Woodrow Whidden claims at one point that "for
Ellen White, `nature' usually refers to a person's inheritance, or what
he or she is `naturally' born with" (p. 34). Here is a serious
understatement, but nevertheless one that touches the key by which we
can settle this entire controversy.
The Bible is clear that both lower and higher forces
exist in human nature. Jesus declared, "The spirit indeed is
willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41). Paul spoke of
bringing his body into subjection (1 Cor.9:27). Contrary to what some have alleged, this has
nothing to do with the body/soul dualism of Greek or popular Christian
thought, nor is it related in any way to what happens to people when
they die. While Seventh-day Adventists teach a wholistic view of human
nature, we cannot deny the inspired truth that different forces exist
within human beings.
Ellen White clearly makes this distinction: "The
will is not the taste or the inclination, but it is the deciding
power" (5T 513). In numerous statements she describes the need for
the lower passions to remain subject to the higher powers of the being (MH 130; CH 41,
42; 5T 335; COL 354; RH, Dec. 1, 1896; AH 127,128; MYP 237).
In one of the above statements she makes it clear that the lower,
fleshly nature is of itself not capable of sinning: "The lower
their seat in the body and work through it. The words
`flesh' or `fleshly' or `carnal lusts' embrace the lower, corrupt
nature; the flesh of itself cannot act contrary to the will of God. We
are commanded to crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts"
(AH 127, 128).
Once we understand this distinction between the lower
and higher natures, we can better understand the two types of Ellen
White statements on passions and propensities relative to human beings,
as well as the two types of statements relative to the humanity of
Whidden quotes a number of Ellen White statements that
say Jesus did not possess the same passions and propensities
(tendencies) to sin as we ourselves (2T 201, 202, 509; 5BC 1128; 16MR
182), as well as others that say clearly that He did (Ms. 73, 1892 [partially
cited in IHP 155]; ST, Apr. 9, 1896; Oct. 17, 1900). He claims that the
passions described in the latter group of statements "probably
referred to normal human desires, appetites, feelings, or emotions
rather than perverted desires that naturally tend to break over the
bounds of lawful expression" (pp. 53, 54).
But a careful look at the statements, both on the
surface and in context, makes it clear that his interpretation is not
possible. Ironically, Whidden quotes enough of the context of the
statement from manuscript 73, 1892, to demolish his own argument.
Listen to Ellen White's words: "If you indulge in a nasty spirit,
and give utterance to passionate words and foolish talk, you bring forth
from the treasure of the heart evil things."
Then she says of Christ: "Though He had all the
strength and passion of humanity, never did He yield to temptation to do
one single act which was not pure and elevating and ennobling"
Elsewhere she comments:
"The words of Christ encourage parents to bring their little ones
to Jesus. They may be wayward, and possess passions like those of
humanity, but this should not deter us from bringing them to Christ. He blessed children that were possessed
of passions like His
own" (ST, Apr. 9, 1896; italics supplied).
It is utterly impossible for Whidden to explain away
these statements as referring to "normal human desires"
rather than "perverted desires" (pp. 53, 54). We read here
of the spirit of hastiness, evil things concealed
in the treasure of the heart (in this case the lower
nature), and that while Jesus had all the strength of such passions, He
never yielded to the temptation to do anything impure, degrading, or
ignoble. When she speaks of children blessed by Jesus possessing
passions "like His own," and in the previous sentence talks
about our children being "wayward" with "passions like
those of humanity," what kind of passions could she possibly be
referring to except perverted ones? Would the sinless, unperverted
passions of Adam and Eve in our children be likely to deter us from
bringing them to Christ?
How, then, do we harmonize these statements with
those that clearly deny that Jesus had our passions and propensities to
sin? By understanding the principle we have already established from
Scripture and Ellen White-that of the lower and higher natures.
When Ellen White says He had our passions, she is talking about the
lower nature, which of itself cannot sin (AH 127). But when she says He
did not have our passions, she is referring to the higher nature, which
involves the will and behavioral choices.
This is more clearly explained when we find
statements that speak of the need to "cast out" evil passions
(DA 305); that "as we partake of the divine nature, hereditary and
cultivated tendencies to wrong are cut away from the character"; and that "we need
not retain one sinful propensity" (7BC 943; see also TM 171, 172;
MYP 42). Notice that she describes these tendencies as being cut away
from the character (higher
nature), not from the flesh (lower nature). Clearly, when she speaks of
evil passions cast out and sinful propensities not retained, she is not
teaching "holy flesh," since we read elsewhere, "Appetite
and passion must be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. There
is no end to the warfare this side of eternity" (CT 20).
