Chapter 5

Messenger, Wife, and Mother

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Ellen White’s Fiftieth Birthday
Messenger Mother
Counsel Given Through a Vision
Endnotes
Study Questions


“Who can find a virtuous wife? . . . The heart of her husband safely trusts her; . . . Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. . . . Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all’” (Prov. 31:10, 11, 25, 28, 29).

During 1845, Ellen Harmon was invited to share her early visions with adventist groups in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. A young preacher, six years older than Ellen, became convinced that her visions were genuine and that her message of encouragement was needed. And so James White entered young Ellen’s life, but not with romantic thoughts—at first.

In fact, for a few months after October 22 he and most others in the fourth group of Millerites mentioned in the last chapter, viewed marriage as a denial of their faith in the soon-coming of Christ. In the Day Star, James condemned a couple who, in announcing their approaching wedding, had “denied their faith in being published for marriage, and we all look upon this as a wile of the Devil. The firm brethren in Maine who are waiting for Christ to come have no fellowship with such a move.”1

But reality and common sense prevailed. James discovered that love was becoming more than a principle! After realizing that his joint ministry with young Ellen, though always chaperoned by her sister Sarah or other faithful friends, was activating gossip, he proposed marriage. Ellen accepted his proposal and they were married by a justice of the peace in Portland, Maine, on August 30, 1846.2

Ellen recalled after James’s death: “It was not over a year before James White talked it over with me. He said something had come up, and he should have to go away and leave me to go with whomsoever I would, or we must be married. He said something had got to be done. So we were married, and have been married ever since. Although he is dead, I feel that he is the best man that ever trod shoe leather.”3

James viewed Ellen as his “crown of rejoicing.”4

L. H. Christian, long-time church leader, recalled a conversation with a woman who, in her early youth, had played together with young Ellen and remembered her sad accident. When Christian asked her what she remembered about Ellen as a young woman, she responded with a smile, “Well, that is an interesting story which I delight to tell. James was older than Ellen by about six years. We were young people there together. Their friendship was a model and an inspiration to us all, and their marriage a most beautiful and happy event.”5

Thus began a remarkable 35-year marriage founded on their mutual love and conviction that Ellen’s visions were of divine origin. Ellen Gould Harmon became Mrs. Ellen G. White, the name by which she is known as the prophetess/ messenger of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The public saw Ellen as the revivalist and James as the organizer. “As man and wife they were a unique and strong gospel team. Their method and division of the work were perfect. Adventists have never had their equal.”6

Even before their marriage James recognized Ellen’s exceptional preaching skills: “Although but sixteen, she was a laborer in the cause of Christ in public and from house to house. She was a decided Adventist, and yet her experience was so rich and her testimony so powerful that ministers and leading men of different churches sought her labors as an exhorter in their several congregations. But at that time she was very timid, and little thought that she was to be brought before the public to speak to thousands.”7

Known for his persistence and sound judgment, James was considered a trusted leader by fellow Seventh-day Adventists. He was not only a strategist, he fought like a warrior in the field. He started the church’s publishing work with nothing, fostered church organization, and developed an educational system when others saw only a dream. His rugged faith and contagious cheer moved audiences. Funds and support emerged. His remarkable business skills saved the denomination from many embarrassments.8

When James White died, the editor of the Battle Creek Journal (who had lived very close to most of White’s enterprises) wrote: “He was a man of the patriarchal pattern, and his character was cast in the heroic mold. If the logical clearness to formulate a creed; if the power to infect others with one’s own zeal, and impress them with one’s own convictions; if the executive ability to establish a sect and to give it form and stability; if the genius to shape and direct the destiny of great communities, be a mark of true greatness, Elder White is certainly entitled to the appellation, for he possessed not one of these qualities only, but all of them in a marked degree.”9

Probably, however, James White would not be admired and remembered today so vividly if he had not been teamed with one who possessed the Spirit of prophecy. L. H. Christian wrote: “Great as was the leadership service of Elder White to the advent cause, his greatest service was his abiding faith in and defense of the Spirit of prophecy. That he—a strong businessman of broad good sense and balanced judgment, absolutely free from fanaticism, always against counterfeit manifestations of religion, and knowing the messenger intimately as his wife—should always stand so staunchly for her calling and work as a messenger from God, gave our members great confidence in her testimonies. . . . He thought of his life mission as an instrument to make known to the church the visions of the Lord given to his companion. These testimonies instructed and reproved him as they did others, but he accepted and followed them implicitly as light from heaven.”10

