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Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology

by Claude Webster


IV. An Interpretive Analysis of Three Problem Areas in Ellen White's Christology

In this section it is our intention to present an interpretative analysis of Ellen White's views on three problem areas in her Christology. The first will be in the area of Incarnation and nature and will deal with the relationship between the divinity and humanity of Christ. The second area will be that of Incarnation and sin and will seek to interpret Ellen White's apparent tension with regard to Christ and sin. The third area will deal with Incarnation and grace and will seek to present an overriding motif to seek to integrate Ellen White's views on the work of Christ.

A. The Problem of the Relationship Between the Divine and Human Natures in Christ

One of the most complex problems in Christology is the question of the relation of the divinity and humanity of Christ. We have already given evidence of Ellen White's views on the fact that Christ clothed His divinity with humanity and we will now give an interpretive analysis of her position on this relationship to seek greater clarity on her stand in this regard.

Ellen White sensed the complexity of the subject and the need for faith. She wrote: "Christ's mission was not to explain the complexity of His nature, but to give abundant light to those who would receive it by faith."201 She recognizes the wonder of the Incarnation and yet she encourages a reverent study of the theme. 202 In the light of this encouragement we seek for evidence of her understanding of this relationship.

1. The Divine Person of Jesus Christ

She maintains that the divine Son of God did not exchange His divinity for humanity; neither did He go out of Himself, but took humanity into Himself. Note her words:

"Christ had not exchanged His divinity for humanity; but He had clothed His divinity in humanity,..."203 "This was not done by going out of Himself to another, but by taking humanity into Himself."204

By these thoughts we would understand that Ellen White believed that the Person of Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God, the second Person of the Godhead or the Logos. As she put it elsewhere: "In the Person of His only begotten Son, the God of heaven has condescended to stoop to our human nature."205 This would be in harmony with the evidence we have seen that Christ was fully God while on earth during the Incarnation. The humility and condescension of Christ was that He was willing to discard the outward honor, glory and majesty of God to approach sinful man on the level of humanity. One of the attributes of God's omnipotence is that He can adopt humanity unto Himself and that the mighty God can reveal Himself in the weak dimension of fallen man. Thus Christ chose to veil His glory with human flesh but the glory and wisdom and power was always His and He did not cease to be God. 206

Christ voluntarily chose to reveal Himself on the level of man and to take his liabilities and weaknesses upon Himself. And so while inherently possessing all wisdom and knowledge, He chose on the human level to "grow in wisdom and stature" (Luke 2:52). He chose to face temptation like any other man, having to rely on prayer, faith and trust in His Father. He chose not to work miracles on His own behalf in order to walk the path of other men. One of the greatest temptations for Christ was to use His divine power to escape the lot of humanity. T his He could have easily done according to Ellen White:

"He might have helped His human nature to withstand the inroads of disease by pouring from His divine nature vitality and undecaying vigor to the human. But He humbled Himself to man's nature."207

And so Christ "did not employ His divine power to lessen His burdens or to lighten His toil."208

And yet at the same time Ellen White indicates that it is only because of Christ's divinity that His person had saving qualities. It was because of His Godhead that He was the Messiah. His miracles and wonderful works for others were an evidence of His Messiahship. It was because of His divinity that His person had merit and that His atonement was meritorious. No mere man or angel could have had saving virtue.

2. The Antithesis Between Christ's Divinity and Humanity

To illustrate the antithesis in her concept of the nature of Christ we wish to note contrasting pictures given by Ellen White in the childhood of Christ, in His wilderness temptation and in His death.209

Firstly, in connection with the outward appearance of Christ we have already noted that Christ's brothers perceived Him only as an ordinary man. Ellen White wrote: "Their coarse, unappreciative words showed that they had no true perception of His character, and did not discern that the divine blended with the human."210 And yet she could write in the very same year:

"No one, looking upon the childlike countenance, shining with animation, could say that Christ was just like other children. He was God in human flesh. When urged by His companions to do wrong, divinity flashed through humanity, and He refused decidedly. In a moment He distinguished between right and wrong, and placed sin in the light of God's commands, holding up the law as a mirror which reflected light upon wrong."211

In regard to the temptations which Christ met in the wilderness, Ellen White presents a similar antithesis. We have noted her emphasis on Christ facing these temptations as man. She wrote: "It was only by trusting in His Father that He could resist these temptations. He walked by faith as we must walk by faith."212 And yet Ellen White could also write in 1874:

"Christ's humanity alone could never have endured this test, but His divine power combined with humanity gained in behalf of man an infinite victory.213

Regarding the events around Gethsemane and the cross we again note the antithesis. Speaking of Christ's humanity Ellen White says of Gethsemane:

"He must not call His divinity to His aid, but, as a man, He must bear the consequences of man's sin, and the Creator's displeasure toward a disobedient subject.214

In speaking of the cross we see the other side of the dimension of Christ:

"Human nature can endure but a limited amount of test and trial. The finite can only endure the finite measure, and human nature succumbs; but the nature of Christ had a greater capacity for suffering; for the human existed in the divine nature, and created a capacity for suffering to endure that which resulted from the sins of a lost world."215

The above three examples show that because Ellen White maintains both the divinity and the humanity of Christ, such a relationship can only be presented in antithetical terms. We would suggest that if we wish to correctly understand her in this area, we will have to be willing to hold the functioning divinity and the functioning humanity of Christ in equal tension. One can never speak of one without the other if we wish to do her full credit.

