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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster


C. The Incarnation and Sin

In this section we wish to concentrate on Ellen White's view of the Incarnation in relation to the question of sin. This will be done by focusing on two aspects of the problem. What did Ellen White teach in regard to Jesus Christ's relationship to the acts and the state of sin? We will describe her views on these two aspects of Christology consecutively.

1. Acts of Sin

For Ellen White sin is essentially rebellion against God which later manifests itself in transgression of His law. She sees the law as broad and deep, encompassing more than outward deeds:

"The law of God, as presented in the Scriptures, is broad in its requirements. Every principle is holy, just and good... it [the law] reaches to the thoughts and feelings;...If the law extended to the outward conduct only, men would not be guilty in their wrong thoughts, desires and designs. But the law requires that the soul itself be pure and the mind holy, that the thoughts and feelings may be in accordance with the standard of love and righteousness. "114

For Ellen White then any departure from God's love and righteousness is sin.

a. Christ's Sinless Life

When it comes to actual sin, whether of an outward or inner character, how did Ellen White view Christ's life? It is very clear that she saw Jesus Christ as sinless in word, thought and deed.115 For her He was free from all selfishness and sin.116 He was innocent and pure117 and never degraded His soul with one foul blot of sin.118 In Christ there was no imperfection, no selfishness, no spot, no stain of evil.119 Ellen White indicates that "had one stain of sin rested upon our Redeemer, His sacrifice would not have secured the salvation of man."120 Christ was the embodiment of purity121 and is spoken of as the "Sinless One."122 Satan was perplexed by the sinless life of Christ. "The unsullied purity of the childhood, youth, and manhood of Christ, which Satan could not taint, annoyed him exceedingly."123

b. The Reality of Temptation

Scripture indicates that Christ was "tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin" (Heb. 4:15, N.I.V.). Were these temptations real in the case of Christ and was there the possibility that Christ could yield to temptation? Ellen White believed in the reality of the temptations which came to Christ:

"It is impossible for man to fully comprehend the strength of Satan's temptations to our Saviour. Every enticement to evil, which men find so difficult to resist, was brought to bear upon the Son of God in as much greater degree as His character was superior to that of fallen man."124

Christ came to redeem the failure of man and He conquered where the first Adam failed. "Christ has passed over every step of the ground where Adam failed, and He has gained the victory in behalf of humanity."125 Notice the emphasis that Christ did not only gain the victory for Himself, but His victory was substitutionary for the whole of humanity.

Ellen White believed that it was possible for Christ to have yielded to temptation and to have sinned. She says: "But our Saviour took humanity, with all of its liabilities. He took the nature of man, with the possibility of yielding to temptation. "126 She states that in the glories of the eternal world we will realize the tremendous sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf and that He "took the risk of failure and eternal loss127 for us.

2. The State of Sin

All will agree that Ellen White clearly taught that Christ committed no actual sin in His human life. When it comes to the state of sin the issues are more complex. Did Ellen White teach that Christ took the human nature of man before or after the fall? Did Christ in His human nature start where all other children start? Does Ellen White maintain that the human race was affected by original sin or not? If the race has been, was Christ also affected in this way or was He exempted? Did Christ have the same human nature that the converted man has, and if so, can all Christians live the unsullied life which Christ lived? To these issues in Ellen White we will now address ourselves.

a. Christ Took Fallen Human Nature

Ellen White states many times that Christ took our nature upon Himself. "He left His riches, His majesty, and His high command, and took upon Himself our nature."128 Here she is clearly speaking about human nature. "He laid off His kingly crown and royal robe, and for our salvation assumed human nature."129 However, Ellen White goes further than this. In describing the humanity which Christ took she says that "He accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin."130

Ellen White in numerous passages states that Christ took upon Himself our fallen nature. In 1874 she wrote: "The King of glory proposed to humble Himself to fallen humanity! He would place His feet in Adam's steps. He would take man's fallen nature and engage to cope with the strong foe who triumphed over Adam."131 In the third volume of Spirit of Prophecy which appeared in 1878 she said of Christ in relation to man that He " assumed their fallen nature."132 In 1896 she was still consistently speaking in this vein when she wrote:

