Download full PDF booklet HERE
The major hurdles that needed to be overcome with regards to Seventh-day Adventists becoming trinitarian was their beliefs concerning both Christ and the Holy Spirit. In this article we’ll look at how our beliefs concerning the Holy Spirit became changed.
During the early 1900’s, Seventh-day Adventists still did not consider the Holy Spirit to be a person in the very same sense as they considered God and Christ to be persons (individual personal beings). This was even though they considered Him to be a personality and referred to him as a person. This we also took note was whilst they were still under the auspices of God’s messenger, namely Ellen G. White.
In one sense however, the ‘one time’ Seventh-day Adventist theology regarding the Godhead was nothing different than that which is said here
“The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father, and of the Son neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.” (The Athanasian Creed)
As can be seen, this is a statement from the Athanasian Creed. This is the creed that is said to depict what trinitarians believe.
In this statement we can readily see the ‘difference’ between the three divine personalities of the Godhead. The Father is said to be unbegotten, the Son is begotten (albeit an eternal begetting according to orthodox trinitarianism) with the Holy Spirit proceeding. As to whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son or from them both is still a matter of debate amongst trinitarians.
With regards to the above quoted section from the Athanasian Creed, this is exactly the same as that which the Scriptures say about these three divine personalities. It is also exactly the same as that which was once believed by Seventh-day Adventists.
It must be remembered here that in the Athanasian Creed, it also says that the three divine personalities subsist in the one being (one indivisible substance) of God, which of course is something that the Bible does not say. This is where the creed introduces speculation and where the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism departed company from it.
As it says at the very beginning of the creed
“Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this, that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.” (The Athanasian Creed)
As well as this ‘one substance’ (one being) part of this creed, it is the claim that Christ is eternally begotten that causes the major problem for those who are non-trinitarian. This is because it is not something that is stated in Scripture.
In the early 1900’s, the belief that Christ was a begotten Son and that the Holy Spirit did proceed was the generally held ‘faith’ of Seventh-day Adventists but they were certainly not trinitarians. This is not only because of their beliefs concerning the Holy Spirit but also because they did not believe that all three personalities have their subsistence in the one indivisible substance (the one being) of God as purported in the trinity doctrine. Certainly they did not believe that Christ, as a separate personality from God, has always had an existence. This is why at the 1919 Bible Conference when W. W. Prescott presented views of Christ as being ever existent (coeternal with the Father), it brought objections from some of the delegates, although it must be also said that others courted its favour.
The old view versus the new
Very soon after the death of Ellen White, it really was becoming a matter of the ‘old view’ (Christ a begotten Son) versus an impending ‘new view’ (Christ not begotten), the latter being a view that says Christ has never, as a separate personality from God, had a beginning. As well as this, in contrast to many denominations (mainly trinitarian), Seventh-day Adventists did not regard the Holy Spirit as a person like God and Christ. This was even though they regarded Him as a personality.
In this section you are now reading, we shall see that in the 1930’s and even through to the 1940’s, this very same non-trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit (therefore non-trinitarian theology) had not totally disappeared from within Seventh-day Adventism. The facts of history testify to this much. Obvious to relate, the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists throughout the world could not be changed overnight.
So regarding the Holy Spirit, how did the belief of Seventh-day Adventists become changed to one that could be termed trinitarian? This we shall now venture to discover.
It does appear that many have come to the conclusion that a man by the name of LeRoy Edwin Froom (1890-1974) was one of the main instigators of bringing the trinity belief into Seventh-day Adventism. He is also said by some to have been one of our denomination’s most foremost theologians and historians. Others question the validity of these claims. This is not only in respect of Froom’s theological views but also of his conclusions regarding Seventh-day Adventist history. These latter conclusions, as some have duly recognised, are not as accurate as they could and should have been (we shall take more note of this in later sections).
Froom had what can only be described as an illustrious career within Seventh-day Adventism.
As it said in the Review and Herald (this was 12 years after he had officially retired)
“For about 35 years Elder Froom was associated with editorial work. He worked on the Signs of the Times, both in English (Pacific Press) and Chinese (Shanghai), and his name is associated with the founding of two denominational magazines, The Shepherd’s Voice in Chinese, and Ministry magazine. For 24 years he served the church in the General Conference Ministerial Association, first as an associate secretary, and then as head of the department.” (Review and Herald, December 10th 1970, ‘General News’)
As can be seen by this very brief summary of his career, LeRoy Froom was a renowned figure in Seventh-day Adventism.
In 1930 (we shall see the significance of this date in later sections), A. G. Daniells commissioned him to write a book (‘Movement of Destiny’) concerning the history of Seventh-day Adventism. This, as he explains in his book, is as it pertained to the principles, provisions and divine Personalities of the plan of redemption, particularly as this applied to Seventh-day Adventists from 1888 onwards (the year of the famous Minneapolis Conference). There was also to be a special emphasis on the 1888 conference itself.
As was noted in section ten, this was the book that led the author of these notes to believe that the Seventh-day Adventist Church had always been a trinitarian denomination, which as we know today is not a correct view of its history. For now though, we shall take a look at what Froom had to say about our changeover in beliefs concerning the Holy Spirit.
On page 322 of his ‘Movement of Destiny’, LeRoy Froom relates
“May I here make a frank personal confession? When, back between 1926 and 1928, I was asked by our leaders to give a series of studies on the Holy Spirit, covering the North American union ministerial institutes of 1928, I found that, aside from priceless leads found in the Spirit of Prophecy, there was practically nothing in our literature setting forth a sound Biblical exposition in this tremendous field of study. There were no previous pathfinding books on the question in our literature.” (LeRoy Froom ‘Movement of Destiny’, page 322 1971 ‘Decades of Varied Advances Follows 1888’)
Note very carefully what Froom is saying here because it really is very important.
He says that up to 1928, which was 13 years after the death of Ellen White, also 30 years after the publication of ‘The Desire of Ages’, which was 84 yearsafter the beginning of Seventh-day Adventism (using 1844 as a starting point), he could find “practically nothing” in our literature that set out a sound Biblical exposition on the Holy Spirit. This is quite an assertion seeing how much our pioneers did say concerning both the Holy Spirit and the importance of His work in the plan of redemption. Remember too that these latter mentioned sections only contained a small sample of what the pioneers had written. Would you term what you have read in those sections as being “practically nothing”?
It is also amazing, especially in the light of what we have seen that Ellen White said about the Holy Spirit, that Froom says that all he could find in the spirit of prophecy writings was “priceless leads”. This of course is only the same as saying that through the spirit of prophecy, God had been comparatively silent about the most important aspect of the Christian faith, – this of course being the personal presence (omnipresence) of both Himself and His Son. The Holy Spirit is also the very agency through which by revealing the gospel and dwelling within, God first seeks to justify a person and then brings about a dramatic change in behaviour.
