C H A P T E R XIII
ELLEN G. WHITE A TRINITARIAN MONOTHEIST
The final chapters of this thesis are devoted to a relatively brief discussion of the position of Ellen G. White in regard to the nature of God. The present writer has found no evidence that Ellen G. White ever wrote or declared herself orally in favor of the Arian position. On the contrary all the evidence which will be presented here is of a distinctly Trinitarian nature. As will become apparent, by far the greatest number of the E. G. White statements on the subject were made in the latter decades of the nineteenth century and the early years of this century. It has been demonstrated that there was an evolution of thought among Adventists generally on the nature of God. This took the form of gradual repudiation of Arianism and acceptance of Trinitarianism. But Ellen G. White’s writings do not reveal this type of thought evolution. The profound statements of her later period do not contradict anything she wrote in the earlier period. Instead they reveal a growing awareness of the deeper mysteries of the Godhead.
Certain of Ellen G. White’s statement, which clearly contradicted the positions of her Adventist contemporaries, were written prior to 1898. Evidently the significance of these statements was not immediately appreciated, as is evidenced by the continued presentation of contrary views in denominational periodicals and books. Ellen G. White’s statements on the nature of God became more abundant, more insistent and increasingly unequivocal as the nineteenth century drew to a close.
It is the purpose of the present writer to present in this and the following two chapters Ellen G. White’s views on the nature of the Godhead; the nature of Christ on relation to the Father before, during, and after the incarnation; and the nature of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Father and the Son.
THE MYSTERY OF THE GODHEAD
Some of Ellen G. White’s strongest warnings were given in regard to the danger of presumptuously attempting to fathom the mysteries of the Deity. She wrote:
Publish the truth, do not publish error. Do not try to explain in regard to the personality of God. You cannot give any further explanation than the Bible has given. Human theories regarding Him are good for nothing. Do not soil your minds by studying misleading theories of the enemy.1
On the other hand, she indicated that there are certain truths on the nature of God revealed in the Bible which are available to those who prayerfully seek to understand them:
The revelation of Himself that God has given in His Word is for our study. This we may seek to understand. But beyond this we are not to penetrate. The highest intellect may tax itself until it is wearied out on conjectures regarding the nature of God, but the effort will be fruitless. This problem has not been given us to solve. No human mind can comprehend God. None are to indulge in speculation regarding His nature. Here silence is eloquence. The Omniscient One is above discussion.2
It must, therefore, be in a spirit of humble caution that we attempt to present a little of what has been revealed on this mysterious subject.
Ellen G. White was manifestly a monotheist. There is no suggestion anywhere in her writings that there are three Gods. The complete oneness between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are emphasized in many statements. This unity is likened to that between Christ and his disciples, and John
chapter 17 is quoted as evidence of the validity of the analogy.3 But the analogy is a partial and imperfect one. The disciples were not divine; Christ was. The relationship between them and Christ is therefore only in certain respects similar to that between the Father and the Son. If the relationship between Christ and His disciples were in all respects similar to that between the Father and the Son there would be no mystery involved in Christ’s relationship to the Father. But here is something which is said to be "infinitely mysterious:"4
There are light and glory in the truth that Christ was One with the Father before the foundation of the world was laid. This is the light shining in a dark place, making it resplendent with divine, original glory. This truth, infinitely mysterious in itself, explains other mysterious and otherwise unexplainable truths, while it is enshrined in light unapproachable and incomprehensible.5
Thus the oneness between the Father and the Son is declared to be a mysterious union not yet explained to mortals. The relationship between Christ and the Father presents no real problems to the tritheist. To him there are three Gods who are united in purpose and identical in character and attributes, but nonetheless just as distinct as was Christ from His disciples. What is there infinitely mysterious about this? Here is just another of man’s attempts to apprehend the "light unapproachable and incomprehensible." It is not difficult to understand why the Adventist Arians repudiated this position. But the answer to it, as will be demonstrated, is not to be found in the subordination of the Son to the Father or the conception of a time when the Father alone existed.
