Chapter 3

Characteristics of the Prophets

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Prophets Share Common Characteristics
Tests of a Genuine Prophet
1. The Test of Fulfilled Predictions
2. Agreement With the Bible
3. The Orchard Test
4. Unequivocal Witness to the Divine-human Nature of Jesus Christ
Physical Manifestations
Timeliness of the Prophet's Messages
Heroic and Unequivocal Witnessing
Practical Counsel, Not Abstractions, Characterized Their Ministry
Weight of Evidence
Can All Be Prophets?
Prophets Not Always Aware of the Full meaning
A Contrast Between the True and False
Physical Phenomena Often Provide Coercive Evidence
The 1840s a Turbulent Period for Prophetic Claims

William Foy and Hazen Foss
God Reveals Himself Through Prophets in Times of Crisis
Ellen White Appeared at the Time of Great Distress
Study Questions

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15). “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:19-21).

For many reasons each prophet is “one-of-a-kind.” Life experiences and their own specific mission at a specific time in history shape products into an unrepeatable configuration of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual capabilities. Thus, even prophets may look at their prophetic calling in a different sense than other prophets would. Kenneth H. Wood pictured it well: “Making two cookies exactly alike is one thing; making two prophets just alike is quite another. In making a prophet, God must take the entire person—body, soul, spirit, intelligence, personality, weaknesses, strengths, education, idiosyncrasies—then endeavor through that person to proclaim His message and accomplish a special mission.”1

Because of these individual differences and because each prophet was called to address a particular audience at a specific time in history (much of which is difficult, if not impossible, to reconstruct), the reader of the Bible as well as the writings of Ellen G. White could not do better than to focus on the message rather than on the messenger.

The authority of revelation is in the message, not in the messenger. This is not to minimize the value of studying the prophet’s life. The more we know, the better we will understand the prophet’s message. But the priority of concern should be on the content of the prophet’s contribution, not on the container in which the message is carried.

Prophets Share Common Characteristics

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Prophets assume their prophetic duties with a unique mix of life experiences coupled with an individualized personality shaped by their physical and mental limitations. Yet when in vision they are all in an “unnatural” state. What do we know about the changed characteristics of a prophet or prophetess in vision?

Balaam, though he had grave spiritual difficulties, was still used by God in Israel’s behalf. His experience in vision is enlightening: “And Balaam raised his eyes, and saw Israel encamped according to their tribes; and the Spirit of God came upon him. Then he took up his oracle and said:

“‘The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor, The utterance of the man whose eyes are opened, The utterance of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Who falls down with eyes opened wide’” (Num. 24:2-4).

Daniel’s experience, too, is instructive. First, his public visions: “I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision [Others did not see what Daniel saw]; but a great terror fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves.

“Therefore I was left alone when I saw this great vision, and no strength remained in me; for my vigor was turned to frailty in me, and I retained no strength [Others could see how the phenomenon affected Daniel].

“Yet I heard the sound of his words; and while I heard the sound of his words I was in a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground [Daniel experienced what appeared to be a deep sleep while lying on the ground].

“Then, suddenly, a hand touched me, which made me tremble on my knees and on the palms of my hands. And he said to me, ‘O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.’ While he was speaking this word to me, I stood tremblingly [Daniel was aware of a Divine Presence speaking to him]. . . .

“When he had spoken such words to me, I turned my face toward the ground and became speechless. And suddenly, one having the likeness of the sons of men touched my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke, saying to him who stood before me, ‘My lord, because of the vision my sorrows have overwhelmed me, and I have retained no strength. For how can this servant of my lord talk with you, my lord? [Daniel spoke with the Divine Presence.]

“As for me, no strength remains in me now, nor is any breath left in me.’ [Daniel could not breathe.]

“Then again, the one having the likeness of a man touched me and strengthened me” (Dan. 10:7-11, 15-18). [Daniel was given extra physical strength.]

Daniel also had night visions or dreams: “In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head while on his bed. Then he wrote down the dream, telling the main facts” (chap. 7:1). [Daniel received divine communication during his sleep.]

We do not know why prophets/prophetesses had both public (or open) visions and night visions or dreams. But we do know that the prophet/prophetess made no distinction between them as to their significance and authority.2

Ezekiel probably provides more information regarding how visions affect prophets and prophetesses than any other Biblical writer. At times he was taken to distant places in vision although his physical body did not “travel.” While in vision in faraway places, what he saw was as vivid and real as if he were physically present.

Though Ezekiel remained in Babylon, God showed him the woeful conditions in Jerusalem: “The hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. . . . He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my hair; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes to jealousy. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain” (chap. 8:1-4).

Further in the chapter, Ezekiel graphically described the corrupt conditions prevailing in the temple system in Jerusalem. Though still in Babylon, he walked in vision through the temple court, dug into the temple wall, heard conversations, and saw various groups in abominable idolatry. In chapter nine, he even saw future events, especially the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, was given a vision that provides further insight into the condition of a prophet in vision: “An angel of the Lord appeared to him, 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 to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. . . . And Zacharias said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.’ [Zacharias conversed with the heavenly Presence.] “And the angel answered and said to him, ‘I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time. And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless” (Luke 1:11-13, 18-22). [Zacharias was physically affected by his vision experience.]

When Saul met the Lord on the Damascus road, his whole life was changed as well as his name. Note the circumstances involved in this roadside vision: “And as he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So he, trembling and astonished, said, ‘Lord, what do You want me to do?’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’ And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one” (Acts 9:3-7). [Saul, too, after conversing with the divine Presence, was physically affected by his vision experience.]

Later, he spoke of being “caught up to the third heaven . . . into Paradise and heard inexpressible words” (2 Cor. 12:2-4).

The apostle John recorded one of his visions and how it affected him physically: “When I saw Him [Jesus], I fell at His feet as dead” (Rev. 1:17).

What do these examples teach us about prophets during their vision experiences?

