The Plausibility of Overcoming Sin

Self-examination, if properly attended to, enables us to see our characters in their true light, and brings to our view defects in us that we had not previously seen; and it is when we are impressed with a sense of our leanness and the magnitude of our sins, that the question naturally arises, Is it possible to overcome and attain to holiness? God be praised that this question can be answered in the affirmative; that such frail and imperfect creatures as ourselves can overcome the corruptions and imperfections of our fallen natures, and become holy in this present state. Our reasons for believing in the possibility of overcoming and attaining to holiness are briefly as follows:

1. God commands us to be holy. But God is too good, wise, and just a being, to command us to do any thing that we cannot by his grace perform. Therefore we can by the grace of God become holy.

2. Christ and Paul prayed for the sanctification of the church and encouraged men to seek after holiness; and so with other good persons spoken of in the Scriptures. Now it would be inconsistent to believe that Christ and Paul and other good persons whose course was approved by God, should pray for that which cannot be done, and teach accordingly. Therefore the sanctification of men is possible.

3. Blessings are held out by the Lord as a reward for overcoming. But to say that men cannot overcome would represent the Lord as trifling with, deceiving, and imposing upon, mankind, by promising them a reward for doing that which they cannot do, and thus impeach the veracity and justice of God; or, it would make it appear that God did not really know what could be done for man, and made a mistake in promising certain blessings to the overcomer, thus limiting God, and derogating from his power, knowledge, and wisdom. But the Almighty is not such a God as this position would represent. Hence, we believe that we may overcome.

4. The whole tenor of the Scriptures, and plan of salvation shows that we can become holy. It was to this end that the plan of salvation was instituted, that the Scriptures were given by inspiration, that Christ died and rose again, and ascended on high to intercede for our fallen race, that the Holy Spirit is sent as a teacher, guide, and comforter, to impart light, comfort and strength, that the unfallen angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation, that God’s people are tried and corrected, etc. And shall we limit God’s plan and all the means which he employees in carrying it out? Shall we conclude that the Scriptures were given in vain? that Christ’s death and intercessions, the ministration of the Spirit and good angels, etc., are all inadequate for the great object for which they were intended? In other words, did the great Jehovah, Jesus, and good angels, all make a blunder when the plan of salvation was laid? Did Jesus conclude to leave the realms of glory, die an ignominious death, and plead the merits of his blood without first ascertaining what his death and intercessions could and did the angels err in deciding to help in carrying out a plan that cannot accomplish the object for which it was devised? Would it not be more reasonable to believe that the plan of salvation is perfect? that the helps that God has devised are adapted to carry it out and that men can be sanctified?

5. That it is possible to overcome fully and be wholly sanctified, is abundantly proved by those scriptures which exhort men to perfect holiness, to follow the example of Christ, to be followers of God, to be perfect as our Father who is in Heaven is perfect, and by the fact that a perfect standard of holiness is given us to work by. If we could not be perfect overcomers, would it be made incumbent upon us to follow the example of him who did no sin, and to work by a perfect standard of holiness?

6. But the last church will, as we have seen, need a special preparation to meet the Lord at his coming. They will need to be wholly sanctified, not only because of the additional truths which will be brought to light, and be made in a special manner obligatory upon them, but also because they will have to pass through the time of trouble without a mediator between God and them. This time of trouble is when Michael or Christ shall stand up, the great Prince standeth up for the children of thy people. Daniel 12:1, and when the unmixed wrath of God, which is identical with the seven last plagues, Revelation 14:9-14; 15:1; 16, and which is to follow the proclamation of to third angel’s message, will fall upon the shelter-less heads of the enemies of God’s truth and people. When this time of trouble comes, there can be no Mediator between God and man; for the unmingled wrath of God cannot be poured out till mercy closes; and when mercy closes, Christ’s mediatorial work will cease, and from that time onward there can be no pardon and no change in the characters of men. Then will the following solemn and everlasting decree pass in the courts of Heaven, and the effects of it be realized both by the just and the unjust on earth: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still, and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And behold I come quickly.” Revelation 22:11, 12. Then also will be fulfilled Isaiah 59:16: “And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor.”

From certain texts of Scripture we see that the time of trouble and the wrath of God will last one year. The first text which we will notice refers to Babylon and reads, “Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, mourning, and famine.” Revelation 18:8. Famine could not come on Babylon in one literal day; therefore the day spoken of in this text is symbolic or prophetic. According to the year-day principle, which is established by the Scriptures of truth, Ezekiel 4:5, 6; Numbers 14:34, and which is the correct principle by which to interpret prophetic time, one day means one year. The way having been previously prepared, famine could be experienced in one year.

