Philosophy of Inspiration in the Writings of Ellen G. White part 3

Philosophy of Inspiration in the Writings of Ellen G. White (Part 3)

IN ALL the processes of God's kingdom force is never employed. The will is free to accept the divine mandate. In inspiration there is no compulsion to form this union of the divine and human. The inspired writers were still free to express themselves in their own vocabulary and idiom. . .

-Department of Religion, Pacific Union College at the time this article was written

IN ALL the processes of God's kingdom force is never employed. The will is free to accept the divine mandate. In inspiration there is no compulsion to form this union of the divine and human. The inspired writers were still free to express themselves in their own vocabulary and idiom. Their personalities and modes of conveying the thoughts presented by the Spirit were still their own. And yet when once surrendered to God's task they were directed by the Spirit (see Jer. 20:9):

The inspired writers did not testify to falsehoods to prevent the pages o£ sacred history being clouded by the record of human frailties and faults. The scribes of God wrote as they were dictated by the Holy Spirit, having no control of the work them selves. They penned the literal truth, and stern, for bidding facts are revealed for reasons that our finite minds cannot fully comprehend.1

The inspired penman, in the presentation of the truths revealed to him by God, is under the "'dictation" of an Author to whom he has freely surrendered his talents.2 The Spirit gives the message and may then control the time and place of its delivery.

This combining of the divine with the human is portrayed by the Christian life. It here presents a limited illustration of how inspiration works. A deeply penetrating statement of the nature of truly victorious Christian living is made by Ellen White:

If we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service.3

The "sanctified" will is a holy will in daily Christian living as well as in writing out God's messages. So only "holy men of God" can speak as they are carried along by the Spirit. A significant illustration of how this works is found in one of the physical characteristics of an inspired person in open vision. He has no breath." The breath of the Spirit actually plays upon his vocal chords. This shows the profundity of his control by the Holy Spirit. In this sense the seer is "God inspired," or "God breathed." The yielded instrument sounds a melody through the breathing of the Master.

The writers of the sacred oracles were free to consent to be used. But when they once did consent, while they were using their own words, they were expressing God's thought. So it is very true that "the divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God." 5 In the same way the Christian's earthly life is the life of Christ. While the true disciple lives a fully surrendered life, "Christ liveth in" him. The sacred scribes wrote, but the Holy Spirit directed their messages. They were God's penmen borne along by the power of the Spirit to write at times better than they knew.

But this thought of the divine personality combining with the consecrated, holy human person to produce a revelation of God's will is far better illustrated by the experience of our Lord Himself. Mrs. White observed:

The Bible, with its God-given truths expressed in the language of men, presents a union of the divine and the human. Such a union existed in the nature of Christ, who was the Son of God and the Son of man. Thus it is true of the Bible, as it was of Christ, that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." 6

It will be most profitable to weigh the significance of this concept carefully. In the Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, the divine truth was placed within the compass of a limited human body. This vehicle of revelation is not God's mode of manifesting Himself to unfallen beings. He veiled His divinity that sinful man might observe what he was capable of grasping in order to be saved.

To achieve this, Jesus became man in the fullest sense. His divinity was not partial divinity. He was at once completely human and completely divine. But to bring this about He laid aside aspects of divinity. For instance, the exercise of His prerogative of omnipresence was not possible within the compass of a frail, human body. The divine nature was thus restricted. Its scope and power were restrained. Its glory was confined within the limitations of humanity. Jesus assumed this lowly state that man might view divinity in human life and not be destroyed by this vision. The taking of man's nature by Christ was evidence of compassionate condescension on God's part. He cared enough to want to reveal Himself at the level of a sinner's comprehension.

But when all this has been said by Ellen White, no hint is left that divinity was less divine in the human Christ than it was in the Father or the Spirit. The "Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The resultant purpose of this was discerned by- John. "We beheld his glory," he said, "full of grace and truth." So the Incarnate Word came about. God entrusted this revelation of Himself to a limited human being.

In the inspiration of the Scriptures, the Word of God, the divine truth, is placed within the compass of limited human language. This vehicle of expression also is not God's means of revealing His will to unfallen beings. He clothes His divine ideas in human speech that fallen, finite, and sinful man might read it and comprehend. Yet the divine message, in the fullest sense, was expressed in language that is imperfect when compared with the language of God. But in spite of this, God's meaning was not obscured.

