Tuesday, September 20, 2016

EGW against Uriah Smith, "Our Righteousness."

In a sermon given in Rome, New York, Ellen White made the following remark: "Brethren, do not let any of you be thrown off the track. “Well,” you say, “What does Brother Smith’s piece in the Review mean?” He doesn’t know what he is talking about; he sees trees as men walking. Everything depends upon our being obedient to God’s commandments. Therefore he takes those that have been placed in false settings and he binds them in a bundle as though we were discarding the claims of God’s law, when it is no such thing. It is impossible for us to exalt the law of Jehovah unless we take hold of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. { 1888 348.1 } My husband understood this matter of the law, and we have talked night after night until neither of us would sleep. And it is the very principles the people are striving for. They want to know that Christ accepts them as soon as they come to Him. I want to tell you, brethren, that light is sown for the righteous, and truth for the upright in heart." {Sermon given in Rome, NY on June 19,1889; 1888 348.2}

The following editorial was written about a week before
 EGW's comment:

SOME of our correspondents are beginning to drop
remarks leaning very suspiciously toward the view
that any attempt on our part to keep the commandments,
is simply an attempt to make ourselves better, which we can never do; that it is an attempt to be righteous, which is simply to cover 
ourselves with filthy rags ; for the prophet says that " all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. "Isa. 64: 6.

Just how much they intend to express, we are
unable to determine ; but it seems to us that they
are unconsciously turning their steps toward a position
held by a class of bitter opposers of our cause
and work, and who draw largely on this line of
thought for their material. It recalls a conversation
we once listened to between the late Eld.
James White and a Methodist minister. The minister
was denouncing our efforts to lead men to the
observance of all the commandments and particularly
to return to the Sabbath of the decalogue, as
turning men back to legalism. We have nothing
to do with the law, said he ; we cannot keep it anyway,
and to attempt to do so, is to turn away from
Christ, and trust in legality; every effort we make
to keep the commandments is to try to make ourselves
righteous, and to cover ourselves with filthy
rags; for the prophet says that all our righteousnesses
are filthy rags. So all your Sabbath-keeping
and law-preaching is only filthy rags.

Those who were acquainted with Bro. White can
imagine about how long it would take him to demolish
such an objection, and close the lips of such
an objector. It would be one of the shrewdest
strokes of policy ever devised against the law if people
could be led to associate in their minds that
holy instrument and all attempts to keep it, with
the idea of " filthy rags." Men, to be sure, have
enough filthy rags about them ; but no such rags
were ever manufactured out of love and reverence
for the law of God or the sincere and earnest efforts,
of any one to regulate his life by the holy
precepts of that law.

Nor do we think the text above referred to can
be fairly construed into any such meaning. Let us
look at the subject upon which the prophet is speaking.
In the last part of chapter 63 he refers pathetically
to, the fact that the sanctuary of Israel was
trodden down by their enemies, that the people of
God's holiness had possessed it but a little while;
but we, he says, are thine, and they are not called'
by thy name. Then in chapter 64 he lifts up an
earnest appeal to God that he would come down
and interpose in their behalf and make his adversaries
tremble at his presence. In verse 3 he refers
to the mighty works that God had wrought, especially
his coming down at Sinai ; and in verse 4
to the great things which he has promised to do ;
and pleads these as reasons why they may hope, for
his help. He then speaks of the different manner
in which God regards righteousness and sin. Verse
5: "Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh
righteousness." Boothroyd translates, this: "Thou
meetest him with joy that worketh righteousness."
The Lord is pleased with such an one. The
prophet continues :  “Those that remember thee in
thy ways” —those who bear in mind God's goodness
and mercy and strive to serve him. Then he speaks
of how God regarded them, and why : "Behold
thou art wroth; for we have sinned. “That was
the trouble With them and the condition they were
in. The last clause of the verse reads: “In those
is continuance, and we shall be saved." That is,
God's ways are unchangeable, consequently his
mercy endures forever, and by repentance men can
regain his favor and be saved.

