“The Father’s life” or “the life of the Son of God”?

“The Father’s life” or “the life of the Son of God”? Whose life is shared with all created beings? Plus ministry update

Originally published on Facebook

JASON SMITH·SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16, 2017

Hello brothers and sisters in Jesus, I would like to take a moment to magnify the Name of the Lord Jesus by giving a short ministry update and then tackle a question that has often confused the saints. The two are going to be related so I will use the ministry update to segue into addressing the question.

As many of you know one of the special works that God has assigned to me is to help with the ongoing conflict and division occurring in Seventh-day Adventism regarding the SDA anti/non-trinitarian and SDA pro-trintiarian positions. While this has sometimes been a tedious and thankless task (I am apparently quite the heretic in the eyes of some) there have nevertheless been moments of great encouragement along the way. I would like to share one of these with you.

Yesterday I had an hour long conversation with one of the denomination’s leading Ellen White experts. He has become an author of high repute and is currently working on several projects. One project is a new book on D.M. Canright for the Adventist Heritage Series. This is probably still a year or two in the future but we talked about that project. This brother has requested that I share my research about Canright with him, particularly the influence his criticisms played in the development of trinitarian theology in Adventism. He believes, if this information is accurate, that it will be very useful for his upcoming book! Isn’t that great? I am very hopeful about this because it is well past time that the SDA people, at large, receive the truth about this particularly strong motivating factor in the development of trinitarian theology within the fold.

On top of that he is also writing another book, a small work, that is designed to serve as a sort of dictionary of 19th century terminology to help people to properly understand Ellen White’s writings. This is necessary because the meaning we understand by certain words today is not always the same as the meaning understood back then. This is a joint project that he is doing in cooperation with another author. As we discussed this project we talked about the meaning of the word “derive,” as understood back then. I explained how, due to a nuanced meaning of the word “derive,” it was possible that life “underived” was perfectly compatible with begotten theology. He was taken aback by this but I asked him to consider the history of SDA authors contemporary with sister White. They did not interpret her statement in DA 530 like how we do today but continued to maintain begotten theology for decades. This too was a surprise to him.

What many modern readers do not know is that the word “derive” in Ellen White’s day had, as its first meaning, the following definition:

“1. To draw from, AS IN A REGULAR COURSE OR CHANNEL; to receive from a source BY A REGULAR CONVEYANCE.” [1828 Dictionary]

In other words if you have life “underived” this does not necessarily mean that your life was not given but what it definitely does mean is that you have life in yourself in such a way that you are not dependent upon an external source to maintain it. Thus I explained to him that it is my theory that this particular nuance of meaning is why the SDA authors, post 1898 and up until the 1930s (and some even later), continued to believe that the pre-incarnate Son of God was begotten of the Father. Unlike their Pneuamatology, which shifted immediately in EGW’s lifetime and you can see the evidence of this in the periodicals, their view of the pre-incarnate Son of God as begotten remained. It was never repudiated during Mrs. White’s lifetime and there is no shift in the periodicals. This too was news to him and something that he wants to explore more fully. He has requested that we sit down sometime in January so that I can share this data with him. He wants to see it for himself.

Now this particular brother is well aware of Mrs. White’s affinity for literary borrowing and how she would pick the wheat from the chaff from contemporary theologians using the research model of revelation/inspiration. Thus we can understand sister White better when we see what concepts she picked out from other authors and what concepts she did not. I would like to give an example of this by looking at the writings of John Gill. There are actually parallels in her works, like Desire of Ages, to John Gill’s works. Now John Gill was an orthodox trinitarian and the church under his pastoral care issued the following as a part of their statement of belief. Please pay careful attention to the language:

“2. We believe, That there is but one only living and true God; that there three Persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Who are equal in nature, power, and glory; and that the Son and the Holy Ghost are as truly and properly God as the Father. These three Divine Persons are distinguished from each other by peculiar relative properties. The distinguishing character and relative property of the First Person is begetting; HE HAS BEGOTTEN A SON OF THE SAME NATURE WITH HIM, AND WHO IS THE EXPRESS IMAGE OF HIS PERSON; and therefore is with great propriety called the Father. The distinguishing character and relative property of the Second Person is that HE IS BEGOTTEN, AND HE IS CALLED THE ONLY BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER, and His own proper Son; NOT A SON BY CREATION AS ANGELS AND MEN ARE, NOR BY ADOPTION AS SAINTS ARE, nor by office as civil magistrates are, BUT BY NATURE, by the Father's eternal generation of Him in the divine nature; and therefore He is truly called the Son. The distinguishing character and relative property of the third person is to be breathed by the Father and the Son, and to proceed from Both, and is very properly called the Spirit or Breath of both. These three distinct Divine Persons, we profess to reverence, serve and worship as the one true God. (1757 Declaration of the Faith and Practice of the Church in Carter Lane, Southark, under the pastoral care of Mr. John Gill)

Does that sound somewhat familiar to you? It should! This same language, minus the trinitarian application and eternal generation, was used by the SDA pioneers to describe the pre-incarante begetting of Son of God.

