Throughout almost the whole lifetime of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, which sprang out of the interdenominational Advent movement of the early 1840's, there have been in circulation various charges and accusations against Mrs. E. G. White. As the opening chapter will reveal, she has played a unique and most important role in the life of the church. The charges against her run the gamut from an accusation that she was a designing woman who foisted upon her followers the plagiarized thoughts of others, to the condescendingly pitying contention that she was a self-deluded hysteric who sincerely thought she had visions.
The very fact that these charges are in almost constant circulation tends in itself to create a considerable dust, and that dust tends, in turn, to obscure the heavenly road for some of the Advent travelers, and to distort, grotesquely, the movement for those who look on, and whom we wish to have travel with us the upward road.
The pages of the church paper through a century have, from time to time, contained vigorous articles in refutation of these attacks upon the character, conduct, and teachings of Mrs. White. It is evident from the record that our spiritual fathers believed that in taking this militant stand in her defense they were defending something central to the whole movement. They did not hesitate on occasion even to bring out special numbers of the Review and Herald that featured a defense of her.*
Two kinds of charges have been brought against Mrs. White: (1) That she contradicts the Bible in certain doctrinal teachings. (2) That in various ways in her life and conduct and counsel she
* For example, the Review and Herald Supplement, August 14, 1883, and the Review and Herald Extra, December, 1887. The latter contained as much matter as would be found in a small book.
fails to measure up to the specifications of a true prophet. There is inevitably some overlapping.
The first has not been considered at any length in this book, for the simple reason that such charges have been adequately considered in a wide array of Adventist books. Mrs. White's teachings on doctrine are those held by Seventh-day Adventists. Thus the defense of our teachings, as found in our denominational works, is really a defense of Mrs. White, even as it is a defense of the doctrinal soundness of every other person who believes and promotes those beliefs.
I have addressed myself primarily to the second kind of charge, which, incidentally, constitutes the bulk of the accusations against her. For example, Did Mrs. White suppress abandoned views? Did she plagiarize? Did she give foolish counsel on a reform dress? These are questions of fact. In answer, the facts have been presentedall the facts that bear on the questions. Effort has been made to refute the charges against Mrs. White in terms of documented evidence placed in true historical context. And by this means it is hoped not only to quash the indictments against her but to make her counsels and conduct stand out as eminently reasonable and consistent with what would be expected of a messenger of God. In other words, I have sought to give a positive quality to the treatment of what might at first blush seem to be merely a negative undertaking.
In setting forth the various charges against Mrs. White I have generally given a composite of the critics' arguments. When their exact words have been used quotation marks have been employed, though references have not been given. Those who have read the works of critics and turn to this book for answers will have little trouble in discovering the source of the quoted portions in the charges listed in the following chapters. They will also note that D. M. Canright is often cited.* This is because he first and
* See Appendix A, p. 537, for a historical note on Canright.
most fully set forth in print the major accusations against Mrs. White. Others have largely copied from him.
In the very nature of the case this book cannot wholly escape having a controversial overtone, for it meets face to face the militant and, I regret to say, sometimes malicious charges that have been brought against Mrs. White and Seventh-day Adventists. This overtone has been suppressed as far as possible, but there are limits. Charges must be plainly stated and answers must be plainly given if the book is to meet its intended purpose.
When the word critic is used throughout this bookand it has been frequently usedreference is made to that kind of person who has frankly set out to attack some feature of Mrs. White's life and writings. There are others, sincere but troubled in mind, who have expressed perplexities and sometimes doubts but who honestly wish to know the facts and are ready to listen to an explanation such as is here presented.
I am well aware that there are limitations to the power of facts, evidence, and logic to meet charges and remove doubts. Anyone who has written in defense of the Bible will agree with this. There are two reasons: (1) We cannot always be certain as to what the Bible writer meant; because the passage may be obscure, the historical context uncertain. (2) The mind is more often the servant than the master of man's emotions and prejudices. How else can we explain, for example, the refusal of the scribes and Pharisees to believe in Christ, who gave the most convincing proofs of His divinity, or the inability of skeptics to see in the pages of Holy Writ any evidence of the supernatural?
