Chapter 16

Ellen White’s Self-awareness as a Messenger

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Clarifying Biblical Truth
Visions Defined Truth and Created Unity After Bible Study
Tragic Consequences
Twin Roles
Extrinsic Sources in Relating Visions
Two Ways to Understand
Visions Not a Substitute for Bible Study
Ellen White’s Writings Primarily for the Church
Endnotes
Study Questions


“For half a century I have been the Lord’s messenger, and as long as my life shall last I shall continue to bear the messages that God gives me for His people.”1

Ellen White’s self-perception of her mission determined how she set priorities in her personal life and how determined she would be in getting her message before the world. She understood herself to be a “frail instrument . . . a channel for the communication of light.”2 In a statement before 2,500 people (not all church members) in the Battle Creek Tabernacle on Sunday, October 2, 1904, she said: “I am not, as I said yesterday [a Sabbath meeting], a prophet. I do not claim to be a leader; I claim to be simply a messenger of God, and that is all I have ever claimed.”3

Naturally this was picked up by some and heralded as a confession that the Adventist leader was not a prophet after all. But Ellen White wanted to clarify a common misunderstanding of what a prophet is and does. If prophets primarily predict events, she wanted people to understand that definition did not apply to her role as God’s messenger.4

She answered the concerns of both Adventists and non-Adventists when she said: “To claim to be a prophetess is something that I have never done. If others call me by that name, I have no controversy with them. But my work has covered so many lines that I cannot call myself other than a messenger, sent to bear a message from the Lord to His people, and to take up work in any line that He points out.”5

She was conscious that she was in the historical stream of God’s communication system through prophets and prophetesses: “In ancient times God spoke to men by the mouth of prophets and apostles. In these days He speaks to them by the testimonies of His Spirit. There was never a time when God instructed His people more earnestly than He instructs them now concerning His will and the course that He would have them pursue.”6


Clarifying Biblical Truth

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Ellen White never claimed that her writings were to supersede the Bible.7 She saw that her “first duty” was “to present Bible principles” and if there was no “decided, conscientious reform” she would “appeal to them personally.”8 In fact, her “Testimonies” would not have been needed “if you had made God’s Word your study with a desire to reach the Bible standard and attain Christian perfection.”9

Further, she never claimed infallibility, always emphasizing that “God alone is infallible.”10 She was always open to the unfolding of truth. Progressive truth, for her, would not contradict previously revealed truths but expand it.11

Correcting contemporary errors in Christian thought became an essential part of setting forth Biblical principles. Ellen White would say: “It has been given to me to correct specious errors and to specify what is truth.”12

In her primary concern that the Bible be seen as the Christian’s only rule of faith and practice, she felt compelled to emphasize that, in some instances, what had been understood for centuries to be “Bible truth” might be merely “floating germs” and the “rubbish of error.”13

In addition to correcting these “floating” theological germs that permeated conventional Christianity in the nineteenth century, she was shown that some basic Christian truths had lain dormant from the first century. These truths were to be recovered and placed within the larger framework of the “everlasting gospel” that was to be preached in its fullness at the end of time.14

Because of these self-perceptions as God’s messenger to assist in clarifying Biblical truth, Ellen White and her contemporaries understood that her counsel was on a higher level than that of other Bible students. Her involvement in the formation of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine was perceived as normative.


Visions Defined Truth and Created Unity After Bible Study

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In the formative days Sabbatarian Adventists gathered on various occasions to establish their core beliefs and to bring harmony into their ranks.15 With their Bibles open, sometimes they devoted entire days and nights to study. When the group became locked in an impasse with varying viewpoints firmly defended, Ellen White would be granted a vision in which the correct Biblical interpretation would be indicated. Hence, she was able to affirm the results of Brother C’s Biblical study, rather than that of Brethren A, B, or D.

Here is how Ellen White described these occasions: “At that time [after the 1844 disappointment] one error after another pressed in upon us; ministers and doctors brought in new doctrines. We would search the Scriptures with much prayer, and the Holy Spirit would bring the truth to our minds. Sometimes whole nights would be devoted to searching the Scriptures and earnestly asking God for guidance. Companies of devoted men and women assembled for this purpose. The power of God would come upon me, and I was enabled clearly to define what is truth and what is error.