In conclusion, we would say that Ellen White held that the person of Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God, equal with the Father, possessing all the attributes of God and yet, at the same time, choosing to reveal Himself as a real man with the limitations of humanity.

B. The Problem of Christ and Sin

We have seen two apparently contradictory lines of thought in Ellen White with relation to Christ and the sin problem in the Incarnation. One line states that Christ took man's fallen, sinful nature after the fall and the other emphasizes the total sinlessness of the human nature of Christ. Some, in seeking to interpret Ellen White, lay stress on the first concept while almost ignoring the second, and teach that Christ and man both possess sinful human natures having the same basic equipment with a difference in performance;216 and others emphasize her statements regarding the sinless human nature of Christ and believe that He not only was free from the acts of sin but also from the state of sin, while all men are both in sin.217 This problem of the interpretation of Ellen White relative to Christ and sin is a major one and has resulted in totally different soteriological trends.218 We wish now to clarify Ellen White's position and to show that both aspects must be kept in mind in presenting a true picture of her Christology.

1. Ellen White states the Case

In an article in the Signs of the Times in 1898 Ellen White presents both aspects of the human nature of Christ in a truly dialectical fashion, thus showing that both aspects must be held in tension. We quote:

"In taking upon Himself man's nature in its fallen condition, Christ did not in the least participate in its sin. He was subject to the infirmities and weaknesses by which man is encompassed, 'that it might be fulfilled which w as spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.? He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and was in all points tempted like as we are. And yet He 'knew no sin.'... We should have no misgivings in regard to the perfect sinlessness of the human nature of Christ."219

Here, in one paragraph, Ellen White combines the thought of the sinless human nature of Christ with the fact that Christ took man's fallen nature upon Himself. She states that Christ was not merely sinless in act but in nature. She defines the fallen nature which Christ took upon Himself as being "subject to the infirmities and weaknesses" which face men. Ellen White makes a distinction between "infirmities and weaknesses" on the one hand and sin on the other. In speaking of Christ and His Incarnation, Ellen White makes the statement: "On all points except sin, divinity was to touch humanity."220 And this is a tremendous exception and would exclude all sin from the humanity of Christ. This same thought is amplified

when Ellen White says: "He was to take His position at the head of humanity by taking the nature but not the sinfulness of man."221 In any attempt to explain the concept of Christ "taking upon Himself man's fallen and sinful nature" we must understand this in the light of Ellen White's view of the inherent sinlessness of Christ's human nature. She speaks of Christ "possessing our nature, though unstained by sin."222

We would, therefore, maintain that when Ellen White says that Christ took upon Himself man's fallen and sinful nature, she means that Christ took upon Himself all the effects of sin without being infected by sin. He stood in the very position and circumstances of fallen man, tasting all the sorrows, weaknesses and liabilities of man. He took a physical nature subject to all the effects of sin except sin itself. He accepted mortality and the coincident infirmities of humanity such as weariness, hunger, thirst, sorrow and subjection to temptation. He stood where sinful man stands in order to save him and "became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh."223 He likewise took upon Himself the sins and the guilt of the whole world. By imputation the sins of the whole world pressed upon His sinless soul.

While Ellen White has Christ taking the fallen nature of man after the fall, she is careful to make it clear that this does not mean that Christ participates in man's corruption, or evil passions or propensities. She wishes to maintain the distinct sinlessness of the human nature of Christ. There is a clear difference between true Christian believers and Christ. Speaking of the prayers, the praise and the penitent confession of true believers ascending to the heavenly sanctuary where Christ ministers, she says: "but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God."224 According to Ellen White Christ took upon Himself sinful human nature and yet He never needed the purification of blood or of a mediator to make His prayers acceptable to the Father. Christ had no inherent corruption, but t rue believers or saints need the constant merits of Christ225 because of the corrupt channels of humanity. It was because Christ possessed a sinless human nature and had no inherent corruption that He did not need a mediator.

Although Christ took upon Himself our fallen nature, He did not possess our evil passions. Ellen White was emphatic: "He is a brother in our infirmities, but not in possessing like passions. As the sinless One, His nature recoiled from evil."226 While Ellen White is clear that Christ did not possess the passions of our fallen natures, she did elsewhere indicate that Christ was fully human and, therefore, had the neutral passions of humanity.227This fact would mean, for Ellen White, that Jesus Christ was a real, fully functioning man. His humanity was not docetic or partial. It was complete. He was a genuine human being who possessed appetite, knew hunger and thirst, experienced the sexual drive, became weary, understood self-worth and self-preservation. However, in clear contrast, Ellen White says He did not possess the passions of our human, fallen natures. His nature recoiled from evil and inherently there was no tendency towards evil. He did not possess corrupt tendencies or passions of inordinate appetite, of perverse sex, of human pride, envy or jealousy. Not for a moment was there in Christ an evil passion.

