Recognized by Contemporaries
The Relation to Outside Influences
The Physical Phenomena Attending the Visions
We turn our attention to another kind of evidenceto the people who surrounded Ellen G. White. For seventy years she was the center of great activity. She was a woman who lived an unusually busy life. Her work took her to Europe, to Australia, and to many parts of the United States. She was known to thousands, yes, hundreds of thousands of people.
Now we do well to stop right here and find out what recognition she was accorded by her contemporaries. This becomes a most interesting study, and certainly a very good type of evidence by which we may judge her and measure the scope, the nature, of her work.
Contemporaries are of three kindsthose interested in the subject who approve or accept it, those interested in the subject who disapprove and reject it, and those not interested but who may accept or reject it. Mrs. E. G. White had all three kinds of contemporaries
during the seventy years of her ministry, and it is only reasonable that we should get all three kinds of reactions or recognition.
Now for a very short life and for a very short period of work, it might be difficult to use the testimony of contemporaries. But in a long life of service and in such an abundance of material as that which came from her pen, there seems to be no lack of evidence upon which to base a judgment.
Those Interested Who Approved.If I wanted to know something about W. H. Branson, former president of the General Conference, it is only reasonable that I would go to his very closest associates and to his most intimate friends. I suggest that they should be able to make an appraisal of him and his work. If I would know the facts about Ellen G. White I would certainly not think of going to D. M. Canright or any other man who has much to say against Ellen G. White. I would not go to her avowed opponents to get my first and most intimate appraisal of Ellen G. White. Would you? Would that be fair?
It is only reasonable that we should go to a man's friends with whom he has been most closely associated, to those who know him best and most intimately. For this reason I want to begin with that group of peoplethe friends, those who knew Ellen G. White best and worked most closely with her.
The president of the General Conference in 1883 was George I. Butler, who stood in a unique relationship
ship between Mrs. White and the people. He had very intimate relationships with both God's people and God's messenger, and we shall let him speak for those who approved of her call and work. He knew whereof he spoke when he said:
We believe these visions because the Bible teaches them. We use the rules given in that holy book and are forced to the conclusion that these manifestations are the work of the Spirit of God. Instead of our setting up these visions above and outside of the Scriptures as another rule of authority, as our opponents pretend, we claim that none can really take the Bible and fairly apply its teachings without accepting these visions as from God. The Bible is the supreme authority in deciding this as well as other questions. When it tells us to try the spirits, to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good it is our duty to do this. We find by so doing that these visions harmonize perfectly with the Scripture, and that they in no case contradict themselves or the Bible. They everywhere teach the purest doctrine, and even their bitterest enemies admit that a person will be saved if he will obey them.
We have tested them as a people for nearly a quarter of a century, and we find we prosper spiritually when we heed them, and suffer a great loss when we neglect them. We have found their guidance to be our safety. They never have led us into fanaticism in a single instance, but they have ever rebuked fanatical and unreasonable men. They everywhere direct us to the Scriptures as the great source of true instruction, and to the example of Jesus Christ as the true pattern. They never claim to be given to take the place of the Bible, but simply to be a manifestation of one of those spiritual gifts set in the church by its divine Lord, and as such, should have their proper weight.
We admit that their influence upon S. D. Adventists during their past history has been weighty, but it has always been for good, and always had a tendency to make us a better people. Having been in exercise for so many years among us, we are certainly prepared to judge by this time in regard to the nature of their teachings.The Review and Herald, June 9, 1874.
J. N. Loughborough, a close associate, testifies:
It is now over fifty-eight years since the writer first saw Mrs. E. G. White in prophetic vision. During these years many prophetic statements have been made by her relative to things that would take place. Some of these predictions relate to events already fulfilled, and some are in process of fulfillment, while others are still future. As to those relating to the past or present events, I know not of a single instance of failure.The Prophetic Gift in the Gospel Church, p. 72.
We find that the continual instruction given through Mrs. White has been in the line of unity and harmony, admonishing to counsel together and press together, to be in union with Christ, thus insuring true fellowship and union with one another.Ibid., p. 99.
