Salvation According to Whom?
by Joseph Rector
During my many years as a devout Seventh-day Adventist, I believed that the writings of Ellen White gave me an “inside track” to heaven. I was the privileged possessor of writings that unmasked Satan’s end-time deceptions and infallibly pointed the way toward salvation. I was grateful to Ellen White for revealing the errors of the “once-saved-always-saved” crowd, and for upholding the seventh-say Sabbath as the final test dividing the sheep and the goats. I thought I could pass this final test since I already knew the answer.
In my happiness at being a member of God’s remnant church, I neglected to notice the level of difficulty Ellen White attached to salvation. I filtered her writings through the teachings of Adventist pastors and writers, meaning that my connection with her was only second-hand. These spiritual leaders would, consciously or unconsciously, censor her teachings, utilizing the uplifting while ignoring her perfectionistic counsels. It wasn’t until I began reading Ellen White for myself that I discerned the unbiblical legalism permeating her doctrine of sanctification. I was shocked by the impossibility of achieving the earthly perfection she outlines in so many thousands of passages. After a great struggle, I determined to cling to the cross of Christ alone, rejecting Mrs. White’s testimonies as false prophecies.
This article is designed to accomplish three things. First, it will show that Ellen White taught that character perfection must be obtained prior to Christ’s second coming. Second, it will explore what Ellen White meant when she used the word perfect. Finally, I will question whether the average Adventist is even trying to live the perfect life Ellen White required. This article will demonstrate that it is impossible to be saved under Ellen White’s system.
One of Ellen White’s early visions, which I call “The Dream of the Cords,” reflects her view that heaven can only be reached after an anguished effort. She describes the remnant walking a path along a white cliff. The path becomes so narrow that they can no longer walk it, so cords are lowered from above, and they cling to these cords as they proceed upward along the white cliff. Ellen notices that the cliff wall is stained with blood–not the blood of Christ, but blood “pressed” from their own “aching feet” (2T 594-597). This vision sets the tone for a topic that would be one of her lifelong themes: the tremendous personal effort required to reach heaven.
Seventh-day Adventists consider The Great Controversy to be one of Ellen White’s greatest works, but few realize that it is frighteningly perfectionistic. While giving her prophetic views of end-time events, Ellen White describes the level of perfection required of the victorious remnant, advising her followers to diligently pursue perfection while Christ still intercedes in the Most Holy Place:
“Now, while our great High Priest is making the atonement for us [a reference to her doctrine called the Investigative Judgment], we should seek to become perfect in Christ. Not even by a thought could our Saviour be brought to yield to the power of temptation. . . . This is the condition in which those must be found who shall stand in the time of trouble” (GC 623).
She goes on to emphasize that attaining God’s blessing will not be easy–it is certainly not as simple as confessing that one is a sinner who desires forgiveness, faith, and faithfulness as a gift from God. “Those who are unwilling to deny self, to agonize before God, to pray long and earnestly for His blessing, will not obtain it. Wrestling with God–how few know what it is!” (GC 621).
The urgency for attaining perfection comes from the knowledge that the remnant must live perfectly during the time of trouble (her term for the tribulation) to prove to the universe that fallen human beings can keep the law of God. Ellen White states, “In that fearful time the righteous must live in the sight of a holy God without an intercessor” (GC 614). She goes on to explain that the Adventist version of purgatory is necessary because the “earthliness” of the remnant “must be consumed, that the image of Christ may be perfectly reflected” (GC 621).
During this supreme trial of faith, the righteous agonize over their works.
“As Satan accuses the people of God on account of their sins, the Lord permits him to try them to the uttermost. . . . As they review the past, their hopes sink; for in their whole lives they can see little good. . . . Satan endeavors to terrify them with the thought that their cases are hopeless, that the stain of their defilement will never be washed away. He hopes to destroy their faith that they will yield to his temptations and turn from their allegiance to God” (GC 618-619).