1. Prophets are very aware of a supernatural Person communicating with them; they have a sense of worthlessness.

2. Prophets often lose their strength.

3. Prophets at times fall to the ground in a deep sleep.

4. Prophets hear and see events in faraway places, as if they are actually present.

5. Prophets at times are unable to speak, but when their lips are touched, they are able to speak.

6. Prophets often do not breathe.

7. Prophets are oblivious to their surroundings though often their eyes are open.

8. Prophets at times are given extra strength while in vision.

9. Prophets receive renewed strength and breath when the vision is over.

10. Prophets occasionally experience temporary physical trauma following the vision.

Not all of these physical characteristics accompany each vision. Thus, physical phenomena should not be used as the sole test of whether a prophet is genuine. Moreover, they can be easily counterfeited. The Scriptures do not present them as tests. However, the presence of such characteristics should be considered normal for anyone who indeed claims to “speak for God.” Though physical aspects are helpful in considering a prophet’s credentials, other criteria are much more reliable, as we shall now observe.

Tests of a Genuine Prophet

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In applying “tests” as Paul admonishes us (1 Thess. 5:20), we should remember Christ’s warning: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:15).

When testing the claims of a prophet, it is much easier to make a judgment after sufficient time has passed for the fruit of his or her ministry to ripen. This may have been the reason Josiah’s counselors went to the mature Huldah rather than to young Jeremiah (see pages 31, 32). One can only imagine the carefulness of trust required by contemporaries during the time prophets were establishing their prophetic role. Consequently, the affirmation of contemporaries who knew the prophet and his or her ministry should be prime witnesses to the prophet’s credibility or lack of it.

But which contemporaries should one believe? Consider Christ’s experience. How many church leaders and scholars accepted Him? Some said that His miracles were caused by “Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Luke 12:24). His brothers, who lived closely with Him for many years, did not, at first, believe in Him (John 7:5). His disciples “murmured” often regarding His teachings (John 6:61), and forsook Him after Gethsemane (Mark 14:50).

Jesus warned His contemporaries that they were in danger of repeating the mistakes of earlier generations: “How terrible for you! You make fine tombs for the prophets—the very prophets your ancestors murdered. You yourselves admit, then, that you approve of what your ancestors did; they murdered the prophets, and you build their tombs. For this reason the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and messengers; they will kill some of them and persecute others.’ So the people of this time will be punished for the murder of all the prophets killed since the creation of the world. . . .

“When Jesus left that place, the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees began to criticize him bitterly and ask him questions about many things, trying to lay traps for him and catch him saying something wrong” (Luke 11:47-54, TEV).

If Jesus, the unimpeachable Man, the paradigm of virtue, faced this kind of reception, what should lesser men or women with the prophetic gift expect? One wonders why anyone would accept the responsibility when getting a fair hearing is so difficult!

But some did believe! Why? On what rational basis did some contemporaries of Jeremiah gradually become convinced that he was a genuine prophet? A few definite guidelines were needed because many self-styled prophets in his day claimed the same authority. Listen to the Lord describe this strange situation: “The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart” (Jer. 14:14; see also 5:13, 31; 14:18; 23:21).

Every age has had the same responsibility: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:19-21).

1. The Test of Fulfilled Predictions3

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Jeremiah’s contemporaries were instructed to use the benchmark of “fulfilled predictions” as one of the tests of a genuine prophet: “As for the prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent” (Jer. 28:9).4

Making predictions, or foretelling, is only one aspect of a prophet’s work. In fact, it may be only a minor phase. We often think of Daniel and John the Revelator in terms of their prophecies. However, their work as God’s “forth-tellers” was even more important than being God’s “fore-tellers.” Both John the Baptist and Moses were “great” prophets, but for reasons other than their fulfilled prophecies.

In contemplating “fulfilled predictions” we also must understand the principle of conditional prophecy. Jeremiah helps us to understand this principle, as he reports the Lord’s conversation with him: “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it” (Jer. 18:7-10).

Conditional prophecy, or controlled uncertainty, is a Biblical principle applied to statements of a predictive nature that concern or involve the responses of human beings. Whenever an unfolding of events depends upon human choice, certain aspects of prophetic fulfillment are necessarily conditional.

An unnamed prophet emphasized this principle to aging Eli: “Therefore the Lord God of Israel says: ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the Lord says: ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house’” (1 Sam. 2:30, 31).

Jonah had to learn this lesson of conditionality the hard way: “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

The experience of young king Josiah, though sad, is another example of conditional prophecy. He had led his people in a remarkable reformation (2 Chron. 34). Because of his faithfulness, the Lord promised, “I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace” (vs. 28). But Josiah did not die in peace, he died in battle! What went wrong? He did not obey God’s instruction. God did not give him orders to attack Egypt. In fact, the king of Egypt sent a special message to Josiah, emphasizing that Josiah’s God was directing Egypt in battle against Babylon: “God is on my side, so don’t oppose me, or he will destroy you” (2 Chron. 35:21, TEV).

Young Josiah should have obeyed God and listened to the confirming voice of Egypt’s king. But no, he disguised himself, led his army into the Battle of Carchemish, and was killed. God’s promise that Josiah would die a peaceful death was conditional upon continual obedience. When faithful leaders go against God’s counsel, choosing to follow personal inclination, God does not save the headstrong from the consequences of their actions.

2. Agreement With the Bible

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Obviously, God does not put conceptual contradictions within His communication system. Neither does He give later prophets an “erase” or “delete” button. The unchangeableness of God will be reflected in His revelations to men and women.5

Isaiah notes that genuine prophets will be tested by their faithfulness to previously written revelations: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (chap. 8:20).

Many are the attempts in every generation to define the “truth” about man’s origin and destiny. Plentiful are the intellectual ventures that try to spell out the “rights” and “wrongs” for human conduct. But the Bible has endured the centuries as the great test for men and women everywhere, under all conditions, as to the truth about human origin and morality. The Bible is not only inspired truth, it is the final standard of any claim to inspiration.

Every successive prophet, in Old or New Testament times, has made all previous prophetic writings the benchmark for his or her own ministry. Each, in a sense, was a lesser light that pointed to the greater light. Paul succinctly summed up this relationship: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

This second test of a prophet’s authenticity is clear and inescapable. Though later prophets reveal additional insights as to God’s thoughts regarding the plan of salvation, they will not contradict the basic concepts already given.

3. The Orchard Test

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The setting for the test of fruitage is found in the Sermon on the Mount, as it deals specifically with “false prophets”: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. . . . Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matt. 7:15-20).