We can see therefore that Froom’s assertion that regarding the Holy Spirit he could find “practically nothing” in the writings of the pioneers and only “priceless leads” in the spirit of prophecy really is quite a claim to make. In fact in one sense, it is even damning God Himself. This is inasmuch as it is actually saying that during the 71 years of Ellen White’s ministry, God ‘held back’ on revealing through her the most important aspect of our salvation, namely the agency through which He brings about conversion and salvation.
So why could not Froom find that which he was looking for in the writings of the pioneers? Was it because the pioneers (including Ellen White) had not written about the Holy Spirit? Of course not! As we have seen, they had written plenty about Him, especially Ellen White. So what was it that Froom was looking for that he could not find?
Obvious to relate, LeRoy Froom could not find in the writings of the pioneers (including the writings of Ellen White), views on the Holy Spirit that were trinitarian. All of the views that he found in the pioneers writings were non-trinitarian.
This is obviously why Froom admitted
“I was compelled to search out a score of valuable books written by men outside our faith – those previously noted – for initial clues and suggestions, and to open up beckoning vistas to intensive personal study.” (Ibid)
He then said
“Having these, I went on from there. But they were decided early helps. And scores, if not hundreds, could confirm the same sobering conviction that some of these other men frequently had a deeper insight into the spiritual things of God than many of our own men then had on the Holy Spirit and the triumphant life. It was still a largely obscure theme.” (Ibid)
Froom here was referring primarily to those involved with the Keswick Conferences that are held in the Lake District in England. These conferences have been taking place since the 1870’s. They promote holy Christian living but have come under criticism inasmuch as some have said that they point the Christian to his own works rather than to Christ.
The Wikipedia online encyclopaedia says of these conferences
“This conference is regarded by many as a turning point in the origins of the modern Pentecostal movement.” (Wikipedia Online Encyclopaedia, William Boardman)
Those in attendance at these conferences are multi-denominational.
Froom says of the Keswick Conferences and the Northfield Bible Conferences founded by Dwight L. Moody in 1880 in North America
“The general emphasis and the simultaneous timing are both remarkable and significant. Of this we need to be aware, for they were obviously part of God’s larger plans and purposes in preparing His “people” everywhere — in a preliminary way — to meet God. They too must catch at least the spirit of the Message that was due.” (LeRoy Froom, Movement of Destiny, page 320, ‘Decades of varied advances follows 1888’)
Froom then lists out many who were involved in these conferences and said
“Untold numbers have known and been blessed by their writings. And this includes many of our own men.” (Ibid)
Froom went on to say that whilst these men did not understand our message, they did know God. He also said that they were amongst God’s reserves and His other shepherds. He also said that when we failed to be the front-runners in uplifting Christ and His righteousness as the fullness of the Godhead, they did the work that we should have done. He also said that we had failed to place the Holy Spirit in His supreme place then some of these other men and organizations did it in our place.
He then said
“Hundreds of thousands of hungry hearts have turned to these other godly men for spiritual help and deeper understanding of the things of God that we should ever have given to the world in the highest and fullest form of presentation. But we faltered for a time, and failed to do what we should have done.” (Ibid, page 322)
Froom was obviously referring here to the fullness of Christ as depicted in the trinity doctrine as these ‘other men’ would have presented it, also the same regarding the Holy Spirit. It is obvious to relate that Froom considered these our denominations as doing the work that we should have done but failed to do. Froom spoke highly of these ‘other men’.
Going to the writings of Babylon
Froom admits that to find what he was looking for concerning the Holy Spirit, he went to the writings of other denominations. These were the writings of those who were trinitarian and whom Seventh-day Adventists have historically referred to prophetically as ‘Babylon’ (see Revelation 14:8 and 18:1-5). These were also those who with respect to their trinity belief, believed the Holy Spirit to be an individual like the Father and Son. This of course was contrary to the way, during the time of Ellen White, that this divine personality was portrayed by Seventh-day Adventists, which, as we have seen, was as the personal presence of both the Father and the Son whilst the latter were not bodily present. In other words, the non-trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit was that He was both God (the Father) and Christ (the Son) omnipresent whilst the ‘new view’ was that He was an individual being like the Father and Son
What Froom did was a startling thing for a Seventh-day Adventist to do, especially for someone who was such a well-respected theologian in the church. To obtain the view of the Holy Spirit for which he was seeking, Froom bypassed the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers, even bypassing Ellen White, and went to the teachings of ‘Babylon’.
This means that Froom went to the teachings of those who are vehemently opposed to everything that constitutes the distinctive beliefs of our God given last day message. These beliefs are namely, the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments, the seventh-day Sabbath, the sanctuary truth, the investigative judgement, the state of the dead and the spirit of prophecy etc. All of these beliefs, as well as the belief that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is God’s chosen vehicle for the proclamation of His last day message before Jesus returns, are totally rejected by those to whom Froom went to seek for what he believed was the truth about the Holy Spirit. This then, in the decades immediately following the death of Ellen White, is where the attempts to bring in the trinity doctrine had eventually led us. We were looking to ‘Babylon’ for our teachings. Thus it was that Froom was saying in effect that God had revealed to those not of our denomination, truths concerning the Holy Spirit that He had not revealed to the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism, not even to Ellen White. That is quite an assertion.
So it was that another of the major steps in changing Seventh-day Adventists from non-trinitarianism to trinitarianism was underway. It was also a change that not only affected our views regarding the Holy Spirit but a change that brought us more into line with the other trinitarian denominations, particularly with those we term the evangelicals (sometimes termed ‘mainstream Christianity’).
In section forty-nine, we shall see that it was this changeover to trinitarianism that helped us, as a denomination, to be proclaimed ‘Christian’ by the evangelicals. This was after having been regarded, throughout the time of Ellen White’s ministry and for decades beyond, a non-Christian sect or cult. If we had remained non-trinitarian, then the evangelicals would never have accepted us as being Christian. This much we know for sure. They would have still regarded us as cultic.
A Changed attitude
There is a growing number of Seventh-day Adventists today who believe that since the time of the pioneers, there has been a tremendous change of attitude on the part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church towards other denominations.
That this relationship has changed is not in doubt. Whereas we once regarded these other denominations as being the ‘Babylon’ of Bible prophecy and that God’s people, prior to the second coming of Christ, should separate themselves from these organisations (meaning come out of them and into the truth proclaimed by Seventh-day Adventists), this is not so distinctively taught today within Seventh-day Adventism. It is also believed by many that our distinctive doctrines, these are such as the Sabbath, the investigative judgement and the state of the dead etc are not, as they used to be, urged today upon non-Seventh-day Adventists. This changed attitude was not something that came about overnight. It took decades for it to form.
In the Ministry magazine of March 1966 Leroy Froom wrote an article called “New approaches Imperative for a New Day”, which, as we shall now see, is a title that speaks for itself.
