Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16
The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant. Psalm 25:14
Vol. 23, No. 8 Straight and Narrow August 2014
For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring. (Isaiah 44:3)
In this Issue:
Perfection of Character Part 1: The Basics
Perfection of Character Part 2: Systematic Theology
WV Camp Meeting
Perfection of Character: Part 1—The Basics
By Allen Stump
(The 2014 West Virginia camp meetings theme was Perfection of Character. This article is the keynote address from that camp meeting. We will be publishing other studies from the camp meeting in the months to come.Editors)
As we begin this great adventure on the study of perfection of character, let us each first consider our own individual characters and their needs and not dwell on the character of others. We should think about character perfection in the first person and let the Lord and others work out their character development. We should be concerned about ourselves, for we are the ones standing in the need of prayer.
Daniel was privileged to see the opening of the investigative judgment:
I beheld till the thrones were cast down [or placed, as it reads in the RV], and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time. I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. (Daniel 7:9–13)
I would like to propose to you that this is one of the most solemn scenes ever given in the Bible. This is the beginning of the Investigative Judgment in heaven. It is a solemn, solemn time.
A few years ago I had an opportunity to visit the United States Supreme Court to hear the arguments for a couple important cases. If you have never been to the US Supreme Court in session, you should go, for it is a very interesting event. It is not like going to a magistrate court or to the typical courtroom with which most of us are familiar. Instead, it is one of the most solemn places you can ever visit.
As an observer you are instructed not so much in how to act in the courtroom but in how not to act. You are to make absolutely no noise. If you have a cold or a cough, you are not allowed into the courtroom. Children are not allowed in, and babies are never present because they could cry. Every visitor is to be totally silent. As you sit and wait on the judges and as you listen to the oral arguments, large, strong guards in uniform, wearing white gloves, pace up and down the aisles, watching the observers, and they do not wear a very pleasant expression upon their faces. Their demeanor says not to make a peep of noise of any kind, not to get a camera out, not to make a recording of the arguments, not to move!
Sometimes there are exceptions, but usually the oral arguments at the Supreme Court last one hour. One thing that I thought was very interesting during one of the cases I observed was when one of the lawyers started to make his final remarks. As he was speaking, a little buzzer rang. Time for this case was up, and just as soon as that buzzer rang, Chief Justice Rehnquist said, “That’s it. It’s over.” And before I realized it, he and all the other justices had passed through the red curtain in the back and were gone. It did not matter if the lawyer had more to say. It was over.
Beloved, when the time came for the session to be finished, it was over, and the judgment in heaven is about over. When it is over, it will be over, and it will be too late to change. How will we fare on that day? What will our characters be like?
We have automobiles, we have houses, and we have clothes, but we will not take anything to heaven, save our characters; and friends, if we do not have perfection of character, we will simply be lost.
When you sit in a courtroom, certain legal terms are used, and if you do not understand these legal terms, it is very hard to follow along. For instance, do you know what an abstract of judgment is? Do you know what it means to adjudicate? Do you know what a deposition is? How about the terms expungement and habeas corpus or interrogatives and prima facie? Do you understand what these terms mean? If you are called to court and do not know these and other terms, you probably will need an attorney.
When we speak of perfection of character, we also use certain terminology, and it is important to understand the terms we use because if we do not, we cannot thoroughly contemplate the topic nor understand it not only intellectually but experientially. What we are considering at camp meeting is not a small matter. It is a very big deal. We have been told:
Those who would share the benefits of the Saviours mediation should permit nothing to interfere with their duty to perfect holiness in the fear of God. The precious hours, instead of being given to pleasure, to display, or to gain seeking, should be devoted to an earnest, prayerful study of the word of truth. The subject of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment should be clearly understood by the people of God. All need a knowledge for themselves of the position and work of their great High Priest. Otherwise it will be impossible for them to exercise the faith which is essential at this time or to occupy the position which God designs them to fill. Every individual has a soul to save or to lose. Each has a case pending at the bar of God. Each must meet the great Judge face to face. How important, then, that every mind contemplate often the solemn scene when the judgment shall sit and the books shall be opened, when, with Daniel, every individual must stand in his lot, at the end of the days. (Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 488)
It is not a small matter, is it? In fact, friends, I think that understanding this, and understanding how it connects to the sanctuary is a salvational issue. If what Sister White says is true (and it is), it becomes a salvational issue, at least if you are desiring to be part of the 144,000.
I want to ask you a question. Do you really think that we have a biblical basis for saying that God, indeed, requires perfection of character, especially of this last generation? Can we vote confidently that the Bible indeed teaches this? Without any question, I think we can.
Jesus tells us to be perfect, and he is a pretty good authority.
Be ye [second person, plural, i.e., all of you be] therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
God is as perfect as perfect can be. Paul, writing in Colossians, notes:
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. (Colossians 1:27,28)
Are there any exceptions? No, there are none. Paul says he taught it to every man that every man might be presented before God as perfect. We also teach this to everyone today, and we do this that we may present everyone before God perfect in Jesus Christ.
James also weighs in on this:
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:3, 4)
Beloved, can we believe the Word of God right now? Do we have to add to it? Do we have to take away from it? Can we believe it for what it says?
Several years ago I met A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner through reading their books and their writings. Maybe you have, too. A lot of controversy has arisen over what the 1888 message is, and how you understand what the message is depends on whose book or whose magazine you read and believe. Here is what the 1888 message means to me: I can accept God’s Word with all of its promises and truly believe it. That was the one theme that I saw throughout everything that Jones and Waggoner wrote during those times—that we can accept God’s Word for what it says and that it is true and faithful. And it is, friends; it most surely is.
In Genesis 17:1 we have a command that God gave to Abraham, and I do not think any of us here are quite this old yet, some may be getting close. The verse says:
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
Now does it say, be thou part of the way perfect? No, it simply says “be thou perfect.” God said to Abraham “be thou perfect,” and may I remind you that in Acts 10:34 the apostle Peter says, “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” In other words, if God expected perfection from Abraham, does he then expect it from me? He absolutely does.
Let us go back to the New Testament again. We are going to drive the concept of perfection as a nail and let it sink in deeply.
But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. (1 Peter 1:15, 16)
Does the Holy Spirit say that we are to be holy in most of the things we do? No, we are to be holy in all manner of conversation. Now some of you may know that the word in the original Greek that is translated here conversation simply means our lifestyle. It includes not only what we say, but also all our deportment. In everything we do, we are to be holy. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed” (Amos 3:3)? No, they cannot. Now, do you suppose God wants to walk with us through the pearly gate some day? I think so. I think he wants to walk with me some day in beautiful fields, by lovely daisies and by other beautiful flowers, like asters, hollyhocks, snapdragons, and violets. But, beloved, he and I cannot walk together unless we are agreed. If I am unholy and God is holy, I am not going to take that walk with him and neither will you.
Another verse that calls for perfection is found in Hebrews:
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God. (Hebrews 6:1)
There are basic, fundamental principles of our faith, but we are to go beyond those basic, fundamental principles to perfection.
There is a principle that I want to apply now to some of these texts we have been considering from the Bible. That principle is found in the book Christs Object Lessons. It is very simple:
All His biddings are enablings. (Ellen White, Christs Object Lessons, p. 333)
Do you understand what that means? When God bids us to do something, or when God gives us a command, he gives us the power to fulfill that command. How many times may we expect to receive this power? Every single time.
Also in Christs Object Lessons, on page 315, we are told that “God requires perfection of His children.”
That is a high standard! But think about it a minute, friends. Would you really be satisfied with a low standard? Would you be happy if God were going to fill his church with unconverted drunkards and unconverted harlots? Would you be happy if there were no standard of right and wrong and if people could just live any way they wished? Would you really want to be in a church like that? I would not. I want to be in a church that has high standards and high ideals all across the board. I am not afraid of them. I want them, and I think God wants us to want them, for we read:
. . . The Lord requires perfection from His redeemed family. He expects from us the perfection which Christ revealed in His humanity. . . . (Ellen White, Child Guidance, p. 477)
That is a pretty perfect perfection, too. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Here we are told that we are to have the same perfection that Christ had in his humanity, and that perfection was very perfect.
Now you have probably already read the next statement or one very similar to it. It is in Patriarchs & Prophets, and it says:
And as God is perfect in His sphere, so we are to be perfect in ours. (Ellen White, Patriarchs & Prophets, p. 574)
When we read that, we may think Oh, that means that God has a pretty big sphere. Right? God is a powerful, awesome individual, and, therefore, the perfection God expects from himself is far greater than the perfection which he expects from me because my sphere is so small, but let us consider the context of this statement in Patriarchs & Prophets:
Success in this life, success in gaining the future life, depends upon a faithful, conscientious attention to the little things. Perfection is seen in the least, no less than in the greatest, of the works of God. The hand that hung the worlds in space is the hand that wrought with delicate skill the lilies of the field. And as God is perfect in His sphere, so we are to be perfect in ours. (Ibid.)
