Justification After Minneapolis
Late 1888 to 1892
The comparison of Ellen White's post-Minneapolis
periods with her pre-Minneapolis conceptions of justification is best
demonstrated by comparing the major expressions or categories used in
chapter 9 with how they unfolded during each of the periods of the
post-Minneapolis era. Any additions to these three essential expressions
will be noted as the study unfolds.
Faith and Works Never Separated
The close relationship between law and gospel, faith
and works, and the expression that sinners are
saved from sin, not in sin, continued with undiminished force during
this critical period that saw Ellen White's most vigorous explanations
The balance between justification and sanctification
that had been in her understanding from the earliest days was not denied
or modified, even though the justification side was now receiving its
most forceful expression. There were no marked changes in her basic
doctrine from the previous era, and such a lack of change is strong
evidence of the central importance of the justification/sanctification
balance in the salvation teachings of Ellen White.
The quartet of ideas growing out of her emphasis on the
high priestly intercession of Christ unfolded in the following manner.
Christ's Merits Make Our Obedience AcceptableThe expression that the "merits" of Christ make the "efforts" of
believers "to keep His law" acceptable to God is not only
repeated but also clarified to give an even stronger statement of
objective justification. She not only spoke of Christ's
"merits" making their efforts acceptable, but she explicitly
called these "merits" "His perfection."
"When He sees men lifting the burdens, trying to
carry them in lowliness of mind, with distrust of self and with reliance
upon Him," the sinner's "defects are covered by the perfection
and fullness of the Lord our righteousness." Such humble believers are "looked
upon by the Father with pitying, tender love; He regards such as
obedient children, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed unto
them" (1888 Materials 402; IHP 23).
In the important manuscript 36, 1890, Ellen White used
the strong expression "creature merit" and spoke of its
"utter worthlessness . . . to earn the wages of eternal life."
It is not entirely clear from the context if
this refers to the believer's present efforts (not just
the preconversion efforts of the well-meaning but misguided penitent to win
God's favor), but the strong implication is that this was
what she had in mind. She referred to "a fervor of labor and an
intense affection, high and noble achievement of intellect, a breadth of
understanding, and the humblest self-abasement" (FW 23) as needing
to "be laid upon the fire of Christ's righteousness to cleanse it
from its earthly odor before it rises in a cloud of fragrant incense to
the great Jehovah and is accepted as a sweet savor" (ibid. 24). She
then reinforced the need for Christ's intercessory ministry (and the
implication that it was the converted believer's righteousness that was
in vogue here) with the declaration that "my requests are made
acceptable only because they are laid upon Christ's righteousness" (ibid.).
The notion that it is the believer's prayers for the
forgiveness of sin that need intercession, however, became explicit in
1892. "But suppose that we sin after we have been forgiven, after
we have become the children of God, then need we despair? No; for John writes,
'My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And
if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the
righteous.' Jesus is in the heavenly courts pleading with the Father in
our behalf. He presents our prayers, mingling with them the precious
incense of His own
merit, that our prayers may be acceptable to the
Father" (RH, Mar. 1, 1892). It was clearly stated that whatever
believers doeven their best worksis in need of the objective ministry
of Christ's intercession to make their works acceptable.
The picture that she portrayed here is probably the most
arresting depiction of objective justification Ellen White would ever
give. She pictures sinners as outwardly doing the right things, but
their actions are in desperate need of Christ's precious incense"His
own merit." This justification is objective in that its power
depends on what Christ does in heaven, not what goes on subjectively in
the believer. What goes on in the believer is good, but not good enough!
This most powerful portrayal would continue to receive
further expression (and some elaboration) through 1902.
Christ's Merits Make Up for Our
"Deficiencies"Already in the
immediately preceding section, we have clear examples of what I call her
safety net expressions: even if believers "sin" after having
been forgiven, they have
their prayers for forgiveness perfumed with the
"fragrance" of the "incense of His own merit."
Please note that these "merits" are to be contrasted with
"creature merit" of sinful humans. With the power of Christ's
merits being offered to the sinful (by nature), deficient, sinning, but
penitent and loyal children of God, they have their "unavoidable
deficiencies" made up for them by the "imputed"
righteousness of Christ (3SM 195-197).
