What Did EGW Condemn?
Ellen White condemns three-in-one illustrations of God~~
Some say that regarding Kellogg’s teachings, Ellen White was simply condemning his belief that God was actually ‘in things’ (a belief akin to pantheism) but as we shall now see, she
actually condemned the trinitarian view of God.
Before we look at this testimony, it may be necessary to remind ourselves that in order to explain what God had shown her, Ellen White at times would use words written by someone else – sometimes modifying them. This she did in this particular testimony we shall be
looking at now – the one concerning Kellogg. This tells us a great deal as to what she was referring to in this testimony.
As most Christians will probably realise, all of these illustrations, along with others that are very similar, are those used by trinitarians in an attempt to describe God’s being as three-in-one. This undoubtedly shows that Ellen White was making reference here to the trinity doctrine. This will be confirmed later as we dig deeper into the content of this testimony.
Trinitarians use these types of illustration because from the Scriptures they have no real evidence to support their reasoning.
Very interestingly, these three-in-one illustrations did not originate with Ellen White. We know this because as they are written here, they can also be found in a book written in 1858 by the Rev. William Boardman. This book, ‘The Higher Christian Life’, was a worldwide success. In fact the 1870’s ‘Higher Life’ movement in England, which promoted holy Christian living, actually took its name from it. This reveals the popularity of this publication. Along with Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey, Boardman held evangelistic campaigns promoting Christian holiness.
In his book, Boardman used these three-in-one illustrations to help explain the relationship between the three personalities of the Godhead. This was to particularly show how the fullness of the Godhead dwelt within each of them. These were the personalities that he said
(using his words) comprised “the living” and “triune God” - meaning the trinity God. We shall see this now.
Concerning these three-in-one illustrations, Boardman wrote (in his book this was all in upper case):
“The Father is as the light invisible. The Son is as the light embodied. The Spirit is as the light shed down.” (W. Boardman, The Higher Christian life, part 2, chapter 1, page 102; ‘For me: what then must I do?)--
“The Father is like the dew in invisible vapor. The Son is like the dew gathered in
beauteous form. The Spirit is like the dew fallen to the seat of life.” (Ibid page 103).
“The Father is like to the invisible vapor. The Son is as the laden cloud and palling
rain. The Spirit is the rain — fallen and working in refreshing power.” (Ibid page 104).
There is very little difference between how Ellen White phrased these illustrations (see above) and the words of Boardman. It is obvious that she copied them from his book. As we read on, this becomes even more obvious.
With reference to these illustrations Boardman admitted “These likenings are all imperfect. They rather hide than illustrate the tri-personality of the one God, for they are not persons but things, poor and earthly at best, to represent the living personalities of the living God.” (Ibid).
As we shall soon see, Ellen White agreed in part with this statement (at least where
Boardman says that these illustrations are imperfect) but she definitely did not agree with where he said “the living personalities of the living God”. This is trinitarianism. We shall come back to these words shortly.
Boardman then wrote concerning these illustrations:
“So much they may do, however, as to illustrate the official relations of each to the others and of each and all to us. And more. They may also illustrate the truth that all the fulness of Him who filleth all in all, dwells in each person of the Triune God.” (Ibid).
Here was the purpose of these three-in-one illustrations. It was to show that the fullness of God dwells in each of the three personalities of what Boardman described as “the Triune God”. Trinitarians often claim that unless this type of illustration is used, then each the three will not be seen as possessing this fullness.
Please note that according to Boardman, this “living God” (see above) is the “triune God” -meaning a compound entity (as in the trinity doctrine). Note too he says that these illustrations do “illustrate the official relations of each to the others”. This making the three ‘the one God’ is seen by trinitarians as protecting and depicting the belief that all three are the same God.