Perfection of character is involved in all aspects of our lives. For example, take learning to make a bed. A certain amount of character is developed in learning to make a bed well. For example, character is developed in learning to clean the kitchen counter properly and in changing the oil in a car properly and regularly. These functions are all part of my sphere and part of your sphere, too. We do not have to worry about keeping the planet Jupiter in orbit. That is part of God’s sphere. God will keep the planets where they need to be, but we have things in our spheres, friends, and part of our character development comes from doing the little things in our spheres well.
In The Youth Instructor, January 17, 1901, Ellen White tells us:
God’s work is perfect as a whole because it is perfect in every part, however minute. He fashions the tiny spear of grass with as much care as he would exercise in making a world. If we desire to be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect, we must be faithful in doing little things. That which is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.
Reader, if you do not believe this, then look at a blade of grass under a microscope. The more you magnify something God has made and the more closely you examine it, the more beauty and the more perfection you see in it. When you take something that man has made, however, the more closely you look at it, the more imperfection you see.
Below is a photograph of the Pietà, a sculpture of Mary and Jesus by Michelangelo. I have been to the Vatican, and I have viewed this masterpiece at a close proximity, and I tell you that as beautiful as it looks in a photograph, it is much more beautiful in person because the details are so perfect.
Photo: courtesy Stanislav Traykov
I have been in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican and have seen the great frescos that Michelangelo painted on the high ceilings. When asked why he painted the Sistine Chapel with such exactness and detail, when no one would ever see it because the ceiling was so high, Michelangelo answered that he saw it, and we know that God sees the little details also.
When an observer watched the very slight finishing touches Michelangelo made to his work, he remarked trifles, but Michelangelo replied that trifles made perfection. Perfection is no trifle! It is an important subject. We have been told:
The very image of God is to be reproduced in humanity. The honor of God, the honor of Christ, is involved in the perfection of the character of His people. (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 671)
There is something about the honor of God and about the character of God that is vindicated in the perfection of his people, without which God’s honor cannot be substantiated in the universe. It is an awesome thought that you have something to do with bringing honor to God and to his character before the on-looking universe.
We are discussing what it means to have perfection of character, and it is important for us to understand what these terms mean. They are not hard to understand. Perfection is simply the state of being perfect, but that begs the question, What is perfect? Perfect is defined in different ways. Generally we think perfect means being as good as possible or being free from faults. That might be what the dictionary says, but let us look at the Bible and see how the Hebrew and the Greek writers used the words that we today translate as perfect. Let us first consider Genesis 6:9:
These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.
Remember Amos says that you have to agree with someone in order to walk with him. Is God perfect? Our text says that Noah was a just man.
The Hebrew word (tamim) that is translated perfect means to be complete, to be sound, or to be “without blemish.”
Below is a pie chart that shows how tamim is translated throughout the Old Testament. Of the ninety-one times it is used, it is translated without blemish forty-four times. It is also translated several times as perfectly and several times as uprightly, without spot, whole, sound, and complete. These are some of the ways that the translators have tried to translate tamim to give us an idea of the concept that this word carries.
Now there is another very interesting Hebrew word translated perfect, and it is very similar to a Hebrew word that you may know. For instance, if I were to say Shalom, would you know what I mean? I mean peace. The other word translated perfect is the Hebrew word shalem which is almost like shalom. It means to be sound or complete or to be at peace or in perfect harmony. Notice how it is used in the following texts. David, speaking to Solomon, says in 1 Kings 8:61:
Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day. (1 Kings 8:61)
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. (Isaiah 26:3)
In Isaiah the phrase perfect peace is in the Hebrew, Shalom, shalem. It is like having two shaloms together. It means you are at a state of perfection with God so that you are at peace with him. You do not have worries or concerns because you know that you are in harmony with him.
I have stated before that in some languages of the world, like French, Spanish, and German, there is no equivalent to our English word atonement. The word that these languages use in its place means to expiate or to appease, but in English we have the word atonement, and sometimes when I am trying to explain this concept from a biblical standpoint, I talk about harmony and give the example of how two tuning forks or two strings on an instrument vibrate together to make a harmonious sound. Atonement means to be at one, or in harmony, with God. It means to be at peace with him and when we have this peace, we are experiencing what the Bible speaks of as perfection.
We read earlier be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word teleios is translated as perfect. It means to be complete or something that has reached its end or its maturity. Another example in 1 John 4:18:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
Perfect love, mature love, complete love is the concept.
There is another Greek word for perfection. It is katartizo which means the state of completion, . . . The word is common for mending broken things or nets (Matt. 4:21) or men (Gal. 6:1). So it is a long process to get the pupil patched up to the plane of his teacher (Robertsons Word Pictures of the New Testament, Logos version). So the sense of this word is to mature or to be perfected up to the place of our Teacher.
As we consider these verses and the Hebrew and Greek words, we see that the sum meaning of Scripture for perfect means to be free from guilt, to be mature, to be complete, to be sound, and to be at peace and in harmony with God. It means atonement. Keeping the commandments is not a definition of perfection, but it is the result, or the fruit, of the maturing or of the completing process. It is the fruit of something that is happening in our lives and without it, there is no perfection.
Our theme is perfection of character, and character is part of the phrase. Perhaps you know that the word character is not used in the King James version of the Bible, but, of course, the concept is taught, especially in the book of Hebrews. Speaking of Jesus, we read:
Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his [God’s] person, . . . (Hebrews 1:3)
This phrase express image is from the Greek word charakter. It is almost letter for letter our word character. Jesus is the character of Gods person (Gk: hupostasis). Hupostasis is the closest thing to character that we have literally in the Bible. Jesus said, He that hath seen me hath seen the Father (John 14:9). Was Jesus here talking about a physical image? No, he was talking about his character. When we have seen him, we have seen the character of the Father. The character is what we are on the inside. In fact, we have been told:
True character is a quality of the soul, revealing itself in the conduct. (White, Child Guidance, p. 161)
Character is a quality of the soul, a quality of the inner being, but how is it revealed? In our conductin the way we live.
How is this character formed? We are told:
Never forget that thoughts work out actions. Repeated actions form habits, and habits form character. (Ellen White, The Upward Look, p. 89)
That is precisely why, young people, we should make that bed every morning when we get up because it is an action, and that action creates a habit, and that habit starts to form a character. But do you know what, friends? Just as sure as you are not doing the things that you know you should be doing, you are forming habits and that is forming a character too! So all these things play together, but they begin by our having the right thoughts. Thoughts work out actions. Thinking right is, friends, of the utmost importance.
In The Desire of Ages we have been told:
The ideal of Christian character is Christlikeness. As the Son of man was perfect in His life, so His followers are to be perfect in their life. (White, p. 311)
So, does this really matter to us as Seventh-day Adventists? What does the term adventist mean? It means we are looking for the second coming, or the advent of Jesus, right? Let us consider a passage in 2 Peter chapter 3 for which Adventists have the right and unique understanding, compared to most other churches. The passage is found in verses 11 and 12:
Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation [or lifestyle] and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? (2 Peter 3:11, 12)
What does hastening unto the coming of the day of God mean? Does it mean that we can make the day of Christ’s return sooner? That is exactly what it says. In fact, another translation says:
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. (2 Peter 3:11, 12a ESV)
Friends, it behooves us to take this matter of character perfection seriously because we can hasten or we can delay the coming of the Lord. And the very fact that we are alive today is because someone else was delaying the coming of the Lord before we were born. The truth is that the Advent Movement was designed to have people in heaven a long time ago, but we are still here today. How long will time continue? When you consider this question, remember this:
When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. (White, Christs Object Lessons, p. 69)
So, when probation closes in the heavenly sanctuary, friends, it is not an arbitrary decree. It is not a fixed date that God has put on his celestial calendar, and it is going to happen whether we are ready or not. The close of probation, dear reader, is going to be directly linked to the development of the character of God’s people. Remember we said that one of concepts of the process of perfection is a maturing process. When do you pick a good tomato? Do you pick it when it is green and small on the vine? No, it is best when picked ripe. God is looking for a people to become mature. When the character of Christ is fully, perfectly reproduced in his people, probation will close because, friends, those people are sealed and ready. On the other hand, another polarization is developing at the same time. The rest of humanity will be forming wicked characters to the point that they will think they do God service by putting his people to death.
