En route from her home in California to attend the General Conference of 1901, in Battle Creek, Michigan, Mrs. White stopped at various places in the Southern States. For many years she had carried a burden for this section of the country, and had written many pages of counsel regarding the great needs of the Southern field, and the best way of carrying forward the work there, for both the colored and the white people of that region.
On April 2, 1901, the day that the Conference opened, she wrote a manuscript, entitled An Appeal for the Southern Field. In this manuscript she spoke of the need of schools and sanitariums. Then she said:
There is need also of a well-equipped printing press, that books may be published for the use of the workers in the South. I have been instructed that the publication of books suitable for use in this field is essential. Something in this line must be done without delay .
At Nashville I was surprised to find a printing office filled with busy workers. This office, with its furnishings, has been purchased at as little cost as possible. Everything about it is neat and orderly. The countenances of the workers express intelligence and ability, and the work they do is a valuable object lesson.
But a larger building is needed; for many lines of business will open up as the work is carried forward .
The Lord has placed means in the hands of His people to be used in this work. I call upon my brethren and sisters to give of their means to provide a suitable publishing house for the Southern field.E. G. White MS. 40-1901. (Italics mine.)
During the sessions of the General Conference, Mrs. White made a number of appeals for means and facilities for the laborers in the South. Following the Conference, she continued to carry the burden upon her heart, making calls for money from congregations whom she addressed in various places.
This counsel to establish and equip a publishing house in the South was one of the first of the perplexities that I faced in undertaking the general oversight of our denominational work in 1901.
We had two large publishing houses,the Review and Herald in Michigan, and the Pacific Press Publishing Association in California. Both these houses were in a state of marked depression. There seemed to be little demand for our literature. Only a comparatively few colporteurs were in the field, and they were meeting with but fair success.
In order to keep the presses running, and to hold the office force together, our publishing houses were accepting a large amount of commercial work. The Pacific Press had a contract for printing the Paragon counter check books for the territory west of the Rocky Mountains. The Review and Herald was printing many catalogues and other types of printing for the business world.
A small place had been bought in Nashville, Tennessee, by the Southern Missionary Society, and a publishing business was being established with private funds, for the publishing of lowpriced literature for the South.Gospel Herald, November, 1900. Now the Lord was calling for a larger publishing house, and that at a time when the demand for our literature was barely sufficient to keep the presses running half time. As the situation was faced by our committee, it seemed that to establish a third house, in addition to our older offices, would only drive us deeper into commercial work, not to mention the financial difficulties involved in equipping another publishing plant.
The messages, however, were so direct and so positive, that they could not be ignored or disregarded. We therefore set our hands a bit dubiously to comply with the instruction, and started what is now known as the Southern Publishing Association, in Nashville, Tennessee.
We were so poor that we had to furnish the small building secured for the purpose with secondhand equipment. As I think
of the old boiler that was installed in those unsuitable quarters, I feel that the protecting hand of God must have preserved us from being blown up by an explosion. So the work was begun with poor presses and broken-down equipment.
As if the addition of this third publishing house were not sufficient to test our faith, we soon received further instruction that the Lord was not pleased that our presses were being used in printing for commercial enterprises. We were told that they should be used entirely in the production of literature filled with God's saving message for these last days. It seemed that if this counsel were obeyed, it would be necessary to draw covers over half our presses, and to discharge half the employees in the printing offices. It is not strange that some were tempted to feel that these two messages, coming at the time of a great slump in the publishing work, could not be divinely inspired.
At the end of a year's endeavor, I went to Nashville to attend the first annual meeting of the new publishing house. I was staggered to learn, from the balance sheet, that there had been a loss of $12,000,a sum equal to what had been invested in the enterprise, and which had been secured by donations from our brethren in the Northern States. We all expressed great sorrow over this large deficit, but were assured by those in charge that there was a better prospect for the coming year.
But these hopes were not realized. At the end of a second year, there was another loss amounting to a thousand dollars a month,or a total of $24,000 for the two years. To add to our perplexity, the third year passed by with but very slight improvement over the preceding two. For a long time, I kept these three balance sheets on my desk as a souvenir of unsuccessful management, distressing experience, and our terrible feelings.
The General Conference Committee in Battle Creek was seriously alarmed, and justly so. They appointed a commission, of which I was one, to go to Nashville to investigate the situation, and bring in recommendations regarding the future of the
enterprise. As we looked over the plant and the prospects for the future, we could see nothing ahead but continued loss and trouble. But it was evident that these losses simply could not continue indefinitely. So we drew up a recommendation that the equipment be sold to a junk dealer and that the house be used as a book depository or distributing agency for the Southern field, for books printed at the Review and Herald and Pacific Press offices. It seemed to us that all the printing of our denominational literature that would ever be required in North America could be done by these two houses.
We faced a difficulty. Mrs. White had given us the counsel that led to the establishing of the Southern Publishing Association. As we rehearsed the sorry experience that had followed our attempt to follow the counsel of the spirit of prophecy, the suggestion came to us that reference might have been made to circulation, and not to printing of literature in the Southern field. This was our attempt to reconcile our confidence in the messages coming through Mrs. White with our understanding of good business sense. We made ourselves believe that it was our misinterpretation of the counsel that was at fault, not the instruction itself. Then, too, there was definite instruction to the effect that we were not to create heavy debts for our people to pay off.