In his effort to prove that our inherited sinful nature
is the same as sin itself, Whidden repeatedly cites one of the most
commonly distorted Ellen White statements in the current Adventist
salvation controversy, from Selected Messages, book 1, page 344 (see also FW 23, 24; Whidden cites this on pages 23, 24, 64,
65, 88, 89). In these statements Ellen White says the words and deeds
even of true believers are so defiled by
their corrupt human channels that they need
purification by Christ's blood. Whidden implies that this is a forensic
purification thrown over our actions as soon as they arrive in the
heavenly sanctuary, since original sin has supposedly polluted even
But other Ellen White statements using the same or
similar language as Selected Messages, book
1, page 344, make it clear that this is not a forensic purification
applied to the books of heaven, but an internal purification directed from heaven but taking
place in the heart and life. She states that "man's obedience can
be made perfect only by the incense of Christ's righteousness, which fills
with divine fragrance every act of
obedience" (AA 532; italics supplied; see
also 7BC 909; ChS 263; IHP 72).
Quite obviously, the process here described is not
forensic, but internal. Our prayers and praise and obedience ascend
through the corrupt channels of our fallen natures to the heavenly
sanctuary, but it is while they ascend through those channels-not when they get to
heaven that they receive purification.
Twice Whidden asks whether Jesus could be our saving,
sacrificial substitute and still be called "depraved,"
corrupt, and be characterized as having natural propensities and
tendencies to sin-a "bent" to evil (p. 22; see also pp. 87,
88). Whidden firmly answers no! (pp. 22, 89). But Ellen White firmly
answers yes (Ms. 73, 1892; ST, Apr. 9, 1896; Oct. 17, 1900; 4BC 1147).
Such tendencies and passions remained confined to His lower, fleshly
nature, which of itself is incapable of sin (AH 127). He never permitted
the lower passions and propensities to possess His higher nature. And
the glorious truth of Scripture and Ellen White, enshrined at the heart
of classic Adventism, is that through His power the fleshly nature may
be subdued in us, as it was in Him (Rom. 8:3, 4), and His sinless life
reproduced in ours. In closing:
"The Saviour is wounded afresh and put to open
shame when His people pay no need to His word. He came to this world and
lived a sinless life, that in His power His people might also live lives
of sinlessness" (RH, April 1, 1902).
Reply to Paulson
Kevin Paulson has raised a very important issue in
his proposed distinction between the "lower and higher
natures" of Christ. His interpretation clearly maintains that
Christ had a "lower" nature that included "perverted desires." He claims that it is
"utterly impossible ... to explain away" the statements I cite
as referring only to "normal human desires." I, however, find
his interpretation hanging on a very thin thread of evidence.
I must confess that part of the problem with one of
Paulson's key pieces of evidence is how I originally cited the statement
from manuscript 73, 1892, in Appendix B of the original manuscript draft
of this book. When I found a copy of the original
manuscript 73, 1892, in its full context, I discovered the following:
The first part of the statement that speaks of a
"hasty spirit," giving "utterance to passionate words and
foolish talk," and bringing "from the treasure of the heart
evil things" (1) is not explicitly applied to Christ and (2) is separated contextually by more than a page
from the statement that declares that Christ "had all the strength
and passion of humanity." When we read these statements in the
context of the total flow of the manuscript, it is certainly stretching
it to imply (and it is only an implication) that Jesus had "the
spirit of hastiness, foolishness, [and] evil things concealed in the
treasure of the heart."1
Paulson's second piece of evidence, taken from Signs of the Times, April 9, 1896, is a bit more
persuasive; but once again, his interpretation is also only an
implication. The statement is not explicit in declaring that Jesus possessed "passions like those of humanity" (and
Paulson implies that Christ's passions were just "like" or
identical to ours). Furthermore, if I used the
same interpretive method for this passage as Paulson does, I could imply
that Jesus' passions made Him "wayward." Now, I do not impute
this interpretation to Paulson, since we both know that there are too
many Ellen White statements denying that Jesus was in any instance
"wayward." All I am suggesting is that Ellen White also has
some clear statements that reject the idea that Jesus' passions were
just like or exactly identical to oursas Paulson wants to suggest by
implication from the passage in question.