"Christ the spotless Son of God, honored humanity by taking upon Himself fallen human nature."133 In the same year she spoke of Christ connecting our fallen human nature with His divinity:

"Though He had no taint of sin upon His character, yet He condescended to connect our fallen human nature with His divinity. By thus taking humanity, He honored humanity. Having taken our fallen nature, He showed what it might become, by accepting the ample provision He has made for it, and by becoming partaker of the divine nature."134

In her classic, The Desire of Ages, which appeared in 1898, she wrote: " Notwithstanding that the sins of a guilty world were laid upon Christ, notwithstanding the humiliation of taking upon Himself our fallen nature, the voice from heaven declared Him to be the Son of the Eternal."135 Not only does Ellen White speak of Christ taking our fallen nature upon Himself, but she also speaks of taking upon Himself man's sinful nature. She wrote: "Clad in the vestments of humanity, the Son of God came down to the level of those He wished to save. In Him was no guile or sinfulness; He was ever pure and undefiled; yet He took upon Him our sinful nature."136 Ellen White furthers her thought by stating that human nature "degraded and defiled by sin" ;137 came in "the likeness of sinful flesh";138 upon Himself "the offending nature of man";139 its deteriorated condition.140 It is interesting in nature in to note that Ellen White does not say that Christ possessed a sinful nature, but that He "took upon Him our sinful nature."

Thus far we have seen that Ellen White taught that Christ took upon Himself humanity, fallen humanity, our sinful nature, the infirmities of degenerate humanity and our nature in its deteriorated condition. Before addressing ourselves to this particular problem we will view the other side of the subject by observing her strong pronouncements on the sinlessness of Christ in the extreme.

b. Christ's State of Sinlessness

There are strong indications that for Ellen White sin was foreign to Christ not only in word, thought or deed, but to the very depths of His soul. She says repeatedly that Christ was free from the very taint of sin. "And thus He who knew not the taint of sin, pours out His life as a malefactor upon Calvary...Not only did Christ die as our sacrifice, but He lived as our example. In His human nature He stands complete, perfect, spotless."141 Christ was "free from the taint of sin";142 He was "free from every taint of selfishness."143 She is emphatic that Christ throughout His life was free from the taint of sin.144

Other terms which Ellen White employs to indicate Christ's state of sinlessness are the absence of corruption, pollution and defilement. She writes of Christ that "He was unsullied with corruption, a stranger to sin."145 Similar language is used when she says: "Jesus was incorruptible and undefiled..."146 Throughout His life Christ was untainted with corruption.147 Ellen White says clearly that Christ was "born without a taint of sin, but came into the world in like manner as the human family."148 This is a powerful dialectical statement showing the thinking of Ellen White on the birth of Christ. Here she is not speaking of deeds and actions but of state. For Ellen White Christ had no original sin.

Contrasting the leprosy of sin with the pure life of Christ she wrote: "But Jesus, coming to dwell in humanity, receives no pollution."149 If Christ entered the world without corruption, or taint of sin or pollution, does Ellen White teach that all other men came into the world in the same state?

Speaking of Seth, just one step away from Adam, Ellen White says: "Seth was a worthy character, and was to take the place of Abel in right-doing. Yet he was a son of Adam, like sinful Cain, and inherited from the nature of Adam no more natural goodness than did Cain. He was born in sin..."150 And yet with regard to Christ who was born 4,000 years later and "accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity,"151 we have noted that Ellen White says that He was "born without the taint of sin."152 Here is a clear contrast between Seth and Christ. One was born in sin and the Other was born without sin.