The remnant “fear that every sin has not been repented of, and that through some fault in themselves they will fail to realize the fulfillment of the Saviour’s promise: I ‘will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world’” (GC 619).
Followers of Ellen White, do not be deceived. A simple belief in the inspiration of Ellen White, the sanctity of the seventh-day Sabbath, and the truthfulness of the other Adventist doctrines will not lead to salvation. If Ellen White is correct, you must attain character perfection in this life. God will not impart any finishing touches to your character at the second coming. If you are not already perfect, you will have sinned without the benefit of an intercessor. You will have failed the final test. “The characters formed in this life will determine the future destiny. When Christ shall come, He will not change the character of any individual. Precious, probationary time is given to be improved in washing our robes of character and making them white in the blood of the lamb. To remove the stains of sin requires the work of a lifetime” (4T 429).
How Perfect Is Perfect?
At this point, Adventists are forced to look for a loophole. What did Ellen White mean when she used the word perfect? Maybe she meant that we are perfect when covered with the righteousness of Christ. Maybe she meant that we are to be perfect in faith and trust. She couldn’t possibly have intended complete moral perfection, could she?
Such Adventists draw rays of hope from a handful of quotes that emphasize the righteousness of Christ, the centrality of faith, and the utter hopelessness of human works to earn salvation. However, we must consider all of Ellen White’s quotes on salvation, sanctification, and perfection before we can draw conclusions. I haven’t yet read all her published writings, but I’ve made a significant dent in them, and I can assure my Adventist friends that the perfectionistic quotes outnumber the apparently grace-filled quotes approximately fifty to one. The vast majority of her “grace” quotes apply to the initial justification of the sinner, while the perfection quotes come when she is talking about sanctification, a state that must be achieved by the believer before the time of trouble, according to Mrs. White.
I will also caution against over-analysis of her words. Don’t approach her teachings like a lawyer looking for a loophole (“No, my client never actually confessed anything when he signed this statement written in his own hand”). According to Ellen White, her writings utilize “such simple language that a child can understand every word uttered” (3SM 92). She also stated, “I am exceedingly anxious to use words that will not give anyone a chance to sustain erroneous sentiments. I must use words that will not be misconstrued and made to mean the opposite of that which they were designed to mean” (3SM 52).
In addition, it is important to approach this topic with the understanding that Ellen White believed her words in letters, articles, and testimonies were specifically guided by God: “As soon as I take my pen in hand I am not in darkness as to what to write. It is as plain and clear as a voice speaking to me, ‘I will instruct thee and teach thee in the ways which thou shalt go’” (3SM 49). Because she was convinced that God was behind all her writings, EGW strongly rebuked those who affirmed her overall inspiration but denied certain portions of her testimony (see 3SM 68-70).
The following is a brief list of Ellen White quotes defining perfection. Please read it prayerfully, with the understanding that she was doing her best to be utterly clear in her presentation of God’s requirements for sanctification.
“We can overcome. Yes; fully, entirely. Jesus died to make a way of escape for us, that we might overcome every evil temper, every sin, every temptation, and sit down at last with Him” (1T 144).
Is this the real purpose of Christ’s death, or did He overcome for us because we couldn’t do it for ourselves? Let's compare Mrs. White's statement to what the Bible says. According to her, it is not until after we have "fully" overcome sin that we can "sit down at last with Him." In contrast, the Bible says that "because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions---it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4-6, NIV). Those who put their faith in Christ are already seated with Him in the heavenly places. "Seated" is past tense, not future tense.
“The want [lack] of this necessary preparation will shut out the greater portion of young professors [professed followers of Christ], for
they will not labor earnestly and zealously enough to obtain that rest that remains for the people of God” (1T 155).
According to this quote, our rest in Christ is the result of our works, not the result of His work (see Heb. 4:9-10).
“I saw that many would fall this side of the kingdom. God is testing and proving His people, and many will not endure the test of character, the measurement of God. Many will have close [difficult] work to overcome their peculiar traits of character and be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, unrebukable before God and man” (1T 533).
