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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster


D. The Incarnation and Grace

Now that we have presented Ellen White's views on Incarnation and nature, and Incarnation and win, we turn to the aspect of Incarnation and grace. Here we will give consideration to Ellen White's understanding of the work of Christ as it is related to the Incarnation. Many theologians believe that the Person and work of Christ should not be separated but are closely linked;160 hence the reason for our inclusion of this section. I would suggest that there are at least five main aspects of the work of Christ which are emphasized by Ellen White. These are: 1) Christ's substitutionary work of obedience and atonement; 2) Christ's revelation of the character of the Father; 3) Christ's vindication of God's law and government; 4) Christ's example serving as a pattern and model; and 5) Christ's empowerment in the life of the redeemed.

1. Christ as Substitute and Surety

Of all the different aspects of the work of Christ, Ellen White gives greatest prominence to Christ's substitutionary work. Repeatedly she speaks of Christ as 'Substitute and Surety.'161 Ellen White believes that it is the fact that Christ is equal with the Father and one with God which enables Him to be our Substitute and Surety.162 She goes on to point out that because Christ possessed all the attributes of God and also was truly man, He could be our Substitute and Surety. It was His possession of both the divine and human natures which qualified Him for this responsibility. Ellen White puts it very clearly in the following words:

"The reconciliation of man to God could be accomplished only through a mediator who was equal with God, possessed of attributes that would dignify, and declare Him worthy to treat with the Infinite God in man's behalf, and also represent God to a fallen world. Man's substitute and surety must have man's nature, a connection with the human family whom He was to represent, and, as God's ambassador, He must partake of the divine nature, have a connection with the Infinite, in order to manifest God to the world, and be a mediator between God and man."163

Ellen White uses the term 'Substitute and Surety' with primary reference to Christ's atoning death on Calvary on behalf of sinners. She describes the substitutionary nature of this work of Christ when she says of Him: "Guiltless, He bore the punishment of the guilty, innocent, yet offering Himself to bear the penalty of the transgression of the law of God."164Because He was guiltless and innocent His death became substitutionary.

Furthermore, Ellen White sees Christ's life of obedience as of a substitutionary nature. She says that Christ kept the law for us.165 His whole life of obedience and His victory over temptation was of a substitutionary nature. She says that in the wilderness temptation "Christ overcame on the sinner's behalf."166 Thus she pictures Christ in His life on earth and in His atoning death as the sinner's 'Substitute and Surety.'

2. Christ's Revelation of the Character of the Father

An additional aspect of the work of Christ according to Ellen White is that He came to reveal the character of the Father. She states that one of the main reasons for Christ's Incarnation and sojourn in this world was that He might reveal His Father to mankind. Note how she describes this purpose: "It was to give in His own life a revelation of His Father's character, that Christ came in the form of humanity."167

The reason why Jesus Christ could represent the Father and reveal His character, according to Ellen White, was that Jesus was one with God in nature and character and this qualified Him to be the Revelation. Very clearly she enunciates this: "Christ alone was able to represent the Deity. He who had been in the presence of the Father from the beginning, He who was the express image of the invisible God, was alone sufficient to accomplish this work."168 Thus, for Ellen White, Christ must be of the same nature as the Father if He is to truly reveal Him.

Finally, Ellen White indicates that the only way man can know God is through Christ. There is no other way to come to a full knowledge of God. She states that because nature is imperfect we cannot gain a perfect knowledge of God from nature alone.169 Jesus Christ came to earth to declare the Father to mankind.

3. Vindication of God's Law and Government

Another important reason for Christ's work of grace in coming to this world, according to Ellen White, was that He might vindicate God's law and government. Lucifer had challenged the government of God and accused the Ruler of the universe of imposing an arbitrary and harsh law upon His subjects.170 Because of this Christ came to demonstrate through a life of obedience the justice of God's requirements. Ellen White says:
"It was to vindicate the just claims of the law of God, and to establish the supreme authority of its divine Author, that Christ came to this earth."171

Ellen White indicates further, that not only was the life of Christ a vindication of God's authority and love, but this was especially true of His death. In discussing the sacrificial system of the Old Testament she says that the flowing blood pointed forward to a coming Redeemer who would die for the sins of man, "thus fully vindicating His Father's law."172 Ellen White saw in the event of the cross the guarantee that not only was the redemption of man assured, but in addition "the universe was made eternally secure."173 Thus she sees the total life of Christ as a complete vindication of God's character, law of love and government.

