Revelation by its nature marks off a boundary. It says, “This is truth and you cannot countermand.” It marks the dividing line between what God speaks by divine authority and what man says in his own authority. God’s information is pure, protected from error by the phenomenon of inspiration. Man’s material is a miserable tissue of speculations and nothingnesses.
Thus, inspired writings can be inconvenient. They get in the way of human ideas. Since Ellen G. White wrote over 100,000 pages it becomes tempting for advocates of error to bend the information. Selected bits of her writings are quoted to persuade the listener that a teaching is sound, while the preferred teaching of the teacher often directly contradicts the truth. Will we use the inspired writings given us by God only selectively, or will we let them speak to us more broadly with their full testimony? In some cases White's writings have been presented in such a manner that they appear to teach original sin.
The problem we are dealing with here is the illegitimate use of these writings. These writings have authority. Teachers want to use the derived authority of Mrs. White. It is the same principle by which an actor who portrays a doctor in a television series is selected to pitch a medicinal product in a commercial. The marketing team is banking that many who view the spot will transfer their good feeling about the actor’s fictional authority as a doctor, to a real-world decision to purchase their product.
Because the total body of Ellen G. White’s writings is vast, it requires careful study to ascertain their testimony on some topics. Thus, normally a given sermon or paper can only devote space to a very limited number of her statements. It also remains true that many enemies of her writings go out of their way to quote from them, not because they accept their testimony on a certain point, but because the congregation they are speaking to or the readers they are writing for, does. They hope to transfer Mrs. White’s authority to themselves and thus sell the ideas they, but not necessarily the writings themselves, advocate. Their purpose is served by presenting only a few references in support of the doctrine they want you to embrace.
Use of this technique is by no means limited to promoters of the New Theology. Some are selective in their quotation of Mrs. White in order to limit knowingly the information they pass to the listener. Some slant their material simply because of their own superficial study and ignorance of the facts. They may not be aware of other information in the Bible or Spirit of Prophecy that contradicts them. Inspiration often has this tendency to be antagonistic to overly-simplified ideas.
Let’s consider examples. One presenter gave the following three Ellen G. White quotations to sustain his view that “We are not sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.”
Adam was endowed with a nature pure and sinless, but he fell because he listened to the suggestions of the enemy. His posterity became depraved; by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners (Youth’s Instructor, June 2, 1898).
All Heaven mourned on account of the disobedience and fall of Adam and Eve, which brought the wrath of God upon the whole human race (Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 49).
As related to the first Adam, men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death (Child Guidance, p. 475).
The Youth’s Instructor text was given by the particular presenter after his interpretation of Romans 5:12, 18, 19 where the emphasis was placed upon all men being made sinners by Adam’s sin. What this presenter had ignored, however, was that Romans 5:12 says that death passed upon all men “for that [or “because”] all have sinned.” It is not because “all were born, and have come short of the glory of God,” but because “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) that death has passed upon all men. The difference between the passive situation of being born, and the active situation of choosing to sin, is enormous.
A short bit of searching on the Ellen G. White CD-ROM disclosed several articles in which Mrs. White quoted Romans 5:19. By looking at the larger context of these same articles, we should be able to tell whether or not Mrs. White meant what some people are implying she meant, namely, that humans are born condemned, while Jesus is born in a different, uncondemned kind of humanity. If men are condemned for their nature apart from their choice, that is one thing. If not, then someone is misrepresenting the teaching of Ellen G. White. Let’s see what those articles contain beside the Romans 5:18, 19 passage:
Signs of the Times, April 10, 17, 1893, “Overcome as Christ Overcame,” Parts 1 and 2
Christ overcame the temptations as a man, by relying solely upon the word of God; and every man may overcome as Christ overcame.
The Lord Jesus came to our world, not to reveal what God in His own divine person could do, but what He could do through humanity.
We are ever to be thankful that Jesus has proved to us by actual life that man can keep the commandments of God, contradicting Satan’s falsehood that man cannot keep them.
Christ redeemed Adam’s disgraceful failure and fall, and was conqueror, thus testifying to all the unfallen worlds and to fallen humanity that through the divine power granted to him of heaven man can keep the commandments of God.
