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The Arian or Anti-Trinitarian Views Presented in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer

by Erwin Roy Gane


C H A P T E R   IX

FROM 1890 TO 1898


There can be no doubt but that in 1890 there was no unity of understanding in regard to the nature of God, in Adventist circles. D. T. Bordeau wrote in November of that year:

Although we claim to be believers in, and worshippers of, only one God, I have thought that there are as many gods among us as there are conceptions of the Deity. And how many there are of these, and how limited are most of them! Rather, how limited are all of them! We do not half study the character of God the Father and of God the Son, and the result is that we make Christ such beings as ourselves.1

Unfortunately for our purpose Bordeau does not elaborate on the nature of the prevailing conceptions of the Deity. Whether he is referring to an Arian verses Trinitarian disagreement among believers is difficult to say. The evidence he presents is valuable in so far as it indicates that the church was by no means united in its concept of God, and the remark would seem to suggest that the vocal, influential anti-Trinitarian writers were not, at this time, representing the views of the Church as a whole.


Almost a year after Bordeauís remark, T. R. Williamson wrote for the Review and Herald reiterating the old argument that the Holy Spirit was not a person, but an influence. He cannot see that the Bible references to the Holy Spirit intend to us "to conclude that a person is meant, or that any other idea is intended by these terms, than that of an influence."2 No one, proceeds Williamson, is ever baptized with or filled with a person. But they are baptized with and filled with the Spirit. The personification of the Holy Spirit in Scripture he considers to be simply a figure of speech.

Williamson repudiated the Trinitarian belief that the Holy Spirit is God. He wrote:

It was said by the Lord Jesus, "I and my Father are one." If there are three persons in the Godhead, why did he not include all three in one? Why did he only say, "I and my Father are one," if the Holy Spirit is a member of the Godhead, one with the Father and Son? Why this ignoring of the third person of the Trinity?3

He concludes by repeating that the Holy Spirit "is simply an influence from God."  It is a manifestation of the power of God which pervades the universe as air pervades the earth.4


The publication in 1892, by the Pacific Press, of a Trinitarian article, written by a non-Adventist writer, would seem to indicate a growing acceptance of this doctrine in the Adventist Church. The article entitled, "The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity" was written by Samuel T. Spear and published in 1889 in the New York Independent.5 The Pacific Press reprinted it in 1892 as No. 90 if the Bible Studentís Library.

The Spear article clearly defines the Trinitarian position as teaching the unity of the Godhead consisting of three persons:

This doctrine, as held and stated by those who adopt it, is not a system of tri-theism, or the doctrine of three Gods, but it is the doctrine of one God subsisting and acting in three persons, with the qualification that the term "person", though perhaps the best that can be used, is not, when used in this relation, to be understood in any sense that would make it inconsistent with the unity of the Godhead, and hence not to be understood in the ordinary sense when applied to man.6

The article thus effectively answered those Seventh-day Adventists who had confused Trinitarianism with Monarchianism, and those who had confused it with tri-theism. But there is much in the article that would be quite unobjectionable to Adventist anti-Trinitarians. The Son is spoken of as "in some respect distinct from and subordinate to God the Father."7 And this subordination is not said to be simply in regard to his human nature. Spear wrote, "the subordination extends to his divine as well as his human nature."8

God acted through Christ in the work of creation. Christ was the subordinate agent. Christ was "sent" into the world and delivered "up for us all." Therefore the Father possessed "some kind of primacy."9 Spear quotes 1 Cor. 15:28 as proving that after Christís reinstatement in heaven he is subordinate to the Father, and that not in His human nature merely, but in His higher divine nature.10 This was certainly a palatable form of Trinitarianism for Adventists who had in the past, and who during and after this time, opposed the doctrine.

