Why So Much Fuss About the Trinity? Part 6: God Revealing God

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Why So Much Fuss About the Trinity? Part 6: God Revealing God

Now we are at the last of our six-part series. While the previous five articles, covered the certainty of the divinity of Jesus Christ, we will now look at the subject of the Holy Spirit. It is interesting to note that more than any other subject, Jesus loved dwelling on the subject of the coming comforter. It is stated,

 

Christ had an infinite variety of subjects from which to choose in His teaching, but the one upon which He dwelt most largely was the endowment of His Holy Spirit.[1]

 

For this reason, we now talk about the Comforter, who came to represent the Son of God.

 

The Nature and Work

 

When studying this subject, there are two things to keep in mind.

 

1. Firstly, because we are speaking of divine realities, from a finite perspective, some truths, this side of heaven, will ever remain a mystery. When it comes to the nature of the Holy Spirit, it pivotal to ever remember that,

 

The nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery. Men cannot explain it, because the Lord has not revealed it to them. Men having fanciful views may bring together passages of Scripture and put a human construction on them, but the acceptance of these views will not strengthen the church. Regarding such mysteries, which are too deep for human understanding, silence is golden.[2]

 

2. Secondly, while the nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery, some of that same mysterious language, was applied by Ellen White, to the subject of the nature of Christ, whether it applied to His divinity or humanity. However, we know that there were certain aspects of Jesus’ work, life, and mission we can understand. Hence, following the previous statement, concerning the nature of the Holy Spirit, it is stated,

 

The office of the Holy Spirit is distinctly specified in the words of Christ: ‘When He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.’ John 16:8.[3]

It is for this reason, that just as through the work of Christ, we can learn more of His person, in the same way, while we may not be able to understand the mysterious nature of the Spirit, through His work, we can understand something more about Him.

Nouns and Pronouns

In John 16, it is interesting to see the way that Jesus refers, not just to the Spirit’s office, but the Spirit. Jesus speaking of His necessary and coming departure, in verse 7 says

 

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

 

We see Jesus here promising the disciples “But if I go, I will send him to you.” Multiple times in verses 8-15, we see Jesus referring to the same promised comforter, by the pronoun “He.” The same language is used in John 14:16, 17, where Jesus states,

 

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

 

The 18th-century pastor, preacher and commentator John Gill comments on John 14:16 by stating:

 

This is no inconsiderable proof of a trinity of persons in the Godhead; here is the Father prayed unto, and the Son in human nature praying, and the Holy Ghost the Comforter prayed for; who is the gift of the Father, through the prevalent mediation of the Son, and is another ‘Comforter’; distinct from the Messiah, to whom the reference is here had![4]

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Work of the Holy Spirit and a Search for Relevance

 

Having said this, some of my Anti/Non-Trinitarian brothers and sisters say, “well look at Jesus’ statement in John 14:18, where He says “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” This reveals that the coming of the Comforter was really the coming of Jesus’ Spirit.” Giving further indication that the Holy Spirit is just the influence that flows out of Jesus—His Spirit, Jesus’ Spirit, etc. Many then try to corroborate this with a number of statements from Ellen White, some of which reads as follows:

 

It is not safe for us to catch the spirit of another. We want the Holy Spirit, which is Jesus Christ.[5]

 

The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, as the personal presence of Christ to the soul.[6]

 

The Savior is our Comforter. This I have proved Him to be.[7]

 

It is vital in these situations to remember the biblical text and the context of Ellen White’s statements. John Gill caught the clarity of Jesus’ statement when he mentioned that the Holy Spirit “…is another “Comforter”; distinct from the Messiah…” The issue lies not in both Christ and His Spirit being comforters. It lies not in that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. The issue between the Bible and the Non-Trinitarian view lies in the stark reality that Scripture distinguishes Jesus and His Spirit, by one word, even “another.” This one word, while so simple, is essential, in the context of our study.

 

The word “another,” in John 14:16, is the Greek word “allos” which means “different or another.”[8] Hence Jesus is saying,

 

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you [a different/another] Helper, to be with you forever.