Messenger and master builder, prophet and apostle, “James and Ellen White were an invaluable team. Ellen shared with James her wisdom based on her revelations; he acted vigorously to implement what she advised and what to him seemed common sense.”11

Ellen White’s role as a loving, loyal wife is well documented. In 1876, while making their home in Oakland, California, Ellen, then 49 years old, felt the need to focus on finishing the second volume of The Spirit of Prophecy, which emphasized the life and work of Christ. James departed alone for Battle Creek to attend a special session of the General Conference.

In a typical note two days after his departure, she wrote (March 24): “We are all well as usual. It takes a little time to get settled down from the excitement of your going. You may be assured we miss you. Especially do we feel the loss of your society when we gather about the fireside evenings. We feel your absence when we sit around the social board [dining table]. But we shall get more used to this after a while. We have been writing today.”12

A few weeks later she wrote a letter that revealed more of her humor as well as her warm relationship with James. Part of the letter reads: “I had written you quite a lengthy letter last night, but the ink was spilled upon it, making an unsightly blotch, and I will not send it. We received your few words last night on a postal card— ‘Battle Creek, April 11. No letters from you for two days. James White.’

“This lengthy letter was written by yourself. Thank you, for we know you are living. No letter from James White previous to this since April 6, 1876. We were very thankful to receive a few lines in reference to yourself from Sister Hall, April 9. I have been anxiously waiting for something to answer.”

Then followed an extensive description of the previous day’s activities sailing in San Francisco Bay, the high waves reminding her of the disciples on stormy Galilee. A few lines later, “I will write every morning. . . . Will you do the same?”13

Several days later, she penned her affection for James and her loneliness when he was away: “We are all quite well and cheerful. We feel every day a most earnest desire for a more sacred nearness to God. This is my prayer, when I lie down, when I awake in the night, and when I arise in the morning, Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee.”14

As most maturing spouses learn sooner or later, stress times do come. In 1876, James, 55, was carrying extremely heavy responsibilities as president of the General Conference as well as being the firm counselor to the publishing work. Often his greatest concern was that few of his colleagues were as intense and as courageous regarding challenges as he was. Being a man of action, James tended to become dictatorial and demanding. At times he felt unappreciated. In experiencing the effects of several strokes and advancing age, thoughts of discouragement and resentment assailed him. Bleak thoughts seeped into his letters to his wife.

On May 12, 1876, Ellen, at 48, replied to one of his letters: “In regard to my independence, I have had no more than I should have in the matter under the circumstances. I do not receive [accept] your views or interpretation of my feelings on this matter. I understand myself much better than you understand me. But so it must be, and I will say no more in reference to the matter. I am glad you are free and happy, and I rejoice that God has blessed me with freedom, with peace, and cheerfulness and courage. . . . I shall look to God for guidance and shall try to move as He shall lead the way.”15

Four days later she wrote: “It grieves me that I have said or written anything to grieve you. Forgive me, and I will be cautious not to start any subject to annoy and distress you. We are living in a most solemn time and we cannot afford to have in our old age differences to separate our feelings. I may not view all things as you do, but I do not think it would be my place or duty to try to make you see as I see and feel as I feel. Wherein I have done this, I am sorry.

“I want an humble heart, a meek and quiet spirit. Wherein my feelings have been permitted to arise in any instance, it was wrong. . . .

“I wish that self should be hid in Jesus. I wish self to be crucified. I do not claim infallibility, or even perfection of Christian character. I am not free from mistakes and errors in my life. Had I followed my Saviour more closely, I should not have to mourn so much my unlikeness to His dear image. . . . No more shall a line be traced by me or expression made in my letters to distress you. Again, I say, forgive me, every word or act that has grieved you.”16

James and Ellen wrote their personal, touching letters without any thought that they would be read by others some day. In these letters we gain uncommon insights into how committed Christians handled marital stress, and through them other husbands and wives have taken heart and learned how to handle their own tensions and conflicts. These letters have become sources of hope and strength to many modern marriages.17