In this setting can be better understood the following words from Mrs. White in regard to belief in the divine origin of her writings:
Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and a teachable spirit, and all should decide from the weight of evidence.Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, p. 255. 2
God gives sufficient evidence for the candid mind to believe; but he who turns from the weight of evidence because there are a few things which he cannot make plain to his finite understanding, will be left in the cold, chilling atmosphere of unbelief and questioning doubts, and will make shipwreck of faith.Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 232, 233.
To provide that sufficient evidence on which to decide the questions and charges at issue is the purpose of this work.
However, I do not hope to be able to prove, as one would a proposition in mathematics, that Mrs. White was what Seventh-day Adventists believe she was, a spokesman for God. That cannot be done even for the prophets of the Bible. Indeed, who can prove beyond all cavil and question that there is a personal God? Who can hope by searching to find out the nature of God? In all matters that touch the world beyond, an element of mystery is involved, a mystery that exists because of our finite limitations of understanding. The trusting Christian, if left unchallenged in his faith, is happy to go forward in his life's program, admitting the element of mystery that transcends him. In fact he finds in this mystery, which does not contradict his reason but simply goes beyond it, the best ground for faith in Godfor a God no greater than ourselves would be no God at all.
But the Christian has never long been allowed to enjoy that faith unchallenged. There have ever been those who would attempt to destroy the Christian faith at one blow, not by demanding that the believer explain the mystery, but by cynically declaring that there is no mystery to explain, that all that seems mysterious can be explained in terms of natural phenomena operating according to natural law. For example, the skeptic, instead of believing Christ for the very works' sake, declares that these miraculous works can be explained either as deceptive sleight-of-hand performances or in some other natural way, or simply as legends.
When the issue is thus drawn the Christian, whose business it is to witness for God and to win converts to the faith, must either desert the field in defeat, exposed as a superstitious, credulous
fraud, or else immediately challenge the skeptic. The latter course is the One that defenders of the faith have consistently followed through the centuries. They have challenged the naturalistic explanation of God and Christ and the work of Bible prophets, and have shown that the skeptics' explanations do not explain. Thus the defenders of Christianity have cleared the air by the very act of restoring the mystery. They are now ready to call on men to draw near once more to contemplate the mystery, and to give their allegiance to Him who is the only true explanation of that mystery.
In harmony with these precedents I have proceeded in my examination of the charges against Mrs. White. Nothing here presented will remove the element of mystery in her visions, but rather the reverse. The logic of her critics' charges is that she belongs either in the hospital as a pathetic mental case or in jail as a cunning deceiver. They would explain all her visions on a nonsupernatural basis. But the evidence set forth in the following pages will show that the critics' explanations do not explain. I have sought to clear the air by restoring the mystery, so that the reader may see that Mrs. White rightly belongs on the mountain of God in the company of those who have heard and then made audible the counsels of God to men.
In planning this book I have been confronted by the same question that confronts the writer of a work in defense of the Bible; namely, What charges shall be considered? No book would be large enough to deal with all the charges, small and great, relevant and irrelevant, that have been brought against the Bible. The defender of Scripture must decide which are impressive sounding, representative, and currently prominent. On these he focuses, and all his readers who are sincerely seeking for light conclude that if he has answered these satisfactorily the case for the Bible is proved. Or at least that it is not worth spending time on the other charges.
Even so with this present undertaking. Listed here for answer
are all the charges against Mrs. White which are currently prominent, representative, and impressive sounding. For good measure several have been added that cannot thus qualify. In deciding on this list I have been aided materially by Mrs. White's critics. An examination of their varied writings enables one quickly to see what charges they have focused on through the years. I have been aided even more effectively by the office of the Ellen G. White Publications, which naturally is acquainted with all the major charges that critics constantly present. All these are included in the list examined in this book. Sincere, reasonable readers will not ask more than this, and it is for such that this work has been written.
What benefit these pages may prove to the reader can only be hopefully surmised. But this I know with certainty, and offer it here as a personal testimony: After examining all the major charges against Mrs. White, I rise from the task with a greatly strengthened conviction that she was, as she herself modestly yet confidently affirmed, a frail handmaiden of the Almighty to whom were given divine visions and revelations, that indeed there was manifested in her life the great power of God. May all who read this book reach the Same soul-satisfying conclusion.