The Humanity of Christ and Salvation After
Part 1: The Years 1889-1895
In this chapter and the next we will give an overview of
important statements in Ellen White's unfolding understanding of the
nature of Christ and the ways she employed them during the most
important period of her expositions on issues related to salvation (the
six years following the Minneapolis General Conference session).
What is rather shocking about the formation of her
perspective is that she made no really striking or pathbreaking
developments in her teaching on Christology during this crucial period.
I refer to this lack of development as shocking in the sense that there
has been so much debate about the impact of her Christology on her
teachings about salvation.
The simple fact is that further developments in her
understanding of Christ's humanity played no markedly significant role
in her great emphasis on justification and sanctification in the years
The reader might therefore wonder why we even need these
chapters. I would suggest two reasons for the following study:
1. Further attention will help clarify her usage of
Christ's humanity in her powerful initiative to emphasize the centrality
and primacy of a balanced presentation on salvation.
2. An examination of her most important statements will confirm that
the post-1888 statements on the nature of Christ were only further
elaborations of what she had already clearly stated before 1888. I do
this very consciously in light of the claims of those individuals who
to convince us that Christology was one of the central
issues involved in Ellen White's great emphasis on salvation coming out
of the Minneapolis General Conference session. In fact, I invite the
reader to carefully go through The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials. What
you will discover is that she has little to say about Christology (in
the sense of technical theological discourse) in all her comments on
Minneapolis and its aftermath.
Christology is most certainly always at the base of
Ellen White's teachings on salvation, but serious theological emphasis
on the nature of Christ (both His deity and humanity) was not the major
salvation feature that fed into or arose out of the Minneapolis crisis.
Developments From 1889 to 1895
About the only notable impact that Ellen White's
unfolding understanding of the nature of Christ made on her great
presentations about salvation after 1888 occurs in the following theme:
She vigorously presented Christ's nature as a mysterious blending, or
union, of humanity and deity, a blending deemed essential to Christ's
uniquely saving work. In other words, this significant development
arises more out of a sharpening emphasis on the significance of His
deity than of just His humanity! This development is nothing new, but
the emphasis placed upon it certainly sharpens (cf. above, page 31).
In a sermon given on June 19, 1889 (7BC 904), she
proclaimed that "Christ could have done nothing during His earthly
ministry in saving fallen man if the divine had not been blended with
the human." She further stated that "man cannot define this wonderful
mystery-the blending of the two natures.... It can never be
explained." This declaration that a union of humanity and deity was
essential to the atonement became a frequently repeated theme for the
balance of her ministry.
It should come as no surprise to us that this theme
emphasized the importance of His deity and His sinless humanity as
essential to His role as justifying Saviour. Only Jesus "could have
paid the penalty of sin" and borne" the sins of every sinner; for all transgressions
were imputed unto Him" (RH, Dec. 20, 1892). Thus she stressed the
uniqueness of Jesus not just in
terms of His sinlessness, but also in the blending of
the human and divine. The rest of this section (developments after 1888)
will divide into two convenient parts, reviewing important expressions
of (1) uniqueness and (2) identity. Once again, however, I must
emphasize that you will find no startling or pathbreaking developments.
But the intense nature of the debate over the relationship of the nature
of Christ to the understanding of salvation demands a review of the most
important statements that she made. We will first turn our attention to
developments in her expressions of uniqueness.
Christ's Unique Humanity: 1889-1895
The first significant expression of uniqueness occurs
in manuscript 16, 1890: "He stood before the world, from His first
entrance into it, untainted by corruption, though surrounded by it"
(7BC 907). In this instance she clearly spoke of Christ being untainted by
corruption from His first entrance into the world. The statement
presents the interesting implication that His lack of corruption had to
do with His human, sinless inheritance, not just His character
development on the earth.
This emphasis on the sinlessness of His inherited
nature stands out clearly when compared with an earlier statement (1889)
that referred to human corruption: "God will be better glorified if
we confess the secret, inbred corruption of the heart to Jesus
alone" (5T 645; italics supplied). Sinful humans have "inbred
corruption," but Jesus was "untainted by corruption."
Of the terms Ellen White used to describe Christ's
humanity, she never applied "corruption," "vile,"
"depravity," or "pollution" to the Saviour! In fact,
she plainly declared that He was neither corrupt nor polluted.
One of her most striking expressions of uniqueness
appears in manuscript 57, 1890. It is such an important statement that
we will cite from it extensively. The general theme is that because of
Christ's humanity, He was truly tempted.
He had not taken on Him even the nature of angels, but
humanity, perfectly identical with our own nature, except without the
taint of sin.... "But here we must not become in our ideas common
and earthly, and
in our perverted ideas we must not think that the
liability of Christ to yield to Satan's temptations degraded His
humanity and He possessed the same sinful, corrupt propensities as
"The divine nature, combined with the human,
made Him capable of yielding to Satan's temptations. Here the test to
Christ was far greater than that of Adam and Eve, for Christ took our
nature, fallen but not corrupted, and would not be corrupted unless He received
the words of Satan in the place of the words of God....
"He descended in His humiliation to be tempted
as man would be tempted, and His nature was that of man, capable of
yielding to temptation. His very purity and holiness were assailed by a
fallen foe, the very one that became corrupted and then was ejected from
heaven. How deeply and keenly must Christ have felt this humiliation.