Did their faithfulness to each other override lonely moments of misunderstanding? Indeed. The years to come revealed their consistent, tenacious love. One year later, James’s health began to fail again. In late October 1877, Ellen wrote to her son William, and Mary his wife, in Battle Creek:

“Dear Children: I am tired tonight. I have been trying to get a piece for the [Health] Reformer. It is hard to write much, for Father is so lonesome I have to ride out with him and devote considerable time to keep him company. Father is quite cheerful but talks but little. We have some very precious seasons of prayer. We believe that God will raise him to health. We are of good courage.”18


Ellen White’s Fiftieth Birthday

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James could still write, even though he spoke little in public. To honor Ellen’s fiftieth birthday, he wrote these words in the Signs of the Times:

“Today, November 26, Mrs. White is 50 years old. She became a devoted Christian at the tender age of 12 years, and immediately became a laborer for other youth, and was very successful in winning them to Christ.

“At the early age of 17 years she became a powerful public speaker, and was able to hold large audiences an hour or more. She has traveled and spoken to large audiences, some of them reaching as far as twenty thousands [sic], from the Atlantic to the Pacific, in eighteen States, besides the Canadas. She has now labored publicly thirty-three years.

“Besides this great labor she has written an immense amount. Her books now in print amount to not less than five thousand pages, besides thousands of pages of epistolary matter addressed to churches and individuals.

“And notwithstanding this great work, Mrs. White is, at the age of 50 years, as active as at any former time in her life, and more efficient in her labors. Her health is excellent, and during the last season’s camp meetings she was able to perform as much labor in speaking, exhorting, and praying as two of our ablest ministers. . . .

“Mrs. White enters upon the second half-century of her life, with the confident expectation of spending most of it over on the evergreen shore.”19

These are words of a loving, grateful husband.

Ellen’s caring, dedicated service as James’s helpmeet, especially in times of sickness and discouragement, is legendary. But, on one occasion in 1878, James, now 58 years old, though attempting to maintain a rigorous writing program, made little physical improvement. Ellen wrote to Mary, William’s wife: “I am his constant companion in riding and by the fireside. Should I go, shut myself in a room, and leave him sitting alone, he would become nervous and restless. . . . He depends on me and I shall not leave him in his feebleness.”20

On the night of April 4, Ellen was given a vision of her husband’s true condition, the details of which she wrote out the next day:

“Dear Husband: I dreamed last night that a celebrated physician came into the room while we were engaged in prayer for you. Said he, ‘Prayer is well, but living out your prayers is still more essential. Your faith must be sustained by your works, else it is dead faith. . . .

“‘You are not brave in God. If there is any inconvenience, instead of accommodating yourself to circumstances, you will keep the matter, be it ever so small, in your mind until it suits you; therefore, you do not work out your faith. You have no real faith yet. You yearn but for victory. When your faith is made perfect by works, you will cease studying yourself and rest your case in the hands of God, bearing something, enduring something, not exactly in accordance with your feelings.

“‘All the powers on earth could not help you unless you work in harmony, exercising your reason and your judgment and setting aside your feelings and your inclination. You are in a critical condition.’”

Then the “celebrated physician” became specific: “‘Your own depraved habits are keeping not only you but your wife from the work to which God has called you. . . .

“‘You have felt so fearful you would be reduced in strength that you have eaten more than was necessary, placed in your stomach a greater amount of food than the system could take care of well. . . . Your food should be taken dry and [you should] take a longer time to masticate it. Eat slowly and much less in quantity. Two or three articles at one meal is all that should be placed in the stomach. . . . You are dying of notions and yet you do not make sufficient efforts to produce a radical change. . . . Your life would be more secure in self-forgetfulness. God has a work for you and your wife to do. Satan says, “you shall not accomplish the work if I have power to control the mind. I can control everything and bind both as with fetters of iron.” . . . You can arise. You can throw off this invalidism.’”21

The counsel worked. He felt cheered by the promise that “You can arise. You can throw off this invalidism.” The stressed-out General Conference president agreed to go to Battle Creek and place himself under the care of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. On June 24, James wrote to Ellen, “I report myself very much improved.” Part of his cheer was the result of finding a man who could take shorthand, thus enabling him to do in “two days . . . what would take a whole week alone.”22

