In the first 13 verses of 1 Corinthians the inspired apostle contrasts the effective revelations of God’s Holy Spirit with the so-called “wisdom” of the worldly princes and philosophers of the time. Paul wanted the faith of the Corinthian believers to stand in the effective “demonstration of the Holy Spirit and of power” through his ministry as a preacher and a prophet, and not in the wisdom of the secular pundits of his time.
The message of the cross that Paul declared was the “testimony of God” (1 Cor. 2:1, KJV). And he knew that it was vastly superior to the Greek teachings of that century.
Indeed, there was no comparison. That which proceeds from God through the Holy Spirit as a revelation of truth from heaven does not require messengers who are wise in their own conceits (Rom. 11:25; 12:16), but prophetic messengers who are faithful and humbly submissive in attitude. Paul, in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling (1 Cor. 2:3), had consented to become the vessel to teach the doctrines of the gospel. Because the secret of his power was the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Godhead, and “the only effectual teacher of divine truth,”1 Paul’s ministry was “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (verse 4, KJV).
By using the word “demonstration,” in a sense a forensic term, Paul presented the superiority of the revelation/inspiration phenomenon to the common method of communication used by the contemporary philosophers and wise men of Greece. The truth of God conveyed “in demonstration of the Spirit” was not offered as a theme for debate and speculation. It was by “demonstration.” Men may study, consider, and accept, or study, consider, and reject it: but it was not to be argued about, debated, and challenged as if it were on a level with the wisdom of the worldly-wise. If it was received, it would benefit the recipient, and its fruit would be revealed in a transformed life.Interestingly enough, Ellen G. White, when speaking of the way the early Adventist church perceived the fundamental Bible doctrines, used the same expression, “demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” in reference to the visions that God gave her. Pioneer Bible students of the Adventist Church discovered the truths they came to hold in the Word of God. But Ellen White’s claim testified just as surely to the correctness of their position.
Paul’s “demonstration” argument contends that Christianity, in contrast with Greek and Roman philosophy, is a religion of revelation. He declares that his method in communicating revealed truth is marked by the obvious presence and testimony of the Holy Spirit. And it is therefore different from the trappings of worldly-wise men. After all, these philosophers had not been given the baptism of the Holy Spirit as Paul and all the other apostles had. Nor had God imparted to worldly-wise men the special truth of the gospel itself.
Paul had several reasons for not teaching in the current style of that time. One of these reasons was the nature of the truth he was conveying. It was not a philosophical system to be expressed through notions, speculations, generalizations, and abstractions, but a proclamation based on an eternal fact. That fact was Jesus Christ Himself. Paul’s gospel was based on powerful acts of God in history, namely the life and death, resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s Christological testimony—the incarnation of the sinless life and sacrificial death of Jesus—represented an incomparable cosmic victory for God on our behalf. It also represented an irrevocable, cosmic defeat for Satan. In every aspect of His life and ministry, Jesus was justifying and reconciling to God those who believed. He alone could do this for the human race. And because He could and did, Paul could contend that God’s plan of religious faith was factual and effective. There was nothing of Greek religion or philosophy that could offer what Christianity could.
True, there may well have been God-fearing persons among the philosophers. But a careful study of 1 Corinthians 2 reveals that the teachings of philosophers in Corinth with their fruit of human cunning, reasoning, and logic, were destitute of a critical element in Paul’s, viz., the Holy Spirit as the revealer of divine truth. Much of what the philosophers taught was undoubtedly true. But it fell short of the highest mark.
Ellen White wrote that “the world has had its great teachers, men of giant intellect and extensive research, men whose utterances have stimulated thought and opened to view vast fields of knowledge; and these men have been honored as guides and benefactors of their race; but there is One who stands higher than they. We can trace the line of the world’s teachers as far back as human records extend; but the Light was before them. As the moon and the stars of our solar system shine by the reflected light of the sun, so, as far as their teaching is true, do the world’s great thinkers reflect the rays of the Sun of Righteousness. Every gleam of thought, every flash of the intellect, is from the Light of the world.”2
But there is a difference between original and reflected light. Christ was the original light. Worldly philosophers could be, in some respects, reflectors of that light, but never the light itself.3
The early pioneers of the Advent movement insisted upon obtaining light from the great source of light, the Holy Scriptures. In that book they knew that the great facts of redemption were clearly stated. As a result of such a purpose, the pioneers came to understand the great doctrines through earnest Bible study.
The method they followed was a method of God’s choosing. It was not based on human wisdom, human reasoning, or the like. James and Ellen White, Joseph Bates, Hiram Edson, and others were led by the Holy Spirit as they opened the Bible, searching for the truth. Then, through the visions given to Ellen White, God confirmed the truth that they discovered in the Bible. This is the function that she served in the process of providential discovery.
Reviewing accounts of the Bible conferences as given in Ellen White’s books,4 we come to the following conclusions: the pioneers “searched for the truth as for hidden treasure”; they came “together burdened in soul, praying that [they] might be one in faith and doctrine,” because “Christ is not divided”; one point at a time was thoroughly investigated; they endeavored to minimize their differences; “the Scriptures were opened with a sense of awe”; the pioneers often fasted in order to better understand the truth and to be better fitted to know its meaning. They joined in earnest prayer and supplications. “Many tears were shed.” They “spent many hours in this way. Sometimes the entire night was spent in solemn investigation of the Scriptures” in order to understand the truth for this time; the Spirit would come upon Ellen White “and difficult portions were made clear through God’s appointed way”; when they came to a consensus and a general agreement, then they would “weep and rejoice together.”
Ellen White, when referring to crucial doctrines discovered in the gold mine of Bible revelation, spoke of them as “waymarks,” “landmarks,” “fundamental principles,” a “firm platform,” the “foundation,” and “pillars.”5 If a label had been placed upon these “pillars,” it would have conformed to the following list: (1) the second advent of Christ; (2) the temple of God in heaven: the cleansing of the sanctuary; the ministration of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary; (3) the three angels’ messages in their fullness
; (4) the eternal obligation of God’s Ten-commandment law; (5) the Sabbath of the fourth commandment; (6) the nonimmortality of the soul. Speaking of the sanctuary as the key doctrine, Ellen White wrote that it “opened a complete system of truth, connected and harmonious,” showing that God’s hand had directed the great Advent movement.6
The following excerpts from a letter sent by Ellen White to evangelist William Ward Simpson demonstrate the unassailable permanence of these biblical understandings: “The truths given us after the passing of the time in 1844 are just as certain and unchangeable as when the Lord gave them to us in answer to our urgent prayers. . . . As the points of our faith were thus established, our feet were placed upon a solid foundation. We accepted the truth point by point under demonstration of the Holy Spirit. . . . All these truths are immortalized in my writings. . . . These books were given under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit.”7
Among other declarations by Ellen White that point up the unchanging quality of these doctrines we may include these injunctions: “The waymarks which have made us what we are, are to be preserved.” They “are based [on] unquestionable authority.” “Not one pin is to be removed from that which the Lord established.” “We must hold with tenacity to the positions that cannot be shaken.” “In my books the truth is stated, barricaded by a ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ ”8
We may conclude with words of certainty from Ellen White’s pen, which speak again to the difference between transient human truth, dependent upon the latest findings, and the truths of special revelation received in demonstration of the Spirit. She wrote, “When the power of God testifies as to what is truth, that truth is to stand forever as the truth.” “That which was truth then, is truth today.”9
As the apostle Paul categorically insisted to Corinthian believers: “My speech and my preachingwas not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but indemonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4, KJV).