Who is the Third Person of the Godhead?

In Ministry of Healing p. 429 sister White wrote,

“The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever.’ Deuteronomy 29:29. THE REVELATION OF HIMSELF THAT GOD HAS GIVEN IN HIS WORD IS FOR OUR STUDY. THIS WE MAY SEEK TO UNDERSTAND. BUT BEYOND THIS WE ARE NOT TO PENETRATE. The highest intellect may tax itself until it is wearied out in conjectures regarding the NATURE OF GOD, but the effort will be fruitless. This problem has not been given us to solve. No human mind can comprehend God. None are to indulge in speculation regarding His NATURE. Here silence is eloquence. The Omniscient One is above discussion.”

In the above statement, Ellen White warns us not to “penetrate” beyond what God has revealed to us, namely, not to indulge in speculating the “nature” of God. But she also said, “THE REVELATION OF HIMSELF THAT GOD HAS GIVEN IN HIS WORD IS FOR OUR STUDY. THIS WE MAY SEEK TO UNDERSTAND.”

Ellen White further stated,

“The Scriptures CLEARLY indicate the relation between God and Christ, and they bring to view as CLEARLY the personality and individuality of each.” 8T 268.1

Romans 1:20 says, “For 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; SO THAT THEY ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE.”

“The invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and divinity.” Romans 1:20, A.R.V.”(Ellen White Ministry of Healing 410).

Note: While some aspects of the personality of God and His nature will always remain a mystery but Inspiration tells us that the relation between God and Christ is “clearly indicated” in Scripture and that “they bring to view as clearly the personality and individuality of each.” Thus when we speak of the personality of God, Christ or the Holy Spirit, we are not left without Inspiration to lead us into error.

Also, note that Ellen White quoted ARV (American Revised Version) of Romans 1:20 where the word, “Godhead” was translated as “divinity.” Some misunderstand the term “Godhead” to mean a god of trinity composed of 3 persons and therefore insert wrong connotations and misconstrue what sister White meant in her writings but the term “godhead” simply means divinity. Click HERE to learn more about what “Godhead” means.

It’s also worth mentioning that much of the point of contention regarding the personality of Holy Spirit is NOT about the “nature” of the Holy Spirit (which is a mystery and we are counseled not to penetrate) but rather the IDENTITY. WHO is the Holy Spirit? Surely God would not leave us in ignorance as to Who we ought to worship.

Below is a short study on the identity of the Holy Spirit-responding to often misunderstood statement by Ellen White:

Unfortunately, more often than not, people misquote Ellen White’s statements or quote them but out of context. Moreover, most of her books are a compilations of different writings taken from her original manuscripts and therefore we must take into account its original source and also compare them with scores of her other writings which may offer greater context to come to an accurate intent and the meaning of certain expressions she chose to use.

Statement under consideration:

“Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead,” — (E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, 671.2, 1898)

“third person of the Godhead” vs “Third Person of the Godhead”

In the book, The Desire of Ages, prior to 1940, the phrase, “third person of the Godhead” was printed with the lowercase “t” and “p” but was change to the uppercase, “Third Person of the Godhead” when it was republished in 1940. Some (non-trinitarian adventists) have claimed that the changing of the lower case t and p to uppercase T and P were intentional to make the title of the Holy Spirit appear more inline with the SDA church’s present understanding of the personhood of the Holy Spirit, that is, by making the title in the uppercase, it effectively made the title proper nouns, connoting a title or a name of a personal being, etc . Unfortunately, I have heard some trinitarian Adventists making that very argument. It’s worth noting then that the original manuscript source dated, 1896 (two years prior to the first publishing of Desire of Ages) shown below indicate the phrase in lower case. In addition, you will also notice a slight modification in the paragraph from the original to the Desire of Ages version:

Original manuscript reads, “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…”

Desire of Ages, p. 671 (1940 onwards) reads, “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…”