The testimony of one who was in a strategic point for observation should be most helpful. Uriah Smith, for many years the editor of the church paper, The Review and Herald, in constant touch with Mrs. White and her work, and sometimes the recipient of her testimonies and counsels, should be able to judge her work by the fruit or results of that work.
The Bible, and the Bible alone, The Bible in its purity, The Bible a sufficient and only reliable rule of
life, etc., etc., is now the great cry of those who are giving vent to their opposition to the visions, and are working with their might to prejudice others against them. This course reminds us of the low tricks and maneuvers resorted to by political demagogues to gain their nefarious ends . Such are unworthy weapons in the hands of Christians; yet some, we are sorry to say, who profess that name, do not hesitate to use them.
The Protestant principle, of The Bible and the Bible alone, is of itself good and true; and we stand upon it as firmly as any one can; but when re-iterated in connection with outspoken denunciations of the visions, it has a specious appearance for evil. So used it contains a covert insinuation, most effectually calculated to warp the judgment of the unguarded, that to believe the visions is to leave the Bible, and to cling to the Bible, is to discard the visions .
1. When we claim to stand on the Bible and the Bible alone, we bind ourselves to receive, unequivocally and fully, all that the Bible teaches. This being a self-evident proposition, we pass on to inquire what the Bible teaches concerning the outpouring of the Spirit, its operations, the gift of prophecy, visions, etc.
In view of all these considerations, what shall we conclude? Those who reject these manifestations, do so not only without evidence, but against all evidence. Those who profess to stand on the Bible and the Bible alone are bound to receive what the Bible tells them will exist, and commands them to respect.
One illustration may help to set this matter in a still clearer light. Suppose we are about to start upon a voyage. The owner of the vessel gives us a book of directions, telling us that it contains instructions sufficient for our whole journey, and that if we will heed them, we shall reach in
safety our port of destination. Setting sail we open our book to learn its contents. We find that its author lays down general principles to govern us in our voyage, and instructs us as far as practicable, touching the various contingencies that may arise, till the end; but he also tells us that the latter part of our journey will be especially perilous; that the features of the coast are ever changing by reason of quicksands and tempests; but for this part of the journey, says he, I have provided you a pilot, who will meet you, and give you such directions as the surrounding circumstances and dangers may require; and to him you must give heed. With these directions we reach the perilous time specified, and the pilot, according to promise, appears. But some of the crew, as he offers his services, rise up against him. We have the original book of directions, say they, and that is enough for us. We stand upon that, and that alone; we want nothing of you. Who now heed that original book of directions? those who reject the pilot, or those who receive him, as that book instructs them? Judge ye.
But some, through lack of perception, or lack of principle, or the ebullitions of an unconquerable prejudice, one, or all combined, may meet us at this point like this: Then you would have us take sister White as our pilot, would you? It is to forestall any efforts in this direction, that this sentence is penned. We say no such thing. What we do say is distinctly this: that the gifts of the Spirit are given for our pilot through these perilous times, and whereever and in whomsoever we find genuine manifestations of these, we are bound to respect them, nor can we do otherwise without in so far rejecting the word of God, which directs us to receive them. Who now stand upon the Bible, and the Bible alone?Do We Discard the Bible by Endorsing the Visions? in The Review and Herald, Jan. 13, 1863.
Those Interested Who Disapproved.One of Mrs. White's most severe and unrelenting critics was D. M. Can right, one-time preacher for the Seventh-day Adventist people. Look at Canright's attitude toward Mrs. White from three angles: first, as a Seventh-day Adventist; second, as an opposer of the messages; finally as an old man, too proud to admit a mistake, too weak to take his stand for the truth.
We wish, therefore, to give you the story of D. M. Canright, and show how he came to disagree with the Spirit of prophecy and with the Advent Movement. D. M. Canright was a very capable man. He had remarkable talents. He was a very fine speaker. He was a keen debater. He was one who could bring fear and trembling into any opponent; and then he began to think himself to be very good, an expert in his field, too good for such a small denomination. Now, friends, it is dangerous for a man to think highly of himself and of his qualifications and ability, for sometimes it turns his head and causes him to feel a bit superior. We call it an inflated ego.