"How do fallen angels look upon this pure and
uncontaminated One, the Prince of life . . ." (italics supplied).
Please note that she explicitly says that Christ
took humanity, clearly identical to our own, except without the taint
of sin. She further enforces this concept by warning that despite His
liability to sin, we must not say that Jesus "possessed the same
sinful, corrupt propensities as man." She then accentuates her
point by declaring that "Christ took our nature, fallen but not
corrupted, and would not be corrupted unless He received the words of
Satan in the place of the words of God." Once more I invite the
reader to carefully note what Ellen White says: "our
nature," which is "fallen but not corrupted," is the
nature that "Christ took" at the time of His incarnation,
not what He achieved in His character development.
The concepts of manuscript 57, 1890, are some of
the most forceful expressions of Christ's uniqueness that Ellen White
ever made. In fact, their clarity has led Adventist scholar and editor
Tim Crosby to suggest that this manuscript is almost as important as
the famed Baker letter in our efforts to illuminate the nature of
Christ's humanity.* It is at least an anticipation of what was to come
in the Baker letter and a striking confirmation of her pre-1888
Her next significant statement occurs in manuscript 6,
1892, which utilized a thought that she would more forcefully express
especially in manuscript 50, 1900: "If we do our
best ... the humblest service may become a consecrated gift, made
acceptable by the fragrance of His [Christ's] own merit" (PC 141).
The thought here is that all that sinful humans do, even "our
best," needs to be "made acceptable by the fragrance" of
Christ's "own merit." Christ in His sinless humanity, combined
with deity, has merit that sinful, even believing, humans don't have.
Please note that while the justificationist usage of Christ's
sinlessness is not surprising in this era, the concept of His
sinlessness is nothing new at all.
Christ's Identity With Humanity: 1889-1895
Some important and clear expressions of His identity
appear in Ellen White's writing during this period. She continued to use
freely the expression "infirmities" during this entire era,
but she strengthened it by declaring that "Jesus can be touched
with the feeling of our infirmities" MR Oct. 1, 1889).
Christ's Example Portrayed in Our Nature
One of her most important expressions of identity
showed up in numerous spirited responses to the declaration "that
Christ could not have had the same nature as man, for if He had, He
would have fallen under similar temptations" (see RH, Feb. 18,
1890). In a strong denial of such a concept, she repeatedly stated that
it was necessary for Christ to "have man's nature" or "He
could not be our example. If He was not a partaker of our nature, He
could not have been tempted as man has been. If it were not possible for
Him to yield to temptation, He could not be our helper." She then
went on to make the usual sanctification application: "His
temptation and victory tell us that humanity must copy the Pattern"
She forcefully continued this line of thought in her
more extended comments of 1892:
"But many say that Jesus was not like us, that He was not as we
are in the world, that He was divine, and that we cannot overcome as He
overcame." Her response was to quote Hebrews 2:16, 17:
"Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his
brethren" (RH, Apr. 1, 1892).
In manuscript 1, written on November 13, 1892 (3SM
136-141), she replied to Satan's claim "that no man could keep the
law of God after the disobedience of Adam." She did so by
contending that Christ "passed over the ground
where Adam fell, and endured the
temptation in the wilderness, which was a hundredfold stronger than was
or ever will be brought to bear upon the human race." Ellen White
then said that Christ's overcoming "the temptations of Satan as a
man" testified "to all the unfallen worlds and to fallen
humanity that man could keep the commandments of God through the divine
power granted to him of heaven."
Christ was "not only ... a sacrifice for sin
but" He came "to be an example to man in all things, a holy,
human character." She forcefully highlighted the theme by the
straightforward declaration that "the obedience of Christ by itself " was not
"something for which He was particularly adapted, by His particular
"If Christ had a special power which it is not the
privilege of man to have, Satan would have made capital of this
"Bear in mind that Christ's overcoming and
obedience is that of a true human being.... When we give to His human
nature a power that it is not possible for man to have in his conflicts
with Satan, we destroy the completeness of His humanity."
It is very clear in Ellen White's thought that Christ
had no advantages in "His human nature," and this identity
exalted "the completeness of His
This powerful identity statement "He came not to our world to give the obedience
of a lesser God to a greater, but as a man to obey God's Holy Law, and
in this way He is our example....
"The Lord Jesus came to our world, not to reveal
what a God could do, but what a man could do, through faith in God's
power to help in every emergency....
"Jesus, the world's Redeemer, could only keep the
commandments of God in the same way that humanity can keep them."
Clearly Ellen White viewed Christ as giving the obedience of a man,
which made Him the example for "what a man could do, through faith
in God's power." Thus Jesus, as an example, keeps "the
commandments of God in the same way that humanity can keep them."
The life of Christ was clear evidence that obedience is possible, as
He was not "particularly adapted" either by "His
particular divine nature" or a uniquely empowered human nature in
obeying the will of God.
It should be apparent to us that whatever she understood the uniqueness
of Christ's sinless human nature to be, it
gave Him no particular advantage in dealing with temptation. His identity
with humanity is complete enough to forestall
any accusation of unfair advantage.
Once more, especially with these powerful
declarations of Christ's identity in
mind, we need to clearly define important terms. This will be the
initial burden of the next chapter.
* This is a suggestion shared with the author in correspondence
regarding the issue of Christ's humanity