Mrs. White, and Bible Prophets, in Vision

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Section Titles
Were Mrs. White's Visions due to Nervous Disorders? Part II
James White Describes Her Visions
A General Conference President Testifies
Her Night Visions
How Should a Prophet Act in Vision?
The Bible Describes Prophets in Vision
Visions of John, Paul, and Zacharias
Mrs. White's Critics in Strange Company

Were Mrs. White's Visions due to Nervous Disorders? Part II

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A description of Mrs. White's physical state in vision has been purposely withheld until that description could be placed in its proper setting, the setting of her whole life's activity. Earlier two sentences were quoted from her own simple description of her first vision, December, 1844. Here is another account of the same incident:

“At this time I visited one of our Advent sisters, and in the morning we bowed around the family altar. It was not an exciting occasion, and there were but five of us present, all females. While praying the power of God came upon me as I never had felt it before, and I was wrapt up in a vision of God's glory,* and seemed to be rising higher and higher from the earth.”—Experience and Views (1851), p. 5. (Early Writings of Mrs. White, p. 13.)

She then proceeds to relate what she saw in vision. She declared on more than one occasion that while in vision she was oblivious to earthly things. We would not therefore look to her for the kind of description we desire. It is an interesting fact that she has left scarcely any record of her physical condition in vision.

James White Describes Her Visions

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In 1857 her husband, James White, in describing a meeting that he and Mrs. White attended, tells of her speaking at the meeting and of her being taken off in vision:

“Mrs. W. arose and Spoke with much freedom. The place was filled with the Spirit of the Lord. Some rejoiced, others wept. All felt that the Lord

* “I was surrounded with light,” she says, in another account published in 1860. (See Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 30.)


was drawing very near. How sacred the place. Those present will never forget that meeting. When seated, Mrs. W. began to praise the Lord, and continued rising higher and higher in perfect triumph in the Lord, till her voice changed; and the deep, clear shouts of Glory! Hallelujah! thrilled every heart. She was in vision.

“Unknown to us there was a poor, discouraged brother present, who had thrown his armor down, in consequence, in part, at least, of neglect by his wealthy brethren, and was returning to strong habits which threatened the happiness of himself and family. A most touching and encouraging message was given for him. By the grace of God he raised his head that very evening, and he and his good wife are again happy in hope. Monterey church will never forget that evening. At least they never should.”—Review and Herald, Oct. 22, 1857, p. 196.

One of the most comprehensive descriptions of her in vision is that given by James White, in 1868. We quote it in full:

“Her condition in vision may be described as follows:

“1. She is utterly unconscious of everything transpiring around her, as has been proved by the most rigid tests, but views herself as removed from this world, and in the presence of heavenly beings.

“2. She does not breathe. During the entire period of her continuance in vision, which has at different times ranged from fifteen minutes to three hours, there is no breath, as has been repeatedly proved by pressing upon the chest, and by closing the mouth and nostrils.

“3. Immediately on entering vision, her muscles become rigid, and joints fixed, so far as any external force can influence them. At the same time her movements and gestures, which are frequent, are free and graceful, and cannot be hindered nor controlled by the strongest person.

“4. On coming out of vision, whether in the day-time or a well-lighted room at night, all is total darkness. Her power to distinguish even the most brilliant objects, held within a few inches of the eyes, returns but gradually, sometimes not being fully established for three hours. This has continued for the past twenty years; yet her eyesight is not in the least impaired, few persons having better than she now possesses.

“She has probably had, during the past twenty-three years, between one and two hundred visions. These have been given under almost every variety of circumstance, yet maintaining a wonderful similarity; the most apparent change being, that of late years they have grown less frequent, but more comprehensive. She has been taken off in vision most frequently when bowed in prayer. Several times, while earnestly addressing the congregation, unexpectedly to herself and to all around her, she has been instantly prostrated in vision. This was the case June 12, 1868, in the presence of not less than


two hundred Sabbath-keepers, in the house of worship, in Battle Creek, Mich. On receiving baptism at my hands, at an early period of her experience, as I raised her up out of the water, immediately she was in vision. Several times, when prostrated by sickness, she has been relieved in answer to the prayer of faith, and taken off in vision. At such times her restoration to usual health has been wonderful. At another time, when walking with friends, in conversation upon the glories of the kingdom of God, as she was passing through the gate before her father's house, the Spirit of God came upon her, and she was instantly taken off in vision. And what may be important to those who think the visions the result of mesmerism, she has a number of times been taken off in vision, when in prayer alone in the grove or in the closet.

“It may be well to speak as to the effect of the visions upon her constitution and strength. When she had her first vision, she was an emaciated invalid, given up by her friends and physicians to die of consumption. She then weighed but eighty pounds. Her nervous condition was such that she could not write, and was dependent on one sitting near her at the table to even pour her drink from the cup to the saucer. And notwithstanding her anxieties and mental agonies, in consequence of her duty to bring her views before the public, her labors in public speaking, and in church matters generally, her wearisome travels, and home labors and cares, her health and physical and mental strength have improved from the day she had her first vision.”—James White, Life Incidents, in Connection With the Great Advent Movement, pp. 272, 273.