Again, during this period, both of the closely related
themes of "deficiencies" that need to be made up for and the
forgiveness of sins committed by erring believers (but erring ones who
are loyal and trying to obey) continued to receive ongoing expression. The
strength of the expression, however, was increased with the declaration
that these deficiencies are "unavoidable," a qualifying term
not found in pre-1888 materials. Furthermore, she referred to the
"merits" that humans would seek to produce not just as
"merit" but clarified this with the more strikingly negative
expression "creature merit."
The expression "unavoidable deficiencies" cries out for
further comment. She strengthened this expression with a number of other
striking terms and phrases.*
"His perfect holiness atones for our shortcomings. When we do
our best, He becomes our righteousness" (1888 Materials 242).
"The sinner's defects are covered by the perfection and fullness
of the Lord our Righteousness," and they are regarded as
"obedient children" (ibid. 402;
"When we are clothed with the righteousness of
Christ, we shall have no relish for sin." Such believers "may
make mistakes," but they will "hate the sin
that caused the sufferings of the Son of God" (RH, March 18, 1890).
"The sinner may err, but he is not cast off without
mercy" (1888 Materials 898).
"If through manifold temptations we are
surprised or deceived into sin, he does not
turn from us, and leave us to perish. No, no, that is not like our
Saviour" (RH, Sept. 1, 1891).
"Jesus loves His children, even
if they err. . . . He keeps His eye upon them, and when they
do their best . . . be assured the service will be accepted, although
imperfect" (3SM 195, 196).
"We make mistakes
again and again," and "no one is perfect but Jesus. . .
. What if in
some respects we do err, does
the Lord forsake us, and forget us, and leave us to our own ways?
No" (1888 Materials 1089).
The collective force of these expressions certainly
envisions a reassuring safety net in light of the reality of human
failure. It is an unmistakably powerful expression of objective
justification. While this
exposition was essentially the same as during the
previous era, the combined effect does seem stronger and more
comprehensive in this period (at least in the number of times
Especially the phrases "unavoidable
deficiencies" and "no one is perfect but Jesus" clearly
provide a softening buffer against the failure to meet the "high
demand" and must be seriously considered in any final definition of
what Ellen White meant by "perfection."
Fending Off Satan's Taunting AccusationsThe
rather dramatic expression of dialogue between the harassed sinner and
the taunting devil continued to manifest itself. A direct reference to
the vision of Joshua
and the angel of Zechariah 3 was a marked application of
buffering against human failure. "Jesus
is perfect. Christ's righteousness is imputed unto them, and He will
say, 'Take away the filthy garments from him and clothe him with change
of raiment.' Jesus makes up for our unavoidable deficiencies" (3SM
Please note that this use of Zechariah 3 was employed in
the same context as the important expression that Christ's imputed
righteousness makes up for "our unavoidable deficiencies."
Furthermore, this dramatic dialogue was placed at least twice in the context of
Jesus' ministry in the Most Holy Place. In the thought of Ellen White,
the ministry of Christ in the Most Holy Place was intimately related to
the proceedings connected with the "investigative judgment."
"Satan will accuse you of being a great sinner, and
you must admit this, but you can say: 'I know I am a sinner, and that is
the reason I need a Saviour.' Jesus came into the world to save
sinners" (ST, July 4, 1892).
Four paragraphs later in the same article she declared:
"Jesus stands in the holy of holies, now to appear in the presence
of God for us. There He ceases not to present His people moment by
moment, complete in Himself."
This Signs article, along with manuscript 36, 1890,
ranks as one of the most powerful and comprehensive expressions of
objective justification, by faith alone, in all Ellen White's writings.
This statement certainly presents the work of Christ in
the Most Holy Place as having to do with objective justification, a
justification that must be constantly ministered to His defective
people, who are presented "moment by moment" as "complete
But a second statement that spoke to this theme during
this period was an even more explicit reference to the work of Christ in
the "judgment" and is found in manuscript 40, 1891: "The
Lord has promised that
because of the propitiatory sacrifice He will, if we repent,
certainly forgive our iniquities. Now, while Christ is pleading in our
behalf, while the Father accepts the merits of the atoning Sacrifice,
let us ask and we shall receive. Let all confess their sins and let them
go beforehand to judgment that they may be forgiven for Christ's sake,
and that pardon may be written against their names. . . .