It may be objected to this interpretation that the word hour is also applied to Babylon’s judgment in verses 10, 17, 19, and that if we are to apply our plan of interpretation throughout the whole subject, there will be a palpable contradiction. To which we answer, that if it was the Lord that spoke in both instances, there might be some force to this objection. But the plausibility of this objection disappears when we take into consideration the idea that in our proof text a “voice from Heaven” speaks, and foretells that Babylon’s plagues shall come in one day, while in verses 10, 17, 19, it is the men of earth that speak while Babylon is receiving her plagues, using the word hour not in a prophetic light,—but as a matter of fact, to denote how suddenly her plagues have come upon her, her riches have come to nought,—and she is made desolate.

Isaiah while dwelling on the time when the indignation of the Lord will be upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies; when he shall utterly destroy them, and their slain shall be cast out,—and their stink shall come out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood, says, “for it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion.” Isaiah 24:8. Here the nouns day and year are put in by apposition, the noun year being explanatory of the noun day, and establishing our proposition beyond the possibility of successful contradiction. Isaiah 63:4 is also explicit: “For the day of vengeance is in my heart, and the year of my redeemed is come.”

The Lord will come at the close of the time of trouble; for under the sixth plague he says, “Behold I come as a thief.” It is also under this plague that the spirits of devils, working miracles, go to the kings of the earth and to the whole world to gather them to the battle of the great day, in which Christ will take a part at his coming. Revelation 16:14, 15; 19:11-21; 2 Thessalonians 2:8; Joel 3:9-13. The Lord must come under the seventh plague; for it is under this plague that the islands and mountains are moved out of their places, and that men cry to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of the Lamb. Compare Revelation 16:20; 6:14-17.

Therefore the last church will be one year on the earth without an intercessor, while the plagues are falling. Read Psalm 111. If therefore the church should come to the time of trouble with the least stain upon their characters, they could not be saved; for there will then be no more pardon, and the destinies of all will be unalterably and everlastingly fixed. But the Scriptures teach that some will be alive on the earth and will be saved when Christ comes; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Hebrews 9:28; Isaiah 26:9; and we are shut up to the conclusion that these will have developed perfect characters previous to the time of trouble. But

7. We have Bible testimony showing that the last church will be holy. Says Isaiah, “And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living (or to life, margin) in Jerusalem: When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.” Isaiah 4:3, 4.

We need not stop to prove that Zion and Jerusalem in the prophecies of the Old Testament are sometimes symbolic, referring to the Church under this dispensation. This point can be readily seen by those who will take pains to acquaint themselves with the many prophecies that prove it. Read chaps. 2, and 3; Joel 2:1, 15; Zephaniah 1:12-18, etc. In the previous chapter we are evidently brought to the day of preparation, when the professed church is fast filling up the cup of her iniquity; and the Lord is about to enter into judgment with the ancients of his people and the princes thereof, because of their sins; and it is to be well with the righteous but ill with the wicked; and “Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground. In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent for them that are escaped of Israel.” Then follows our text: “And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy.”

They will not be called holy by those who oppose them, unless it is by way of reproach, and the language of this prophecy is not reproachful. Neither will they call themselves holy; for those who are the farthest advanced in holiness are the last ones that will boast of it. Then it must be the Lord that pronounces them holy—the One that pronounces the branch of the Lord beautiful and glorious—the One that washes away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purges the blood of Jerusalem by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning; and if the Lord pronounces them holy, they will be holy indeed.

Zephaniah 3:13; is also to the point. It furnishes us with the bold prediction that, “the remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity.” Let none try to evade the force of this declaration by applying it to ancient Israel; for it never could be said of ancient Israel at any period subsequent to the time when this prophecy was given that they did no iniquity. Again, it is seen by the connection, that this prophecy is to be fulfilled at the close of the gospel age; see chaps. 1, and 2, in which the middle wall of partition between the Jews and Gentiles is broken down, and he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, but he is a Jew which is one inwardly, and they are not all Israel, which are of Israel. Consequently this prophecy does not apply to those who are Jews outwardly or to the literal descendants of Israel as such, but to those who are Jews inwardly and Israelites in the gospel sense—Israelites indeed, whether they can trace back their lineage to Israel or not; to those who have by faith been grafted into the tame olive tree, the Abrahamic stock, from which many of the literal Jews have been cut off through unbelief; to the remnant or last end of the Christian church. Ephesians 2:11-22; Romans 2:28, 29; 9:6; 11:17-21; Galatians 3:7, 16, 29; John 1:47.

The above prophecies and other prophecies of the same import, not only prove that it is possible to overcome; but that the remnant church will really and actually overcome, that they will heed the many scriptures which make it obligatory for the church living in the last end of time to develop holy characters, that they may be found of the Lord without spot and blameless at his coming.