Ellen White did not see it this way - far from it in fact. As we noted above she said (note the very first words of this paragraph):
“I am instructed to say,” (Ellen G. White, Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 7, page
62 ‘Come out and be separate’ 1905)
Here Ellen White is saying that it was not her own opinion that she was voicing but
instruction from God. This is when she said (again as we noted above):
“The sentiments of those who are searching for advanced scientific ideas are not to be trusted.” (Ibid).
Then, after quoting the three-in-one illustrations (as we have seen them quoted above) she wrote:
“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 can not 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 can not be described by the things of earth.” (Ibid).
These are very strong words – and remember – God had instructed her to say these things.
This means that through Ellen White, God was condemning the use of three-in-one
illustrations used by trinitarians to describe His being. Notice first of all how Ellen White described these three-in-one “representations”. She called them “spiritualistic representations.” As we noted in chapter 4, Ellen White spoke of ‘spiritual views’. This is when in ‘Early Writings’ she made such statements as
“I saw a throne, and on it sat the Father and the Son. I gazed on Jesus' countenance and admired His lovely person. The Father's person I could not behold, for a cloud of glorious light covered Him. I asked Jesus if His Father had a form like Himself. He said He had, but I could not behold it, for said He, "If you should once behold the glory of His person, you would cease to exist." (Ellen G. White, Early Writings, page 54);
“I have often seen the lovely Jesus, that He is a person. I asked Him if His Father
was a person and had a form like Himself. Said Jesus, "I am in the express image
of My Father's person."” (Ibid page 77).
“I have often seen that the spiritual view took away all the glory of heaven, and that
in many minds the throne of David and the lovely person of Jesus have been
burned up in the fire of Spiritualism.” (Ibid).
As was said in chapter 4, it is only reasonable to believe that these ‘spiritual views’ denied the belief that both God and Christ have forms of their own – meaning that they are two separate individual persons – each with their own individuality.
Continuing our thoughts concerning Ellen White quoting Boardman - by quoting more or less the exact words from Boardman’s book, we can see very clearly that as did Boardman, Ellen White was making reference to the trinity doctrine (the “triune God” as Boardman called
Him). We can see therefore that Seventh-day Adventists were being told, in 1905, that illustrations that attempt to make God’s being as three-in-one were wrong. In fact Ellen White says that they are all “imperfect” and “untrue”. How much more of a plain testimony could Seventh-day Adventists receive about not depicting God as a three-in-one entity (a trinity)?
In this Kellogg crisis, it was the doctrine of the trinity that was in question. Of this there is no doubt. This is why concerning Kellogg’ and his beliefs, Ellen White cited these three-in-one illustrations.
Notice who Ellen White said could not be described by using the things of this earth. She said it was “the Father” - the infinite God as she so often called Him. He is the one who was believed by Seventh-day Adventists - prior to our denominational conversion to trinitarianism-to be the source of life (the great source of all). This included the Son who was believed to have been begotten - brought forth - of Him.
As Ellen White once wrote:
"The world's Redeemer was equal with God. His authority was as the authority of
God.” (Ellen G. White, Review and Herald 7th Jan 1890, ‘Christ revealed the Father’).
She then added:
“He declared that he had no existence separate from the Father.” (Ibid).
In the orthodox trinity view, the Son is everlastingly begotten of the Father whilst the Holy Spirit is said to proceed from the Father or from the Father and the Son. Thus the Father is viewed the source. This is what these views depicted. This is why Ellen White said that the Father could not be described by the things of earth.
At first glance, the above three-in-one illustrations may look harmless. In fact they could be thought to be reasonably representative of what was then believed by Seventh-day Adventists. This is because the denominational belief was that Christ is begotten of God –meaning that He has His source in the Father – also that the Holy Spirit proceeds from them.
So what was the problem? Why did Ellen White condemn these illustrations?