The Scriptures are divine ideas in the widest sense. God's truth there recorded is not the revelation of half of God's will mingled with the erroneous ideas of man. The Scriptures, like our blessed Lord, are at once completely human and completely divine. In putting His truth into the language of man, God's condescension is also revealed. Man could not possibly comprehend the divine will were it expressed in a language other than his own. Human language is no more a vehicle for God to express His ideas fully than is the human body of Christ a vehicle for the fullest revelation of divine glory. But in both the Incarnate and inspired modes of revelation "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, . . . full of grace and truth." To stress this thought Mrs. White declared:

The Lord speaks to human beings in imperfect speech, in order that the degenerate senses, the dull, earthly perception, of earthly beings may comprehend His words. Thus is shown God's condescension. He meets fallen human beings where they are. The Bible, perfect as it is in its simplicity, does not answer to the great ideas of God; for infinite ideas cannot be perfectly embodied in finite vehicles of thought."

Miracle of Truthfulness

And this brings us to a vital point. God's will, revealed in Jesus, is "the truth." Christ made no mistakes. He left no wrong impressions of what His Father wished to convey to man through Him. His life, even though it was human in the fullest sense, was perfect. His conduct was inerrant. But wicked men misrepresented Him and accused Him of blasphemy and wrong.

Since "the Bible . . . presents a union of the divine and the human," which is analogous with the Incarnation, the mes sage of the Scriptures, as given by the Holy Spirit, contains no mistakes. The Scriptures leave no wrong impressions of what our Father wishes to convey to man through human words. The words of Scripture, even though they are human in the fullest sense, become perfectly clear after prayerful study. The message of the Bible is inerrant. Scores of times Mrs. White affirmed that in it God's infallible truth is revealed:

God has been pleased to communicate His truth to the world by human agencies, and He Himself, by His Holy Spirit, qualified men and enabled them to do this work. He guided the mind in the selection of what to speak and what to write. The treasure was entrusted to earthen vessels, yet it is, nonetheless, from Heaven. The testimony is conveyed through the imperfect expression of human language, yet it is the testimony of God; and the obedient, believing child of God beholds in it the glory o£ a divine power, full of grace and truth.8

But as with the Incarnate Word, wicked men even today misrepresent the Inspired Word and account its teachings false. Not withstanding this, Ellen White is quite certain that "the Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will," 9 conveyed in fit words to express appropriately what God intends to say to fallen man. Whatever man might think of Jesus of Nazareth He is "the authoritative, infallible revelation" of God's glory. And whatever man might think of the Bible, it, too, is still the "authoritative, infallible revelation of His will."

Here is a potpourri of Mrs. White's statements on the treasure of the Scriptures:

Every chapter and every verse of the Bible is a communication from God to men.10

The Bible is God's voice speaking to us, just as surely as though we could hear it with our ears.11

Do we receive the Bible as "the oracle of God?" It is as really a divine communication as though the words came to us in an audible voice.12

The Scriptures are to be received as God's word to us, not written merely, but spoken. ... In them He is speaking to us individually, speaking as directly as if we could listen to His voice.13

The Bible is of the highest value because it is the word of the living God.14

The Bible is a divine communication, and is as verily a message to the soul as though a voice from heaven were heard speaking to us.15

How may the sincere scholar be certain that what he is reading is actually God's voice speaking to him? Mrs. White gives several pointers to help those who want to discover truth. These methods have assisted Christians for centuries before critical textual studies were invented. Although variants have but slight effect on the meaning of a few readings, the real in tent of any passage may be determined by comparing scripture with scripture. Ellen White declares of the humble scholar:

The more he searches the Bible, the deeper is his conviction that it is the word of the living God, and human reason bows before the majesty of divine revelation.16

There is an evidence that is open to all the most highly educated, and the most illiterate the evidence of experience. God invites us to prove for ourselves the reality of His Word, the truth of His promises. He bids us "Taste and see that the Lord is good." Instead of depending upon the word of another, we are to taste for ourselves. . . . And as we draw near to Jesus, and rejoice in the fullness of His love, our doubt and darkness will disappear in the light of His presence.17

Every one who has passed from death unto life is able to "set to his seal that God is true." He can testify ". . . Why do I believe the Bible?---Because I have found it to be the voice of God to my soul." We may have the witness in ourselves that the Bible is true.18

(To be continued)


1. Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 9.

2. Illustrations of this declaration are seen in the experiences of Balaam, Jonah, Daniel, and others, besides Ellen White.

3. The Desire of Ages, p. 668.

4. Dan. 10:17.

5. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 21.

6. The Great Controversy, p. vi.

7. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 22. _

8. The Great Controversy, pp. vi, vii: cf. Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 22, 25, 28.

9. The Great Controversy, p. vii.

10. Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 504.

11. Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 393.

12. Ibid., vol. 5, p. 533.

13. The Ministry of Healing, p. 122; The Faith I Live By, p. 9.

14. Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 421.

15. Our High Calling, p. 210.

16. Testimonies, vol. 5. p. 700.

17. The Faith I Live By, p. 16.

18. Steps to Christ, p. 112.

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-Department of Religion, Pacific Union College at the time this article was written

March 1969

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