What kind of person do the prophet’s contemporaries see and hear? What is the general tenor of his or her life? Reliable or inconsistent? Worldly or godly? Faithful to commitments or unfaithful? Do his or her teachings exalt the written Word, or do they create new and exotic paths that do not find their basis in the Word? Above all else, Does the prophet reflect accurately the clear, consistent Biblical message? What is the result of the prophet’s leadership? Under his/her guidance, does the work of God prosper in ways that best fulfill the gospel mission? Do others see the prophet’s walk with the Lord as consistent? Do sinners find the Lord through his or her writings?

Unfortunately, through the years many have followed ecstatic, charismatic men and women who have assumed the credentials of a prophet. Great money-chests have been collected and massive religious empires have been created. But we must ask, Does the leader reflect the simple life style exemplified by Biblical prophets and by the Lord Himself? Most times, this test quickly categorizes self-promoted “prophets” as pretenders.

Unlike the first two tests, the orchard test often takes time; “fruit” develops slowly. But careful evaluation of results flowing from the “prophet’s” ministry is as necessary as the first two tests. What may appear to be Biblical, and what may be argued as “fulfilled predictions,” may, in the long run, prove to be otherwise. The most valid test for authentic prophets is seen in the consequences of their teachings. Do they turn minds and conduct Godward so that the life pattern reflects the spirit and practice of Jesus? Do their theological teachings show simplicity while maintaining the fullness of the written Word? Or, do their teachings create “new” doctrines not rooted in Scripture?

Prophets, of course, are human. Moses was a prophet who spoke with God “face to face” (Ex. 33:11), but his prophetic gift did not guarantee that he would not make mistakes. Because of his lack of patience, he was not permitted to enter the Promised Land, a prize worthy of his long and courageous leadership.

Many other Biblical examples could be noted to show that the prophetic container, at times, has been subject to the weaknesses of humanity. But the content transcends the container. The prophetic message is self-authenticating; the messenger is appreciated but not canonized.

Further, even though the prophet’s message is precisely what God wants communicated, his/her own ministry may not appear to make a positive impact. Think of the heroic but “unsuccessful” ministries of Jeremiah and Isaiah. When these men lived, they seemed to be “failures.” But not so today!

Think of Ezekiel’s predicament: “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. And when this comes to pass—surely it will come—then they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Eze. 33:30-33).

Ezekiel was saluted and lauded, but rarely was he followed. Because his contemporaries did not join him in genuine reformation, was that the prophet’s fault? Does this “failure” show that the consequences of his ministry were negative and unfruitful? What might have been the fruit of his ministry if his listeners had followed his counsel?

Many godly men and women, consistent and faithful to their calling and to the highest Biblical standards, have been church leaders through the centuries. But their fruitful lives did not prove that they were prophets. The tests of a prophet are cumulative in the sense that all the tests must apply; but without the test of “good fruit,” all the other tests should be suspect.

4. Unequivocal Witness to the Divine-human Nature of Jesus Christ

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John offered one further test of a genuine prophet: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (1 John 4:1-3).

As we said in chapter 1, the Gospel is not about Jesus, the Gospel is Jesus. But during the last twenty centuries the world has rarely heard the truth about Jesus. Hence, a muddled and vague gospel.

John’s test is not that the prophet should merely agree that Jesus of Nazareth once lived on earth. Most Christians believe that, even though many do not believe that He is God incarnate. Many others believe that He is indeed God in the flesh but that He did not become truly man, as man is “in the flesh.”

John saw the problem in his day, and his warning is even more relevant today. The whole truth about why Jesus came, why He became our Saviour and Example, why He died and now serves as our High Priest—all this is involved in this test of a genuine prophet. This acknowledgment of Jesus “in the flesh” is more than an intellectual assent. Jesus is not our Lord if we do not submit to His Lordship. Jesus is not our Saviour if we do not let Him save us from our sins (Matt. 1:21). Actions reveal the genuineness of personal commitment. And correct knowledge helps us to make quality commitments that enable us to produce actions that honor God.

So the test: Does the prophet teach the whole truth about the purpose of Christ’s coming “in the flesh”?

Physical Manifestations

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As we noted earlier (page 28), certain physical phenomena are associated with Biblical prophets while in vision. Although these manifestations can be duplicated by the wrong “spirit,” when combined with the preceding tests they add to the coercive evidence that a prophet is genuine.

Timeliness of the Prophet’s Messages

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We have already seen that the “fruit” of the prophet’s ministry often takes time to “ripen.” However, many were the occasions when the prophet changed the course of history by being the right person for the right time in the right place with the right message.

Think of Elisha and the king of Syria as recorded in 2 Kings 6. The Syrian king was determined to invade Israel. He set up ambushes here and there. But Elisha kept the king of Israel informed regarding these ambushes, and the record says that Israel’s king “was watchful there, not just once or twice” (vs. 10).

The Syrian king was exasperated and was confident that he had spies among his counselors—after all, his most secret strategies were known almost immediately by his enemy. But one of his counselors knew what was happening: “Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom” (vs. 12).

For a prophet’s contemporaries, the prophet’s prompt and precise intervention by personal presence or written communication is compelling affirmation of his or her divine credentials.

Heroic and Unequivocal Witnessing

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Numerous are the Biblical examples of fearless witnessing by faithful, authentic prophets. Nathan gave heavy-duty condemnation to David, his king (2 Sam. 12).

Elijah confronted Ahab, his king (not easy work). Note his response to Ahab’s question: “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17). Answer: “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals” (vs. 18). Timely and fearless!

Coupled with the other tests, unequivocal witnessing is an essential part of a genuine prophet’s ministry.

Practical Counsel, Not Abstractions, Characterize Their Ministry

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The writings of genuine prophets are known for their intense practicality. Note Christ’s Sermon on the Mount or any of Paul’s letters to young churches. Compared to religious writings generally, the Bible is in a class by itself. Not merely because of the subject matter, but because the Biblical prophets speak to the human condition. Not theory but practical admonition, even when talking about theological aspects of who Jesus is, why He came, and what He is now doing!

One characteristic of many false prophets is their appeal to the mysterious, to the lure for novelty. For some reason, people are inclined to follow religious leaders who attract them with fanciful prophetic interpretations or with involved theological fantasies.