Yes, we may fully overcome and be wholly sanctified. “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24. He will sanctify you wholly, and preserve you blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will finish it until the day of Christ.” Philippians 1:6. God is faithful to accomplish that which he has promised, and supply our needs in sanctification. Do we need truth, present truth? This he gives under the proclamation of the last message of mercy. Do we need the Spirit’s aid? He is more willing to give the Spirit to them that ask, than earthly parents are to give good gifts to their children. Are the gifts of the Spirit needed “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, into a perfect man, into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ?” Ephesians 4:11-16. God himself has set these gifts in the church, 1 Corinthians 12:28, and vouchsafes them to those that believe, through the general commission of his Son to which all professing Christians fall back for authority to preach the gospel, believe and be baptized, Mark 16:17-20, and through the writings of the apostles and prophets. See works on Spiritual Gifts and Miraculous Powers, ably and clearly defending the truth on this subject. Do we need trials and afflictions to purify us? We shall find enough of these, and such as are of the right kind to sanctify us, in endeavoring to live out the truth. And, “as many as I love,” says Jesus, “I rebuke and chasten.” Revelation 3:19.

But when inspiration says that God will sanctify us, it is understood that there are conditions for us to fulfill. Though we can no more attain to holiness in our own strength and wisdom than we can stop the sun in his course, yet the Lord cannot sanctify us and do what he has promised, unless we do what we can to help ourselves, by taking hold of his help and moving out as far as our strength goes, as we would in temporal things. Hence sanctification is held out in a two-fold light in the Scriptures; first, as a work wrought in us by God; and second, as a duty for us to perform. Hence while we are apprized that it is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure, that without Christ we can do nothing, etc., we are also commanded to repent, believe, and be baptized, to keep God’s commandments, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, etc.

It is with us in overcoming as with feeble children that are required by their parents to perform a certain task. They are encouraged to perform their work, and are promised help and a reward. They move out on the word and promise of their parents, doing what they can, and looking to their parents for help. Their parents cheerfully lend them their aid, smiling upon and approving their course, rewarding them, and still promising them their aid and a greater compensation.

The correctness of this position is further seen by considering that all the Christian graces are acquired and perfected by practice; and the saying that “practice makes perfect,” will apply here as well as in temporal things. If we would have faith we must exercise faith; if we would have knowledge we must dig for it; if we would have temperance we must cultivate temperate habits; if we would have patience we must cultivate and exercise patience; if we would possess humility we must humble our own souls by practice; if we would possess the crowning grace of love, we must cherish love as a virtue, and cause it to take root and grow in our hearts by cultivation and practice; and so with the rest of the Christian graces. The Christian graces are not bestowed upon us without our co-operation, and without our knowing anything about it. They are wrought in us and by us, through the grace and strength of God. God does not work for us to uphold us in idleness; but he works for us by helping us to work for ourselves.

We should be co-workers with God. God promises us his aid; but we must ask, believe, and live for it. If we ask, the promise is that we shall receive. Again, “If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us,” 1 John 4:14, and we know that it is the will of God that we should be sanctified. Here we can ask expecting to receive, if we do what we can to live according to our prayers. And “all things are possible to him that believeth.” Mark 9:23. By living faith we can overcome. Think of what faith has done in the past. Faith is always attended with success, while unbelief is attended with failure. Faith raises the mind upward, magnifies the promises of God, and brings light, courage, and strength to the soul. Unbelief drags the mind to the dust, contracts the promises of God, shuts God and Christ, and all the helps they afford, from our view, and brings darkness, weakness, and spiritual death to the soul.

The helps that God provides in this work may be compared to a mighty machinery, which when set in motion by a slight action, commands mighty power, and accomplishes a great work. If we will but throw ourselves on the means of grace, and work in harmony therewith, they will command Omnipotence, and will, with our feeble co-operation, accomplish a mighty work for us, even our sanctification.

We should not suffer our sins to weigh us down. Christ died for our sins, and says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. Cast your burdens on him, and he will sustain you. He is willing to forgive your sins, bear your burdens, and heal your wounds. For this he died. Believe it. The Lord does not want you to be always shut up to your weakness, and to the wounds that sin has made. This would weaken you. Examine your wounds sufficiently to know their nature, and to know the sins that have caused them, to guard against them hereafter; then flee to the healing fountain, to the blood that cleanses from all sin, and heals our wounds. Precious fountain! precious blood! precious, loving Saviour! He invites you, and wishes to make you free. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15. Keep near the bleeding side of Jesus. Draw sap and nourishment from the living vine, and you will flourish and glorify the Father by bearing much fruit, which will be the best evidence that you are overcoming.