The manner in which Paulson (or anyone, myself included) draws
implications about the nature of Christ needs to be employed very
judiciously, and we must take the whole of what Ellen White says into account. This is especially necessary in interpreting the statement in
question. In other more explicit statements she declared that "it
is not correct to say, as many writers have said, that Christ was like
all children. He was not like all children." In the same paragraph
she then went on to say that "His inclination to right was a
constant gratification to His parents." Three paragraphs later she
said that "no one, looking upon the childlike countenance, shining
with animation, could say that Christ was just like other children"
(YI, Sept. 8, 1898).
If I applied Paulson's implied interpretive methods to the apostle
Paul's statement in Romans 8:3 that God sent Jesus "in the likeness
of sinful flesh," I could easily come up with the following
interpretation: Since the context of the immediately preceding Romans 7 speaks of
someone who is "carnal, sold under sin"who does not do what
they know they should do and then actually does what they
"hate"I could conclude that Jesus, in the "likeness of
sinful flesh," was actually "sold under sin" in the sense
of neglecting the good and doing what He "hated." Do we really
want to interpret Scripture and Ellen White to imply such things about
Jesus? I think not.
I would suggest that a better interpretation of Jesus' "higher
and lower natures" appears on pages 48-51 in this book. The
"lower nature" of Jesus included normal passions and appetites
that were weakened by the effects of sin, but not infected with such sin that made them perverted,
inherently evil, and corrupt. Certainly the "higher nature" of
Jesus included His "will and behavioral choices," but it also
involved a lack of infective perversion.
Paulson's treatment of the quotation from Selected Messages, book 1,
page 344, is interesting, but disregards the statement's clear
declaration that the righteous acts "ascend from true believers ...
to the heavenly sanctuary.... They ascend not in spotless purity," but are
purified by "the Intercessor, who is at God's right hand."
This "Intercessor," who is "before the Father,"
gathers into the "censer of His own merits" the righteous acts
of "true believers." "Then, perfumed with the merits of
propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and
entirely acceptable" (italics supplied). It is very clear from the
context that all of this purification takes place in heaven, and is not
"an internal purification. . . taking place in the heart and
What Paulson has done is go to other Ellen White
statements dealing with sanctification in believers; and since a number
of these statements use such expressions as "the incense of
Paulson then makes the facile assumption that such
"sanctificationist" applications must then explain every other
Ellen White usage of such expressions. This is not good interpretation.
Ellen White does use the terminology of Selected
Messages, book 1, page 344, in sanctificationist, perfectionist
settings, but that does not deny the clear application of this
terminology to the justificationist, intercessory work of Christ for "true
believers"-in heaven (a similar, forceful example of this appears
in the Review and Herald, of Mar. 1, 1892). It is not one application
swallowing up another, but both expressing different though essential
effects of the "incense of Christ's righteousness."
I am clear that Paulson understands that forensic
righteousness covers the sins of the past for penitent sinners. But
Paulson's interpretation of Selected Messages, book 1, page 344,
certainly causes one to question whether his Christology has driven him to deny almost
totally any forensic, objective, justifying ministry by Christ in heaven
to atone for the corrupting influences of believers' sinful natures on
their "sanctified successes."2
Maybe the question
could be put another way: after initial forgiveness, is the basis or
ground of our acceptance with God some sort of good works produced by
divinely infused merit?3
Woodrow Whidden III
1 Furthermore, it should be noted that manuscript 73,
1892, is a portion of a letter to Edson White (letter 27, 1892). The
letter and its first published version (in ST, Nov. 21, 1892) read
"If you indulge in slang phrases and foolish talk" rather than
in indulging in "a hasty spirit" and giving "utterance to
passionate words." In other words, Ellen White added the expression
to the manuscript. Manuscript 73, 1892, as revised by Ellen White, is
what 1 have cited in Appendix B of this book."[back] [top]
2 This expression, "sanctified successes," is Paulson's
own, used in personal correspondence with me on this issue. .
3 I wonder
what the reader's answer to this question might be. In his personal
correspondence with me Paulson has been forthright in his answer to this
very question: "On the basis of both Scripture and Ellen White, the
answer is an emphatic yes! And down into a grave of dishonor goes a
cherished icon of contemporary Adventism!" 1 wonder how other
post-Fall partisans feel about the conclusions that Paulson's
Christology has led him to. Could it be that Paulson has followed his
post-Fall presuppositions on the nature of Christ to their logical
implications? [back] [top]