“As the points of our faith were thus established, our feet were placed upon a solid foundation. We accepted the truth point by point, under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. I would be taken off in vision, and explanations would be given me. I was given illustrations of heavenly things, and of the sanctuary, so that we were placed where light was shining on us in clear, distinct rays.”16

These experiences, wherein Ellen White brought clarity and harmony to their Biblical studies, conveyed validity and certitude to early Seventh-day Adventists. From time to time, when basic doctrines were being attacked from within the church, she would appeal to these earlier experiences: “Let none seek to tear away the foundations of our faith—the foundations that were laid at the beginning of our work by prayerful study of the word and revelation. Upon these foundations we have been building for the last fifty years.”17

For later Adventists to deny these historical happenings—these Bible study/Spirit affirming experiences—would be to throw themselves back into the confusion when Brethren A, B, C, or D endeavored to convince others that each one’s particular Biblical position was “the truth.” Throughout her long life, Ellen White helped others to become “first-generation,” early-Adventist “disciples.” She knew that only by helping later Adventists to relive the “experience” (Bible study plus Spirit affirmation) would they see the coherency and urgency of the Adventist message.18

It follows, then, that to reject Ellen White’s writings is to insult the Spirit of God, not her. In many instances throughout her ministry, she expressed anguish that those who slighted or rejected her messages were rejecting far more than a mere human being. For example: “The testimonies I have borne you have in truth been presented to me by the Lord. I am sorry that you rejected the light given. . . . It is not I whom you are betraying. It is not I against whom you are so embittered. It is the Lord, who has given me a message to bear to you.”19


Tragic Consequences

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She frequently warned of sad, sometimes tragic, personal consequences that would follow rejection of her writings.20 Because she knew her visions were from the Lord and especially for preparing a people for the return of Jesus, she did not respond casually to those who treated her counsel with indifference. She saw the end of it all in the unfolding of that person’s life, and she was alarmed.

The following is a sample of her insights regarding those who trifle with her messages: “It is Satan’s plan to weaken the faith of God’s people in the Testimonies. Satan knows how to make his attacks. He works upon minds to excite jealousy and dissatisfaction toward those at the head of the work. The gifts are next questioned; then, of course, they have but little weight, and instruction given through vision is disregarded. Next follows skepticism in regard to the vital points of our faith, the pillars of our position, then doubt as to the Holy Scriptures, and then the downward march to perdition. When the Testimonies which were once believed, are doubted and given up, Satan knows the deceived ones will not stop at this; and he redoubles his efforts till he launches them into open rebellion, which becomes incurable, and ends in destruction. . . . They rise up with bitter feelings against the ones who dare to speak of their errors and reprove their sins.”21

Ellen White understood what motivated people to reject her writings. Some accepted the parts with which they agreed, and rejected “those portions which condemn their favorite indulgences.”22

Some who did not “understand” her writings “had the light but have not walked in it. What I might say in private conversations would be so repeated as to make it mean exactly opposite to what it would have meant had the hearers been sanctified in mind and spirit.”23

Others “made of none effect the counsel of God” because her writings did not agree with preconceived opinions or particular ideas. . . . Everything that sustains their cherished ideas is divine, and the testimonies to correct their errors are human—Sister White’s opinions.”24

One threat to faith that Ellen White hit without compromise was the practice of some to “dissect” her writings: “Do not feel that you can dissect them [Testimonies] to suit your own ideas, claiming that God has given you ability to discern what is light from heaven and what is the expression of mere human wisdom. If the Testimonies speak not according to the Word of God, reject them.”25

She believed her writings to be consistent and harmonious from beginning to end—“a straight line of truth.” That is a remarkable statement for any author to make, especially one who had been writing for more than sixty years.26 The defining principle that kept her writings coherent and harmonious was her “great controversy theme.”27