Then comes the text in question in which the
prophet again recurs to their sad moral and political
condition :" But we are all as an unclean thing,
and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and
we all do fade as a leaf ; and our iniquities like
the wind have taken us away." In this condition
of guilt and condemnation, of course they had no
righteousness to plead before God. Their robe of
character was spotted and defaced and soiled and
torn. It was, as he says, only filthy rags. But
they had not got into that condition because they
had tried to the best of their ability to obey God
and keep his commandments, purifying their lives
by love and obedience, but for the very reason that
they had not done these things.

Daniel, in his wonderful prayer (chapter 9) makes
a similar presentation of the case. A few expressions
will serve as samples : " We have sinned
and committed iniquity." “O Lord, righteousness
belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of
faces." "Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law,
even by departing that they might not obey thy
voice." " We do not present our supplications before
thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great
mercies," etc.

He puts in no plea for any good works nor acts
of obedience; but his whole burden was for their
transgressions of God's law, and their failure to
obey his voice. And this was all the righteousness
they had to present; and this of course was
but filthy rags. But we say again, it was their
wanton acts of disobedience, not their efforts to do
right, which had brought them into this condition.
And although what was true of the Israelites applies
to all persons in a similar condition, it is a
manifest misapplication of the text to use its description
of a condition which comes from not keeping
the law, as a discouragement against all efforts
to keep it, on the ground that we thereby clothe
ourselves with filthy rags.

The law is spiritual, holy, just, and good, the
divine standard of righteousness. Perfect obedience
to it will develop perfect righteousness, and
that is the only way any one can attain to righteousness.
If neither Adam and Eve nor any of their
posterity had ever broken the law, the human
family would have developed righteousness by the
law alone. Sin not only broke the union between
man and God, but imbued man with a nature
such that it must be replaced by a new nature
before he can return to the path of obedience ; for
the carnal mind, the offspring of sin, is not subject
to the law of God, and cannot be.

Christ comes in and closes up the gulf between
us and God by providing a sacrifice to cancel past
sin, and gives us a new spiritual nature, through
which he proposes to dwell in us to bring us back
into harmony with the law, lead us to love and delight
in it, and walk in all its precepts. Right here
is where our Methodist friend made a mistake, and
many others are doing likewise. Because the work
Christ does for us is so radical and essential, they
fly to the extreme of dropping and discarding the
law, refusing to study what it requires, or to try to
follow in the way it directs, but thinking they are
to leave everything thereafter to Christ; not perceiving
that the whole object of Christ's work for
us is to bring us back to the law, that its righteousness
may be fulfilled in us by our obedience to it,
and that when at' last we stand beside the law,
which is the test of the judgment, we may appear
as absolutely in harmony with it, as if we had never
belonged to a sinful race who had trampled it in
the dust.

And yet though so dependent on Christ, we are
not to rest on the stool of do-nothing, as a mass of
inertia in the hands of the Redeemer. We must
be living stones in the temple, actively co-operating
with the Master-builder. But does not Christ say
that " without me ye can do nothing " ?--Yes, and in
that very language he teaches us that with him we
can do something, and when it is done, it is " we "
that do it. But does not Paul say (Phil. 2 :13)
that " it is God which worketh in you both to will
and to do of his good pleasure" ?--Yes; and in the
very same epistle (4 :13) he says, "I can do all
things through Christ which strengtheneth me." So
he does not leave everything for God and Christ to
do, but enters into the work himself, and without
his co-operation it would not be done.

When we pick up a piece of red-hot iron, what is
it that burns us ? We say the iron burns us. But
the iron of itself possesses not enough heat to burn
us; it must first be charged with fire ; and then it
is the fire after all which burns us, is it not ? And
yet we say truly that the iron burns us. The iron
is actively co-operating with the fire. It first receives
and then gives off the heat.

So a soul raised to a white heat in the service of
God, charged with the love of Christ, is an active
agent ; it keeps the commandments, not in a merely
passive and negative manner, but aggressively ; it
resists sin; it strikes right and left against temptation;
 it looks into the law to read its duty; it rests
and worships on the Sabbath of the Lord, and goes
forward in every good work; and in doing all this
it is not clothing itself with filthy rags.