A General Conference President Testifies

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From George I. Butler* comes this description in 1874:

“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

* At the time he wrote this description, Butler was president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


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 their [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.

“Peculiar circumstances in the lives of individuals, whom she never before had seen in the flesh, and secrets hidden from the nearest acquaintances, have been made known by her when she had no personal knowledge of the parties other than by vision. Often has she been in an audience where she was wholly unacquainted with the individuals composing it, when she

* “Their” is evidently a typographical error.


would get up and point out person after person whom she never had seen before, in the flesh, and tell them what they had done, and reprove their sins. I might mention many other items of like nature, but space forbids. These things can be proved by any amount of testimony, and we confidently affirm that they are of such a character that they could not be accomplished by deception.”—Review and Herald, June 9, 1874, p. 201.*

These descriptions of Mrs. White in public vision were written and published in the church paper at the very time Mrs. White was having such visions. These visions were often attested by many witnesses. It may reasonably be presumed, then, that these descriptions, which so far as we can discover from our reading have not been challenged, present a true picture. Some may seek to weaken the testimony of these witnesses by contending that there were limitations to their powers of observation. But even if we were to admit these limitations that would not invalidate the testimony of the many witnesses as to the main aspects of her state in vision. It is proper to remember in this connection that Mrs. White herself never based her claim to have received visions from God on any detail of her physical state in vision. We think this fact, which is often overlooked, is important. She based her claim on the fruitage of her visions. She was willing to have applied to her and to her claim the maxim of our Lord: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

Her Night Visions

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So much for the descriptions of her public visions. But she also had night visions. Here is the way she pictures a night vision she received in 1896, when almost seventy years of age:

Friday, March 19, 1896, “I arose early, about half past three o'clock in the morning. While writing upon the fifteenth chapter of John, suddenly a wonderful peace came upon me. The whole room seemed to be filled with the atmosphere of heaven. A holy, sacred presence seemed to be in my room. I laid down my pen and was in a waiting attitude to see what the Spirit would say unto me. I saw no person. I heard no audible voice, but a heavenly watcher seemed close beside me. I felt that i was in the presence of Jesus. The sweet peace and light which seemed to be in my room it is impossible for

* See Appendix G, p. 558,


me to explain or describe. A sacred, holy atmosphere surrounded me, and there was presented to my mind and understanding matters of intense interest and importance. A line of action was laid out before me as if the unseen presence was speaking with me. The matter I had been writing upon seemed to be lost to my mind and another matter distinctly opened before me. A great awe seemed to be upon me as matters were imprinted upon my mind.”—MS. 12c, 1896.

This vision represented one kind of night vision, the kind that she had, at times, when awake in the night seasons. The other kind, which corresponds to what the Bible describes as night visions, were those that came to her during the hours of sleep. (See, for example, Dan. 7:1.) In describing these experiences she sometimes uses the word vision and sometimes the word dream. The scenes portrayed were as graphic, and as much the basis for later writings, as any scenes presented to her in public visions. That fact becomes evident when we examine Testimonies, volume 9, which was published in 1909, and presents, among other matters, what she saw in vision during the immediately preceding five years. Here are a few excerpts:

“In the visions of the night a very impressive scene passed before me. I saw an immense ball of fire fall among some beautiful mansions, causing their instant destruction….

“In great distress I awoke. I went to sleep again, and I seemed to be in a large gathering. One of authority was addressing the company, before whom was spread out a map of the world.”—Page 28.

“In the night of March 2, 1907, many things were revealed to me regarding the value of our publications on present truth….

“After a while I fell asleep again. This time I seemed to be in a council meeting where our book work was being discussed. There were a number of our brethren present, leaders in our work.”—Pages 65, 66.

“While at Loma Linda, Cal., April 16, 1906,* there passed before me a most wonderful representation. During a vision of the night, I stood on an eminence, from which I could see houses shaken like a reed in the wind. Buildings, great and small, were falling to the ground.”—Page 92.

Thus is concluded a description of Mrs. White in vision over a long period of years.

If there is any small measure of plausibility in the charge

* Two days before the San Francisco earthquake and fire,


before us, it resides in the fact that Mrs. White's condition in vision, that is, in public vision, is obviously not a normal condition. Her case may appear to present a few “symptoms” that are similar to those of certain mental and nervous maladies. And from those few similarities the charge is built. This kind of reasoning and diagnosis is strangely like that which results from a layman's examining a medical book and noting symptoms of certain diseases. Before he has gone far in his reading he is quite likely to conclude, for a frightened moment, that he is afflicted with a strange array of maladies.