2. Light from Contemporary Sources

Ellen White's dialectical usage of the concept of Christ taking upon Himself man's fallen nature and yet possessing a sinless human nature is similar to that of certain theologians of her time. Note the words of Abraham Kuyper:

"...this intimate union of the Son of God with the fallen human nature does not imply the least participation of our sin and quilt. In the same epistle in which the apostle sets forth distinctly the fellowship of Jesus with the human flesh and blood, he bears equally clear testimony to the fact of His sinlessness, so that every misunderstanding may be obviated. As by virtue of our conception and birth we are unholy, guilty, and defiled, one with sinners, and therefore burdened with the condemnation of hell, so is the Mediator conceived and born holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, made higher than the heavens. And with equal emphasis the apostle declares that sin did not enter into His temptations, for, although tempted in all things, like as we are, yet He was ever without sin.

Therefore the mystery of the Incarnation lies in the apparent contradiction of Christ's union with our fallen nature, which on the one hand is so intimate as to make Him susceptible to its temptations, while on the other hand He is completely cut off from all fellowship with its sin."228

Kuyper makes it clear that through the ages the Church has confessed that Christ took upon Himself real human nature, not as it was before the fall, but such as it had become by and after the fall.

Important evidence has recently come to hand of Ellen White's selection of Henry Melvill as a source for her writings.229 Henry Melvill (1798-1871) was an Anglican minister who was a teacher, preacher and writer. Melvill's sermons were published in several different volumes, with many editions. The White Estate possesses Ellen White's personal, marked copy of one of the collections, Melvill's Sermons, 3rd edition, New York, 1844. Research at this stage has revealed that Ellen White used Melvill quite heavily. Of the 55 sermons, there were only 18 in which no parallels to Ellen White's writings have been discovered.

There are interesting parallels between Ellen White and Melvill in the field of Christology. Both held to the deity of Christ, to His divinity and humanity and to Christ's sinlessness. On the question of the human nature of Christ, Melvill has a sermon in his collection, entitled, "The Humiliation of the Man Christ Jesus." This sermon was extensively drawn upon in the preparation of Ellen White's article for the Review and Herald of July 5, 1887, which she entitled, "Christ Man's Example."

Within this sermon Melvill pauses to consider the question of Christ's humanity. While denying that Christ was included in the covenant violated by Adam at the fall? and therefore not technically "fallen" -Melvill is quick to define what he means by "fallen" and "unfallen" humanity. For Melvill there are two primary consequences of the fall: (1) "innocent infirmities," and (2) "sinful propensities." "From both was Adam's humanity free before, and with both was it endowed after, transgression" (Melvill's Sermons, p.47). By "innocent infirmities" Melvill understands such characteristics as hunger, pain, weakness, sorrow and death. "There are consequences on guilt which are perfectly guiltless. Sin introduced pain, but pain itself is not sin" (Ibid.). By "sinful propensities" Melvill refers to the proneness or tendency to sin.

In his summary of the discussion, Melvill makes it clear that, in his view, Adam had neither "innocent infirmities" nor "sinful propensities;" we are born with both, and Christ took the first but not the second.230 Tim Poirier of the White Estate has suggested that while Ellen White did not quote the words of the previous footnote the sentiments of Melvill could very well reflect Ellen White's own conviction.231 It is suggested that the apparent conflict found in Ellen White's statements on the humanity of Christ can be resolved in the context of Melvill's discussion. Could it be that when Ellen White states that Christ took upon Himself man's "fallen and sinful nature" she is thinking of those "innocent infirmities" that brought Christ to man's level, and that when she speaks of the sinlessness of Christ's humanity she is thinking of the fact that Christ did not possess "sinful propensities?" We would concur that this concept of Melvill throws some interesting light on Ellen White's total understanding of the problem of Christ and sin.

3. The Baker Letter

In an important letter written by Ellen White in Australia in 1895 to a Seventh-day Adventist minister working in Australia by the name of W L H Baker, she devotes five paragraphs to the subject of the humanity of Christ.232 There must have been some emphasis in Baker's Christology which caused concern and called forth the warning counsel in this letter. The five paragraphs reveal important insights regarding the question of the humanity of Christ and sin. Special weight must be given to this letter as Ellen White is specifically addressing herself to the problem of the humanity of Christ and sin. These five paragraphs are explicit and direct and are not incidental. paragraph is as follows:

"Be careful, exceedingly careful, as to how you dwell upon the human nature of Christ. Do not set Him before the people as a man with the propensities of sin. He is the second Adam. The first Adam was created a pure, sinless being, without a taint of sin upon him; he was in the image of God. He could fall, and he did fall through transgressing. Because of sin his posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience. But Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God. He took upon Himself human nature, and was tempted in all points as human nature is tempted. He could have sinned; He could have fallen, but not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity. He was assailed with temptations in the wilderness, as Adam was assailed with temptations in Eden."233

In the above paragraph our attention is drawn to Christ, Adam and the posterity of Adam. Ellen White warns that Christ should not be set before the people as a man "with the propensities of sin" and that not for "one moment was there in Him an evil propensity." Adam's descendants are contrasted with Christ in that they are "born with inherent propensities of disobedience." It is quite clear that she is here speaking not of cultivated propensities but of inherent propensities. Adam is spoken of as "without a taint of sin upon him."

