What did Ellen White teach about the Godhead ?
When Jesus was here, one of the major contentions of the Jews was over the fact of His deity. In fact, this was one of the major reasons offered by the high priest why they had to crucify Jesus, because He claimed to be Jehovah—the eternal God. Four thousand years or more before that time, Lucifer had brought up a similar contention, challenging the absolute authority of Christ. Lucifer said that he should be equal with Christ. “Satan was jealous of Jesus.” Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, 17. “Lucifer was envious of Christ, and gradually assumed command which devolved upon Christ alone.” The Story of Redemption, 13. It was this envy of Lucifer that Christ should be equal with the Father that resulted in his fall and the rebellion against the government of God. He is still attempting to prove that Christ is not or should not be equal with the Father.
Since the times of the early church, innumerable variant teachings have been developed in regard to the Godhead and the deity of Christ. A principle one of these teachings was the development in the fourth century of Arianism, the idea that there was a time when Christ was not, or stated a different way, that Christ was the first of all created beings. Arianism is still a teaching of some churches today. Many fights and battles occurred, both military and spiritual, over the issue of the Godhead. This was one of the principle controversies for a period of at least two hundred years between the fourth and sixth century.
In the development of Adventism, as people came into the second Advent movement from many different churches and backgrounds, it is not surprising that there would be different individuals who had contrary ideas on the subject of the Godhead. Before looking at this controversy there are two points that we should understand. First of all, since the Godhead is one of the oldest controversies in Christendom, we should expect it to be revived among God’s people toward the end, because Ellen White predicts that old controversies will be revived. “Those things which have been, will be repeated. Old controversies will be revived, and new theories will be continually arising.” Selected Messages, vol. 2, 109. “We are standing on the threshold of great and solemn events. Many of the prophecies are about to be fulfilled in quick succession. Every element of power is about to be set to work. Past history will be repeated; old controversies will arouse to new life, and peril will beset God’s people on every side. Intensity is taking possession of the human family . . .Impostors of every caste and grade will claim to be worthy and true, and there will be a magnifying of the common and impure against the true and the holy. Thus, the spurious is accepted, and the true standard of holiness is discarded, as the word of God was discarded by Adam and Eve for the lie of Satan.” Review and Herald, August 31, 1897. “The whole earth is to be lightened with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the channels of the great deep. Prophecies are being fulfilled, and stormy times are before us. Old controversies which have apparently been hushed for a long time will be revived, and new controversies will spring up; new and old will commingle, and this will take place right early.” Special Testimonies, Series A, 38.
A second point that we need to understand, before looking at this old controversy which has been revived just as Ellen White predicted, is that if we accept as authoritative and divinely inspired the writings of Ellen White, the special messenger to the remnant, we will be protected from all the delusions that will come upon the world. Ellen White wrote to Elder Simpson, an Adventist minister, (Letter 50, 1906), “The Lord never denies His word. Men may get up scheme after scheme and the enemy will seek to seduce souls from truth, but all who believe that the Lord has spoken through Sister White, and has given her a message will be safe from the many delusions that will come in these last days.” So, we see that the Lord has given us, through the Spirit of Prophecy, a safeguard against the many delusions that will come in; a point of reference to turn to when there is any old or new controversy arising, by which we can be stabilized in Bible truth, and kept from all delusions.
We go now directly to the controversy over the Godhead, not in religious history in general, but in the developing second Advent movement. Many, if not most, of the leaders in the early second Advent movement, after 1844, were Arian in belief. For example, Uriah Smith wrote that Christ was a created being. Not only this, but Uriah Smith did not believe that Christ was the Alpha and the Omega, except in a very qualified sense (i.e. the Alpha and Omega of the plan of salvation). Also, Uriah Smith was unwilling to say that the phrase, “the one who is, and the one who was, and the one who is to come” could be applied to Jesus Christ. Moreover, people such as Uriah Smith, D.M. Canright and J.N. Loughborough had the position that the Holy Spirit was not really a personality, not a person, but was simply some type of a divine emanation or influence. E.J. Waggoner also said that there was a time when Christ had not existed, that His life was derived from the Father. Statements concerning the equality of Christ to the Father were interpreted to mean that He had an equality that was conferred upon Him.
One of the main reasons that these beliefs disappeared from Adventism was that in 1898, Ellen White published a book called The Desire of Ages, which made unequivocal definitions of Christ’s place, power and authority, and also spoke of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Godhead. The reason that the controversy over Arianism was solved without the church splitting was because our pioneers had implicit faith and confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy. This faith and confidence in the writings of Ellen White as being a true prophet of God had been built over many decades so that by the latter part of the nineteenth century, when she made statements totally contrary to what they believed, they surrendered their ideas and believed what the Lord had told them through the Spirit of Prophecy.