In early July, James left for their Colorado cabin with Dudley Canright and Mary White (William went later). When Ellen met them in August, she wrote: “I find Father every way improved. It is cool here all the time. . . . Father is himself again in almost all things. He is always cheerful.”23

Because of appointments in the east, Ellen White did not stay long in Colorado. Reporting back to James and her children regarding happenings in Battle Creek, she wrote with wifely and motherly zest and wisdom: “Do not regard this time of recreation as a drudgery or a task. Lay aside your work; let the writings go. Go over into the park and see all that you can. . . . Throw off every burden, and be a carefree boy again. . . . Father needs to be a boy again. Roam all around. Climb the mountain steeps. Ride horseback. Find something new each day to see and enjoy. This will be for Father’s health. Do not spend any anxious thought on me. You will see how well I will appear after the camp meetings are over. . . . Strive to make each other happy.”24

By 1880 James’s tired body pleaded for rest even though his head kept planning new campaigns. Others were now to take over his chief responsibilities—but retreat for the general was not easy. In a letter to Ellen on April 18, he wrote: “I am considering these things with great care. Whatever the Lord has shown you respecting my duty, take time to write it out carefully and give me the complete idea. . . . We both see a great deal to do in the line of writing, and our brethren are constantly urging us into the field to speak. In the fear of God, we must take this matter in our own hands, and be our own judges of what we should do and how much.”25

On August 13, 1881, “the tired warrior” died. The news stunned Adventists from the Atlantic to the Pacific. No one could review the development of the Adventist Church without thinking of James White. The eulogies, even from those with whom he differed, put the valiant church leader in proper perspective.26

Though extremely ill herself, Ellen White rose from her sickbed to laud her “strong, brave, noble-hearted husband.” The messenger wife summed up their life journey together: “And now he upon whose large affections I have leaned, with whom I have labored—and we have been united in labor for thirty-six years—is taken away; but I can lay my hands upon his eyes and say, I commit my treasure to Thee until the morning of the resurrection.”27

A few days after the funeral, Ellen White wrote to close friends: “The light of my home had gone and henceforth I should love it [their home] for his [James’s] sake who thought so much of it. It just met his taste. . . . But how can I ever regard it as I could if he had lived?”28

Anyone reviewing the record of their marriage must conclude that this was an extraordinary relationship of two exceptional people. Each had a public life, yet their affection flowed through their messages and actions one toward the other. Though living through the “Victorian Period,” Ellen’s warm and persevering devotion to James was far more than platonic. His appreciation for her was well-known, the depth of which any wife would be glad to experience.

After being released from wifely responsibilities, she traveled even more extensively. Her literary output became even more productive, not only in quantity but also in the depth of her larger books. James had been her helpful editor; he never was the source of her messages.


Messenger Mother

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Deborah is perhaps the best known of the Biblical prophetesses. Her reputation was so great, her judgment and counsel so respected, that even her residence was named “the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel” (Judges 4:5). But she was more than a wise judge. Her contemporaries trusted her as “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7; see p. 18).

Likewise, Ellen White’s contemporaries regarded her as a “mother in Israel.”29 They knew her as an incredibly busy wife and mother, a homemaker who proverbially opened her home to the needy, the orphans, and whoever needed a bed for the night. Reviewing how she earned the respect of her contemporaries as she combined motherhood with her public duties helps us to appreciate more fully her counsel for today’s mothers and fathers.

But how did her children fare as they shared their busy mother with others who were making ever increasing demands on her time and energies?

As previously mentioned, James and Ellen had four children, all boys: Henry, born August 26, 1847; Edson, born July 28, 1849; William, born August 29, 1854; and John Herbert, September 20, 1860.