In the third paragraph of the letter Ellen White warns Baker, "Never, in any way, leave the slightest impression upon human minds that a taint of, or inclination to, corruption rested upon Christ, or that He in any way yielded to corruption."234 Quite clearly it must have been that Baker was giving a wrong impression regarding Christ. If he was presenting the fact that Christ took upon Himself man's fallen nature and that He came "in the likeness of sinful flesh," it could have been that he was overstating his case and implying that Christ possessed inherent propensities to evil like all other men. Ellen White goes on in the third paragraph to say:

"That which is revealed, is for us and for our children, but let every human being be warned from the ground of making Christ altogether human, such an one as ourselves; for it cannot be."235

In the clearest language Ellen White shows the difference between ourselves and Christ. We are "born with inherent propensities of disobedience," whereas with Christ "not for one moment was there in Him an evil propensity." Christ is the second Adam and in regard to sin He must be compared with the first Adam. Ellen White says: "He [Christ] was assailed with temptations in the wilderness, as Adam was assailed with temptations in Eden." And does Ellen White give any indication how Adam was assailed with temptation in Eden? In a letter written in 1899 she writes:

"In what consisted the strength of the assault made upon Adam, which caused his fall? It was not indwelling sin; for God made Adam after His own character, pure and upright. There were no corrupt principles in the first Adam, no corrupt propensities or tendencies to evil. Adam was as faultless as the angels before God's throne.236

In view of the above we would state that Ellen White held that Christ was assailed with temptations in the wilderness on the same basis as Adam in Eden. It was not on the basis of inherent evil propensities or tendencies to evil. Like the first Adam Christ had no inner corruption. Adam was sinless and was tempted and fell. The second Adam was sinless and was tempted but did not fall.

We conclude this section by stating that Ellen White believed that Christ took upon Himself the nature of man after the fall with all its weaknesses and liabilities but not with its sin. He stood where every sinner stands in his weakened physical, mental and moral nature, but unlike all sinners, possessing a pure, sinless human nature without the propensities or tendencies to evil.

C. The Problem of Ellen White's Concept of the Work of Christ

We have observed that Ellen White emphasizes five different concepts of the atonement with reference to the work of Christ relative to the plan of salvation. These are substitution, revelation or revealing the character of God, vindication of God's law and government, example or model and empowering. This has led to at least three schools of interpretation within Adventism. One is the "substitutionary atonement" school with a strong emphasis on justification by faith; the other is the "moral influence" interpretation with a call to trust the loving God revealed particularly in the life of Jesus Christ; the third is the "vindication-demonstration" school which sees Christ's fulfillment of the law as central and man's ability to keep the law by God's grace and the special final generation demonstration of sinless living as the complete vindication of God.

There is often a clash between interpreters of Ellen White, because some tend to retain only one trend in her writings. Or at least one line of interpretation is chosen as paramount and is made the dominant theory of the atonement. Now there are two basic options open for the researcher. Either one must accept that Ellen White's concepts with regard to the work of Christ are fragmentary and contradictory, or there is some overriding motif in Ellen White which provides a unifying synthesis of the various trends. We suggest the following procedure to test which of these options is correct. If one could find within a specific article or chapter all views brought into harmony, the option of contradiction would be shown to lack evidence. Such an explicit discussion of the topic in which all the trends were harmonized within a more comprehensive framework would favor the option of an overriding motif providing a higher synthesis.237

We must emphasize that the issue under discussion here is not the evaluation of Ellen White's view or of its validity but rather an attempt to analyze and understand her position. We now propose to take the first chapter of The Desire of Ages as a test case for the following reasons: Firstly, it deals explicitly with an overall view of Christ's work. Secondly, it is a self-contained unit, written by Ellen White expressly for the purpose of introducing the book and is not a compilation of statements made for other purposes. Thirdly, as an opening chapter its express purpose is to outline the overall themes of the person and work of Christ. This is evidently part of Ellen White's explicit Christology and must be given more weight than an incidental reference. Fourthly, it presents in one unified section her advanced thought on the subject appearing in print in 1898.

We proceed now with our analysis of the first chapter of The Desire of Ages. We notice the title and find that it gives the theme clearly, "God with us." Firstly, we observe that this is the covenant formula of the Old Testament, namely, "I will be your God and you will be my people." This is also seen in God's instruction to Moses, "Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them" (Ex. 25:8). Secondly, "God with us" is revealed in the name "Immanuel" given to Jesus of Nazareth. Thirdly, it is the phrase John chooses to indicate the consummation of all history (Rev. 21:3,7). The opening words of the chapter reinforce that this is indeed the topic - "His name shall be called Immanuel... God with us."238 Ellen White then focuses on the "revelation" theme. She states that "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ,"239 for He is God. Note that Jesus is not just a representative of God - come to tell us in words and actions what God is like, for "He came to reveal the light of God's lo240ve, - to be "God with us." It was in the "happening" of the Incarnation that the extent of God's true love was revealed for the first time. Therefore, the person of Jesus is the revelation.

Immediately Ellen White widens the scope. "Jesus was to reveal God both to men and to angels...But not alone for His earthborn children was this revelation given. Our little world is the lesson-book of the universe.241 This forces us to see God's plan and His grace in cosmic terms and not in terms of mere reaction to a sin problem. The plan of God is issue of sin alone. Because God is sovereign, one can conclude that God's plan from eternity had this wider dimension. This is not to say that we are 'guinea pigs' or a 'test-tube-world,' but that God had always planned something special for this world that "angels would desire to look into and study throughout endless ages."242

Next Ellen White shows that the character of God and His law is "self-renouncing love." The issue here has nothing to do essentially whether man can keep the law or not. We note that this revelation of the law of God is in two phases. Firstly, the Incarnation itself and secondly, in the cross of Calvary.