Twin Roles

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Because she firmly believed that God was using her as His last-day messenger, she saw herself as having twin roles: To the general public, an evangel of appeal and warning, and to the Adventists, a counselor-teacher.28

Realizing the distinct difference in this dual responsibility, she emphatically declared that her writings were not to be used as doctrinal authority for the general public: “The first number of the Testimonies ever published contains a warning against the injudicious use of the light which is thus given to God’s people. I stated that some had taken an unwise course; when they had talked their faith to unbelievers, and the proof had been asked for, they had read from my writings, instead of going to the Bible for proof. It was shown me that this course was inconsistent and would prejudice unbelievers against the truth. The Testimonies can have no weight with those who know nothing of their spirit. They should not be referred to in such cases.”29

But to church members, it was different. Knowing that her writings were in harmony with the Bible and that God had given her special light for Adventists with a distinctive last-day assignment, she urged church members to accept her writings as truth from God: “As the end draws near and the work of giving the last warning to the world extends, it becomes more important for those who accept present truth to have a clear understanding of the nature and influence of the Testimonies, which God in His providence has linked with the work of the third angel’s message from its very rise.”30

Ellen White made it clear that she did not receive a specific vision for each testimony. Some people were taking the position that if she did not have a special vision for each individual case, her warnings or reproof “should have no more weight than counsels and warnings from other sources.”31

She then used Paul’s experience as an analogy. Even as Paul did not have a special vision before writing his first letter to the Corinthians but received background information from the household of Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), so she had been moved to write out general principles that would be appropriate for the special need of the moment. The Corinthians did not take Paul’s letter less seriously because he revealed the source of his concern. They knew that the apostle was speaking the truth about their condition, and they listened carefully to his admonitions. So, in her experience, “God has shown me that a certain course, if followed, or certain traits of character, if indulged, would produce certain results. He has thus been training and disciplining me in order that I might see the dangers which threaten souls, and instruct and warn His people, line upon line . . . that they might not be ignorant of Satan’s devices, and might escape his snares. . . . Shall I hold my peace because each individual case has not been pointed out to me in direct vision?”32

From her earliest visions to her death, Ellen White knew the Source of her insights. “I saw” was a very frequent phrase as she spoke to church members. Other expressions that emphasized her sense of authority and mission include, “I am talking of what I know”33; “from the instruction that the Lord has given me, . . . If ever the Lord has spoken to me.”34

Though she wanted her readers to “hear” the voice of God through her writings, she clearly taught that God did not dictate each word. She believed that her words were not God’s words (even as the words of Biblical authors were not); she conveyed God’s thoughts with the best words she could employ.35

In 1867 she wrote the following within an article involving appropriate female attire when in public, at a time when long, flowing dresses were in fashion: “Although I am as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation.”36 Here she is making a distinction between exact words divinely spoken and her words used in conveying the message of the vision. The distinction is between divine words and her words, not between her words and the words of other human beings that she, at times, used in bringing precision and historical color to her writings.

Ellen White appealed to the reader’s common sense even as we must use common sense when studying the Bible. Principles do not change; but policies and applications of principles to a particular time and place may change due to changing times and circumstances.37

Common sense is needed when discerning the difference between the common and the sacred. A classic example of confusing the common and the sacred occurred in 1909. A church member believed Mrs. White was in error when she stated in a letter that the Paradise Valley Sanitarium had forty rooms when it had only thirty-eight. To help those confused, she explained:

“The information given concerning the number of rooms in the Paradise Valley Sanitarium was given, not as a revelation from the Lord, but simply as a human opinion. There has never been revealed to me the exact number of rooms in any of our sanitariums; and the knowledge I have obtained of such things I have gained by inquiring of those who were supposed to know. In my words, when speaking upon these common subjects, there is nothing to lead minds to believe that I receive my knowledge in a vision from the Lord and am stating it as such. . . . For one to mix the sacred with the common is a great mistake. . . .