 

A different Helper? Different from whom? Contextually, a different Helper from Jesus Christ. This is why, while the Spirit brings Jesus’ presence to us, He brings it, not as Jesus Himself, but as Jesus’ representative. He is a different Comforter, representing the original, even Jesus. The same idea is brought forth, in the New Testament, as it relates to the statement,

 

The Holy Spirit is the Comforter, as the personal presence of Christ to the soul.[9]

 

In Galatians 4:14 the word “as” is used concerning Paul. Can you guess who Paul was received as by the Galatians? He says concerning Himself “…and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, [as] Christ Jesus.” Now does this mean that Paul was Jesus Christ? By no means. Was Paul a representative of Jesus, however? Most definitely. We must be careful to realize, that the word “as” does not always mean “same as.” Therein we answer the above three statements made by Ellen White.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: God the Holy Spirit –His divine personhood and ministry

 

Another argument is that while Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “he and him,” Paul refers to the Spirit, as “it,” thereby making the Spirit an influence or force. Romans 8:26 states,

 

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

 

This statement from Romans, however, all depends on the original word for “itself.” The word here is “autos” which can mean “itself, himself, herself.” Hence, while the King James (which is a great Bible), may translate the word as “it”, other translations may be in harmony with Jesus’ words in John chapters 14 and 16, translates Romans 8:26 as follows:

 

  • ESV: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit [himself] intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
  • NASB: “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit [Himself] intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;”
  • NIV: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit [himself] intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

 

Another thing to remember is that, just because something or someone is referred to in a neutral way, does not mean that personhood is absent. For example, speaking from the perspective of the King James, do you know that there was a stage in Jesus’ life when He was referred to as “that holy thing.” Gabriel speaking to Mary says,

 

And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also [that holy thing] which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

 

Yet we know, without any doubt, Jesus was not a thing, but a person. The reason that we know this, is due to the overall evidence of Scripture. We arrive at the very same conclusion when we take the overall evidence of Scripture and the writings of Ellen White, concerning the Holy Spirit. The reason that Christ used the pronouns “he and him” when referring to the Spirit, was not to say that the Holy Spirit was a male but to reveal that the Holy Spirit, is a person. Furthermore, the reason Jesus used the two words “another Comforter”, was to show that the Spirit is a distinct person, representing, yet not the same as Jesus.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: Reflections on the Holy Spirit the Word and Prayer

 

Notice, also, the intelligence of the Spirit as He is portrayed in scripture. As shown in Genesis 6:3, the Spirit of God strives with sinners. According to Romans 2:5, the Spirit has desires. The Spirit gives birth, in our mind, to a regenerated mind, according to John 3:6-8. Matthew 12:32 reveals that the Spirit of God can be blasphemed against.  The Holy Spirit can speak, in light of Acts 13:2. The Spirit groans, when interceding for us, as pointed out in Romans 8:26. The Holy Spirit can be grieved as stated in Ephesians 4:30. How is this possible, if the Spirit of Jesus, is only His influence, or just a power? The verbs used concerning Him, reveals that he is a Being, rather than an influence or force.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Work of the Holy Spirit

 

The Pioneers Grow Again

Ellen White, who was usually ahead of her time as a messenger of God, in 1896, makes a statement, that covers not only the personhood of the Holy Spirit but also the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The statement reads as follows:

 

Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead.[10]

 

Notice the statement reveals the Holy Spirit, as a person, who is also divine, seeing that He is the third member of the Godhead. In 1899, referring to the opening of College Hall, Avondale, and the Avondale church, she made another powerful statement concerning the property on which Avondale rested. The statement reads as follows:

 

We need to realize that the Holy Spirit, who is as much a person as God is a person, is walking through these grounds.[11]

 

However, the “Early Adventist view on the Holy Spirit avoided the idea that the Holy Spirit had a distinct personality. For them, the Godhead included the Father who was omnipotent and omniscient; the pre-incarnate begotten divine Son; and the Holy Spirit as a manifestation of the presence or power of the Father or the Son.” These are some of the statements from the pioneers concerning the Holy Spirit:

 

  • H. Waggoner (1877): He “wrote of the Holy Spirit as an ‘It’ rather than ‘He.’” After writing of the “one question which has been much controverted” “the personality of the Spirit,” he described the “Spirit of God” as “that awful and mysterious power which proceeds from the throne of the universe.”[12]

 

  • Uriah Smith (1878): To the question “What is the Holy Spirit” he stated “In a word it may, perhaps, best be described as a mysterious influence emanating from the Father and the Son, their representative and the medium of their power.”[13]

 

  • M. Canright (1878): “The Holy Spirit is not a person, not an individual, but is an influence or power proceeding from the Godhead.”[14]

 

While these three statements reveal where many stood on this subject in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, there were others like Ellen White, who were more in agreement with her, concerning the personhood of Holy Spirit. As time went along many adjusted, and some came forth revealing that Adventism, is ever moving forward in the light that God reveals.