What a doctor learns after arduous years of study and practice is that symptoms, like appearances, can be deceiving, and that if the patient's condition is an unusual one, only a most exhaustive study of the case can assure a correct diagnosis. He notes that certain symptoms seem to indicate a particular malady, but certain other symptoms indicate a very different one. Then by a differential diagnosis he notes the symptoms of one that cannot belong to the other, and so methodically proceeds to his conclusion. Only thus can he avoid making ludicrous or tragic mistakes in diagnosis.

How Should a Prophet Act in Vision?

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What many people seem to forget is this: A prophet has the same physical and nervous system as all other people. Obviously, then, if a prophet has a vision, which is not a normal state, ought we not to expect that his physical and nervous systems will show some evidences of that nonnormal state, some “symptoms”? It is because this evident fact is ignored that Mrs. White can plausibly be described as suffering from a mental or psychic malady. We would like to ask: How should a prophet act in vision?

Can anyone picture a state of body and mind that would be different from the normal and yet simulate in no way the abnormal states of which doctors write, and to which critics so plausibly refer? Let us illustrate: If a prophet in vision were limp and oblivious to his surroundings, then a skeptic could quickly call attention to an instance of some person suffering a mental malady who displayed these symptoms, If the prophet were limp but aware


of his surroundings, the skeptic could likewise find parallel symptoms in mental sufferers. If the prophet were rigid but aware of surroundings, the same would be true. If his face were strangely pale, or on the other hand markedly flushed; if his eyes were open or closed, then again would parallels be found. If he spoke while in vision, or if he remained stonily silent, parallels would be discovered.

And so, by the simple process of finding a parallel to this or that physical condition, it would be possible to rationalize away the phenomena of a prophet in vision, no matter what the state of body and mind might be. And by the same token it would be possible to diagnose his unusual state as any one of a number of maladies.

The Bible Describes Prophets in Vision

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It is an interesting fact that the Bible makes certain comments on how prophets have acted in vision. The prophet Daniel thus describes a certain vision that he had as he was “by the side of the great river” Hiddekel:

“And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness [margin, “vigour”] was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet heard I the voice of his words: and when I heard the voice of his words, then was I in a deep sleep on my face, and my face toward the ground.

“And, behold, an hand touched me, which set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands. And he said unto me, O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee, and stand upright: for unto thee am I now sent. And when he had spoken this word unto me, I stood trembling.” “And when he had spoken such words unto me, I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb. And, behold, one like the similitude of the sons of men touched my lips: then I opened my mouth, and spake, and said unto him that stood before me, O my lord,


by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength. For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me. Then there came again and touched me one like the appearance of a man, and he strengthened me.” Dan. 10:7-11, 15-18.

This would be described as a public vision. But Daniel also had night visions. We read: “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters.” Dan. 7:1. Daniel then proceeds to describe what he saw in his “vision by night.” (Verse 2.)

Why the prophets had some visions by day and others by night we do not know. But this we do know, they made no distinction between these visions as to source, character, or spiritual significance. Indeed, there is no discoverable distinction between public visions and night visions, except that of the time and place of the visions. It is evident also that the prophets used, interchangeably, the words vision and dream. The latter term, of course, carries with it the thought of a revelation in the night, during sleep. Through Moses, God declared: “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” Num. 12:6. The only reasonable position is to attribute both public and night visions to the same cause and source, the Spirit of God.

Take the case of Balaam. Though he attempted to do Israel harm, the record is clear that certain amazing experiences he had in connection with that attempt were experiences given to him of God. We read:

“And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him. And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said: he hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open.” Num. 24:2-4.


Visions of John, Paul, and Zacharias

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When John the revelator received a vision of Christ, the effect produced upon him he records thus:

“And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last.” Rev. 1:17.

Of the vision that Saul of Tarsus received on the Damascus road, which changed him over to Paul the flaming apostle, the record declares:

“And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Acts 9:3-6.

The priest Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, received a vision. The record says:

“And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.”

“And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

“And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

“And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not


speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless.” Luke 1:11-13, 18-22.

Nor did the dumbness of Zacharias end until the child was born and was about to be circumcised. The question of naming the child was referred to him:

“And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God.” Luke 1:63, 64.

Mrs. White's Critics in Strange Company

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Certain of the physical phenomena in connection with the visions of Bible prophets are too strikingly like those accompanying Mrs. White's visions to need comment here. They are cited, not to prove anything in Mrs. White's behalf, but only to show that in the experience of the prophets of old certain striking physical phenomena were displayed in connection with their visions, phenomena which Bible critics might plausibly attempt to explain away in terms of their similarity to the symptoms of various mental maladies.

Did we say, might attempt? The facts are that Bible skeptics and scoffers have attempted precisely this. They have sought to explain away all the Bible visions on natural grounds. They have described the prophets as fanatics, as ecstatics, as trance mediums, as epileptics, and as everything except what the Bible declares them to be—prophets of God. Mention has already been made of the fact that skeptics dismiss Paul's Damascus-road experience as an epileptic seizure. There are really vast possibilities of explanation for those who set out resolutely on the premise that there is nothing supernatural.

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