Of what avail would it have been to us that the only-begotten Son of God had humbled himself, endured the temptations of the wily foe, and wrestled with him during His entire life on earth, and died, the Just for the unjust, that humanity might not perish, if the Spirit had not been given as a constant working, regenerating agent to make effectual in our cases what had been wrought by the world’s Redeemer?
Jesus, the world’s Redeemer, as our example, could only keep the commandments of God in the same way that humanity can keep them.
These six selections come from the “Overcome as Christ Overcame” articles where Ellen White quotes Romans 5:19 in the same material. From them, we learn that (1) Christ overcame as a man and that every man may overcome like Jesus did. (2) Jesus came to earth not to show what a God could do in His own divine person, that is, by making use of the powers of Deity that were His own by right, but rather to show what God can do through humanity. (3) Jesus proved to us by a human life in the same situation as our own that we can keep the commandments. (4) Jesus testified to fallen humanity that through the divine power granted him of heaven, fallen man can keep the commandments of God. (5) It would have been no avail to man had Jesus merely died for him upon the cross and done nothing more! The Spirit was also given to make effectual changes in us. (6) Jesus could only keep the commandments of God in the same way that fallen humans can keep them.
It is obvious that a doctrine of original sin, or involuntary sin, or whatever label one prefers to use in order to teach that man is guilty on the basis of his fallen human nature, cannot be reconciled with the repeated and emphatic concepts noted above. We can overcome in fallen human nature and Jesus proved it.
Youth’s Instructor, June 2, 1898, “The Second Adam”
Adam accepted the forbidden fruit from the hand of his wife; and by this act the flood-gates of woe were opened upon our world. Adam was endowed with a nature pure and sinless, but he fell because he listened to the suggestions of the enemy. His posterity became depraved; by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.
For this [countering Satan’s misrepresentations concerning God’s character], He, the Commander of all heaven, one with God, clothed His divinity with humanity. He humbled himself, taking up His abode on the earth, that He might become acquainted with the temptations and trials wherewith man is beset.
In His human nature He maintained the purity of His divine character. He lived the law of God, and honored it in a world of transgression, revealing to the heavenly universe, to Satan, and to all the fallen sons and daughters of Adam, that through His grace, humanity can keep the law of God. He came to impart His own divine nature, His own image, to the repentant, believing soul.
Adam made a choice. He sinned against God. His original nature was pure, sinless, unimpacted by sin. He fell by choosing to disobey. His descendants “became” depraved. We might ask, When did they become depraved? This passage does not tell us, although it does link the disobedience of Adam with the disobedience which constitutes his descendants sinners. But does depravity imply personal guilt, or simply a condition? Is a baby born cocaine-addicted guilty, or depraved?
Jesus entered fallen humanity to become acquainted with the temptations and trials that assail fallen man. His specific mission was to counter Satan’s misrepresentations. To do so, Jesus had to become as human as we are.
Jesus lived inside the same human nature we live inside of. It was in exactly our own human nature that He made this acquaintance. It was an authentic fallen nature. It clamored and pulled, but Jesus refused to permit the purity of His divine character to be contaminated. He revealed to the descendants of Adam—fallen every one—that through His grace, His own divine nature imparted to believers, man could obey.
This imparting is for the repentant—the fallen but converted—person. In our broken flesh, Jesus lived the law of God. His grace is power to obey God’s law and to overcome the fallen nature. To impart His divine nature is to infill the surrendered human with strength from above. The testimony of the article in question is not that we cannot obey but that in spite of our awful condition, we can.
Signs of the Times, June 28, 1899, “The Only True Mediator”
The promise of the Father was pledged that if Christ clothed His divinity with humanity, if He endured the test that Adam failed to endure, His obedience would be counted as righteousness to His people. Thus He would conquer in their behalf, and place them on vantage ground. Thus they would be given a probation in which they might return to their loyalty by keeping God’s law. And in this Christ would see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied.