“There are times when common things must be stated, common thoughts must occupy the mind, common letters must be written and information given that has passed from one to another of the workers. Such words, such information, are not given under the special inspiration of the Spirit of God. Questions are asked at times that are not upon religious subjects at all, and these questions must be answered. We converse about houses and lands, trades to be made, and locations for our institutions, their advantages and disadvantages. I receive letters asking for advice on many strange subjects, and I advise according to the light that has been given me.”38


Extrinsic Sources in Relating Visions

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Occasionally Ellen White used either material she had been reading or interesting incidents in the recent past to add force to the message she sought to convey. Recent events obviously were on her mind even as they are on the minds of uninspired people. They are a part of the mental process and all use them to connect the known to the unknown. At times God could get the prophet’s attention and make His message most forceful in a vision by linking it to some recent event.

An example of this event-linkage is the tragedy of a New Zealand undertow that swept three swimmers to their death and a heart-wrenching appeal she made to her son, Edson.39 Another example took place in 1903 when the denomination was involved in the serious pantheism crisis. Not long before she was given a vision that would prove enormously helpful, she had read in the newspaper about a ship meeting an iceberg in a fog. In the vision, the iceberg analogy was instructive: “Well I knew the meaning of this representation. I had my orders. I had heard the words, like a living voice from our Captain, ‘Meet it!’ I knew what my duty was, and that there was not a moment to lose. . . . This is why you received the testimonies when you did.”40

Obviously the Lord, in giving His visions, might use knowledge and ideas that prophets had earlier discovered through reading or experience.41 Otherwise, God would be making a fax machine out of the prophet’s mind.

We should have no doubt regarding the inspiration of the Bible. It has survived intense scrutiny and skepticism for centuries. When we study how Biblical authors did their work, we find that they occasionally borrowed from other writers, without informing their readers about the practice.42

Several examples can be cited to show that Ellen White also borrowed language from other authors when she related her visions. This practice is what we would expect when prophets use their own experience and frame of reference in describing what they have seen in visions or dreams.

Through the years, Mrs. White used the phrase, “I saw” and “I was shown” when relating her visions or dreams.43 In her earlier ministry, she used these phrases frequently because she was primarily speaking or writing for believers. But in later years, when some of these visions were republished for the general public, these phrases were deleted—for obvious reasons.


Two Ways to Understand

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These two phrases may be understood in two ways: Prophets either actually saw with their own eyes or heard with their own ears what they later related; or, prophets “were led by the Holy Spirit to understand that certain concepts were true even apart from a vision. In any case, the expression always means that what was written was written under the inspiration of the Spirit of God.”44

Everyone has had the experience of quoting another person, whether in a letter or a conversation. To hold the interest of hearers or readers, one quotes “the main points” in order to avoid a tedious recitation.

But often the person quoted will appeal: “That isn’t what I meant!” Or, “That is not the way I said it!” The excerpt, the condensed quotation, may be exactly what was said—but without the setting and context of the original comment it may take on a life of its own without conveying the original intent.

Our own personal experiences help us as we try to understand Mrs. White more accurately, more fairly. For the sake of space and time, we sometimes quote only a portion of an Ellen White letter, diary entry, or manuscript. The quotation may be clearly understood, but often it lacks her warmth, affection, earnestness, and generous spirit because the surrounding context is missing. In fact, sometimes she may appear abrupt, even harsh, in partially quoted letters or sermons. Only when the entire letter is read do we get her full mood and purpose.45

The safest method for understanding oft-quoted authors is to relive their circumstances and feel their concern when they wrote. To best understand Ellen White’s messages, we must remember how her contemporaries understood her. They were assured of her honest candor, her generous spirit, her warmheartedness, and her overarching commitment to conveying the messages from God undiluted by human sympathies. Most received her admonitions—sometimes cutting reproof—with the confidence that she was an earnest “mother” as well as a correct disciplinarian. Those who rejected her messages lived either to regret their stubbornness or to watch her predictions come true in their lives.