Herbert died after living only three months, a victim of erysipelas. The 33-year-old mother recalled this heartbreaking experience: “My dear babe was a great sufferer. Twenty-four days and nights we anxiously watched over him, using all the remedies we could for his recovery, and earnestly presenting his case to the Lord. At times I could not control my feelings as I witnessed his sufferings. Much of my time was spent in tears, and humble supplication to God.”30

She described the infant’s final hours: “My babe was worse. I listened to his labored breathing, and felt his pulseless wrist. I knew that he must die. That was an hour of anguish for me. The icy hand of death was already upon him. We watched his feeble, gasping breath, until it ceased, and we felt thankful that his sufferings were ended. When my child was dying, I could not weep. I fainted at the funeral. My heart ached as though it would break, yet I could not shed a tear. . . . After we returned from the funeral, my home seemed lonely. I felt reconciled to the will of God, yet despondency and gloom settled upon me.”31

Ellen White’s first-born, Henry, died at the age of sixteen. He had become the delight of his parents as well as of a host of friends. His noble voice in song was well-known among fellow workers at the Review publishing house. In late November 1863, He caught a cold which turned into pneumonia. He was treated with poisonous drugs—the wisdom of conventional medicine. Ellen and James had used hydrotherapy earlier that year to help two of their sons battle diphtheria, but they were not yet aware of its value in treating pneumonia.

Predictably, Henry failed rapidly. He and his parents talked openly about death. He confessed freely his sins; his faith grew stronger and his confidence in eternal life ever brighter. One morning he said to his mother: “Promise me, Mother, that if I die I may be taken to Battle Creek, and laid by the side of my little brother, John Herbert, that we may come up together in the morning of the resurrection.”32

Later, he said to his father, “Father, you are losing your son. You will miss me, but don’t mourn. It is better for me. I shall escape being drafted [Civil War], and shall not witness the seven last plagues. To die so happy is a privilege.”33

During his last hours, he dictated messages of admonition and assurance to his young friends in Battle Creek. Adelia Patten, a close family friend and one of Ellen White’s helpers, recorded his last moments: “‘Mother, I shall meet you in heaven in the morning of the resurrection, for I know you will be there.’ He then beckoned to his brothers, parents, and friends, and gave them all a parting kiss, after which he pointed upward and whispered, ‘Heaven is sweet.’ These were his last words.”34

After the death of Henry, a small book was published that included Uriah Smith’s funeral sermon, a brief biography, and many of Ellen White’s frequent letters sent to him and his brothers, especially when she was away on church responsibilities. These letters make clear why Henry could die with such peace and confidence in Jesus.

Adelia Patten, who had lived in the White home for nearly two years, helped to assemble this small book, An Appeal to the Youth. She wrote: “They [Mrs. White’s letters to her sons] were written hastily for her children only, without a thought that they would be made public. This makes them still more worthy of publication, as in them is more clearly seen the real feelings and sentiments of a godly mother.”35

In reading these private, intimate family letters, we are reading the heart of a young mother, and later, a seasoned mother, as seldom revealed to others.

As might be expected, the White children developed as all children do. They had to learn through experience and parental counsel as all children should. Further, James and Ellen White had to learn how to be parents as their children developed.


Counsel Given Through a Vision

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In 1862, Ellen, 35, and James, 41, were busily trying to balance their church responsibilities with care for their three children, then 15, 13, and 8. In a vision God stepped in to give the parents some needed advice: “I was shown in regard to our family that we had failed in our duty; we had not restrained them. We had indulged them too much, suffered them to follow their own inclinations and desires, and suffered them to indulge in folly. . . . We are separated from them so much that when we are with them we should perseveringly labor to knit their hearts to us that when we are absent we can have influence over them. I saw that we should instruct them with sobriety and yet with kindness and patience; take an even course. Satan is busy to tempt our children and lead them to be forgetful and to indulge in folly that we may be disheartened and grieved and then take a course to censure and find fault with them in a spirit which will only injure and discourage them instead of helping them.

“I saw that there had been a wrong in laughing at their sayings and doings and then when they err, bearing down upon them with much severity, even before others, which destroys their fine and sensitive feelings and makes it a common thing to be censured for trifles and mistakes, and places accidents and mistakes upon the same level with sins and actual wrong. Their dispositions will become soured and we shall sever the cord which unites them to us and gives us influence with them. . . . We have been in danger of expecting our children to have a more perfect experience than their age warrants us to expect. . . .

