C H A P T E R IV
URIAH SMITH AN INFLUENTIAL ARIAN
Perhaps the most influential of the early Seventh-day Adventist Arians was Uriah Smith. For forty-seven years, Smith was editor of The Adventist Review and Sabbath Herald. During this time he often allowed his views to appear in print, sometimes in the form of articles written by other people, sometimes in the form of articles and statements in books written by himself. It is the intention of the present writer, first Smith’s understanding of the nature of the Holy Spirit, and second, his position as to the Deity and pre-existence of Christ.
SMITH’S VIEW OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
As early as 1859, Uriah Smith stressed the importance of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the Church:
This Spirit is the life-principle of the church of God; and the degree in which that Spirit is possessed by the church marks the exact ratio of her acceptance with him, and the strength of that life which she lives "by faith of the Son of God."1
Smith recognizes the Spirit as the source of spiritual power and the surety of the presence of God in the church, and he recoils in horror from the suggestion that there is no Holy Spirit:
Reader, can you conceive of a more dark and chilly theory, and one better calculated to lie like an iceberg on the heart of the church than the view which some hold, that there is no Holy Spirit? Be it our lot ever to be free from this unhallowed sentiment, and those who hold it.2
In the light of these statements it is well to be guarded in our interpretation of Smith’s later denials of the personality of the Holy Spirit. He in no way detracts from the importance of the Spirit of God as the source of light and power. He would join Trinitarian in praying earnestly for this gift and he would emphasize the indispensable nature of the Spirit’s work in human redemption. But any attempt to invest the Holy Spirit with personality, Smith met with reasoned opposition.
Later in the century there appeared a regular column in the Review and Herald headed "in the question chair." Here the questions of correspondents were answered, and here Smith occasionally found a convenient place to express his views. In 1890 in answer to the question "is the Holy Spirit a person?" Smith wrote:
But respecting this Spirit, the Bible uses expressions which cannot be harmonized with the idea that it is a person like the Father and the Son. Rather it is shown to be a divine influence from them both, the medium which represents their presence and by which they have knowledge ad power through all the universe, when not personally present.3
Smith recognizes that in chapters 14 to 16 the Spirit is personified as the comforter. He quotes the use in these
chapters of the personal and relative pronouns "he," "him" and "whom" in reference to the Holy Spirit. But these instances he would regard simply as figures of speech, for in most cases in Scripture "it" is spoke of in ways which would deny that it is a person, like the Father and the Son. "for instance," he writes, "it is often said to be ‘poured out’ and ‘shed abroad.’ but we never read about God or Christ being poured out or shed abroad."4
When the Holy Spirit has appeared, Uriah Smith points out, it has been in varying shapes and forms. Once it appeared as a dove, once in the form of "cloven tongues as of fire."5 Elsewhere we read of "the seven spirits of God sent forth into all the earth."6 These descriptions would not, in his opinion, be used if the Holy Spirit were to be understood as a person.
In March of the following year, 1891, Uriah Smith said in a sermon reported in the General Conference Bulletin:
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God; it is also the Spirit of Christ. It is that divine, mysterious emanation through which they carry forward their great and infinite work.7
He acknowledges that it is the "eternal spirit," it is omniscient and omnipresent, it is the Spirit that had a hand in creation, it can be grieved and quenched. But it is not a person, It is an influence. It is a "mysterious emanation."8
The reason for the personification of the Holy Spirit in Scripture is given by Smith in an answer to a question in a later issue of the Review and Herald:
2 John 16:13 describes the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is so connected with Father and the Son that it is itself personified and spoken of as doing what the Father and the Son do through it.9
In reading the Review and Heralds of the 1890s, one gains the decided impression that this subject was, to some extent, exercising that minds of the laity at this time. In September 1892 a questioner again raised the issue, and Uriah Smith answered. The question is significant as an illustration of the type of reasoning which evidently was exercising the minds of some Adventists at this time:
If God is a spirit (John 4:24) and at the same time a person (Dan. 7:9), would not the same reasoning prove the Holy Spirit a person, as referred to in John 14:26?