What Perfection of Character Is Not
Before we finish our discussion, we need to consider what is not perfection of character. The first thing that character perfection is not is total health. If you happen to be sick, it does not mean you do not have character perfection. People are born sick, people are born blind, and people are bitten by flies and have reactions, for example. There are all kinds of issues. It does not mean that these are bad people. Do not look down on someone just because he or she does not have good health. It does not mean that they cannot have character perfection, friends, because we are talking about perfection of character, not perfection of body.
Perfection of character does not mean that we have perfect mental health or good intelligence. There are people who have issues with their mental health or who learn more slowly than others. I get behind a lot on some things when I am learning because I can be a slow learner. Maybe you do too sometimes, but that does not mean that we cannot have a perfect character.
Nor is perfection of character always having correct spiritual and non-spiritual judgment. Do I buy car A or car B? If you buy car A and it turns out to be a lemon, you might wrongly think that you have a bad character. Should I have an evangelistic meeting in town A, or should I have an evangelistic meeting in town B? If I go to town B and there are no baptisms, it might have been a bad decision, but it does not indicate my character is flawed. These things do not make up Christian character perfection. We may make mistakes in judgment. We may not understand everything perfectly well, but that is not what perfection of character is.
Perhaps you have heard of something called perfectionism. It is a state of perfection in the flesh to the point where we are no longer capable of sinning. This idea came into Adventism shortly after 1844. Some of the people lost their hold on God, and drifted into fanaticism. Ellen White met these extremists with a plain thus saith the Lord. She rebuked those who taught a state of perfection in the flesh and who could, therefore, no longer sin. Here is a portion of what she said about this:
They held that those who are sanctified cannot sin. And this naturally led to the belief that the affections and desires of the sanctified ones were always right, and never in danger of leading them into sin. In harmony with these sophistries, they were practising the worst sins under the garb of sanctification, and through their deceptive, mesmeric influence were gaining a strange power over some of their associates, who did not see the evil of these apparently beautiful but seductive theories. (Ellen White, Life Sketches, p. 83)
Friends, we have some seductive theories floating around, and many of them look very beautiful. They look great, and they sound sweet, but they are the seductive sophistries of Satan. Continuing with the quotation:
Terrible was their power over the people, for while holding their attention and winning their confidence through a mesmeric influence, they led the innocent and unsuspecting to believe that this influence was the Spirit of God [and we hear that today also]. Therefore those who followed their teachings were deceived into the belief that they and their associates who claimed to be wholly sanctified, could fulfill all the desires of their hearts without sin.
Clearly the deceptions of these false teachers were laid open before me, and I saw the fearful account that stood against them in the book of records, and the terrible guilt that rested upon them for professing complete holiness while their daily acts were offensive in the sight of God. (Ibid., pp. 83, 84)
These are some things which are not perfection of character.
To broaden our view of perfection, we can consult some other sources also. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says:
The primary meaning of the term is completeness and in an absolute sense it may be attributed only to God. In the OT, however, Job is described as a ‘man that was perfect’ (Job 1:1) and in the new testament perfection is frequently enjoined on the Christian. According to Mt. 5:48 the perfection required of man is related to that of God (‘Be ye therefore perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’).
A very well-known theologian stated the following specifically about Arminianism. Let me explain a little bit about Arminianism first. Arminianism is not Arianism. Calvinism teaches the sovereignty of God in which God makes all the choices for you and you do not make any choice of your own, and it is God who destines you to heaven or to hell. Arminianism is the opposite of that. Arminianism, from Jacob Arminius, says that you have a choice and that you may choose or reject salvation. God has made salvation available to each one. Hodges notes:
The perfection which the Arminians teach is attainable, and which, in many cases, they say is actually attained in this life, is declared to be complete conformity to the law; including freedom from sin, and the proper exercise of all right affections and the discharge of all duties. (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, p. 253)
Hodge includes a quotation from John Wesley which I think you will find interesting:
Perfection is the loving God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words, and actions, are governed by love. (Ibid., p. 254)
That is what Wesley said about perfection, and I think it is pretty close.
If everything I do is to be governed by love, then when I leave home soon after an argument with my wife, I am not going to look her in the face and say, “I hope I shall see your wicked face no more.” I would not do that, would I? No, everything must be governed by love, and if it is not, then it is not perfection. God is going to have a group of people at the end who will fully practice and live the love that they preach.
Concerning Jesus, we read in Psalms 45:6, 7:
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.
Jesus loved righteousness, and he hated iniquity. He hated wickedness. If we are to be Christlike then we must learn to love righteousness, to love that which is true, pure, holy, and lovely. We will be able to see the beauty in holiness. There is a beauty of holiness. We need to see the wickedness that we are and the holiness of God.
The Bible speaks about a perfect heart. That is what I need. I need a perfect heart. I do not need a fixed-up heart. That is why David, in his penitential prayer, said: Create in me a clean heart (Psalm 51:10). He did not say fix my old heart. He said create; that is, make a new heart. What he needed was a perfect heart, not a patched-up one. Our sinful hearts are really so bad that God cannot fix them, but he can give us a new one, instead!
Matthew19 tells the story about the person we call the rich, young ruler. He was a ruler who was rich and young. His story is also recorded in Mark 10 and Luke 18, but we find something in Matthew’s account that we do not find in the gospels of Mark and Luke. It is one important word. Matthew notes:
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect [this word is not in the other two gospels], go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. (Matthew 19:16–21)
Jesus is explaining a principle to this young man which, very simply, is that if we want to be perfect, we must be willing to give up everything that we have and love God supremely. We can start right now, this very second, by dedicating our lives totally to him. God may not be asking us to sell everything that we have like the rich, young ruler, but he is asking us to be willing to do so. He is asking us to be willing to give up everything that we have and everything we are for him. This is how we can start on the road to perfection.
In conclusion, I would like to share a beautiful statement with you. I pray you take it to heart.
Of ourselves we are no more capable of living a holy life than was the impotent man capable of walking. There are many who realize their helplessness, and who long for that spiritual life which will bring them into harmony with God; they are vainly striving to obtain it. In despair they cry, O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Rom. 7:24, margin. Let these desponding, struggling ones look up. The Saviour is bending over the purchase of His blood, saying with inexpressible tenderness and pity, Wilt thou be made whole? He bids you arise in health and peace. Do not wait to feel that you are made whole. Believe His word, and it will be fulfilled. Put your will on the side of Christ. Will to serve Him, and in acting upon His word you will receive strength. Whatever may be the evil practice, the master passion which through long indulgence binds both soul and body, Christ is able and longs to deliver. He will impart life to the soul that is dead in trespasses. Eph. 2:1. He will set free the captive that is held by weakness and misfortune and the chains of sin. (White, The Desire of Ages, p. 203)
Can you believe that right now? In 1 Corinthians 15:57, Apostle Paul says, But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We can have the victory right now, friends. Does that mean we are going to be fully mature right now? If I give my life fully to Christ, will I be fully mature right now? Well, I probably will not. You might be, but I probably will not because we need to understand, friends, that this process goes deeper than we might have thought.
Today I can come to Jesus and offer all that I am to him. Lord, this is me; you can have every bit of me, and he says to me, Allen, here is a place in which you have been negligent. I say, Oh Lord, I am sorry. I did not see that, but now I do. Thank you for showing me. Please help me to walk in the right way, and he says, I am going to do that for you, Allen. I am going to do it for you today.
At that moment, in the sphere in which I am living, I am perfect in Christ. This area, however, is not all there is to me. There is a lot more in me of which I am negligent, but because God does not wish to overwhelm me and discourage me, he has not shown it to me yet. He is going to wait and show me something else tomorrow. After I get over this thing today, he is going to come back tomorrow and say, Well, Allen, we had a good little walk yesterday, but I have to show you something else that is happening in your life. There is more? Oh, yes. There is more. God is going to show me something else tomorrow, but somewhere down the line, friends, whenever my work is finished, and his work is finished in me, I will be mature.
We are Adventist people and because of our Arminian theology and background, we cringe at the concept of once saved always saved, do we not? Our Baptist friends call it the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer. I do believe, friends, that if we truly are walking as best we know and are at one with Christ, then he will preserve our life and will not allow us to be destroyed until we become the mature fruit that he wants us to be. Whatever God has chosen for us to be, God will never allow death or anything to take us until we are ready. He is able. It is as M. L. Andreasen quoted Spurgeon in Letters to the Churches: I am immortal till my work is done.
If I could paraphrase Andreasen and Spurgeon just a little bit, I would say, I am immortal, until Gods work is finished in me, and God will do that work, if we will surrender our lives and turn over everything that we have and everything that we are to him. We can be his, and we can walk wholly together with him.