In this article he said
“Today the old largely negative approach — emphasizing chiefly the things wherein we differ from all other religious groups-is past, definitely past.(LeRoy Froom, Ministry, March 1966, “New approaches Imperative for a New Day”)
He then added in confirmation of what he had just said
“And that is as it should be”
We must stop here to reason for a moment.
If as Seventh-day Adventists we do not emphasise the perpetuity of the law of God, if we do not emphasise the seventh-day Sabbath as opposed to Sunday, if we do not emphasise the sanctuary teaching, if we do not emphasise the investigative judgement that began in 1844, if we do not emphasise the nearness of Christ’s return and if we do not emphasise the biblical view of the state of the dead, then how can we get our God given message across to those of other denomination? In failing to emphasise these beliefs, would we not also be failing to do what God has called us to do as His remnant people? This ‘not emphasising’ was definitely the beginning of our newly found relationship with the other churches.
In his article, Froom referred to what were then our non-trinitarian beliefs, also our beliefs that atonement was taking place in Heaven now in what we as Seventh-day Adventists term an investigative judgement.
He then said
“Not until these constricted views were corrected, and that fact made known publicly in scholarly circles, did the old prejudices melt that had been based on those faulty minority views. The old canard about our being an “anti-Christian cult” was abandoned by the informed, and we were conceded to be truly Christian— despite our Sabbath and sanctuary emphasis, and our position on conditional immortality.” (Ibid)
In his book ‘Movement of Destiny’, as we shall see in section, these “faulty minority views” is how Froom describes the one time non-trinitarian ‘faith’ of Seventh-day Adventists. Froom claimed it was just a minority view, meaning the view of the ‘few’.
Notice too how Froom said that we were once regarded by these other denominations as “being an “anti-Christian cult”. This is how it was throughout the time we did not uphold the trinity doctrine. Notice he says too that this image was eventually “abandoned by the informed”. This was after we had accepted the trinity doctrine and after had become established as a trinitarian denomination. This was in the mid 1950’s when the ‘evangelicals’ recognised us as being truly Christian and offered to us, which our leadership very gratefully accepted, the right hand of fellowship (see section forty-nine for details).
There are those today of course who say that it was a ‘good thing’ for the evangelicals to recognise us as being Christian but others disagree. This was exactly the same as it was in the 1950’s.
As one Seventh-day Adventist minister said
“This is a most interesting and dangerous situation.” (M. L. Andreasen, letter No. 6 to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, 1959, ‘The Atonement’)
He then added
“As one official who was not in favor of what was being done stated to me: “We are being sold down the river.” What a sight for heaven and earth! The church of the living God which has been given the commission to preach the gospel to every creature under heaven and call men to come out of Babylon, is now standing at the door of these churches asking permission to enter and become one of them. How are the mighty fallen!” (Ibid)
“This is more than apostasy. This is giving up Adventism. It is the rape of a whole people. It is denying God’s leading in the past.” (Ibid)
Books of a new order
Froom eventually put his trinitarian views regarding the Holy Spirit into print. This he did in his book ‘The Coming of the Comforter’ which is still being used today by Seventh-day Adventists. This publication does not depict the non-trinitarian views of the pioneers but a trinitarian view. In other words, it was a book of a ‘new order’ for Seventh-day Adventists, meaning, saying differently than what was once taught by our pioneers.
Froom’s book was only the beginning of a change that was to come about in the reading material to which future Seventh-day Adventist would be subjected. This is how it was that in the main the changeover from non-trinitarianism to trinitarianism was achieved. It was indeed a very gradual change, brought about by the slow but sure phasing out of the literature written by our pioneers and the publishing of new literature (‘new books’) that taught something different.
This is why in the nest three sections we shall be taking a look at the literature that throughout the time of Ellen White came off the presses of the Seventh-dayAdventist Church. These publications, without any objection from Ellen White or objections from any other of the other leaders of the Seventh-day AdventistChurch, were all decidedly non-trinitarian. Surely this must be a very important realisation in our studies. I say this because if you remember from previous sections, Seventh-day Adventists did receive, through the spirit of prophecy, a very serious warning that Satan himself would suggest a change was necessary to the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists.
Ellen White actually said concerning this ‘satanic reformation’
“The enemy of souls has sought to bring in the supposition that a great reformation was to take place among Seventh-day Adventists, and that this reformation would consist in giving up the doctrines which stand as the pillars of our faith, and engaging in a process of reorganization. Were this reformation to take place, what would result? The principles of truth that God in His wisdom has given to the remnant church, would be discarded. Our religion would be changed. The fundamental principles that have sustained the work for the last fifty years would be accounted as error.” (Ellen G. White, Special Testimonies Series B No. 2, page 54 ‘The Foundation of Our Faith’, 1904. Letter to leading Seventh-day Adventist Physicians)
She also said about the outcome of this ‘reformation’ in respect to the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists
“A new organization would be established. Books of a new order would be written. A system of intellectual philosophy would be introduced. The founders of this system would go into the cities, and do a wonderful work. The Sabbath, of course, would be lightly regarded, as also the God who created it.” (Ibid)
We can see here that one of the major identifying marks of this ‘satanic reformation’ would be that books of a “new order” would be written. These would obviously be books that taught something different than what was once taught in those authored by our pioneers.
For now though let us look at why one man who was saddened when attempts were made by those of our denominational ministry to change the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists regarding the Holy Spirit. This man was Ellen White’s son, namely William White
Ellen White’s son saddened.
In 1935, a man by the name of H. W. Carr had sent a letter to W. C. White (Ellen White’s son), asking him to relate his mother’s views on the Holy Spirit (Ellen White had died 20 years earlier in 1915) but we did not elaborate on what was said in the exchange of dialogue that took place. Here we shall do so.
The response of W. C. White to Carr is well worth noting. This is because it does reveal that when this letter was written, this change in the ‘thinking’ of Seventh-day Adventists regarding the Holy Spirit was taking place. It also reveals that by this time (1935), the trinity doctrine had not become so established within Seventh-day Adventism as many have been led to believe. It is also proof that even though Ellen White had said that the Holy Spirit was a personality, everyone did not accept this (not even by 1935) to mean that this mysterious divine personality was a person like God and Christ.
Carr had asked Willie White what his mother’s views had been about the Holy Spirit. This was because of the debate and friction being brought about, amongst Seventh-day Adventists, by the attempted change in beliefs regarding the Holy Spirit. Froom’s book ‘The Coming of the Comforter’ had been published in 1928, 7 years before Carr wrote this letter.
Carr wrote saying to W. C. White
“In the first pages of Great Controversy it is stated that the ‘Father had an associate – A co-worker…The only being that could enter into all the councils and purposes of God.’ ‘The Father wrought by His son in the creation of all heavenly beings…He holds supremacy over them all.’ ‘Sin originated with Satan, who next to Christ had been most honoured of God, and was highest in power and glory among the inhabitants of heaven. Next to Christ he was first among the hosts of God.’ ‘The Son of God had wrought the Fathers will in the creation of all the hosts of heaven.’ The Son of God was exalted above Satan as one in power and authority with the Father.’ Christ created Satan. Ez.28:15.” (H. W. Carr, letter to W. C. White, 24th January 1935)
In none of these statements from Ellen White is mentioned the Holy Spirit.