Ellen G. White speaks of the Father and the Son as being of "one substance."6
With what firmness and power he uttered these words. The Jews has never before heard such words from human lips, and a converting influence attended them; for it seemed that divinity flashed through humanity as Jesus said, "I and my Father are one." The words of Christ were full of deep meaning as he put forth the claim that he and the Father were of one substance, possessing the same attributes. The Jews understood his meaning, there was no reason why they should misunderstand, and they took up stones to stone him.7
The tritheist, who limits the oneness between Christ and the Father to that between Christ and His disciples, is now obliged to explain in what sense it might be true that Christ and His disciples are "of one substance, possessing the same attributes."8 Is there any evidence in the Bible or the writings of Ellen G. White to suggest that the believer is in possession now, or will be at some time in the future, of the "substance" of God? The present writer has discovered none.
On the other hand the Adventist Arian is faced with the difficulty that the supreme God includes Christ. The statement says that the Jews understood His meaning. And they understood Him on other occasions when He claimed complete union with the Father. For instance Jesus claimed to be the "I am."
With solemn dignity Jesus answered, "Verily, verily I say unto you, before Abraham was I AM."
Silence fell upon the vast assembly. The name of God, given to Moses to express the idea of the eternal presence, had been claimed as His own by this Galilean rabbi. He had announced Himself to be the self-existent One, He who had been promised to Israel, "whose goings forth have been from of old, from the days of eternity."9
Then Christ as the "I am" was the "self-existent One." But is not the Father the self-existent One? Of course. Then is not the Arian right in responding that such a doctrine postulates the existence of two Gods?10 Ellen G. White answers this question by stating quite unequivocally that the "I AM" is One. Commenting on Ezekiel 1:4, 26; 10:8 she says:
Heavenly beings, sustained and guided by the hand beneath the wings of the cherubim, were impelling the wheels; above them, upon the sapphire throne was the Eternal One; and round about the throne a rainbow, the emblem of divine mercy.
The history which the great I AM has marked out in His word, uniting link after link in the prophetic chain, from eternity in the past to eternity in the future, tells us where we are to-day in the procession of the ages, and what may be expected in time to come.11
The theme of the whole passage is divine intervention and control in the affairs of men. The "Eternal One" is clearly the "I AM." But because of Christ’s claim the I AM includes both Christ and the Father. The One Upon the throne is the One God. Ezekiel and Ellen White were monotheists. But here is one God including both Christ and the Father. Here is a mysterious oneness which cannot be explained in Arian or tritheistic terms.
The God who revealed Himself to Moses was the "Eternal One." This One was "the Deity."
To the transgressor it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; but Moses stood alone in the presence of the Eternal One, and He was not afraid; for his soul was in harmony with the will of his Maker.
. . .
The Deity proclaimed Himself, "the Lord, the Lord god, merciful and gracious…."12
Elsewhere it is clearly stated that Christ was with the Father at Sinai:
When they came to Sinai, He took occasion to refresh their minds in regard to His requirements. Christ and the Father, standing side by side upon the mount, with solemn majesty proclaimed the Ten Commandments….13
Therefore the "Eternal One" who revealed Himself at Sinai included both the Father and Christ. Moses communed with one God, the Deity. Both Christ and the Father are included in that term "the Eternal One:"
It was Christ who had spoken to Israel through Moses. If they had listened to the divine voice that spoke through their great leader, they would have recognized it in the teachings of Christ. Had they believed Moses, they would have believed Him of whom Moses wrote.
Jesus knew that the priests and rabbis were determined to take his life; yet He clearly explained to them His unity with the Father, and His relation to the world.14
The Jews would have understood something of the unity between Christ and the Father if they had understood that it was Christ who spoke to Israel at Sinai.
As quoted above, Ellen G. White emphasized that "the Deity proclaimed Himself" to Moses.15 Of course the Deity is the Godhead, and Mrs. White explained elsewhere what she understood by the Godhead.
The Father is all the fullness of the Godhead bodily and is invisible to mortal sight.
The Son is all the fullness of the Godhead manifested. The Word of God declares Him to be "the express image of His Person." "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Here is shown the personality of the Father.