But the genuine prophet speaks to “common” people, to people with practical problems who need practical solutions and comfort. Without this emphasis, the “prophet” lacks divine credentials.

Weight of Evidence

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In summary, when a person has all the above characteristics and meets the above tests, the “weight of evidence” seems compelling, adequate, and coercive. Undergirding all these observable tests, however, the highest test of a prophet’s credentials is his or her message: Does it square with all previous prophetic messages as it speaks in perhaps fuller terms to the urgency of the prophet’s day?

Can All Be Prophets?

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The prophetic calling is not a career that one may study for, such as elementary school teaching or the practice of law. Prophets are chosen by God. Men and women should seek the fruits of the Spirit, but the gifts of the Spirit are just that—gifts.6

But the Bible also refers to the “sons of the prophets” and the “company of prophets,” especially in the days of Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha.7 It seems that Samuel inaugurated the “school of the prophets” to educate teachers to assist parents in the training of their children for lifelong usefulness and service. Though not directly inspired as was Samuel, the young men in these schools were “divinely called to instruct the people in the works and ways of God.”8

The question as to whether all can be prophets becomes exceedingly practical. On one occasion Ellen White was asked: “Do you think we must understand the truth for ourselves? Why can we not take the truths that others have gathered together, and believe them because they have investigated the subjects, and then we shall be free to go on . . . ? Do you not think that these men who have brought out the truth in the past were inspired of God?”

Her answer is instructive: “I dare not say they were not led of God, for Christ leads into all truth; but when it comes to inspiration in the fullest sense of the word, I answer, No.”9

The issue is not concerning the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit that all committed believers should experience daily. Paul faced a similar issue in 1 Corinthians 12, and he asked: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” (vs. 29). The answer implied was “No.”

In modern times, “prophetic preaching” is often understood in terms of anyone who seeks to interpret and proclaim the Word of God, especially in terms of social issues. If that preaching or writing is done with special earnestness and drama, the effort is described as a prophetic tone. However, to assert that such proclamation is evidence that one has the gift of the Spirit of prophecy would be wrong. All the tests of the genuine prophet must be applied.

Jack Provonsha, long-time professor of Christian Ethics at Loma Linda University, pointed out three ways in which prophets differ from others of God’s people: (1) Prophets are chosen, “not because their comprehension and transmission would be flawless, but because they are the best vehicle” available; for example, their perceptions are “less skewed by character and experience than others.” (2) Prophets are given a voice because they “command attention”; their contemporaries “see in them someone special, someone different from the ordinary.” (3) Prophets are given “special communications” from God, sometimes in “extraordinary ways,” and other times “in rather ordinary ways, such as thoughts, impressions, and intuitions, which were perceived by the prophet as the prompting of the Spirit.”10

Some have advocated the view that all believers have the gift of prophecy in the sense that each believer has the ability to distinguish between inspired and uninspired writings—that is, their own judgment determines what is inspired and what is not when reading the claims of a genuine prophet. This position is not taught in the Bible.

Prophets Not Always Aware of the Full Meaning

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Peter noted that prophets did not always understand the full meaning of their own writings, especially those that related to future events: “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into” (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

Prophets are not omniscient. Their understanding of truth and duty may develop as more is revealed to them. But, unless they are given special divine aid, even that which is revealed will be understood only within the limited context of their own circumstances and experience.

The principle of progressive, or unfolding, revelation (see page 422) works out in the life of each prophet even as it does from one generation to another. Elijah continued to learn about the character of God as he lived from the experience on Mount Carmel to Horeb’s cave (1 Kings 18, 19). Isaiah had only a faint idea of how and when the dreadful days he foretold would overtake Israel and Judah. Jeremiah saw much more clearly what Isaiah wrote about.

Not being omniscient, at times prophets make mistakes in judgment and have to change their counsel. King David consulted with the prophet Nathan about building an appropriate Temple in Jerusalem, and Nathan replied, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you” (1 Chron. 17:2). But Nathan had to change his testimony: “It happened that night that the word of God came to Nathan, saying, ‘Go and tell My servant David, “‘Thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not build Me a house to dwell in’”” (vss. 3, 4). The fact that a prophet may change his or her mind regarding a testimony from the Lord makes clear that one who truly seeks God’s will must look at the big picture, and not reject a message because of the humanness of the prophet.

A Contrast Between the True and False

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In view of the great controversy between Christ and Satan, one might expect that Satan would use his brilliant mind to undermine God’s communication system with men and women. This he has done. And false prophets will become even more plentiful in the last days of the final crisis.11

An incident in 1 Kings 22 illustrates certain strategies that Satan uses in trying to subvert the work of true prophets. Ahab, king of Israel, had asked King Jehoshaphat, of the southern kingdom, to join forces with him against the king of Syria. Enthusiastically Jehoshaphat agreed, but then had second thoughts. Feeling the need for confirmation from the Lord, he asked Ahab where a prophet could be asked about the venture. Ahab was prepared with his own prophets, “about four hundred men, and said to them, ‘Shall I go against Ramoth Gilead to fight, or shall I refrain?’ So they said, ‘Go up, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king’” (vs. 6).

But Jehoshaphat sensed something was not right. He could see that these 400 were court prophets. So he asked, “Is there not still a prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of Him?” (vs. 7).

Ahab replied: “There is still one man, Micaiah . . . but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil” (vs. 8).

When they brought Micaiah to join the 400 who had continued to emphasize that the Lord would deliver the Syrians into their hands, he replied, “As the Lord lives, whatever the Lord says to me, that I will speak” (vs. 14).

Ahab asked Micaiah whether they should go to war against the king of Syria. In veiled irony, he replied: “Go and prosper, for the Lord will deliver it into the hand of the king!” (vs. 15).

Ahab picked up the derisive tone and replied, “How many times shall I make you swear that you tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?” (vs. 16).

The rest of the story (vss. 24-28) is a paradigm of how genuine prophets are attacked and ridiculed by those who do not want to hear the truth. Soon after, Ahab was killed in battle, even as Micaiah had predicted.

