"The doctrine of justification by faith has been lost sight of by many who have professed to believe the third angel's message. " – Review and Herald, Aug. 13, 1889.
"There is not one in one hundred who understands for himself the Bible truth on this subject [justification by faith] that is so necessary to our present and eternal welfare. – "Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1889.
"For the last twenty years a subtle, unconsecrated influence has been leading men to look to men, to bind up with men, to neglect their heavenly Companion. Many have turned away from Christ. They have failed to appreciate the One who declares, 'Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.' Let us do all in our power to redeem the past." – Review and Herald, Feb. 18, 1904.
Twenty years back from 1904 would just take in the sweep of the message of Righteousness by Faith in 1888, with the preparatory messages which immediately preceded it. What do you say, fellow workers? Shall we not do all in our power to redeem the past? It may be that in returning from the feast we have left Jesus behind, and it becomes necessary for us to seek Him sorrowing, as did Joseph and Mary on their journey homeward from Jerusalem. We are told that –
“The reason why our preachers accomplish so little is that they do not walk with God. He is a day's journey from most of them." – Testimonies," Vol. I, p. 434.
It is an individual matter. Let us pause and consider: Is the Saviour a living, abiding presence in my life? or is He a day's journey distant, and are my life and work the result of the memory of His presence?
The searching warning sent through the Spirit of prophecy regarding the large number of Seventh-day Adventists who had lost sight of the "doctrine of justification by faith," was written in 1889. What change time has made in the proportion of our people who did not at that time hold to or understand this precious truth, none will attempt to say; but we do know that every believer in the third angel's message at this time should have a clear conception of the doctrine of justification by faith and a well-grounded experience in the great transaction.
What It Means to Lose Sight of Such a Truth
To lose sight of this precious truth of justification by faith is to miss the supreme purpose of the gospel, which must prove disastrous to the individual, no matter how well meaning and earnest he may be regarding doctrines, ceremonies, activities, and anything and everything else relating to religion. The warning is clearly given by the servant of the Lord:
"Unless divine power is brought into the experience of the people of God, false theories and erroneous ideas will take minds captive, Christ and His righteousness will be dropped out of the experience of many, and their faith will be without power or life. Such will not have a daily living experience of the love of God in the heart; and if they do not zealously repent, they will be among those who are represented by the Laodiceans, who will be spewed out of the mouth of God." – Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1889.
To a lamentable degree, God's people failed to bring the divine power into their experience, and the result predicted has been seen:
1. False theories and erroneous ideas have taken minds captive.
2. Christ and His righteousness have been dropped out of the experience of many.
3. The faith of many is without power or life.
4. There is not a living daily experience of the love of God in the heart.
Still further, we are told that much has been lost to the cause of God by the failure to gain that living experience of divine power – Righteousness by Faith:
"The people of God have lost much by not maintaining the simplicity of the truth as it is in Jesus. This simplicity has been crowded out, and forms and ceremonies and a round of busy activities in mechanical work have taken its place. Pride and lukewarmness have made the professed people of God an offence in His sight. Boastful self-sufficiency and complacent self-righteousness have masked and concealed the beggary and nakedness of the soul; but with God all things are naked and manifest. " – Review and Herald, Aug. 7, 1894.
Thus has been brought about widespread and fatal deception:
"What is it that constitutes the wretchedness, the nakedness, of those who feel rich and increased with goods? It is the want of the righteousness of Christ. In their own righteousness they are represented as clothed with filthy rags, and yet in this condition they flatter themselves that they are clothed upon with Christ's righteousness. Could deception be greater?" – Review and Herald, Aug. 7, 1894.
Martin Luther Feared This Great Truth Would Become Defaced
The fear that the doctrine of justification by faith - so dear to his heart and through which the great Reformation was brought about - would be lost sight of, seems to have been dominant in the mind of Luther as he caught a vision of future events to occur in the world. We read:
“If the article of justification be once lost, then is all true Christian doctrine lost. . . . He then that strayeth from this 'Christian righteousness,' must needs fall into the 'righteousness of the law;' that is to say, when he hath lost Christ, he must fall into the confidence of his own works.” For if we neglect the article of justification, we lose it altogether. Therefore most necessary it is, chiefly, and above all things, that we teach and repeat this article continually." "Yea, though we learn it and understand it well, yet is there none that taketh hold of it perfectly, or believeth it with his heart." "Therefore I fear lest this doctrine will be defaced and darkened again, when we are dead. For the world must be replenished with horrible darkness and errors, before the latter day come." – "Luther on Galatians," pp. 136, 148, 149, 402.
