Charge: Mrs. White was having visions which [Joseph] Bates did not believe were of God; but they [Mrs. White and her husband] were anxious to convince him that they were genuine. Bates had been a sea captain, and had consequently studied the stars; had, in fact, become enthusiastic about astronomy. In the presence of Mrs. White and others he had often talked about the different planets, their positions, moons, and the opening heavens.*
J. N. Loughborough's work, The Great Second Advent Movement, page 258, says:
One evening at the conference above mentioned [Topsham, Maine, 1846], in the house of Mr. Curtis, and in the presence of Elder (Captain) Bates, who was yet undecided in regard to the manifestations, Mrs. White, while in vision, began to talk about the stars, giving a glowing description of the rosy-tinted belts which she saw across the surface of some planet, and added, I see four moons. Oh, said Elder Bates, she is viewing Jupiter. Then, having made motions as though traveling through space, she began giving descriptions of belts and rings in their ever-varying beauty, and said, I see eight moons. She is describing Saturn. Next came a description of Uranus with his six moons, then a wonderful description of the opening heavens.
This was sufficient, and accomplished its purpose. Elder Bates was convinced, and became a firm believer in the visions.
But what are the facts? Mrs. White simply saw what her companions at the time generally believed and talked about. Had God given her that view about the planets and the number of moons to each he would have given her the correct number in each case, and thus she would have revealed what astronomers at the time did not know, but later discovered. This would have proved her vision to be of God .
Later discoveries have now shown that both Jupiter and Saturn have more moons than she said. Elder Loughborough is obliged to confess this. In a foot-note on page 258 of his book already quoted
* The opening heavens is a phrase used to describe the nebula in Orion.
Loughborough, in the book from which the critic is quoting, says seven.
he says: More moons to both Jupiter and Saturn have since been discovered.
As a matter of fact, Mrs. White herself, relating this vision, described Saturn as having only seven moons, the number then assigned to that planet by astronomers. Here are her own words in Early Writings, page 32: * Then I was taken to a world which had seven moons.
Information concerning the vision of November, 1846, in which Mrs. White viewed certain heavenly bodies, has come to us from several sources, some primary, some secondary. The first question before us is this: What did Mrs. White, and those present at her vision, actually say, and when did they say it? In the charge before us, Loughborough is quoted as the source of the account of this astronomy vision. But Loughborough was not present when Mrs. White had this vision, and did not write his work till more than forty years afterward. What did Mrs. White herself record regarding it? In her first autobiographical work, printed in 1860, she makes this brief mention of the vision:
August 30th, 1846 I was married to Elder James White. In a few months we attended a conference in Topsham, Me. Bro. J. Bates was present. He did not then fully believe that my visions were of GOD. It was a meeting of much interest. But I was suddenly taken ill and fainted. The brethren prayed for me, and I was restored to consciousness. The Spirit of GOD rested upon us in Bro. C.'s [Curtis'] humble dwelling, and I was wrapt in a vision of GOD's glory, and for the first time had a view of other planets. After I came out of vision I related what I had seen. Bro. Bates asked if I had studied astronomy. I told him I had no recollection of ever looking into an astronomy. Said he, This is of the LORD. I never saw Bro. Bates so free and happy before. His countenance shone with the light of Heaven, and he exhorted the church with power.Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 83.
In 1849 Mrs. White refers to a vision of other worlds, which the critics declare, though without proof, is the 1846 vision. We give the portion of it that might be supposed to have a bearing:
The Lord has given me a view of other worlds. Wings were given me, and an angel attended me from the city to a place that was bright and
* He means page 32 of section 1, Experience and Views, 1882 edition (page 40 in current edition).
glorious. The grass of the place was living green, and the birds there warbled a sweet song. The inhabitants of the place were of all sizes, they were noble, majestic and lovely . Then I was taken to a world which had seven moons. There I saw good old Enoch, who had been translated.Broadside, To those who are receiving the seal of the living God. Topsham, Jan. 31, 1849. (See also Early Writings, pp. 39, 40, current edition.)
In May, 1847, James White made this brief reference to the 1846 vision:
At our conference in Topsham, Maine, last Nov., Ellen had a vision of the handy works of God. She was guided to the planets, Jupiter, Saturn, and I think one more. After she came out of vision, she could give a clear description of their Moons, etc. It is well known, that she knew nothing of astronomy, and could not answer one question in relation to the planets, before she had this vision.A Word to the Little Flock, p. 22.