Perfection of Character: Part 2—Systematic Theology
By Allen Stump
Systematic theology may sound like a difficult subject, but we will see that the basics are not difficult to grasp. Before we define it, however, let us review a very familiar story.
In 1 Samuel chapter 17, we have the story of a young shepherd man. He is not a boy, but a young man, and he is going to take on the challenge of the greatest warrior in the world.
And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him. And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance. And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field. (1 Samuel 17:41–44)
Do you think Goliath was afraid of David?
Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. (1 Samuel 17:45, 46)
The Philistine was not afraid of David, but was David afraid of the Philistine? No, he was not!
And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD’S, and he will give you into our hands. (1 Samuel 17:47)
Who should have been afraid? Goliath should have been very afraid.
And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. (1 Samuel 17: 48)
Suppose you were walking down a very dark and dreary road one night and you start to hear certain creepy sounds. Do you need to be afraid? What if you were on that road and you met the devil himself, should you be afraid? Would it scare you? Jesus said, “All power in heaven and earth has been given unto me” (Matthew 28:18). And the Bible says, that “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). The possession of and the right to use power is the authority that Jesus has been given, and he has been given that authority in such a way that nobody and nothing can stop him from using it.
In James 4:7 we have some plain counsel that is more than counsel, for it is a command:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Who would really be afraid, you or the devil, if you were to have an encounter? If you have submitted yourself to God and if you resist the devil, then he is the one who flees. You do not need to flee.
It is interesting that the Greek word translated resist in this text is anthistemi, and it means to set against, i.e., withstand or . . . to resist by actively opposing pressure or power (Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains Louw-Nida). It is more than just a mental assent. It is more than just to look at something. It means that you are actively involved in resisting. Peter tells us:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” (1 Peter 5:8, 9)
This word translated resist is the same word used in James 4:7 (anthistemi), and everywhere this word is used in the New Testament, it is in the active form. It is never used in a passive way. In other words, we do not passively fight the devil. We spiritually kick, fight, and claw against him in the name of God.
Is there something about our message that scares the devil? Is there something about the three angels’ messages that frightens the devil? Something that makes him flee? Yes, there is! Would you like to know what it is? We have been told:
There is nothing that Satan fears so much as that the people of God shall clear the way by removing every hindrance, so that the Lord can pour out his Spirit upon a languishing church and an impenitent congregation. (Ellen White, The Review and Herald, March 22, 1887)
You see, the Lord does not want us to stay as a languishing church, and he does not want us to be an impenitent congregation any more, but he wants to pour out his Spirit.
In Acts 5:32, Peter says:
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost [Spirit], whom God hath given to them that obey him.
If there is something that brings us to the place of obedience, where God can pour out his Spirit, that is something Satan greatly fears.
What is it that can bring God’s people to perfection? What great teaching do we have that is designed to bring about our purification and sanctification?
The subject of the sanctuary and the investigative judgment should be clearly understood by the people of God. (Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 488)
This is more than textbook knowledge; without it we will lose our souls:
All need a knowledge for themselves of the position and work of their great High Priest. Otherwise it will be impossible for them to exercise the faith which is essential at this time or to occupy the position which God designs them to fill. (Ibid.)
This is not a small matter; it is of huge importance. It is vital. That is why the Spirit of Prophecy is so emphatic about it. The sanctuary is fundamental to our message and mission. Why is there so often such a silence upon this subject? And, when there is noise, why does it come in the form of an attack against the sanctuary, rather than something that profits it? Why is there such a ho-hum attitude among Seventh-day Adventists, if the sanctuary truth is so vital to the spiritual health of each church member, especially since 1844?
I would like to state that I think there is a fairly simplistic answerSatan does not want the justifying and sanctifying truths that provide forgiveness and overcoming power which are embodied in the sanctuary truth to be believed and experienced in the lives of believers. He does not want those truths to come to light to you. Continuing in The Great Controversy, we read:
Satan invents unnumbered schemes to occupy our minds, that they may not dwell upon the very work with which we ought to be best acquainted. The archdeceiver hates the great truths that bring to view an atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful mediator. He knows that with him everything depends on his diverting minds from Jesus and His truth. (Ibid.)
Beloved, we are sanctified through truth. The word of God is powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword (John 17:17; Hebrews 4:12). We need the word of God. We need the truth because that is what will sanctify us, and nothing else will. The fables of men will not and cannot do it.
Two aspects are mentioned in the above quotation—an atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful mediator. In their fundamental components, she is talking about justification and sanctification. She is talking about the ability of Christ to forgive us our sins, but more than that for Christ to empower us, so that we do not have to keep living in sin.
About a year and a half ago, I lost my all-time favorite dog, Annie. I am not sure what happened to her, but most likely coyotes found her. Annie was a good dog, and could do a lot of things but she could not fly. The eagle can fly. Let us say the eagle came down to talk with Annie one day and said to her, If you could just fly like me, you would love sailing through the sky. It is easy. Here, just watch. And we might think of Annie replying, Well, yes, it is easy for you because you have wings. You have been made to fly. What is the point of this little story? Many people think we are like Annie and Jesus is like the eagle possessing powers to fly to freedom that the dog never has had or ever will have. They say, Jesus lived a different kind of life than we live. He lived a perfect life. He never sinned. You see, he was like an eagle. He had wings and could fly. Lord, I do not have any wings. You need to understand, reader, that we who are human and he who is divine are not in the same category as the dog and the eagle. The dog can never fly because he will never be an eagle or partake of the nature of an eagle, but Jesus has offered to let us partake of the divine nature because he partook of our human nature.
Having an all-atoning sacrifice and an all-powerful mediator are inseparably linked together because one tells us what Jesus has done for us and the other tells us what Jesus is doing in us.
If Satan can cause confusion on these two central truths of the plan of salvation, he will not care what else we know or do.
He who is being sanctified by the truth will be self-controlled, and will follow in the footsteps of Christ until grace is lost in glory. The righteousness by which we are justified is imputed; the righteousness by which we are sanctified is imparted. The first is our title to heaven, the second is our fitness for heaven. (White, The Review and Herald, June 4, 1895)
In other words, I can come to Jesus just as I am right now, and he will give me a title to heaven because he has a right to do that; however, the fact is, friends, I am not fit to live in heaven yet. Jesus wants to give me a fitness for heaven, also, and he will, if I will surrender my life to him.
You see, there are many things which we do that are good and that are not wrong in themselves, but if we limit ourselves to a certain way of living, that is not enough. Satan is fine with a tithe-paying, Sabbath-keeping, monotheistic church, for just such a people crucified Jesus Christ. It is not enough of itself.
Satan, I believe with all my heart, fears that there will be a generation that will take God at his word and cooperate with him in the eradication of sinful habits. As Nahum 1:9 says, “Affliction shall not rise up the second time.” You cannot force people to give up their sins. Just try to take away someone’s bad habit and see how he or she likes it. God knows that he cannot force his love upon people. Satan fears Revelation 14:12. He fears those who “keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” He fears that those who sincerely desire the “faith of Jesus” will also develop the character of Jesus through faith in God’s abiding power and will then prove the charges of Satan false forever.
We have been told:
In the opening of the great controversy, Satan had declared that the law of God could not be obeyed, that justice was inconsistent with mercy, and that, should the law be broken, it would be impossible for the sinner to be pardoned. (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 761)
Satan fears that men and women who have been chained, who have been selfish, and who have experienced spiritual failures will demonstrate that, indeed, they have found the answer in Jesus. They have found the key to unlock those shackles, and they will demonstrate that God’s way of life is the best and happiest way to live.
Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own. (Ellen White, Christs Object Lessons, p. 69)
I believe this with all my heart, and you should too. Christ wants to reproduce his character in each one of us, and he will do this, if we let him.
Now let us talk about systematic theology. Systematic theology is simply a discipline of Christian theology that formulates an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the Christian faith and beliefs. It takes all the various concepts and forms of belief and truth and puts them together in a coherent way. For instance, suppose I have a set of gears, representing different truths, meshed together. No gear can function alone. Each must interlock in some way with another gear. A basic fundamental truth will act like the drive gear to turn all the other gears in the right direction. If you have the wrong drive gear present, it will turn the other gears in the wrong direction, if it is turning the wrong way. What that fundamental gear does affects everything else.
A very simple example of this is the the doctrine of the state of the dead. If we believe that when we die we somehow continue to live forever, that we somehow have an immortal undying soul, then what is the only conclusion we can logically and honestly come to about the duration of hell? It must be eternal. Do you see how one truth affects another.?
