“The Godhead… gave themselves…” Examining a quote

“The Godhead was stirred with pity for the race, and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit gave themselves to the working out of the plan of redemption. In order to fully carry out this plan, it was decided that Christ, the only begotten Son of God, should give Himself an offering for sin. What line can measure the depth of this love?”  {AUCR, April 1, 1901 par. 10}

Because it seems to be a “fall-back” position for some that this quote is unequivocal for the triunity of the “Godhead”, I now turn to examine it bit-by-bit in the context of Ellen White’s writings.

This quote doesn’t specifically mention “persons”, but it might well be included in my studies which speak on that matter.

“The Godhead was stirred with pity for the race…”

The first question is what is “Godhead”, and more specifically, how did Ellen White understand this term?

In the Bible, the word Godhead, in old translations such as the King James, is a term for divinity. This is all it means in the three instances it can be found there. Acts 17:29 tells us that we cannot liken the Godhead or “divinity” to any inanimate thing on earth. Romans 1:20 tells us that we can “see” God’s eternal power and Godhead (divinity) by the things that are created. Colossians 2:9 says that the “fulness of the Godhead bodily” was in Christ. This can be taken to mean either that Christ possessed full divinity (which is true) or that God the Father’s divinity was in Christ (which is true) or both.

Ellen White never once, except for the quote that is under consideration here, used “Godhead” in such a way that it can be construed as a collective noun or group. She almost always adhere’s closely to the Biblical wording, in how she uses Godhead, but her explanatory statements are very interesting. She understood the “fulness of the Godhead bodily” to be God the Father.

“Christ Himself is the pearl of great price. In Him is gathered all the glory of the Father, the fullness of the Godhead. He is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person. The glory of the attributes of God is expressed in His character.” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 115)

“The Father IS all the fulness of the Godhead BODILY, and is invisible to mortal sight.” (SpTB07, p. 62) (caps supplied)

Biblically, the term Godhead really depicts the attribute of divinity. Ellen White uses the terms of the Bible as an appellation of God the Father. She borrows a modified term from a Trinitarian author, W. E. Boardman’s ‘The Higher Christian Life’ (1858), when she calls Jesus “all the fulness of the Godhead MANIFESTED” (ibid, p. 63). She also says that “The Comforter that Christ promised to send after He ascended to heaven, is the Spirit IN all the fulness of the Godhead” (loc. cit.). The careful reader not only discerns a difference made in how she describes the Spirit as opposed to the Father and Son, but a comparison with Boardman’s book shows it is an even more striking distinction from what she, if a trinitarian, could have just copied word-for-word. My article on the heavenly trio statement go into this in more detail. The distinction appears to make out that the Holy Spirit is divinity itself, while God and Christ are Persons possessed of that divinity (for it is “IN all the fullness”, while Father and Son ARE all the fullness). Whereas, Boardman says, “The Spirit IS all the fullness of the Godhead MAKING MANIFEST” equating the personality of the Spirit with the personality of the Father and the Son.

Please note below how W. E. Boardman used the expressions in his book, The Higher Christian Life (click to enlarge the image):

Ellen White used “Godhead” in three ways:

1. As a term for the “quality of divinity,” in accordance with the Bible:

“Though He had humbled Himself to humanity, the Godhead was still His own.” {DA 663.5}

The Godhead was not made human, and the human was not deified by the blending together of the two natures. —Manuscript 94, 1893. {3SM 131.1}

The power of the Saviour’s Godhead was hidden. He overcame in human nature, relying upon God for power. This is the privilege of all. In proportion to our faith will be our victory (The Youth’s Instructor, April 25, 1901). {5BC 1108.6}

2. As a quantified appellation for God the Father.

In Him is gathered all the glory of the Father, the fullness of the Godhead.” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 115)

3. As a qualified appellation for Christ as the one who manifests the Father.

The Father is all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, and is invisible to mortal sight. {SpTB07 62.3} The Son is all the fulness of the Godhead manifested.” {SpTB07 63.1}

People may point to the “third person of the Godhead” statements of Ellen White as other support for a group term. However, even in these places, Ellen White modifies the typical trinitarian wording. Trinitarians, who understand the Godhead as a collective term, use the phrase, “in the Godhead”. Ellen White NEVER uses this phrase, but only “OF the Godhead.” (She also never calls the Father or Son the first and second persons IN/OF the Godhead either, but reserves it only for the Holy Spirit in connection with its “office work.”) This fully fits with either (1) “quality of divinity” or (2) “God the Father”.

So, let us look at the first two options in the phrase below:

“[The quality of divinity] was stirred with pity for the race…”

“[God the Father] was stirred with pity for the race…”

The second seems the most likely, as it is much more personal in the context of a title or appellation.

“…and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit gave themselves…”

Much is made of this clause. It is stated that “themselves” must refer to separate persons. “Themselves” is a gender neutral term for the plural of “himself”, “herself,” and it also can include “itself.” Thus a male and female could be “themselves” just as easily as a group of guys or girls alone. Again, “themselves” can refer to larger groups or collective “persons” or gender neutral entities, such as “the defense department and the justice department have placed themselves in a closer working relationship under the new regime.”