4. Pattern and Empowerment

There are also clear indications that Ellen White believed that Christ served as example, pattern and Urbild for man. Linked with this concept of model is also the concept of the empowerment of Christ to assist man in following the model. The first would require the humanity of Christ; the second, His divinity. She states it well when she writes: "As the Son of man, He gave us an example of obedience; as the Son of God, He gives us power to obey."174

Amongst the names which Ellen White gives to Christ are Model, Exemplar and Pattern.175 Thus quite obviously she lends weight to the idea that Christ is to be man's example. It is the privilege and the duty of the Christian to live as Christ lived and to follow His example.176 According to her, Christ is the only perfect example that man may follow.177 Ellen White presents a paradoxical thought in suggesting that we may receive divine power exactly as Christ did, and yet indicates that while we are to follow the pattern we will never equal it.178

In Ellen White there is also the clear concept that Christ came to this world to grant man the power to live the new life and to follow the example of Jesus. Through Christ we may become partakers of the divine nature.179 Hereditary and cultivated tendencies to wrong may be cut away from the character180 and the moral image of God may be restored in man.181 According to Ellen White, Christ proved that man may obey the law of God through His strength.182 She indicates that it is as Christ imparts His righteousness to man that he is enabled to keep the law.183 As man becomes a partaker of the divine nature he grows more and more like the Saviour until he reaches perfection.184

To balance the picture it must be said that Ellen White believed that man's perfection can only be obtained through the merits of Christ, through the incense of Christ's righteousness and through imputation. Note these words:

"But that which God required of Adam in paradise before the fall, He requires in this age of the world from those who would follow Him, - perfect obedience to His law. But righteousness without a blemish can be obtained only through the imputed righteousness of Christ."185

We have thus seen that Ellen White pays much attention to the exemplary function of Christ's work and to His continuing work of grace in providing power for man to live the sanctified life.

In this section on Incarnation and grace we have paid special attention to Ellen White's concept of the work of Christ as it relates to the Incarnation. We have considered her views of His work as 'Substitute and Surety', revealer of the Father, vindicator of God's law and government, and example and empowerment for man. In our analysis of certain problem areas we will return to this aspect of Incarnation and grace and see whether there might be some overriding motif in Ellen White which could tie all these strands together.


160 See G. C. Berkouwer, The Person of Christ, p.109; P. T. Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ, p.6. [back]

161 For a few selected references of her usage of the term, see E. G. White, Review and Herald, July 11, 1882; August 19, 1884; August 21, 1888; September 29, 1891; June 23, 1896; October 2, 1900. [back]

162 Ellen White says: "The price of man's ransom could be paid only by One equal with God, the spotless Son of the infinite Father" ("Laboring in the Spirit of Christ," Review and Herald, October 20, 1896). See also Review and Herald, July 11, 1882; September 15, 1896; July 17, 1900; September 30, 1909. [back]

163 E. G. White, Review and Herald, December 22, 1891 (Cited in Questions on Doctrine, p.692). See also E G White, The Youth's Instructor, June 21, 1900 (Cited in Questions on Doctrine, p.665). Further: "In Him divinity and humanity were combined, and this was what gave efficiency to the sacrifice made on Calvary's cross" (Review and Herald, December 20, 1892); "Deity suffered under the agonies of Calvary" (Review and Herald, April 4, 1899). [back]

164 E. G. White, "Christ our Hope," Review and Herald, December 20, 1892. It is the blood of Christ which provides merit for the sinner (see Review and Herald, January 25, 1881; November 27, 1883; December 11, 1883). [back]

165 Note her words: "By His perfect obedience He has satisfied the claims of the law and my only hope is found in looking to Him as my substitute and surety, who obeyed the law perfectly for me" (The Bible Students' Library Series, April, 1893, cited in Selected Messages, Book I, p.396). [back]

166 E. G. White, "The Temptation of Christ," Review and Herald, August 18, 1874. See also Review and Herald, September 8, 1874, July 11, 1882. [back]