These illustrations depicted the ‘one God’ (the living God as Boardman called Him) as existing as three indivisible inseparable persons. In other words, according to this reasoning, there is a ‘oneness’ between the three that makes them indivisible (inseparable). It was the
explanation of this ‘oneness’ (as the one God) which was the major problem area for Ellen White – not the ‘threeness’. It is exactly the same in our current Godhead crisis.
Ellen White did say very clearly that there are three persons of the Godhead. This is not in dispute. Never though (as did Boardman and trinitarians in general) did she say they existed in a oneness which is indivisible as depicted by the trinity doctrine. In other words, she did not say that the three personalities of the Godhead existed inseparably together constituting the ‘one God’ (one compound or unity God). We shall now see how she refutes this three-in-one idea.
A most comprehensive statement
Following on from his three-in-one illustrations of God - Boardman made the following statement (note the capitalised words are as they are in Boardman’s book):
“The Father is all the fulness of the Godhead INVISIBLE.
The Son is all the fulness of the Godhead MANIFESTED.
The Spirit is all the fulness of the Godhead MAKING MANIFEST.”
(William Boardman, The Higher Christian Life, part ii ‘How attained, chapter 1, page
105, ‘For me: then what must I do?).
In similar fashion, Ellen White wrote (this was following on from her condemnation of Boardman’s three-in-one illustrations – also elaborating on what was said here by
“The Father is all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and is invisible to mortal
sight.” (Ellen G. White, Special Testimonies Series B No.7, page 62 1906 ‘Come out
and be Separate’).
Notice she does not say as Boardman did that the Father was invisible (see above). She said that the Father “is invisible to mortal sight”. This is saying two different things. It is actually saying that God is a visible person – which is totally opposite to what was said by Boardman.
In fact Boardman said in another place
“The Father is the fulness of the Godhead in invisibility, without form, whom no
creature hath seen or can see.” (William Boardman, The Higher Christian Life, part ii, ‘How attained, chapter 1, page 100 ‘The Holy Trinity’).
We have seen previously (see chapter 4 and above) that Ellen White did say that the Father had a form – although she was not allowed to see it. God is only invisible to us – because we are sinful. Heavenly beings see Him (Matthew 18:10).
Ellen White continued (again elaborating on what was said by Boardman – see above).
“The Son is all the fullness of the Godhead manifested. The Word of God declares
Him to be “the express image of His person." "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Here is shown the personality of the Father.” (Ellen G. White,
Special Testimonies Series B No.7, page 63 1906 ‘Come out and be Separate’).
This fits exactly with the begotten concept of Christ – still held by Seventh-day Adventists at that time (1906). It is that Christ is the personality of the Father shown (the express image of God’s person – see Hebrews 1:1-3). Christ is God in the person of the Son – in His pre-existence.
She then wrote concerning the Holy Spirit (again with Boardman’s words in mind – see above).
“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.” (Ibid).
Here it was explained that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in all three divine personalities yet illustrations that make God appear three-in-one, as in the trinity doctrine, were condemned.
I would ask you to note now something which is really very important. This shows
conclusively that Ellen White was not a trinitarian. Boardman concluded in his book concerning the three persons of the Godhead:
“The persons are not mere offices, or modes of revelation, but living persons of the living God.” (William Boardman, the Higher Christian Life, part II ‘How Attained, chapter I, ‘For me: then what must I do? Page 105).
This is undoubtedly a trinitarian statement. It says there are three “living persons of the living God” – meaning that this one ‘living God” comprises of three persons (three-in-one as in the trinity doctrine). This is the same as officially taught within Seventh-day Adventism
today. It is our Fundamental Belief No. 2.
Ellen White concluded her testimony in similar fashion but note her very important modification to Boardman’s words. This clearly reveals she was not a trinitarian. She wrote:
“There are three living persons of the heavenly trio;” (Ellen G. White, Special
Testimonies Series B No.7, page 62 1906 ‘Come out and be Separate’).
It is the way that Ellen White modified Boardman’s statement that is extremely important for us to note. It is also highly significant in the present trinity debate within Seventh-day Adventism.