Visions Not a Substitute for Bible Study

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In the 1850s, opponents of Seventh-day Adventists ridiculed their doctrines as “vision views.” James White responded by pointing to the fact that every doctrine is Bible based and sustained by Biblical arguments: “The revival of any, or of all the gifts, will never supersede the necessity of searching the Word to learn the truth. . . . It is not God’s plan to lead out His people into the broad field of truth by the gifts. But after His people have searched the Word, if then individuals err from Bible truth, or through strife urge erroneous views upon the honest seekers for truth, then is God’s opportunity to correct them by the gifts. This is in harmony with our entire experience on this subject.”46

In 1874 Uriah Smith, editor of the church paper, responded to a charge by a Sunday-observing Adventist that Seventh-day Adventists base their sanctuary teachings on the visions of Ellen G. White. In his reply, Smith wrote that “works upon the sanctuary are among our standard publications. . . . But in no one of these are the visions referred to as any authority on this subject, or the source from whence any view we hold has been derived. . . . The appeal is invariably to the Bible, where there is abundant evidence for the views we hold on this subject.”47

Throughout her ministry, Ellen White maintained the primacy of the Bible. In 1851 she appealed: “I recommend to you, dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that Word we are to be judged.”48 In 1901: “The Lord desires you to study your Bibles. He has not given any additional light to take the place of His Word. This light [the gift of prophecy] is to bring confused minds to His Word.”49


Ellen White’s Writings Primarily for the Church

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On page 112 we noted how Ellen White and her designated editorial assistants modified her writings when they were printed for the general public. Why? So that no cause for offense would be given to those hearing the distinctive truths of the gospel for the first time. It reflected Paul’s principle of reaching people where they are (1 Cor. 9:21-23). References to visions were removed from her earlier writings when republished for the general public. When it became obvious that a book like The Great Controversy should be sold to the general public, and especially in Europe, modifications were made. In the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy, for example, certain references that assumed a knowledge of Millerite history were expanded for a worldwide readership.

Another caution Ellen White gave her co-workers was that ministers should not use her writings in evangelistic meetings to “sustain your positions.” For her, as well as for all Adventists, the Bible must remain “up front” in establishing the main points of the “everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6): “Let none be educated to look to Sister White, but to the mighty God, who gives instruction to Sister White.”50

In the first of the Testimonies, Ellen White admonished fellow believers not to take “an injudicious course” when they talked to unbelievers by reading from a vision “instead of going to the Bible for proof.” Why? Mrs. White saw that “this course was inconsistent, and prejudiced unbelievers against the truth. The visions can have no weight with those who have never seen them, and know nothing of their spirit. They should not be referred to in such cases.”51

This principle of accommodation 52 to the experience level of one’s hearers or readers is illustrated in the ministry of Jesus and of Paul. Many times the Saviour wanted to tell the world, even His disciples, the “whole” truth, but they were not ready for it; premature instruction can arouse resistance and prejudice unnecessarily. Even in His parable instruction to His disciples—to those who knew Him best—Jesus taught them only up to a point, “as they were able to bear it” (Mark 4:33). And only hours before His death, Jesus reminded His disciples that they needed to learn much more but they were not ready: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).

In proclaiming the gospel to the general public, Jesus was even more restrained. Above all, He avoided offense wherever possible. He did not want to prejudice anyone by saying something that would unnecessarily arouse a negative response. He led them from the known to the unknown by beginning with the authorities they already relied on, even to the witness of nature itself. For these reasons, Jesus withheld much of the meaning in His parables when talking to the general public but, when alone with His disciples, He explained the parables more thoroughly (Matt. 13).

Paul had a full head and heart to share with the world. With unbelievers, he would think like a Jew or a Greek or a Lystrian, and talk to them in some winsome, unprejudicial way—holding back many things he was able to share with believers (1 Cor. 9:19-22). But even with believers who were still growing in their experience, Paul said: “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (1 Cor. 3:2).

In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul was developing certain aspects of the Incarnation and why Jesus became man. This information had much to do with a deeper understanding of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. But Paul knew, for some reason of which we are not aware, that his readers were not ready for the larger implications of further truth about Jesus “of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. You . . . need milk and not solid food. . . . Solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:11-14).