“It is urged by some of our leaders now that The Holy Spirit is a third person of the same nature of the Father and Son, a member of the heavenly trio, cooperative in creation and personally active with the Father and Son.” (Ibid)
Here we can see a ‘changing Holy Spirit’. This was the transitional time.
Carr then said to W. C. White
“For many years I have used these statements of Sr. White in combating false teachings relative to defining the Holy Spirit. “Will you kindly tell me what you understand was your mother’s position in reference to the personality of the Holy Spirit?” (Ibid)
Carr finished his letter by saying
“I know Brother White you would not depart from your mother’s teachings, and that you have as perfect an understanding of them as any one. I shallappreciate your opinion very much. Assuring you of the high esteem and respect I have had from my childhood in your father, mother and family, I am very truly yours in this blessed faith.” (Ibid)
Six weeks later White replied to Carr by saying
“In your letter you requested me to tell you what I understand to be my mother’s position in reference to the personality of the Holy Spirit. This I cannot do, because I never clearly understood her teachings on the matter.” (W. C. White to H. W. Carr, letter, April 30th 1935)
He then said
“There always was in my mind some perplexity regarding the meaning of her utterances, which to my superficial manner of thinking, seemed to be somewhat confusing. I have often regretted that I did not possess that keenness of mind that could solve this and other perplexities. And then remembering what Sister White wrote in “Acts of the Apostles”, pages 51 and 52, “regarding such mysteries which are too deep for human understanding, silence is golden”. I thought best to refrain from discussion and have endeavored to direct my mind to matters easy to understand”. (Ibid)
As we have seen in previous sections, the views of the pioneers regarding the Holy Spirit were far more complex than their views regarding God and Christ. This can also be clearly seen in this letter that Ellen White’s son wrote to Carr in 1935.
- C. White concluded concerning the Holy Spirit
“There are many Scriptures which speak of the Father and the Son and the absence of Scripture making similar reference to the united work of the Father and the Holy Spirit or of Christ and the Holy Spirit, has led me to believe that the spirit without individuality was the representative of the Father and the Son throughout the universe, and it was through the Holy Spirit that they dwell in our hearts and make us one with the Father and with the Son.” (Ibid)
This was the standard belief of Seventh-day Adventists. It was that whilst the Holy Spirit was regarded as a personality, He was not thought of as having an “individuality” like the Father and the Son. He was to Seventh-day Adventists both God and Christ omnipresent.
- C. White was Ellen White’s third son. He was obviously (as we shall see) not someone who as we might say was ‘a bit slow on the uptake’ or perhaps even naïve, neither was he ignorant of his mother’s views.
Can you imagine over the years how many of his mother’s sermons that he had heard, also the number of Bible studies that he attended with her? Can you also imagine the number of private discussions that he had with his mother about matters of a spiritual nature, probably even about the Holy Spirit? These are obviously inestimable.
Ellen White realised that he was ‘God ordained’ to do the work he was doing.
In 1899 (when in Australia) she wrote (these are just snippets from an 1899 manuscript
“In the night season, light came to me that W. C. White had from his childhood been trained for the Lord’s work. Before his birth he was dedicated to God; and after his birth he was chosen of God to serve Him with singleness of purpose. He is to stand ready to serve where necessity requires. It is not possibleto separate him from the general work in which he is so intensely interested.” (Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases Volume 18 MR1329, “Sunnyside,” Cooranbong, N.S.W., Australia, August 1899)
“It is essential also that he shall be connected with his mother’s work. The preparation of my writings for publication in book form should receive his attention. And there are other responsibilities that he must bear in this country. He is better prepared than some others to see the needs of God’s cause and to present these needs before the people in a way that will arouse them to give these matters proper attention.” (Ibid)
“Through his connection with the work of his mother, whom the Lord has instructed, W. C. White can give to the people the light that is essential in regard to plans and methods. The Spirit of the Lord will impress upon his mind the deep import of the matters laid out before him. I can communicate to him matters that the Lord has seen fit to present to me for many years–even before my son’s birth — in regard to the principles upon which God’s people should act.” (Ibid)
“W. C. White has a special work to do. He cannot disconnect himself from this work, for it is his lifeblood. It is his inheritance from the Lord. For this work he was born.” (Ibid)
“As this is the light given me, I now renewedly dedicate my son, W. C. White, to the Lord’s work — a work that includes the preparation, with as little delay as possible, of the matter which the Lord has given me to present to the world, to our churches, and to individuals.” (Ibid)
At the age of 21 in 1876, Willie White, as he was known to his closest friends, had been elected to the office of president of the board and as business manager of the Seventh-day Adventist Pacific Press Publishing Association. This was the main body responsible for our publishing work. Throughout his lifetime, amongst his other responsibilities and duties, he was integrally involved in the publishing work (far too much to list here).
After the death of his father (James White) in 1881, Willie White spent much of his time assisting his mother with her literary work. He also travelled extensively with her wherever the work took her. In fact in a very brief space of time, this all-important responsibility absorbed the vast majority of his time. He even accompanied his mother to Australia and played a major part with her there in the establishing of the Seventh-day Adventist faith.
By 1901, Willie White had been a member of the General Conference committee for 36 years and when in 1915 his mother died, he was one of the five persons who were nominated in her will as trustees of her writings. Along with the others nominated, he was to take care of these writings for future publication. It was through his personal leading that certain books containing his mother’s writings were published after her death and also by him that her writings were so comprehensively indexed.
As it says in the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (this was after saying that he was elected as one of the trustees of his mother’s writings)
“Since he had carried the burden of the business interests of her publishing work for many years, it was but natural that he should be asked to continue. As secretary of the board he led in the preparation of a number of posthumous books compiled in harmony with the provisions of Mrs. White’s will, and in the making of a comprehensive index to the then current works (1926).” (Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Volume 10, 1966 edition, page 1427, ‘White, William Clarence)
At the time of his death at the age of 83 (1937), Willie White was still serving the cause that he had loved and embraced all his life. He was then, at that time, as well as being secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate, a member of the General Conference Committee. He was also on the boards of such as the St. Helena Sanitarium as well as the Pacific Union College.
Much more could be said of the positions that this man held in the Seventh-day Adventist Church but they would be far too many to detail here, suffice to say that what has been listed above shows that if any man in this world knew what Ellen White believed it was her son W. C. White. Yet when asked by H. W. Carr what his mother’s views were regarding the Holy Spirit, he said that they were far beyond his comprehension.