In every science there are two factors: facts and ideas; or, facts and the mind. Science is more than knowledge. Knowledge is the persuasion of what is true on adequate evidence. But the facts of astronomy, chemistry, or history do not constitute the science of those departments of knowledge. Nor does the mere orderly arrangement of facts amount to science. Historical facts arranged in chronological order, are mere annals. The philosophy of history supposes those facts to be understood in their causal relations. In every department the man of science is assumed to understand the laws by which the facts of experience are determined; so that he not only knows the past, but can predict the future. (See Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997)
Now, let me stop there for a moment. Hodges is not talking about prophetic future, but he’s talking about someone who knows certain facts. For example, let us say I were to go into my office, and paint the floor red with an oil based paint. If I understand the principles of paint, I will not return in 15 minutes and expect to walk on that floor. Why? because I know the result of such a future. I can reasonably predict what’s going to happen if I do. I understand how all those gears line up – I understand the chain of events.
Continuing with the quotation:
The astronomer can foretell the relative position of the heavenly bodies for centuries to come. The chemist can tell with certainty what will be the effect of certain chemical combinations. If, therefore, theology be a science, it must include something more than a mere knowledge of facts. It must embrace an exhibition of the internal relation of those facts, one to another, and each to all. It must be able to show that if one be admitted, others cannot be denied. (Ibid.)
This means that once we begin to understand all the gears of theology, we are going to understand how they interrelate to one another, and we are going to see that one is essential to the other.
We may think of a teaching as an isolated belief, but what we are not seeing is that these things connect together. When we begin to change the very fundamental points of our belief, everything else has to change somewhere down the line. It will, no matter what you may think. It is going to happen. I assure you it will. I have seen in my life, and maybe you have in yours, too, that when someone takes a new paradigm of thought for one of his or her basic fundamental teachings, it may not come out today or tomorrow, but somewhere down the line, if that person is logical and follows from cause to effect, he or she is going to have new teachings on many things. When you change fundamental points, you change the playing field for everything that comes after it.
Within systematic theology are three different branches that I want us to consider in this study and in Part 3 of this series. The first is soteriology which comes from the Greek words soteira, the word for salvation, and logia, from logos which means the word and signifies all that is to be known of a subject. Soteriology simply means the science of salvation.
Another field is called Christology, from christos (Christ/messiah) and logia. It is the study or science of Christ, his nature and person.
The third branch that Adventists are very particular about is called eschatology, from eschatos (last) and logia. It is the study or science of last-day events.
I would like to propose to you that these three disciplines are inseparably linked together and that systematic theology proves it. The basic fundamental points we believe about salvation will affect what we believe about Jesus Christ, and all of that is going to affect us as Seventh-day Adventists and what we believe last-day events are going to be like.
One of the most foundational points systematic theologians study is the nature of sin. It does not matter if you study their books or attend classes they teach, whether Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, or Seventh-day Adventist, you will find this common thread in the fabric of their teachings. They do this because they all realize that fundamental to the basic foundation of soteriology is the definition of sin.
We need to understand how to define things. And we need to understand that there is a difference between a definition and an illustration or example. Examples do not define. For instance, if I told you that a Mustang is a car, that would not define what a car is. It simply gives an illustration, or an example, of what a car is. A definition for automobile might be something like this: A road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by an internal combustion or electrical engine, and able to carry a small number of people. That is a basic fundamental definition of an automobile, but if I say that I have a Mustang, a Camaro, a Camry, or an F-150, these are simply examples, or illustrations, of an automobile, but they are not definitions of an automobile.
In 1 John 3:4 the Bible says that:
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
The New King James Version says it this way:
Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness (anomía).
The Greek word translated lawlessness or transgression (as it reads in the KJV) is anomia which comes from the Greek word nomos, the word for law. In Greek, when you put the alpha (what looks like our letter a) before a word, that word takes on a negative meaning; therefore, the word anomia simply means lawlessness. This is the Bible definition of sin.
Now we have a good God who realizes that we do not always see everything so clearly. Consider a passage in Romans 4:15:
Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression.
In other words, if we do not understand a point of God’s law, he does not impute sin to us because if there is no law, there is no way to impute sin to us.
Leviticus 5:3 states it this way:
Or if he touch the uncleanness of man, whatsoever uncleanness it be that a man shall be defiled withal, and it be hid from him; when he knoweth of it, then he shall be guilty.
When it comes to our light, we are guilty, but if there is no law, or if we do not understand it yet, God does not impute it against us. The fact is, friends, that if there is anybody who should understand the Ten Commandments, and that is what John is talking about in 1 John 3:4, it should be Seventh-day Adventists.
In a vision, a heavenly messenger said to Ellen G. White:
It is the essence of sin to allow yourselves to become a contradiction of Gods will. (Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, p. 348).
How is God’s will expressed? It is expressed in his law.
Ellen G. White frequently emphasizes the message of 1 John 3:4 as the only definition of sin. You may not believe that and if you choose to, you will have many who agree with you, but it is dangerous ground to consider ourselves better informed than a prophet.
What is sin? The only definition that is given to you in the word of God, is, Sin is the transgression of the law. (White, The Review and Herald, June 10, 1890)
I would say to you that every other place in the Bible where you read something about sin, something that seems to define sin, is simply a clarification of this basic fundamental definition in 1 John 3:4.
Let me ask you a question. If I were to tell you, Yes, I believe in Ellen White, but I do not agree with a certain thing she wrote because my understanding of the Bible is different, I might not be openly saying that I am smarter than inspiration, but is that not in reality what I am saying? Ellen White also says:
In order to let Jesus into our hearts, we must stop sinning. The only definition for sin that we have in the Bible is that it is the transgression of the law. The law is far-reaching in its claims, and we must bring our hearts into harmony with it. (Ellen White, The Signs of the Times, March 3, 1890)
We understand that the law deals with more than just our actions. It deals with what we think, with the thoughts and intents of the heart. It goes extremely deep.
Sin—Destiny or Choice?
Maybe you have heard of a couple of termsCalvinism and Arminianism. These are very different systems of theology. When these two systems are compared, many differences are found, but when you consider the basics for all the differences, you will find these two systems of theology tend to have only one or two basic, fundamental differences. These fundamental differences, however, branch out, turning other gears in the system, and result in a lot of changes.
Calvinism, as you may know, is named after John Calvin, but the seeds go back to Augustine and others. Arminianism is named after Jacob Arminius, but it goes back to the apostles and Jesus. Calvin and Arminius had some very different thoughts on predestination and free will, but they also had some very different ideas about the nature of sin. In Calvinism sin is more like a disease—it is your very nature—and you are born a sinner.
You might not think you believe in Calvinism, but if you believe that human beings are born sinners, then that is Calvinism. In its early, pioneer days, Adventism never taught Calvinism. We began with solid Arminian roots in our theology. We believed that God gives free will and that people are neither predestined to be saved or to be lost, but the mainline church today, and even many independents, are free-falling into the pit of Calvinism.
I remember a conversation on this topic I had one day with a man who was running an MRI machine. He was a very firm Calvinist. He did not spare any language to explain it to me, though kindly. “Look here, how can you explain it? I was a sinner. I was drinking and doing all kinds of carousing. I was mean; I was rude. And one morning I woke up, and I said, ‘God’s got me.’ That’s it, and I changed,” he said, “because God decided to save me at that very moment.”
Beloved, God has given everyone of us free will. He will not force anyone to be saved or to be lost. When we choose to do right or choose to do wrong, we are putting ourselves in the Lord’s camp or into Satan’s camp.
Separation from God
Let us consider Isaiah 59:2 as John Calvin would have read it: But Adams sin has separated between you and your God, and Adams sin has hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
Is that what your Bible says? No, yet that is basically, fundamentally the way a Calvinist understands this text. Calvinists believe a concept called covenant theology, sometimes called federal theology, which teaches that we all belong to a corpus (body) of humanity. This idea teaches that we are all in Adam and since in Adam all men sin, then when Adam sinned, we all became sinners in him. However, Isaiah 59:2 actually says:
But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
Isaiah does not say that Adam sinned, neither does he say that his sin (in the past) has separated us from God. No, Isaiah says that our own sins have done this.
How are we to understand humanitys separation from God? I propose that we understand it as expressed in the thought below:
Any argument that puts sin first and above human accountability is an argument for original sin, whatever one may call it. (Herbert Douglass, Study Paper, “The Nature of Sin,” p. 2)
In other words, whenever we take human accountability and we put it below sin, then what we are doing is arguing the doctrine of original sin. This was the theology of Augustine.
