Chapman Letter

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Many Trinitarian Adventists have quoted various statements taken out of context from what Ellen White had written in order to discredit the non-trinitarian views of the Holy Spirit and to dissuade any inquiry into the subject matter.

Among the various statements that are often quoted are taken from a letter Ellen White had written to Brother Chapman from Petoskey, Michigan, on June 11, 1891 and is generally referred to as the “Chapman Letter.”

The following are just a few examples of extracting bits and pieces of the aforementioned letter intended to discourage any inquiring minds to examine the issue:

  1. “It is not essential for you to know and be able to define just what the Holy Spirit is.”

  2. “ There are many mysteries which I do not seek to understand or to explain; they are too high for me, and too high for you.”

  3. “The nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery not clearly revealed, and you will never be able to explain it to others because the Lord has not revealed it to you.”

Below is another often quoted example from the Acts of the Apostles (AA):

“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.”  {AA 52.1}

The manuscript source for the Acts of the Apostle quote can also be traced to the same letter written by Sister White to Brother Chapman.

Concerning the letter in question, Ellen White addresses a brother named Chapman who held erroneous views regarding the Holy Spirit and the 144,000. She admonishes against his errors and advises him to come into harmony with the body of believers. In so doing, she sets forth very clearly what “God has given” her in reference to the Spirit and what the established view of the body were at the time of her writing the letter.

Chapman had gone beyond the belief of the BODY, a belief concerning the Holy Spirit and the 144,000. Ellen White was shown that he had a restless mind and was making the mistake many others are making, who thought that he had some new light contrary to the belief of the BODY, and was advised not to introduce error as new truth.

Some, based on this letter, have also even suggested that the knowledge of the Holy Spirit or the subject of the Godhead is a mystery, a side issue, not essential to salvation and therefore the subject should be left alone.

Instead of relying on a few selected portions of the letter taken out of context, mostly for polemical purposes; we would do well to read the entire letter carefully, especially the points of contention Chapman had raised.

The entire letter shown below is found in Manuscript Releases Vol. 14 commencing at page 175.  The letter can also be found in Lt 7, 1891. Brackets and numbers are supplied by me throughout the letter to use as locations of references in the commentary that follows.

Chapman Letter—June 11, 1891:

[1] I have received yours dated June 3. In this letter you speak in these words: “Elder Robinson does not wish me to leave, but urges that I enter the canvassing field until such time as the conference can afford to employ me in some other capacity, but states positively that I cannot be sent out to present the truth to others until some points held by me are changed or modified in order that the views regarded by us as a people should be properly set forth. He quotes as a sample, ‘My idea in reference to the Holy Ghost’s not being the Spirit of God, which is Christ, but the angel Gabriel, and my belief that the 144,000 will be Jews who will acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. On all fundamental points I am in perfect harmony with our people; but when I try to show what seems to me to be new light on the truth, those in authority, none of whom have seemingly ever made a personal investigation of the matter, refuse to look into the Bible, but brand me as a fellow with queer ideas of the Bible.’” {14MR 175.1}

[2] My brother, you have asked me candidly for advice. Please read with attention John 17:17-26. I quote verses 20 to 23: [Verses 20-23, quoted]. {14MR 175.2}

[3] It is your privilege and your duty to seek for this oneness, this unity, and thus answer the prayer of Christ. This prayer is full of instruction and consolation. As our intercessor in heaven, Christ is ever working for the unity of His people. In order to be in harmony with heaven, we must seek to be one in faith and in practice. {14MR 175.3}

[4] Our Lord especially prayed that His disciples might be united in the closest bonds of Christian fellowship and love; as one body, under one supreme Head. This will exist only in proportion to the degree of their illumination and sanctification. The more fully they receive the enlightenment of the living Spirit, the more nearly will they harmonize in their understanding of what is truth. The more closely they are united in judgment, the more confidence they have in one another. They are blessed with peace and harmony, believing and speaking the same things, “with one heart and one mouth glorifying God.” Their love, their Christian unity, is an evidence to the world that God has sent Jesus to save sinners, and with convicting power it testifies that the Word of God is the safe rule of life. {14MR 176.1}

[5] The differences that now exist among Christians did not exist in the days of Christ or His apostles. When the gospel was preached after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, union prevailed; the believers were all of one heart and one mind. For a short time there was a difference of understanding in regard to circumcision, as to whether admission to the church should be granted to the uncircumcised Gentiles; but this matter was soon settled, and through the divine illumination and sanctification of the Spirit the believers were perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. This was and always will be the fruit that is borne under the influence of the Holy Spirit. {14MR 176.2}

