary through the time of trouble. Those who receive the seal of the living God and are protected in the time of trouble must reflect the image of Jesus fully.”[4] These statements appear to be the epitome of legalism, and rightly so. To summarize everything just quoted would be to say that in order to enter heaven we must be perfect. Teresa Beem points out the legalistic language in some of Whites statements with reference to the pre-Advent judgment when she says, “The time of Atonement is especially scary for the believer. It is a time to reach perfection.”[5] And indeed White says, “Though all nations are to pass in judgment before God, yet he will examine the case of each individual with as close and searching scrutiny as if there were not another being upon the earth. Every one must be tested, and found without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.”[6] With this in mind, it appears that Ellen White has completely undone everything said in the above section on righteousness by faith. However, what critics and Adventists who point out these statements fail to see is that any statement taken out of its context can be made to say anything.

Before concluding on Ellen White and the pre-Advent judgment let us turn to the Bible. Matthew records a story in which Jesus was approached by a young man and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” It is interesting to note that Jesus did not tell him, “accept me as your personal savior and you will be saved” but instead told him, “‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”[7] Jesus also said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”[8] Later on He said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”[9] The apostle James writes, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?”[10] And the apostle John wrote, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”[11] Each of these statements can be taken out of context to say that the Bible teaches righteousness by works. However, when we balance these statements with those on righteousness by faith we discover what these verses truly mean and that none of them advocate a performance based salvation.

The same is true of Ellen White. While the quoted statements may seem legalistic when viewed in light of other statements and her ministry as a whole it becomes apparent that Ellen White never promoted a works based salvation. In Selected Messages, White says, “We are not to be anxious about what Christ and God think of us, but about what God thinks of Christ, our Substitute. Ye are accepted in the Beloved.”[12] Again White wrote: “The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner’s account.”[13] With quotes such as these in mind, it is clear that the same tension that exists in the Bible with regards to faith and works exist in Ellen Whites writings as well. The perfection that White says the sinner needs is not a self-fabricated perfection but the perfection of Christ’s sinless life covering our sinful lives. White spoke for herself when she said, “[W]hile we should realize our sinful condition, we are to rely upon Christ as our righteousness, our sanctification, and our redemption. We cannot answer the charges of Satan against us. Christ alone can make an effectual plea in our behalf. He is able to silence the accuser with arguments founded not upon our merits, but on His own.”[14]
Further Reading: Facing Life's Record: An Analysis of the Great Controversies Scariest Chapter

[1] Ellen G White, Christ Object Lessons, EGW Writings, [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 69.
[2] ibid., Our High Calling, EGW Writings, [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 150.
[3] ibid., The Great Controversy, EGW Writings, [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 623.
[4] ibid., Early Writings, EGW Writings, [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 71.
[5] Teresa and Arthur Beem. It’s Okay NOT To Be A Seventh-Day Adventist: The Untold History and the Doctrine that Attempts to Repair the Temple Veil [North Charleston: BookSurge Publishing, 2008], 112.
[6] Ellen G White, The Great Controversy, EGW Writings, [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 489.
[7] Matt. 19:16, 21.
[8] Matt. 5:29.
[9] Matt. 5:48.
[10] Jam. 2:21.
[11] Rev. 22:14.
[12] Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 2,  EGW Writings, [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 32.
[13] ibid., Selected Messages, book 1,  EGW Writings, [accessed Apr. 1, 2012]. 32
[14] Ellen G White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, EGW Writings, [accessed Apr. 1, 2012], 472.

A Few More Quotes

A legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion. Fasting or prayer that is actuated by a self-justifying spirit is an abomination in the sight of God. The solemn assembly for worship, the round of religious ceremonies, the external humiliation, the imposing sacrifice, proclaim that the doer of these things regards himself as righteous, and as entitled to heaven; but it is all a deception. Our own works can never purchase salvation.  {DA 280.2}

The fountain of the heart must be purified before the streams can become pure. He who is trying to reach heaven by his own works in keeping the law is attempting an impossibility. There is no safety for one who has merely a legal religion, a form of godliness. The Christian's life is not a modification or improvement of the old, but a transformation of nature. There is a death to self and sin, and a new life altogether. This change can be brought about only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit.  {DA 172.1} 

A legal religion has been thought quite the correct religion for this time. But it is a mistake. The rebuke of Christ to the Pharisees is applicable to those who have lost from the heart their first love. A cold, legal religion can never lead souls to Christ; for it is a loveless, Christless religion… Works will not buy for us an entrance into heaven. The one great Offering that has been made is ample for all who will believe. The love of Christ will animate the believer with new life. {1SM 388.1}

The spirit of bondage is engendered by seeking to live in accordance with legal religion, through striving to fulfill the claims of the law in our own strength. There is hope for us only as we come under the Abrahamic covenant, which is the covenant of grace by faith in Christ Jesus. The gospel preached to Abraham, through which he had hope, was the same gospel that is preached to us today, through which we have hope. Abraham looked unto Jesus, who is also the Author and the Finisher of our faith (YI Sept. 22, 1892).  {6BC 1077.7}

Legal religion will not answer for this age. We may perform all the outward acts of service and yet be as destitute of the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit as the hills of Gilboa were destitute of dew and rain. We all need spiritual moisture, and we need also the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness to soften and subdue our hearts. {6T 417.3} 

If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason.{FW 24.1}

Christ for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be made rich. And any works that man can render to God will be far less than nothingness. My requests are made acceptable only because they are laid upon Christ’s righteousness. The idea of doing anything to merit the grace of pardon is fallacy from beginning to end. “Lord, in my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” {FW 24.2}

When men learn they cannot earn righteousness by their own merit of works, and they look with firm and entire reliance upon Jesus Christ as their only hope, there will not be so much of self and so little of Jesus. Souls and bodies are defiled and polluted by sin, the heart is estranged from God, yet many are struggling in their own finite strength to win salvation by good works. Jesus, they think, will do some of the saving; they must do the rest. They need to see by faith the righteousness of Christ as their only hope for time and for eternity. {FW 25.3}

The cross of Calvary is a pledge to us of everlasting life. {EV 186.3}

We stand in favor before God, not because of any merit in ourselves, but because of our faith in "the Lord our righteousness" {ST 2:497} 
Penances, mortifications of the flesh, constant confession of sin, without sincere repentance; fasts, festivals, and outward observances, unaccompanied by true devotion—all these are of no value whatever. The sacrifice of Christ is sufficient; He made a whole, efficacious offering to God; and human effort without the merit of Christ, is worthless.... {EV 192.1}
You will meet with those who will say, “You are too much excited over this matter. You are too much in earnest. You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law.” As a people, we have preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain. We must preach Christ in the law, and there will be sap and nourishment in the preaching that will be as food to the famishing flock of God. We must not trust in our own merits at all, but in the merits of Jesus of Nazareth. {1888M 560.5}

Perfection through our own good works we can never attain. The soul who sees Jesus by faith, repudiates his own righteousness. He sees himself as incomplete, his repentance insufficient, his strongest faith but feebleness, his most costly sacrifice as meager, and he sinks in humility at the foot of the cross. But a voice speaks to him from the oracles of God's word. In amazement he hears the message, "Ye are complete in him." Now all is at rest in the soul. No longer must he strive to find some worthiness in himself, some meritorious deed by which to gain the favor of God {ST, 2:497; 7/04/92}. 


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