It is apparent from this incident that lying and deceit are tools of Satan’s trade. He ascertains the desires of men and women, then produces what appears to be religious confirmation for those desires. In other words, men and women usually find the “prophetic” message that their hearts want. One way or another, they will get some kind of “spiritual” affirmation for what they really want to do. If one’s desires cannot be easily affirmed by those who speak for God, self-centered, determined men and women will ridicule and/or attack the genuine prophet.

Jehoshaphat sincerely wanted to hear the message from the true prophet amidst all the other religious voices of his day. Micaiah suffered the abuse of the prison rather than change his testimony. But events proved him right.

Like Jehoshaphat, Christians today must detect the air of deceit and illegitimacy as they listen to the message of those who falsely claim to speak for God. They must quickly know how to apply the tests of a genuine prophet. No one should be confused as to how he or she can determine whether a prophet is false or true.12

Physical Phenomena Often Provide Coercive Evidence

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Before enough time had passed to be judged by the “fruit” of His ministry, Jesus pointed John the Baptist to the physical manifestations that accompanied His ministry. John, in prison, was on the edge of doubt, and sent word to his cousin, Jesus: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3).

Jesus did not send back a simple, “I am.” The Baptist needed more than words. Jesus instructed John’s disciples to “tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (vss. 4-6).

A few years later, after Christ’s ascension, another pivotal moment in God’s plan arrived: How could the good news of Jesus Christ get fair and favorable attention? Could it be done by sheer debate or would it take more? God decided it would take more.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples gathered for prayer as their custom had been since Christ ascended to heaven (Acts 1:14; 2:1). Though they were not aware of it, the Lord was ready to launch the Christian church. How would He do it? By sending physical phenomena with the prophetic word. “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4).

As time passed, physical phenomena became less and less common because the point had been made—the Christian church had been given a dramatic start. These marvelous displays had provided validation to those who saw and heard. The public phenomena ceased when enough time had passed for the fruit of the Christian message to be established.

In many ways the early days of the Advent movement replicated the early days of the Christian church. How else could a relatively few believers get the attention of enough people to launch a movement destined to encircle the world? How else could a prophet get the notice that his or her message deserved unless God accompanied visions with physical phenomena?

The physical phenomena that attracted attention on the Day of Pentecost were not the Christian message, but they did lead people to listen attentively to that message. In the same way, the visible phenomena (divine healings, phenomena associated with public visions, etc.) associated with the early ministry of Ellen White were not, and are not, her message. Nor are they necessarily proof of her divine credentials. But the physical phenomena did get the attention of her contemporaries—and she held that attention until many were convinced that her message was a word from God. As time passed, after thousands were convinced of the fruit of her messages, public visions, accompanied by physical phenomena, became less frequent. Yet God continued to speak to His prophet through night visions. The quality of counsel remained the same, but without the physical phenomena.13

The 1840s a Turbulent Period for Prophetic Claims

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One of the most prominent features of the religious churning of the “restless [eighteen] thirties and forties” is that much of the interest “lay outside the bounds of conventional religion.”14

One of the more striking voices of this religious ferment was that of millennial expectation.15

For a decade or more, North America had been listening to many voices, in the pulpit and in the public press, that the Second Advent was near. But most of the Christian world believed that Jesus would return only after the world had been converted to Christianity. Called post-millenialists (the Second Advent occurs after the 1,000 years of Revelation 20), these Christian leaders looked with disdain on the pre-millenialists (Second Advent occurs before the 1,000-year period) who predicted that Jesus would return in 1843-1844.16

Also, among the many fascinating happenings of the 1840s was the emergence of a number of persons who claimed the prophetic gift. Not all these claimants were pre-millenialists; some were developers of “new” religions; some focused on social experiments. Because bizarre happenings often accompanied these experiments, religious or social, many contemporaries were hostile to charismatic phenomena.17

Looking at this period from Satan’s standpoint, in the light of the Great Controversy Theme (see pages 256-263), would it not be expected that he would muddle events in order to make the acceptance of a genuine prophet more difficult? The book of Revelation makes plain that Satan is aware of the prophetic time-line and the projected end of his own time in the universe. As events continued to take place as divinely predicted, “the devil” will have “great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (chap. 12:12).

Extreme fanaticism and outlandish manifestations associated with false prophets caused sober men and women to look with disgust at anyone who claimed to speak for God. Both post-millennialists and pre-millennialists looked with disdain on the manifestation of the gift of prophecy.18

J. V. Himes, at the 1845 Albany Conference of Millerite leaders, said, “The seventh month movement produced mesmerism seven feet deep.”19 Millerite leaders, at the same conference, voted the following resolution, as reported in The Advent Herald, May 21, 1845: “Resolved, That we have no confidence in any new messages, visions, dreams, tongues, miracles, extraordinary gifts, revelations, impressions, discerning of spirits, or teachings, etc., etc., not in accordance with the unadulterated word of God.”

Furthermore, largely paralleling the rise of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was the development of the Shakers, the Mormon Church, the Christian Scientists, and the emergence of Spiritualism.20

It is notable that each of these modern religious movements was generated by charismatic leaders who claimed the gift of prophecy. Jemina Wilkinson and Ann Lee were early American prophetesses. Lee, best known for “mothering” the Shakers, experienced what appeared to be “trances and visions in which it was revealed to her that the root and foundation of human depravity and the source of all evil was sexual intercourse. . . . During the final four years of her life, ‘Mother Ann’ was reported to have performed miracles which convinced her followers that she was Christ in his ‘second coming.’”21

Young Joseph Smith became very disturbed by the smorgasbord display of religious choices: “‘In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions,’ I often said to myself, ‘what is to be done? Who of all these parties are right? Or are they all wrong together?’”

Soon his prayer was answered by the “appearance” of both the Father and the Son. According to him, they told him that he should not join any denomination, that all were corrupt. After a period of further study, he reported that the angel Moroni had appeared to him and led him to “long-buried gold plates which told the story of a lost tribe of Israel that had inhabited the American continent centuries before.” Later, Smith published the Book of Mormon in 1830.