[6] Brethren should not feel that it is a virtue to stand apart because they do not see all minor points in exactly the same light. If on fundamental truths they are at an agreement, they should not differ and dispute about matters of little real importance. To dwell on perplexing questions that, after all, are of no vital importance, has a direct tendency to call the mind away from truths which are vital to the saving of the soul. Brethren should be very modest in urging these side issues which often they do not themselves understand, points that they do not know to be tr
uth and that it is not essential to their salvation to know. When there is difference of opinion on such points, the less prominence you give to them the better it will be for your own spirituality and for the peace and unity that Christ prayed might exist among brethren. {14MR 177.1}

[7] Unbelievers are critical, and they want to frame some excuse for not receiving the truth as it is in Jesus. Where these differences exist among us, those who stand outside will say, “It will be time enough for us to believe as you do when you can agree among yourselves as to what constitutes truth.” The ungodly take advantage of the divisions and controversies among Christians. {14MR 177.2}

[8] There are among us more who are merely nominal Christians than many suppose. These are not connected with Christ, are not one with Him, and therefore do not feel that it is incumbent on them to answer the prayer of Christ that His followers may be one. But some who are real believers catch the spirit of contention. Some are ever seeking to be original, to bring out something new and startling, and they do not realize as they should the importance of preserving the unity of the faith in the bonds of love. {14MR 177.3}

[9] Christians are to be made complete in the one body—in Christ; and through Christ they are one with the Father. What is the result? They give evidence that they have not followed cunningly devised fables but the sure word of prophecy. By their words and actions, all men will take knowledge of them that they have been with Jesus and learned of Him. They are a holy, happy people, the objects of Christ’s divine love. {14MR 178.1}

[10] “I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved them as Thou hast loved Me” [Verse 23]. “And I have declared unto them Thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them” [Verse 26]. With what earnest effort should we seek for unity, for oneness. The church is to be perfected through sufferings after the example of Christ. Being conformed to His image, we shall be one with Him. {14MR 178.2}

[11] We are to pray for divine enlightenment, but at the same time we should be careful how we receive everything termed new light. We must beware lest, under cover of searching for new truth, Satan shall divert our minds from Christ and the special truths for this time. I have been shown that it is the device of the enemy to lead minds to dwell upon some obscure or unimportant point, something that is not fully revealed or is not essential to our salvation. This is made the absorbing theme, the “present truth,” when all their investigations and suppositions only serve to make matters more obscure than before, and to confuse the minds of some who ought to be seeking for oneness through sanctification of the truth. {14MR 178.3}

[12] Your ideas of the two subjects you mention do not harmonize with the light which God has given me. The nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery not clearly revealed, and you will never be able to explain it to others because the Lord has not revealed it to you. You may gather together scriptures and put your construction upon them, but the application is not correct. The expositions by which you sustain your position are not sound. You may lead some to accept your explanations, but you do them no good, nor are they, through accepting your views, enabled to do others good. {14MR 179.1}

[13] 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]. {14MR 179.2}

[14] There are many mysteries which I do not seek to understand or to explain; they are too high for me, and too high for you. On some of these points, silence is golden. Piety, devotion, sanctification of soul, body, and spirit—this is essential for us all. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” [John 17:3]. “This is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life” [John 6:40]. {14MR 179.3}

[15] I hope that you will seek to be in harmony with the body. I have been shown that you would not exert a saving influence in teaching the truth, because your mind is restless, and unless you drank deeper of the Fountain of life, you would make the mistake that many others have made, of thinking that you have new light, when it is only a new phase of error. {14MR 180.1}

[16] You need to come into harmony with your brethren. You may take certain views of Scripture and, searching the Bible in the light of your ideas, may gather together a large number of texts and claim that they mean this and that, and call for anyone to prove to you that your views are incorrect. But what influence could anyone have upon your mind, when he takes the same scriptures and interprets and applies them differently? Both of you claim to found your views on the Bible. {14MR 180.2}

[17] It is your duty to come as near to the people as you can, and not to get as far away from them as possible, and by your interpretation make a difference that should not exist. Here is your danger, of diverting minds from the real issues for this time. And you are not the only one who seems to be moved with ambition in this direction. It would not be right or prudent to send you out as a worker to promulgate your peculiar ideas and thus cause division; we have plenty of this now. We want men of solid experience, who will anchor minds and not send them adrift without chart or compass. {14MR 180.3}

[18] Now, my brother, it is truth that we want and must have, but do not introduce error as new truth. I would be glad to write further on this point, but must drop the subject now. God wants us to be a unit.—Letter 7, 1891. {14MR 180.4}

Ellen G. White Estate
Washington, D. C.,
December 6, 1984.

