The Theology of Ellen G. White

God


Mrs. White's doctrine of God is generally in harmony with the three great catholic (universal) creeds of the ancient church—that is, the Apostles' Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the Nicene Creed. God is Eternal, Infinite, Almighty, Creator, Divine Sovereign, King, Lawgiver, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Immortal, Infallible, Unchanging. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. Yet there are not three Gods, but one God. "There are three living persons of the heavenly trio . . . —the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. . . ."1 Christ is one with the Father "in purpose, in mind, in character, but not in person."2

The Knowability of God


Mrs. White has no time for any endeavors to know God from the standpoint of rationalism, humanism or natural religion. No time is spent trying to prove the existence of God. Jesus never tried to prove that truth was truth. Neither should we.

There is, of course, evidence for God's existence. The works of God in nature are ample testimony to the existence of an all-wise, loving Creator. Paul's words are cited: "The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead."3 But there are two reasons why God cannot be adequately (savingly) known in the things of nature. First, man is blinded by sin and therefore is unable to correctly read God's message in the lesson book of nature. Second, because of man's sin even nature itself is not perfect. Evil is also at work.4 Therefore man needs a more direct revelation of God. Man cannot search Him out.5 The gracious God must reveal Himself to man. This revelation is given in the Word—first in the written Word, and then supremely in the Word made flesh.

The right concept of God is given only in the Bible.6 We should all speculative knowledge and be careful not to go beyond the message revelation.7 There is far more that is unrevealed about God than is revealed, but He has given us sufficient evidence of His love, justice and truth for us to gladly trust Him.8 "The greatness of God is to us incomprehensible."9

The revelation of Himself that God has given us in His word is for our study. This we may seek to understand. But beyond this we are not to penetrate. . . . Let not finite man attempt to interpret Him. Let none indulge in speculation regarding His nature. Here silence is eloquence. The Omniscient One is above discussion . . . .

As we learn more and more of what God is, and of what we ourselves are in His sight, we shall fear and tremble before Him . . . .

Man cannot by searching find out God. Let none seek with presumptuous hand to lift the veil that conceals His glory.10

All that man needs to know or can know of God has been revealed in the life and character of His Son.11

Christ, the Light of the world, veiled the dazzling splendor of His divinity and came to live as a man among men, that they might, without being consumed, become acquainted with their Creator. No man has seen God at any time except as He is revealed through Christ.12

God's awful majesty and transcendent glory are cause for us to come before Him with reverent awe; yet we may know Him—savingly know Him.13 "If we keep the Lord ever before us, allowing our hearts to go out in thanksgiving and praise to Him, we shall have a continual freshness in our religious life. Our prayers will take the form of a conversation with God as we would talk with a friend."14 Mrs. White continually tries to blend two concepts—the transcendent God before whom we come with no trace of familiarity, yet an intimate Friend who is ever near.

The Personality of God

Mrs. White places great emphasis on the fact that God is a Person. This is a genuine cornerstone of her entire theology and under girds her whole spirituality. He is continually presented as the God who sees me, knows me, loves me, and is interested in everything I do. Yet this God sits enthroned "above the distractions of the earth" and "from His great and calm eternity . . . . orders that which His providence sees best."15 This sovereignty does not roll over humanity like a great impersonalistic determinism.
 
God is a spirit; yet He is a personal being, for man was made in His image. As a personal being, God has revealed Himself in His Son . . . . As a personal Saviour He came to the world. As a personal Saviour He ascended on high. As a personal Saviour He intercedes in the heavenly courts . . . . He has an intimate knowledge of, and a personal interest in, all the works of His hand.16
God is not "an all-pervading principle, an activating energy." While His power brought nature into existence, ordained the laws of nature, and sustains all life continually, that power is not God. God does not personally dwell in the things of nature. He ordained laws to govern the things which He has made, but He is not bound by His laws, for He is above all law. Thus the least approach to pantheistic sentiments is stoutly resisted.17
No intangible principle, no impersonal essence or mere abstraction, can satisfy the needs and longings of human beings in this life of struggle with sin and sorrow and pain. It is not enough to believe in law and force, in things that have no pity, and never hear the cry for help. We need to know of an Almighty arm that will hold us up, of an infinite Friend that pities us. We need to clasp a hand that is warm, to trust in a heart full of tenderness. And even so God has in His word revealed Himself.18

The Character of God

If Mrs. White's theology has a dominant theme, it is the character of God. This was the prevailing theme in the personal ministry of Jesus on earth.19 It must therefore be the dominant theme of His servants.