By sin we have been severed from the life of God. Our souls are palsied. (White, The Desire of Ages, p. 203)
Just as soon as we separate ourselves from God by sin, which is the transgression of his law, Satan takes control of our minds. We want to seek earnestly to draw near to God. (White, The Review and Herald, July 12, 1887)
The prophetess is talking about us separating ourselves from God. Can this separation, then, be something with which we are born? Can it be that mere birth separates us from God, or is it our sin that separates us from God? Does it make sense to you?
We are not to regard God as waiting to punish the sinner for his sin. The sinner brings the punishment upon himself. His own actions start a train of circumstances that bring the sure result. Every act of transgression reacts upon the sinner, works in him a change of character, and makes it more easy for him to transgress again. By choosing to sin, men separate themselves from God, cut themselves off from the channel of blessing, and the sure result is ruin and death. (Ellen White, Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 235)
Sister White plainly states that by our own actions we start, or begin, a train of circumstances that brings a result, and it is a sure result. It is not because of Adam or anyone else.
God does not separate from His people, but His people separate themselves from God by their own course of action. (Ellen White, 1888 Materials, p. 1005; Letter to Uriah Smith dated August 30, 1892)
In other words, we are not separated from God by being born, but by conscious choice. At the same time, we must always remember the uneven playing field that each person lives upon:
Consider the power of heredity, the influence of evil associations and surroundings, the power of wrong habits. Can we wonder that under such influences many become degraded? Can we wonder that they should be slow to respond to efforts for their uplifting?
Often, when won to the gospel, those who appeared coarse and unpromising will be among its most loyal adherents and advocates. They are not altogether corrupt. (Ellen White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 168).
When you witness to sinners, remember that they may become [by the power of their own choices and by our prayers] the hardest working, most zealous workers for the Lord some day. The Holy Spirit can touch and bring them to repentance, if they will not resist. Remember that though they may be debased with much evil, we are told: “They are not altogether corrupt.”
In Ezekiel 18:20 we find a verse that explodes the thinking of Federal Theology that says we are all imputed with Adam’s guilt. The verse says:
The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
God gives mankind a free will, and choices determine our standing with God and our destiny. The Bible teaches that nurture, not nature, is the real issue with sin. It teaches that we are sinners by choice. The voluntary nature of sin is clear throughout the Bible.
Jesus, speaking to the Pharisees, said:
Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. (John 9:41).
Notice that it is “your sin,” not someone else’s sin.
If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. (John 15:22)
Again, the issue is not someone else’s sin, but “their sin.” Why? It is because of either their response to truth or their non-response to truth. Truth is what will determine if we are living righteously or if we are living sinfully:
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (James 4:17).
Being tempted is not sin:
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. (James 1:14, 15).
Now let us consider the following statement from inspiration:
There are thoughts and feelings suggested and aroused by Satan that annoy even the best of men; but if they are not cherished, if they are repulsed as hateful, the soul is not contaminated with guilt, and no other is defiled by their influence. (White, The Review and Herald, March 27, 1888)
Also, let us notice her statements concerning the ninety-first Psalm:
Even the babe in its mothers arms may dwell as under the shadow of the Almighty through the faith of the praying mother. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth. If we will live in communion with God, we too may expect the divine Spirit to mold our little ones, even from their earliest moments. (White, The Desire of Ages, p. 512)
I am so glad for God’s assurance that what he did for Elizabeth, he will do for us.
I would like to propose to you a challenge. With the technology available to us, we have the ability to find every time Ellen White used a particular word or phrase in her writings. My challenge is for you to take the comprehensive writings of Ellen G. White that have been published and do an exhaustive search. See if you can find just one reference to men and women as born sinners, or born transgressors, or any combination of any phrase that suggests that we are born as involuntary sinners. I do not believe you will find a single instance. Why? Because Ellen White did not believe such a concept.
Those who put their trust in Christ are not to be enslaved by any hereditary or cultivated habit or tendency. Instead of being held in bondage to the lower nature, they are to rule every appetite and passion. God has not left us to battle with evil in our own finite strength. Whatever may be our inherited or cultivated tendencies to wrong, we can overcome through the power that He is ready to impart. (White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 175)
We should say amen to that! We all realize that we inherit tendencies to do wrong. We may inherit tendencies to have an evil temper, to be intemperate, or to be an alcoholic; but we have power provided, friends, for everything evil we have inherited, as well as for everything evil we have cultivated on our own.
When I was young I did a lot of bad farming, and I cultivated a lot of evil. I am still dealing with some of that today, but by the enabling grace of Jesus, I am empowered to live above it.
What Are the Implications?
I hope you are following very carefully and thoughtfully, because I do not want you to misunderstand. If sin is a disease or is our nature, then could Jesus come and truly take our nature and still be holy, pure, and undefiled?
For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens. (Hebrews 7:26)
In other words, did Jesus only look like us, but could do things we cannot? If being born as I am makes me a sinner, then Jesus had no part with me, and he had no part with you.
Did Jesus Have a Sinful Nature?
Did Jesus have a sinful nature? Let us notice how inspiration deals with this:
He took upon His sinless nature our sinful nature, that He might know how to succor those that are tempted. (Ellen White, Medical Ministry, p. 181)
Inspiration never declares that Jesus had a sinful nature. Rather, inspiration teaches that Jesus “took upon His sinless nature our sinful nature.”
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:14, 16, 17)
Notice also Romans 8:3, 4:
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Jesus took upon his sinless nature our sinful nature. How could Romans 8:3, 4 and other such texts, such as John 3:14, be true, if Calvinism is correct? Here we see that our view of soteriology—our understanding of sin—affects our view of Christology—the way that we view Jesus Christ.
Now let us take the next step:
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Did Jesus really overcome the world? Did he also really make it possible for us to overcome the world?
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
The beginning of this verse can be a little difficult because there are two negatives. We can restate it in a positive way by saying: We do have an high priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and the reason for that is because he was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. If Jesus does not really know my struggles because he had some advantage over me, if he were born in a different way or born with something that I cannot have access to, then how can he truly understand my struggles? How could he truly have come down to my level?
If you follow Calvinism to its logical conclusions, you will deny the possibility of character perfection, and that is what a lot of theologians have done. People are not expected to perfect their characters in Calvinism. It is not a part of its theology, and when you accept the basic, fundamental points of Calvinism—if you are logical, if you are honest, and if you follow them out—this is where they eventually lead, whether you see it right now or not.
If our view of sin is distorted, it will distort our view of Christ and our view on whether he took our nature or not. Our view on Christ and his nature will then affect if we believe we can overcome as Jesus overcame.
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. (Revelation 3:21).
So the question involves whether Jesus really overcame as we have to overcome. Was he on a level playing field?
Christ has made it possible for every member of the human family to resist temptation. All who would live godly lives may overcome as Christ overcame. (Ellen White, Gods Amazing Grace, p. 111)
Christ, by His own example, made it evident that man may stand in integrity. Men may have a power to resist evila power that neither earth, nor death, nor hell can master; a power that will place them where they may overcome as Christ overcame. Divinity and humanity may be combined in them. (White, Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 409)
In 2 Peter 1:4 we are told that by God’s precious promises we are made “partakers of the divine nature,” and have thereby “escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” It is the only way we can do it because our own humanity by itself, with nothing else and unaided, can do nothing. Jesus said, “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). He meant every syllable of it. We have to be totally dependent upon divine power. The secret of success is to have humanity and divinity combined.
If we poor mortals reach heaven we must overcome as Christ overcame. We must be assimilated to His image; our characters must be spotless. (Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 36)
You will notice that there are three musts in this statement. In English when we say must, we mean that what follows is emphatic. It is not optional. It has to be. There are three things here that “must” be done: (1) we must overcome as Christ overcame, (2) we must assimilate to his image, and (3) we must be spotless.
If sin is a disease or ones nature, then Jesus could not have come as we are and could not have overcome as we overcome. That kind of theology which says that sin is a disease never existed in Adventism until 1957 and the publication of the book Questions on Doctrine (QOD). Questions on Doctrine became the primer for every minister who went to seminary thereafter. It is still the primer for our ministers today.
In 2007, fifty years after QOD was originally published, a conference was held at Andrews University, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the publishing of QOD. I attended and heard the dean of the seminary at the time, Dennis Fortin, very publically and plainly state, without any apologies: We stand behind Questions on Doctrine. This is what our seminary teaches, and this is what we support, and this is what our ministers go out and teach. And he was not just talking about the little sections that we all might agree upon, the sections about Michael or about eternal hell or something like that, he was talking about the issues of soteriology, christology, and eschatology. This is what has happened. We have a new mindset that has come into Adventism in the last fifty plus years because of this theology.