On January 27, 1891, Mrs. M. C. Truesdail (nee Stowell), who, as a girl of about sixteen, was present when the vision was given, wrote a letter of reminiscences in which she included this statement:
Sister White was in very feeble health, and while prayers were offered in her behalf, the Spirit of God rested upon us. We soon noticed that she was insensible to earthly things. This was her first view of the planetary world. After counting aloud the moons of Jupiter, and soon after those of Saturn, she gave a beautiful description of the rings of the latter. She then said, The inhabitants are a tall, majestic people, so unlike the inhabitants of earth. Sin has never entered here. It was evident from Brother Bates's smiling face that his past doubts in regard to the source of her visions were fast leaving him. We all knew that Captain Bates was a great lover of astronomy, as he would often locate many of the heavenly bodies for our instruction. When Sister White replied to his questions, after the vision, saying that she had never studied or otherwise received knowledge in this direction, he was filled with joy and happiness. He praised God, and expressed his belief that this vision concerning the planets was given that he might never again doubt.Quoted by J. N. Loughborough in Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists, p. 127. (The Great Second Advent Movement, pp. 260, 261.)
In 1892, J. N. Loughborough, a Seventh-day Adventist minister, published Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists. In it he wrote out an account of this Topsham vision. He undoubtedly
based this account on conversations held with Joseph Bates years before.* In 1905 he revised and enlarged the book, which was then published under the title The Great Second Advent Movement. In this revised work he retells the story of the vision, with the change of only a word. The critic quotes the account from this later edition.
We have given all the sources. Three are primary and one is secondary. The first and most important fact to note is that nothing in these quoted accounts credits Mrs. White with stating that a particular planet had a particular number of moons. Let us review:
1. In her own account she simply states, I was wrapt in a vision of GOD's glory, and for the first time had a view of other planets. Neither names of planets nor number of moons is even hinted at in this one and only certain account of the vision written by Mrs. White herself.
2. In what may possibly, though we think improbably, be a reference to this 1846 Topsham vision, she simply states, The Lord has given me a view of other worlds . Then I was taken to a world which had seven moons. But she does not identify that world.
3. James White states, regarding her, She was guided to the planets, Jupiter, Saturn, and I think one more. After she came out of vision, she could give a clear description of their Moons, etc. He does not state that she gave names to the planets, or that she numbered the moons she saw, much less that she said a particular planet had a certain number of moons.
4. Mrs. Truesdail says, After counting aloud the moons of Jupiter, and soon after those of Saturn, she gave a beautiful description of the rings of the latter. But Mrs. Truesdail does not profess to tell us what Mrs. White actually said, or whether the listeners simply concluded that the moons being counted were those of Jupiter and of Saturn because of certain general descriptions. Only Loughborough presumes to state just what she said.
* No written account of the vision has come down through the years.
See Appendix E, p. 585.
5. Even Loughborough, quoting Bates, does not credit her with naming any planets, but only describing them, and then stating, I see such and such a number of moons. Bates did the identifying of planets. And may we not reasonably suppose that James White quite naturally accepted Bates's interpretation as correct? Mrs. White left nothing on record to indicate that she even knew what were the names of the worlds she saw. Hence, it is altogether reasonable to conclude that James White's statement simply reflects the conclusion that he and others reached as a result of Bates's interpretation of her descriptive statements.
The charge is that Mrs. White simply saw what her companions at the time generally believed and talked about. Hence she was a fraud because she pretended to be presenting a revelation, when, in reality, what she revealed was common knowledge, obtainable from conversations with Bates himself or from any textbook on astronomy. And of course she must have perpetrated this hoax to win Elder Bates.
Now, we agree that the evidence warrants the conclusion that the vision evidently played a deciding part in persuading Bates that Mrs. White was a true prophet of God and not a fraud. But other documentary evidence also warrants the conclusion that Bates was excessively cautious about accepting her claims. In 1847 he tells of his having taken a very long time deciding. When she was in vision, at different times, he declares, I listened to every word, and watched every move to detect deception, or mesmeric influence. (See Bates's statement in Broadside, A Vision, Topsham, Me., April 7, 1847. Reprinted in A Word to the Little Flock, p. 21.)
The documentary evidence also calls for the conclusion that Mrs. White had never studied or otherwise received knowledge in the field of astronomy. The critic does not seem to challenge the statement attributed to Mrs. White regarding her ignorance of astronomy except as that ignorance might have been removed by conversations. He says, speaking of Bates:
He asked her if she had ever studied astronomy, and she replied by saying that she did not remember ever having looked in a book on astronomy. That settled it with him. But she could easily have learned all this from his own previous conversations.