She directly states that she saw this in vision.
“The law of God will be satisfied with nothing short of perfection, or perfect and entire obedience to all its claims. To come halfway to its requirements, and not render perfect and thorough obedience, will avail nothing” (1T 416).
“Christ consented to die in the sinner’s stead, that man, by a life of obedience, might escape the penalty of the law of God” (2T 200-201).
“When He comes He is not to cleanse us of our sins, to remove from us the defects in our characters, or to cure us of the infirmities of our tempers and dispositions. If wrought for us at all, this work will be accomplished before that time” (2T 355).
“God will accept nothing but purity and holiness; one spot, one wrinkle, one defect in the character, will forever debar them from heaven, with all its glories and treasures” (2T 453).
“For this very reason Christ humbled Himself to take upon Him our nature, that by His own humiliation and suffering and sacrifice He might become a steppingstone to fallen men, that they might climb up upon His merits, and that through His excellence and virtue their efforts to keep God’s law might be accepted of Him” (2T 587).
The Nuts & Bolts of Perfection (Are You Even Trying?)
Ellen White was very specific about sin. It is not just the big sins that will keep people from heaven. Even small sins disqualify the sinner from heaven. She went on to specify a vast number of sins that would have resonated with her Puritan ancestors, but that may surprise many modern Adventists. Keep in mind that none of these sins are specified in the Bible, and that each of these sins, according to Ellen White, will keep a person from heaven.
Peculiarity in Dress
“God will have a people separate and distinct from the world. And as soon as any have a desire to imitate the fashions of the world,
that they do not immediately subdue, just so soon God ceases to acknowledge them as His children” (1T 137).
“Our faith, if carried out, will lead us to be so plain in dress, and zealous of good works, that we shall be marked as peculiar” (1T 275).
No Hope for Lovers of Food
“Gluttony is the prevailing sin of this age. Lustful appetite makes slaves of men and women, and beclouds their intellects and
stupefies their moral sensibilities to such a degree that the sacred, elevated truths of God’s word are not appreciated” (1T 486).
“What a thought! Gluttons in heaven! No, no; such will never enter the pearly gates of the golden city of God” (2T 70).
Diet Takes the Cake
“It is impossible for those who give the reins to appetite to attain to Christian perfection” (CD 236).
“If you pursue a wrong course, and indulge in wrong habits of eating, and thereby weaken the intellectual powers, you will not place that high estimate upon salvation and eternal life which will inspire you to conform your life to the life of Christ; you will not make those earnest, self-sacrificing efforts for entire conformity to the will of God, which His word requires, and which are necessary to give you a moral fitness for the finishing touch of immortality” (2T 66).
“Hot drinks are debilitating to the stomach. Cheese should never be introduced into the stomach. Fine-flour bread cannot impart to the system the nourishment that you will find in the unbolted wheat bread. The common use of bolted wheat bread cannot keep the system in a healthy condition” (2T 68).
“And from the light given me, sugar, when largely used, is more injurious than meat” (2T 370).
“I am astonished to learn that, after all the light that has been given in this place, many of you eat between meals! You should never let a morsel pass your lips between your regular meals” (2T 373).
No Life Insurance
“Life insurance is a worldly policy which leads our brethren who engage in it to depart from the simplicity and purity of the gospel. Every such departure weakens our faith and lessens our spirituality. Said the angel: ‘But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light’” (1T 550).
“Those who profess to believe the third angel’s message often wound the cause of God by lightness, joking, and trifling. I was shown
that this evil was all through our ranks” (1T 133).
“[Ministers] should use no lightness of speech, jesting or joking....” (1T 380).
“Lightness, jesting, and joking will result in barrenness of soul and the loss of the favor of God” (2T 236).
Ineffective Parents Lost
“Parents, I saw that unless you awake to the eternal interest of your children, they will surely be lost through your neglect. And the possibility that unfaithful parents will be saved themselves is very small” (1T 135).