Ellen White then moves on to consider the sin problem. She indicates God's purpose "to bring the lost into a fellowship with Christ which is even closer than they themselves [angels] can know."243 Sin originated in Lucifer's self-seeking. We have seen that this arose over the plan to create this world and man through Christ and was a rebellion against Christ by Lucifer.244 Sin must therefore be seen Christologically. The answer to this challenge was in the self-sacrifice of the person and the death of Christ. "This work only one Being in all the universe could do. Only He who knew the height and depth of the love of God could make it known."245

Thus far we have noticed Ellen White's emphasis on the importance of the Incarnation. This theme of "God with us" is foundational to her thinking. In this act of "self-renouncing love" the character of God would be revealed. Even the problem of sin would be overcome by this principle of love.

We proceed now as Ellen White again shows the eternal plan of God. She is not dealing simply with God's reaction to the ontological priority of the reality of sin. She writes: "The plan for our redemption was not an after-thought, a plan formulated after the fall of Adam."246 Secondly, "It was a revelation of 'the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal.'"247 Thirdly, "It was an unfolding of the principles that from eternal ages have been the foundation of God's throne."248 Fourthly, Ellen White observes:

"From the beginning, God and Christ knew of the apostasy of Satan, and of the fall of man through the deceptive power of the apostate. God did not ordain that sin should exist, but He foresaw its existence, and made provision to meet the terrible emergency.249

The clear implication is that we are dealing here with the eternal purpose of God250 whereby He planned to reveal His love to the whole universe by taking a creature and bringing him into a closer union with Himself than even the angels might enjoy.

But God is faithful to His covenant. Note the following key sentence. "So great was His love for the world, that He covenanted to give His only begotten Son, 'that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'"251 In the context of the paragraph this took place from eternity. Elsewhere Ellen White makes this clear when she says: "From everlasting He was the Mediator of the covenant,..."252 God is faithful to His covenant. It was not a necessary, but a free act of grace. Note Ellen White says: "This was a voluntary sacrifice...He chose to give back the scepter into the Father's hands, and to step down from the throne of the universe,..."253

In the next paragraph Ellen White again underscores the theme of her whole concept of the work of Christ. She writes: "Lo, I come....In these words is announced the fulfillment of the purpose that had been hidden from eternal ages. Christ was about to visit our world, and to become incarnate."254 The work of Christ in its main feature was to be "God with us." Everything else depends upon this grand accomplishment. "This great purpose had been shadowed forth in types and symbols."255 It was seen in the burning bush on the mount, in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of cloud by night and in the whole sanctuary symbol. These symbols met their fulfillment in the Incarnation:

"So Christ set up His tabernacle in the midst of our human encampment. He pitched His tent by the side of the tents of men, that He might dwell among us, and make us familiar with His divine character and life."256

Ellen White indicates clearly that all doctrines are related to this central truth. She says: "For in every doctrine of grace, every promise of joy, every deed of love, every divine attraction presented in the Saviour's life on earth, we see "God with us."257 In illustrating this claim she surveys the trends of thought mentioned previously regarding the work of Christ to show how they reveal "God with us." In an ascending order of importance she presents the evidence. She begins with Satan's attack on the law of God and Christ's purpose to vindicate its claims and God's government. "Satan represents God's law of love as a law of selfishness... Jesus was to unveil this deception."258 She then moves on to the example of Christ and to His moral influence upon us and also to Christ's empowering ability in our lives. Satan calls the law selfishness, thereby driving us away from God as a tyrant, while Jesus shows the law to be self-sacrifice, thus drawing us to God and empowering us to obey. But His two natures provide the key: "As the Son of man, He gave us an example of obedience; as the Son of God, He gives us power to obey."259

Now Ellen White goes even further in her picture of the work of Christ. She says:

"But He stepped still lower in the path of humiliation. 'Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.'...'He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.'

"Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserved. 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. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. 'With His stripes we are healed.'"260

But the glory of the substitutionary atonement is only possible because of the Incarnation. As man He fulfilled the covenant as God's faithful covenant partner. As man He died in our place. As man He ascended to heaven as our representative.

We have thus seen Ellen White's graphic view of God's eternal plan and covenant as it centers in Christ. This plan reaches back into the eternal ages and points particularly to the Incarnation and atoning death. The shadows of the Old Testament as well as the doctrines of grace reveal the plan and purpose of God. The Incarnation is seen to be the pivotal fulcrum for the total work of Christ.

In the next paragraph Ellen White goes on to say: "By  His life and His death, Christ achieved even more than recovery from the ruin wrought through sin."261  She is now back to the overarching theme:

"It was Satan's purpose to bring about an eternal separation between God and man; but in Christ we become more closely united to God than if we had never fallen. In taking our nature, the Saviour has bound Himself to humanity by a tie that is never to be broken...To assure us of His immutable counsel of peace, God gave His only begotten Son to become one of the human family, forever to retain His human nature... God has adopted human nature in the Person of His Son, and has carried the same into the highest heaven...Heaven is enshrined in humanity, and humanity is enfolded in the bosom of Infinite Love. "262

Here we note the overarching theme of the covenant - "God with us." Here is an eternal fellowship between God and man made possible by the self-renouncing love of Christ who took upon Himself human nature.