“Our children love us and will yield to reason, and kindness will have a more powerful influence than harsh reproof. The spirit and influence which have surrounded our children require us to restrain them and draw them from young company and deny them privileges that children commonly have enjoyed. If we take the course in these things which it is our duty to take, we should ever have our words and acts perfectly reasonable to our children, that their reflection may not be embittered with harsh words or words spoken in a severe manner. It leaves a wound or sting upon their spirits which destroys their love for their parents and the influence of their parents over them.”36

For Ellen White, her children were high priority.37 Her diary entries, letters to others and to her sons, all indicate her unending concern for them, especially their spiritual growth.38 She took their shortcomings as well as her own very seriously. After a difficult encounter with young Edson, she wrote in her diary: “Had an interview with Edson. Felt distressed beyond measure, feeling that it was not conducted wisely.”39

A few have wondered about certain expressions Ellen White used in some letters to her children in the early 1860s. In her tender love, she appealed to their soul in many ways. In 1860, she was speaking to children between ages 6 and 13. Trying to make the big picture clear in simple language, this 33-year-old mother used language at times that was more like theological shorthand, especially when she wrote that the Lord loves children “who try to do right” but “wicked children God does not love.”40

Just as we must consider some difficult Biblical texts within the total Biblical context, we must do the same with Ellen White. For example, in Deuteronomy 7:9, 10, we note that God “repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face. Therefore you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.” By itself this sounds harsh, but when placed in the context of the whole Bible (such as Isa. 1:18-20; Jer. 31:3; John 3:16, 17; John 14-17) its true meaning becomes clear.

Note the larger context of Ellen White’s counsel to parents (1892): “Jesus would have the fathers and mothers teach their children . . . that God loves them, that their natures may be changed, and brought into harmony with God. Do not teach your children that God does not love them when they do wrong; teach them that He loves them so that it grieves His tender Spirit to see them in transgression, because He knows they are doing injury to their souls. Do not terrify your children by telling them of the wrath of God, but rather seek to impress them with His unspeakable love and goodness, and thus let the glory of the Lord be revealed before them.”41

In other circumstances, she clearly made a difference between God’s loving a person and endorsing what that person may be doing.42

In clear theological terms, she set forth the fact that character determines destiny. Even a loving God will not refashion people’s character after their death in order to redeem them.43

Yet, how much theology can a six-year-old understand? God had the same challenge when He instructed the recently freed Israelites after their exodus from Egypt. He used kindergarten language and methods—including the sandbox illustration of the desert sanctuary service—for that was the only language level they could understand. Sometimes the threat of disapproval and punishment can get the attention of six-year-olds and recently delivered Israelites when “love talk” would have no impact.

Ellen White used both methods when dealing with her boys, apparently with good effect.44 The record contains numerous instances in which she talked to her sons about a friendly God, on many occasions praying with them about their spiritual growth. If young Ellen was to be confronted with a possible misunderstanding of her words, she would quickly say what, in substance, she later wrote out more completely: “What I meant—and I believe what the boys understood—was that God will not condone disobedience, even though He always loves little boys and girls, good or bad. Disobedience has tough consequences, and God, in love, doesn’t want them to experience the costs of disobedience.45

A large portion of Ellen White’s counsel to the church focuses on the importance of the home and the positive atmosphere in which children should develop. The two books, Adventist Home and Child Guidance (compilations from hundreds of her diaries, manuscripts, and sermons), have been gratefully studied by thousands of men and women. One would have difficulty finding any other writer who has focused so clearly or graphically on the high calling of the Christian mother and father. Her lucid summons for all parents to realize their enormous responsibility in leading their children heavenward is legendary.

Ellen White gave counsel only after she had first practiced it. For instance: “‘Oh,’ say some mothers, ‘my children bother me when they try to help me.’ So did mine, but do you think I let them know it? Praise your children. Teach them, line upon line, precept upon precept. This is better than reading novels, better than making calls, better than following the fashions of the world.”46

Although Mrs. White is best known as a remarkable public figure, for those who knew her best she was a consistent Christian mother and wife who maintained a close and tender relationship with her husband and children.


Endnotes

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1. October 11, 1845, cited in Charles W. Teel, Jr., ed. Remnant & Republic (Loma Linda, CA.: Center for Christian Bioethics, 1995), p. 148. See also The Day Star, Oct. 11, 1845, p. 47.

2. Ronald Graybill, “The Courtship of Ellen Harmon,” Insight (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association), Jan. 23, 1973, pp. 4-7; Virgil Robinson, James White (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1976), pp. 33-39; Schwarz, Light Bearers, p. 66; Bio., vol. 1, pp. 110-112.

