There are two distinguishing marks of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that set it apart as nothing else could. The first is this: The belief that this church arose at a prophetically appointed time to accomplish a last work for God that was foretold by the prophets.
An attack upon this belief is a blow at the very heart of Seventh-day Adventism. This, its critics have not been slow to see. That explains why there has been an incessant attack upon the record of its early formative years, the 1840's, when the great Advent Awakening in America stirred the whole land, and lands beyond. If it could be proved that Seventh-day Adventists sprang from a wildly fanatical, ascension-robed religious rabble, our declaration that God raised us up would sound fantastic, even sacrilegious.
To attempt to escape the attacks by moving off the historical foundation would be only to surrender our claim to justification for launching a distinctive church. That is why the rugged pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church struck back vigorously and unceasingly at such untruthful and libelous attacks.*
The historical sketch in chapter 13 will present a picture of a disappointed company of some 50,000 persons who, under Millerite† preaching, had expected the Lord to come on October 22, 1844. We shall then see a penniless little group that withdrew from the once-large Adventist body. On their heads was the derision that had descended on all Adventists, and to that was added the harsh criticism of their former fellow believers and of
* The pages of the Review and Herald, mouthpiece of the movement virtually since its beginning, contain numerous articles that expose the groundless nature of the charges brought against the character and conduct of the Advent believers in the 1840's.
† From William Miller, who led out in the Advent Awakening in America in the 1840's. It is hardly correct to speak of the Millerite movement beyond the 1840's.
others, because they began to preach the sacredness of the seventh-day Sabbath. And as if that were not enough to bring to them a sense of complete discouragement and defeat, they had to contend with that curse of all religious awakenings, the fanatical type of individual, who attempts to take over the confidence and control of newly forming companies of believers. Onlookers in the late 1840's, and for some time beyond, dismissed this little Sabbath-keeping Adventist group as a ragtag end of a raveled-out movement that would soon be nothing more than a curious paragraph in the history books.
Onlookers today do not thus dismiss Seventh-day Adventists, and for good reason. They are now found in every part of the world, numbering nearly a million, despite their strict rules for membership. Schools, publishing houses, and hospitals in numerous lands attest also the growth and strength of this religious body.
But little do these onlookers know of the hard upward path the Seventh-day Adventist movement has traveled since the 1840's—the grinding poverty, the ridicule from each side of that path, the enticements of fanatics to turn from it, and the not infrequent shortsightedness of leaders who seemed content to allow the Advent pilgrimage to drag its steps when it ought to have been ever quickening its pace toward the immediate goal of world missions, and the ultimate goal of heaven.
And how shall we explain the growth, the unity, the vigorous work of missions, education, publishing, and medicine, that mark the Advent movement and that evoke commendation and praise, even if sometimes grudgingly, from those who look on? We say, of course, that the good hand of our God has been upon us. But God works through particular agencies in displaying His goodness.
That brings us directly to the second of the two distinguishing marks that set the Advent movement apart as nothing else could: The belief that God gave to this movement, in harmony with the forecast of prophecy, a manifestation of the prophetic gift in the person and writings of Mrs. E. G. White. We believe not only that
our feet stand on the solid rock of the Scriptures but also that God gave to us a special guide to help us to keep our feet on the solid path and moving straight forward to the kingdom. That God should have given to us such audible, personal aid, is to us a manifestation of His gracious care. Indeed, we view it as a direct fulfillment of the apostle John's prediction that the “remnant” elect of God, traveling the last treacherous miles of time, would have in their midst the gift of “the spirit of prophecy.” (See Rev. 12:17 and 19:10. See also Appendix B, p. 543.)