Ans.—No; for God is elsewhere described and represented as a person; but the Holy Spirit is not. The fact that the Holy Spirit is personified in John 14, and thus spoken of as acting in a personal and individual manner, does not prove it to be a person, any more than the fact that love is spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13 as performing certain acts and exercising certain emotions, proves that charity, or love, is a person.10
Again in October 1896, a questioner probed into the mysterious nature of the Spirit of God. The question was, "do the scriptures warrant the praise or worship of the Holy Spirit? if not does not the last line of the doxology contain an unscriptural sentiment?"11 Smith answered the first question in the negative. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to worship the Holy Spirit, as we are commanded to worship Christ. In answer to the second question, he reasons that if in the baptismal formula the name of the Holy Spirit is to be used along with that of the Father and the Son, "Why could it not properly stand as a part of the same trinity in the hymn of praise, ‘Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost’?"12
Uriah Smith’s argument here and his use of the word "trinity" may suggest to some that perhaps his view of the nature of the Holy Spirit and of the relations between the members of the Deity have undergone a change in the direction of Trinitarianism, since last he expressed himself on the subject. As will be seen, this is not so. Through these years, his work Daniel and the Revelation, containing his Arian views, was being printed and circulated. In 1898, his book Looking Unto Jesus appeared with its strongly Arian description of Christ. The very next year after Smith’s use of the word "trinity" in a Review and Herald article, he published, in answer to a questioner, his opinion that "there are various expressions concerning the Holy Spirit which would indicate that it could not be properly considered as a person such as its being ‘shed abroad’ in the heart, and ‘poured out upon all flesh.’"13
It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that Uriah Smith consistently held that the Holy Spirit is an influence, not a person nor a member of the Deity in a Trinitarian sense. No evidence has been discovered that he held any other belief on the subject, or that he changed his position prior to his death in 1903.
SMITH’S VIEW OF CHRIST
Uriah Smith’s stand on the subject of the relation between Christ and the Father has been more widely publicized because of its inclusion in his volumes Daniel and the Revelation, and Looking Unto Jesus. The first issue of his commentary on Revelation came off the press in 1865 under the title, Thoughts Critical and Practical on the book of Revelation. Speaking of Christ in his comment on Revelation 3:14-22, Smith wrote:
Moreover he is "the beginning of the creation of God." Not the beginner, but the beginning, of the creation, the first created being, dating his existence far back before any other created being or thing, next to the self-existent and eternal God. On this expression Barnes makes the following significant admission: "if it were demonstrated from other sources that Christ was, in fact, a created being, and the first that God had made, it cannot be denied that this language would appropriately express that fact."14
In the 1882 edition of Thoughts on the book of Daniel and the Revelation, this statement was modified so as to exclude the suggestion that Christ was created in the ordinary sense of the term.15 The 1899 edition of the same work altered the statement again so that it now indicated it to be
the opinion of the author that Christ was no created in the ordinary sense, but that there was a time when He did not exist:
Others, however, and more properly we think, take the word to mean "agent" or "efficient cause," which is one of the definitions of the word, understanding that Christ is the agent through whom God has created all things, but that he himself came into existence in a different manner, as he is called "the only begotten" of the Father. It would seem utterly inappropriate to apply this expression to any being created in the ordinary sense of the term.16
The 1907 edition of the work contained the comment in this identical form. The Southern Publishing Association produced "a new edition, revised and annotated" in 1941. For decades the Seventh-day Adventist Church had been Trinitarian in belief as will be seen later in the discussion. As would be expected, this comment on Revelation 3:14-22 was revised so as to relegate to the category of error any idea of Christ having been created. But surprisingly the statement still reads so as clearly to imply "that the Son came into existence." The passage reads as follows:
Moreover, he is "the beginning of the creation of God." Some attempt by this language to uphold the error that Christ was a created being, dating his existence anterior to that of any other created being or thing, next to the self-existent and eternal God….Others, however, and more properly we think, take the word to mean "agent" or "efficient cause," which is one of the definitions if the word, understanding that Christ is the agent through whom God has created all things, but that the Son came into existence in a different manner, as he is called "the only begotten" of the Father. It would seem utterly inappropriate to apply this expression to any created being in the ordinary dense of the term.17