D. M. Canright's failure was due to the fact that he thought himself too big and too good for such a little denomination. And when the brethren did not accept him according to his own estimate of himself, he turned against the denomination and began to write against this people.
But let us first go back to the time when D. M. Canright was an interested friend of the movement,
and read a few words from his pen. In 1885, just two years before he left the Seventh-day Adventist Church, he wrote in the Review and Herald for all to read the following words concerning Ellen G. White's books:
While I have carefully read the first, second, and third volumes of Spirit of Prophecy, heaven has seemed very near to me. If the Spirit of God does not speak to us in these writings, then I should despair of ever discerning it. Oh, how precious the dear Saviour looks! How infinitely valuable the salvation of one soul! How hateful and inexcusable sin appears! God is good, and the sweetest thing on this earth is to love and serve Him.Jan. 6, 1885, p. 16.
I have read many books, but never one which has interested me so intensely and impressed me so profoundly as Vol. IV. of The Great Controversy, by Sr. White. Perhaps it may be partly because I see things differently; but I am sure that is not wholly the reason. The historical part is good, but that which was of the most intense interest to me, was the last part, beginning with the Origin of Evil. The ideas concerning the nature and attributes of God, the character of Christ, and the rebellion of Lucifer in heaven, carry with them their own proof of inspiration. They moved the depths of my soul as nothing else ever did. I feel that I have a new and higher conception of the goodness and forbearance of God, the awful wickedness of Satan, and the tender love of Christ. I wish everybody could read it whether of our people or not. Get it, brethren, and read it carefully.Ibid., p. 9.
In 1877, ten years before he finally turned his back on the Adventist Church and Ellen G. White, he wrote:
As to the Christian character of Sr. White, I beg leave to say that I think I know something about it. I have been acquainted with Sr. White for eighteen years, more than half the history of our people. I have been in their family time and again, sometimes weeks at a time. They have been in our house and family many times. I have traveled with them almost everywhere; have been with them in private and in public, in meeting and out of meeting, and have had the very best chances to know something of the life, character, and spirit of Bro. and Sr. White. As a minister, I have had to deal with all kinds of persons, and all kinds of character, till I think I can judge something of what a person is, at least after years of intimate acquaintance.
I know Sr. White to be an unassuming, modest, kindhearted, noble woman. These traits in her character are not simply put on and cultivated, but they spring gracefully and easily from her natural disposition. She is not self-conceited, self-righteous, and self-important, as fanatics always are. I have frequently come in contact with fanatical persons, and I have always found them to be full of pretentions, full of pride, ready to give their opinion, boastful of their holiness, etc. But I have ever found Sr. White the reverse of all this. Any one, the poorest and the humblest, can go to her freely for advice and comfort without being repulsed. She is ever looking after the needy, the destitute, and the suffering, providing for them, and pleading their cause. I have never formed an acquaintance with any persons who so constantly have the fear of God before them.The Review and Herald, April 26, 1877, p. 132.
It is strange how quickly the mental machinery of some people can go into reverse. We believe D. M. Canright to have been an honest man and to have meant what he said, at least when he was saying it.
Either he told the truth or he told lies. Now read some words written some time later by the same man and judge for yourself which Canright was telling the truth:
I have been well acquainted with Mrs. White for nearly thirty years; have been in her family for weeks at a time, and she has often been in my family. I am familiar with all her work and all her books. I am satisfied that the whole thing is a delusion. Her visions have been a constant source of quarrels and divisions among themselves. Many of their ablest men, and thousands of others, have left them on this account. There is a strong antivision party now .
Mrs. White's trances are simply the result of disease and religious excitementhysteria. At the age of nine she received a blow upon her head which broke her nose and nearly killed her. It shattered her nervous system beyond recovery, and affected her mind to melancholy and even to insanity. She was weakly, sickly, often fainted, and did not expect to live. In this condition she was carried away with the Millerite fanaticism, and went into trances with others. All this she tells herself, in Spiritual Gifts, Volume II, pages 7-48 .