 

One of the men moving forward with the light, was Alonzo T. Jones. Alonzo, in 1899 came very close to making a Trinitarian statement, by saying:

 

God is one. Jesus Christ is one. The Holy Spirit is one. And these three are one: there is no dissent nor division among them.[15]

 

Within the same decade of the 1890s, R.A. Underwood, with his statement on the personhood of the Holy Spirit, revealed that a change was commencing within the church concerning the Holy Spirit. He stated:

 

The Holy Spirit is Christ’s personal representative in the field; and he is charged with the work of meeting Satan, and defeating this personal enemy of God and his government. It seems strange to me, now, that I ever believed that the Holy Spirit was only an influence, in view of the work he does.[16]

 

Powerful friends! This goes back to what we were seeing at the beginning of this article. A study of the work of the Spirit, reveals the veracity of His personhood. Not a decade passed before A.T. Jones made a significant statement, in stating,

 

The Holy Spirit is not an influence; nor an impression, nor peace, nor joy, nor any thing….The Holy Spirit is a Person, eternally a divine Person.[17]

 

What we see here, are many of the pioneers realizing that the Holy Spirit, is not just God, but the God, who came to reveal God—for the ultimate work of the Spirit, according to John 16:14, was and still is to reveal and glorify Jesus Christ.

 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Holy Spirit in Hebrew Scriptures

 

Conclusion

 

Despite some of the major attacks he has received in modern Adventism, Alonzo T. Jones, while not being correct on every point, was many times a man ahead of his time. The last statement we read from him, was the opposite of some of the things Uriah Smith, J.H. Waggoner, and D.N. Canright made in the 1870s. Why was it so different?

 

The reason is that whether you look at it from the perspective of the pioneers or Ellen White, our church was ever advancing in its conception of the light revealed in Scripture. This is why I say, respectfully, while many Anti/Non-Trinitarians seek to remain faithful to the teachings of the pioneers, they must keep in mind the historical and theological progression of those same pioneers, when it came to the Godhead, health reform, the Sabbath, and many other subjects. God is leading His people on step by step, we must ever be careful to keep in step with the light.

 

We must be aware of the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The moment we forget the past is the moment we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. History, while it is progressive, can also be cyclical, in that it can be repeated. May we stand on the right side of history. The side that does not stand in opposition to the truth, but instead receives it. As inspired writings tell us so plainly,

 

we have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.[18]

Read the rest of Akeem’s series on the Trinity.

______

Notes.

[1] Ellen White, The Promise of the Holy Spirit, Review and Herald, June 10, 1902.

[2] Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association 1911), p. 52.

[3] Ibid, p. 52.

[4] John Gill, John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible.

[5] Ellen White, Letter 66, April 10, 1894

[6] Ellen White, The Perils and Privileges of the Last Days, Review and Herald, November 29, 1892.

[7] Ellen White, Manuscript Releases 8, July 16, 1892

[8] G243 – allos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).

[9] Ellen White, The Perils and Privileges of the Last Days, Review and Herald, November 29, 1892.

[10] Ellen G. White, to “My Brethren in America,” February 6, 1896, Letter 8, 1896. Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, MD (Also published and modified in the Desire of Ages.)

[11] Ms 66, 1899, par. 11

[12] J. H. Waggoner, The Spirit of God: Its Offices and Manifestations to the End of the Christian Age (Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing, 1877), p. 8, 9.

[13] James White and Uriah Smith, The Biblical Institute: A Synopsis of Lectures on the Principal Doctrines of Seventh-day Adventists (Oakland, Calif.: Pacific SDA Publishing, 1878), p. 184.

[14] D. M. Canright, “The Holy Spirit, Signs of the Times, July 25, 1878, 218; idem, “The Holy Spirit,” Signs of the Times, August 8, 1878, p. 236.

[15] A. T. Jones, editorial, Review and Herald, January 10, 1899, p. 24.

[16] R. A. Underwood, “The Holy Spirit a Person,” Review and Herald, May 17, 1898, p. 310.

[17] A. T. Jones, “Christian Loyalty,” Medical Missionary, March 27, 1907, p. 98.

[18] Ellen White, Life Sketches, (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2002), p. 196.

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About the author

Akeem James

Akeem James is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and has lived in the United States since 2001. At the age of 16, he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, and became a Seventh-day Adventist. Currently, he obtained his Masters in Divinity degree from Andrews University and is the director of Ultimate Cry Ministries.