Ellen White’s experience was the same as that of Christ and Paul: She had the truth, so much so that it burned within her soul, but she could not release it all at once. Teachers can go only as far as their listeners can share basic assumptions. Prophets must be astute and wise in how they present unfolding truth. Even for believers who know something of the working of the Spirit of God, teachers and prophets must use Paul’s careful respect for the hearers’ level of experience—only as they were “able to receive it.”


Endnotes

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1. Letter 84, 1909, cited in Selected Messages, book 3, p. 71.

2. Letter 86, 1906, to George Butler, cited in MR, vol. 10, p. 343.

3. Bio., vol. 5, p. 355; “It is not right for you to suppose I am striving to be first, striving for leadership. . . . I want it to be understood that I have no ambition to have the name of leader, or any other name that may be given to me, except that of a messenger of God. I claim no other name or position. My life and works speak for themselves.”—Letter 320, 1905 to J. H. Kellogg, in MR, vol. 5, p. 439.

4. “Why have I not claimed to be a prophet? Because in these days many who boldly claim that they are prophets are a reproach to the cause of Christ; and because my work includes much more than the word prophet signifies.”—Review and Herald, July 26, 1906, cited in Selected Messages, book 1, p. 32.

5. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 34.

6. Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 661. “The Holy Ghost is the author of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of Prophecy.”—Letter 92, 1900, cited in Selected Messages, book 3, p. 30.

7. The Great Controversy, p. vii.

8. Letter 69, 1896, cited in Selected Messages, book 3, p. 30.

9. Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 665. See Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 29-33

10. Letter 10, 1895, cited in Selected Messages, book 1, p. 37. See p. 376.

11. “The truths of redemption are capable of constant development and expansion. Though old, they are ever new, constantly revealing to the seeker for truth a greater glory and a mightier power. In every age there is a new development of truth, a message of God to the people of that generation. The old truths are all essential; new truth is not independent of the old, but an unfolding of it. It is only as the old truths are understood that we can comprehend the new. . . . He who rejects or neglects the new, does not really possess the old.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 127, 128.

12. Letter 117, 1910, cited in Selected Messages, book 3, p. 32. “God has . . . promised to give visions in the ‘last days’; not for a new rule of faith, but . . . to correct those who err from Bible truth.”—Ibid., p. 29. “Besides the instruction in His Word, the Lord has given special testimonies to His people, not as a new revelation, but that He may set before us the plain lessons of His Word, that errors may be corrected, that the right way may be pointed out, that every soul may be without excuse.”—Letter 63, 1893, cited in Ibid., p. 31. See also Early Writings, p. 78.

13. “Error could not stand alone, and soon would become extinct, if it did not fashion itself like a parasite upon the tree of truth. The traditions of men, like floating germs, attach themselves to the truth of God, and men regard them as part of the truth. . . . And as traditions pass on from age to age, they acquire a power over the human mind. But age does not make error truth.”—Letter 43, 1895, cited in SDABC, vol. 5, p. 1094.

14.“Great truths that have lain unheeded and unseen since the days of Pentecost are to shine from God’s Word in their native purity. To those who truly love God the Holy Spirit will reveal truths that have faded from the mind, and will also reveal truths that are entirely new.”—Review and Herald, Aug. 17, 1897.

“As the end approaches, the testimonies of God’s servants will become more decided and more powerful, flashing the light of truth upon the systems of error and oppression that have so long held the supremacy. The Lord has sent messages for this time to establish Christianity upon an eternal basis, and all who believe present truth must stand, not in their own wisdom, but in God, and raise up the foundations of many generations.”—Letter 1f, 1890, cited in Selected Messages, book 3, p. 407.

“Gems of thought are to be gathered up and redeemed from their companionship with error; for by their misplacement in the association of error, the Author of truth has been dishonored. The precious gems of the righteousness of Christ, the truths of divine origin, are to be carefully searched out and placed in their proper setting, to shine with heavenly brilliancy amid the moral darkness of the world. Let the bright jewels of truth which God gave to man, to adorn and exalt His name, be carefully rescued from the rubbish of error, where they have been claimed by those who have been transgressors of the law, and have served the purpose of the great deceiver on account of their connection with error. Let the gems of divine light be reset in the framework of the gospel.”—Review and Herald, Oct. 23, 1894, p. 1.