No one can read the history of this Advent people without being repeatedly and forcefully impressed with the fact that it has ever been the counsels of Mrs. White, as she Spoke by inspiration, that have guided and steadied the movement. It was her voice more than all others that built morale and courage into the souls of that poverty-stricken group of Sabbathkeepers a century ago. It was her voice in vigorous tones of rebuke that silenced fanatics. It was her voice that ever called the Advent believers on to more diligent Bible study, to holier living, reproving and reviving them when they failed. It was her voice that could ever be heard more clearly than that of any other leader, calling for evangelism, and challenging the movement on to world missions. And it was her voice, often heard alone, that called insistently and persuasively for schools, publishing houses, and a unique kind of medical institutions with which to carry on a Heaven-appointed task.
This is not rhetoric, it is demonstrable fact. The thousands of pages of Mrs. White's writings clearly establish how great a part she played in creating the policies and directing the course of the Advent movement.
After one hundred years the different Adventist bodies—other than Seventh-day Adventists—that stemmed from the Millerite movement of the early 1840's total less than 50,000 members, which is no more than the total of Advent believers in 1844. Not long ago we enjoyed a delightful fellowship of a few days with an aged, saintly leader in one of these Adventist bodies. He spoke of the expansion of Seventh-day Adventists, their schools, publishing houses, medical institutions, and then he added: “Your men were
more farsighted than ours and laid better plans.” We replied: “No, our men were no wiser than yours, but we had a frail handmaiden of the Lord in our midst who declared that by visions from God she saw what we should do and how we should plan for the future.” No other explanation could, in truth, have been offered for the vitality, distinctiveness, and foresight revealed in connection with the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist movement over the world.
What manner of person was this Mrs. White, who lived from 1827 to 1915, and who early came into a position of leadership though she never held an office in the church? Was she a woman of university tutoring, with influential connections? Did she have amazing vitality, and did she possess that charm and beauty of person that history frequently presents as the explanation of the domination of a kingdom by a woman?
She would seem to need all these in order to explain the varied activities and successes that attended her labors. Her books have been the inspiration of countless thousands both without and within the Advent movement. Those who have no interest in, and no knowledge of, Adventists often refer to the spiritual power and beauty of her writings. When she spoke from the platform she often held thousands spellbound. Her tireless traveling, her incessant preaching, her endless writing, often starting at two or three o'clock in the morning, would suggest that she must have had a constitution of iron. Her appeal to the hearts of the church membership, her success in directing the thinking of committees and boards of directors, might easily suggest to the average mind that she was in all probability possessed of a magnetic personality and charm.
But what are the facts? Briefly these: Her formal schooling was limited to a few grades. She was not strong, physically; in fact, she was so frail as a girl, because of a grave injury when she was nine years old, that her plans for education had virtually to be abandoned, and her life was often despaired of. She lived to an advanced age but never became robust. Though she was of benevolent
countenance, there was nothing particularly prepossessing about her appearance.
Here is, indeed, a singular phenomenon, which calls for an explanation. Mrs. White explained it by declaring that God gave to her visions that enlightened her mind as to what the Advent people should do. And in this explanation all Seventh-day Adventists concur. Using the inspired rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” we affirm in unison that the visions give clear evidence of a divine origin. And we firmly insist that the pattern and the progress of the Advent movement are largely due to those visions. Note that we do not say that the visions explain the primary possession by Adventists of certain distinctive beliefs. The record is clear that the doctrinal beliefs grew out of extended Bible study on the part of the pioneers—the doctrinal foundation of the Advent movement is the Bible.
The two chapters immediately following give a sketch of her life and her visions. It would be much more satisfying to this author to devote the whole book to biography, but two reasons preclude this: (1) Others have written at length on the character and fruitage of Mrs. White's work, and their writings are currently available.* (2) The real purpose of this book is not to affirm the writer's belief in Mrs. White, or the belief of the denomination in her gift, lint to answer specific charges that have been brought against her.
To this task we now address ourselves. And first we shall examine the most basic of all the charges, that Mrs. White's visions can be explained as simply a display of nervous disorders.
* See, for example: L. H. Christian, The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts; A. G. Daniells, The Abiding Gift of Prophecy; C. B. Haynes, The Gift of Prophecy; W. A. Spicer, The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement; F. M. Wilcox, The Testimony of Jesus.