It was felt, however, that we should lay the perplexing problem before Mrs. White before putting into effect our recommendation to discontinue the printing house in Nashville. As I was soon to visit the Pacific Coast, the Committee requested me to lay the situation before her, and to seek her counsel.
It was in the early morning of October 19, 1902, that a group of brethren met with Mrs. White at her homeElmshaven, St. Helena, California. Besides me, there were Elders W. C. White, W. T. Knox, A. T. Jones, J. O. Corliss, and E. R. Palmer. Brother Clarence Crisler reported the interview stenographically.
Mrs. White was deeply grieved and sorely perplexed by my recital of the terrible losses sustained by the Southern Publishing
House during the three years of its existence. She agreed that it must be put upon a basis where there would be no such losses, and said, If it cannot be, it had better be closed.
Not being able to give us a sure remedy, she assented to our proposal to discontinue the printing, to turn the building into a depository, and to purchase the literature from other publishing houses. This seeming agreement with our plans brought great relief and satisfaction to many who had been struggling with the baffling problem.
Brother Crisler wrote out a part of the interview, and, with this in my pocket, I departed with a light heart. On arrival at Battle Creek, I lost no time in telling the other members of the Committee of our interview, with the assurance that Mrs. White was with us in our plans to close up the Nashville office in a very short time.
A few days later, a letter was received from Mrs. White, stating that she had spoken according to her own judgment in agreement with the presentation we had made to her. But she was now instructed by the Lord to tell us that she had been wrong in giving this counsel, and that the printing house in the South should not be closed. Plans must be laid to prevent further indebtedness, but we were to move forward in faith. She assured us that as we followed in the counsel of God, He would give success.
As an illustration of the manner in which instruction was frequently given to her through symbols, I quote from the manuscript written on the morning of October 20, just twenty-four hours after our interview with her:
Last night I seemed to be in the operating room of a large hospital, to which people were being brought, and instruments were being prepared to cut off their limbs in a big hurry. One came in who seemed to have authority, and said to the physicians, Is it necessary to bring these people into this room? Looking pityingly at the sufferers, he said, Never amputate a limb until everything possible has been done to restore it.
Examining the limbs which the physicians had been preparing to cut off, he said, They may be saved. The first work is to use every available means to restore these limbs. What a fearful mistake it would be to amputate a limb that could be saved by patient care! Your conclusions have been too hastily drawn. Put these patients in the best rooms in the hospital, and give them the very best of care and treatment. Use every means in your power to save them from going through life in a crippled condition, their usefulness damaged for life.
The sufferers were removed to a pleasant room, and faithful helpers cared for them under the speaker's direction; and not a limb had to be sacrificed.E. G. White Letter 162-1902.
In the same letter, the interpretation of this symbolic representation was clearly given. Instead of closing up the publishing house at Nashville, we were to study diligently to save it and to restore it to life and efficiency. Let the Southern field have its own home-published books, she said. There is need in the Southern field of a publishing house for the publication of the truth for this time.
In a letter written a few weeks later, addressed to My Brethren in Positions of Responsibility, Mrs. White said:
During the night following our interview in my house and out on the lawn under the trees, October 19, 1902, in regard to the work in the Southern field, the Lord instructed me that I had taken a wrong position.E. G. White Letter 208-1902.
In this communication, a bright picture of the future of the Nashville printing office was given. In words of precious encouragement she declared:
Light will shine upon the workers in Nashville. From this center light will shine forth in the ministry of the word, in the publication of books large and small. We have as yet merely touched the Southern field with the tips of our fingers. The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. The same voice that at the beginning said, Let there be light, in these last days declares that a knowledge of God's word shall not be confined merely to a few places.Idem.
The message to continue the work of the Southern Publishing Association was truly disconcerting. It brought great disappointment to many. Its contradiction to the counsel given to us in our interview threw some into perplexity. But we were reminded that there is scriptural record for a prophet's reversal, after being divinely instructed, of a seemingly sound human judgment. King David called to him the prophet Nathan and spoke of his purpose to build a house for the Lord.
Then Nathan said unto David, Do all that is in thine heart; for God is with thee. And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan, saying, Go and tell David My servant, Thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not build Me an house. (See 1 Chron. 17:1-4.)
David accepted the message that had come by revelation, in place of the counsel given in the interview the preceding day.
Our Committee took the same action. We accepted the written message sent to us, and set aside our former plans with the approval that had been given to them by the servant of the Lord. We undertook with renewed determination to make the Nashville printing plant a success. The brethren connected with the work in the South gave their best energies and thought to the enterprise. New talent was brought in. Economies were effected. Each year thereafter the losses were less, and in a few years the plant came through with no deficit. The swing upward continued with larger profit year by year until the gains had more than offset all the preceding losses.
The demand for our publications grew until all commercial work was laid aside at the Review and Herald and the Pacific Press. The presses in all three houses were running overtime. A modern brick building was put up, equipped with up-to-date machinery, for the publishing house in Nashville. For many years our beautiful Harvest Ingathering magazine has been printed there, on one of the best presses we have in North America.
Now with the tremendous expansion of all lines of our work,
we can see how narrow and restricted were some of our plans of thirty years
ago. God who knows the end from the beginning sent us messages to prevent us
from narrowing the work in a time of discouragement. These messages sometimes
seemed difficult to understand. They called for superhuman effort. In these
later days, we can rejoice more than ever in the guiding hand of God manifested
through His servant. I number this experience as one among many that have
confirmed my confidence in the divine leadership of God's people through the