As it stands, The Desire of Ages’ statement, that is available online, on an official SDA website, appears in the uppercase, while the same expression appears in the book, Evangelism, appears in the lowercase but with heading inserted by the editor, “The Power of God in the Third Person,” (the title headings, by the way, are not part of the Ellen White’s original quote) indicating uppercase letters for the “third person.” This is interesting, because many non-trinitarians claim that the book Evangelism was compiled by LeRoy Froom to deliberately promote the trinitarian doctrine within Adventism. If the uppercase makes it more trinitarian (as some non-trinitarians claim), then one would think that Froom would have included the actual quote in the uppercase as well rather than the lower.

third person of the Godhead-Exhibit-1.-Letter-8-1896-p.1; courtesy of EGW estate.
The Desire of Ages 1939, pg. 671
The Desire of Ages 1940, pg. 671
The Desire of Ages, 1898 (personal copy), cover
The Desire of Ages, 1898, pg. 671
ADVENT REVIEW AND SABBATH HERALD NOVEMBER 19, 1908, pg. 16
ADVENT REVIEW AND SABBATH HERALD NOVEMBER 19, 1908, pg. 16 detail

Note: All the published articles containing the expression, “third person of the godhead” prior to 1940 was printed in the lower case. 

Just a word of caution to those who doubt the legitimacy of Ellen White’s published writings and are more inclined to adhere to some conspiracy theory, keep in mind, Ellen White was alive when the Desire of Ages was first published and she had said that She would always read her articles and books to see that they expressed what she wanted BEFORE they were published. Thus, the author of this article is of the opinion that Ellen White had the oversight and gave her approval of the published version (at least how it was originally published with the lowercase):

“EVERY ARTICLE I prepare to be edited by my workers, I ALWAYS HAVE TO READ MYSELF BEFORE IT IS SENT FOR PUBLICATION…

“I READ OVER ALL THAT IS COPIED, TO SEE THAT EVERYTHING IS AS IT SHOULD BE. I READ ALL THE BOOK MANUSCRIPT BEFORE IT IS SENT TO THE PRINTER. So you can see that my time must be fully occupied. Besides writing, I am called upon to speak to the different churches, and to attend important meetings. I could not do this work unless the Lord helped me.

“I WISH TO WRITE WORDS THAT SHALL REMOVE FROM THE MINDS OF ANY OF MY BRETHREN THE IMPRESSION THAT I DID NOT, BEFORE THEIR PUBLICATION, READ THE PAGES IN TESTIMONY FOR THE CHURCH, VOL. 9, relating to Sunday labor.

Below are a few unique variations of statements taken from other writings of Ellen White using the same expression:

“In describing to his disciples the office work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus sought to inspire them with the joy and hope that inspired his own heart. He rejoiced because of the abundant help he had provided for his church. The Holy Spirit was the highest of all gifts that he could solicit from his Father for the exaltation of his people. The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail. 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 fulness of divine power. It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world’s Redeemer. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure. Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Christ has given his Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress his own character on his church.” {RH May 19, 1904, par. 3} {RH November 19, 1908, Art. B, par. 5}

“The striking feature of divine operations is the accomplishment of the greatest work that can be done in our world, by very simple means. It is God’s plan that every part of his government shall depend on every other part, the whole as a wheel within a wheel, working with entire harmony. He moves upon human forces, causing his Spirit to touch invisible chords, and the vibration rings to the extremity of the universe. The prince of the power of evil can only be held in check by the power of God in the third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.” — E.G. White, Special Testimonies, Series A, No. 10 (SpTA10), p. 36.3 to 37.1

“Christ determined that when He ascended from this earth He would bestow a gift on those who had believed on Him and those who should believe 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, that converting, enlightening, and sanctifying power, would be his donation…. {ST December 1, 1898, par. 2} {6BC 1052.5}

Note: Here we find that the “third person of the Godhead” is identified as a “MIGHTY AGENCY”, “POWER OF GOD”, or Christ’s “REPRESENTATIVE”, that “CONVERTING, ENLIGHTENING, AND SANCTIFYING POWER”, which would be considered Christ’s “DONATION.”

Many (Seventh-day Adventist) trinitarians argue that the above quotations proves that Ellen White was a Trinitarian for she had said, the Holy Spirit is a “Person”. But what does inspiration mean when it says “third person of the Godhead” or the Holy Spirit? Who or what is this mighty agency that can help us to resist and overcome sin?