Now what does this tell us? Is it that Willie White was mentally inadequate? The answer to this question is obviously a decided ‘no‘. He was neither mentally inadequate nor naïve, neither was he ignorant of what his mother had written. This is because from what we have seen of his office and responsibilities, he was obviously a very intellectually minded, as well as a very spiritually minded person (he was 60 years of age when his mother died).
Now let’s reason together some more.
If as the Seventh-day Adventist Church claim today that Ellen White regarded the Holy Spirit as just another person like the Father and the Son, do you think that this would have been something that was beyond the intellectual capabilities of Willie White to grasp? Is that a fair question to ask? Let’s put it this way. If you are a trinitarian, is it too much for you to grasp that the Holy Spirit is a person like God the Father and Christ? If it is, then why are you a trinitarian?
Obviously, if Ellen White’s view of the Holy Spirit was that He was just a third person like God and Christ, Willie White would not only have known about it but he would have quite easily understood it. Certainly it would not have been beyond his capabilities to fathom it. This is why we can see that Ellen White did not just simply believe the Holy Spirit to be a person like the Father and the Son but regarded His nature and being as a much more complex issue.
This can be borne out by the words of W. C. White to Carr.
This is when in his letter he said
“The statements and the arguments of some of our ministers in their effort to prove that the Holy Spirit is an individual as are God the Father and Christ, the eternal Son, have perplexed me and sometimes they have made me sad.” (W. C. White to H. W. Carr, letter, April 30th 1935)
Now what is this telling us?
It is telling us that in 1935, there were those of the Seventh-day Adventist ministry who were trying to introduce a trinitarian concept (idea) of the Holy Spirit (that which Froom was seeking to introduce) into Seventh-day Adventism but it was saddening Ellen White’s Son (W. C. White). We can readily and safely assume therefore that this trinity view of the Holy Spirit was not the ‘standard’ view of either Ellen White, or the belief of the other pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism, neither was it, in 1935, the views of W. C. White and perhaps tens of thousands of other Seventh-day Adventists throughout the world.
It seems that in irony of this realisation (that some were attempting to make the Holy Spirit a person like God and Christ) W. C. White said to Carr
“One popular teacher said “We may regard Him (the Holy Spirit) as the fellow who is down here running things”. (Ibid)
This today is the way that many Seventh-day Adventists regard the Holy Spirit. They see Him as an individual person like the Father and the Son who is here on earth directing God’s will in the affairs of men.
The 1934 Sabbath School lesson quarterly
It seems that this time period was the ‘in between’ time for views on the Holy Spirit. Some were seeing Him as a person like God and Christ whilst others still held on to the ‘old view’. The lesson studies in the 1934 Sabbath School quarterly seems to support this reasoning. The subject for the quarter was the Holy Spirit.
In lesson No. 4 for January 27, which had as its title “Personality of the Holy Spirit”, there was a quotation from the ‘The Desire of Ages’.
“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. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure.”—”The Desire of Ages,” p. 671.” (Sabbath School quarterly for January 27th 1934, page 10. ‘Personality of the Holy Spirit’)
Note here the capitalised words “Third Person”.
Although I have not had the opportunity to prove this for myself, I have been told that this capitalisation was introduced in the 1931 edition of ‘The Desire of Ages’ whereas previously and originally it had been ‘small case’. The latter I know to be true. When it was published again in the Review and Herald in 1904 (19th May ‘Promise of the Holy Spirit’) and 1908 (19th November ‘Christ’s Most Essential Gift to His Church’) it was still small case.
Whilst this difference may or may not mean a great deal as to what Ellen White meant by person, it does show that in an effort to promote trinitarianism within its ranks, our church has taken to altering Ellen White’s writings.
In the 1934 lesson quarterly there then followed this statement
“Beyond the fact that the Holy Spirit is the person or power associated with Christ and God in the work of creation (Gen. 1:2, 26), in the work of recreation through the new birth (John 3), in the regeneration of sinners, leading them in the paths of righteousness (Rom. 8:1), God has seen fit to make but little known.” (Ibid)
Concerning the Holy Spirit, the statement continues
“Invisible, yet all powerful (John 3:8), unseen yet shaping the lives and characters of multitudes of hearts that have freely surrendered to Him (Acts 2:41-47; 5:14), comforting, instructing, guiding those who have given their all to the Master, still the Spirit is unseen except in the revelation of the Christ in the daily life of human souls‘ (John 14:15-20) who are being reborn and prepared for the kingdom of heaven.” (Ibid)
It appears from this that at that time (1934), it was still not the preponderant belief within Seventh-day Adventism that the Holy Spirit was an individual being like the Father and the Son. There seemed to be doubts.
The study continued by asking
“What implies that God, the Father, was not alone in the work of creation? Verses 2, 3, 26.” (Ibid)
The notes replied by quoting Ellen White as saying
“”The Sovereign of the universe was not alone in His work of beneficence. He had an associate,—a coworker who could appreciate His purpose, and could share His joy in giving happiness to created beings. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.’ Christ, the Word, the only-begotten of God, was one with the Eternal Father,—one in nature, in character, in purpose, — the only being that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God.”—”Patriarchs and Prophets,” p. 34.” (Ibid)
Note that Ellen White does not say here that “the Sovereign of the universe” had two associates but that Christ was “the only being that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God”.
Continuing on, the lesson study asked “How much can human reasoning find out concerning the nature of the Godhead (Isaiah 40:28 cited).
The notes again quoted Ellen White as saying
““The nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery. Men cannot explain it, because the Lord has not revealed it to them. Men having fanciful views may bring together passages of Scripture and put a human construction on them; but the acceptance of these views will not strengthen the church. Regarding such mysteries, which are too deep for human understanding, silence is golden.”—”Acts of the Apostles,” p. 52.” (Ibid)
Again this appears to be saying that by 1934, the preponderant belief of Seventh-day Adventist was not that the Holy Spirit was a being like God and Christ but that His nature is a mystery that God has chosen not to reveal. It could also be interpreted here that this is an appeal for Seventh-day Adventist to be silent on this matter (“silence is golden”).
On the next page of the lesson study it quotes Ellen White as saying
“It is through the Spirit that Christ dwells in us; and the Spirit of God, received into the heart by faith, is the beginning of the life eternal.”— “The Desire of Ages,” p. 388.
What is very interesting is that 2 years later in a letter that he wrote to T. S. Teters, Benjamin Wilkinson wrote
“Replying to your letter of October 13 regarding the doctrine of the Trinity, I will say that Seventh-day Adventists do not and never have accepted the dark, mysterious Catholic doctrine of the Trinity.” (B.G. Wilkinson, letter to T. S. Teters, November 3rd 1936)
Wilkinson wrote this letter whilst President of Washington Missionary College (now Columbia Union) where he served as president until 1946.
From this we can see that the changeover to believing the Holy Spirit to be a person like God and Christ did take time. This also means of course that the changeover to trinitarianism took time.