“If we do our very best to present the truth in its stirring character, crossing the opinions and ideas of others, it will be misinterpreted, misapplied, and misstated, to those who are entertaining error, in order to make it appear in an objectionable light. There are few to whom you bring the truth, who have not been drinking of the wine of Babylon. It is hard for them to comprehend the truth, therefore the necessity of teaching it as it is in Jesus.”—Ibid., June 3, 1890, p. 338.

15. Bio., vol. 1, pp. 137-151, 187-194, 208, 264, 265.

16. Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 31, 32. An illustration of this Bible study/Spirit-affirming development of doctrine is found in Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 86: “Our first conference in New York was held at Volney, in a brother’s barn. About thirty-five were present—all that could be collected in that part of the state. But of this number, hardly two were agreed. Some were holding serious errors, and each strenuously urged his own views, declaring that they were according to the Scriptures.

“These strange differences of opinion brought a heavy weight upon me, as it seemed to me that God was dishonored; and I fainted under the burden. Some feared that I was dying; but the Lord heard the prayers of His servants, and I revived. The light of heaven rested upon me, and I was soon lost to earthly things. My accompanying angel presented before me some of the errors of those present, and also the truth in contrast with their errors. These discordant views which they claimed to be according to the Bible were only according to their opinion of the Bible, and they must yield their errors and unite upon the third angel’s message. Our meeting closed triumphantly. Truth gained the victory. The brethren renounced their errors, and united upon the third angel’s message, and God greatly blessed them and added to their numbers.”

17. Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 297.

18. “In the early days of the message, when our numbers were few, we studied diligently to understand the meaning of many Scriptures. At times it seemed as if no explanation could be given. My mind seemed to be locked to an understanding of the Word; but when our brethren who had assembled for study came to a point where they could go no farther, and had recourse to earnest prayer, the Spirit of God would rest upon me, and I would be taken off in vision, and be instructed in regard to the relation of Scripture to Scripture. These experiences were repeated over and over and over again. Thus many truths of the third angel’s message were established, point by point. Think you that my faith in this message will ever waver? Think you that I can remain silent, when I see an effort being made to sweep away the foundation pillars of our faith? I am as thoroughly established in these truths as it is possible for a person to be. I can never forget the experience I have passed through. God has confirmed my belief by many evidences of His power.”—Review and Herald, June 14, 1906, p. 8. At least six accounts of these Sabbath-Sanctuary Conferences exist: Spiritual Gifts, Vol. II, pp. 47-49; Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 75-87; Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 24-26; Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 206, 207; MR, vol. 3, pp. 412-414; Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, pp. 340-348.

19. Letter 66, 1897, cited in Selected Messages, book 3, p. 84; see also Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 136. Such have “insulted God”—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 64; are “fighting against God”— Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 234; and “are doing as the children of Israel did again and again.”—Selected Messages, book 3, p. 70.

20. For examples, think of Stephen Smith (Bio., vol. 1, pp. 490-492); B. F. Snook and W. H. Brinkerhoff, Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 416, 473; vol. 2, pp. 23, 44, 146-151; J. M. Stephenson and D. P. Hall, Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 310-315, 323, 332, 336; Moses Hull, Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 53-58, 63, 65, 67, 74; Dudley Canright, Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 152, 153, 263-267, 290, 360; S. McCullagh, Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 275-286, 453.

21. Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 672.

22. Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 154. “I realize that some are watching keenly for some words which have been traced by my pen and upon which they can place their human interpretations in order to sustain their positions and to justify a wrong course of action—when I think of these things, it is not very encouraging to continue writing.”—Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 82, 83. “Sinful indulgences are cherished, the Testimonies are rejected, and many excuses which are untrue are offered to others as the reason for refusing to receive them. The true reason is not given. It is a lack of moral courage—a will, strengthened and controlled by the Spirit of God, to renounce hurtful habits.”— Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 675; see also vol. 4. p. 32.