Remember, each of these selections comes from an article in which Mrs. White quoted Romans 5:19 and said that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” The above passage shows that the Father promised the Son that if He incarnated Himself into human flesh, and in it endured the test that Adam failed to endure, Jesus’ obedience would be counted as righteousness to His people. This is a crucial aspect of the plan of salvation. Jesus would thus conquer on their behalf and place them on vantage ground. That is, because of His victory, fallen humans would be advantageously arrayed in their endeavor to live in harmony with God.
It is, however, the next sentence which is most striking. Where many would prefer to say Jesus’ death on the cross was all that was necessary for our salvation, that Jesus has won the war, that we now need do nothing but accept the victory, here is a very different statement: “They would be given a probation in which they might return to their loyalty by keeping God’s law.”
We must pay close attention to exactly what is being said here, neither adding to nor taking from the passage. This is no statement that we are saved by our works, or that by obeying we save ourselves. We are granted an opportunity to return to God on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial death for us on the cross. All legal merit comes from that. But it remains as a part of God’s plan that we ourselves still, helped by the Holy Spirit, must make our own choices that bring us back to loyalty to God. The return is by our “keeping God’s law.” We can return. We can obey, even in our fallen flesh. There is no way home but by obedience to Jesus.
Review and Herald, July 25, 1899, “The Sanctifying Power of Truth”
Of himself, man does not possess the properties of salvation. He cannot transform himself by the exercise of his will. The truth must be received into the heart. Thus the divine leaven does its work. By its transforming, vitalizing power it produces a change in the heart. New thoughts, new feelings, new purposes are awakened. The mind is changed, the faculties are set to work. Man is not supplied with new faculties, but the faculties he has are sanctified. The conscience hitherto dead is aroused. But man cannot make this change himself. It can be made only by the Holy Spirit. All who would be saved, high or low, rich or poor, must submit to the working of this power.
Are you standing on the foundation laid by Christ? Have you faith in Him, who is made unto us ‘wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption’? His word is true, and it requires those who believe in Him to be sanctified, soul, body, and spirit. Sanctification is the measure of our completeness. The moment we surrender ourselves to God, believing in Him, we have His righteousness. We realize that we have been redeemed from sin, and we appreciate the sacrifice made to purchase our freedom.
‘Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.’ This sanctification we must all experience, else we can never gain eternal life. It is obtained by a union with Christ…
We reveal His grace in our characters; for we have His life. He presents us spotless before His Father; for we are sanctified through His blood. We are purged from dead works; for Jesus takes possession of the sanctified soul, to renew, sustain, and guide all its impulses, and give vitality to its purposes. Thus we become temples for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Here is another article and four more statements from it. In his fallen situation, man does not possess the properties of salvation. His conscience is in a condition likened to death. Man’s will cannot assist him while he is in this state. There must be an internal working. Truth must transform from the inside out. The verbs used here are to awaken, to arouse. We receive no new faculties, but the faculties we have are sanctified. If we do not submit to this internal process in which the Holy Spirit is granted room to work for us from inside the building, we cannot be saved.
Sanctification is necessary. “The moment we surrender ourselves to God, believing in Him, we have His righteousness.” That is an absolutely true statement! What is often refused, however, is the fact that we must remain in a state of surrender to Him, remain in a condition of belief in Him. As we walk with Him, He reveals yet more, in measure as we are able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Thus, all along the way, we may have His righteousness, and we may have the internal residency of the Holy Spirit, our on-site physician. We live, knowing by experience that Jesus purchased our freedom from the thralldom of sin.
Sanctification is simply a continuing union with Christ in which the human agent follows the Lamb wherever He is going. This is why the statement was made that, “Sanctification is the measure of our completeness.”
“WE reveal HIS grace in OUR characters; for WE have HIS life” (Emphasis added). Jesus takes possession to renew, sustain, and guide, not some of but all of our impulses. This is connected to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Here the truth is yet again illustrated that “humanity, combined with divinity, does not commit sin” (Ministry of Healing, p. 180). Can we see how different this is from the idea that “we sin because we are sinners”?
Signs of the Times, June 13, 1900, “Christ’s Sacrifice for Man”
In transgression Adam became a law to himself. By disobedience he was brought under bondage. Thus a discordant element, born of selfishness, entered man’s life. Man’s will and God’s will no longer harmonized. Adam had united with the disloyal forces, and self-will took the field.
Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden caused all to sin; but in the Garden of Gethsemane Christ drank the bitter cup of suffering and death, that whosoever believes in Him may not perish, but have everlasting life.
Christ says definitely, I came not to destroy the law. It is a transcript of God’s character, and I came to carry out its every specification. I came to vindicate it by living it in human nature, giving an example of perfect obedience.
By disobedience Adam was brought under bondage. In unmistakable language, he chose to become a slave. God’s will and man’s will were turned in opposite directions. But God’s will had never changed. Man’s had. Man became a damaged being. He experienced the internal shift in tendencies which inspiration calls the entrance of “a discordant element.” Man’s new bent to self-will is a consequence flowing from Adam’s original disobedience. All humans (other than Christ) have become guilty because of choices they have made. However, that guilt is due to choice rather than to their coming into existence.
Here is a striking statement that Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden “caused” all to sin. But we have to carefully ponder what it says about how his fall did this. Logically, there are two possibilities. Either all were caused to sin in that they were compelled to sin without their consent by a force beyond their control, or, they were caused to sin in the sense that they were placed into a situation in which all men have freely given their consent to sin. The text nowhere teaches that all humans were made guilty by Adam’s sin. What does inspiration say?
No man without his own consent can be overcome by Satan. The tempter has no power to control the will or to force the soul to sin. He may distress, but he cannot contaminate. He can cause agony, but not defilement. The fact that Christ has conquered should inspire His followers with courage to fight manfully the battle against sin and Satan (The Great Controversy, p. 510).
The tempter thought to take advantage of Christ’s humanity, and urge Him to presumption. But while Satan can solicit, he cannot compel to sin. He said to Jesus, ‘Cast Thyself down,’ knowing that he could not cast Him down; for God would interpose to deliver Him. Nor could Satan force Jesus to cast Himself down. Unless Christ should consent to temptation, He could not be overcome. Not all the power of earth or hell could force Him in the slightest degree to depart from the will of His Father (The Desire of Ages, p. 125).
It is true that Satan is the great originator of sin; yet this does not excuse any man for sinning; for he cannot force men to do evil. He tempts them to it, and makes sin look enticing and pleasant; but he has to leave it to their own wills whether they will do it or not (Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 294).
Notice that in each of the three quotations above, before we sin, our consent is necessary. Thus, “Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden caused all to sin” only indirectly; their own consent to sin still had to be secured, every one of them. More than this, Jesus’ contrasting obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane made possible salvation for whoever would be willing to lay hold of it. Again, this is available to everyone on the same basis: personal choice.
The third quotation from Ellen White’s Signs of the Times, June 13, 1900 article, is explicit about Jesus’ mission: “I came to live it [the law] in human nature…” By doing so He gave an example of obedience. But to whom? Except for Himself, all other human beings have at some point chosen to sin. An example lived in humanity is for humans. And the only kind of humans there are on planet earth today, are those with fallen flesh. No exceptions. Jesus’ vindication of the law could only come by His living it in a fallen humanity and condemning “sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3, 4).
Signs of the Times, June 14, 1905, “A Contrast”
Think of what Christ’s obedience means to us. It means that in His strength we, too, may obey. He came to this world to show us what God can do for us, and what we can do in co-operation with God.
No man inherits holiness of character by nature, nor can any man, in his own strength, become loyal to God.
As we see the condition of mankind today, the question arises in the minds of some, Is man by nature totally and wholly depraved? Is he hopelessly ruined?…. Theories that do not recognize the atonement that has been made for sin, and the work that the Holy Spirit is to do in the hearts of human beings, are powerless to save.
These excerpts from her 1905 article offer us a great deal of help. First, we are asked to consider what Christ’s obedience means to us. “It means that in His strength, we, too, may obey.”
Just as no man inherits guilt by nature, no man by nature inherits holiness of character. Because of our fallen situation we inherit a sinful nature, a nature which, as we have seen in the several quotes preceding, means faculties asleep, described even as dead, and a will turned out of its designed track, discordant, self-centered. Adam surrendered man’s strength to obey.