Manuscript Source link:

Some Key Points to Consider:

1. Chapman’s error:

Chapman was concerned because his variant views on the Holy Spirit and the 144000 made him untrustworthy according to Elder Robinson (Asa T. Robinson), who was then the president of the New England Conference. Chapman relates Robinson’s concerns to White: “I cannot be sent out to present the truth to others until some points held by me are changed or modified in order that the views regarded by us as a people should be properly set forth.” The letter cites what Chapman has stated concerning his own view that was brought to his attention, “My idea in reference to the Holy Ghost’s not being the Spirit of God, which is Christ, but the angel Gabriel,….” [1]

According to Elder Robinson, Chapman’s views concerning the Holy Ghost and the 144000 was a departure from what was generally held by the church at that time and that Chapman needed to change or modify his views “in order that the views regarded by us [Adventists] as a people should be properly set forth.”

And what was the view that was “regarded by us as a people” back then?

Read carefully what Chapman says,

“My idea in reference to the Holy Ghost’s NOT being the Spirit of God, which is Christ, BUT the angel Gabriel,…”

Did you catch that? Contrary to Chapman, the generally held view of the pioneers (“our people”) [1] at this time was that the Holy Ghost was “the Spirit of God, which is Christ” [1]

Please note that Chapman’s error has this very important aspect in common with the modern Seventh-day Adventist’s Trinitarian teaching that the Holy Spirit “NOT being the Spirit of God, which is Christ”.

This view did not perceive the Holy spirit as a separate individual but as the Spirit OF God, and yet identified as Christ. That truth, by the way, was not the new light but rather was the well established view (old light) from the very inception of the Adventist denomination and should not in later years be contradicted by the so called new light having wrested from the pen of Ellen White.

“….you would make the mistake that many others have made, of thinking that you have new light, when it is only a new phase of error.” [15]

“Now, my brother, it is truth that we want and must have, but do not introduce error as new truth.” [18]

White tells Chapman that he must not introduce “error as new truth”. If Chapman’s view was regarded as false new truth, then what was the established “old truth”? Those who know the Adventists’ history, it was the trinitarianism that crept into the church as the new truth” which ostensibly changed the previously established position concerning the Godhead, including how the church now defines the personality of the Holy Spirit. A well known Adventist historian wrote,

“Most of the founders of Seventh-day Adventism would not be able to join the church today if they had to subscribe to the denomination’s Fundamental Beliefs. More specifically, most would not be able to agree to belief number 2, which deals with the doctrine of the trinity.” (George R. Knight–professor of church history at the Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan; Ministry, October, 1993, p. 10)

New light never contradicts established truth on the same subject but will be found to be in harmony with it. The irony in this is that the modern Trinitarians will have you believe that the non-trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit is the “new light” that is causing much agitation within the church and that the Trinitarian view is the established light. The reality is that it is quite the opposite. It is the Trinitarian view (new light) that came into the church later and is now being promulgated as the established light.

While both Chapman and the modern SDAs deny that the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit OF God, which is Christ”, they also erroneously believe that the Holy Spirit is someone who is an entirely separate individual; in Chapman’s case, angel Gabriel, whereas for the modern SDAs, that separate individual is known as “God the Holy Spirit,” whose entire personage is without form and whose personality has no ontological connection with either God or Christ.

Ellen White said to Chapman, “Your ideas of the two subjects you mention do not harmonize with the light which God has given me.” [12] Clearly the truth concerning the two subjects (the Holy Spirit and the 144,000) had already been revealed to Ellen White, for according to her, the light God had given” her did not harmonize with Chapman’s view.

Concerning new light contrary to the established faith of the body, we should also be mindful of the following counsels:

“He [God] does not give one man new light contrary to the established faith of the body. In every reform men have arisen making this claim. Paul warned the church in his day, “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” The greatest harm to God’s people comes through those who go out from among them speaking perverse things. Through them the way of truth is evil spoken of.” {CW 45.2} (bracket supplied by me)

“Let none be self confident, as though God had given them special light above their brethren.” {CW 45.3}

Regarding Chapman’s erroneous views, Ellen White also said, “you will never be able to explain it to others because the Lord has not revealed it to you.” [12] White was making the point that the Lord had not revealed anything specifically related to the said subject TO Brother Chapman, not that the Lord had not revealed anything to anyone at all.