We look now at statements concerning the Godhead from the pen of Ellen White. First of all, we must understand that the Godhead is a subject that is beyond the mind of man, and that we will never fully understand it throughout eternity. She said, “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.” Counsels to Writers and Editors, 94. Also, “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 in 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 . . . Let none indulge in speculation regarding His nature. Here silence is eloquence. The Omniscient One is above discussion.” Testimonies, vol. 8, 279.
A second point that we notice in Ellen White’s writings is that she speaks of one God. She does not teach that there are three Gods, but that there is one God. And yet, at the same time, as we will see, she teaches that this one God includes the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which are three personalities mysteriously united as one. We will now quote statements that indicate this. “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 Galilaean 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.’” Desire of Ages, 469, 470. “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.” SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1126. [All emphasis supplied.]
Ellen White speaks of the Father and Son as being of one substance: ” ‘Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not; the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.’ With what firmness and power he uttered these words. The Jews had never before heard such words from human lips, and a convicting 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.” Signs of the Times, November 20, 1893.
Ellen White teaches that the “I am” refers to Christ and the Father, both Christ and the Father are self existent. And she states unequivocally that the “I am” is one. Notice, “Heavenly beings, sustained and guided by the hand beneath the wings of the cherubim, were impelling these 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 today in the procession of the ages and what may be expected in time to come.” Education, 178. Notice, there is One upon the throne and this Eternal One is also the great “I AM.” But we have already seen from the Desire of Ages that the “I AM” includes Christ as well as the Father. (See John 8.) So this “Eternal One” must include both the Father and the Son. In this passage she is commenting on Ezekiel 1:4, 26, and 10:8. Notice, there is One upon the throne. There is one God, but this one God includes both Christ and the Father. The God who gave the ten commandments is spoken of by Ellen White as the “Eternal One.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 329. But, Ellen White speaks of this Eternal One as both the Father and the Son: “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.” Evangelism, 616. So both Christ and the Father are included in that term “the Eternal One.”
Concerning the Holy Spirit Ellen White said, “‘The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities;’ and the Spirit, being God, knoweth the mind of God.” Signs of the Times, October 3, 1892. Ellen White taught that all three members of the Godhead were God in the fullest most complete sense: “All these spiritualistic representations are simply nothingness. They are imperfect, untrue. They weaken and diminish the Majesty which no earthly likeness can be compared to. God cannot be compared with the things His hands have made. These are mere earthly things, suffering under the curse of God because of the sins of man. The Father cannot be described by the things of earth. 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 on 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 Savior. There are three living persons of the heavenly trio; in the name of these three great powers —the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will co-operate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their efforts to live the new life in Christ.” Evangelism, 614, 615.
We see in these statements that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all referred to as being the “fullness of the Godhead,” and that they are referred to as persons, specifically as three persons. We will now see further evidence that these three Persons, each of whom is the fullness of the Godhead, are all “one God.”
The world was created by one God, as you can read in Testimonies, vol. 8, 256. It is generally conceded that this one God includes the Father, but we now see that it included the Son and the Holy Spirit also. Notice, “‘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 lighteth every man that cometh into the world,’ can the testimony of science be rightly interpreted.” Education, 134.
We next come to the term “Jehovah.” “Jehovah, the eternal self-existent, uncreated One, Himself the Source and Sustainer of all is alone entitled to supreme reverence and worship.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 305. But “Jehovah is the name given to Christ.” Signs of the Times, May 3, 1899. Although this word generally refers to Christ in the Scriptures, sometimes it can refer to the Father: “In His wisdom the Saviour teaches us to approach God with the confidence of a child. He instructs us to call Jehovah by the endearing name of ‘Father,’ that we may not separate from Him in awe and coldness. Constantly He points us to the emblems of fatherly love, seeking to encourage faith and confidence in God. He pleads with us to have a correct idea of the Father.” Signs of the Times, January 20, 1898.
Next, we see again an emphasis in Ellen White’s writings that there are three distinct personalities in the deity. Notice, “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.” Ministry of Healing, 413. “Christ is one with the Father, but Christ and God are two distinct Personages.” Review and Herald, June 1, 1905. “The Lord Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, existed from eternity, a distinct person, yet one with the Father.” Selected Messages, vol. 1, 247, or Review and Herald, April 5, 1906. [Notice when the word eternity is used, the writer is referring to an infinite number so that you can not say that there was ever a time when Christ was not a distinct person from the Father. This completely destroys the teaching that some infer from Proverbs 8 that there was a time when Christ was not a distinct person from the Father. The term “bring forth” does not there have implications of a bringing forth in the sense of a birth or beginning of existence—as we will see, no more can this be said about the Son than about the Father. The sense of “bring forth” in Proverbs 8 is the same, or similar, as in Psalm 18:19 where it is speaking of a change in location and has nothing to do with beginning of existence.] “There is a personal God, the Father; there is a personal Christ, the Son.” Review and Herald, November 8, 1898. “The scriptures clearly indicate the relation between God and Christ, and they bring to view as clearly the personality individuality of each.” Ministry of Healing, 421. “The unity that exists between Christ and His disciples does not destroy the personality of either. They are one is purpose, in mind, in character, but not in person. It is thus that God and Christ are one.” Ministry of Healing, 422.