When we are confronted with certain Inspired expressions, should we come up with our own human ideas based on our preconceived bias? Or should we continue to search inspiration with humility and an open mind to ALLOW INSPIRATION TO EXPLAIN INSPIRATION?

“Only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead”

We are told that, “Sin could be resisted and overcome ONLY through the mighty agency of the third person of the godhead.” (DA 671.2) If that is the case, and if the “third person” is an entirely a different being, then how is it that Christ (or His Spirit) is also describe as one that helps us to resist and overcome sin:

“CHRIST IS PRESENT BY HIS HOLY SPIRIT. IT IS THIS SPIRIT THAT BRINGS CONVICTION TO HEARTS.” {Ev 275.1}

“There is NO POWER IN YOU APART FROM CHRIST, but it is your privilege to have Christ abiding in your heart by faith, and HE can OVERCOME SIN in you, when you cooperate with His efforts.” — (E.G. White, OHC, 76.5)

“With HIS SPIRIT CHRIST sends a reconciling influence and a power that TAKES away SIN.” — (E.G. White, RH, May 19, 1904)

“JESUS ALONE has power to SAVE FROM SIN, to free from the POWER OF EVIL; and to doubt him who has laid down his life for us, is to grieve and insult the Father,” — (E.G. White, RH, Feb 10, 1891)

“The ONLY defense AGAINST EVIL is the INDWELLING OF CHRIST in the heart through faith in His righteousness.” — (E.G. White, DA, 324.1)

“They have ONE God and ONE Saviour; and ONE Spirit–the Spirit of Christ–is to bring unity into their ranks.” — (E.G. White, 9T 189.3, 1909)

“Christ is the source of every right impulse. HE IS THE ONLY ONE that can implant in the heart enmity against sin. Every desire for truth and purity, every conviction of our own sinfulness, is an evidence that HIS SPIRIT is moving upon our hearts.” — SC 26.3

“You want that help THAT COMES FROM CHRIST, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. You are to be a partaker of the divine nature. THERE IS NOTHING ELSE THAT CAN SAVE US. CHRIST COMES IN HIS DIVINE NATURE, and here is every soul will be enlightened according to what you study, according to what you give the mind to feed upon.” {Ms138-1906.20}

“Our condition through sin has become preternatural, and the power that restores us must be supernatural, else it has no value. THERE IS BUT ONE POWER
that can break the hold of evil from the hearts of men, AND THAT IS THE POWER OF GOD [Father] IN JESUS CHRIST. ONLY THROUGH THE BLOOD OF THE CRUCIFIED ONE IS THERE CLEANSING FROM SIN. HIS GRACE ALONE CAN ENABLE US TO RESIST AND SUBDUE THE TENDENCIES OF OUR FALLEN NATURE. This power the spiritualistic theories concerning God make of no effect. If God is an essence pervading all nature, then He dwells in all men; and in order to attain holiness, man has only to develop the power that is within him.” – {CCh 322.8} (bracket supplied)

“It is the SPIRIT that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are SPIRIT, and they are life.” CHRIST IS NOT HERE REFERRING TO HIS DOCTRINE, BUT TO HIS PERSON, the divinity of his character . ” { E. G. White, Review and Herald , April 5, 1906 par. 12}

Question: Again, if “Sin could be resisted and overcome ONLY through the MIGHTY AGENCY of the THIRD PERSON OF THE GODHEAD,” how is it then that “JESUS ALONE has power to save from sin, to free from the power of evil” and that “The ONLY defense against evil” is also the “INDWELLING OF CHRIST in the heart through faith in His righteousness?” (E.G. White, DA, 324.1) Could it be that they are one and the same?