"According to this, JESUS CHRIST IS BEGOTTEN OF GOD IN A SENSE THAT NO OTHER BEING IS, ELSE HE COULD NOT BE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON. ANGELS ARE CALLED SONS OF GOD, AND SO ARE RIGHTEOUS MEN; BUT CHRIST IS HIS SON IN A HIGHER SENSE, IN A CLOSER RELATION, THAN EITHER OF THESE. GOD MADE MEN AND ANGELS OUT OF MATERIALS ALREADY CREATED. He is the author of their existence, their Creator, hence their Father. BUT JESUS CHRIST WAS BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER’S OWN SUBSTANCE. HE WAS NOT CREATED OUT OF MATERIAL AS THE ANGELS AND OTHER CREATURES WERE. He is truly and emphatically the "Son of God," the same as I am the son of my father. This will appear more plain as we proceed" (D.M. Canright, RH June 18, 1867)

"It is true that THERE ARE MANY SONS OF GOD; BUT CHRIST IS “THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD,” AND THEREFORE THE SON OF GOD IN A SENSE IN WHICH NO OTHER BEING EVER WAS OR EVER CAN BE. THE ANGELS ARE SONS OF GOD, AS WAS ADAM (Job 38:7; Luke 3:38), BY CREATION; CHRISTIANS ARE SONS OF GOD BY ADOPTION (Rom. 8:14, 15); but CHRIST IS THE SON OF GOD BY BIRTH. (E. J. Waggoner "Christ and His Righteousness pg 12, 1890)

Now these two statements (I did not share the greater literary context) are actually affirmations of pre-incarnate begotten Son theology. This is what all SDA authors back then understood. And Ellen White used this same language too 5 years after Waggoner:

'God so loved the world, that he gave HIS ONLY-BEGOTTEN SON,'-NOT A SON BY CREATION, AS WERE THE ANGELS, nor a son by adoption, as is the forgiven sinner, but A SON BEGOTTEN IN THE EXPRESS IMAGE OF THE FATHER'S PERSON, AND IN ALL THE BRIGHTNESS OF HIS MAJESTY AND GLORY, one equal with God in authority, dignity, and divine perfection. In him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." {ST May 30, 1895, par. 3}

I would suggest to you that they are all speaking about the same thing. The key difference here is that the SDA pioneers and EGW rejected the trintiarian conception of eternal generation.

Moving on let’s look at another interesting coincidence between John Gill and Ellen White. Here is Gill’s commentary on John 1:4.

“THERE WAS LIFE IN THE WORD WITH RESPECT TO HIMSELF; A DIVINE LIFE, the same with the life of the Father and of the Spirit; and is IN HIM, not by gift, NOR BY DERIVATION OR COMMUNICATION; BUT ORIGINALLY, AND INDEPENDENTLY, AND FROM ALL ETERNITY: indeed he lived before his incarnation as Mediator, and Redeemer (John Gill on John 1:4)

Now as we saw above John Gill believed that the pre-incarante Son of God was begotten. In fact in this same commentary, regarding vs. 14 he wrote that “the Word is here called, “the only begotten of the Father’; which cannot be said of Christ, as man.” He continued on to argue that “He is called God’s own Son, the Son of the same nature with Him, and, as here, the only begotten of the Father, begotten by Him in the same nature, in a way inconceivable and inexpressible by us” (Ibid on John 1:14). Yet despite his view that the pre-incarnate Son was begotten here, in his commentary, he speaks of Him having life in Himself not “by derivation or communication” but rather “originally and independently, and from all eternity.” Thus the language of “nor by derivation” is compatible with begotten theology!

Thus the salient point here is that EGW’s language of “in Christ is life original, unborrowed, underived” is perfectly compatible with begotten theology. In her day you could speak of a begotten Son who had life in Himself not by derivation and no one would bat an eye! Begotten theology was not incompatible with underived life in Christ! Again I am suggesting that this does not mean that He was not a recipient of the Father’s life but rather it would be an explanation about how He received this life. He received it as His own for Him to do with as He pleased. Thus the Son Himself is the same as His Father in this sense. As the SDA pioneer R.F. Cottrell explained