What About Videos and DVDs?
“There is no influence in our land more powerful to poison the imagination, to destroy religious impressions, and to blunt the relish for tranquil pleasures and sober realities of life, than theatrical amusements. The love for these scenes increases with every indulgence, as the desire for intoxicating drink strengthens with its use. The only safe course is to shun the theater, the circus, and every other questionable place of amusement” (MYP 380).
No Gatherings for Pleasure
“I have been shown that the true followers of Jesus will discard picnics, donations, shows, and other gatherings for pleasure. They
can find no Jesus there....” (1T 288).
“Donations” would be the equivalent of SDA school fund-raisers such as talent shows and fall festivals.
“[Young Sabbath-keepers] have not been willing to give up the world, but have united with the world in attending picnics and other gatherings for pleasure, flattering themselves that they were engaging in innocent amusement. Yet it is just such indulgences that separate them from God, and make them children of the world” (MYP 375-376).
Dangers of Music
“Frivolous songs and the popular sheet music of the day seem congenial to their [the youths'] taste. The instruments of music have
taken time which should have been devoted to prayer” (1T 497).
“How can I endure the thought that most of the youth in this age will come short of everlasting life! Oh, that the sound of instrumental music might cease and they no more while away so much precious time in pleasing their own fancy” (2T 144).
Failure to Witness
“Those who might have exerted an influence to save souls had they stood in the counsel of God, yet failed to do their duty through selfishness, indolence, or because they were ashamed of the cross of Christ, will not only lose their own souls, but will have the blood of poor sinners upon their garments” (1T 511).
No Table Games, Unless Purchased at an ABC!
“There are amusements, such as dancing, card playing, chess, checkers, etc., which we cannot approve, because Heaven condemns them” (1T 514).
Kids, That Messy Room Will Cost You More Than Your Allowance
“You should cultivate a love for neatness and strict cleanliness. God is a God of order. He will not sanction slack and disorderly habits in any of His people” (2T 66).
Pictures and Idolatry
“As I visit the homes of our people and our schools, I see that all the available space on tables, what-nots, and mantelpieces is filled up with photographs. On the right hand and on the left are seen the pictures of human faces. God desires this order of things to be changed. Were Christ on earth, He would say, ‘Take these things hence.’ I have been instructed that these pictures are as so many idols, taking up the time and thought which should be sacredly devoted to God. These photographs cost money. Is it consistent for us, knowing the work that is to be done at this time, to spend God’s money in producing pictures of our own faces and the faces of our friends? Should not every dollar that we can spare be used in the upbuilding of the cause of God? These pictures take money that should be sacredly devoted to God’s service; and they divert the mind from the truths to God’s word. [para] This making and exchanging photographs is a species of idolatry. Satan is doing all he can to eclipse heaven from our view. Let us not help him by making picture-idols” (MYP 316).
What Happens If You Don't Give Enough Offering?
“...He will no more accept the little pittance they hand into the treasury than He accepted the offering of Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who purposed to rob Him in their offerings” (2T 128).
“Let us remember that Christmas is celebrated in commemoration of the birth of the world’s Redeemer. This day is generally spent in feasting and gluttony. Large sums of money are spent in needless self-indulgence. The appetite and sensual pleasures are indulged at the expense of the physical, mental, and moral power. Yet this has become a habit. Pride, fashion, and gratification of the palate have swallowed up immense sums of money that have really benefitted no one, but have encouraged a prodigality of means which is displeasing to God. These days are spent in glorifying self rather than God. Health has been sacrificed, money worse than thrown away, many have lost their lives by overeating or through demoralizing dissipation, and souls have been lost by this means” (MYP 311-312).
Failure to Memorize Scripture
“Some who are teaching present truth are not acquainted with their Bibles. They are so deficient in Bible knowledge that it is difficult for them to quote a text of scripture correctly from memory. By blundering along in the awkward manner they do, they sin against God” (2T 342).