The most helpful passage of all, however, is the last. Really, it addresses the nub of the whole question. Remember, we review all these lines because the notion has been suggested—on the basis of a very carefully selected set of Ellen G. White quotes—that humans are born guilty, that we all bear involuntarily a condemnation for sin. Here, Mrs. White asks the very question! She focuses on the question of the degree of human depravity. Notice: “Is he [man] hopelessly ruined?” Consider her answer a few lines later. But you have to process it. She says that theories that do not recognize the atonement that has been made for sin (that is, here she uses “atonement” to refer to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross), and that do not recognize the work that the Holy Spirit is to do in the hearts of human beings—are powerless to save.
So there are two aspects that make the gospel powerful to save: Jesus’ work for us in being our sacrifice on the cross, and the Holy Spirit’s work inside of us. Salvation then includes the internal element, even as it includes the external element. Together these constitute salvation. The answer to the questions then, Are we totally or wholly depraved? Are we hopelessly ruined? is No! There is power to save. No matter how severely damaged by the Fall we are, there is a gospel that can save. Its salvation is much more than a narrow, external, legal accounting. It includes God’s work inside the human agent.
We may sum up the material just reviewed by realizing that, just as a selective use of Scriptures could be made that would seem to verify Sunday observance as a biblical doctrine, the same work can be done with Mrs. White’s writings regarding guilt by human nature. Exposure of additional inspired material and its context showing agreement with the concept of fallen human obedience makes it evident that either Mrs. White’s writings are being badly wrested out of context, or, that Mrs. White was a thoroughly self-contradictory writer. Even apart from belief, the former is much more methodologically likely than the latter. Few writers contradict themselves on the scale that accepting the interpretations of the New Theology teachers must entail.
Two More Statements Examined
Two more Ellen G. White statements were given in support of the idea of original sin, including this one:
All Heaven mourned on account of the disobedience and fall of Adam and Eve, which brought the wrath of God upon the whole human race (Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 49).
This statement must be pushed very hard to derive an original sin-type teaching of human guilt by genetic transmission. Heaven mourned when Adam and Eve disobeyed. At that early hour, the whole human race consisted of two people. But the quote continued on after the place where the New Theology presenter left off. Listen:
They were cut off from communing with God, and were plunged in hopeless misery…. though they could no longer retain possession of their holy estate, their Eden home, because of their transgression of the law of God, yet their case was not altogether hopeless. They were then informed that the Son of God, who had conversed with them in Eden, had been moved with pity as He viewed their hopeless condition, and had volunteered to take upon Himself the punishment due to them, and die for them that man might yet live, through faith in the atonement Christ proposed to make for him. Through Christ a door of hope was opened, that man, notwithstanding his great sin, should not be under the absolute control of Satan. Faith in the merits of the Son of God would so elevate man that he could resist the devices of Satan. Probation would be granted him in which, through a life of repentance, and faith in the atonement of the Son of God, he might be redeemed from his transgression of the Father’s law, and thus be elevated to a position where his efforts to keep His law could be accepted.
The wrath of God upon Adam and Eve brought severe consequences, but ascribing guilt to the whole race was not one of them. Rather, the whole race was cut-off from communing with God. They were, apart from Christ, rendered hopeless. But through the plan of redemption, God intervened so that Satan would not have absolute control over him. Resistance was, for man, made possible. Through a life of repentance and faith in the atonement, he could be redeemed from his transgression.
Notice that this has reference to personal transgression. Weakened by the Fall (Romans 5:6; 8:3), “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But through divine intervention, man is “elevated to a position where his efforts to keep His law could be accepted.” Notice that these efforts do not become meritorious, but that they can be accepted. In other words, Mrs. White agrees with what she also wrote in the following excerpts from The Great Controversy, p. 477:
It is the privilege of everyone so to live that God will approve and bless him. It is not the will of our heavenly Father that we should be ever under condemnation and darkness.
We may go to Jesus and be cleansed, and stand before the law without shame and remorse.
The Christian’s life should be one of faith, of victory, and joy in God.