Also consider the following statements:

“To all who desire to be recipients of HIS SPIRIT, THE VIRTUE FLOWS OUT FROM CHRIST. And it is IN THIS WAY that the character of God, the perfection of Christ and the Father, is brought before the world.” (RH, October 14, 1902 par. 11)

“It is the virtue THAT GOES FORTH FROM CHRIST, that leads to genuine repentance” — SC 26.2

“The HOLY SPIRIT, which PROCEEDS FROM THE ONLY BEGOTTEN-SON, binds the human agent, body, soul, and spirit, to the perfect, divine-human nature of Christ.” (EGW Selected Messages book 1, p250 – 251)

“Then Jesus would BREATHE UPON THEM THE HOLY GHOST. In that breath was light, power, and much love, joy, and peace.” (EW 55)

Note: It is made clear from the above statements that the Holy Spirit (aka Third Person of the Godhead) is equated with the Spirit of Christ proceeding from Himself. This is not unlike how Satan breathes his unholy influence on people. “Satan would then breathe upon them an unholy influence.” {EW 56} Did Satan breathe another person? Did another person proceed out of him? Likewise, did a “Third Individual God-Being” proceed out of Jesus or jumped out of him? Does Jesus’ “breathe” a “Third God”? Or is this Third Person the very breath and spirit of Christ that He himself breathes upon the faithful?

The identity the third person of the godhead becomes obvious if you actually read the entire quotation taken from the same book — see below:

“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. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure. Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature. CHRIST HAS GIVEN HIS SPIRIT AS A DIVINE POWER to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church.” The Desire of Ages {DA 671.2}

Thus, the Third Person of the Godhead is non other than Christ’s own Spirit given to us as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil….

So why does the Scriptures and Spirit of Prophecy often speak of the Holy Spirit like It/He is “ANOTHER” Person?

The Holy Spirit is indeed a “third person,” Who represents Christ. But He is not a person in the same sense that Father and Son are Persons. In other words, the Holy Spirit is really Christ (imbued with the Spirit of His Father) but it is Christ that is divested of his physical/visible human personage. Therefore, when Christ gives Himself through the agency of the Holy Spirit, it has it own distinct personality that is different than Christ’s corporeal personality and yet in another sense, it is the very presence of Christ Himself but in an incorporeal personality.

Below are just a handful of statements by Ellen White identifying “WHO” the Holy Spirit (Christ’s representative)is. There are much more but this should suffice for now to make a point:

“It is not essential for you to know and be able to define just what the Holy Spirit is. Christ tells us that the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, and the Comforter is the Holy Ghost, “the Spirit of truth, which the Father shall send in My name.” “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him, for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” [John 14:16, 17]. This refers to the omnipresence of the Spirit of Christ, called the Comforter. Again Jesus says, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth” [John 16:12, 13]. {Manuscript Releases vol.14 p. 179.2}

“The Holy Spirit is the SPIRIT OF CHRIST; it is HIS REPRESENTATIVE. Here is the divine agency that carries conviction to hearts. When the power of His Spirit is revealed through the servants of God, we behold divinity flashing through humanity.” — (E.G. White, 13MR 313.3, 1895) “Cumbered with humanity, CHRIST could not be in every place personally; therefore it was altogether for their advantage that He should leave them, go to His father, and send the Holy Spirit to be His successor on earth. The Holy Spirit is [Christ] HIMSELF, divested of the personality of humanity, and independent thereof. HE would REPRESENT HIMSELF as present in all places by HIS Holy Spirit, as the Omnipresent.” — (E.G. White, Lt119, Feb 18, 1895)

“The Lord is soon to come. We want that complete and perfect understanding which the Lord alone can give. It is not safe to catch the spirit from another. We want the HOLY SPIRIT, which is JESUS CHRIST. If we commune with God, we shall have strength and grace and efficiency.” — (Letter to Prescott W.W. E.G. White, Lt66, April 10, 1894)

“but it is the leaven of the SPIRIT OF JESUS CHRIST, which is sent down from heaven, called the HOLY GHOST, and that Spirit affects the heart and the character.” — (E.G. White, Ms36-1891)

“Let them study the seventeenth of John, and learn how to pray and how to live the prayer of CHRIST. HE IS THE COMFORTER. He will abide in their hearts, making their joy full.” — (E.G. White, RH, Jan 27, 1903)

“JESUS comes to you as the SPIRIT OF TRUTH; study the mind of the Spirit, consult your Lord, follow His way.” — (E.G. White, 2MR 337.1)

“As by faith we look to Jesus, our faith pierces the shadow, and we adore God for His wondrous love in giving JESUS THE COMFORTER.” — (E.G. White, 19MR 297.3)