A gradual changeover
That the changeover did take time is also seen in a book that was published in 1932. It was co-authored by Ellen White’s son James Edson White (usually known as Edson) and Alonzo Baker.
In the chapter called ‘The Leader of Israel it said
“When the hosts of Israel left Egypt to go to the land of Canaan, they did not go alone. God said to them: “Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared. Beware of Him, and obey His voice, provoke Him not; for He will not pardon your transgressions: for My name is in Him.” Exodus 23:20, 31.
It then said
“Only one Being in the universe besides the Father bears the name of God, and that is His Son, Jesus Christ. Hence this Angel that accompanied Israel in their wanderings was no other than Christ.” (James Edson White and Alonzo Baker, The Coming King, page 27, chapter ‘The Leader of Israel’, 1932)
Notice here the “Only one Being” part of this statement. This must exclude the Holy Sprit. It appears therefore that another of Ellen White’s sons, by 1932, had not accepted that the Holy Spirit was a person like God and Christ.
This can also be seen in a book that he had published in 1914 called ‘Past, Present, and Future’.
This is when he wrote (this was when referring to Lucifer’s desires to be on equality with God’s son)
“Next to God and Christ he was, and still is, the wisest being in the universe; for God said through the prophet, ” Behold, thou art wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that they can hide from thee.” Vs. 3. “Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom.” Vs. 12.” (James Edson White, Past, Present, and Future, page 94, chapter ‘Lucifer, son of the morning’ 1914 edition)
Again there is no mention of the Holy Spirit. If Edson White had considered the Holy Spirit to be a person like God and Christ he would have said something like “Next to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit he was, and still is, the wisest being in the universe”.
He also wrote just 6 pages later (again referring to Lucifer’s ambitious desires to be equal with God)
“But Jehovah could not permit this. He Himself had established the order of heaven. No created being could be equal with God. The only begotten Son alone could occupy this position.” (James Edson White, Past, Present, and Future, page 100, chapter ‘’Celestial war, 1914 edition)
Again the Holy Spirit is omitted.
From this written dialogue that transpired between W. C. White and Carr, also the book that was written by Edson White and Baker, we can see that up to the mid 1930’s, the belief that the Holy Sprit was a personal being as are the Father and the Son had not become the norm within Seventh-day Adventism, neither therefore had the doctrine of the trinity become the norm. This is because without three divine persons, it is impossible to have a trinity doctrine, at least in the traditional sense of its meaning. This was still future.
We can see therefore that this next statement, taken from a 1969 paper by Russell Holt, was somewhat exaggerated.
This is when he said (this was concerning the time period 1900-1930)
“This period saw the death of most of those pioneers who had championed and held the anti-trinitarian position. Their places were being taken by men who were changing their thinking, or had never opposed the doctrine.” (Russell Holt, “The doctrine of the Trinity in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination: Its rejection and acceptance” 1969)
He then added
“The trinity began to be published, until by 1931 it had triumphed and become the standard denominational position. Isolated stalwarts remained who refused to yield, but the outcome had been decided.” (Ibid)
As has been said, this latter statement is very much exaggerated. It took another two decades before most Seventh-day Adventists referred to themselves as trinitarians.
A 1960 letter
In 1960, Froom sent a letter to Otto Christensen in which he gives us evidence that it was his (Froom’s) personal efforts that helped to bring about this change in beliefs about the Holy Spirit within Seventh-day Adventism. It shows us clearly too that the pioneers did not accept that the Holy Spirit is a person like God and Christ, also that there was decided resistance to this change.
This is when Froom said in his letter
“May I state that my book, THE COMING OF THE COMFORTER was the result of a series of studies that I gave in 1927 – 1928, to ministerial institutes throughout North America. You cannot imagine how I was pummelled by some of the old-timers because I pressed on the personality of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Godhead.” (L. Froom, letter to Otto Christenson, 27th October 1960)
He then adds
“Some men denied that – still deny it. But the book has come to be generally accepted as standard.” (Ibid)
Froom is saying here that whilst some still deny that the Holy Spirit is a personal being (like God and Christ), this concept, as found in his book ‘The Coming of the Comforter’ had by 1960 become the standard (norm) within Seventh-day Adventism but when he had introduced this thought in the late 1920’s (1927-1928) he said that he was “pummelled by some of the old-timers”. Obviously, these “old timers” were those who believed in the theology of Seventh-day Adventists whilst Ellen White was alive. This was when the Holy Spirit was not deemed to be a person like God and Christ but was the omnipresence of them both when they (God and Christ) were not physically (bodily) present.
A transitional trinity (between the ‘old’ established view and the establishing of the ‘new view’)
Beginning on September 26th 1936 and said to explain the doctrines of the Bible, there was a series of articles published in the ‘Signs of the Times’. Note that this was 5 years after the word ‘trinity’ first appeared in our fundamental beliefs (1931).
As it said as a preface to the first of these articles
“This is the first of a series of articles dealing with the doctrines of the Bible, which will appear in the “Signs of the Times” during the next few months. In these articles various teachings of the Bible, both doctrinal and practical, will be examined and commented upon.” (The editors, Signs of the Times, September 22nd1936, ‘The Word of God’)
The first two articles (‘The Word of God’ and ‘The Power of the Word’) were stated as being written by Gwynne Dalrymple but the third article called ‘I believe in the Trinity’ did not have an author’s name attributed to it (for this there was no explanation given).
It had though, as a sub-heading
“The Bible teaches that the Godhead consists in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though we may not fully understand this doctrine, it provides for us a clearer setting for the mercy of God.” (Signs of the Times, ‘The Trinity’, October 6th 1936)
Note here it says that it is the “Godhead” (not the trinity) that “consists in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. There is also here the confession that as Seventh-day Adventists we may not understand this teaching.
The article itself begins by saying
“I believe in the Trinity, though I do not understand it.” (Ibid)
We can see in this article (whoever wrote it) that the word ‘Godhead’ is being used interchangeably with the word ‘trinity’. This was written during the ‘transitional period’ when the trinitarian view was far from being established within Seventh-day Adventism. As we have noted before, these two words are not synonymous.
It must be remembered here that in 1936 and with regards to Christ, many Seventh-day Adventists world-wide would still be adhering to the ‘old time’ non-trinitarian view of Seventh-day Adventism meaning that they would have still believed that Christ was a begotten son. Many would also have been holding fast to the belief that the Holy Spirit was the personal presence of both the Father and the Son (God and Christ omnipresent). Remember how Froom said that as the 1930’s approached, he was (as he put it) “pummelled by some of the old-timers” because he “pressed on the personality of the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Godhead” (see above).
Obviously, this ‘old view’ did not just disappear overnight. It would take many decades for this to lose its standing as the preponderate (dominating) ‘faith’ of Seventh-day Adventists.
It must also be remembered here that the trinity doctrine itself is a man-made doctrine, albeit trinitarians claim it to be based on what the Scriptures reveal about the three personalities of the Godhead. This though is only the same as is said about the doctrines of the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness, both of which Seventh-day Adventists believe is a misunderstanding of Scripture.