The phrase, "and more properly we think," clearly indicates that in the opinion of the author the view that follows, containing the statement "that the Son came into existence," is the correct one. Why the editors should have strengthened the opposition, contained in the statement, to the position that Christ was created, and yet have failed to delete the teaching that there was a time when He did not exist, is beyond the knowledge of the present writer. It is certainly difficult to understand in view of the official Trinitarian declarations of the Church at the time for years before this.18 It was not until the 1944 revision that the Arian view was finally excluded from this work. The statement now reads:
Others, however, and more properly we think, take the word, arche, to mean the "agent" or "efficient cause," which is one of the definitions of the word, understanding that Christ is the agent through whom God has created all things.19
Daniel and the Revelation in the older editions contained other utterances which were clearly anti-Trinitarian in intent. For instance, the 1882 edition contains a comment on Revelation 1:4 which denies eternity of existence to Christ. The phrase, "from him which is and which was, and which is to come," is said to be an "expression which signifies complete eternity, past and future, and can be applicable to God the Father only."20 Smith points out that this language is never applied to Christ. On the use of the term "alpha and omega" in Revelation 1:11 he excludes any application of the phrase to Christ by quoting textual evidence for the omission of the words.21 Of course, Revelation 22:13 provides an undeniable application of this phrase to Christ, because of verse 16, but Smith explained the usage as follows:
Christ here applies to himself the appellation of Alpha and Omega. As applied to him, the expression must be taken in a more limited sense than when applied to the Father as in chap. 1:8. Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, of the great plan of salvation.22
In 1898, the same year that Ellen G. White’s book The Desire of Ages was published, the Review and Herald Publishing company produced Uriah Smith’s work, Looking Unto Jesus. It is significant that the leading Denominational publishing house should produce in the same year two works, one so markedly anti-Arian and the other so distinctly Arian. Smith renewed and further explained his Arian teaching in this new work. He wrote:
God alone is without beginning. At the earliest epoch when a beginning could be,--a period so remote that to finite minds it is essentially eternity,--appeared the Word…This uncreated Word was the Being, who, in the fullness of time was made flesh, and dwelt among us. His beginning was not like that of any other being in the universe.
. . . Thus it appears that by some divine impulse or process, not creation, known only to Omniscience, and possibly only to Omnipotence, the Son of God appeared.23
Obviously, Smith’s 1865 teaching, that Christ was a created being, was a passing phase. Here again we see that although he recognizes a remote time at which Christ came into being, yet the process by which this took place is regarded as distinct from creation. After having been brought into existence, the Son was given equality with the Father. So Uriah Smith understands Paul’s utterance as recorded in Philippians 2:6. He regards Deity as having in some mysterious way evolved. "with the Son," he writes, "the evolution of deity, as deity, ceased."24
Uriah Smith in his book Looking Unto Jesus declared himself as adhering to the position that every part of Christ died on Calvary. In this he was in complete agreement with
D. W. Hull. He believed that when Christ left heaven He left His immortality behind also. When He died it was "as a whole, as a divine being, as the Son of God." If this had not been so then the Saviour would have been merely a human one, and the sacrifice merely a human sacrifice, "but the prophet says that ‘his soul’ was made ‘an offering for sin.’ isa. 53:10."25
Uriah Smith’s position on the nature of God is, therefore, clearly Arian. The Holy Spirit is a mere influence. The Son was brought into existence by the Father, and although elevated to a position of equality with the Father, His authority is, at best, a delegated authority. The suggestion that he divine part of Christ did not die on Calvary he rejected as destructive of the possibility of the atonement.
Smith, “The Spirit of God,” Review and Herald, XIII
(February 17, 1859); 100.
Smith, “In the Question Chair,” Review and Herald, LXVII
(October 28, 1890), 664.
1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6.
Smith, “The Spirit of Prophecy and Our Relation To It,” The General Conference
Bulletin, IV (March 18, 1891), 146.
Smith, “In the Question Chair,” Review and Herald, LXVIII
(November 10, 1891), 697.
Smith, ibid., LXIX (September 6, 1892), 568.
Smith, ibid., LXXIII (October 27, 1896), 685.
13Ibid., LXXIV (March 23, 1897), 188.
Smith, Thoughts Critical and Practical on the Book of Revelation (Battle Creek, Mich.: Steam Press of the Seventh-day
Adventist Publishing Association, 1865), p. 59.
Smith, Thoughts on the Book of Daniel and the Revelation (Battle Creek, Mich.: Review
and Herald Publishing Association, 1882), p.487.
16Ibid., 1899, p. 371.
Smith, Daniel and the Revelation (Nashville, Tenn.: Southern
Publishing Association, 1941), p. 400.
Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists,” Seventh-day Adventist
Yearbook, (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing
Association, 1931), p.377.
Smith, op. cit., (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald
Publishing Association, 1944), p. 391.
Smith, Thoughts Critical and Practical on the Book of Daniel and
the Revelation (Battle Creek, Mich.: Review and Herald Publishing
Association, 1882), p. 430.
21Ibid., p. 431.
22Ibid., p. 817.
23Uriah Smith, Looking Unto Jesus, (Battle Creek, Mich.: Review and
Herald Publishing Company, 1898), p. 10.
24Ibid., p. 13.
25Ibid., p. 23.