"With Jesus as your Advocate, and you believing,
confessing your sins with contrition of soul, and dying to self, would
you not feel assured your suit is indeed gained?" (1888 Materials
The implications for justification in the way she
employed the concept of the investigative judgment continued the same
trends as found in the previous era. The judgment not only motivated
character transformation, but did so by giving assurance that the
faithful could find acceptance in Christ.
God's Willingness to PardonThe expression of God's willingness to pardon continued in much
the same fashion as found in the previous era, with no marked
The sum total of these four critical expressions which
have to do with Christ's intercessory ministry was that objective
justification is needed by believers all the way through their
experience. Justification always runs parallel to or concurrently with
It is absolutely clear that believers must always be
looking to Jesus for their merits. There is neither a time nor a place
in our Christian experience that we can begin to look to self. Such an
experience is best illustrated by the electric trolley car compared with
The trolley gets down the street by keeping its boom
connected to the source of power from above. The bus gets along by
depending on the power it receives from its own fuel tanks. The simple
fact is that believers simply do not have enough in the "tank"
to make it when it comes to merit. We must be trolley cars all the way
to the kingdomevery moment and mile of the way!
God's Infinite Requirements Necessitate Justification
The concept that God's requirement is now just what
it was in Eden before the Fall was expressed very clearly in
justificationist terms. Ellen White used two such expressions during
The first came in Steps to Christ. Because "we are
sinful, unholy, we cannot perfectly obey the holy law." But despite
past sinfulness sinners can be "accounted righteous. Christ's
character stands in place of your character, and you are accepted before
God just as if you had not sinned" (62).
Although this application seems to have primary
reference to justification, Ellen White did express her
justification/sanctification balance with the thought that God works in
sinners so that "with Christ working in you, you will manifest the
same spirit and do the same good work works of righteousness, obedience.
"So we have nothing in ourselves of which to boast.
We have no ground for self-exaltation. Our only ground of hope is in the
righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and in that wrought by His Spirit
working in and through us" (ibid. 63).
There was here the hint that what God does in believers
can, based on a clear experience of Christ's imputed righteousness,
produce "the same spirit and do the same good worksworks of
The second reference that used the "requirement in
Eden" concept is found in Signs, September 5, 1892, and the theme
was almost identical to what is found in the Steps to Christ reference
just cited. The necessity for justification was prime, but the
expression concluded with the thought that "justified by His
grace" "good works will follow as the blossoms and fruit of
These justificationist applications, however, did not
dampen the ongoing expression of great possibilities for human
achievement empowered by divine grace.
New Vehicles to Express Justification
What probably accounted for this revival and
expansion of the perfectionist, transformationist use of this theme was
a new concept that continued to find expression during the balance of
Ellen White's ministry. It went like this:
Christ's merit and justifying work were seen as the keys
to victory over sin in the lifenot just a legal victory of pardon and
justification, but the actual overcoming of sin in the life and
What Ellen White envisioned here is the Mary of Magdala response. The
gracious deliverance of Jesus should always produce outpourings of
lavish appreciation. How can my attitude to God be legal and
behavioristic after I have felt His gracious and undeserved forgiveness?
What is going on in her thought at this critical
juncture in her ministry needs careful analysis. Her vision of the
intimate relationship of justification and sanctification has caused
some well-meaning students of her writings to confuse the two. But Ellen White
never did this, and her burden was always to make the proper
distinctions. She did it, however, in ways that avoided extremes.
On the one hand, she shied away from a doctrine of
salvation by the merit of imparted righteousness. On the other, she did
not want to deny the powerful internal workings of God's Spirit, who
makes Christ's righteousness real in our experience of obedience. In the
next chapter we will carefully analyze some of her most doctrinally
perplexing statements in order to see how she maintains gospel balance.
* Italics have been supplied in these quotations. [back] [top]