The statements in the Spirit of Prophecy regarding the Holy Spirit, as the ‘Third Person’, especially capitalised, cause problems for many Adventists. In fact, some even believe in the Trinity, based on these words alone. However, this is not diligent study.
In 1896, Ellen White wrote from Cooranbong, Australia, to the brethren in America. It was the time of the Kellogg crisis, but the Lord had not yet instructed her to meet it.
Sides were being taken and she wrote regarding men “who will soon evidence which banner they are standing under; the banner of the Prince of life, or the banner of the prince of darkness… If men would only give up their spirit of resistance to the Holy Spirit, the spirit which has long been leavening their religious experience, God’s Spirit would address itself to their hearts.”Testimonies to Ministers p393.394.
These men were “blind leaders of the blind” and “standing on the brink of a precipice, ready to slide over to the depths below”. Ibid p394.
Naturally the prophet counselled with the brethren to “Let Christ work by His Holy Spirit, and awaken you as from the dead, and carry your minds along with His.” Ibid p396.
One powerful paragraph said, “Evil had been accumulating for centuries, and could only be restrained and resisted by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power. Another spirit must be met; for the essence of evil was working in all ways, and the submission of man to this satanic captivity was amazing.” Ibid p292. Feb 5. 1896.
This is the first time the term “third person of the Godhead” had been used by Ellen White.
Had she become a Trinitarian?
In 1897, the following year, Dr Kellogg made public his belief in a triune God who in essence filled the air, the trees, flowers, animals, birds, everything in nature.
As a result, those leaders who were attracted to his views took their stand, and in a short time, Battle Creek College and the Sanitarium were rampant with the teachings. Video - ‘Keepers of the Flame’ No.6 – The Lesser Light. Adventist Media Centre. Dr Alan Lindsay.
In 1898, the book ‘The Desire of Ages’ was printed.
The collating of material for this book was done in Australia from previous Spirit of Prophecy writings, as well as new material written by Ellen White for this purpose.
One paragraph read, “The power of evil had been strengthening for centuries, and the submission of men to this satanic captivity was amazing. Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the third person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power. It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world’s Redeemer…” The Desire of Ages p671.
Clearly this came from the 1896 letter. If you compare the two paragraphs, you can see that there have been slight changes, but the underlined portion remains the same.
Had Sister White suddenly changed her understanding of the Father and the Son, now making the Holy Spirit a third God-Being?
This is the view of many Trinitarians today. They believe Ellen White realised she had been wrong for holding an anti-Trinitarian view and that she sought to correct that belief by putting this statement in ‘The Desire of Ages’.
But the prophet never used devious methods.
To be wrong for fifty years and then quietly put the truth within the pages of an 800-odd page book, without a word, is not the way Ellen White worked. She believed and practised speaking boldly against error. And she stood on the platform of truth given the pioneers between 1844 and 1848.
She said of her beliefs, “The principles of truth that God has revealed to us are our only true foundation. They have made us what we are. The lapse of time has not lessened their value.”1 Selected Messages p201. “We must firmly refuse to be drawn away from the platform of eternal truth, which since 1844 has stood the test…” Ibid p200.
It is put forward by Trinitarians that the term “third person of the Godhead” is stated many times in the Spirit of Prophecy, proving its importance. However, after a careful search, it has been discovered that the statement has only been stated by Ellen White on three occasions. (This count is to the best of the writer’s understanding)
The first time was – ‘To my Brethren in America’. Letter 8. Feb 6. 1896.
It was copied in 1897 -- Series A. Jan 28. No.10 p25.
It was copied in 1923 – Testimonies to Ministers p392.
It was copied in 1946 – Evangelism p617.
It was copied in 1976 – Vance Ferrell’s Special Testimonies Series A p345.
It was copied in 19?? – Manuscript Release No.2 p34.
It was copied in 19?? – Manuscript Release No.4 p329.330.
It was copied in 1980 – Manuscript Release No.10 p63.
It was copied in 1982 – The Upward Look p51.
It was copied in 19?? – The 1888 Materials p1493.