We are expected to conclude, therefore, that the skeptical Bates was amazed, overjoyed, and overwhelmingly convinced for all time regarding her claims, chiefly because she recited back to him in vision a bit of arithmeticfour moons, seven moons, six moonswhich she could easily have learned from his own previous conversations. We do not believe Bates was that credulous, or that our readers are either!
Surely the vision must have turned on something more than a total of moons or a simple description of planetary bands, as alleged. Note that in the charge at the opening of this chapter, a passage is quoted from Loughborough's book, The Great Second Advent Movement, page 258, and that the passage ends with the words: a wonderful description of the opening heavens.
Let us now pick up the account as found in the Loughborough book, and go on:
a wonderful description of the opening heavens, with its glory, calling it an opening into a region more enlightened. Elder Bates said that her description far surpassed any account of the opening heavens he had ever read from any author.
While she was talking and still in vision, he arose to his feet, and exclaimed, O how I wish Lord John Rosse was here to-night! Elder White inquired, Who is Lord John Rosse? Oh, said Elder Bates, he is the great English astronomer. I wish he was here to hear that woman talk astronomy, and to hear that description of the opening heavens. It is ahead of anything I ever read on the subject. From that evening Elder Bates became fully satisfied that the visions of Mrs. White were outside of her knowledge and control.Pages 258, 259.
How different the matter looks, both for Mrs. White and Joseph Bates when the whole passage is given! Why were not these few additional sentences quoted? They are plainly needed to complete the picture.
The question is not whether Bates had taught her four moons, seven moons, six moons, but whether he had presented to her such a marvelous and graphic view of the heavens that she, in turn, could hold him spellbound, and was worthy to be heard by Lord John Rosse. Bates admitted, It is ahead of anything I ever read on the subject. Evidently he would not have agreed that Mrs. White could easily have learned from him all she related in vision. No wonder the quotation was broken off in the middle of a sentence.
Hence, if we are to accept the documentary evidence, Mrs. White had a most amazing and revealing vision. If she did not acquire this astronomical knowledge, this power of description, from Bates, and if it was ahead of anything he himself had read, whence did she secure it? Not from a textbook. That is admitted. And anyhow, does reading a textbook give a person spellbinding powers of description! Mrs. White was only nineteen, in feeble health, and possessed of but meager education, yet she awed and impressed the confessedly skeptical Bates by the words that poured forth from her lips!
It is in the light of this larger view, as drawn from the record, that we see her 1846 astronomy vision in true perspective.
But now what of those moons? If the memory of those who wrote of the vision is wholly dependable, and if their tying together her description of different worlds with the number of moonsfor she named no planetsis correct, why did she not name the true total of moons? The critic is sure that here is clear proof that she was a fraud. But let us go a little slowly.
Bates was honestly skeptical, and because of his study of astronomy he might most easily be impressed by a vision that dealt with the wonders of the heavens. Now if God was the author of Mrs. White's visions, might He not seek to bring conviction to Bates's mind as to her divine credentials by giving to her a vision of the heavens? But right here a problem arises: If the Lord caused her prophetic eye to be sharpened to the point where she could
see far beyond what the greatest telescope of that time could see, would not her description in vision result only in filling Bates's mind with doubt and bewilderment?
The essence of the charge before us is that if she had been a true prophet, she would have seen and announced the true total of moons for each planet, and thus would have proved her vision to be of God. Indeed! Proved to whom? Not to Bates. Nothing could have made him more certain that she was what his skeptical fears had told him she was, a misguided enthusiast. Why should he accept her in opposition to the best reports of all the astronomers of his day?
But let us take our reasoning one step further. If God sought to impress the mind of the astronomically-minded Bates, how more effectively could we imagine His doing it than by giving to His humble handmaiden a vision within the limits of 1846 astronomical knowledge, yet so surpassingly vivid and detailed as to convey the impression that she was actually gazing upon the sight? If the Lord did not permit her to see beyond what the telescopes of that day could reveal as to the number of moons, why does that prove her a fraud? She did not say, I saw that there are only four moons that circle Jupiter, or, I saw that there are only seven moons that circle Saturn. She did nothing remotely resembling this. According to Loughborough, who provides the only record of her words, she simply said: I see four moons, I see seven moons, et cetera.
Do prophets always see all the truth of God at one time? A study of the Bible permits us to answer, No. Moses was given much divine illumination, more than any Bible prophet, perhaps. He received, for example, instruction that was to ease the hard lot of the slaves in those cruel slave-holding days. But he did not see that there should be no slaves at all. Was his claim to being a prophet therefore fraudulent? Obviously the answer is No. Then why charge that Mrs. White was a fraud because she did not see all that there was to be seen in the heavens!
