The Sermon on the Mount is Heaven’s benediction to the world—a voice from the throne of God. (E.G. White, Preface to Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pg. vii)
On that early Sabbath morning, Jesus returned from the Mount of Olives to the Temple to teach the people the way of life. But suddenly his discourse was interrupted. Hastening into the Temple court, a group of prestigious religious leaders pushed their way into the presence of Jesus, dragging with them a wretched, terror-stricken specimen of humanity who they threw at the feet of Jesus, calling out in the presence of the multitude her sinful condition in contrast with their pretended holiness: “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” (John 8:4-5).
You can see the confusion, shame, betrayal, and pain on her face. Here stood the religious leaders whom she had been taught all her life to respect and revere as “holy and righteous,” and yet in that crowd of Pharisees stood the man who had led her into the very sin for which she was now being condemned before Jesus.
Trembling in terror, shame, and humiliation, fearing to lift up her head, the woman hears the accusation which she knows is all too true. But she hears no answer from Jesus. She listens as they press the matter on Christ, and with dread she hears the answer, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7), which seems to declare her death sentence.
But then the woman hears a voice, soft and melodious, and full of love and compassion, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:10-11).
God is Himself the source of all mercy. His name is ‘merciful and gracious.’ Exodus 34:6. He does not treat us according to our desert. He does not ask if we are worthy of His love, but He pours upon us the riches of His love, to make us worthy. He is not vindictive. He seeks not to punish, but to redeem. …It is true that God ‘will by no means clear the guilty’ (Exodus 34:7), but He would take away the guilt. (Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pg. 22)
How does He take guilt away? By taking it upon Himself. “But the Sinless One has taken our place. ‘The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.’ Isaiah 53:6. He has borne the burden of our guilt” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, pg. 328).
“Christ came not confessing his own sins; but guilt was imputed to him as the sinner’s substitute. He came not to repent on his own account; but in behalf of the sinner” (Ellen White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, pg. 59). This is how the Lord can be just and yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. He does by no means clear the guilty, yet He has taken the guilt itself upon Himself. He was “made […] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ declares “at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
“He came to our world and took our sins upon his own divine soul, that we might receive his imputed righteousness. He was condemned for our sins, in which he had no share, that we might be justified by his righteousness, in which we had no share. The world’s Redeemer gave himself for us” (Ellen White, Review and Herald, March 21, 1893, par. 6).
This is what you call the mercy and love of God. When Moses asked to see the glory of God, the Lord passed by and proclaimed His name: “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful…” (Exodus 34:6). The very first attribute of His character is mercy. Again and again throughout Scripture it is declared that He is a God of mercy. “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy” (Micah 7:18).
Christ, the only Sinless One on the earth, declared that He did not condemn this woman. But up until this point she had not confessed her sins. It was after “those words of hope fell upon her ear, ‘Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more,’” that “Her heart was melted, and she cast herself at the feet of Jesus, sobbing out her grateful love, and with bitter tears confessing her sins” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, pg. 462). How was is that He could say, “Neither do I condemn thee?” before she had confessed her sins? How was it that there was no condemnation when she had not yet repented?