The Holy Spirit is a person also.
“The Holy Spirit is a person, for He beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.” Evangelism, 616.
We come now more specifically to the point of the pre-existence of Christ. Ellen White bears much witness to the fact of the eternal pre-existence of Christ. “But the life of Christ was unborrowed. No one can take this life from Him. ‘I lay it down of myself’ (John 10:18), He said. In Him was life, original, unborrowed, underived.” Signs of the Times, April 8, 1897. (See also Desire of Ages, 530.) “Christ is the pre-existent, self-existent, Son of God . . . In speaking of His pre-existence, Christ carries the mind back through dateless ages. He assures us that there never was a time when He was not in close fellowship with the eternal God.” [Fellowship, means by definition that two distinct intelligences are referred to, there is no fellowship with one’s self.] Signs of the Times, August 29, 1900. “Christ shows them that, although they might reckon His life to be less than fifty years, yet, His divine life cannot be reckoned by human computation. The existence of Christ before His incarnation is not measured by figures.” Signs of the Times, May 3, 1899. Well did the disciples understand this love as they saw their Saviour enduring shame, reproach, doubt, and betrayal, as they saw his agony in the garden, and his death on Calvary’s cross. This is a love the depth of which no sounding can ever fathom. As the disciples comprehended it, as their perception took hold of God’s divine compassion, they realized that there is a sense in which the sufferings of the Son were the sufferings of the Father. From eternity there was a complete unity between the Father and the Son. They were two, yet little short of being identical; two in individuality, yet one in spirit, and heart, and character. Youth Instructor, December 12, 1897.
Concerning the equality of the Father and the Son, Ellen White makes many statements which show that Christ was equal with the Father before His incarnation, during His incarnation, and forever. For example, “Though he took humanity upon himself, he was divine. All that is attributed to the Father himself is attributed to Christ.” Review and Herald, May 19, 1896. “Christ was God essentially, and in the highest sense. He was with God from all eternity, God over all blessed forevermore.” Review and Herald, April 5, 1906. “To save the transgressor of God’s law, Christ,the One equal with the Father, came to live Heaven before men, that they might learn to know what it is to have heaven in the heart.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, 179. “But although Christ’s divine glory was for a time veiled and eclipsed by His assuming humanity, yet he did not cease to be God when He became man. The human did not take the place of the divine, nor the divine of the human. This is the mystery of godliness. The two expressions human and divine were, in Christ, closely and inseparably one, and yet they had a distinct individuality. Though Christ humbled Himself to become man, the Godhead was still His own.” Signs of the Times, May10, 1899. “The only way in which the fallen race could be restored was through the gift of His Son, equal with Himself, possessing the attributes of God. Though so highly exalted, Christ consented to assume human nature that He might work in behalf of man and reconcile to God His disloyal subject.” Review and Herald, November 8, 1892. Notice, that in this preceding statement, Ellen White makes the claim that only by One who was equal with the Father could man be redeemed. If Christ was a junior God or in any way not equal with the Father, as Arians have claimed, Ellen White claims that the atonement would not be complete. This claim completely destroys the Arian position.
We next come to the question about what happened to Christ’s deity when He died. On this question, Ellen White is very specific. She said, “Humanity died: divinity did not die.” Youth’s Instructor, August 4, 1898. The reader might also see statements in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1113, 1129. Also, The Desire of Ages teaches that when Christ came forth from the tomb, he was raised by His own divine power. See Desire of Ages, 785.
Last of all, Ellen White describes the Holy Spirit as a personality, a deity, and not an inferior emanation or influence, but in every sense, part of the Godhead. Notice, “The Holy Spirit has a personality, else He could not bear witness to our spirits and with our spirits that we are the children of God. He must also be a divine person, else he could not search out the secrets which lie hidden in the mind of God.” Evangelism, 617. “The prince of the power of evil can only be held in check by the power of God in the Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.” Special Testimonies, Series A, number 10, 37. “Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power. It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world’s Redeemer.” Desire of Ages, 671. Ellen White does not speak of the Holy Spirit as an emanation, an influence or something subordinate or inferior to the Father and the Son. She speaks of the Holy Spirit as the fullness of the Godhead. “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 powers—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—those who receive Christ by living faith are baptized, and these powers will co-operate with the obedient subjects of heaven in their effort to live the new life of Christ.” Special Testimonies, Series B, Number 7, 62, 63. Many have written treatises on the above subject but one of the best ones that this writer has seen which contains most of the references used in the above article is a Thesis on the Arian views in Seventh-day Adventist Literature and the Ellen G. White Answer by Erwin Roy Gane, submitted to Andrews University Seminary June, 1963.