The chapter closes with a picture of not only a restored world but of an exalted one. "In the place where sin abounded, God's grace much more abounds. The earth itself, the very field that Satan claims as his, is to be not only ransomed but exalted. Our little world, under the curse of sin, the one dark blot in His glorious creation, will be honored above all other worlds in the universe of God."263 And then Ellen White quotes Revelation 21 and presents the covenant promise that God will dwell with His people and be their God. She ends the chapter with the words in bold letters, "Immanuel, 'God with us.'"

In conclusion we would say that Ellen White sees as the fundamental central premise of all theology and of the Person and work of Christ the covenant between God and Christ in eternity.264 All other themes depend on this one for their place and importance. Christ's divinity is the presupposition for all else. Only one who was God could fulfil the covenant and redeem man. Christ's humanity was not a necessity but was sheer grace. It was God's eternal free decision. It was not necessary to prove anything by means of Christ's humanity such as the possibility of keeping the law or that God is love. If such things are proved, they are incidental. Furthermore, Christ's humanity is not a means to an end - but the goal itself. Essentially, the gospel or the everlasting covenant is not only something Christ came to teach us, or to show us or to demonstrate to us or even to achieve for us. He Himself in His Person is that everlasting gospel and the eternal covenant.


201 E. G. White, Review and Herald, April 23, 1895. [back]

202 We observe Ellen White's caution: "When we approach this subject, we would do well to heed the words spoken by Christ to Moses at the burning bush, 'Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.' We should come to this study with the humility of a learner, with a contrite heart. And the study of the Incarnation of Christ is a fruitful field, which will repay the searcher who digs deep for hidden truth" (The Youth's Instructor, October 13, 1898, cited in Questions on Doctrine, p.647). [back]

203 E. G. White, Review and Herald, October 29, 1895. [back]

204 E. G. White, Review and Herald, April 5, 1906 [back].

205 E. G White, "The Revelation of God," Review and Herald, March 17, 1904. [back]

206 Note Ellen White's significant words: "But although Christ's divine glory was for a time veiled and eclipsed by His assuming humanity, yet He did not cease to be God when He became man. The human did not take the place of the divine, nor the divine of the human. This is the mystery of godliness. The two expressions 'human' and 'divine' were, in Christ, closely and inseparably one, and yet they had a distinct individuality. Though Christ humbled Himself to become man, the Godhead was still His own" (The Signs of the Times, May 10, 1899, cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, p.1129). By her statement that the 'human' and 'divine' were in Christ closely and inseparably one we would understand that the Person of Christ showed a unity and yet He was at the same time really man and fully God. [back]

207 E. G. White, "Christ Man's Example," Review and Herald, July 5, 1887. [back]

208 E. G. White, The Signs of the Times, October 9, 1884. See also the reference in footnote 84 of this chapter. [back]

209 Because of the complexity of the union between the divine and the human we are often confronted with antithesis in the field of Christology. We wish to illustrate this in the presentation of Ellen White. A decision has to be made whether we are here facing true antithesis or pure contradiction. [back]

210 E. G White, The Desire of Ages, p.326. [back]

211 E. G. White, The Youth's Instructor, September 8, 1898 (Cited in Questions on Doctrine, p.649). See also Review and Herald, March 3, 1874, where she speaks of the "unsullied purity of the childhood, youth, and manhood of Christ which Satan could not taint."  [back]

212 E. G. White, The Review and Herald, March 9, 1886. See also Ms. 21, 1895; The Youth's Instructor, April 25, 1901. [back]

213 E. G. White, The Review and Herald, October 13, 1874. Note: "Christ could have done nothing during His earthly ministry in saving fallen man if the divine had not been blended with the human" (Letter 5, 1889, in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p.904). Observe these words: "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" (Ms. 16, 1890, in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p.907). See also Review and Herald, January 28, 1909. [back]

214 E. G. White, The Review and Herald, October 9, 1888. [back]

215 E. G. White, Manuscript 35, 1895, (cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, p.1103). She says: "But Christ is equal with God, infinite and omnipotent. He could pay the ransom for man's freedom" (The Youth's Instructor, June 21, 1900). Also: "The whole series of sorrows which compassed humanity Christ bore upon His divine soul (Ms. 12, 1900, in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, p.1103). Further: "Deity suffered and sank under the agonies of Calvary" (Ms. 153, 1898, in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p.907). Ellen White writes: "Justice demanded the sufferings of man; but Christ rendered the sufferings of a God" (Letter 12, 1892, in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p.913). [back]

216 Some examples of this school of thought are M L Andreasen (see footnote 218); Robert J. Wieland (see The 1888 Message, An Introduction, Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1980, pp.41-51); Kenneth H Wood (see "F.Y.I.-4," Review and Herald, November 18, 1976; "Jesus - the God-man," Review and Herald, May 5, 1977 "Divinity and Humanity to be Combined in Us," Review and Herald, December 29, 1977; Herbert E. Douglass (see Chapter V of this dissertation for a full discussion); Thomas a Davis (see Was Jesus Really Like Us? 1979). [back]

217 Selected representatives of this school of thought are Leroy E Froom (see Movement of Destiny, revised edition, 1978, pp.495-499); Roy A. Anderson (see Faith That Conquers, Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1967, pp.59-75); Edward Heppenstall (see Chapter IV of this dissertation); Desmond Ford (see "The Relationship Between the Incarnation and Righteousness by Faith," Documents from the Palmdale Conference on Righteousness by Faith, pp.25-41); J. Robert Spangler (see "Ask the Editor," Ministry, April, 1978, pp.21-23). [back]