In December 1898, Sister White wrote a short article for the Signs of the Times, which says in part, “Christ determined that when He ascended from this earth He would bestow a gift on those who had believed on Him…. What gift could He bestow rich enough to signalize and grace His ascension to the mediatorial throne? It must be worthy of His greatness and His royalty. He determined to give His representative, the third person of the Godhead. This gift could not be excelled, He would give all gifts in one, and therefore the divine Spirit, converting, enlightening, sanctifying, would be His donation.” Signs of the Times 12.01.1898.
It was copied in 1899 -- Bible Echo.
It was copied in 1905 -- The Watchman. Nov 28.
It was copied in 1952 – My Life Today p36.
It was copied in 1970 – Bible Commentary Vol 6 p1053.
In 1898, this paragraph was placed in The Desire of Ages, adapted from the letter To Brethren in America.
It was copied in 1904 – Review & Herald. May 19.
It was copied in 1908 – Review & Herald (Week of Prayer Readings)
It was copied in 1958 – The Faith I Live By p52.
It was copied in 19?? – Lift Him Up p191.
It was copied in 19?? – God’s Amazing Grace p194.
Thus we can see that the term “third person of the Godhead” has not been a term Ellen White has used over and over again. Since 1940, the words ‘Third Person” have been capitalised, adding weight to the idea that the Holy Spirit is a God-Being in His own right. Ellen White did not write the words in capitals.
THE SPIRIT IS THE THIRD PERSON OF THE GODHEAD
There is no question, the Father is supreme. This is the way the Bible portrays God. (As an example, read through Ephesians, Chapter 1 and outline every verse that speaks of the Father saving us through His Son)
As the supreme Being, we can understand Him to be the NUMBER ONE. This is not to be said disrespectfully, but to call a person No.1. is to say he is in control.
God the Father is GOD.
God the Father is the prime Being.
He is the FIRST PERSON.
Each term means the same. God the Father speaks for Himself. He is the One who is seated upon the throne. Revelation 4:220.127.116.11. 5:1-4. Daniel 7:13.
However, God the Father has a Son, an only-begotten Son. It is by this Son, that the Father has created the worlds and everything in them. “God…. by whom (meaning Christ)… He (the Father) created the worlds.” Hebrews 1:1.2.“God had an Associate” in His works of beneficence. Patriarchs and Prophets p34.
It is by His Son that the Father speaks. “God hath… spoken by His Son.” Hebrews 1:1. “The Father has given the world into the hands of Christ…. All the communion between heaven and the fallen race has been through Christ.” That I May Know Him p102. PP 366.
So Christ is the second means by which the Father speaks.
Christ speaks for His Father.
Thus, Christ is the SECOND PERSON.
If we say Christ is the second person of the Godhead, we understand that He is also a divine Being who speaks on behalf of His Father. The Father can speak for Himself, but He has chosen to have Christ speak for Him to sinful man.
However, there is also a third divine agency by which the Father can speak – His own personal Spirit.
The Spirit is also divine. It is God’s omnipresent Spirit by which “He is everywhere present.” Education p132.
It is by this means that the Father has “an intimate knowledge of, and a personal interest in, all the works of His hand.” Ibid. (As the Son inherited the divine attributes of His Father, He has the same Spirit)
Thus we can see that the holy Spirit is the THIRD means by which God the Father can speak to the universe.
This makes the Spirit the THIRD PERSON of the Godhead.
Remember, in saying these words, it is easy to automatically think of the holy Spirit as another individual God-Being. This is because we have been brought up with the idea. When Ellen White says the Spirit is the “third person”, we must understand what she means.
The prophet is not saying the holy Spirit is a third God-Being as in the Trinitarian belief, but that the Spirit it a personal agency. It is not simply an inanimate power, it is God’s own personal presence. Thus it can be called the ‘person’ of God, but in Spirit form.
When we acknowledge the Spirit as the “third person”, we are not stating a Trinitarian belief, although others might think so. So long as the truth is clear in our minds, we will never be confused. If others wish to know the truth, they must submit to the very Spirit in question. If they refuse, we cannot help them.
Thus, the Godhead means the three divine agencies by which the universe is ruled – the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. All are divine and eternal, but not as three co-equal Beings.