Boardman had said that the three personalities were “living persons of the living God”.
Ellen White changed this to read “living persons of the heavenly trio”. This is saying two entirely different things.
So what is the difference?
The difference is that Boardman’s statement is trinitarian whilst Ellen White’s statement is not. In other words, Boardman spoke of God as being three-in-one (three “persons of the living God”) whilst Ellen White did not. She just spoke of the three as a “heavenly trio” - not as Boardman said that they made up “the living God” (the one compound trinity God). In other words, Boardman said that God is a trinity whilst Ellen White removed the trinitarianism from his words.
Here therefore, regarding the Godhead, directly from the pen of Ellen White, which Seventh-day Adventists believe was motivated by the leading of God’s Spirit, was an all-encompassing and very important statement. Obviously it also depicted what then, in 1906,
was believed by Seventh-day Adventists. This belief was definitely non-trinitarianism.
Many have used this “three living persons of the heavenly trio” statement to so say prove that Ellen White was a trinitarian but this cannot be done. This is because she does not say as Boardman did that all three personalities are all united into one indivisible God (essential trinitarianism) but that they were just a “trio”. This is as far as the Scriptures go because in them no mention is made of how the three have their existence together (see chapter two –
‘The silence of God’).
Her statement that there is a trio of divine personalities of the Godhead falls far short of trinitarianism. In fact as we have seen in this testimony, she condemned the three-in-one illustrations that made God appear triune. Obviously in this testimony, Ellen White was not upholding trinitarianism but condemning it.
It must be recognised here that Ellen White took what many would say was a genuine (authentic) trinitarian statement and changed it into one that was non-trinitarian. Here therefore is a question.
A very important question--
If as some say that Ellen White was a trinitarian (remember this testimony was initially written in 1905 and reproduced in the testimonies in 1906 which was 8 years after the publication of ‘The Desire of Ages’), then why did she change (modify) Boardman’s statement in the first place? In other words, if she was a trinitarian – and she believed that God wanted Seventh-day Adventists to regard Him as a trinity of persons – then why didn’t
she just leave Boardman’s statement as it was written – as a trinitarian statement? Why remove the trinitarianism and make it non-trinitarian – after all, what Boardman said about God is exactly the same as what today's Seventh-day Adventist trinitarians are saying?
It can only be concluded that Ellen White removed the trinitarianism because it was not in keeping with what God had shown her (remember she said “I am instructed to say”). This was in keeping with her condemnation of the three-in-one illustrations used by Boardman. In other words - all the way around in this testimony - Ellen White removed from Boardman’s words the trinitarian oneness. This shows that by her statement – “There are three living persons of the heavenly trio” – she was advocating a non-trinitarian view of God and in the process condemning trinitarianism.
Ironically, the trinitarians amongst us are using this statement to so say prove that Ellen White was a trinitarian – when in reality it does exactly the opposite. This was happening in ‘the Alpha’ – meaning Ellen White’s writings were being used to say something she did not intend her words to mean (see chapter 21). Correctly understood, this testimony shows that Ellen White condemned the trinity doctrine. As we shall see later, what she wrote the same year shows that she believed that this teaching was going far beyond what God has revealed.
From my own personal studies, I have drawn the conclusion that Ellen White wrote this entire testimony with reference to the trinity doctrine. I say this because as we have already seen in chapter 21 – also here - this was obviously a concern in the early 1900’s crisis within Seventh-day Adventism (with Kellogg).
Interestingly, Seventh-day Adventists today are saying the same as Boardman – that there are three “living persons of the living God”. This is the very thing that was being condemned in this testimony.
(Source) "A study of the Godhead--as it Pertains to Seventh-day Adventism."
Chapter 23, "Ellen White not a Trinitarian-spirit of prophecy condemnation of three-in-one explanations of God",, pages 377-384,, by Terry Hill