What makes this world dark is the misapprehension of the character of God.20 Satan—who is regarded in the conservative Christian sense as a personal, rebel angel—has a supreme object in his work of deception, and this is to falsify the character of God. He seeks to clothe the just and loving Creator with his own attributes of character so that men will hate Him. Satan has deceived men into thinking that God is selfish and oppressive, lacking in compassion and pity, revengeful and implacable, tyrannical, stern and severe, a harsh and exacting creditor, a vindictive taskmaster, the author of suffering, sin and death.
21

From the beginning it has been Satan's studied plan to cause men to forget God, that he might secure them to himself. Hence he has sought to misrepresent the character of God, to lead men to cherish a false conception of Him. The Creator has been presented to their minds as clothed with the attributes of the prince of evil himself,—as arbitrary, severe, and unforgiving,—that He might be feared, shunned, and even hated by men. Satan hoped to so confuse the minds of those whom he had deceived that they would put God out of their knowledge. Then he would obliterate the divine image in man and impress his own likeness upon the soul; he would imbue men with his own spirit and make them captives according to his will.

It was by falsifying the character of God and exciting distrust of Him that Satan tempted Eve to transgress. By sin the minds of our first parents were darkened, their natures were degraded, and their conceptions of God were molded by their own narrowness and selfishness.22
In this context we are directed to understand the mission of Christ to this earth.
The earth was dark through misapprehension of God. That the gloomy shadows might be lightened, that the world might be brought back to God, Satan's deceptive power was to be broken . . . . To know God is to love Him; His character must be manifested in contrast to the character of Satan. This work only one Being in all the universe could do. Only He who knew the height and depth of the love of God could make it known. Upon the world's dark night the Sun of Righteousness must rise, "with healing in His wings."23

Satan has represented God as selfish and oppressive, as claiming all, and giving nothing, as requiring the service of His creatures for His own glory, and making no sacrifice for their good. But the gift of Christ reveals the Father's heart. It testifies that the thoughts of God toward us are "thoughts of peace, and not of evil." It declares that while God's hatred of sin is as strong as death, His love for the sinner is stronger than death. Having undertaken our redemption, He will spare nothing, however dear, which is necessary to the completion of His work. No truth essential to our salvation is withheld, no miracle of mercy is neglected, no divine agency is left unemployed. Favor is heaped upon favor, gift upon gift. The whole treasury of heaven is open to those He seeks to save. Having collected the riches of the universe, and laid open the resources of infinite power, He gives them all into the hands of Christ, and says, All these are for man. Use these gifts to convince him that there is no love greater than Mine in earth or heaven. His greatest happiness will be found in loving Me.24
The varied aspects of God's character are often dwelt upon—His holiness, justice, righteousness, impartiality, compassion, mercy, love, etc. All righteous attributes of character dwell in God as a perfect whole.25 While Dr. A. H. Strong singles out holiness as the supreme attribute of God's character (and many theologians agree), love is the supreme attribute in Mrs. White's thinking. Any idea of a weak, sentimental feeling is furthest from her mind. Love is a high and holy principle. The five volume Conflict of the Ages Series (about 4,000 pages) begins with the words, ''God is love.'' Its last words are, ''. . . God is love.''

With words of deep feeling and moving eloquence, Mrs. White appeals to the people of her own church:
Brethren, with the beloved John I call upon you to "behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." What love, what matchless love, that sinners and aliens as we are, we may be brought back to God and adopted into His family! We may address Him by the endearing name, "Our Father," which is a sign of our affection for Him and a pledge of His tender regard and relationship to us. And the Son of God, beholding the heirs of grace, "is not ashamed to call them brethren." They have even a more sacred relationship to God than have the angels who have never fallen.