The Comforter that Christ promised to send after He ascended to Heaven, is the Spirit in all the fullness of the Godhead, making manifest the power of divine grace to all who receive and believe in Christ as a personal Saviour. There are three, living persons of the heavenly trio; in the name of these three great powersthe Father, the Son, and the Holy Spiritthose who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these three powers will co-operate with the obedient subjects of Heaven in their effort to love the new life in Christ.16
It might be asked of the Arian how Christ could be inferior to the Father and yet be "all the fullness of the Godhead manifested." Clearly, in this passage, the Holy Spirit is God, for the Godhead consists of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This passage also provides a dilemma for the Adventist tritheist for if the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are each "the fullness of the godhead," then they are in some mysterious sense in one another. There is a union here that is beyond human comprehension and that transcends all man-made analogies, a union which renders it perfectly accurate to say that our God is one God.
The God of creation is one God according to Ellen G. White. "nature testifies that one infinite in power, great in goodness, mercy and love, created the earth, and filled it with life and gladness."17 There are many Scriptural passages and many statements in the writings of Ellen G. White that render it abundantly apparent that the Creator includes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Ellen White wrote, "all things were created by the Son of God."18 Further she stated:
"When He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth." John 16:13. Only by the aid of that Spirit who in the beginning "was brooding upon the face of the waters;" of that Word by whom "all things were made;" of that "true light, which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world," can the testimony of science be rightly interpereted.19
Here the Holy Spirit promised by Christ is identified with the Spirit of Genesis 1:3. Christ and the Holy Spirit are therefore included with the Father in the "one infinite in power" who "created the earth."
The Jehovah of the Old Testament is one God according to Ellen G. White. "Jehovah, the eternal, self-existent, uncreated one, Himself the source and sustainer of all, is alone entitled to supreme reverence and worship."20 Elsewhere she wrote, "Jehovah is the name given to Christ. ‘behold, God is my salvation,’ writes the prophet isaiah; ‘I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song. . . . ’"21 Therefore, Jehovah, the one God of the Old Testament, included Christ.
The mysterious union between the Father and the Son is such that Ellen G. White referred to Jesus as our Father in a manner reminiscent of the words of Isaiah 9:6. "However much a shepherd may love his sheep, he loves his sons and daughters more. Jesus is not only our shepherd; he is our ‘everlasting Father.’ John 10:14, 15 r.v."22
The conclusion to be drawn from the foregoing evidence is that Ellen G. White was a decided monotheist. God is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
THREE DISTINCT PERSONALITIES IN THE DEITY
Ellen G. White taught the unity of the Deity but she wrote many statements indicating that God consists of three distinct personalities. As indicated above, to her God comprised Father, Son and Holy Spirit who were each "the fullness of the Godhead."23 The union between them is such that it is true to say that our God is one God. But this does not destroy the distinct personalities of the members of the Deity.
As we consider the question in the light of Ellen G. White’s statements on the unity of the Deity it appears that the term "personality" must be given a special connotation when it is used in reference to a member of the Godhead. There is no mysterious union between human personalities so that it could be said that any three are also one. From the point of view of human terminology one is one, three are three, and three can logically never be one. But in regard to the Deity three personalities comprise one God. Then evidently the distinction between human personalities is by no means analogous to that between the personalities of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; otherwise the three would comprise three Gods, not one.
Just as the complete unity of the Godhead is a mystery so is the distinction between the personalities comprising it. To rush in where angels veil their faces and with a dogmatic gesture declare that the existence of three equal, distinct personalities in the Deity postulates the existence of three Gods is to give the word "personality" its purely human connotation. But God is infinitely superior to things human. In reference to Him the word must be given a new connotation. What that should be is not revealed. Ellen G. White’s use of it in the passages to be quoted here is perfectly understandable since she was obliged to use what language was available to her in explaining the mysteries of the nature of God.
There follows a brief series of quotations which emphasize that God is a personal Being and that the numbers of the Godhead are distinct personalities:
The mighty power that works through all nature and sustains all things is not, as some men of science represent, merely an all-pervading principle, an actuating energy. God is a Spirit; yet He is a personal Being; for so He has revealed Himself.24
Christ is one with the Father, but Christ and God are two distinct personages.25
The Lord Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, existed from eternity, a distinct person, yet one with the Father.26
There is a personal God the Father; there is a personal Christ, the Son.27
The Scriptures clearly indicate the relation between God and Christ, arid they bring to view as clearly the personality and individuality of each.28
The unity that exists between Christ and His disciples does not destroy the personality of either. They are one in purpose, in mind, in character, but not in person. It is thus that God and Christ are one.29
Care must be taken in interpreting this last passage and in interpreting John chapter 17 on which it is based. In the light of the evidence of the preceding section we are bound to conclude that there are similarities in the relationship between Christ and the Father and in that between Christ and His disciples. But there are also vast differences. The unfallen angels were entirely united to the Father and the Son, but they were not divine, nor were they able to enter into all the secrets of their Ruler.
