For more than a decade my favorite book by Ellen White was Steps to Christ. I’d read it at least yearly, buying a new copy every time to read it “afresh.” It was an elixir for my soul as I sought to ground myself in God’s love and His plan to save me.
All that changed a few years ago, however, because of two pages in another book of hers that I finally read. The book? Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing. The pages? The first two pages in a section called “Not Judging, but Doing.”*
There, reflecting on Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (KJV), White explains how being insecure in God’s love leads people to judge others. Such people, she writes, “pile up human exactions as a barrier against sin.” They construct a “system of human invention” and create “multitudinous exactions,” becoming “self-centered judges and petty spies,” and judging all “who come short of [their] prescribed human standard.” What’s more, they intrude “upon the province of conscience” and condemn “one another in matters that lay between the soul and God.”
What she describes is essentially what Jews call chumra, or “building a fence around the Torah.” Afraid of going anywhere close to violating the law, and thus forfeiting their status as God’s chosen people, they pile up rule upon rule, believing their security comes from staying as far from disobeying God’s commands as possible. Such a practice inevitably leads to an attitude of judgment toward those who ignore the fence.
In reflecting on this spirit, Ellen White pulls no punches. “Do not set yourself up as a standard,” she thus writes. “Do not make your opinions, your views of duty, your interpretations of Scripture, a criterion for others and in your heart condemn them if they do not come up to your ideal.” We should not “criticize others, conjecturing as to their motives and passing judgment upon them,” she says. After all, we can see only the “outward appearance” and cannot “read the heart.” We should thus leave such concerns to Christ, who alone “knows the secret springs of action, and who deals tenderly and compassionately.”
I could, of course, multiply examples of how we often judge others, trying to compel them to measure up to our “interpretations of Scripture.” But in so doing I’d be guilty of the very thing I’m writing against.
Suffice it to say, however, that no single “faction” of our faith community has the corner market on such a spirit. Looking at others with condescension, and judging them by our standards, is endemic in all of us—liberal and conservative alike—especially including me.
Instead, I wonder what would happen if we all committed ourselves to regularly reading these two pages, genuinely asking the Holy Spirit to show us how we participate in such an attitude, and then asking Christ to grow us in His love and away from such an attitude. I think if we all committed ourselves to such a regular exercise, the world would be drawn into such a beautiful community of love.
* Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), pp. 123, 124.