It should also be noted that Ellen White endorsed the position held by our pioneers on the Godhead which was clearly non-trinitarian. She defined the Spirit in harmony with the belief of the church BODY: (“…the spirit of God, which is Christ…”) and added later, “This refers to the omnipresence of the Spirit of Christ, called the Comforter”, referencing John 14:16, 17. [13]

Please note this very carefully. Ellen White does not say either that the Holy Spirit is Christ in a bodily form but rather it is the “omnipresence of the Spirit of Christ, called the Comforter” (not a separate third being).

Again, Sister White never said the brethren were in error on this issue but advised brother Chapman to come into harmony with the BODY of believers – “I hope that you will seek to be in harmony with the body.” [15] The BODY certainly did not believe in another BEING walking around called “God the Holy Spirit” nor did they believe the Holy Spiri
t to be angel Gabriel. Point being, the BODY had an inspired view of the Spirit which is not shared by the Adventist’s trinitarian view today. Now judge for yourself who has moved from the position of established truth. You may be comfortable with the current majority view but is the current majority correct?

The wary position Elder Robinson held concerning Bro Chapman was also shared by Ellen White: “I have been shown that you would not exert a saving influence in teaching the truth” [16] “It would not be right or prudent to send you out as a worker to promulgate your peculiar ideas and thus cause division”. [17]

2. Appeal for unity — “You need to come into harmony with your brethren.” 

The current awakening in Adventism on the Godhead issue speaks the same to us, to harmonize with the trinitarian teachings.

But we should know what we were taught and established on this subject by the pioneers and Spirit of Prophecy and come into harmony with it rather than to simply go along with the majority view.

Ellen White makes multiple appeals throughout the letter for the unity of faith and for the believers to harmonize with the body/church/established truth. Again, this was a rebuke to Chapman on the issues he raised. In correcting his view, it’s worth noting HOW Chapman was to harmonize and unite. He was to harmonize toward that of the body of believers, who understood the Spirit as “…the Spirit of God, which is Christ…” The implication being that there was a consensus within the “body” at this time concerning the Holy Spirit which Ellen White clearly endorsed.

The point can be made here that the church body in 1891 (and prior) did not believe the pneumatology that is now associated with the current Seventh-day Adventist church’s Trinitarian doctrine.

A fundamental principle we need to understand is that when God establishes a truth He does not later alter it – truth is truth, else it wasn’t truth in the first place. The new light/new truth does not contradict previously established truth on the same subject.

Volume 9 of the Testimonies takes in a period of the work from 1904 to the late summer of 1909. (See 9T pg 3) Ellen White has not changed her view on the Spirit penned in 1891 to Brother Chapman. In 1909 it is still the Spirit of the Being/Person called Christ. To suggest that she later changed the denomination’s stance on the Godhead flies in the face of what has already been revealed as inspired truth.

I appreciate the truth, every jot of it, just as it has been given to me by the Holy Spirit for the last fifty years. I desire every one to know that I STAND ON THE SAME PLATFORM OF TRUTH THAT WE HAVE MAINTAINED FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY. That is the testimony I desire to bear on the day that I am seventy-eight years of age. {Ms142-1905.6}

“I should be an unfaithful watchman, were I to hold my peace, when I see the very foundations of our faith being torn away by those who have departed from the faith, and who are now adrift, without an anchor. In this time, when false doctrines are being taught, we are to teach THE SAME TRUTH that we have taught FOR THE PAST HALF CENTURY. I HAVE NOT CHANGED MY FAITH one jot or one tittle, and I am pleading with God that both of you shall be able to discern clearly the difference between loyalty and disloyalty. This God calls upon every physician and every minister to do.” — Ellen G. White, Lt150-1906.9

Notice the dates—1905 and 1906 respectively (8 years after she wrote The Desire of Ages). Ellen White said in 1906 that she had not changed her faith “one jot or one tittle” for the past half century.

This is what the pioneers believed: “They have one God and one Saviour; and one Spirit–the Spirit of Christ–is to bring unity into their ranks.” (Testimonies vol 9 pg. 189; August 24, 1905) Again, the “one Spirit” (aka Holy Spirit) is defined as the Spirit of the Person who bears the name, “Christ”. And it is this very Spirit that will “bring UNITY into their ranks”. Please note again Bro Chapman’s complaint: “My idea in reference to the Holy Ghost’s not being the Spirit of God, which is Christ, but the angel Gabriel,…”.