It is very difficult therefore to comprehend just why such a doctrine as the trinity (as claimed in the above quote) cannot be understood. After all, men formulated it to explain what God through His revealed Word had told us about three personalities of the Godhead. Why then, should it not be understood?
The author of the ‘Signs of the Times’ article (whoever it was) also added
“I believe in the Trinity, not because I understand it, but because the Scriptures teach it.” (Ibid)
Again we must remember that the latter is also said about the teachings of the immortality of the soul and Sunday sacredness but we know that these particular teachings are wrong. We also know that the trinity formula itself cannot be found in Scripture. In other words, nowhere in Scripture is it said that God is a three-in-one (triune) being
After quoting Matthew 28:19, the article then says
“At baptism, every Christian accepts the doctrine of the Trinity. He is baptized into the name of the Trinity.” (Ibid)
This is obviously a total exaggeration. Not every one who is baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit believes that these three divine personalities comprise a trinity. This is evident not only because none of our pioneers believed it but also that the non-trinitarians today who are baptised in these names do not believe it. This even applies to those non-trinitarians not of our ‘faith’.
The article then continued
“Furthermore, the Bible expressly represents all three Members of the Godhead as concerned in our work of redemption.” (Ibid)
Again we see the word “Godhead” interchangeably used in this article with the term trinity.
Later, in the stressing of the claim that there are three individual beings of the Godhead, the author (or authors) said
“God loves us so that He sends His own Son. The Son loves us so that He willingly comes to redeem us. The Spirit loves us so that He works in us, changing us, transforming us, daily molding’ us into the image of the heavenly, and away from the image of the degraded and the earthly.” (Ibid)
Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Holy Spirit loves anyone, not even the Father and the Son. Neither does the Bible say that the Father and the Son love the Holy Spirit or that we as Christians are to love the Holy Spirit. Certainly it does not say in the Bible, as the article says, that the “Spirit loves us”.
After saying that there is a tendency in theological circles to take the attitude (as the article puts it) that “the three Persons of the Trinity are simply three modes or manifestations”) the writer said
“But an examination of the teaching of the Bible makes it quite clear that there are three Persons in the Godhead.” (Ibid)
As we noted in section forty-two, the phrase “in the Godhead” makes the word ‘Godhead’ to appear something very similar to the word ‘trinity’ but they are not the same. The word ‘Godhead’, as translated in the KJV (Acts 17:29, Romans 1:20 and Colossians 2:9), means pertaining to divinity but does not include the idea of ‘three in one’ as does the word ‘trinity’. I have never found anywhere in the writings of Ellen White where she uses the phrase ‘in the Godhead’. All that I can find is where she says ‘of the Godhead’ (of divinity).
The article also says under the heading “Holy Spirit Also Person”
“And the Spirit is referred to indifferently as the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ; for it is the Spirit of both God and Christ, which comes to us from the Father through the Son.” (Ibid)
This appears to be exactly the same as the pioneers once believed. Certainly it is not as taught by Seventh-day Adventists today which is that the Holy Spirit is another person like God and Christ. Note that this was in 1936, the year after W. C. White said that he was saddened because some ministers were attempting to make the Holy Spirit a person like God and Christ. Thus it appears that the ‘old’ non trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit, even though the article was attempting to promote God being a trinity, was still in the ‘thinking’ of ‘old time’ Seventh-day Adventism.
After this article on the trinity, Gwynne Dalrymple is then named as continuing the studies.
On November 24th 1936, in his article called ‘Come Holy Spirit’ he said
“The Holy Spirit, as it comes to us, represents the grace of God working upon our hearts. It is the divine instrument used of God to woo us to better and higher things. It is the chain which links our hearts to the great heart of God.” (Gwynne Dalrymple, Signs of the Times, November 24th 1936, ‘Come, Holy Spirit!’)
He then said
“It is the cable along which passes the electrifying current of heaven’s grace.” (Ibid)
Notice here that Dalrymple calls the Holy Spirit “the divine instrument” and keeps referring to this divine personality as an “it”. This is definitely the language of the pioneers.
Later he said
“The Scriptures are important, and they are God’s word to our souls. But we can and will find ways to evade that word, unless day by day the Spirit is bearing itswitness to our souls.” (Ibid)
Again the Holy Spirit is referred to as ‘it’.
Later in the article, Dalrymple did refer to the Holy Spirit as ‘He’. This though was only as do the Scriptures when they speak of the Holy Spirit as a comforter. We can see therefore that in his article, Dalrymple did use the language of the pioneers. Note that this was in 1936.
In the Sabbath School Lesson quarterly for the 4th quarter of 1936, it said this concerning the Holy Spirit
“NOTE. – The Father sends the Spirit in the name of the Son, that is, as the Son’s representative. The Spirit “proceedeth from the Father,” to do His work in the earth.” (Lesson quarterly, 4th quarter 1936, Lesson 3 for October 17, 1936, ‘The Godhead’, page 11)
It then says
“Hence the Father sends the Spirit, and the Son sends the Spirit. The Son speaks what the Father gives Him to speak, and the Spirit speaks what the Son gives Him to speak. The Spirit is both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. How could there be more perfect accord, more complete unity?” (Ibid)
This is the same belief as was held by the early pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism
As the lesson previously noted
“In [Romans] verses 8-11, the Spirit is called both “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ.” (Ibid, page 10)
Another progressive view
- A. Johnson was a very well known Seventh-day Adventist minister.
Johnson wrote a number of Bible text books for his students. From 1908 until 1922 he was head of the Bible Department at Walla Walla College. This should tell us a great deal.
In 1900, in a study book called ‘Bible Text Book’ (this was before being called to Walla Walla College), it said on the title page concerning him
“Instructor in Bible and History in Union College, College View, Nebraska” (O. A. Johnson, Bible Text-Book, Title page, 1900)
It also says in the preface
“In 1894 the author published “Bible Lessons for Bible Students,” which was an outgrowth of the lessons given at the Evening Bible School, held in College View Neb., during the winter of 1893-94, and which was published at the earnest request of the members of that school. The book met with a ready sale, and in view of the fact that many calls have come for that book since the edition was exhausted, the author has been encouraged to revise and enlarge “Bible Lessons,” so as to make it more of a Bible text book for those who desire to study the special subjects treated in the book.” (Ibid, Preface page 3)
At the beginning of the study called ‘The Holy Spirit; Its Offices and Gifts’ he says
“What is the Holy Spirit? (Ibid, page 71, ‘The Holy Spirit; Its Offices and Gifts’)
“The Bible says nothing definite about what the Holy Spirit is; but it says much about its gifts and offices. It seems to be a power proceeding from God the Father, coming to his children in the name of Christ.” (Ibid)
Note Johnson’s remarks concerning not knowing about “what the Holy Spirit is”. This is only the same as was said by Ellen White in 1911. This was in the ‘Acts of the Apostles’.