Here, “the defense department” and “the justice department” are not persons in the sense of males or females, though it is comprised of them, but are collective organizations. Thus, “themselves” does not necessarily need to equal three separate entities that are exactly the same.

What does this clause tell us?

(1) That “the Father”, “the Son”, and “the Holy Spirit” are separate entities.

(2) That they “gave themselves” in involvement to whatever follows in the next clause.

What does this clause NOT tell us?

(1) HOW “the Father”, “the Son”, and “the Holy Spirit” are related to each other.

(2) That they are co-equal, co-eternal Beings or Persons.

(3) It does not say that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are unified as the one God.

(4) It doesn’t say that the Son is unbegotten.

(5) The Spirit isn’t the Spirit of God/Christ proceeding from Them Both.

(6) It doesn’t say that the Holy Spirit is a separate individual not unlike the Father and the Son

“…to the working out of the plan of redemption.”

Now, I have seen some people say that this means they devised the plan together, or that this quote proves they were all in the planning stage in the counsels of God. We shall see that this quote would stand alone among MANY which contradict it in just a few lines, but the term “working out” is always an active phrase in Ellen White’s writings. It is never elsewhere used in the sense of “let’s work this out”, but in carrying out something or other.

We are told the plan was first devised and then carried out. We know it was devised by the Father and the Son (“the counsel of peace shall be between them both”— Zechariah 6:13). When they devised that plan, they decided that in carrying it out, the gift of the Holy Spirit would be provided. Therefore, the “three” (2 personal beings, 3 economic personalities-This is how God operates.) gave themselves to the carrying out of that plan that was devised by the Father and Son. I hope this is clear.

Three distinct ACTIVITIES of deity.

1. What the Father is doing in His immediate locality,

2. What the Son is doing in His immediate locality, and

3. The WORK They are performing (TOGETHER) throughout the universe through the Agency of the the Holy Spirit.

“That the Holy Spirit is to be the grand helper is a wonderful promise. Of what avail would it have been to us that the only begotten Son of God had humbled Himself, endured the temptations of the wily foe, and wrestled with him during His entire life on earth, and died the Just for the unjust that humanity might not perish, if the Spirit had not been given as a constant, working, regenerating agent to make effectual in our cases what has been wrought out by the world’s Redeemer?” {3SM 137.1}

Now, below are the plethora of places in which the counsels of heaven are between only TWO – God and Christ, Father and Son:

“Sorrow filled heaven as it was realized that man was lost and that the world which God had created was to be filled with mortals doomed to misery, sickness, and death, and that there was no way of escape for the offender. The whole family of Adam must die. I then saw the lovely Jesus and beheld an expression of sympathy and sorrow upon His countenance. Soon I saw Him approach the exceeding bright light which enshrouded the Father. Said my accompanying angel, “He is in close converse with His Father.” The anxiety of the angels
seemed to be intense while Jesus was communing with His Father. Three times He was shut in by the glorious light about the Father, and the third time He came from the Father we could see His person. His countenance was calm, free from all perplexity and trouble, and shone with a loveliness which words cannot describe. He then made known to the angelic choir that a way of escape had been made for lost man; that He had been pleading with His Father, and had obtained permission to give His own life as a ransom for the race, to bear their sins, and take the sentence of death upon Himself, thus opening a way whereby they might, through the merits of His blood, find pardon for past transgressions, and by obedience be brought back to the garden from which they were driven. Then they could again have access to the glorious, immortal fruit of the tree of life to which they had now forfeited all right.”  {EW 126.1}

“Before the Father [Christ] pleaded in the sinner’s behalf, while the host of heaven awaited the result with an intensity of interest that words cannot express. Long continued was that mysterious communing—“the counsel of peace” for the fallen human race. The plan of salvation had been laid before the creation of the earth, for Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Yet it was a struggle, even with the King of the universe, to yield up His Son to die for the guilty race.”  Patriarchs and Prophets p. 63; Signs of the Times Nov 4, 1908

By Christ the work upon which the fulfillment of God’s purpose rests was accomplished. This was the agreement in the councils of the Godhead. The Father purposed in counsel with His Son that the human family should be tested and proved to see whether they would be allured by the temptations of Satan, or whether they would make Christ their righteousness, keeping God’s commandments, and live. God gave to His Son all who would be true and loyal. Christ covenanted to redeem them from the power of Satan, at the price of His own life.” {E. G. White, Manuscript Releases Vol.21, p. 54}

“Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” — Zechariah 6:13

“‘And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” The love of the Father, no less than of the Son, is the fountain of salvation for the lost race. Said Jesus to his disciples, before he went away, “I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you; for the Father himself loveth you.” [John 16:26, 27.] God was “in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” [2 Corinthians 5:19.] And in the ministration in the sanctuary above, “the counsel of peace shall be between them both.” “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” [John 3:16.]  Great Controversy 1888 p. 416.