Does the wrath of God continue to abide on such? Mrs. White says it is not the will of our heavenly Father that we should ever be under condemnation and darkness. In an exact contrast, the New Theology says God’s wrath against us abides upon us continuously because of our warped nature. The Spirit of Prophecy says that through the power of God we are enabled to live above the clamors of that nature.
The third statement proffered in support of the New Theology position was:
As related to the first Adam, men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death (Child Guidance, p. 475).
Standing alone, this quotation raises some curious questions. But to let inspiration speak, we must let context speak. Here is the same quotation in its fuller context:
Parents have a more serious charge than they imagine. The inheritance of children is that of sin. Sin has separated them from God. Jesus gave His life that He might unite the broken links to God. As related to the first Adam, men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death. But Christ steps in and passes over the ground where Adam fell, enduring every test in man’s behalf. He redeems Adam’s disgraceful failure and fall by coming forth from the trial untarnished. This places man on vantage ground with God. It places him where through accepting Christ as His Saviour, he becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Thus he becomes connected with God and Christ. Christ’s perfect example and the grace of God are given him to enable him to train his sons and daughters to be sons and daughters of God.
It is by teaching them, line upon line, precept upon precept, how to give the heart and will up to Christ, that Satan’s power is broken. ‘As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name’ (John 1:12). This is the work, the grand and holy work of parents. They are to keep before their children the great and vital work of receiving Christ, of believing on Christ as their Redeemer, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is the instruction they are to give to their children. All who will accept Christ by living faith will take His life as their pattern (Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, p. 236).
The statement that “As related to the first Adam, men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death,” is made by Mrs. White in a discussion of the challenges of parenting. The passage assures the parent that broken links can be reestablished, that Christ’s victorious living in our human flesh places man on vantage ground with God, that through it men are placed where they can become partakers of the divine nature. They can be reconnected. The example of Christ’s life and the power of God given him enable the parents to train their children to be sons and daughters of God.
In fact, we are told that it is by teaching children to give the heart and will up to Christ that demonic power over them is broken. The life of Jesus can become the pattern for our children. The whole thrust of the passage is the opposite that given by those who teach the New Theology. Rather than borrowing this text to teach that we are locked into a guilty, sinful, condemned nature that will keep us in a condition of guilt until the moment of our death, inspiration urges that this condition can be overcome, and more, that it can be overcome by fathers and mothers who follow Heaven’s plan for parenting.
Whatever Mrs. White meant by “men receive from him [the first Adam] nothing but guilt and the sentence of death,” she did not mean we are participants in Adam’s personal guilt without our own consent. She did not mean that we enter life guilty for choices we never made. When we let her speak for herself, we grasp her thought. It is as if every line plucked from its context cries out, “Let me speak for myself. You have to hear this with the other inspired lines Heaven has given.”
What then of this statement? Simply, whatever we receive from Adam, from Christ we receive acquittal! Should we follow our broken nature, we will limp along with Adam toward final destruction. Should we follow Jesus the second Adam, we embark upon a path of change accepting responsibility for our free will, accepting the divine call to transformation. The Child Guidance, p. 475 passage’ context shows Mrs. White to be contrasting following the wrong Adam with the right Adam. She is claiming that parents can raise their children in a way that overcomes their nature.
Is Our Fallen Human Nature Automatically Condemned?
Some have mentioned the quote that says, “Human nature is depraved, and is justly condemned by a holy God” (Review and Herald, September 17, 1895). They mean to suggest that our nature itself is condemned at birth. But let us read the entire paragraph before we jump to conclusions.
Human nature is depraved, and is justly condemned by a holy God. But provision is made for the repenting sinner, so that by faith in the atonement of the only begotten Son of God, he may receive forgiveness of sin, find justification, receive adoption into the heavenly family, and become an inheritor of the kingdom of God. Transformation of character is wrought through the operation of the Holy Spirit, which works upon the human agent, implanting in him, according to his desire and consent to have it done, a new nature. The image of God is restored to the soul, and day by day he is strengthened and renewed by grace, and is enabled more and more perfectly to reflect the character of Christ in righteousness and true holiness.