23. Selected Messages, book 3, p. 82.

24. Ibid., p. 68.

25. Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 691. “My Instructor said to me, Tell these men that God has not committed to them the work of measuring, classifying, and defining the character of the testimonies. Those who attempt this are sure to err in their conclusions.”—Selected Messages, book 1, p. 49.

26. “The light that I have received, I have written out, and much of it is now shining forth from the printed page. There is, throughout my printed works, a harmony with my present teaching.”—Review and Herald, June 14, 1906, p. 8. “While I am able to do this work, the people must have things to revive past history, that they may see that there is one straight chain of truth, without one heretical sentence, in that which I have written.”—Letter 329a, 1905, cited in Selected Messages, book 3, p. 52.

27. See p. 256.

28. See p. 112 regarding the magazine articles (primarily the Signs of the Times) that she prepared for the general public.

29. Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 669.

30. Ibid., p. 654. “Through His Holy Spirit the voice of God has come to us continually in warning and instruction, to confirm the faith of the believers in the Spirit of prophecy. Repeatedly the word has come, Write the things that I have given you to confirm the faith of my people in the position they have taken. . . . The instruction that was given in the early days of the message is to be held as safe instruction to follow in these its closing days. Those who are indifferent to this light and instruction must not expect to escape the snares which we have been plainly told will cause the rejecters of light to stumble, and fall, and be snared, and be taken.”—Review and Herald, July 18, 1907, p. 8.

31. Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 683.

32. Ibid., pp. 686, 687.

33. Australian Union Conference Record, July 28, 1899, p. 8.

34. General Conference Bulletin, June 3, 1909, p. 292.

35. See pp. 16, 120, 173, 375, 376, 421 for a discussion on the difference between verbal and thought inspiration; see Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 15-26.

36. Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1867, p. 260.

37. “Regarding the testimonies, nothing is ignored; nothing is cast aside; but time and place must be considered. Nothing must be done untimely.”—Selected Messages, book 1, p. 57. See pp. 395-397.

38. Ibid., pp. 38, 39.

39. Bio., vol. 4, pp. 94-97.

40. Ibid., vol. 5, p. 301.

41. Ronald Graybill, “The ‘I saw’ Parallels in Ellen White’s Writings,” Adventist Review, July 29, 1982, p. 4.

42. Ibid. See p. 378 for further discussion about inspired authors who “borrow” language from non-canonical writers.

43. Ronald Graybill, “The ‘I saw’ Parallels,” Adventist Review, July 29, 1982, p. 5.

44. “It is important to recognize that although Mrs. White sometimes recorded the exact words of her angel-guide in quotation marks, often she merely reported the gist of what was said to her in vision, reconstructing the words of the angel as best she could recall them, placing them in the form of direct address and enclosing them in quotation marks.”—Ibid., p. 5.

45. See p. 394.

46. Review and Herald, Feb. 26, 1856, p. 172.

47. Review and Herald, Dec. 22, 1874. “Though Ellen White received confirming visions at the time of the doctrinal discussions and following . . . Adventists consistently made their final appeal to Scripture.”—Paul A. Gordon, The Sanctuary, 1844, and the Pioneers (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1983), p. 29.

48. Early Writings, p. 78.

49. Letter 130, 1901, cited in Selected Messages, book 3, p. 29; see Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 604-609.

50. Letter 11, 1894, cited in Selected Messages, book 3, p. 30.

51. Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 119, 120.

52. See George Reid, “Is the Bible Our Final Authority?” —Ministry, Nov., 1991, p. 9.


Study Questions

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1. What significance do you see in Ellen White’s choice of the term “messenger” rather than “prophet” to describe her ministry?

2. What are some of the “floating” theological germs of conventional Christianity that Ellen White felt compelled to reject?

3. With what doctrines does the Seventh-day Adventist Church replace those “germs” ?

4. Why did Ellen White say that her writings, especially the Testimonies, were written primarily for church members?

5. How could the apostle Paul and Ellen White write letters of counsel without a vision prompting such letters?

6. How do some, even today, make of “none effect” the writings of Ellen White? What is the safest barrier that we can erect to keep from “rejecting” the authority of Ellen White?

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