As God called Luther from the midnight darkness of the sixteenth century, and placed in his hands this torch of truth – "THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH," so will God ever have His standard-bearers to uphold this fundamental basis of salvation in connection with "present truth" in the various stages of the proclamation of the last gospel message in all the world. It is therefore timely that we, today, give this vital truth most earnest, thorough study. It should be just as clearly understood as to how a sinner may be transformed into a saint, as we have been taught to understand how Adam, a sinless man, became a sinner. Justification by faith should be as clear to our minds as the teaching regarding the law, the Sabbath, the coming of the Lord, and every other doctrine revealed in the Scriptures. But it is not so understood by many; and because it is neither appreciated nor experienced as it should be, there is failure on the part of such to present it in their teaching.
This failure was recognised and clearly pointed out back in 1889, for we read:
"The ministers have not presented Christ in His fullness to the people, either in the churches or in new fields, and the people have not an intelligent faith. They have not been instructed as they should have been, that Christ is unto them both salvation and righteousness." – Review and Herald, Sept. 3, 1889.
Duty of Ministers to Present the Message of Righteousness by Faith
The following paragraphs furnish most excellent and appropriate counsel to ministers and other gospel workers, clearly pointing out the sad fact that the centre of attraction, Jesus, has been made secondary by many, while theories and arguments have been given first place. What a fatal mistake!
"Labourers in the cause of truth should present the righteousness of Christ, not as new light, but as precious light that has for a time been lost sight of by the people. We are to accept Christ as our personal Saviour, and He imputes unto us the righteousness of God in Christ." – Review and Herald, March 20, 1894.
“Do not allow your minds to be diverted from the all-important theme of the righteousness of Christ by the study of theories. Do not imagine that the performance of ceremonies, the observance of outward forms, will make you an heir of heaven. We want to keep the mind steadfastly to the point for which we are working; for it is now the day of the Lord's preparation, and we should yield our hearts to God, that they may be softened and subdued by the Holy Spirit." – Review and Herald, April 5, 1892.
"The great centre of attraction, Jesus Christ, must not be left out of the third angel's message. By many who have been engaged in the work for this time, Christ has been made secondary, and theories and arguments have had the first place. – "Review and Herald, March 20, 1894.
“The mystery of the incarnation of Christ, the account of His sufferings, His crucifixion, His resurrection, and His ascension, open to all humanity the marvellous love of God. This imparts a power to the truth.” – Review and Herald, June 18,1895.
“The small churches have been presented to me as so destitute of spiritual food that they are ready to die, and God says to you, 'Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die; for I have not found thy works perfect before God.” – Review and Herald, March 4, 1890.
“This I do know, that our churches are dying for the want of teaching on the subject of righteousness by faith in Christ, and on kindred truths.” – “Gospel Workers,” p. 301.
"The theme that attracts the heart of the sinner is Christ and Him crucified. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus stands revealed to the world in unparallelled love. Present Him thus to the hungering multitudes, and the light of His love will win men from darkness to light, from transgression to obedience and true holiness. Beholding Jesus upon the cross of Calvary arouses the conscience to the heinous character of sin as nothing else can do." – Review and Herald, Nov. 22,1892.
"Christ crucified – talk it, pray it, sing it, and it will break and win hearts. Set, formal phrases, the presentation of merely argumentative subjects, is productive of little good. The melting love of God in the hearts of the workers will be recognised by those for whom they labour. Souls are thirsting for the water of life. Do not allow them to go from you empty. Reveal the love of Christ to them. Lead them to Jesus, and He will give them the bread of life and the water of salvation." – Review and Herald, June 2, 1903.
This chapter may be fittingly closed by the following peerless statement, which sums up the burden of the message of the Spirit of prophecy and gives us the clue to the line of our investigation:
"If through the grace of Christ His people will become new bottles, He will fill them with the new wine. God will give additional light, and old truths will be recovered, and replaced in the framework of truth; and wherever the labourers go, they will triumph. As Christ's ambassadors, they are to search the Scriptures, to seek for the truths that have been hidden beneath the rubbish of error. And every ray of light received is to be communicated to others. One interest will prevail, one subject will swallow up every other, - CHRIST OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. " –
Review and Herald, Extra, Dec. 23, 1890.