218 Questions on Doctrine appeared in 1957 and chapter 2 attempted to give answers to questions about Christ. A careful reading of the section on the Incarnation (pp.50-65) will reveal that the authors (mainly L. E. Froom, W. Read and R. A. Anderson) leaned heavily on Ellen White in an attempt to give the Seventh-day Adventist position. They endeavored to give emphasis to both streams of thought in Ellen White. There are those who feel that Questions on Doctrine emphasized Ellen White's statements on the sinless human nature of Christ to the neglect of her teachings on His having "taken our sinful natures upon Himself." M L Andreasen issued his Letters to the Churches in which he took sharp exception to the sentiments of Questions on Doctrine relative to the human nature of Christ. In his first chapter he disagrees with the statement on page 383 of Questions on Doctrine where it says that Christ was "exempt from the inherited passions and pollutions that corrupt the natural descendants of Adam." He quotes many statements from Ellen White to indicate what he feels is her opposition to such sentiments. Many in the church would be happy with Andreasen's evaluation of the Ellen White evidence. On the other hand, L. E. Froom later put out Movement of Destiny (1971) in which he presented the Ellen White evidence for the sinless human nature of Christ and maintained that Ellen White supported the idea that Christ took the sinless nature of Adam before the fall and gives Ellen White support for this (see page 497). F. T. Wright, a former Seventh-day Adventist and a strong supporter of the 'sinful human nature' concept of Christ in Ellen White, published a book, The Destiny of a Movement, in 1976 in which he believes that the Seventh-day Adventist movement has virtually apostatized as evidenced by Froom's interpretation of Ellen White's Christology. Many names could be mentioned of men who, as a result of their interpretation of Ellen White, are either in the 'sinful human nature' camp or the 'sinless human nature of Christ' camp. As an example see the book Perfection, Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1975, in which four Adventist theologians present their views on Christian perfection. One observes that the soteriology of these men is affected by their position on Christology. Both Douglass and Maxwell lean towards the 'sinful human nature' concept of Christ and end up with perfectionism, while Heppenstall and LaRondelle are closer to the 'sinless human nature' concept more moderate view of perfection (see the entire book). The significance of this rift in Seventh-day Adventism is not insignificant. [back]

219 E. G. White, The Signs of the Times, June 9, 1898, (Cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, p.1131). [back]

220 E. G. White, "Written for our Admonition - No. 2," Review and Herald, January 7, 1904. See also The Signs of the Times, April 17, 1884 and Review and Herald, January 20, 1863. [back]

221 E. G. White, The Signs of the Times, May 29, 1901, (Cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p.912). [back]

222 E. G. White, "The Great Standard of Righteousness," Review and Herald, May 7, 1901. [back]

223 E. G. White, Manuscript 165, 1899, (Cited in The Faith I Live By, p.48). [back]

224 E. G. White, Manuscript 50, 1900, (Cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, p.1078). [back]

225 E. G. White, Manuscript 50, 1900, (Cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, p.1078). [back]

226 E. G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 2, pp.201,202. Note the similar thought in the same volume: "He was a mighty petitioner, not possessing the passions of our human, fallen natures, but compassed with like infirmities, tempted in all points even as we are" (p.509). [back]

227 Note Ellen White's thought: "Though He had all the strength of passion of humanity, never did He yield to temptation to do one single act which was not pure and elevating and ennobling" (Manuscript 73, undated, cited in In Heavenly Places, p.155). We would submit that this thought is not a contradiction to the sentiments presented under footnote 211. The normal passions of humanity were experienced by Adam and Eve before the fall and are distinct from the "passions of our fallen natures." [back]

228 Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit, London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1900, pp.84,85. Cf. Robert L Ottley, The Doctrine of the Incarnation, London: Methuen & Co., 1896, p.604. There are those who see the "fallen human nature" of Christ more radically than Kuyper and Ottley might do. See Harry Johnson, The Humanity of the Saviour, London: The Epworth Press, 1962. In this book the author demonstrates that through the centuries there have been Christian leaders who believed that Jesus did have a "fallen human nature," a term Johnson uses. For him this means that Jesus Christ participated in 'original sin' with tendencies and propensities to sin, but through His divinity Christ never yielded to sin. At the cross He finally purged His 'fallen nature'. [back]

229 See the 98-page typed document assembled by Ron Graybill, Warren H. Johns, and Tim Poirier, Henry Melvill and Ellen G White: A Study of Literary and Theological Relationships, Ellen G. White Estate, Washington, D.C.: May 1982. [back]

230 Melvill writes: "But whilst he [Christ] took humanity with the innocent infirmities, he did not take it with the sinful propensities. Here Deity interposed. The Holy Ghost overshadowed the Virgin, and, allowing weakness to be derived from her, forbade wickedness; and so caused that there should be generated a sorrowing and a suffering humanity, but nevertheless an undefiled and spotless; a humanity with tears, but not with stains; accessible to anguish, but not prone to offend; allied most closely with the produced misery, but infinitely removed from the producing cause. So that we hold - and give it you as what we believe the orthodox doctrine - that Christ's humanity was not the Adamic humanity, that is, the humanity of Adam before the fall; nor fallen humanity, that is, in every respect the humanity of Adam after the fall. It was not the Adamic, because it had the innocent infirmities of the fallen. It was not the fallen, because it never descended into moral impurity. It was, therefore, most literally our humanity, but without sin" (Mellvill's Sermons, p.47). [back]