167 E. G. White, Review and Herald, December 7, 1905. Also: "He came to represent the Father" (Review and Herald, October 14, 1890). See also Review and Herald, July 26, 1892; February 8, 1898. [back]

168 E. G. White, Review and Herald, June 25, 1895. See also The Desire of Ages, p.22; Review and Herald, December 31, 1908; The Signs of the Times, June 9, 1898 (Cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, p.1101). [back]

169 Observe her words: "Those who think they can obtain a knowledge of God aside from His Representative, whom the Word declares is "the express image of His person," will need to become fools in their own estimation before they can be wise. It is impossible to gain a perfect knowledge of God from nature alone; for nature itself is imperfect" ("The Revelation of God," Review and Herald, March 17, 1904). See also Review and Herald, July 20, 1897; October 19, 1897. [back]

170 Ellen White states that Lucifer suggested "thoughts of criticism regarding the government of God" in the heavenly courts (Letter 162, 1906, cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 4, p.1143). See also E G White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp.33-43; The Great Controversy, pp.492-504. [back]

171 E. G. White, "Love Toward God and Man," Review and Herald, September 13, 1906. Elsewhere she says that Christ in human flesh would "bear witness to heavenly intelligencies that the law was ordained to life and to ensure the happiness, peace, and eternal good of all who obey" (Ms. 29, 1899, in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p.915). See also Review and Herald, January 23, 1900. [back]

172 E. G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 2, p.86. If Christ fully vindicated the law in His life and death then man could hardly add anything to this complete vindication except by reflecting that vindication to the world. [back]

173 E. G. White, The Desire of Apes, p.764. For Ellen White the law and the government of God were vindicated and secured by Christ's life, death and resurrection. This will be the fruition of Christ's work: "Through Christ's redeeming work the government of God stands justified. The Omnipotent One is made known as the God of love. Satan's charges are refuted, and his character unveiled" (Ibid., p.26). [back]

174 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.24. [back]

175 E. G. White, "Search the Scriptures," Review and Herald, November 28, 1878. [back]

176 Ellen White says we are to 'copy' the perfect pattern (Review and Herald, July 11, 1882); we are to 'imitate' Christ (Review and Herald, February 14, 1893; see also "A Peculiar People," Review and Herald, May 18, 1886); "Christ lived the very life that He requires His followers to live" (Review and Herald, April 13, 1905). [back]

177 Speaking of the law Ellen White says: "The only perfect example of obedience to its precepts, is found in the Son of God" ("Nothing is Hidden," Review and Herald, March 27, 1888); see also "The Life of Christ was a Perfect Pattern" (Review and Herald, August 18, 1874).[back]

178 Note Ellen White's words: "divine power was not given to Him in a different way to what it will be given to us" (Manuscript 21, 1896, in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p.926); "We can never equal the pattern; but we may imitate and resemble it according to our ability" ("Conquer through the Conqueror," Review and Herald, February 5, 1895). [back]

179 E. G. White: Christ "clothed His divinity with humanity, that humanity might take hold of divinity, and become a partaker of the divine nature" (Review and Herald, May 15, 1900); see also "Our Need of the Holy Spirit," Review and Herald, January 3, 1907. [back]

180 See E. G. White, "Christian Perfection," Review and Herald, April 24, 1900. [back]

181 E. G. White, "True Christianity," Review and Herald, March 1, 1898. [back]

182 E. G. White: "Christ kept the law, proving beyond controversy that man also can keep it" ("The Great Standard of Righteousness," Review and Herald, May 7, 1901); see also "An All-Sufficient Saviour," Review and Herald, July 4, 1912. [back]

183 See E. G White, Manuscript 126, 1901 in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, p.1092 .[back]

184 For this thought see E. G. White, "The Righteousness of Christ in the Law" (Review and Herald, April 22, 1902). [back]

185 E. G. White, "Obedience the Fruit of Union with Christ - No. 2," Review and Herald, September 3, 1901. See also "A Holy People," Review and Herald, March 15, 1906; "Made perfect by the merits of the Saviour" ("Courage in the Lord," Review and Herald, May 5, 1910); and note: "There is an inexhaustible fund of perfect obedience accruing from His obedience. In heaven His merits, His self-denial and self-sacrifice, are treasured up as incense to be offered up with the prayers of His people" (Review and Herald, October 30, 1900). [back]

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