‘Then,’ says one, ‘you cannot be accepted unless you repent.’ Well, who leads us to repentance? Who is drawing us? […] Christ is lifted up. ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me’ (John 12:32). Here we look at the cross of Calvary. What has made us look at it? Christ is drawing us […] the man is drawn to the One who uplifts him, and the One who uplifts him draws him to repentance. It is no work of his own; there is nothing that he can do that is of any value at all except to believe.” (Ellen White, Manuscript 5, “Christ and the Law,” sermon given at Rome, New York, June 19, 1889; in 1888 Materials, pg. 344)
She had come to Jesus. For her there was, not condemnation, but the promise, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). The people “want to know that Christ accepts them as soon as they come to Him” (Ibid., pg. 348). It would do us well to more clearly point sinners to Christ as the whole Saviour, the complete Saviour, who can redeem from sin, and who will accept us as soon as we come to Him. There is no prerequisite for coming to Jesus. He says, “Come!” (Matthew 11:28), and “him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
Jesus loves to have us come to Him just as we are, sinful, helpless, dependent. We may come with all our weakness, our folly, our sinfulness, and fall at His feet in penitence. It is His glory to encircle us in the arms of His love and to bind up our wounds, to cleanse us from all impurity. (Ellen White, Steps to Christ, pg. 52)
In the uplifting of this fallen soul, Jesus performed a greater miracle than in healing the most grievous physical disease; He cured the spiritual malady which is unto death everlasting […] In His act of pardoning this woman and encouraging her to live a better life, the character of Jesus shines forth in the beauty of perfect righteousness. While He does not palliate sin, nor lessen the sense of guilt, He seeks not to condemn, but to save. (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, pg. 462)
Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When we have tasted the love of Christ in our own lives we will have love for our fellow mankind struggling in sin. “To the appeal of the erring, the tempted, the wretched victims of want and sin, the Christian does not ask, Are they worthy? but, How can I benefit them? In the most wretched, the most debased, he sees souls whom Christ died to save and for whom God has given to His children the ministry of reconciliation” (Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pg. 22).
The only way we can show mercy and love to a dying world is if we have tasted and seen for ourselves that the Lord is good, if we have looked to the cross of Christ and there seen the value of a soul.
Then Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). David asks the great question: “Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?” to which he gives answer: “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4).
Are we pure in heart? What is our condition? Isaiah says, “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. …the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores” (Isaiah 1:4-6). But, one says, that he was speaking of the Jewish nation. They were the ones who were so full of sin, for they had forsaken God. But is it only of the Jewish nation that it is said has this condition?
The Laodicean condition is applicable to us today. Christ says: “I know thy works […] thou art lukewarm […] Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). We think we are okay when we are completely destitute of anything good, pure, lovely, or righteous. Isaiah declares: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
In Job 14:4, Job asks, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” “How then,” he later questions, “can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4). To this there is but one answer, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And Paul writes, “Now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested […] even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned; […] being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past […] to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:21-28).
But must works come first? No, it is faith first. And how? The cross of Christ is lifted up between heaven and earth. Here comes the Father and the whole train of holy angels; and as they approach that cross, the Father bows to the cross and the sacrifice is accepted. Then comes sinful man, with his burden of sin, to the cross, and he there looks up to Christ on the cross of Calvary, and he rolls his sins at the foot of the cross […] the law of God condemns the sinner. It points out the defects of his character. But you can stand before that law all your lifetime and say, ‘Cleanse me. Fit me for heaven,’ but can it do it? No; there is no power in law to save the transgressor of law in sin. Then what? Christ must appear in that law as our righteousness, and then Christ is lifted up. ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me’ (John 12:32). Here we look at the cross of Calvary […] the man is drawn to the One who uplifts him, and the One who uplifts him draws him to repentance. It is no work of his own; there is nothing that he can do that is of any value at all except to believe. (Ellen White, Manuscript 5, “Christ and the Law,” sermon given at Rome, New York, June 19, 1889; in 1888 Materials, pg. 344)
I ask, How can I present this matter as it is? The Lord Jesus imparts all the powers, all the grace, all the penitence, all the inclination, all the pardon of sins, in presenting His righteousness for man to grasp by living faith—which is also the gift of God. If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man, and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason […] The idea of doing anything to merit the grace of pardon is fallacy from beginning to end. ‘Lord, in my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.’ (Ellen White, Manuscript 36, “Danger of False Ideas on Justification by Faith,” 1890; in 1888 Materials, pg. 816)
This is how we become the pure in heart. It is by the faith of Jesus Christ to take that which we have—all the wretched, filthy, wickedness and vileness of sin—and give us that which He has—His holy, righteous, infinite purity. And to us the promise is given that we “shall see God”—not only in the life to come, but now; now we can see God:
By faith we behold Him here and now. In our daily experience we discern His goodness and compassion in the manifestation of His providence. We recognize Him in the character of His Son […] The pure in heart see God in a new and endearing relation, as their Redeemer; and while they discern the purity and loveliness of His character, they long to reflect His image. They see Him as a Father longing to embrace a repenting son, and their hearts are filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory. (Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pg. 26)