The Theology of Ellen G. White


Mrs. White believes that the creation account presented in the book of Genesis is literally true. Since the philosophy of creation is a basic ingredient of this system of theology, we shall briefly summarize it at the outset of this chapter.

Love is the essence of God's nature. This love is power.
1 It is the creative energy which brought the world into existence.2 God's love is life.3 It is therefore a creative power. "Every manifestation of God's power is an expression of infinite love."4

Since the world was brought into existence by a great outpouring of love, all created things were an expression of God's love.5 Man was its crowning manifestation.6

God's creative love was not a blind impulse, emotion or sentiment. It was a high, holy principle of divine self-giving without any element of weakness or irrationality.7 It was a responsible love that carefully planned man's future and spared nothing to provide for his present and eternal well-being. The idea of God's love bringing people into existence without complete provision for their eternal happiness is unthinkable. "The sovereignty of God involves fullness of blessing to all created beings.8

The Image of God in Man

"'God created man in His own image,'. . . and it was His purpose that the longer man lived the more fully he should reveal this image—the more fully reflect the glory of the Creator."9 "He made Adam a partaker of His life, His nature.10 "There were no corrupt principles in the first Adam, no corrupt propensities or tendencies to evil. Adam was as faultless as the angels before God's throne. "11 "God made man upright; He gave him noble traits of character, with no bias toward evil."12

Physical resemblance is included in "the image of God." "Man was to bear God's image, both in outward resemblance and in character."13 "When Adam came forth from the Creator's hand, he bore, in his physical, mental, and spiritual nature, a likeness to his Maker."14 This high view of the body is very un-Grecian, but it is not foreign to Hebraic thinking, even among the Jews today.

The "image of God" therefore includes the whole man. "He [Adam] stood in the strength of his perfection before God. All the organs and faculties of his being were equally developed, and harmoniously balanced."15 "His nature was in harmony with the will of God. His mind was capable of comprehending divine things. His affections were pure; his appetites and passions were under the control of reason. He was holy and happy in bearing the image of God and in perfect obedience to His will."16

The Wholistic Man

There is no trace of Grecian dualism in Mrs. White's concept of man's nature. The physical body is not regarded as inferior or unworthy of esteem. The body is the only medium through which the mind and soul find expression.17 She looks at man wholistically. The soul cannot be isolated and called a man any more than a soulless body can be isolated and called a man. Man is the homo toto.

As for the human soul, this author says, "When God made man in His image, the human form was perfect in all its arrangements, but it was without life. Then a personal, self-existing God breathed into that form the breath of life, and man became a living, breathing, intelligent being."18

Soul is "living, breathing, intelligent being," the whole living man. Soul is a synonym for life. In other places, however, Mrs. White does use the word soul to designate man's individual personality, real identity, or character.19 God's purpose in man's creation is expressed by referring to the Westminster Catechism: "The great object of life is well defined in the old-time catechism, 'to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.' "20

The Dependent Man

Fundamental to this doctrine of man is the concept of the creature's dependence upon God. Just as surely as God gave life to man, He must continually sustain life. God did not give man an endowment of life that he could possess independently of God. Man "is not like a clock, which is set in operation, and must go of itself. . . . In God we live and move and have our being. "21 If God would stay His hand for a moment, man would die. His "dependence on God is absolute."22

The Probation of Man

Quite an orthodox Reformed position is taken of man's test and trial. By way of comparison, the view is very similar to that of the late Dr. Louis Berkhof (Systematic Theology). Adam was righteous negatively, but not positively. That is to say, he was innocent and without sin. But he had not yet lived a life of positive righteousness. Placed under law, he was required to live out the precepts of God's law in positive obedience.
Our first parents, though created innocent and holy, were not placed beyond the possibility of wrongdoing. God made them free moral agents, capable of appreciating the wisdom and benevolence of His character and the justice of His requirements, and with full liberty to yield or to withhold obedience. They were to enjoy communion with God and with holy angels; but before they could be rendered eternally secure, their loyalty must be tested. 23

Obedience, perfect and perpetual, was the condition of eternal happiness. On this condition he [man] was to have access to the tree of life. 24
If man had proved true to the test, his destiny would have been sealed, and he would have been granted immortality.25 Yet man will always be a dependent creature.

The Fall of Man

Mrs. White's understanding of the test and fall of our first parents is along the lines of the traditional orthodox view of conservative Christians. She emphasizes three points about the fall:

1. God did not plan that Adam and Eve should sin. "Nothing is more plainly taught in Scripture than that God was in no wise responsible for the entrance of sin; that there was no arbitrary withdrawal of divine grace, no deficiency in the divine government, that gave occasion for the uprising of rebellion. "26

2. There is no reason for the existence of sin. "In the judgment of the universe, God will stand clear of blame for the existence or continuance of evil. It will be demonstrated that the divine decrees are not accessory to sin. There was no defect in God's government, no cause for disaffection. "27

3. "God did not ordain that sin should exist, but He foresaw its existence, and made provision to meet the terrible emergency. "28

Mrs. White writes extensively on the nature of sin. Although she depicts evil in the great variety of its sinister colors, the following features are most prominently displayed:

1. Since it was Satan who incited man to sin, sin must be seen as the spirit of the first great apostate.29 "Satan is the originator of sin. . . . he prevailed on Adam to sin. . . . Every sin committed awakens the echoes of the original sin. "30

2. Unbelief is the root of all sin. This unbelief is especially related to the character of God. "It was distrust of God's goodness, disbelief of His word, and rejection of His authority, that made our first parents transgressors. "31

