Who is the Holy Spirit?
Though Ellen White turned the tide in the Adventist church by her statements regarding the “three great powers,” she also made many statements to the effect that Christ lives in our heart through the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the clearest of these is below. Here she explains why Jesus said “I will come to you” when referring to the future gift of the Holy Spirit.
Before offering Himself as the sacrificial victim, Christ sought for the most essential and complete gift to bestow upon His followers, a gift that would bring within their reach the boundless resources of grace. “I will pray the Father,” He said, “and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you.” John 14:16-18, margin.
Before this the Spirit had been in the world; from the very beginning of the work of redemption He had been moving upon men's hearts. But while Christ was on earth, the disciples had desired no other helper. Not until they were deprived of His presence would they feel their need of the Spirit, and then He would come.
The Holy Spirit is Christ's representative, but divested of the personality of humanity, and independent thereof. Cumbered with humanity, Christ could not be in every place personally. Therefore it was for their interest that He should go to the Father, and send the Spirit to be His successor on earth. No one could then have any advantage because of his location or his personal contact with Christ. By the Spirit the Saviour would be accessible to all. In this sense He would be nearer to them than if He had not ascended on high (DA 668-669).
When we say that Abraham Lincoln won the civil war, we mean that his armies did the job. When I say, “my knee” I mean part of me. But when I say, “my friend” I mean a person outside of me. In like manner, when the Bible talks about Christ’s followers, they are not part of Him. When it speaks of His literal hair, that is part of Him.
But what about His Spirit? From the Desire of Ages quote above we learn that the Spirit abides with us as Christ’s representative. But our collective ignorance of Christ’s Spirit (which is at times described as a personal being, as in Acts 13:2) makes it difficult for us (impossible for us?) to comprehend how Christ’s Spirit could represent him so thoroughly as to be called “Christ in us.” Here, we are out of our realm.
The newly released writings in 2015 include a few of these statements where the Spirit in us is identified as Christ. And the best I can make of harmonizing these with Desire of Ages is that we are reading about a superhuman representation, that the Spirit represents Christ so well as to be practically Him.
If you harmonize the statements another way, I will not fault you. If you make your way a criterion for faithfulness, or the message for our time, I will fault you gravely.
My Story and Proverbs 8
The antitrinitarian movement that has grown to such large proportions in the last decade, existed 30 years ago also. It was one Mr. Scott Stanley, who had formerly been one of my work supervisors in academy, who approached me in 1990, with his strain of the message. Scott explained that there had been two (from the first page of Patriarchs and Prophets) in the Godhead, the Father and the Son. He explained that an ambitious angel, a ministering spirit, aspired to join that two-some and to make a trinity. He gave me quite a Bible study on this as my young mind tried to wrap itself around the ideas he was presenting.
A prominent passage in his Bible study was Proverbs 8. There, he showed me, was the record of Jesus being born to the Father before the creation of the world. These were the two key verses:
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth (Proverbs 8:24-25).
He showed convincingly that this was speaking of Jesus. And he showed that the Hebrew word for “brought forth” means “to be born.” In the following verse it is rendered “calve.”
Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve? (Job 39:1).
I left that study shaken up. I went home, prayed earnestly for light, and studied as earnestly as I had prayed. Here is what I found:
First, the Hebrew word “khool” doesn’t mean “give birth.” Rather, it means “to twist or twirl” or to “writhe.” It is the latter meaning that lends itself to the pain involved in child bearing. The word also has a figurative meaning, “to wait.” And that is how it is used first in Scripture. Khool is rendered “stayed” in the following verse.
And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark (Genesis 8:10).
A little more study convinced me that writhing in pain could not describe any birth prior to the curse, for that is when pain became part of birth. So what does Proverbs 8 teach? That Jesus and the Father anticipated the work of creation. “Before the mountains were made, I was waiting” would be my rendering, a reference to their joint anticipation.
Before my study was over I had discovered that Ellen White’s use of Matthew 28:19 harmonized well with the idea that there are three persons in the Godhead.
But back then the antitrinitarian movement was more fanatical, even if less successful. Stanley was advocating separation from the apostate Adventist Church. And he alleged tampering with Ellen White’s writings by such persons as Froom or others. Such accusations have largely been muted now, and the accusers have been roundly shown to have been living in violation of the 9th Commandment.
Today, the use of Proverbs 8 remains from what he presented as a common, but misguided evidence used to oppose the idea that Jesus has existed eternally. (Another reading of the passage will show that Wisdom was established from “the beginning” and was like one brought up with God, of similar age.)
But one modern advocate of non-trinitarianism is Mr. Nader of Australia. I mention him by name because he seems to be revising the dangerous argument that some of Ellen White’s materials have been garbled. It began, it seems, with his shock at finding the following statement:
As the saints in the kingdom of God are accepted in the beloved, they hear: “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And then the golden harps are touched, and the music flows all through the heavenly host, and they fall down and worship the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And then what? What next did I see? (Ms139, 1906 para 32).
Our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit, and temples are for worship. But nonetheless, this is the only statement known to include a reference to worshipping the Holy Spirit. And in this particular sermon, Ellen White made several other statements a few minutes earlier regarding these same Three.
This is the work that is to rest upon us. And then what? Why, it says, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Three personalities; and these three personalities are the pledged power from God that His people shall have, if they have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Now there is no excuse for souls to be left in ignorance and weakness if they will be gospel believers, if they will carry out these principles, and know that the three great Worthies, the Powers in heaven, are pledged to the church of God that will work in harmony with Christ’s teachings (Ms139, 1906, para 15).