“CHRIST is to be known by the BLESSED NAME OF COMFORTER. “The Comforter,” said Christ to His disciples, “which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you, [John 14:26 quoted]” — (E.G. White, Ms7-1902, Jan 26, 1902)

“The SAVIOUR [CHRIST] IS OUR COMFORTER. This I have proved Him to be.” — (E.G. White, 8MR 49.3)

“There is NO COMFORTER LIKE CHRIST, so tender and so true. He is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. His Spirit speaks to the heart. . .” (RH, Oct. 26, 1897)

Manuscript Source Material

The quotation in The Desire of Ages: “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.” (DA, pg.671, published in 1898) was copied and paraphrased from the book, “The Great Teacher” by John Harris; 1836; p.174. (See pictures below)

We know that Ellen White had an affinity for literary borrowing from other authors and it has been known by SDA scholars for some time that John Harris’ book was the source material for “The Desire of Ages.” Yet, I haven’t found anyone who has quoted the above “third person” statement as originating from Harris.

As you can see from below, it is not too difficult to conclude that the statement from the book, “The Great Teacher” by John Harris; 1836; p.174. (See pictures below) was the source material for the Desire of Ages statement above.

Source: https://archive.org/details/greatteacherchar00harr/page/n5

The author, John Harris was an English Congregational minister who wrote (62 years before The Desire of Ages was published); He wrote:

“…how tremendous then must that principle of evil be, which can only be subdued by the mighty power of the Spirit; by the advent and accession of the third person in the awful Godhead; by no modified energy, but by the full almightiness of divine power.” ( “The Great Teacher” by John Harris; 1836, p.182)

The Harris’ Congregational churches used a slightly modified Westminster Confession (dealing with church government) called the Savoy Declaration. The belief about the Trinity was the same as Presbyterians (i.e. Samuel Spear, John Cumming).

Was Harris really trying to say that the Holy Spirit, the “third person” of the Godhead, is a separate and distinct “person” from Father and Son? Turning to the previous page in “The Great Teacher” we read this:

but Jesus, taking the affair entirely into his own hands, poured out his Holy Spirit—a blessing intended to make us holy like himself, happy like himself, and even one with himself; for, by giving us his Spirit, he may be said to have given us himself, to have turned himself into Spirit, into a fountain of divine influence that he may be one with our spirits.” (“The Great Teacher” by John Harris; 1836, p.181)

This quotation sounds a lot like the following:

“In giving us His Spirit, God gives us Himself, making Himself a fountain of divine influences, to give health and life to the world.” EGW, 7T-273.

It’s worth noting here that Harris was a trinitarian and his book does contain trinitarian sentiments. And not unlike Ellen White, He specifically affirms the Holy Spirit as a distinct and divine person, and as having a “distinct subsistence,” (The Great Teacher” by John Harris; 1836, pg. 175, 213). And yet He also indicated that the Holy Spirit comes from the Father and the Son but considers the subject “ineffable.” Harris wrote:

”*On the ineffable promanation or procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, though it is a truth which seems necessarily involved in certain parts of that discourse, I presume not to speak.” (ibid pg. 176)

Difference between Harris and what is now purported as Ellen White’s trinitarian statements is that Ellen White was careful to refrain from using any overtly trinitarian (3-in-one) expressions, while Harris, not unlike other trinitarian authors, clearly endorsed it. In the book, we find Harris using such expressions as, “triune God” or “triplicity of the divine nature,” etc. (see pic below) among other expressions to describe the combination of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit as being “one God.” Thus one would have to concede that Harris’ words which Ellen White borrowed would have to be construed through the lens of someone who is a trinitarian.

Having said thus far, it is difficult to draw any conclusive evidence from the material source as far as determining exactly what Ellen White had intended in borrowing Harris’ statements. Nor it would be presumptuous to say that just because she borrowed the statements from a trinitarian author makes her “third person” statement trinitarian.

Moreover, while both authors spoke of the Holy Spirit as the “third person,” they also spoke of the Holy Spirit as coming forth from the Father and Son and that the Holy Spirit is equated with the Spirit of Christ being poured out.

For further study, Check out the links below:

Spirit that Represents Christ is His Own Spirit: Click HERE

Is the Holy Spirit Christ’s Representative or Christ Himself-An Interesting Comparison: Click HERE

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