What we find also are the scores of other inspired testimonies during the 1890s and early 1900s that corroborates with the same view of the Holy Spirit:

We want the HOLY SPIRIT, which is JESUS CHRIST.” — (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)

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}

Hope for Unity, If. . .

“If your faith in the Word of God is strengthened; if you will fully accept the truths that have called us out of the world and made us a people denominated by the Lord as His peculiar treasure; if you will unite with your brethren IN STANDING BY THE OLD LANDMARKS, THEN THERE WILL BE UNITY. But you remain in unbelief, unsettled AS TO THE TRUE FOUNDATION OF FAITH; there can be no hope of any more unity in the future than there has been in the past. {11MR 319.1}

“I am instructed to say that you need to be re-taught the first principles of present truth. You have not believed the messages that God has given for this time because they do not favor your sentiments. Think you that while you remain in doubt and unbelief you can be fully united with those who have stood for the truth as it is in Jesus and who have accepted the light that God has given to us as a people? {11MR 319.2}

“Ask yourself candidly whether you are sound in the faith. Do all in your power to come into unity with God and with your brethren. As a people we cannot receive the full measure of the blessing of God while some who occupy leading positions are continuously working against the truth that FOR YEARS WE HAVE HELD SACRED, and obedient to the faith that has brought us what success we have had.”—Letter 23, 1904, pp. 1, 2. (To J. H. Kellogg, December 1904, copied January 16, 1905.) {11MR 319.3}

“A liar is one that presents false theories and doctrines. He who denies the personality of God and of His Son Jesus Christ is denying God and Christ. ‘If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son and in the Father.’ IF YOU CONTINUE TO BELIEVE AND OBEY THE TRUTHS YOU FIRST EMBRACED REGARDING THE

[Ms 23-1906.20]

Are you catching this? There was an established truth regarding the personality of the Father and Son. Ellen White described it as being part of the “old landmarks” and as “the true foundation of faith”. And the unity, she advocated was a call to the same belief (i.e. Holy Spirit “being the Spirit of God, which is Christ”); to have the believers harmonize with it; the belief which we, as Adventists, “for years have held sacred”.

3. NATURE of the Holy Spirit is a mystery” [12], “It is not essential for you to know and be able to define just what the Holy Spirit is”[13], “not essential to our salvation” [11] and “are of no vital importance” [6] “On some of these points, silence is golden” [14]

Some have taken the above statements to mean that because the nature of Holy Spirit is a mystery, and not essential to salvation, that we are advised to just remain silent on the subject. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit discussion being part of the more broader non-Trinitarians’ objections against the Trinity doctrine, some of our SDA Brethrens equate Ellen White’s rebuke against Chapman as being applicable to the non-trinitarians bringing up their supposed erroneous theories to create division within the church. I would contend that these types of argument is fallacious and is a false equivalence.

Ellen White said, “There are many mysteries which I do not seek to understand or to explain; they are too high for me, and too high for you. On some of these points, silence is golden…” [14]

It is also significant to note how she says, “It is not essential for you to know and be able to define just what the Holy Spirit is.” [13]

She did NOT say “…able to define just WHO the Holy Spirit is” but said, “…WHAT the Holy Spirit is”, meaning she was referring to the NATURE of the Holy Spirit and NOT the IDENTITY of the Holy Spirit.

“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.” {Ministry of Healing p. 429} 

Note: While the “nature” of God will remain a mystery, and therefore it is not essential for us “to know and be able to define just what the [nature of the] Holy Spirit is” but that should not negate the fact that “The revelation of Himself that God has given in His word is for our study” and that “This we may seek to understand.” And Ellen White also added elsewhere that “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} We should also be reminded that “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:” (Rom 1:20)

Thus, to be clear, the issue under consideration is not about the NATURE (WHAT) of the Holy Spirit but rather the IDENTITY; WHO is the Holy Spirit? Surely God would have us know WHO we ought to worship and WHO is our Comforter and Intercessor. That said, I would readily admit that the NATURE of the Holy Spirit is indeed a mystery (how exactly the Spirit can be omnipresent, be shed abroad, to be poured out, to dwell in saints, and be able to manifest in a dove-shaped symbol; as rushing mighty wind; or as cloven tongues of fire, to speak to hearts, etc) that we ought not to penetrate beyond what God has revealed.

All that brings us to, if we are to interpret what Ellen White said to mean that, the Holy Spirit is such a mystery and therefore we should all do well to just keep silent, then why did she even bother to correct the views of Chapman and to have him harmonize with the brethren?