Let us go back just a step further. The conferences in 1955 and 1956 between certain leading Adventist ministers, specifically Roy Allan Anderson, W. E, Reed, LeRoy Froom; and the evangelicals Walter Martin, George Cannon, and Donald Barnhouse that led to the book Questions on Doctrine would have never happened if Adventism had not forsaken a non-trinitarian position. At that time Anderson was the ministerial director of the church. Walter Martin came to his office in Washington, D.C., and Martin said to Anderson: You are trinitarian, are you not? If you are not, everything stops right now, and we do not have anything happening. Anderson showed Martin the 1931 statement of beliefs, proving the church was trinitarian. Martin replied that was good enough for him and that the talks could go forward.
You see how one thing can affect another, and start bringing out problems?
If Jesus had some kind of advantage over us that we do not have access to, then this results in Satan being able to say God did not play fair!
If Christ had a special power which it is not the privilege of man to have, Satan would have made capital of this matter. The work of Christ was to take from the claims of Satan his control of man, and He could do this only in the way that He came—a man, tempted as a man, rendering the obedience of a man. . . .
Bear in mind that Christs overcoming and obedience is that of a true human being. In our conclusions, we make many mistakes because of our erroneous views of the human nature of our Lord. When we give to His human nature a power that it is not possible for man to have in his conflicts with Satan, we destroy the completeness of His humanity. His imputed grace and power He gives to all who receive Him by faith. The obedience of Christ to His Father was the same obedience that is required of man. (Ellen White, Selected Messages, bk. 3, p. 139)
That is not Calvinism. It is good, sound Arminianism.
Did Jesus Have an Advantage?
Jesus revealed no qualities, and exercised no powers, that men may not have through faith in Him. His perfect humanity is that which all His followers may possess, if they will be in subjection to God as He was. (White, The Desire of Ages, p. 644)
There may be worthy debate about what constitutes the divinity of Jesus in the incarnation, but inspiration says that there is nothing in the fight against sin that was available to Jesus which we do not have equal access. Whatever he had, we may have.
God is not necessarily looking for perfect knowledge. He is looking for people who want a perfect heart. He is looking for someone who will love righteousness and hate iniquity. He is looking for people who are willing to be changed. You see, if I do not have the right knowledge today or if I make a mistake and just do not understand what I am doing wrong, the Lord can correct me. He can show me a better way and if I have a heart that loves righteousness, I will want to do the right thing. I will see my error, and I will repent in sackcloth and ashes.
We have seen that there are these two fields of theology Calvinism & Arminianismwith two different beliefs as to how Jesus was to have lived on earth. One says that Jesus was our substitute all the way throughhe lived vicariously for us, he died vicariously for us, and he obeyed vicariously for us. Interestingly, if you examine the Adventist Pioneer Library database and look up the word vicarious, you will see in the hundreds of thousands of pages of materials, it is listed only 113 times, some of which are duplications. If you search the Ellen G. White database, you will find it only used once! This word was practically non-existent among us until the book Questions on Doctrine but after QOD, we see the idea that everything Jesus did and does is vicarious. In other words, friends, salvation is by substitution and only by substitution.
Now we agree and understand that Jesus had to die for us. There is no question about that. He had to accept my sin, and he had to die for me and you. He is my substitute, but, friends, he is more. This is where Arminianism must break with Calvinism because the Arminianist concept says that Jesus is our substitute and Saviourhe died for our sinsand that he set an example for us on how to live. So salvation is not just simply substitution; salvation is substitution and example. It is substitution and even imitation. The Spirit of Prophecy says over and over again that we are to imitate Christ. You may or may not believe me, but you follow it out. The people who teach you that salvation is all substitution will come down to the place where they will say, No, there is nothing about example here. There is nothing that we are to imitate. Salvation has nothing to do with imitation. It will eventually lead to antinomianism and to the putting down of God’s law, and I have seen it develop in the last decade. If you have not seen it, friends, you have not looked because it has become quite blatant in some places.
Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to Gods law, and in this He set an example for every human being. (White, Medical Ministry, p. 181)
If you seek to imitate Christ in your character, the impression upon the people will not be made by you, but by the angels of God that stand right by your side; they will touch the hearts of those to whom you speak. (Ellen White, In Heavenly Places, p. 296)
The more closely the people of God strive to imitate Christ, the more perseveringly will they be pursued by the enemy. But their nearness to Christ strengthens them to resist the efforts of our wily foe to draw them from Christ. (Ellen White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4b, p. 148)
Now, friends, what is the point of having an example? It is to show us how to do some or to give us something to imitate. There would be no sense in Jesus leaving us an example, if we were not to follow in that example or if we were not to imitate his life.
Men and women frame many excuses for their proneness to sin. Sin is represented as a necessity, an evil that cannot be overcome. But sin is not a necessity. Christ lived in this world from infancy to manhood, and during that time He met and resisted all the temptations by which man is beset. He is a perfect pattern of childhood, of youth, of manhood. (Ellen White, The Faith I Live By, p. 219)
To me, friends, or to those who may still have young children, this should be very encouraging. I wish I had had a better grasp on this thirty years ago when my children were younger. It would have helped me. I understood some of these principles, but I just did not understand how they were to play out into our lives and be a practical use to us. The word theology is not a bad word. It simply means the study of God. It is very practical, if we can put it into these kind of considerations.
The two-thousand-year-old controversy over the humanity of Christ is not a mere academic or theoretical discussion. It involves how we are going to live. It involves the kind of lives that we are going to be producing. Getting the humanity of Jesus right has everything to do with the kind of people God waits to seal. In Revelation 7:1–4 and 14:4–5, we read:
And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. (Revelation 7:1–4)
These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. 5 And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God. (Revelation 14:4, 5)
That is a high standard. God interrupts everything going on in this earth to make sure that these people get sealed. Things are ready to explode and implode in this earth, and God says, Not yet! but when the time comes, he will say, You can let loose the winds because my people are sealed now. He is holding everything back now. Many great events are ready to happen, and we wonder when these things are going to explode. It will be soon, and we must be ready.
Understanding our Lords purpose in the heavenly sanctuary will clarify the mission and message of the Adventist Church. We can have forgiveness of sins. We may say, My sins are forgiven, but we can also say, I do not have to continue to live in sin any more.
It is a certain truth that Adventism was raised up to prepare honest truth seekers to be translated and not to die. That is what Adventism is about. That preparation involves a people who will let the Holy Spirit complete Gods work of changing rebels into cheerful followers of Christ, people who are so settled into the truth that they will never say No to God ever again.
In a more personal way, getting the humanity of Jesus right will add more reality to our prayers, for even though we, as men and women and boys and girls, experience the practical struggles of living in an evil, sin-infested world, we know that Jesus experienced every temptation to the lower nature common to us.
Youth’s Corner — Finding God on the Battlefield
(Our story this month continues Chapter 18 of Youthful Witnesses by W. A. Spicer, entitled Under the Iron Regulations of Militarism.)
This is the story of a young man, brought up a Seventh-day Adventist, who had wandered far from the teachings of his childhood, and who sought and found the Lord in a time of peril on the fields of France.
No Christian parent would choose for a son the unspiritual influences one may meet in camp life; but we may find consolation in the fact that the Lords arm is not shortened, and that He is with the dear ones to help and to save even amid the life of camp and field. Providence has ofttimes followed wandering feet over the strangest paths and turned the roughest of roads into a way to God. So it proved in this case. The young man lost a mother’s care in early years, and was brought up by a grandmother, a devoted member of our church. Through Sabbath school and church influences, his young heart felt the conviction of the truth. But as he grew up, the youth passed out into the world and beyond the influence of believing relatives. Years passed, and it seems even the father — who was not a member — knew nothing of the son’s whereabouts until he saw his name in the list of the wounded in the battle of the Somme, and by cable assured himself of his son’s identity. Later, from a hospital in England, the young man wrote to his aunt, one of our members, telling of efforts to communicate with his people early in the war, in which he had enlisted. His efforts failed, as the family had moved and his letters were returned to him. Now he told of the conviction of the truths of his boyhood teaching that came back to him in a time of peril. We quote a few paragraphs from his letter, as follows:
When a person can hear about a dozen of the big shells turning down in their flight through the air, believe me one learns to pray, and does it quick; and all of us, no matter how much we may have strayed, can’t help but remember those early prayers we learned at our mother’s knee (grandmother’s in my case), and those early teachings of Christ and His love for us, His strayed and lost sheep.
He writes of volunteering in a crisis to carry a message across the open country. Only by such a message could relief for the company be called. He wrote:
I think God prompted me to say, “I’ll take it through.” I was just a new man then, and the major looked surprised, but a new hope dawned in his eyes. He jerked out his fountain pen, wrote the message, and said, “Go to it, man, and if you get through, we shall all owe our lives to you.”