What harm does she do? Much every way. She teaches a false doctrine, writes a new Bible, leads her people to be narrow, clannish, and bigoted, to oppose the work of all other churches and needed Sunday and temperance laws. She has divided families, broken up churches, driven some to infidelity and others into despair. It leads her advocates to deceive. Being afraid that it will hurt them if it is known in what light they really hold her visions, they deny that it is a matter of importance with them. This is false and deceptive, for they hold her visions to be as sacred as the Bible. To defend her mistakes and errors, both she and her
apologists have to deny the plainest facts and resort to untruthful statements. Fear of her authority compels many to profess faith in her when they have none, and thus become hypocrites.D. M. Canright, No. 4, Mrs. White and Her Visions, in Adventism Refuted in a Nutshell (1889), pp. 2-7.
Many years went by, and D. M. Canright became the pastor emeritus of the Berean Baptist church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1919 he published a book, Life of Mrs. E. G. White, in which he took one full page to make clear his present standing:
Since I withdrew from the Adventists, over thirty years ago, they have continued to report that I have regretted leaving them, have tried to get back again, have repudiated my book which I wrote and have confessed that I am now a lost man. There has never been a word of truth in any of these reports. I expect them to report that I recanted on my deathbed. All this is done to hinder the influence of my books. I now reaffirm all that I have written in my books and tracts against that doctrine.
Several Adventist ministers have rendered valuable aid in preparing these pages. Once they were believers in Mrs. White's divine inspiration, but plain facts finally compelled them to renounce faith in her dreams.Page 15.
We come now to the question, Did D. M. Canright ever show any signs of regret for his own course of action? Did he ever indicate that he was sorry for the active and open warfare he conducted against Ellen G. White? In his book published in 1919 he declared that he had not. But in 1915 when Mrs. White rested in her casket in Battle Creek, after the funeral
service was ended the people passed quietly by to pay a final tribute to a great, noble, but humble servant of God, and D. M. Canright was among them. He and his brother passed by once, and then came by a second time. He rested his hand upon the side of the casket, and with warm tears trickling down his cheeks, he said, There is a noble Christian woman gone.W. A. Spicer, The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement, p. 127.
This statement is the closest we have to anything that might indicate a regret. No, he never relented; he never recanted from his strong opposition. His chief antagonism was against Ellen G. White. But his nephew, at a Lynwood, California, camp meeting in June, 1953, gave a very interesting side light into D. M. Canright's own thinking during the years after he left the church.
This nephew, who at one time had lived in D. M. Canright's home, and at whose home D. M. Canright used to visit, was able to give firsthand information, which is passed on to you because of the interest it has in connection with this story. At one time a Methodist minister wanted to challenge a Seventh-day Adventist minister to debate regarding the Sabbath. He thought if he could only get to D. M. Canright, he certainly could get the material he needed, and then he would squash that Adventist minister with D. M. Canright's own thunder.
So he went to D. M. Canright's home and said,
I have a debate coming up with a Seventh-day Adventist minister on the question of the Sabbath. I thought you would certainly be the man to give me all the material I need to squash him. Now here I am. I can spend three days! D. M. Canright, in the presence of his nephew, told the Methodist minister, Brother, I advise you not to debate with the Adventists on the Sabbath. They have all the facts on their side of the question! It did not take him three days to tell that man that he had better be careful in a debate on the Sabbath. No, it does not take three days to give anyone the facts of church history regarding the Sabbath or Sunday.
D. M. Canright, we are informed, frequently expressed the thought that Adventists were right in their general doctrines and teachings of the church. He disagreed primarily on the question of visions, revelations, and the relation of Ellen G. White to the church and the Bible.
Those Disinterested Who Approved.The last group of contemporaries to speak their mind concerning Ellen G. White are those non-Adventists who were neither friend nor foe, but merely onlookers or bystanders, who observed much but said little. They saw her as a woman, a neighbor, a citizen, a busy worker going here and there. They had no special reason for saying anything either good or bad about her.
