Handling Conflicting Views
From time to time as you read the works of various Adventist pioneer authors, you will encounter a point that may differ from the Spirit of Prophecy.
It is interesting to note that Ellen White did not encourage open debate in our publications, or drawing attention to points of difference (see Counsels to Writers and Editors, chapter 10, “On Publishing Conflicting Views”).
There was also counsel given to leading workers about not making prominent minor points that could be corrected in long-standing publications.
“The enemy of all truth well knows that if minds can be kept occupied in searching for and giving wide publicity to imperfections in books that have been printed and widely circulated, great weakness will be brought to our work. Time would pass rapidly, and the great work needed in our cities would remain undone. Besides, there would be created in the minds of many an uncertainty as to the value of our publications that have done a good work and many minds would become absorbed in a further search for possible errors in our literature.” Manuscript Releases, vol. 10, p. 49:6.
Yet sometimes a clarifying statement might need to be made, without drawing unnecessary attention to the point being corrected in a long-standing work.
One example of this is regarding the subject of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and His divine nature.
We here cite two examples where pioneer authors write on the subject.
First is J.H. Waggoner, in his excellent book The Atonement, written in 1884, which is good reading regarding the judgment and the atonement on the basis of Scripture and reason. In this book in Part Second, chapter VI, “Doctrine of A Trinity Subversive of the Atonement,” Waggoner argues against the idea that the divine nature of Christ did not experience death with His human nature.
The second is Uriah Smith, in Here and Hereafter, another important work, written on the state of the dead. At one point, in answering questions regarding Bible passages often cited in support of consciousness in death, he writes this:
“If Christ’s Spirit, the real being, the divine part, did survive the death of the cross, then… We have only a human offering as a sacrifice for our sins.” Uriah Smith, Here and Hereafter, p. 97.
Smith’s book was first published in 1873. The latest edition was printed in March, 1897.
A Clarifying Statement
Some time in the year 1897, probably late in the year, the following clarifying statement was written. It is recorded as Manuscript 131, 1897.
“When the voice of the angel was heard saying, ‘Thy Father calls thee,’ He who had said, ‘I lay down my life that I may take it again,’ ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again,’ came forth from the grave to life that was in Himself. Deity did not die. Humanity died, but Christ now proclaims over the rent sepulcher of Joseph, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ In His divinity Christ possessed the power to break the bonds of death. He declares that He had life in Himself to quicken whom He will.” Ms 131, 1897.
The next year, an article appeared in The Youth’s Instructor, with much the same wording.
“‘I am the resurrection, and the life.’ He who had said, ‘I lay down my life, that I might take it again,’ came forth from the grave to life that was in himself. Humanity died: divinity did not die. In his divinity, Christ possessed the power to break the bonds of death. He declares that he has life in himself to quicken whom he will.” The Youth’s Instructor, August 4, 1898, par. 1.
At the same time, The Desire of Ages was in the process of being printed. Arthur White records that the first copies of the book arrived to Sr. White’s home in Australia on December 10, 1898. In that book, the following passage appears:
“When the voice of the mighty angel was heard at Christ’s tomb, saying, Thy Father calls Thee, the Saviour came forth from the grave by the life that was in Himself. Now was proved the truth of His words, ‘I lay down My life, that I might take it again…. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.’ Now was fulfilled the prophecy He had spoken to the priests and rulers, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ John 10:17, 18; 2:19.
“Over the rent sepulcher of Joseph, Christ had proclaimed in triumph, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life.’ These words could be spoken only by the Deity. All created beings live by the will and power of God. They are dependent recipients of the life of God. From the highest seraph to the humblest animate being, all are replenished from the Source of life. Only He who is one with God could say, I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again. In His divinity, Christ possessed the power to break the bonds of death.” The Desire of Ages, p. 785:2, 3.
The timing of these statements is interesting. The Desire of Ages covers the life of Jesus more fully, and in this context it was clarified that in fact Christ’s divine nature did not die on the cross.
It is completely understandable that the authors quoted previously had come to a different conclusion. However, they were dealing with a mystery.
A few years later, when Dr. Kellogg’s work made further statements necessary, this concept was revisited. At that time Sr. White made it clear that we cannot understand everything about this subject. We must wait until we reach heaven to understand completely. The following appears in the SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, and was written as Letter 280, 1904:
“Was the human nature of the Son of Mary changed into the divine nature of the Son of God? No; the two natures were mysteriously blended in one person—the man Christ Jesus. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When Christ was crucified, it was His human nature that died. Deity did not sink and die; that would have been impossible. Christ, the sinless One, will save every son and daughter of Adam who accepts the salvation proffered them, consenting to become the children of God. The Saviour has purchased the fallen race with His own blood.
“This is a great mystery, a mystery that will not be fully, completely understood in all its greatness until the translation of the redeemed shall take place. Then the power and greatness and efficacy of the gift of God to man will be understood. But the enemy is determined that this gift shall be so mystified that it will become as nothingness.” SDA Bible Commentary [EGW Comments], vol. 5, p. 1113:2, 3.
This reminds me of another statement published in 1877, about the mystery of the incarnation:
“The cost of the redemption of the race can never be fully realized by men until the redeemed shall stand with the Redeemer by the throne of God.” Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, p 97:1.
Even angels find the incarnation a mystery, as reflected in Manuscript 29, 1899, which you can find quoted in the Bible Commentary, vol. 7:
“The work of redemption is called a mystery, and it is indeed the mystery by which everlasting righteousness is brought to all who believe. The race in consequence of sin was at enmity with God. Christ, at an infinite cost, by a painful process, mysterious to angels as well as to men, assumed humanity. Hiding His divinity, laying aside His glory, He was born a babe in Bethlehem.” SDA Bible Commentary [EGW Comments], vol. 7, p. 915:3.
It seems that these clarifying statements were quietly issued without fanfare or without controversy. One must research the subject thoroughly to see them.
In this we can see the continuing role of the Spirit of Prophecy in the guidance of the church. And it reminds us that only Inspiration can offer a full and correct picture of the truth on any subject.