This is when she wrote
“It is not essential for us to be able to define just what the Holy Spirit is. Christ tells us that the Spirit is the Comforter, “the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father.” It is plainly declared regarding the Holy Spirit that, in His work of guiding men into all truth, “He shall not speak of Himself.” John 15:26, 16:13.” (Ellen G. White, ‘Acts of the Apostles’ pages 51-52, 1911)
Ellen White never advanced on this reasoning.
This statement was originally written in 1891 in a letter to a man called Chapman. This was 20 years before it was ‘reproduced’ in ‘Acts of the Apostles’.
She had said to this brother
“It is not essential for you to know and be able to define just what the Holy Spirit is. Christ tells us that the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, and the Comforter is the Holy Ghost, “the Spirit of truth, which the Father shall send in My name.” (Ellen G. White, letter to Brother Chapman June 11th 1891, Manuscript Release volume 14, No. 1107)
After quoting the words of Jesus when He spoke of the coming of the comforter as found in John 14:16 and 17 she then said
“This refers to the omnipresence of the Spirit of Christ, called the Comforter. Again Jesus says, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth” [John 16:12, 13].” (Ibid)
She then said to Chapman
“There are many mysteries which I do not seek to understand or to explain; they are too high for me, and too high for you. On some of these points, silence is golden. Piety, devotion, sanctification of soul, body, and spirit–this is essential for us all. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” [John 17:3]”. (Ibid)
We would do well to heed these words today. Obviously Johnson did. We shall see this now.
Throughout his 1900 study, just as he does here, Johnson refers to the Holy Spirit as “It”.
There appears to be hesitancy when saying “It seems to be”. This is more than likely because the nature of the Holy Spirit was shrouded with mystery (see Ellen White’s comments)
Interesting is that in a later book of his called ‘Bible Doctrines’ (this is the second edition of the 1910 book originally called ‘Lessons on Bible Studies’), in the study titled “The Holy Spirit’, these statements are made
“The Holy Spirit is the third name in the trinity.” (O. A. Johnson, Bible Doctrines, Lesson XI, ‘The Holy Spirit’, page 28, 1911 edition)
This may appear to be an advance on his 1900 reasoning but this is not really so. As we shall see now, he still refers to the Holy Spirit as “it”.
Note too the use of the word “trinity”. It was not commonplace to do this at that time (1911) but it was done occasionally. Certainly it did not convey then the ‘three-in-one’ idea of God that was to later permeate the teachings of Seventh-day Adventism (as it does now).
Johnson also says
”The Holy Spirit” is “the third person of the Godhead.” It “is Christ’s representative, but divested of the personality of humanity and independent thereof.” Desire of Ages, large edition, pages 669, 671.” (Ibid)
Notice the Holy Spirit is called “the third person” but is still referred to as “it”.
It does appear that as stated here by Ellen White, this was always generally believed by Seventh-day Adventists. This is that the Holy Spirit is Christ Himself, unrestricted by humanity. Seeing that throughout the Scriptures the activities of the Holy Spirit were very much different to those of an individual being (like God and Christ), He (or it) was not thought to be an individual person like them.
The original quote (as above found in ‘The Desire of Ages’) when Ellen White said this was in 1895.
This is when she wrote (this was after referring to where Jesus said “before Abraham was I AM”)
“Cumbered with humanity, Christ could not be in every place personally; therefore it was altogether for their advantage that He should leave them, go to His father, and send the Holy Spirit to be His successor on earth.” (Ellen G. White, Manuscript No. 1084, February 18, 19th, 1895, page 21)
She then added
“The Holy Spirit is Himself [Christ] divested of the personality of humanity and independent thereof. He [Christ] would represent Himself as present in all places by His Holy Spirit, as the Omnipresent.” (Ibid)
Notice that Ellen White said that it was Christ who is “the Omnipresent”. This is very similar to saying that He is the ‘eternal presence’
Johnson also says in his study
“The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and comes to us in the name of Christ.” (Ibid)
This is the same as saying that Christ is God in the person of His Son represented by the Holy Spirit (the eternal presence).
In the next statement notice again the reference to “it”
“Since the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, it must have the same divine attributes as God.” (Ibid)
Johnson also refers to the Holy Spirit as being the
“Spirit of God and Spirit of Christ.” (Ibid)
This reasoning that the Holy Spirit was both God and Christ omnipresent (Johnson gave Romans 8:9 as a text reference) had, during Ellen White’s ministry, always been the standard denominational position of Seventh-day Adventists. It was not that the Holy Spirit was a person like God and Christ but that He is the Spirit of them both when they are not physically present. Even when Ellen White stressed that the Holy Spirit was a personality, this still did not change anything. The Holy Spirit was still believed to be as such (the presence of the Father and the Son whilst the latter two were still physically in Heaven) and not an individual person like God and Christ. This can be seen here (1911). Remember, Johnson was head of the Bible department at Walla Walla College.
Now note something very interesting.
In the fourth edition of this same book ‘Bible Doctrines’ (the third edition was issued in 1914 and is not available to the author of these notes), on the same study of the Holy Spirit (even the chapter number is the same), the reference to “it” is not there any more. The Holy Spirit is now referred to as “He”.
On page 37 it says
“The Holy Spirit is the third name in the trinity.” (O. A. Johnson, Bible Doctrines, Lesson XI, ‘The Holy Spirit’, page 37, 1917 edition)
This says exactly the same as the 1911 edition.
It also says
“The Holy Spirit” is “the third person of the Godhead.” He “is Christ’s representative, but divested of the personality of humanity and independent thereof.” Desire of Ages, large edition, pp. 669, 671.” (Ibid)
Note that this wording is the same as in the 1911 edition except that “it” has been replaced by “He”
It also says as in the 1911 edition
“The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and comes to us in the name of Christ.” (Ibid)
This was exactly the same as the 1911 edition
The 1917 edition also says
“Since the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, he must have the same divine attributes as God.” (ibid)
Again the word “it” has been substituted with “he”
It may be reasoned here that Johnson had come to believe that the Holy Spirit was a person like God and Christ but this is not so.
He said, just as he had done so in the 1911 edition, that the Holy Spirit is called the
“Spirit of God and Spirit of Christ” (ibid)
The Seventh-day Adventist belief was that the Holy Spirit belonged to both the Father and the Son, not that He was a separate individual being like them and separate from them. This can be seen in the sections detailing the beliefs as mentioned above.
This non-trinitarian belief was to change. This was as the trinitarian concepts of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit made their way into Seventh-day Adventism.
As we know today, this changeover from a non-trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit to one that is considered fully trinitarian did happen but it did take time and it was not an ‘easy road’. The latter we shall see later when as well as changing their views on the Holy Spirit, there had to be a phasing out of ‘old time’ literature that spoke of the ‘old theology’ of Seventh-day Adventism.