Yet come with me to Battle Creek, where Ellen G. White lived for many years. The town leaders were
preparing for a big mass meeting. They were anxious to make a good impression and to reach a certain objective in something of interest to all the citizens of Battle Creek. They wanted a public speaker with persuasive power, a gift of oratory, and a personality that would draw and hold the crowds.
To whom did they turn? None other than one of their own citizens in the West EndEllen G. White. Mayor Austin, W. H. Skinner, cashier of the First National Bank, and C. C. Peavey were the committee on arrangements. They invited Mrs. White because they knew her and her work. Mrs. White, in writing of that occasion, says:
I spoke in the mammoth tent, Sunday evening, July 1 , upon the subject of Christian Temperance. God helped me that evening; and although I spoke ninety minutes, the crowd of fully five thousand persons listened in almost breathless silence.Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 275.
The following year (1878) a book was published entitled American Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men of the State of Michigan, Third Congressional District. The authors of this book evidently observed and thought independently relative to Mrs. White:
Mrs. White is a woman of singularly well-balanced mental organization. Benevolence, spirituality, conscientiousness, and ideality are the predominating traits. Her personal qualities are such to win for her the warmest friendship of all with whom she comes in contact, and to inspire them with the utmost confidence . Notwithstanding
her many years of public labor, she has retained all the simplicity and honesty which characterized her early life.
As a speaker, Mrs. White is one of the most successful of the few ladies who have become noteworthy as lecturers, in this country, during the last twenty years. Constant use has so strengthened her vocal organs as to give her voice rare depth and power. Her clearness and strength of articulation are so great that, when speaking in the open air, she has frequently been distinctly heard at the distance of a mile. Her language, though simple, is always forcible and elegant. When inspired with her subject, she is often marvelously eloquent, holding the largest audiences spellbound for hours without a sign of impatience or weariness.
The subject matter of her discourses is always of a practical character, bearing chiefly on fireside duties, the religious education of children, temperance, and kindred topics. On revival occasions, she is always the most effective speaker. She has frequently spoken to immense audiences, in the large cities, on her favorite themes, and has always been received with great favor.Page 108.
That is a wonderful testimony. Very few people can have such a testimony borne concerning them and their work.
D. M. Canright speaks of Ellen G. White as a sickly person, rather weak and frail; but if she had a voice that could be heard distinctly at the distance of a mile, without a public-address system, she had something that very few speakers have today.
We like to think of this testimonial in the book as coming from those who had no special interest in her, who made no special claims for her, but who simply
knew her as a public speaker, one of the most effective speakers of the day.
It would be but human to question and wonder whether at times Ellen G. White was not influenced by someone near her, or working for her, or perhaps by the president of the General Conference, who might give her messages a certain bias or slant. Some have wondered to what extent Milton's Paradise Lost might have influenced her Conflict of the Ages Series, or whether she had been reading Drs. Trall and Jackson before her health vision of 1863.
These are good and fair questions, and therefore deserve the same kind of answer. First, let us look at the Paradise Lost question. In the spring of 1858 she had the long vision in which the scenes of the great controversy between Christ and Satan were opened before her. She was so thrilled with the message that she told it to the believers in Battle Creek at the morning and evening services.
J. N. Andrews heard the description of the fall of Satan, the fall of man, and the plan of salvation. He asked Mrs. White whether she had ever read Milton's book. She replied that she had never seen it or read it. A little later J. N. Andrews gave her a copy, but without opening it she put it up on a high shelf out of reach until she had finished writing out what she had been shown.
Questions concerning the health message of 1863 brought from her pen these words:
As I introduced the subject of health to friends and spoke against drugs and flesh meats, and in favor of water, pure air, and a proper diet, the reply was often made, You speak very nearly the opinions taught in the Laws of Life, and other publications, by Drs. Trall, Jackson, and others. Have you read that paper and those works? My reply was that I had not, neither should I read them till I had fully written out my views, lest it should be said that I had received my light upon the subject of health from physicians, and not from the Lord.The Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1867, p. 260.