When one is offended at this statement to the point of suggesting that it is not inspired, one is on very dangerous ground. That is the ground that others have walked on earlier. And it is fearful. But for everyone to know, Ellen White authorized the transcripts made of her sermons up to a certain point before her death. At that point, some transcripts (like Ms 139, 1906) were yet to be approved and published when she died. There is no good reason to doubt she would have done with this transcript differently than she did with hundreds before it, had she lived. (Large numbers of articles in the papers were derived from such transcripts and even a section of Counsels to Parents, Teachers and Students was compiled from transcripts of her discussion of its key subjects.)
Ellen White often, in the context of the Kellogg apostasy, alluded to the three persons of the Godhead. It was their “distinct personality” that Kellogg’s early views denied. While the distinct nature of the third person of the Godhead is plain in the following paragraph, and while “personality” simply means “person” in most 19th century writings on such things, still we should admit that there are things hard to be understood in the following paragraph. I do not tell you, non-trinitarian friend, what it means for the Spirit to personify Christ. And I cannot think highly of someone who with great confidence tries to tell me what it means.
The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, in Christ’s name. He personifies Christ, yet is a distinct personality. We may have the Holy Spirit if we ask for it and make it [a] habit to turn to and trust in God rather than in any finite human agent who may make mistakes (Ms 93.1893.8).
For more on the idea of “three” see Ms27a, 1900. Let’s move on to somethings we can easily agree on.
What my Friends Get Right:
My non-trinitarian friends are certainly right that there is only one God, the Father (see John 17:2-3). The word God is used that way very many times in Scripture. And in those many cases it means “the ultimate executive of the universe.” So there is just one, and that is the Father.
(There is another sense to the word “God” that means simply “one with the attributes of Divinity.” That sense would include Jesus as you see in John 1:1 and Hebrews 1:8. And the Spirit is the third person of the “godhead” in that sense (that is why our bodies are temples to the Spirit).
But we shouldn’t deny to our non-trinitarian friends the pleasure of showing us that there is One True God, again, in that ultimate sense.
And our friends are correct that when the Bible says the Father and Jesus are one, it is a reference to their purpose, not to their person. So the middle-age dark ideas of one head with three faces, we all consider to be badly misguided.
And non-trinitarians show correctly that in the future even Jesus will be subject to the Father. That is true. It is the plain teaching of 1 Corinthians 15.
And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15:28).
Our friends are also basically right that we should not be directing our prayers to the Holy Spirit. Our instructions are to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus.
(But on that last point, some non-trinitarians make a mistake. When the Bible says that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man, that does not mean He is the one intercessor. A mediator makes peace. An intercessor prays. And so men and angels and the Holy Spirit may all make intercession. But only Jesus is the mediator. The Catholic idea of many mediators is completely unlike the Adventist idea of many praying persons.)
Summary and Conclusion
For the record, I believe all that the prophets have said about the Godhead, including the ideas that the 'Heavenly Trio' of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are divine. And though there are mysteries to me, I believe that Jesus has always existed, and that the Spirit is indeed real, the third person of the Godhead.
Some of the more radical non-trinitarians say that we should not worship the same God as Rome. That is a tricky idea. It would be like Jesus telling the Jews not to worship the same God as the Sanhedrin. It would be like Paul telling the Athenians that they were worshiping the wrong God when he mentioned the altar to the "unknown God."
In reality, the Bible calls men to come to higher understanding of God. But it does not ask Luther to accuse the Catholics of worshipping a separate deity. It does not ask James White to accuse Luther of doing that. And it does not ask non-trinitarians to talk that way either. If they do, they do it on their own initiative.
There is far more that could be written relative to this subject (and books have been written), but here are my key points in review:
- First, the Three Angel’s Messages are to unite us in an outward aiming mission to the whole world.
- Second, the pioneers didn’t understand part of that mission to be to spread non-trinitarian ideas.
- Third, Ellen White became the agent of God in muting those non-trinitarian sentiments in a number of ways.
- Fourth, it was a strange view of the Trinity found in many creeds that bothered several of the pioneers.
- Fifth, only the sloppiest reading of the actual documents regarding the alpha of apostasy would lead a thoughtful person to think that Kellogg’s acceptance of the Trinity was a key component of it. On the contrary, his views were the dangerous alpha both before and after he became trinitarian. And his views of the Spirit in both cases were closer to non-trinitarian views held today than to Ellen White’s view of a distinct third person.
- Sixth, the non-trinitarians get a lot of things right. Only the Father and the Son are to be exalted in our public and private praises, at least on this side of eternity. While the Spirit is to be prayed for, sought, desired, and appreciated, it is also true that the Spirit was not sent to speak of Himself. The Spirit has neither instructed us to exalt the Spirit, nor given us a model of the apostles doing so. We want far more of the Spirit in our life, but not more praising the Spirit contrary to our directions.
- Seventh, we should know the Bible teaching about the timing and reality of the Father begetting the Son. We should understand the idea of Sonship related to character that predated the idea of birth.
- Finally, it is Satan that would take us away from our work. And I hope I haven’t helped him by giving you 30 minutes of reading on this topic. My aim is to get you back to helping me with the work.
The End. Amen.
Eugene Prewitt directs the Bible Teacher Training hosted by Aenon. From there, his teachers train young people from around Asia to reach the various people groups of South East Asia. During school breaks and on weekends he and his wife Heidi frequently travel to put on presentations on Bible topics, canvassing and on Christian Education.