The Spirit is the personal presence of the Father and the Son, not just an influence. Noteven just His mind. The Spirit is a mystery, but it is a part of God that is omniscient. When the Spirit speaks, it is God and His Son speaking, and in this sense is a person. If we keep this in mind, we will not be confused.
“Our consciences are to be controlled by no power on earth. The Holy Spirit will work upon minds if we will hearken to its faintest whispers. It is the voice of your Advocate in the heavenly courts.”Manuscript Release 17. p193.194. 1888 Materials p1592.
It is important to remember that there are “three great agencies” by which God the Father works – Himself, His Son and His Spirit. 1 Bible Commentary p1120.
Some believers speak of only two, but a counterfeit is always close to reality. Let us not be afraid to agree with the prophet, who spoke of three.
“…three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” 6 Bible Commentary p1074. 1901.
“… the three holy dignitaries of heaven….” 5 Bible Commentary p1110. 1901.
“…. the three great personal dignitaries of heaven….” 7 Bible Commentary p959. 1901.
“… three great, infinite powers….” Manuscript 144. 1901.
“… the three great powers of heaven….” Signs of the Times. Feb 12. 1902.
“… the three highest powers in the universe – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit….” 4 Manuscript Release p368. 1903.
“… the three great and glorious heavenly characters….” 6 Manuscript Release p389. 1905.
“… the three highest powers in heaven – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost – all these powers will work through us….” 7A Bible Commentary p442. 1905
“… the three great worthies of heaven….” Sermons and Talks. Vol 1. Oct 20 1906.
“… these three great agencies…” 1 Bible Commentary p1120. 1907.
“… baptised in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, these three representatives of heavenly authority….” Letter 174. Dec 21. 1909. 1908.1909.
“… these three great powers of heaven….” The General Conference Bulletin. April 14. 1910.
If we insist on saying ‘there are only two’, we are contradicting the prophet. Therefore we must say what we mean more clearly – yes, there are only two holy Beings, the Father and the Son; but there is also their holy Spirit, by which they are personally present with us.
In stating three heavenly powers, the prophet was counteracting the work of Dr Kellogg. He believed God was in the trees, the flowers, animals, even in man, and this error needed to be revealed. God is not a vague entity in nature; there are truly three powers in the universe, clearly identifiable in the Bible.
In the first printing of his book ‘Living Temple’, Kellogg said all three were in nature, but later changed it to God the Holy Spirit alone. Sr White said this change did not correct his theology.
In 1911, the following was written under Questions and Answers by the Department of the Signs of the Times.
“The Holy Spirit is the mighty energy of the Godhead, the life and power of God flowing out from Him to all parts of the universe, and thus making a living connection between His throne and all creation. As is expressed by another: ‘The Holy Spirit is the breath of spiritual life in the soul. The impartation of the Spirit is the impartation of the life of Christ.’ It thus makes Christ everywhere present.
To use a crude illustration, just as a telephone carries the voice of a man, and so makes that voice present miles away, so the Holy Spirit carries with it all the potency of Christ in making Him everywhere present with all His power, and revealing Him to those in harmony with His law.
Thus the Spirit is personified in Christ and God, but never revealed as a separate person. Never are we told to pray to the Spirit, but to God for the Spirit. Never do we find in the Scriptures prayers to the Spirit, but for the Spirit.” Signs of the Times. Questions and Answers p181.182.
Although the author illustrated the Spirit in this way in the Signs of the Times, it is not something the prophet says we should do.
Many try to explain the Trinity by using such illustrations. The worst to have been placed on paper is a mousetrap, made up of three parts. It is total blasphemy. Even using nature, such as a three-leaf clover, three petals, but one leaf, must not be done.
The truth is clear, as stated by Jesus Himself.
“And this is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” John 17:3.
“For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
“But to us there is but one God, the Father…. And one Lord Jesus Christ…” 1 Corinthians 8:6.
“And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” Romans 8:10.11.
“To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27.
God the Father
Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten Son.
The Spirit – Christ and the Father in Spirit.
There is no mystery to the truth about our God, providing we don’t try to explain the unexplainable.