I Didn't Say This!
“Our sisters should encourage true meekness; they should not be forward, talkative, and bold, but modest and unassuming, slow to speak” (2T 456).
So, You Think You Keep the Sabbath?
“The fourth commandment is virtually transgressed by conversing upon worldly things or by engaging in light and trifling
conversation. Talking upon anything or everything which may come into the mind is speaking our own words. Every deviation from right brings us into bondage and condemnation” (2T
“None should feel at liberty to spend sanctified time in an unprofitable manner. It is displeasing to God for Sabbathkeepers to sleep during much of the Sabbath” (2T 704).
"Parents, above every thing, take care of your children upon the Sabbath. Do not suffer [allow] them to violate God's holy day by playing in the house or out of doors. You may just as well break the Sabbath yourselves as to let your children do it, and when you suffer your children to wander about, and suffer them to play upon the Sabbath, God looks upon you as Sabbath-breakers" (R&H 1854-09-19).
Time Keeps Flowing Like a River
“Let us not pass in idleness the precious hours that God has given us in which to perfect characters for heaven. We must not be inactive or slothful in this work, for we have not a moment to spend without a purpose or object” (3T 540).
Money, Money, Money
“Some think that only a portion of their means is the Lord's. When they have set apart a portion for religious and charitable purposes, they regard the remainder as their own, to be used as they see fit. But in this they mistake. All we possess is the Lord's, and we are accountable to Him for the use we make of it. In the use of every penny it will be seen whether we love God supremely and our neighbor as ourselves” (MYP 310).
Fiction (including religious fiction such as that sold in the ABCs)
“Love stories, frivolous and exciting tales, and even that class of books called religious novels,–books in which the author attaches to his story a moral lesson,–are a curse to the readers. Religious sentiments may be woven all through a story-book, but, in most cases, Satan is but clothed in angel-robes, the more effectively to deceive and allure. None are so confirmed in right principles, none so secure from temptation, that they are safe in reading these stories. The readers of fiction are indulging an evil that destroys spirituality, eclipsing the beauty of the sacred page. It creates an unhealthy excitement, fevers the imagination, unfits the mind for usefulness, weans the soul from prayer, and disqualifies it for any spiritual exercise” (MYP 272).
“When Christ is in the heart it will be so softened and subdued by love for God and man that fretting, faultfinding, and contention will
not exist there. The religion of Christ in the heart will gain for its possessor a complete victory over those passions that are seeking for the mastery” (4T 610).
“Those who are unfaithful in the least of temporal affairs will be unfaithful in responsibilities of greater importance. They will rob God, and fail of meeting the claims of the divine law. . . . Belshazzar’s condemnation was written in words of fire, ‘Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting’; and if you fail to fulfill your God-given obligations your condemnation will be the same” (MYP 229).
Salvation According to Scripture
Please consider the following Bible assurances before you decide how to approach salvation:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).
“Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30).
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Rom. 4:4-7).
“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31).
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4).
“But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).
“[F]or if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Gal. 2:21).
“But if ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18).
My Adventist friends, the choice is very simple: if you want to believe in the prophetic messages of Ellen White, you are free to do so. However, to be consistent, you should seek to follow her counsels fully. Don’t pick and choose. The testimonies are not a smorgasbord from which you can pick the most delicious morsels and leave the rest. I gave up Ellen White because I discovered I couldn’t ever meet her salvational demands. I understand that she says we are to become perfect in the power of God, but no one aside from Jesus has ever had the 24/7 connection with God that would be required to attain actual perfection.
Fortunately, there is another perspective on salvation, and this perspective comes from the infallible Word of God. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” It’s so simple! We can have absolute confidence in our salvation by believing in the blood of Christ. It’s not about behavior! Salvation is a free gift that we can all have now. We can struggle for perfection in works, or we can rest in Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:1-4).
Sabbatimos Ministries is not affiliated in any way with the Seventh-day Adventist Church or with the Ellen G. White Estate.