“God “only hath immortality.” HE IS THE ONE FOUNTAIN FROM WHICH ALL LIFE IS DERIVED. BUT HE HAS GIVEN THIS PREROGATIVE TO HIS SON, THAT HE MAY GIVE LIFE TO THEM THAT BELIEVE. “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.” John v, 26. Life, in the literal sense, is here intended; for he is speaking of the resurrection of the dead (R.F. Cottrell “Life Through Christ” Review and Herald, March 15th, 1864)

Or, if you need to hear it from Mrs. White herself: "But turning from all lesser representations, we behold God in Jesus. Looking unto Jesus we see that it is the glory of our God to give. “I do nothing of Myself,” said Christ; “the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father.” “I seek not Mine own glory,” but the glory of Him that sent Me. John 8:28; 6:57; 8:50; 7:18. In these words is set forth the great principle which is the law of life for the universe. All things Christ RECEIVED FROM GOD, BUT HE TOOK TO GIVE. So IN THE HEAVENLY COURTS, in His ministry for ALL CREATED BEINGS: THROUGH THE BELOVED SON, THE FATHER'S LIFE FLOWS OUT TO ALL; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service, a tide of love, TO THE GREAT SOURCE OF ALL. And thus through Christ the circuit of beneficence is complete, representing the character of the great Giver, the law of life. {DA 21.2}

Did you catch it? What do all created beings receive through Christ? The answer is “the Father’s life” which “flows out to all” through Him. Yet what else is this called by inspiration?

“ALL CREATED BEINGS live by the will and power of God. THEY ARE RECIPIENTS OF THE LIFE OF THE SON OF GOD. However able and talented, however large their capacities, they are REPLENISHED with life from the source of all life. HE IS THE SPRING, THE FOUNTAIN, OF LIFE. Only he who alone hath immortality, dwelling in light and life, [could] say, “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again.” {YI August 4, 1898, par. 2}

Did you catch it? It is “the Father’s life” that flows through Christ to “all created beings” according to DA 21. Yet what is it called here in the Youth Instructor? It is “the life of the Son of God.” If you interpret DA 530 to mean that there are Two Beings who are unrelated in terms of life, with the Son NEVER having received this type of life from the Father then you will involve yourself in hopeless contradiction. You will end up with two separate sources of life for all created beings.

If, on the other hand, you understand that the Father gave to the Son for Him to have life in Himself just as He has – thus He made the Son into a fountain just like Himself as the means of providing His own life to all created beings – then all problems disappear. You would then have a second Person, the only begotten Son, who is just like the first Person, the Father. In fact the Son would be a part of God Himself because His very substance comes from Him.

Thus the weight of inspiration indicates to us that “underived” does NOT mean “ungiven” but rather what it means is that He was not given life like a dependent recipient, a creation. When God creates a being that is a dependent agent, someone who needs to be replenished because he cannot sustain his own life indefinitely. When God begot His Son that is an independent Agent, He can sustain His own life indefinitely.

"In Jesus is our life derived. In Him is life, that is original, unborrowed, underived life. In us there is a streamlet from the fountain of life. In Him is the fountain of life. Our life is something that we receive, something that the Giver takes back again to Himself. If our life is hid with Christ in God, we shall, when Christ shall appear, also appear with Him in glory. And while in this world we will give to God, in sanctified service, all the capabilities He has given us.—Letter 309, 1905.

You see a stream is derived from a fountain. It must draw from the fountain in a regular course or channel in order to survive. It must receive from the source by a regular conveyance. That is what the life of a creature is like.

“All created beings live by the will and power of God. They are DEPENDENT RECIPIENTS of the life of God. From the highest seraph to the humblest animate being, all are REPLENISHED from the Source of life. Only He who is one with God could say, I have power to lay down My life, and I have power to take it again. In His divinity, Christ possessed the power to break the bonds of death. {DA 785.3}

The life of the Son of God is NOT like this. You see He is NOT a created being but the only begotten Son of God. He has the same type of life in Himself that the Father has for this is what was given to Him for Him to have as His own. Thus He has the fountain of life in Himself. It is a continual, self-existing life. The life that is in the very substance of God the Father is the very same life that is in His Son because Their substance is the same. And even when He came to this earth He was still of one substance with God.

“With what firmness and power he uttered these words. The Jews had never before heard such words from human lips, and a convicting influence attended them; for it seemed that divinity flashed through humanity as Jesus said, “I and my Father are one.” THE WORDS OF CHRIST WERE FULL OF DEEP MEANING AS HE PUT FORTH THE CLAIM THAT HE AND THE FATHER WERE OF ONE SUBSTANCE, POSSESSING THE SAME ATTRIBUTES….{ST November 27, 1893, par. 5}

Are you following brothers and sisters? You see sister White is teaching that despite the incarnation the Son was still of one substance with His Father. This is a mystery that cannot be fully explained but it is true nonetheless. He has His Divine body and He has His human body. And it is the attribute of His Divinity that we are touching upon here. This is the nature in which He possesses this life original, unborrowed, underived.