I crawled out the back of our little shell-hole trench and started. The bullets began to whiz, and I ran faster. Then the artillery on Bapaume Ridge opened up on me with 18-pounder high explosives and shrapnel. I had always been very self-satisfied and self-confident before that, but I began to realize how really little and insignificant I was. I went into a big shell hole, and lay down, sobbing because I knew I couldn’t go on and couldn’t go back.
Then I began to think, and my lips seemed automatically to frame the words, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and then the Lord’s Prayer followed, and then I turned loose and prayed as I don’t think a man has ever prayed before or since; and when I finished, I had promised God to return to His fold once more if He would show me that He really was what I had been taught, by taking me through safely to the deep dugout occupied by battalion headquarters, for I knew no human power could do it.
When I left the shell hole, I started to run and dodge the same as before, but something seemed to tell me that there was no use running, that I was safe; and I walked the last five hundred yards just to see, and the men say I came walking in as cool as a cucumber, with an artillery barrage playing around me that would have stopped the best infantry battalion on earth. The colonel congratulated me, and said it was the coolest piece of work that he had ever seen done; but I was so busy being glad that there is a God, a just God, a humane God, and that He knew that even I was on this earth, that I didn’t pay much attention to them. . . .
When we left the Somme, we went to a quiet part of the line to rest, and my old blue, despondent, murderous, devil-may- care-I-don’t, homesick spells started to come on again. I had usually deadened these with all the ‘booze ’ I could pour into me, but I had promised I wouldn’t any more, in that shell-hole church of mine, so I couldn’t do it now. A little voice seemed to say, “Pray about it, pray about it,” but I would answer back, “I can’t ask God to stop and untangle my personal affairs for me.” But the little voice said, “Try it, and keep it up.” I did try it once and was satisfied, for I knew then that I should find you some day, but thought it would be after the end of the war, and here it is only a short month or two when papa’s cable came; and I didn’t forget to thank Him, either.
When I first came to the hospital, the pain in my arm was intense. I stood it as long as I could, then I called on Him for help. The doctor operated next day and took out a piece of bone, and I’ve felt practically no pain since. I think He sent me to France in the first place to find Him, and has delighted in showering His gifts on His returned son ever since, and I’m so glad.
This is a testimony that the Lord does not forget the wanderers from the old Sabbath school and church homes, and is ever within call; yes, more than that, is watching and calling to the careless heart to remember and repent and turn to Him.
West Virginia Camp Meeting Report
The West Virginia camp meeting took place in Smyrna valley June 24–28 this year. The Lord blessed with good weather every day except a part of one day, and for that we were very thankful!
The theme of the camp meeting was Perfection of Character. This clearly was not a perfect camp meeting. I am sure that much could have been done differently to improve the time and enhance the experience of those who attended; however, many still insisted it was a very good camp meeting and not a few stated it was the best camp meeting that they had ever attended. That included four octogenarians, with many camp meetings of experience behind them! So while it was not perfect, we know that our Father blessed the camp and blessed the meetings in a special way.
Pastor Allen Stump gave the keynote address on Tuesday night, discussing the basics of what character perfection is and is not. You may read this study in this issue of Old Paths, as well as more from Pastor Stump and from other speakers in the coming issues.
We are pleased to announce that all of the recorded messages have been
posted to our YouTube channel. Please see the 2014 West Virginia Camp Meeting
playlist. The titles are:
Perfection of Character (The Basics)Allen Stump
Perfection of Character (Systematic Theology)Allen Stump
Perfection of Character (The Final Generation)Allen Stump
Unity and Perfection David SimsThoughts from Daniel and Revelation Fred Skucy
First the Blade, Then the EarFred Skucy
The Parable of the Marriage SupperFred Skucy
The Scripture and PerfectionMichael Woodward
The Culmination of Perfection,
the 144,000, and the Glory to Come Morgan Polsky
Do We Have Christs Character of Love
Formed in Us?Michael Brown
The Perfect Character 1Thomas Akens
The Perfect Character 2Thomas Akens
Personal Testimony from MoldovaIrina Railean
Lifting Up Jesus: The Mind and Perfection Elvis Alberto
The Life Is in the BloodElvis Alberto
For Such a Time as ThisMichael Teti
Personal Soul SearchingDennis Robertson
The Sanctuary: Gods Lesson BookAnna Ford
The Sanctuary: The Day of AtonementAnna Ford
DVDs of the recorded meetings are also available upon request. Be sure to include the title and speaker’s name when requesting.
One of the highlights of the camp meeting was having Brother Fred Skucy from South Korea to visit and to share his experiences witnessing in China, in Russia, and in many parts of the world. The messages he brought were full of fire and encouragement.
Classes were held for the youth and Brother Fred Skucys class was so interesting that more adults were in his class than the teenagers he was to instruct.
Pastor Elvis Alberto shared a three-part series on the mind and perfection. This was laced with experiences from his recent trip to South America. Brother Morgan Polsky also shared with Elvis during some of this time. These short talks have all been combined into one message for your convenience. Pastor Alberto also led out in our communion service, with the message entitled The Life Is in the Blood.
Brother Thomas Akens shared a two-part series on the perfect character. The first message was on the Rose of Sharon and the Lilly of the Valley, and the second message was about beholding the Lamb of God. These messages were especially touching.
Pastor David Sims had a very important message on unity and perfection. With a great deal of discussion occurring in the field now on this subject, this message can be a vital help to all who will study it.
Brother Ron Toel shared in the nature center, with the theme What Is This?
Sister Anna Ford (Granny Ann) shared two studies on her favorite subject, the sanctuary.
Brother Michael Teti gave a stirring talk about the need for the medical missionary work and how it plays a part in our perfection of character. It was greatly appreciated by all who heard it.
Several others spoke on different aspects of the theme, but it seemed that each message touched a special cord in someone’s heart.
Brother Malcolm McCrillis and his brother, Terry, teamed up with Todd Brown and with Michael Brown to form a quartet to grace us three times. Other musical selections included Todds daughter, Suwanee. If you were not able to attend camp meeting, you will want to download or to obtain the music DVD and listen to Suwanee sing “The Holy City.” It is really a blessing!
We could fill the paper with many little stories of events and of fellowship, like having Don and Vera for one more year from Wisconsin, but instead of reading about it in Old Paths, why not plan on attending next year and experience firsthand the blessing?
The state animal of West Virginia is the American black bear (Ursus americanus). Not all black bears are black. Some are brown, but they are not brown bears or grizzly bears.
They have quite a range within North America, as seen in the dark blue area of the map.:
Black bears are numerous. There are estimated to be twice as many black bears as all other bears combined!
Black bears vary in size and weight according to age, sex, health, and season. Adult males typically weigh between 126–551 pounds, while females weigh about 2/3 as much (90–375 pounds).
Black bears have better eyesight than humans and can smell up to seven times better than dogs. They can make a score of sounds, ranging from growls and roars to snorts and bellows.
Black bears may be active at any time of the day or night, but they mainly forage by night. Bears living near human habitations tend to be more extensively nocturnal, but as we shall see, there are exceptions. Black bears living near brown bears tend to be active during the day and sleep at night. Perhaps this is to avoid confrontations with their larger cousins.
Black bears live about eighteen years in the wild. It seems that the more rural or unsettled area the bear lives in, the longer it lives, and the more urban the area, the shorter the life span.
Black bears are highly efficient hibernators. They enter their dens in October and November. Before their hibernation, their weight can increase with up to thirty pounds of extra body fat to get them through the months during which they fast. Hibernation in black bears typically lasts three to five months. During hibernation the bears heart rate drops from forty to fifty beats per minute to only eight beats per minute!
Black bears are omnivores (about 85% vegetation) who prefer to feed at dawn and dusk. While the black bear will eat about anything, we have found that free meals are considered to have great appeal. Just recently our associate editor was treated with a mother bear and three cubs outside her house. The pictures below are proof that there are black bears alive and well in West Virginia and that they like corn and bird seed!
As the pictures show, the mother made sure that all three of her cubs were able to make their way through the hole in the fence that she created. Mother bears usually have between two to three cups, but can have as few as one and as many as six. Regardless of the number, however, God has put within the mother bear a love for her cubs,d and she will provide and protect them with her life. The Bible writers note this protective, and even violent, spirit of the mother bear in the following verses:
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs; I will tear open their breast . . . (Hosea 13:8 ESV)
Thou knowest thy father and his men, that they be mighty men, and they be chafed in their minds, as a bear robbed of her whelps in the field. . . (2 Samuel 17:8)
Bears may be vicious at times today, but I am glad that we have the following promise for the earth made new:
And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 11:7) Editors