That tells me that there is a correct view and a wrong view about the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, if the subject of the Holy Spirit is such a mystery and one should stop discussing, then why does the Seventh-day Adventist church doggedly insist on defining the Holy Spirit in such a specific manner (a view which is now well entrenched in our church in the form of the Trinity – a third being added to the Godhead, a being our church pioneers knew nothing of) and look disparagingly upon all the dissenters, or worse, treat them as heretics and even disfellowshipping them? It’s only when you disagree with the church’s dogma on the subject that they deem the subject a mystery and the ranking members are advised to leave the subject alone.

Because, in the same letter, Sister White has also stated: “If on fundamental truths they are at an agreement, they should not differ and dispute about matters of little real importance…” [6] Implication is that, as long as believers agree on the “fundamental truth”, we shouldn’t allow our minor differences to get in the way of our unity. Salient point here is that, as a reminder, the doctrine of Trinity which deals with the personality of God and Christ and by extension the Holy Spirit is treated as vital importance and is part of our church’s Fundamental Beliefs (namely No. 2). Even Ellen White has stated that doctrines concerning the “personality of God or of Christ” are part of the ”pillars of our faith” that we ought not to try to remove. So I wouldn’t regard these issues as “matters of little real importance”.

“Those who seek to remove the old landmarks are not holding fast; they are not remembering how they have received and heard. Those who try to bring in theories that would remove the pillars of our faith concerning the sanctuary or concerning the personality of God or of Christ are working as blind men. They are seeking to bring in uncertainties and to set the people of God adrift without an anchor. {YRP 235.3}. “A Warning Against False Theories,” May 24, 1905.) {MR760 12.2}

Please note that “the sanctuary or concerning the personality of God or of Christ” are referred as “the pillars of our faith” and that they are also regarded as part of the “old landmarks” which Ellen White warned would change. Significantl
y, it is the very Fundamental Beliefs that has to do with the “personality of God or of Christ” is what did change from what the Pioneers previously believed to what the modern SDA church believes now.

She also gave a strong warning against any error regarding God’s personality, namely against Kellogg and his book, The Living Temple, which promoted sentiments of pantheism and obfuscated the personality of God. Again, the views concerning the personality of God (Holy Spirit being an integral aspect of the personality of God) was revealed to Ellen White and thus she was able to point out the errors of Kellogg as such. But please also note the following quotation and how she viewed the subject as being “everything to us as a people.” Would she have made such statement if the subject of the personality of God was of little importance?

The sanctuary question is a clear and definite doctrine as we have held it as a people. You [Kellogg] are not definitely clear on the personality of God, which is everything to us as a people. You have virtually destroyed the Lord God Himself.” {Lt300-1903.7}

In fact, any newly baptized member of the Adventist church is required to confess his faithfulness to the teachings of the Trinity as part of his baptismal vow.

Baptismal vow which was revised in 1990 made it decidedly Trinitarian. Fifty-Fifth General Conference Session, on July 11, 1990, 2:00 p.m. voted to revise the church manual p. 44, Baptismal Vow and Baptism, to read as follows. While 1986 Church Manual’s first baptismal vow states, “1. Do you believe in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit?” The 1990 Revised first baptismal vow states, “1. Do you believe there is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three co-eternal Persons?” Thus making it an essential doctrine to be espoused as a test of fellowship.

1986 Church Manual

1986 Church Manual

1990 Church Manual

1990 Church Manual

Also, to deny the teachings of the Trinity (which is one of the core tenets of the SDA’s denomination is a serious offense and is subject for discipline:

“The reasons for which member shall be subject to discipline are:

“Denial of faith in the fundamentals of the gospel and in the fundamental beliefs of the Church or teaching doctrines contrary to the same” (SDA Church Manual pg. 62)

Remember that concerning unity, Sister White counseled us to maintain the unity of our faith as long as we do not compromise on the fundamental truths we hold as Seventh-day Adventists. While we should be mindful of her emphasis in her letter as to not to dwell on “minor points”, “matters of little real importance”, “perplexing questions”, “side issues” and things that are “not essential” to salvation, the subject of the Holy Spirit and more broadly the subject of the personality of God is clearly not a “minor points” nor is it “matters of little real importance.”