Even the angels were not permitted to share the counsels between the Father and the Son when the plan of salvation was laid. Those human beings who seek to intrude into the secrets of the Most High show their ignorance of spiritual and eternal things.30
If the distinction between Christ and His disciples and the union between them were entirely analogous to the distinction and union between Christ and the Father then there would be no such divine secrets kept from the human believer. Partaking of the divine nature by human beings would then be elevation to the level of the Deity. It was Satan’s effort to achieve this that precipitated the Great Controversy, and he continues to perpetuate his own demonic covetousness by degrading man’s conception of Christ in relation to the Father and elevating man’s conception of himself in relation to Christ.
More will be said concerning the Holy Spirit in the final chapter where Ellen G. White’s overall teaching on the subject will be presented, but suffice it to say here that she conceived of the Holy Spirit as a person. "The Holy Spirit is a person, for He beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God."31
The evidence of this chapter may be summarized by saying that Ellen G. White was clearly a monotheist who understood the one God as comprising three distinct personalities. But the student of the Deity is bound to admit that both the oneness of God and the distinction of the personalities are mysteries which human terminology cannot define.
1E. G. White, Counsels to Writers and Editors (Nashville, Tennessee: Southern Publishing Association, 1946), pp.93, 94. Citing Letter 179, 1904.
2E. G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1905), p. 429.
3Ibid., p. 421.
4E. G. White, "The Word Made Flesh," Review and Herald, LXXXIII (April 5, 1906), 8. Cited by Francis D. Nichol (ed.), Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1956) V, 1126. (Hereafter referred to as 5 BC).
6E. G. White, "The True Sheep Respond to the Voice of the Shepherd," The Signs of the Times, XX (November 27, 1893), 54.
9E. G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898), pp. 469, 470.
10J. N. Loughborough, "Questions for Bro. Loughborough." Review and Herald, XVIII (November 5, 1861), 184.
11E. G. White, Education (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1903), p.178.
12E. G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1890), p. 329.
13E. G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1946), p. 616. Citing E. G. White, Historical Sketches, p. 231. (1866).
14E. G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898), p. 213.
15E. G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1890), p. 329.
16E. G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1946), pp. 614, 615. Citing E. G. White, Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7, pp.62, 63. (1905).
17E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. VIII (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1904), p. 256.
18E. G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898), p. 281.
19E. G. White, Education (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1903), p. 134.
20E. G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1890), p. 305.
21E. G. White, "The Word Made Flesh," The Signs of the Times, XXV (May 3, 1899), 2.
22E. G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, l898), p. 483.
23Cf. Ante, p. 73.
24E. G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1905), p. 4l3. In this as in certain other statements Ellen G. White was obviously attempting to answer the pantheistic notions which J. H. Kellogg had attempted to introduce into the Church. This was a more serious threat to the Denomination than was Arianism because of the militant disposition of the man who was propagating it. Undoubtedly Ellen G. White’s overall teaching on the nature of God was intended to answer what she recognized as prevailing misconceptions on the subject, including both Arianism and pantheism. See A. W. Spalding, Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1962), III, 140, 141.
25E. G. White, "The Work in Washington," Review and Herald, LXXXII (June 1, 1905), 13. Cited by 5 BC, 1148.
26E. G. White, Selected Messages, Book One (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, l958), p. 247. Citing Review and Herald, April 5, 1906.
27E. G. White, "The Revelation of God," Review and Herald, LXXV (November 8, 1898), 709.
28E. G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1905), p. 421.
30E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church, Vol. VIII (Mountain View, Cal.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1904), p. 279.
31E. G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D. C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1946), p. 616. Citing Manuscript 20, 1906.