231 Tim Poirier, "A Comparison of the Christology of Ellen White and Henry Melvill," White Estate, April 1982. [back]

232 In a research paper prepared for Andrews University in March, 1975, entitled, "The Christology of Ellen G White Letter 8, 1895: An Historical Contextual and Analytical Study," Lyell Vernon Heise seeks to analyze the Christology of the letter. He gives a sketch of the career of W. L. H. Baker as a minister, scholar and teacher. There is no clear evidence as to what Baker was teaching in the area of Christology to elicit this letter from Ellen White. Heise seeks to look at contextual factors such as the writings of Ellen White in The Bible Echo around this time, the possible influence of E. J. Waggoner on Baker and the work of W. W. Prescott in Australia between September 1895 and April 1896 to give some possible clue as to Baker's Christology. He then proceeds with a detailed analysis of the five paragraphs in the letter. [back]

233 E. G. White, Letter 8, 1895, (Cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, p.1128). In the book by R. J. Wieland, The 1888 Message: An Introduction, Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1980, the author discusses this letter on pages 59-63. In two columns he seeks to give a comparison between the above statement and portions of the ensuing paragraphs with a selection of an article by E. J. Waggoner from the Signs of the Times, January 21, 1889. In Waggoner's column there are similar sentiments to those in Ellen White's letter, but very clearly Waggoner is speaking of the divine nature of Christ when he says: "yet His divine nature never for a moment harbored an evil desire.' Wieland begins the Ellen White statement not at its commencement as above, but with the words, "Jesus Christ was the only-begotten Son of God." In comparing these two selections Wieland appears to want to give the impression that Ellen White is also speaking of the divine nature of Christ as is Waggoner. However, a careful analysis of the context of the five paragraphs reveals clearly that the burden of Ellen White's thought is the humanity of Christ and not His divine nature. [back]

234 E. G. White, Letter 8, 1895, (Cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, [back]

235  Ibid., p.1129. It is interesting to note that R. J. Wieland does not quote this important section of Ellen White's letter in his treatment of the material. [back]

236 E. G. White, Letter 191, 1899, (Cited in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 1, p.1083). When Wieland discusses Ellen White's usage of "propensity" with reference to Christ he refers to the Oxford English Dictionary and finds its meaning to be "to hang or lean forward or downward." He then says: "The word propensity implies a 'response to gravity,' 'a definite hanging down,' instead of resistance. It definitely connotes actual participation in sin, and Ellen White used the word in its finest English connotation" (Wieland, op. cit p.62). It is interesting to note in Ellen White's 1895 letter that she indicates that Adam's posterity are "born with inherent propensities of disobedience." If one is born with such a propensity one would question Wieland's definition of "propensity" as "actual participation in sin." Surely Ellen White's own usage of the word would be determinative. Wieland further seeks to make a difference between 'propensity' and 'tendency.' He indicates that Christ did not have a 'propensity to evil' which would connote participation in sin, but He could have 'tendencies or inclinations' to evil. He says: "Ellen White did not equate 'evil propensities' with 'tendencies' or 'inclinations,' which all have as 'the results of the working of the great law of heredity' and which Christ 'took upon Himself' in His battle with temptation as we must fight it. She stated that Christ had 'to resist the inclination "'(Wieland, op. cit., pp. 62,63). It is important to note in the letter of 1899 that Ellen White does equate 'corrupt propensities' and 'tendencies to evil' in her discussion of Adam. [back]

237 We must bear in mind that if there was an overarching theme connecting the various trends together, compilations of statements would miss this completely because the connections between the trends might only become apparent in extended passages. Moreover, the quotation industry has through the years built up preconceptions of what Ellen White believed - each compiler tending to take the quotations that suit his purpose. One would expect this overall theme to be reflected not only in specific writings, but also in all her works taken as a whole. This overriding motif should be found to be the theme of her entire theology. [back]

238 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.19. [back]

239  Ibid. [back]

240  Ibid. [back]

241  Ibid. [back]

242 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.20. [back]

243  Ibid., p.21. [back]

244 4E. G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 1, pp. 17-24. [back]

245 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.22.137 [back]

246 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.22. [back]

247  Ibid. [back]

248  Ibid. [back]

249  Ibid. [back]

250 Ellen White held that God's plan to create man and His knowledge of the possibility of sin reach back into the eternal ages. Accompanying the possibility of sin was also God's plan of redemption involving the Incarnation. Thus the plan of the Incarnation would also reach into the past eternal ages in Ellen White's thinking. [back]

251 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.22. [back]

252 E. G. White, "The Word Made Flesh," Review and Herald, April 5, 1906. [back]

253 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.23 [back]

254  Ibid. [back]

255  Ibid. [back]

256 Ibid. [back]

257  Ibid., p.24. [back]

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

259  Ibid. [back]

260  Ibid., p.25. [back]

261 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, p.261. [back]

262  Ibid., pp.25,26. [back]

263  Ibid., p.26.141 [back]

264 The institution of the Sabbath and the various covenants of the Old Testament are signs and symbols of the everlasting covenant of grace. [back]

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