4. Knowing just who the 144,000-Not essential for salvation

Identity of 144,000 Not Revealed—Christ says that there will be those in the church who will present fables and suppositions, when God has given grand, elevating, ennobling truths, which should ever be kept in the treasure house of the mind. When men pick up this theory and that theory, when they are curious to know something it is not necessary for them to know, God is not leading them. It is not His plan that His people shall present something which they have to suppose, which is not taught in the Word. It is not His will that they shall get into controversy over questions which will not help them spiritually, such as, who is to compose the hundred and forty-four thousand. This those who are the elect of God will in a short time know without question. {7BC 978.4}

She added

My brethren and sisters, appreciate and study the truths God has given for you and your children. Spend not your time in seeking to know that which will be no spiritual help. “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the all-important question, and it has been clearly answered. “What is written in the law? how readest thou? (Manuscript 26, 1901). {7BC 978.5}

Much materials can be gathered as to what the number 144,000 (Revelation 7) may represent, whether it’s literal or symbolic and what it means to be part of that number, etc. but as to exactly who will make up the 144,000 is not yet revealed. Furthermore, Chapman’s view on the Holy Spirit being angel Gabriel is an untenable proposition that do not in the least represent the view of the church nor even a small minority within the church and moreover do not stand the scrutiny of the inspired testimonies. Thus Ellen White was right to regard it as non-essential distraction. While we should avoid interpretive extremes, the view pioneers held regarding the Holy Spirit at the time of the letter was the normative, established truth, affirmed by inspired testimonies and published countless times as such in all the denomination’s flagship publications (see volumes of published articles on the Holy Spirit) and was unanimously held by all the notable denominational leaders (see their statements).

5. the knowledge of the true God-essential to salvation

Notice what Ellen White says as being essential in the letter-paragraph [14]:

“Piety, devotion, sanctification of soul, body, and spirit—this is essential for us all. “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent” [John 17:3]

Referring to what is essential, White references John 17:3. In John 17, why didn’t Jesus say that eternal life was to know the Holy Spirit? but rather He said, we ought to know the Father and the Son? I think this is very significant! Could it be that the Holy Spirit is the very presence of Father and Christ Himself and not another separate individual entirely? Or that the “essential” knowledge we ought to focus on is not necessarily on the NATURE of the Holy Spirit but rather on the very character of the Person(s) whom the Spirit represents?

Or could it be that the Godhead is only comprised of two divine Beings-Father and the Son?

“By Christ the work upon which the fulfillment of God’s purpose rests, was accomplished. This was the agreement in the councils of the God-head. The Father purposed in counsel with his Son that the human family should be tested and proved,…” (Ellen White, The Gospel Herald, June 11, 1902, par. 6)

Following inspiration underscores how essential it is to understand the subject of the knowledge God and by extension Jesus and the Holy Spirit:

“Like our Saviour, we are in this world to do service for God. We are here to become like God in character, and by a life of service to reveal Him to the world. In order to be co-workers with God, in order to become like Him and to reveal His character, we must know Him aright. We must know Him as He reveals Himself.”  {MH 409.1}

“A knowledge of God is the foundation of all true education and of all true service. It is the only real safeguard against temptation. It is this alone that can make us like God in character.”  {MH 409.2}

This is the knowledge needed by all who are working for the uplifting of their fellow men. Transformation of character, purity of life, efficiency in service, adherence to correct principles, all depend upon a right  knowledge of God. This knowledge is the essential preparation both for this life and for the life to come.”  {MH 409.3}

“The knowledge of the Holy is understanding.”  Proverbs 9:10.  {MH409.4}

“Through a knowledge of Him are given unto us “all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” 2 Peter 1:3.” {MH 409.5}

“Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Neither let the mighty man glory in his might, Let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, That he understandeth and knoweth Me, That I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, Judgment, and righteousness, in the earth:For in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:23, 24.  {MH 410.1}

“Many of the books piled up in the great libraries of earth confuse the mind more than they aid the understanding. Yet men spend large sums of money in the purchase of such books and years in their study, when they have within their reach a Book containing the words of Him who is the
Alpha and Omega of wisdom. The time spent in a study of these books might better be spent in gaining a knowledge of Him whom to know aright is life eternal. Those only who gain this knowledge will at last hear the words, “Ye are complete in Him.” Colossians 2:10.  {CH 369.3}

People often quote Ellen White out of context and therefore do her and themselves a disservice, resulting in conclusions which she never intended. J H Kellogg did the same. He used Ellen White’s quotes on the third person of the Godhead to justify his view that the Holy Ghost was another individual, a third person not unlike how the Father and Son are personal divine Beings and therefore argued how his book “The Living Temple” harmonized with the view of sister White.