Spear does not go so far as to say that the subordination of the Son to the Father involved the propagation of the Son by the Father back in the eternal ages. There is no suggestion that there was a time when the Son did not exist. In reference to this theory he writes:

The theory of the eternal generation of the Son by the Father, with the cognate theory of the eternal generation of the Holy Ghost from the Father, or from the Father and the Son, while difficult even to apprehend, and while at best but a mystical speculation, is an effort to be wise, not only above what is written, but also beyond the possibilities of human knowledge.11

It is difficult to resolve the contradiction in Spearís judgment that the Son "is truly divine and truly God in the most absolute sense," with is opinion that in His divine nature Christ is subordinate to the Father. He regards the Arian, who views Christ as more than human but less than divine as in error, because of his failure to recognize the absolute divinity of Christ. But Spear himself recognizing, as he asserts, the absolute divinity of Christ, yet proceeds to fall into the Arian dilemma of regarding His divinity as subordinate to that of the Father. Here we have absolute divinity inferior to absolute divinity, which, in the final analysis, is perilously close to the Arian conception of the anti-Trinitarian writers of the Adventist Church.


A. T. Jones recognized the Holy Spirit as the presence of Christ. His sermon "the third angelís message" was published in the General Conference Bulletin in 1895. Jones spoke of the Holy Ghost as "the real presence of christ" to the believer.12 And he adds, "can he bring christ to us without bringing the mind of christ to us?óassuredly not."13 The remark is not conclusive evidence that Jones accepted the doctrine of the personality of the Holy Spirit, but it seems to indicate that possibly this was so.

A series if editorial articles appeared in the Review and Herald in 1900 under the title, "The Faith of Jesus." Uriah Smith and A. T. Jones were co-editors at this time. The serial article is not signed, but the language and style of writing appear to be that of A. T. Jones. The writer sets forth Christís likeness to God as taught in the first chapter of Hebrews and His likeness to man as indicated by the second chapter . Just as Christ is like the Father "in very nature," of the same substance and form of the Father, so, says Jones, he bears in his human nature a complete likeness to fallen humanity.14 Of course this question of the human nature of Christ was of special concern to Jones as revealed by his emphasis on the subject in his book, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection.15 This serial Review and Herald article contains the identical emphasis, and thus provides us with an additional clue to its authorship.

The important relevant point in this series is that "jesus and God are Ďof oneíóof one flesh, of one nature, of one substance Ö"16 This was a major departure from the militant opposition to such views by earlier writers.

M. C. WILCOX AND THE "divine unity"

M. C. Wilcox explained the Scriptural passages that refer to the Holy Spirit as a person, in the light that "It" is the personal representative of both the Father and the Son.17 Writing for the Signs of the Times in 1898, he failed to credit personality and Deity to the Spirit in the Trinitarian sense. The Holy Spirit "comes to the believer as a person, the person of Christ JesusÖ."18

Wilcox wrote an article in 1898 entitled "The Divine Unity." The unity is not presented as the unity of three divine persons, but that of "one God, the Father."19 Christ is depicted as "under God, our Creator and Redeemer."20 Once again the reader of the Denominational literature is confused by the subordination of the Son to the Father.


1D. T. Bordeau, "We May Partake of the Fullness of the Father and the Son," Review and Herald, LXVII (November 18, 1890), 707.

2T. R. Williamson, "The Holy SpiritóIs It a Person?" Review and Herald, LXVIII (October 13, 1891), 627.



5Samuel T. Spear, "The Bible Doctrine of the Trinity," The Bible Studentsí Library, No. 90, (March, 1892), 3-14. (Reprint from New York Independent, November 14, 1889).

6Ibid., p. 9.

7Ibid., p. 3.

8Ibid., p. 7.


10Ibid., p. 8.

11Ibid., pp. 11,12.

12A. T. Jones, "Holy Spirit the Presence of Christ," The General Conference Bulletin, I (February 25, 1895), 329.


14A. T. Jones (ed.), "The Faith of Jesus," Review and Herald, LXXVII (December 18, 1900), 808.

15A. T. Jones, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Co., 1905), p. 129.

16A. T. Jones (ed.), "The Faith of Jesus," Review and Herald, LXXVII (December 25, 1900), 824.

17M. C. Wilcox, "The Spirit—Impersonal and Personal," The Signs of the Times, XXIV (August 18, 1898), 518.


19M. C. Wilcox, "The Divine Unity," The Signs of the Times, XXIV (December 22, 1898), 816.


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