3. Above everything else, selfishness is emphasized as the essence of sin. "Sin originated in self-seeking."32 "Satan is the originator of sin. In heaven he resolved to live to himself. . . . selfishness became the law of those who placed themselves under his leadership. "33 " . . . selfishness took the place of love."34 "Selfishness is the essence of depravity. . . . "35 "Under the general heading of selfishness came every other sin."36

4. In concrete terms (referring frequently to 1 John 3:4), sin is the transgression of the law of God. It is therefore the spirit of lawlessness and rebellion.37 The first conflict between truth and error was over the authority of God's law, and the final conflict on this earth will be of the same order. "From the very beginning of the great controversy in heaven it has been Satan's purpose to overthrow the law of God. . . . The last great conflict between truth and error is but the final struggle of the long-standing controversy concerning the law of God."38

The Sinful State of Man

Adam did not merely stand before God as an individual man. He was the head and representative of mankind.39 It was therefore inevitable that Adam's fall should involve the whole human race, which was "lost in Adam" at the point of the fall.40 " . . . he [Satan] prevailed on Adam to sin. Thus at its very source human nature was corrupted."41 "Through man's sin, Satan had gained control of the human race. . . . "42 "Having conquered Adam, the monarch of the world, he [Satan] had gained the race as his subjects. . . . "43

We may speak of "Adam's sin" and "man's sin as if they were interchangeable terms. In this way Adam represents the whole of mankind. The sin of Adam is the sin of the race.

Mrs. White subscribes to the concept of man's inherited sinfulness as taught by Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and the mainstream of the church's great teachers. There is no trace of Pelagianism here.
As related to the first Adam men receive from him nothing but guilt and the sentence of death."44

Because of sin his [Adam's] posterity was born with inherent propensities of disobedience."45

The inheritance of children is that of sin. Sin has separated them from God."46

It was possible for Adam, before the fall, to form a righteous character by obedience to God's law. But he failed to do this, and because of his sin our natures are fallen and we cannot make ourselves righteous. Since we are sinful, unholy, we cannot perfectly obey the holy law."47

The result of the eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is manifest in every man's experience. There is in his nature a bent to evil, a force which, unaided, he cannot resist.48

As for the state of man:

The vileness of the human heart is not understood. 49

The natural heart is full of hatred to the truth as it is to Jesus.50

. . . . our hearts are naturally depraved. . . . .51

He [man] has nothing of his own but what is tainted and corrupted, polluted with sin, utterly repulsive to a pure and holy God.52

All . . . are in just as helpless a condition as is Satan himself. . . .53

. . . man is hopelessly ruined, . . . without strength to do any good thing. 54

There was no part of man's nature which escaped the fall. The Pelagian idea that the human will was left free in the fall is rejected. "This will, that forms so important a factor in the character of man, was at the fall given into the control of Satan."55 This point should be duly noted, for in other contexts Mrs. White does speak of a certain freedom of the will. That freedom, however, is not a freedom inherent in man's natural powers, but a freedom that comes to him through the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit on account of Christ's redemptive act. (More will be said about this in the chapter on justification.)

No attempt is made to explain how sin is transmitted. There are no theories about immediate or mediate imputation. Mrs. White's view of the origin of each human soul is the traducian rather than the creational. It is nowhere stated that sin is biologically transmitted as if it were a genetic aberration. The substance of human nature is not sinful (as in the theology of Flacius), but sin is seen as a foreign element which has infected human nature. "Our condition through sin has become preternatural. . . . "56 "The fall did not create in man new faculties, energies, and passions . . . These powers were perverted. . . .57 At this point Mrs. White's position resembles that of the Lutheran Formula of Concord, which declares that "original sin is not the nature itself, but . . . an accidental defect and damage in the nature. . . . Moreover, original sin is not something by itself, existing independently in, or apart from the nature of the corrupt man, as it neither is the real essence, body, or soul of corrupt man, nor the man himself."58 We draw attention to this because it is especially relevant in trying to grasp Mrs. White's much misunderstood teaching on the human nature of Christ.

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1 2T 135; 4T 256
2 CT 185
3 MB 18
4 PP 33
5 DA 20, 516
6 RH June 18, 1895
7 MB 58; FE 502; TM 376
8 PP 33 (cf. DA 287)
9 Ed 15
10 1BC 1082
11 1BC 1083
12 PP 49
13 PP 45
14 Ed 15
15 1SM 267
16 PP 45
17 MH 130; Ed 195
18 8T 264; Gen. 2:7
19 6BC 1093
20 RH July 11, 1882
21 1BC 1081
22 TM 324
23 PP 48
24 PP 49
25 PP 60
26 GC 492, 493
27 DA 58
28 DA 22
29 DA 21, 22; AA 339; GC 500
30 RH Apr. 16, 1901
31 Ed
32 DA
33 RH July 16, 1901
34 SC
35 CS
36 4T
37 GC 493, 500; PP 38
38 GC
39 6T 236; GC 647
40 SD 120
41 RH Apr. 16, 1901
42 PP 77
43 RH Feb. 24, 1874
44 6BC 1074
45 5BC 1128
46 CG 475
47 SC 62
48 Ed 29
49 MM 143
50 ML 261
51 CT 544
52 1SM 342
53 6BC 1077
54 1SM 321
55 ST 515
56 8T 291
57 RH Mar. 1, 1887
58 Book of Concord, pp. 238-240.