Note the great gulf between Christ and the Christian: "Satan could find nothing in the Son of God that would enable him to gain a victory. He had kept His Father's commandments, and there was no sin in Him that Satan could triumph over, no weakness or defect that he could use to his advantage. But we are sinful by nature..."153 "Our hearts are naturally depraved;"154 in comparison with the purity and glory of Christ we are "unworthy and corruptible"155 and "human nature is vile."156

Ellen White believed that it was important for us to see the contrast between Christ and ourselves. "Not to see the marked contrast between Christ and ourselves is not to know ourselves. He who does not abhor himself cannot understand the meaning of redemption."157 Notice how she contrasts the sinful desires of man with the attitude of Christ: "Satan finds in human hearts some point where he can gain a foot-hold; some sinful desire is cherished, by means of which his temptations assert their power. But Christ declared of Himself, 'The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.'"158 We have already observed Ellen White's teaching that Christ received no corruption, defilement or pollution in taking humanity. In this He is different from man, because even the converted child of God retains corruption. "As long as life shall last, there is need of guarding the affections and the passions with a firm purpose. There is inward corruption, there are outward temptations,..."159

Thus we can see that Ellen White makes a clear distinction between Christ and the Christian when it comes to the state of sin. She has stated firmly that in Christ there is no inner corruption, pollution, defilement or taint of sin. We will return to this issue in our analysis of Ellen White's treatment of Incarnation and sin.


114 E. G. White, Review and Herald, April 5, 1898. [back]

115 E. G. White, "A Message to Church Members," Review and Herald, April 26, 1906. "In thought, word, and deed Jesus was sinless."  [back]

116 E. G. White, "Aggressive Work to be Done," Review and Herald, August 2, 1906. [back]

117 E. G. White, "Principle Never to be Sacrificed for Peace," Review and Herald, July 24, 1894. [back]

118 E. G. White, "Students Deciding their Eternal Destiny," Review and Herald, January 23, 1894. [back]

119 E. G. White, "Contemplate Christ's Perfection, not Man's Imperfection," Review and Herald, August 8, 1893. Speaking of Christ being spotless she says He lived a "spotless life from the manger to the cross" (Review and Herald, January 28, 1909); had a "spotless character" (Review and Herald, September 20, 1881); a "spotless righteousness" (Review and Herald, January 9, 1883); a "spotless purity" (Review and Herald, August 28, 1883); a "spotless life" (Review and Herald, January 20, 1885). She speaks of Christ as "the spotless Lamb of God who did no sin" (Review and Herald, April 22, 1884). [back]

120 E. G. White, "Sacrificial Offerings," The Signs of the Times, July 15, 1880. [back]

121 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.243. [back]

122  Ibid., p.111. She says that as the Sinless One He was "a faultless pattern" (Review and Herald, February 14, 1893); and that in His total life He "satisfied the demands of the law" (Review and Herald, November 28, 1912). [back]

123 E. G. White, "Christ's Triumph for Us," The Signs of the Times, April 5, 1883. [back]

124 E. G. White, Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 2, 1877, p.88. See E. G. White, "The Government of God," Review and Herald, March 9, 1886. [back]

125 E. G. White, "We Should Glorify God," Review and Herald, April 30, 1889. [back]

126 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.117. See also Review and Herald, February 18, 1890: "If it were not possible for Him to yield to temptation, He could not be our helper." Cf. The Youth's Instructor, July 20, 1899; October 26, 1899. [back]

127 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp.131,49. See also The Signs of the Times, May 10, 1899. [back]

128 E. G. White, "Christian Recreation," Review and Herald May 25, 1886. See also "Christian Perfection," Review and Herald, April 24, 1900. "Acquaint Now Thyself with Him," Review and Herald, February 15, 1912. See The Desire of Ages, p.25. [back]

129 E. G. White, "An Appeal," Review and Herald, September 26, 1907. In this general sense cf. The Signs of the Times, November 24, 1874; Ms. 21, 1895; Ms. 165, 1899. [back]

130 Note Ellen White's full statement in this connection: "It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man's nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us an example of a sinless life" (The Desire of Ages, p.48). [back]