Though Loughborough does not state that she said anything about a specific number of moons belonging to a specific planet, it is contended that Mrs. White herself says so in a passage quoted earlier in this chapter. That passage is a portion of a vision first recorded on a broadside in 1849 (later in Early Writings, pp. 39, 40).
Assuming, for the moment, that she is here describing the 1846 Topsham vision on astronomy, what does that prove! If the reader will turn back to the quotation, he will find that it contains these relevant lines:
The Lord has given me a view of other worlds. Wings were given me, and an angel attended me from the city to a place that was bright and glorious . Then I was taken to a world which had seven moons. There I saw good old Enoch, who had been translated.
The vision gives no clue as to which of the other worlds she is here speaking of. But note how the critic attempts to make her words support his charge. As a kind of convincing climax to his argument about her faulty moon-mathematics in the 1846 Topsham vision, he declares:
Mrs. White herself, relating this vision, described Saturn as having only seven moons, the number then assigned to that planet by astronomers. Here are her own words in Early Writings, page 32 [1882 ed. Page 40, new ed.]: Then I was taken to a world which had seven moons. (Italics his.)
Let us examine three phrases in this statement:
1. Described Saturn. But in this passage Mrs. White did not speak of the planet Saturn, either by name or by any identifying description.
2. Having only seven moons. It might be astronomically true that the particular world on which she saw Enoch has only seven moons. But the facts are that Mrs. White, speaking of that world, which she identifies only as a place that Enoch was visiting, does not use the restrictive term only.
It is easy to see what is here being attempted. The reader is asked to believe that when Mrs. White said, had seven moons, she really meant to say, had only seven moons. Then on the sheer assumption that this is the 1846 vision, the reader is asked to believe that Mrs. White is describing Saturn. Therefore she is a fraud because she specifically declared in her 1846 Topsham astronomy vision, not simply that I see seven moons, but that Saturn has only seven moons.
But in this singular sequence of reasoning the critic has made a fatal revelation. He reveals that in order to prove his case against Mrs. White he really needs to have her say that the planet, which he, on pure assumption, informs us is Saturn, had only seven moons. But the documentary evidence declares that she used neither the word Saturn nor only. In other words, he himself discloses that he realizes that I see seven moons does not mean the same as having only seven moons.
3. Relating this vision. The only possible reason for citing this passage from the 1849 Broadside (Early Writings, p. 40) is the assumption that Mrs. White is here relating the 1846 Topsham astronomy vision. And what proof is submitted in support of that assumption? None. True, there is a similarity in a phrase or two to the description of the 1846 vision as given by Loughborough and Mrs. Truesdail from memory many years later. But literary authorities who have to do with old writings would conclude that any similarity of phrase is most easily explained on the theory that Loughborough and Mrs. Truesdail blurred together their memory of what she heard in 1846 and their memory of what they read of what Mrs. White had written in 1849, or later.
The mere fact that Mrs. White discusses other worlds in 1846 and again in 1849 does not thereby prove that she is dealing with one vision. Did she have only one vision of other worlds? In the only specific reference which she herself made to the 1846 vision she says, I was wrapt in a vision of God's glory, and for the first time had a view of other planets. Then it is reasonable to conclude that she may have had views of other planets subsequent to 1846. Mrs. Truesdail, who was a witness to various visions, bears the
same testimony. She speaks thus of Mrs. White's 1846 vision: This was her first view of the planetary world.
But let us look more carefully at the text of the Loughborough document, on which both friend and foe must rely for Mrs. White's words in vision. The phrases I see four moons, I see seven moons, I see six moons, are phrases standing apart from any context. We have only Loughborough's descriptive connections. Mrs. White did not write out what she saw, nor did anyone else, at her dictation, or from her description, when she came out of vision.
We wonder what kind of problems would present themselves in evaluating the prophets of old if the believer in the Bible had to harmonize with science a collection of exclamatory phrases recorded by bystanders while the prophets were in vision!
One more point: How does the record of the phrases of Mrs. White's astronomy vision come down to us? The vision was in 1846. But, as already stated, the phrases are first found in Loughborough's book published in 1892, almost half a century later. And was he writing from personal memory? No. He was writing from the memory of what he had been toldmost probably by Batesyears before he wrote in 1892.* Would any court admit such evidence as valid under any circumstances? No! We might add that Mrs. Truesdail, in 1891, also wrote from memory.
* It is true that Loughborough kept a diary, but there is no proof that this incident, with its specific references to planets and moons, had been recorded in his diary. Even if it had, it would still have been a record, not of something known firsthand by him, but something Bates had said in recollection of the 1846 vision.