In the same year she again declared, My views were written independent of books or the opinions of others.Manuscript 27, 1867, quoted in Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, p. 16.
Immediately someone will say, But now, wait a minute. What about those quotations from history books that we have in the book The Great Controversy? Where did they come from? How did they get into the writings? Those are good questions and most certainly deserve satisfactory answers. It is a long story, but we can tell you in brief how those passages got into that book in The Conflict of the Ages Series. Here again we do well to turn to her own words for the reasons that seemed to satisfy her.
In the very first writing of The Great Controversy story which appears currently in the last part of Early
Writings, not one quotation from a secular history book will be found. We do, however, find quotations in the 1883 manuscript, which became the 1884 edition. Therein some excerpts are in quotation marks, while others are not. More quotations appear in the 1888 edition, but it is not until the 1911 edition that we find all quotations properly documented and acknowledged. Now why?
Mrs. White answers the question in these words:
The great events which have marked the progress of reform in past ages, are matters of history, well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world; they are facts which none can gainsay. This history I presented briefly, in accordance with the scope of the book, and the brevity which must necessarily be observed, the facts having been condensed into as little space as seemed consistent with a proper understanding of their application. In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published works.Introduction to The Great Controversy, pp. 13, 14.
From W. C. White, who worked with his mother, Ellen G. White, in the preparation of the 1911 edition of the book, we learn that in the new edition
the reader will find more than four hundred references to eighty-eight authors and authorities, and further with regard to the references to the historians quoted, she instructed us to hunt up and insert the historical references. She also instructed us to verify the quotations, and to correct any inaccuracies found; and where quotations were made from passages that were rendered differently by different translators, to use that translation which was found to be most correct and authentic.A statement made before the General Conference Council, Oct. 30, 1911, pp. 2, 3.
Now back in those days there was greater freedom in one writer using the words or phrases of another in setting forth his presentation. Thus the nineteenth century saw many writers at times borrowing from each other without always using quotation marks and frequently without giving credit. We would not do that today. Thus we find that some of the quotations used in the earlier editions of The Great Controversy were without quotation marks or references.
But another question is, What effect does the using of any material from other writers have on the question of the inspiration of her writings as a whole? Let us remember that from a mind enlightened in vision Mrs. White spoke forth and wrote the messages. The words employed merely conveyed the thoughts, and she at different times might use different words to express the same thoughts; and if she found in the writings of another a description in harmony with what was revealed
to her, she might employ a phrase or a sentence, or even more, as she explained in her introduction to The Great Controversy. The subject of inspiration is discussed in a subsequent chapter, but right here let us remember the words of W. C. White found in the same statement that was quoted above:
Mother has never laid claim to verbal inspiration, and I do not find that my father [James White], or Elders Bates, Andrews, Smith or Waggoner put forth this claim. If there were verbal inspiration in writing her manuscripts, why should there be on her part the work of addition or adaptation? It is a fact that mother often takes one of her manuscripts, and goes over it thoroughly, making additions that develop the thought still further.
Mrs. White did claim thought inspiration, but never verbal inspiration. The very way in which her work was done would preclude any such claim. In 1906 she made a very important declaration on this point. She said:
While my husband lived, he acted as a helper and counselor in the sending out of the messages that were given to me. We traveled extensively. Sometimes light would be given to me in the night season, sometimes in the daytime before large congregations. The instruction I received in vision was faithfully written out by me, as I had time and strength for the work. Afterward we examined the matter together, my husband correcting grammatical errors and eliminating needless repetition. Then it was carefully copied for the persons addressed, or the printer.The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church, p. 4.
To this she added a further explanation:
As the work grew, others assisted me in the preparation of matter for publication. After my husband's death, faithful helpers joined me, who labored untiringly in the work of copying the testimonies, and preparing articles for publication. But the reports that are circulated, that any of my helpers are permitted to add matter or change the meaning of the messages I write out, are not true.Ibid.