This new scripture became the Mormons’ authority on most every issue. It declared that “anyone who denies ‘the revelations of God’ and says ‘that they are done away, that there are no revelations, nor prophecies, nor gifts, nor speaking with tongues and interpretation of tongues’ betrays his ignorance and denies ‘the gospel of Christ.’”22

Spiritism, or spiritualism, found its theological roots in the prevailing Christian doctrine of the conscious state of the dead—in hell or heaven. The modern resurrection of this age-old paganism is attributed to Andrew Jackson Davis (1826-1910), the “Poughkeepsie Seer,” and to the audible phenomena at the home of the Fox sisters, near Rochester, N.Y., in 1848. Davis is referred to as the one who introduced “intellectual Spiritualism,” and Katie Fox as the introducer of “phenomenal Spiritualism.”23

William Foy and Hazen Foss

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More relevant to early Seventh-day Adventists are the experiences of William Foy and Hazen Foss. Both had visions similar to the first vision given to Ellen Harmon.

William Ellis Foy (c. 1818-1893), a black American in his early twenties, received several dramatic visions in 1842, several years prior to those received by Hazen Foss and Ellen Harmon. The first one (January 18) lasted two and one-half hours, and the second one (February 4), twelve and one-half hours! His physical condition during the visions resembled Daniel’s trancelike state.24

Sometime before October 22, 1844, Ellen Harmon heard Foy speak in Beethoven Hall in Portland, Maine. A few weeks later, shortly after her first vision in December 1844, Foy was present in a meeting held near Cape Elizabeth, Maine, during which she spoke of her first vision. “As she began, Foy became engrossed in what she was saying; he was caught up in the enthusiasm and pathos that accompanied her presentation. She talked of heavenly things—of guides, of lights, of imagery—things familiar to Foy. . . . Caught up in the jubilance of the moment, he could hold back no longer. All of a sudden, right in the middle of Ellen’s presentation, Foy let out a shout of joy, rose to his feet, and excitedly ‘jumped right up and down.’ As Ellen remembered, ‘Oh, he praised the Lord, praised the Lord.’

“He repeated again and again that her vision was just what he had seen. He knew there was no way to falsify such an experience—hers was legitimate.”25

In 1906 Ellen White recalled her conversations with William Foy. She remembered that he had four visions, all before her first vision: “They were written out and published, and it is . . . [odd] that I cannot find them in any of my books. But we have moved so many times.” And then she gave Foy a very meaningful compliment: “It was remarkable testimonies that he bore.”26

Hazen Foss met Ellen Harmon in January, 1845, at a meeting in Poland, Maine. Here Ellen had been invited by Mary Foss, her sister, to relate her first vision of a month earlier.27

Hazen, Mary’s brother-in-law [Mary was the wife of Samuel Foss], is remembered “as a man of fine appearance, pleasing address, and education.” Prior to October 22, 1844, he had a vision depicting the journey of the Adventists (Millerites) to the city of God. He was instructed to make known this vision along with specific messages of warning, but he declined.

After October 22 he felt that he had been misled by his earlier vision. In his second vision, he was warned that if he was not faithful in relating the first vision, the vision and the responsibility would be taken from him and given to one with much fewer qualifications. He continued to dread the potential ridicule and rejection of his fellow Millerites. Finally he believed he heard a voice saying, “You have grieved away the Spirit of the Lord.”

Frightened by this prospect, he called a meeting to relate the vision. But, after making several unsuccessful attempts to recall it, he declared: “It is gone from me; I can say nothing, the Spirit of the Lord has left me.” Some in attendance reported the meeting as “the most terrible meeting they were ever in.”

After this experience, Hazen met Ellen in Poland, Maine. Though invited into the meeting, he remained outside the closed door, though close enough to hear her message. The next day, he told Ellen: “‘The Lord gave me a message to bear to His people. And I refused after being told the consequences; I was proud; I was unreconciled to the disappointment. . . . I heard you talk last night. I believe the visions are taken from me, and given to you. Do not refuse to obey God, for it will be at the peril of your soul. I am a lost man. You are chosen of God; be faithful in doing your work, and the crown I might have had, you will receive.’”28

God Reveals Himself Through Prophets in Times of Crisis

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God is very compassionate, very caring for His people—especially when He makes Himself known in periods of crisis. The appearance of His prophets is often linked with major crises. Thus, when a prophet appears we should examine the nature of the crisis. And when we study the crisis, we should look for the prophet’s message. Think of the Flood and Noah comes to mind. Israel in Egyptian bondage—Moses. Dire oppression—Deborah, and later Samuel. Dark apostasy—Elijah. Tragic national decline—Isaiah and Jeremiah. Dismal captivity—Daniel and Ezekiel. Birth of the Christian church—Peter and Paul. Restoration of special truth in the last days—Ellen White.

This same kind of divine thoughtfulness was evident on Resurrection Sunday. Two defeated disciples were shuffling off to Emmaus, walking in the dark shadow of a crucifixion (see Luke 24). But the Lord knew their despair and came close to them. He knew that He had allowed their gloom. He would not leave them in their grief and bewilderment.

How did Jesus reveal Himself? First, by leading their minds back to the Scriptures. He helped them to trace the truth that they had only hazily understood. This kind of Bible study provided those early disciples with more stability and Biblical insight than even a miracle could have supplied.

In the 1840s another epochal moment in God’s salvation plan occurred. The end of the longest time prophecy in the Bible was at hand (Dan. 8:14). The occasion was awesome—the Advent was near. But, though much of the world had been hearing the authentic message of the Second Advent, the time of the Advent was based on a wrong interpretation of Daniel’s prophecy.

During the confusion and despair following October 22, 1844, God came close to His people. Through a teenager He encouraged them to restudy the Bible29 and instructed them to hear His comfort and affirmation. Through young Ellen Harmon the perplexity and gloom surrounding the Great Disappointment of October 22 soon changed to hope and courage. Even as the two Emmaus-bound disciples returned to Jerusalem with the joy of present truth, so those early Adventists faced the world again with the joy of present truth.

Ellen White Appeared at the Time of Greatest Distress

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Ellen White had to contend with the prevailing sentiment among Millerite leaders that all charismatic phenomena, such as visions and trances, were to be rejected.30

Equally troubling were the widening divisions and fearsome fanaticisms within the Millerites after October 22, 1844.31

Perhaps even more oppressive was the ridicule of those who had rejected the Millerites before the Disappointment as they observed the humiliation of the disappointed.32

In addition, young Ellen was only a teenager, a very sick girl who could barely speak above a whisper. But in December 1844, God gave her a vision. Who would listen to her, the “weakest of the weak”?