All the paternal love which has come down from generation to generation through the channel of human hearts, all the springs of tenderness which have opened in the souls of men, are but as a tiny rill to the boundless ocean when compared with the infinite, exhaustless love of God. Tongue cannot utter it; pen cannot portray it. You may meditate upon it every day of your life; you may search the Scriptures diligently in order to understand it; you may summon every power and capability that God has given you, in the endeavor to comprehend the love and compassion of the heavenly Father; and yet there is an infinity beyond. You may study that love for ages; yet you can never fully comprehend the length and the breadth, the depth and the height, of the love of God in giving His Son to die for the world. Eternity itself can never fully reveal it.26

The revelation of God's love to men centers in the cross. Its full significance tongue cannot utter; pen cannot portray; the mind of man cannot comprehend. Looking upon the cross of Calvary we can only say: "God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Christ crucified for our sins, Christ risen from the dead, Christ ascended on high, is the science of salvation that we are to learn and to teach.27
Then in a chapter describing the Passion, Mrs. White pauses at the height of her descriptive panorama of the suffering Christ to say:
Who can comprehend the love here displayed! The angelic host beheld with wonder and with grief Him who had been the Majesty of heaven, and who had worn the crown of glory, now wearing the crown of thorns, a bleeding victim to the rage of an infuriated mob, fired to insane madness by the wrath of Satan. Behold the patient Sufferer! Upon His head is the thorny crown. His lifeblood flows from every lacerated vein. All this in consequence of sin! Nothing could have induced Christ to leave His honor and majesty in heaven, and come to a sinful world, to be neglected, despised, and rejected by those He came to save, and finally to suffer upon the cross, but eternal, redeeming love, which will ever remain a mystery. . . .

Oh, what love! What amazing love! that brought the Son of God to earth to be made sin for us, that we might be reconciled to God, and elevated to a life with Him in His mansions in glory. Oh, what is man, that such a price should be paid for his redemption!

When men and women can more fully comprehend the magnitude of the great sacrifice which was made by the Majesty of heaven in dying in man's stead, then will the plan of salvation be magnified, and reflections of Calvary will awaken tender, sacred, and lively emotions in the Christian's heart. Praises to God and the Lamb will be in their hearts and upon their lips. Pride and self-esteem cannot flourish in the hearts that keep fresh in memory the scenes of Calvary. This world will appear of but little value to those who appreciate the great price of man's redemption, the precious blood of God's dear Son. All the riches of the world are not of sufficient value to redeem one perishing soul. Who can measure the love Christ felt for a lost world as He hung upon the cross, suffering for the sins of guilty men? This love was immeasurable, infinite.

Christ has shown that His love was stronger than death. He was accomplishing man's salvation; and although He had the most fearful conflict with the powers of darkness, yet, amid it all, His love grew stronger and stronger. He endured the hiding of His Father's countenance, until He was led to exclaim in the bitterness of His soul: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" His arm brought salvation. The price was paid to purchase the redemption of man when, in the last soul struggle, the blessed words were uttered which seemed to resound through creation: "It is finished."28
Whatever we may think of some of Mrs. White's theology, it would be difficult to doubt her devotion to Christ.

Since a person's ideas of God mold his own character,29 it is important to know truth which portrays the divine character correctly and to reject erroneous doctrines which distort that character. ""There is nothing that more decidedly distinguishes the Christian from the worldly man than the estimate he has of God."30 Church members should make the character of God their theme of contemplation.31 This theme is the central concern of Mrs. White's literature.

Summary

Any outline of a writer's theology would do great injustice unless it truly reflected where the dominant accents of that theology fall. It is said that Beethoven was not too concerned if a musician made a few mistakes in rendering his composition, but he would become angry if the overall spirit was misinterpreted. We want to do two things in this outline: (1) correctly present the points of the theological system under review, and (2) correctly present a true idea of its overall tone.



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1 Ev 615
2 MH 422
3 PP 116; Rom. 1:20
4 8T 255, 256; Ed 26, 27
5 MM 95
6 MB 74
7 MH 429, 430; 8T 279
8 CH 371
9 Ed 132
10 8T 279-285
11 8T 286
12 8T 265
13 8T 283-286
14 COL 129
15 8T 273
16 Ed 132
17 Ed 131-133; Ev 600; 8T 259-265
18 Ed 133
19 TM 192
20 COL 415; Is. 60:2
21 DA 57; SC 116; FE 176; 2T 584; MB 25; ST 314; 3T 411
22 ST 738
23 DA 22
24 DA 57
25 COL 330
26 ST 739, 740
27 8T 287
28 2T 207-213
29 DA 604
30 1SM 184
31 FE 49