“I have been studying very carefully to see what is the real root of the difficulty with the Living Temple, and as far as I can see the whole question resolves itself into this: Is the Holy Ghost, a person? I had supposed it was thoroughly recognized that the Holy Ghost was a person, since the Bible uses the pronoun he in speaking of the Holy Ghost, and I got the impression also from what your mother has written and from the way the brethren speak when they remark, ‘The Lord is here,’ speaking of His presence in the prayer-meeting. The prevailing idea seems to be that such expressions refer to the Spirit of the Lord, and that this is not a person but a principle of some sort. Now, I am not going to set myself up as a theologian and start a controversy over this thing, but will accept your mother’s statement about it, that it is not proper to speak of God himself as being in the tree. So long as this mode of expression confuses and offends people, certainly it ought to be avoided.” (John Harvey Kellogg Letter to W. C. White, October 28, 1903)

“As far as I can fathom, the difficulty which is found in ‘The Living Temple’, the whole thing may be simmered down to the question: Is the Holy Ghost a person? You say no. I had supposed the Bible said this for the reason that the personal pronoun ‘he’ is used in speaking of the Holy Ghost.

“Sister White uses the pronoun ‘he’ and has said in so many words that the Holy Ghost is the third person of the Godhead. How the Holy Ghost can be the third person and not be a person at all is difficult for me to see.” (John Harvey Kellogg Letter to G. I. Butler, Oct 28, 1903)

He had made the mistake of stating that God the Father Himself was in nature, in the flower, in the boot etc was strongly rebuked. He saw a convenient way of escape by saying that it was not God the Father who was in the flower but this other person of the Trinity, “God the Holy Spirit.” In order to harmonize this new view, he became a trinitarian – no congrats from Sister White regarding his conversion:

“He [Kellogg] then stated that his former views regarding the trinity had stood in his way of making a clear and absolutely correct statement: but that within a short time he had come to believe in the trinity, and could now see pretty clearly where all the difficulty was, and believed that he could clear the matter up satisfactorily. He told me that he now believed in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost; and his view was that it was God the Holy Ghost, and not God the Father, that filled all space, and every living thing. He said that if he had believed this before writing the book, he could have expressed his views without giving the wrong impression the book now gives.” 1903-10-29-A. G. Daniells Letter to W. C. White (Kellogg’s Trinitarian confession)

The same situation exists today. People are caught on a huge hook regarding her use of the word PERSON and find it difficult to understand the truth concerning the Spirit of God, a truth she espoused and is in harmony with scriptural revelation of what constitutes a person – A “person” has two aspects to his identity:

  1. The CORPOREAL-PHYSICAL ASPECT or FORM through which we recognize by sight who that individual is.

  2. The INCORPOREAL-NON-PHYSICAL ASPECT or SPIRIT (the inner being), of the individual as to who he or she is.

In the case of MAN, the PHYSICAL & the SPIRIT must be “housed” together in a body for the individual to be a living, thinking, intelligent being, else once separated, the result is death. This, however, is not necessarily the case with God/Christ, who is able to extend Himself beyond His corporeal location, to send forth His Spirit without Him seeing death and without His corporeal/bodily substance being stretched out to wherever the physical location is in the universe. His Spirit however is imbued with the very presence/power/character/mind of God. In other words, God’s “presence” while it embodies the very distinct personality of God, does not require His actual bodily corporeal substance to literally be present. God knows/sees (omniscient) all things every where; God can exert His influence-power (omnipotent) everywhere while his corporeal personality resides in heaven.

It is this Spirit of God that is addressed by Sister White as a Person because it is indeed the incorporeal/invisible Person of a very physical (corporeal) God, come to influence you and I. The Lord Himself is with us through the operation of His very own Spirit – “…and lo I am with you alway even unto the end of the world, Amen”

In closing,

Friends, do not be dissuaded by those who wrest the Spirit of Prophecy and tell you that the subject of the personality of God is of no vital importance, not essential, and is a mere distraction and that “God” defined by Trinity is the established light, that we ought to reject any “new light” challenging its orthodoxy as heretical diversion. Instead, I would encourage you to have impartiality, consider the evidence shown in this article carefully and also to go through other materials on this site on the same subject. May the Lord continue to lead you into all truth; God bless.

For more of Paul Chung’s articles click HERE

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Altered Statements

Some (primarily coming from non-trinitarian Seventh-day Adventist community) suspect that there has been a deliberate and sinister plot perpetrated by the Ellen White Estate to alter the writings of Ellen White in an attempt to make her writings appear more inline with the church’s current theology, namely, the Trinitarian belief.

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