If we would be successful in overcoming we must not work at random, but take right hold of those sins by which we are most likely to be overcome, considering them as our most dangerous enemies, and not give up the battle till we obtain the victory. Our inward foes are the worst foes that we have. If we overcome these, we can more easily keep our outward foes at bay; for they will have no sympathizers in the citadel of our hearts, to divide our strength, work against us, and overcome us.

As we commence the work of overcoming, we have unsanctified habits to contend with; but by a change of practice, these habits are changed into sanctified habits, which serve as helps in living holiness.

In overcoming we frequently meet with darkness produced by ill health, trials, the powers of darkness, etc., which may for the time being obscure the mind and eclipse the clearness, strength, harmony, and beauty of the truth, and the reality of the work from our view. At such times we should not give way to discouragement, and hastily conclude that there is no reality to the truth and to the work in which we are engaged. As well might we conclude that surrounding objects do not exist because we do not see them in a dark night, as to conclude that we have not got the truth, and that there is nothing to sanctification, when the truth and sanctification are only shut from our view by such causes.

A knowledge of our physical and mental capacities and deficiencies is also requisite and highly useful in overcoming. Owing to various causes, among which the violation of the laws of our being, and the different practices and educations of men stand prominent, men have physical and mental defects, which could not have entered into the organization of man as he came out of the hands of his wise and bountiful Creator; and there is a difference in the capacities of different individuals. The reader only needs to fall back on his own observation to see that men generally are not as healthy and strong as they once were; that some individuals are stronger physically than others; that some have comparatively strong and well-balanced minds, while others have not as strong and well-balanced minds; that in the mind of one individual certain faculties are predominant, and inclined to have the ascendancy, while in the mind of another individual other faculties are predominant; that the mind of one person is deficient in some particulars, while the mind of another person is deficient in other particulars; that one cast of mind is better adapted to a certain vocation, while another cast of mind is better adapted to another vocation.

Now sanctification requires that we use all our strength and powers to the best possible advantage in promoting the glory of God by advancing the interests of his cause. But we cannot do this without a knowledge of our natural capacities and defects. Without this knowledge we might mistake our calling and duty, and come short of accomplishing what we should to be useful in the world. We might get out of our place by adopting a calling, the duties of which we have not the abilities to perform, or by adopting a vocation in which our capacities will not be all called into exercise. For a want of this knowledge many have brought reproach upon the cause, and discouragement to their own souls, and have failed to advance in the Christian course. We should know our physical and mental lacks, that we may move with reference to them, and guard against the errors and mistakes that they may lead us into.

If we would overcome we must be zealous in the work. “Be zealous, therefore, and repent,” is the injunction of Jesus to the Laodiceans. When we see our sins by self-examination, we should first be zealous in repenting of the same. We should also be zealous in applying the helps that God affords. But our zeal should not be fanatical or presumptuous, but according to knowledge, according to the present truth, the time in which we live, the shortness of time, and the vastness of the work that is before us. We have a great work to do and a short time to do it in, and have mighty foes to oppose us at every step; therefore we need zeal, and all our energies and powers should be strung to action. Says Christ, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” Luke 13:24. Some have rendered the original word from which the word strive is translated, agonize; but perhaps no one word alone can convey the full sense of the original. It is used to represent the efforts put forth in fighting, and the exertions that were made anciently by combatants in the public games, John 18:36; 1 Corinthians 9:25, etc., and must signify to bring into requisition all the powers and energies both of body and mind. This we must do to enter in at the strait gate; i.e., to overcome.

Men of this world manifest zeal in temporal things, and shall we lack zeal in eternal things? Christ was zealous; Paul was zealous; and all those who have made proficiency in holiness, and have been useful in the world, have had zeal; and it will require zeal and strength to overcome in these last days of peril; and to get zeal and strength we must act and be in earnest. If we manifest as much zeal and earnestness in overcoming as the men of this world do in their worldly pursuits, we shall not fail to overcome and perfect holiness. As our day is, so shall our strength be. God will not leave nor forsake us, but will meet us in the work and bid and help us go forward. He will take us as it were by the hand, and we shall go from strength to strength, conquering and to conquer. And if in anything we be otherwise minded, he will reveal even this unto us. And “if God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Romans 8:31, 32. He will help us to be more than conquerors in all things, and over sin and all our foes, through him that hath loved us; and in holy triumph and joy we shall be enabled to gratefully exclaim, Blessed be God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.1“The Possiblity of Overcoming.” Sanctification: or, Living Holiness …, by Daniel T. Bourdeau, Steam Press of the Seventh-Day Adventist Pub. Association, 1864, pp. 101-115.

References   [ + ]

The Watchman

The Watchman

In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light - bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the Word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import, - the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention. Evangelism, p. 119

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Words of Life

That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged.

— Deuteronomy 6:2