As time went by, the reluctant, self-effacing, unswerving fidelity of Ellen Harmon to be God’s messenger in most forbidding times became the rallying center for earnest Bible students who wanted to know what was right and wrong about October 22, 1844. Even as on the road to Emmaus, Jesus came very close to earnest but puzzled believers in the months following the “magnificent disappointment.”33


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At times, a comparison is made between both the life history and visions of William Foy and Ellen Harmon. Both experienced unsettling spiritual conflicts prior to their visions, both experienced great aversion to relating their visions publicly. Occasionally, both used common phrases of the day, such as “comfort the saints.”

Although a few verbal parallels exist between Foy’s visions and those of Ellen Harmon, there are important dissimilarities in content. In describing the journey of one who had just died as going to heaven in a chariot, Foy makes no mention of the resurrection at the Second Advent, due to his belief in the immortality of the soul. Foy sees a mountain on which were printed in gold letters, “The Father and the Son,” providing a backdrop for the judgment scene. Nothing similar is found in Ellen Harmon’s visions.

Foy and Harmon (White) both describe the tree of life, using common words such as “the fruit looked like clusters of grapes in pictures of pure gold” (Foy), and “the fruit was glorious; it looked like gold mixed with silver” (White). Speaking of eating the fruit, Foy recalled, “the guide then spoke to me and said, ‘Those who eat of the fruit of this tree, return to earth no more.’” White wrote: “I asked Jesus to let me eat of the fruit. He said, ‘Not now. Those who eat of the fruit of this land go back to earth no more.’” In the context, dissimilarities are apparent.

Both refer to a large group of the redeemed, standing in a “perfect square.” Foy wrote that they were “the size of children 10 years of age” and that they sang a “song which the saints and angels could not sing.” For Ellen White, “Here on the sea of glass the 144,000 stood in a perfect square.”

However, if Foy’s visions were authentic and faithfully disclosed, should we not expect similarities and parallels, at least to some extent? But the general conceptual content of Foy’s published visions do not parallel those of Ellen White.34

Some questions exist regarding the Pearsons (John Pearson, Jr., and C. H. Pearson) who published Foy’s pamphlet, The Christian Experience, and “Father” Pearson, who is referred to in Life Sketches, pages 70, 71, and in Testimonies for the Church, volume 1, page 64.

“Father Pearson,” an older leader of the small group of believers in Portland, Maine, opposed those who claimed they were “prostrated” by the Spirit of God—until he and his family had the “experience.”35 James White had worked with “Father” Pearson’s son, John Pearson, Jr., in 1843 and after. John, the son, with Joseph Turner, edited Hope of Israel, an Advent paper, and published William Foy’s pamphlet early in 1845.

It seems clear that if Ellen Harmon’s visions were mere duplications of Foy’s earlier visions, the Pearsons would have been the first to perceive the fraud, especially when Father Pearson had been so sensitive and suspicious regarding visions and other so-called manifestations of the Spirit. Father Pearson believed in the genuineness of William Foy and went on to solidly endorse Ellen Harmon.


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1. Kenneth H. Wood, “Toward an Understanding of the Prophetic Office”—Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, Spring, 1991, p. 21.

2. Moses recorded God’s words regarding the prophetic system, using visions and dreams interchangeably: “If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream” (Num. 12:6).

3. T. H. Jemison was one of the first to categorize these four tests in A Prophet Among You, (Mountain View, CA (g): Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1955), pages 100-112.

4. In this instance Jeremiah was using irony in speaking to the false prophet Hananiah. The principle, however, stands.

5. See Mal. 3:6; James 1:17. Progressive revelation (see page 422) is a term that describes God’s “continuing education” plan. It builds on previous revelation; it does not displace or contradict previous revelation.

6. See pages 2, 3.

7. See 1 Sam. 10:5, 10; 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 5; 4:38; 5:22; 6:1.

8.Education, p. 46.

9.Review and Herald, March 25, 1890. See also Selected Messages, book 3, p. 341, wherein Ellen White had another occasion to clarify the role of a gifted prophet: “These ideas in relation to prophesying, I do not hesitate to say, might better never have been expressed. Such statements prepare the way for a state of things that Satan will surely take advantage of to bring in spurious exercises. There is danger, not only that unbalanced minds will be led into fanaticism, but that designing persons will take advantage of this excitement to further their own selfish purposes.”

10. Jack Provonsha, A Remnant in Crisis (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1993), pp. 57, 58. Applying these principles to Ellen White, Provonsha writes: “Ellen White apparently often ‘heard’ the voice of God speaking to her as she read books in her library. A person who had spent a lifetime as God’s messenger would surely develop unusual sensitivity to such intuitions and might even quite understandably employ, at times, the very words of the authors through which they were presented to her mind—with or without quotation marks.”—Ibid., pp. 58, 59.

11. See Christ’s predictions in Matt. 24:11.

12. Jeremiah records what the Lord has said about “false prophets”: “The prophets and the priests are godless; I have caught them doing evil in the Temple itself. . . . I have seen the prophets in Jerusalem . . . : they commit adultery and tell lies, they help people to do wrong, so that no one stops doing what is evil. . . . ; they are filling you with false hopes. They tell you what they have imagined and not what I have said. . . . None of these prophets has ever known the Lord’s secret thoughts. None of them has ever heard or understood his message, or ever listened or paid attention to what he said. . . . I did not send these prophets, but even so they went. I did not give them any message, but still they spoke in my name. . . . I know what those prophets have said who speak lies in my name and claim that I have given them my messages in their dreams. How much longer will those prophets mislead my people with the lies they have invented? . . . The prophet who has had a dream should say it is only a dream, but the prophet who has heard my message should proclaim that message faithfully. . . . I am against those prophets who take each other’s words and proclaim them as my message. I am also against those prophets who speak their own words and claim they came from me. Listen to what I, the Lord, say! I am against the prophets who tell their dreams that are full of lies. . . . I did not send them or order them to go, and they are of no help at all to the people. I, the Lord, have spoken” (chap. 23:11-32, TEV); see also chap. 28; 29:8, 15-19, 31.