An original sin position makes us guilty or condemned on the basis of our fallen human nature, our physical equipment. But in Ellen G. White’s position in the whole of the above paragraph, she speaks of that nature being transformed through the Holy Spirit. The human agent, by his desire and consent, receives a new nature. So notice:
- The nature that she says is depraved and justly condemned can be transformed. Thus it cannot here mean our physical nature, for that will be changed only in the moment of translation or glorification.
- Transformation is accomplished by divine power (the Holy Spirit), and human cooperation (according to the human agent’s desire and consent).
- The result is a process of growth in “true holiness.” It thus is obvious that Mrs. White’s meaning is not that fallen human nature in itself is condemned. After all, “the flesh of itself cannot act contrary to the will of God” (In Heavenly Places, p. 198). If the flesh cannot act contrary to God then the flesh cannot be justly condemned. If your elbow can’t say “yes” and your elbow can’t say “no,” then your elbow has no capacity for moral choice. The elbow is thus morally neutral.
But where the whole person is concerned, our capacity for choice does indeed bring responsibility. We will choose to embrace the inherited tendencies of our fallen nature, or we will choose to do battle against them. It is the final product in character that will be vindicated or justly condemned. None should take this passage from out of its context and superficially appropriate the “justly condemned” idea because it appears to support the pre-determined thesis underlying the original sin error. Again, context calls out, “Please be fair to me!”
Increasing Precision of Expression
Ellen White’s language tended to become more precise as she was able to fill out her written works with more detail. Contrast her language in Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, published in 1870 with 397 pages of main text, with her fuller work covering the same ground two decades later in 1890, Patriarchs and Prophets, weighing in at 731 pages of main text:
Seth was a worthy character, and was to take the place of Abel in right doing. Yet he was a son of Adam like sinful Cain, and inherited from the nature of Adam no more natural goodness than did Cain. He was born in sin; but by the grace of God, in receiving the faithful instructions of his father Adam, he honored God in doing his will (Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 60).
While Adam was created sinless, in the likeness of God, Seth, like Cain, inherited the fallen nature of his parents (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 80).
Mrs. White’s, 1870s “Born in sin” becomes her 1890s, “inherited the fallen nature.” But even the 1870 expression is not unclear. She says Seth was “like sinful Cain,” and “inherited from the nature of Adam no more natural goodness than did Cain.” Most notably, in spite of the nature he was born with, “he honored God in doing His will.” In 1890 she repeats the “no more natural goodness” line but moves from the vaguer “in sin” to the more precise “fallen nature.”
Before 1888 and the stronger emphasis on the nature of Christ, it was sufficient to use the phrase “in sin.” But with the increasing emphasis heaven placed upon this topic as the 19th century wore onward, it became important that the concept be expressed in more precise language. A clearer understanding of God’s will opens new duties to His people. As the light from Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary shines yet more brightly upon us, the language we use to express truth will inevitably be refined. The Church is to come out from past darkness, not sink back into it.
The inspired testimony about overcoming in fallen human nature is clear.
One honored of all heaven came to this world to stand in human nature at the head of humanity, testifying to the fallen angels and to the inhabitants of the unfallen worlds that through the divine help which has been provided, every one may walk in the path of obedience to God’s commands… (God’s Amazing Grace, p. 103).
Everyone who by faith obeys God’s commandments, will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression (Maranatha, p. 224).
These statements decidedly debunk the selective use of Ellen G. White statements to teach original sin or its equivalent. Those who presented the texts already discussed as evidence for teaching that man is guilty by nature followed the texts with a Bible quote which they chose to give but not to explain: Ecclesiastes 7:20:
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
By not explaining such a text, they leave the clear impression that they do not truly think victory is possible. They might say they do. But then why present such a text, saying nothing about how it relates to victory, and giving it in the midst of a discussion promoting the idea that “we all sin because we are sinners”?
The New Theology makes only a selective use of the Spirit of Prophecy writings because that is the only way to teach its doctrine. Because this view misrepresents the truth about human free will and the power available to transform fallen man through the gospel, it is antagonistic to the very core of the Seventh-day Adventist message. Watch for this. Check the product before you buy. Kick the tires; sometimes they fall off!
NEXT: What is the New Theology Part 13: The Substance of 1888.