“The great plan of redemption was laid before the foundation of the world. And Christ, our Substitute and Surety, did not stand alone in the wondrous undertaking of the ransom of man. In the plan to save a lost world, the counsel was between them both; the covenant of peace was between the Father and the Son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Majesty of heaven, the King of glory, would become a servant. The only-begotten Son, in whom the Father delighted, was given for the ransom of a fallen race.”  {ST, December 23, 1897 par. 2}

“Christ, the Word, the only begotten of God, was one with the eternal Father–one in nature, in character, in purpose–the only being that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God.” {PP 34.1}

“Christ the Word, the Only Begotten of God, was one with the eternal Father,–one in nature, in character, and in purpose,–the only being in all the universe that could enter into all the counsels and purposes of God.” {GC 493.1}

“Before the assembled inhabitants of heaven the King declared that none but Christ, the Only Begotten of God, could fully enter into His purposes, and to Him it was committed to execute the mighty counsels of His will. The Son of God had wrought the Father’s will in the creation of all the hosts of heaven; and to Him, as well as to God, their homage and allegiance were due.” {PP 36.2}

“The plan for our redemption was not an afterthought, a plan formulated after the fall of Adam. It was a revelation of “the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal.” Rom. 16:25 , R. V. It was an unfolding of the principles that from eternal ages have been the foundation of God’s throne.” “From the beginning, God and Christ knew of the apostasy of Satan, and of the fall of man through the deceptive power of the apostate. God did not ordain that sin should exist, but He foresaw its existence, and made provision to meet the terrible emergency. So great was His love for the world, that He covenanted to give His only-begotten Son, “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” There is the throne, and around it the rainbow of promise. There are cherubim and seraphim. The commanders of the angel hosts, the sons of God, the representatives of the unfallen worlds, are assembled. The heavenly council before which Lucifer had accused God and His Son, the representatives of those sinless realms over which Satan had thought to establish his dominion, — all are there to welcome the Redeemer. They are eager to celebrate His triumph and to glorify their King.” “Before the foundations of the earth were laid the Father and the Son had united in a covenant to redeem man if he should be overcome by Satan. They had clasped Their hands in a solemn pledge that Christ should become the surety for the human race.” (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, page 22, Chapter 1, ‘God with us’’)

The Father and the Son in consultation decided that Christ must come to the world as a babe, and live the life that human beings must live from childhood to manhood, bearing the trials that they must bear, and at the same time living a sinless life, that men might see in Him an example of what they can become, and that He might know by experience how to help them in their struggles with sin.” (Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times, 17th May 1905, ‘A Teacher sent from God’)

Even the angels were not permitted to share the counsels between the Father and the Son when the plan of salvation was laid.” (Ellen G. White, Ministry of Healing, page 429, 1905, ‘Danger in Speculative Knowledge’)

“The plan of redemption was arranged in the councils between the Father and the Son.” < /strong>(Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, 28th May 1908, ‘Cooperation’)

In the beginning the Father and the Son had rested upon the Sabbath after Their work of creation. When “the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (Genesis 2:1), the Creator and all heavenly beings rejoiced in contemplation of the glorious scene. {DA 769.2}

In order that the human family might have no excuse because of temptation, Christ became one with them. The only being who was one with God lived the law in humanity, descended to the lowly life of a common laborer, and toiled at the carpenter’s bench with his earthly parent. {ST, October 14, 1897 par. 3}

It is clear that while there are Two individuals involved in these many quotes which show the interrelatedness of parties, the “three” statements fit best with an understanding of economic distinction, where the Holy Spirit is another agency by which God and Christ operate the “working out” of the things they have planned and covenanted together.

The Holy Spirit is a free, working, independent agency. The God of heaven uses his Spirit as it pleases him, and human minds and human judgment and human methods can no more set boundaries to its working, or prescribe as to the channel through which it shall operate, than they can say to the wind, “I bid you to blow in a certain direction, and to conduct yourself in such and such a manner.” (Review and Herald, “Operation of the Holy Spirit Made Manifest in the Life” May 5, 1896)

Exceptions are not necessarily the rule

Again, Ellen White never once, except for the quote that is under consideration here, used “Godhead” in such a way that it can be construed as a collective noun or group. Therefore, it is most reasonable to align the exception to the rule rather than the opposite. This rule applies when we try to establish other doctrines based on Scripture (i.e. doctrine of the state of the dead or Sabbath).

In other words, we shouldn’t try to build a doctrine based on the exception and ignore the plethora of more clear, explicit passages. I believe same thing applies here. Ellen White’s statements that appears to define the “Godhead” as the unity of three persons is clearly the exception and not the rule, hence, we need to rightly correlate other volumes of statements to come to a correct meaning.

Related article:
Heavenly Trio in a Nutshell
Who is the Third Person of the Godhead
Holy Spirit is a Distinct Personality



Understanding the Word, “Godhead”

In discovering and studying the truth about the Father and Son, I also discovered that I was taking certain terms and concepts for granted just because I had heard them or read them so many times that they were now ingrained in my mind with a certain meaning. One of those terms was the word “Godhead.”

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