13. Writing later, Ellen White referred to the physical phenomena that played an important part in connection with her early ministry: “Some of the instruction found in these pages was given under circumstances so remarkable as to evidence the wonder-working power of God in behalf of His truth. . . . These messages were thus given to substantiate the faith of all, that in these last days we might have confidence in the Spirit of prophecy.”—Review and Herald, June 14, 1906. See p. 28

14. Winthrop S. Hudson, “A Time of Religious Ferment,” The Rise of Adventism, ed. Edwin S. Gaustad, (New York: Harper & Row, 1974) p. 8.

15. Ernest R. Sandeen wrote that America “was drunk on the millennium.” Cited by Ernest Dick, “The Millerite Movement,” Adventism in America, ed. Gary Land, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986) p. 3; See also Ernest R. Sandeen, “Millennialism,” in The Rise of Adventism, ed. Edwin S. Gaustad (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 104-118; George R. Knight, Millennial Fever (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1993), pp. 1-384.

16. Most all Christians were “post-millennialists,” who believed that Jesus would return after the 1,000-year period of Revelation 20. Their main rationale was that Satan would be bound on this earth by the advance of Christianity throughout the world, that good would overcome evil as the world became more enlightened by the gospel. See Ernest R. Sandeen, “Millennialism,” Gaustad, The Rise of Adventism, pp. 10-118.

17. Harold Bloom, The American Religion (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), pp. 21-75; Hudson, “A Time of Religious Ferment,” in Gaustad, The Rise of Adventism, pp. 1-17; William G. McLoughlin, “Revivalism,” in Gaustad, The Rise of Adventism, pp. 119-150.

18. “Declaration of Principles” in Charles Fitch’s periodical, The Second Advent of Christ (Cleveland, Ohio, June 21, 1843): “We have no confidence whatever in visions, dreams, or private revelations. ‘What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.’ We repudiate all fanaticism, and everything which may tend to extravagance, excess, and immorality, that shall cause our good to be evil spoken of.”

19. James White, “The Gifts of the Gospel Church,” in Review and Herald, April 21, 1851.

20. Hudson, “A Time of Religious Ferment,” in Gaustad, The Rise of Adventism, pp. 9-17.

21. Ibid., p. 10.

22. Ibid., p. 13; H. Shelton Smith, Robert T. Handy, Lefferts A. Loetscher, American Christianity: An Historical Interpretation With Documents (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1963), pp. 80-84.

23. Cited in LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. II (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1965), p. 1069.

24. It is reported that he did not breathe, had significant loss of strength, was not able to speak, etc. Additional background on William Foy may be found in Delbert W. Baker’s The Unknown Prophet (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1987). A Freewill Baptist minister of exceptional abilities, his first vision was related to a Methodist congregation. After this vision, his strong, earnest preaching focused on the nearness of the Advent and preparation for the event. Baker does not agree with the popular opinion that Ellen Harmon later filled the responsibility first given to Foy.

“William Foy served as a spokesman for God to the Advent movement in the pre-Disappointment period, whereas Ellen White became a post-Disappointment prophet. Foy spoke to the early Adventists, assuring them of God’s personal interest, encouraging them on to greater revival and reformation. He brought timely truths to view that would later, if understood, have spared His people the Great Disappointment, or at least prepared them for it. Foy received a limited number of visions with a set objective. He never suggested that his prophetic role would extend past 1844, or that he would receive more visions.

“A misleading generalization that is often made is that if Foy is accepted as a genuine prophet to the Advent movement (pre-Seventh-day Adventist), he must also be a prophet to the Seventh-day Adventist movement for all time remaining. This belief, though understandable, finds no real support.”— Delbert Baker, “William Foy, Messenger to the Advent Believers,” Adventist Review, Jan. 14, 1988.

25. Baker, The Unknown Prophet, pp. 143, 144. See note at end of chapter.

26. Ellen White, “William Foy,” Ellen G. White Estate, Document File 231. Only two of Foy’s visions were published in his The Christian Experience of William E. Foy Together With the Two Visions He Received in the Months of January and February 1842 (Portland, Me.: The Pearson Brothers, 1845). The third is summarized by J. N. Loughborough in Rise and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventists (RPSDA) (Reprinted by Payson, AZ: Leaves-of-Autumn Books, Inc., 1988), p. 71. No information is available as to the contents of the fourth vision.

27. See Robinson, James White, p. 28; see also Bio., vol. 1, p. 71.

28. “Hazen Foss,” in Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, (SDAE), ed. Don F. Neufeld, second revised edition (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), vol, 2, p. 562.

29. Note the Biblical studies of Hiram Edson, O. R. L. Crozier, and F. B. Hahn in late 1844 and early 1845. See Schwarz, Light Bearers, pp. 60-63.

30. Knight, Millennial Fever, p. 273.

31. Everett N. Dick, “The Millerite Movement, 1830-1845,” in Adventism in America, ed. Gary Land (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986), pp. 31-35; Knight, Millennial Fever , pp. 245-293; R. W. Schwarz, Light Bearers to the Remnant (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1979), pp. 56-58.

32. Land, Adventism in America, pp. 29-30; Schwarz, Light Bearers, p. 53; Bio., vol. 1, p. 54.

33. See C. Mervyn Maxwell, Magnificent Disappointment (Boise, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1994).

34. Foy continued to preach for the Freewill Baptists. In the 1860s he settled near East Sullivan, Maine, where he pastored a church and worked his small farm. “‘Elder Foy,’ as he was called, was greatly esteemed and loved in that area; verbal tradition has it that he was friendly and kind, yet of strong convictions. The local history declared Foy an excellent preacher and a skilled pastor.”—Baker, The Unknown Prophet, p. 158. He died at 75 years of age, and was buried near Ellsworth, Maine, where his tombstone may be found in Birch Tree Cemetery.

35. Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 47, 64.

Study Questions

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1. What Biblical examples illustrate the principle of conditional prophecy?

2. Why don’t all believers possess the gift of prophecy?

3. What are some of the common characteristics shared by prophets in their vision experiences?

4. What are the best tests of a genuine prophet or prophetess?

5. What were some of the contemporary circumstances that made it difficult for Ellen Harmon to gain a hearing in 1845?

6. Why is our attitude toward prophets an indication of our attitude toward God?

7. Why do you think physical phenomena are more associated with visions at certain times than at other times?

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