“As a member of the human family, He was mortal. BUT AS A GOD, HE WAS THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE TO THE WORLD. He could IN HIS DIVINE PERSON EVER HAVE WITHSTOOD THE ADVANCES OF DEATH AND REFUSED TO COME UNDER ITS DOMINION; but He voluntarily laid down His life, that in so doing He might give life and bring immortality to light…He might have eternally kept human nature withstanding the inroads of disease BY HIS DIVINE NATURE POURING IN VITALITY AND UNDECAYING VIGOR TO THE HUMAN... {Lt11-1887.17}

Are you still following? The only begotten Son of God, the One who was begotten of God’s very substance, became a man. He did not lose His substance as God but retained it. Thus the life which He possessed from the Father, as His very own, was still His own. This is what He came to communicate to us if we would receive Him. And His Deity could not be lost while He remained loyal to the Father. Thus He has this wonderful attribute, this incredible ability, to give eternal life to all who should believe! Glory, hallelujah and praise the Name of Jesus!

“In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” It is not physical life that is here specified, but eternal life, the life which is exclusively the property of God. The Word, who was with God, and who was God, had this life. Physical life is something which each individual received. It is not eternal or immortal; for God, the Lifegiver, takes it again. Man has no control over his life. But the life of Christ was unborrowed. No one can take this life from Him. “I lay it down of myself,” He said. In Him was life, original, unborrowed, underived. This life is not INHERENT in man. He can possess IT only THROUGH Christ. He cannot earn IT; IT IS GIVEN HIM as a free gift if he will believe in Christ as his personal Saviour. “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 OPEN FOUNTAIN OF LIFE FOR THE WORLD. (The Signs of the Times, February 13, 1912).

So “the Father’s life” which flows through the Son “to all created beings” (DA 21) that is the life that the Son of God possesses inherently. It is a part of His substance. I hope this is clear to you. And that life, which was given to the Son for Him to have as His own, is what He came to communicate with us.

“Christ came TO COMMUNICATE THE LIFE OF GOD to humanity. HE DECLARED, “I LIVE BY THE FATHER,” MY LIFE AND HIS BEING ONE. “FOR AS THE FATHER HATH LIFE IN HIMSELF, SO HATH HE GIVEN TO THE SON TO HAVE LIFE IN HIMSELF.” “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.” {ST July 15, 1897, par. 2}

“God has sent his Son TO COMMUNICATE HIS OWN LIFE to humanity. CHRIST DECLARES, “I LIVE BY THE FATHER,” MY LIFE AND HIS BEING ONE. “No man hath seen God at any time; THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him,” “FOR AS THE FATHER HATH LIFE IN HIMSELF; SO HATH HE GIVEN TO THE SON TO HAVE LIFE IN HIMSELF; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man.” THE HEAD OF EVERY MAN IS CHRIST, AS THE HEAD OF CHRIST IS GOD. “And ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” {HM June 1, 1897, Art. A, par. 11}

Remember brothers and sisters it is “the Father’s life” that flows through Christ yet, at the very same time, it is “the life of the Son of God.” This is true because the Father is the great Source of all, even the life of Christ. However the Father gave this life to the Son for Him to have as His very own. This is a simultaneous truth but many today deny that both are true at the same time. I leave it to you to determine for yourself how to harmonize these things but as for me and my house we will believe in the Father and begotten Son truth.

“But turning from all lesser representations, we behold God in Jesus. Looking unto Jesus we see that it is the glory of our God to give. “I do nothing of Myself,” said Christ; “the living Father hath sent Me, and I LIVE BY THE FATHER.” “I seek not Mine own glory,” but the glory of Him that sent Me. John 8:28; 6:57; 8:50; 7:18. In these words is set forth the great principle which is the law of life for the universe. ALL THINGS CHRIST RECEIVED FROM GOD, BUT HE TOOK TO GIVE. So IN THE HEAVENLY COURTS, IN HIS MINISTRY FOR ALL CREATED BEINGS: through the beloved Son, THE FATHER’S LIFE flows out to all; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service, a tide of love, TO THE GREAT SOURCE OF ALL. And thus through Christ the circuit of beneficence is complete, representing the character of the great Giver, the law of life. {DA 21.2}

“ALL CREATED BEINGS live by the will and power of God. THEY ARE RECIPIENTS OF THE LIFE OF THE SON OF GOD. However able and talented, however large their capacities, they are REPLENISHED with life from the source of all life. HE IS THE SPRING, THE FOUNTAIN, OF LIFE. Only he who alone hath immortality, dwelling in light and life, [could] say, “I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again.” {YI August 4, 1898, par. 2}

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