But, it is asked, if a man undertakes to keep the
law in his own strength and work out his own
righteousness, can he do it ? Is he not clothing
himself with filthy rags ? To what class of people
such a query would apply, we do not know. We
do know, however, that there is not a Seventh-day
Adventist in the land who has not been taught
better than to suppose that in his own strength he
could keep the commandments, or do anything
without Christ ; and it is a waste of time to build
an argument for any people on premises which they
never assume. We doubt if even the Pharisees
rested their self-righteousness on the perfection of
their personal obedience to the ten commandments.

If we understand the teachings of Paul in his
epistles, the trouble with the Jews was that they
had come to look upon their ceremonial system as
all-sufficient in itself  'to atone' for' their sins, and
take away all their guilt. So if they outwardly
complied with the Decalogue and scrupulously
attended to their ceremonial requirements, they
imagined themselves righteous in the sight of God.
This left them in their sins (for the blood of their
offerings could not take away sin, Heb. 10: 4), 
outwardly clean and fair, tithing mint, anise, and cumin,
but within full of corruption and uncleanness ;
and it also hedged up the way of their acceptance
of Christ, as' they could see no necessity for him ;
for if the services of their law took away sin, why
should a Redeemer come and die for them too ?

To rid them of this deception, Paul had to labor,
as he did in the epistle to the Galatians, and other
ways, before they could be brought to receive the
gospel; for they were thus seeking righteousness
and justification by the works of the law, instead of
through faith in Christ, the only efficacious sacrifice.
Rom. 9: 32 ; Gal. 5: 4; etc.

There is a righteousness we must have, in order to
see the kingdom of heaven, which is Called " our
righteousness; " and this righteousness comes from
being in harmony with the law of God. In Dent.
6 : 24, 25 we read : " And the Lord commanded us
to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God
for our good always, that he' might preserve us
alive as it is this day. And it shall be our righteousness
if we observe to do all these commandments
before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded
us." The Lord would not command them
to do what he had not made adequate provision for
them to do ; and if they did do it, it would be their
righteousness. And "our righteousness" cannot in
this case be filthy rags. How would it sound if we
should read it thus: " And it shall 'be filthy rags,
if we observe to do all these 'commandments . . .
as he hath commanded us" ?

Again, in that' memorable Sermon on the Mount,
our Lord says: "For I say unto you that except
your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of
the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter
into the kingdom of heaven. " Matt. 5: 20. And
this is the same as to say that if it does exceed
it (to the requisite degree of course), we shall see
the kingdom of heaven. And what we are to do
thus to possess the kingdom of heaven, he plainly
told the young man when he said, " If thou wilt
enter into life, keep the commandments." Matt.
19: 17. But, says one, of ourselves we cannot
keep them, That doesn't affect the case at all.
If we cannot keep them of ourselves, and God has
made provision for us to keep them some other
way, as he has done in Christ, then we are to keep
them that way; but we are to keep them just the

Suppose we try the "filthy rag" construction on
Matt. 5: 20: "For I say unto you that except your
filthy rags' shall exceed the filthy rags' of the
scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no ease enter the
kingdom of heaven." That surely would not be
very edifying reading to any one. There is then
a righteousness that we must have, to be secured
by doing and teaching the commandments. Verse
19. And the scribes and Pharisees did some things
which were righteous, or Christ could not have introduced
the comparison he did, and said, except
yours shall exceed theirs.  He that doeth righteousness,"
says John, "is righteous." 1 John 3: 7. And if he does not
do righteousness, he is not righteous.

We, feel sorry for the man who can say, as one
says who some time since went out from us in
Battle Creek, "I keep the commandments not
from obligation, but because I think it will please.
the Lord for me to do so; but if I should not do it,
though the Lord might not be so well pleased, he
would overlook it, in me, as I am adopted as a son,
and it would not affect my prospects for salvation."
We feel sadly sure that it would.
 Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, June 11, 1889

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