Isn't this inconsistent, contradictory, to the theme of this book, in which the possibility, indeed, the necessity, of miracles has been emphasized?
We may indeed expect miracles. Miracles of faith. But we may not expect miracles of presumption.
But would any who believe themselves to be Christians expect miracles of presumption? It may be surprising to know that many do. These would not recognize their expectations to be such, of course. But they are just that.
There are some Seventh-day Adventists who feel that they will continue sinning day after day, but that, miraculously, when the latter rain falls, the Holy Spirit will come to them almost irresistibly and take over in their lives. They hope to suddenly have self-control of inward promptings and outward acts, and to stop sinning. For years preceding that miraculous event they will have struggled with their sins, their moral flaws. Sometimes they will have wrestled strenuously, sometimes halfheartedly, sometimes hardly at all. But all the time, they will have looked to Jesus to cover them with His robe of righteousness. And they expect that at last in witness of and as a result of that trust, they will be suddenly purged and purified. Their spotted and wrinkled characters will be made spotless and wrinkle-free.
But the truth is, only those who, through Christ's inwrought character, are spotless and wrinkle-free will receive the latter rain when it comes. "Not one of us will ever receive the seal of God while our characters have one spot or stain upon them. It is left with us to remedy the defects in our characters, to cleanse the soul temple of every defilement. Then the latter rain will fall upon us as the early rain fell upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost." - Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 214. (Italics supplied.)
"Many have in a great measure failed to receive the former rain .... They expect that the lack will be supplied by the latter rain. When the richest abundance of grace shall be bestowed, they intend to open their hearts to receive it. They are making a terrible mistake. The work that God has begun in the human heart in giving His light and knowledge must be continually going forward .... Only those who are living up to the light they have will receive greater light. Unless we are daily advancing in the exemplification of the active Christian virtues, we shall not recognize the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the latter rain. It may be falling on hearts all around us, but we shall not discern or receive it." - Testimonies to Ministers, p. 507.
A second situation in which some expect a miracle is at Christ's second coming. It is understood by some that Paul's words referring to that event, "We shall be changed," incorporate the spiritual, as well as the physical. As our sin-deformed, disease-weakened bodies are suddenly and miraculously transformed into gloriously healthy, totally beautiful bodies, so, they feel, our spiritual, moral natures will be just as radically altered.
Great and marvelous miracles will indeed transpire when Jesus returns. But a change in the moral character will not be one of them. The characters of all are irrevocably established at death or at the close of probation.
"If we are translated, we shall be translated just as we are [with respect to character]. We are to be made perfect in this life." -Review and Herald, March 25, 1909.
"When He [Christ] comes He is not to cleanse us of our sins, to remove from us the defects in our characters, or to cure us of the infirmities of our tempers and dispositions. If wrought for us at all, this work will all be accomplished before that time . . . . No work will then be done for them [the unsanctified] to remove their defects and give them holy characters .... This is all to be done in these hours of probation. It is now that this work is to be accomplished for us."- Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 355.
Associated with either of these beliefs may be the concept that change of character rests solely upon Christ's work, that the individual need not assume any responsibility.
Sometimes a matter of emphasis is involved here.
Some people, because of background, education, or temperament, emphasize the part Jesus must play; others, with different experiences, temperaments, and education, stress the believer's part. But that is not the whole story.
Any works that the most sanctified, committed Christian does are totally unacceptable to God, someone insists. All his good deeds are sin-polluted, corrupt, worthy only to be consumed as wood, hay, and stubble in the day of purification. The individual's own efforts at correcting his character are inept, totally a failure. Any change made in the character must be done by Christ alone; any other change is illusory and self-deceptive.
Someone has seen the problem this way: "If Christ saves us only part way, and leaves a gap to be filled up by our own works, then we can never be certain that we are saved."
Of course Christ does not save us only part way; He saves us wholly. However, as previously observed, a vital aspect of that whole salvation is a saving, a separating, from sins within (Matt. 1:21). That calls for cooperative effort on our part, for God never takes sin from anyone without a willing cooperation. "The faith essential for salvation is ... an abiding principle, deriving vital power from Christ. ... This faith in Christ is not merely an impulse, but a power that works by love and purifies the soul." -Review and Herald, May 8, 1913 (see 2 Thess. 1:11; Gal. 5:5, 6).
Moreover, the term "our own works" may be misleading, a sort of red herring drawn across the path. If by our own works are meant works done to win favor with God, we are in full agreement; we cannot be saved in that way. But if we have faith in Christ and then, through the indwelling Spirit, do works that spring from that faith, this is not to be called "our own works." It is prompted by the Spirit. "All that man can do without Christ is polluted with selfishness and sin; but that which is wrought through faith is acceptable to God." -Selected Messages, book 1, p. 364.
Peter walked on water toward Jesus by faith.
There was no other way he could do so. It took action-works-on his part. He could not have gone to the Master by any other means. So the Christian, day by day drawing closer and closer to Jesus in every characteristic, does so by "walking on water," by exercising faith. But it is a faith that works. It is a faith that works in the sphere of the Spirit. The Christian characteristics to be developed are "fruit of the Spirit," and can be produced only by the indwelling Third Person of the Godhead.
Without this an individual is spiritually "dead through ... trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2: 1), and a dead person cannot grow spiritually, he cannot walk on water. Those who "live according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5), grow in and of the Spirit. A spiritually alive person can walk on water, for he lives in the realm of the Spirit, in the atmosphere of faith.
Physically, it is in God that'" "we live and move and have our being" ", (Acts 17:28), moment by moment. But in that momentarily entrusted physical life, we ourselves utilize for living the powers and faculties that are ours by virtue of that life. Similarly, it is so with the spiritual life that is ours because God's Spirit is within us (1 Cor. 3: 16; James 4:5). And in that life the Christian is empowered to perform spiritual works of righteousness (Rom. 8:4). Thus what is done is not performed in human power but in the power of the Spirit; it does not spring from human motives, but from godly motives, God-implanted.
The miracle that takes place in the life of the Christian is the miracle of the maturing grain. Mysteriously, if familiarly, the small seeds send forth their tiny spears of green up through the brown earth, and through the days of summer the plants grow toward maturity in the warming of sun and moistening of rain. Then, in late summer, the grain reaches its maturity in the final rains, and is ready for the sickle.
Suppose that, for some reason, the grain does not respond to the moisture that falls through the growing season; it remains stunted, and the ears do not form. Thus, when the maturing rains come, the grain cannot ripen under its ministry, because it has not developed enough through the growing season for the final rains to be of benefit. When the time of harvest comes the farmer must pronounce it useless for his needs.
So with the Christian who does not daily cooperate with the Spirit. The Spirit sets the quickening seed in the soul. But the person himself must respond, day by day, to the God-given influence and opportunity for growth. And if he fails to do so, then when the time of the final maturing of the grain comes-the latter rain-he will be unready to benefit from it. The rain will be unable to do its work, for it can only mature those ready for maturing.
Then the wailing cry of the unready will be, "'The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved'" (Jer. 8:20).
Don't expect a miracle!