131 E. G. White, "Redemption No. 1," Review and Herald, February 24, 1874. [back]

132 E. G. White, Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. III, 1878, p.183. Further to the thought of taking fallen nature cf. Review and Herald, December 31, 1872; Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 2, p.39; The Signs of the Times, February 20, 1893; June 9, 1898; April 26, 1905; General Conference Bulletin, April 23, 1901. [back]

133 E. G. White, "The Uplifted Saviour," Review and Herald, September 29, 1896. See also The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 1, p.46; Early Writings, pp.150-153. [back]

134 E. G. White, "Special Instruction Relating to the Review and Herald Office, and the Work in Battle Creek," May 26, 1896, p.13, in Questions on Doctrine, p.657. [back]

135 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.112. Perhaps amplifying the idea of fallen nature, Ellen White speaks of Christ taking the weaknesses and infirmities of degenerate humanity. See The Desire of Ages, p.117; The Signs of the Times, December 3, 1902; Review and Herald, October 13, 1896; January 19, 1905. [back]

136 E. G. White, "The Importance of Obedience," Review and Herald, December 15, 1896. This paragraph is repeated verbatim in an article "The Word of God" in the Review and Herald, August 22, 1907. See also Ellen White, Medical Ministry, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press, 1932, 1963, p.181 [back]

137 See E. G. White, The Youth's Instructor, August 23, 1894; Letter 106, 1896.[ back]

138 See E. G. White, The Youth's Instructor, December 20, 1900. She also speaks of the "nature of Adam, the transgressor" (Ms. 141, 1901). [back]

139 E. G. White, Review and Herald, July 17, 1900. [back]

140 E. G. White, Selected Messages, Book 1, p.253. [back]

141 E. G. White, "Should Christians Dance?," Review and Herald, February 28, 1882. [back]

142 E. G. White, "Humility Before Honor," Review and Herald, November 8, 1887.99. [back]

143 E. G. White, "Obedience the Path to Life," Review and Herald, March 28, 1893. [back]

144 Further references indicating that Christ was free from the "taint of sin." See The Signs of the Times, December 9, 1897; Christ stood before Caiaphas "pure and undefiled, without a taint of sin" (Review and Herald, June 12, 1900); and before the woman caught in adultery Ellen White says of Christ: "Knowing not the taint of sin Himself, He pities the weakness of the erring one" (The Signs of the Times, October 23, 1879). [back]

145 E. G. White, "An Appeal to Ministers," Review and Herald, May 19, 1885. [back]

146 E. G. White, "How to Deal with the Erring," Review and Herald, January 26, 1911. [back]

147 Note Ellen White's strong statement: "In Christ dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily. This is why, although He was tempted in all points like as we are, He stood before the world, from His first entrance into it, untainted by corruption, though surrounded by it" (Manuscript 16, 1890, cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p.907). This is a very interesting thought. Here, instead of merely giving the secret of Christ's overcoming power as faith and trust in His Father, she indicates that the secret somehow lay in the deity of His Person. [back]

148 E. G. White, Letter 97, 1898, in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p.925. [back]

149 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.266. [back]

150 E. G. White, The Signs of the Times, February 20, 1879.[back]

151 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.48. [back]

152 For reference see footnote 148. [back]

153 E. G. White, "God's Willingness to Save," Review and Herald, May 27, 1884; see also Review and Herald, October 21, 1884. [back]

154 E. G. White, "Literary Societies," Review and Herald, January 4, 1881.See also Review and Herald, November 24, 1885.[back]

155 E. G. White, "Sanctification," Review and Herald, February 8, 1881. [back]

156 E. G. White, "The All-Important Lesson," The Signs of the Times, November 15, 1883. [back]

157 E. G. White, "Self-Exaltation," Review and Herald, September 25, 1900. [back]

158 E. G. White, "Humility before Honor", Review and Herald, November 8, 1887.[back]

159 E. G. White, Letter 86, 1891, in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, p.1032. [back]

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