Once again we are impressed with the fact that our people should make no claim for Mrs. White beyond that which she herself made. Neither should we claim less for her than she did for herself. This is both safe and sensible.
With regard to outside influences upon her and her work we are safe in saying that Mrs. White generally did not lack for words when it came to describing what she saw in vision and, therefore, you will find throughout her writings generally very few quotations from any source aside from the Bible.
For Seventh-day Adventists in particular and the world in general, seventy years of work by Ellen G. White have produced so many results of varied kinds that she and her works can be appraised and judged by their fruits alone. It was not so in 1844 and the years that immediately followed. Then evidence was needed of a kind so unusual, so specific, as to arrest attention, produce conviction, and cause men and women to believe in her and her revelations.
Physical phenomena, such as are described in the Bible concerning prophets, dreams, and visions, supplied this evidence. They are described in Daniel 10: 16-19; Numbers 24:3, 4; 2 Samuel 23:2; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. The only question that concerns us here is, Did Ellen G. White actually give evidence of these Biblical signs in the realm of physical phenomena?
Few, if any, now reading these words, can bear a personal testimony of having seen her in vision when she gave evidence of such physical manifestations. The most and the best we can do is to take the word or testimony of those who did have such firsthand knowledge. This we have in abundance from men whose veracity and honor are beyond question or doubt.
The description of the physical phenomena accompanying Mrs. White's visions which was given by G. I. Butler, General Conference president, in 1874, is representative:
All we ask is that people shall be reasonable. We are prepared to support by hundreds of living truthful witnesses all that we shall claim, so far as facts are concerned, of the manifestation itself, for this thing has not been done in a corner. For nearly thirty years past these visions have been given with greater or less frequency, and have been witnessed by many, oftentimes by unbelievers as well as those believing them. They generally, but not always, occur in the midst of earnest seasons of religious interest while the Spirit of God is specially present, if those can tell who are in attendance. The time Mrs. White is in this
condition has varied from fifteen minutes to one hundred and eighty. During this time the heart and pulse continue to beat, the eyes are always wide open, and seem to be gazing at some far-distant object, and are never fixed on any person or thing in the room. They are always directed upward. They exhibit a pleasant expression. There is no ghastly look or any resemblance of fainting. The brightest light may be suddenly brought near her eyes, or feints made as if to thrust something into the eye, and there is never the slightest wink or change of expression on that account; and it is sometimes hours and even days after she comes out of this condition before she recovers her natural sight. She says it seems to her that she comes back into a dark world, yet her eyesight is in nowise injured by her visions.
While she is in vision, her breathing entirely ceases. No breath ever escapes her nostrils or lips when in this condition. This has been proved by many witnesses, among them physicians of skill, and themselves unbelievers in the visions, on some occasions being appointed by a public congregation for the purpose. It has been proved many times by tightly holding the nostrils and mouth with the hand, and by putting a looking-glass before them so close that any escape of the moisture of the breath would be detected. In this condition she often speaks words and short sentences, yet not the slightest breath escapes. When she goes into this condition, there is no appearance of swooning or faintness, her face retains its natural color, and the blood circulates as usual. Often she loses her strength temporarily and reclines or sits; but at other times she stands up. She moves her arms gracefully, and often her face is lighted up with radiance as though the glory of Heaven rested upon her. She is utterly unconscious of every thing going on around her, while she is in vision,
having no knowledge whatever of what is said and done in her presence. A person may pinch her flesh, and do things which would cause great and sudden pain in her ordinary condition, and she will not notice it by the slightest tremor.
There are none of the disgusting grimaces or
contortions which usually attend spiritualist mediums, but calm, dignified, and
impressive, her very appearance strikes the beholder with reverence and
solemnity. There is nothing fanatical in her appearance. When she comes out of
this condition she speaks and writes from time to time what she has seen while
in vision; and the supernatural character of these visions is seen even more
clearly in what she thus reveals than in her appearance and condition while in
vision, for many things have thus been related which it was impossible for her
to know in any other way.The Review and Herald, June 9,
1874, p. 201.