3. Ellen G. White Estate Document File 733-c, cited in Bio., vol. 1, p. 84.

4. Life Sketches, Ancestry, Early Life, Christian Experience, and Extensive Labors of Elder James White, and his wife, Mrs. Ellen G. White (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1888), pp. 131, 132.

5. Lewis Harrison Christian, The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1947), p. 50.

6. Ibid., p. 98.

7. James White, Life Sketches, p. 126.

8.Christian, The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, p. 99; Robinson, James White, pp. 111-115, 151-163, 207-218, 226-231; Spalding, Origin and History, vol. 1, pp. 43-55.

9. George Willard, In Memoriam, A Sketch of the Last Sickness and Death of Elder J. White (Battle Creek, Mich.: Review and Herald Press, 1881), p. 10, cited in Robinson, James White, p. 302.

10. Christian, The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, p. 111.

11. Emmett K. VandeVere, “Years of Expansion, 1865-1885,” Land, The World of Ellen G. White, p. 67.

12. Letter 1a, 1876, cited in Ibid., p. 23.

13. Letter 5, 1876, cited in Ibid., p. 26.

14. Letter 6, 1876, cited in Ibid., pp. 27, 28.

15. Letter 25, 1876, cited in Ibid., p. 34.

16. Ibid.

17. See Appendix B for an exchange of letters in 1874 that reveal marital tensions they both worked through on the basis of their love for each other and their trust in God.

18. Letter 25, 1877, cited in Bio., vol. 3, p. 73.

19. Signs of the Times, Dec. 6, 1877, cited in Ibid., p. 76.

20. Letter 4d, 1878 cited in Ibid, p. 81.

21. Letter 22, 1878, cited in Ibid., pp. 82, 83.

22. Ibid., p. 90.

23. Ibid., p. 93.

24. Letter 1, 1878, Ibid., pp. 94, 95.

25. Ibid., p. 139.

26. See Uriah Smith’s funeral address, cited in Ibid., pp. 174, 175.

27. Ibid.

28. Letter 9, 1881, cited in Ibid., p. 177.

29. A letter from Norwegian Adventists to Ellen White on her eighty-fifth birthday began: “Dear Mother in Israel and Servant of the Lord!”—D. A. Delafield, Ellen G. White in Europe (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1975) p. 319.

30. Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 296, cited in Bio., vol. 1, p. 430.

31. Ibid.

32. An Appeal to the Youth, p. 26, cited in Ibid., vol. 2, p. 71.

33. Appeal, p. 29, cited in Ibid., p. 72.

34. Appeal, p. 31, cited in Ibid., p. 72.

35. Appeal, p. 19, cited in Ibid., p. 62.

36. Manuscript 8, 1862.

37. “Although the cares that came upon us in connection with the publishing work and other branches of the cause involved much perplexity, the greatest sacrifice which I was called to make in connection with the work was to leave my children frequently to the care of others.”—Life Sketches, p. 165.

38. See Jerry Allen Moon, W. C. White and Ellen G. White (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1993), pp. 34-42.

39. Manuscript 12, 1868.

40. An example of letters from Ellen White to young, six-year-old Willie revealed her motherly attempts to keep him focused on cheerful obedience: “You must be a good, sweet, little boy, and love to obey Jenny [Fraser] and Lucinda [Hall]. Give up your will, and when you wish to do anything very much, inquire, Is it not selfish? You must learn to yield your will and your way. It will be a hard lesson for my little boy to learn, but it will in the end be worth more to him than gold.”* “Learn, my dear Willie, to be patient, to wait others’ time and convenience; then you will not get impatient and irritable. The Lord loves those little children who try to do right, and He has promised that they shall be in His kingdom. But wicked children God does not love. He will not take them to the beautiful City, for He only admits the good, obedient, and patient children there. One fretful, disobedient child, would spoil all the harmony of heaven. When you feel tempted to speak impatient and fretful, remember the Lord sees you, and will not love you if you do wrong. When you do right and overcome wrong feelings, the Lord smiles upon you.

“Although He is in heaven, and you cannot see Him, yet He loves you when you do right, and writes it down in His book; and when you do wrong, He puts a black mark against you. Now, dear Willie, try to do right always, and then no black mark will be set down against you; and when Jesus comes He will call for that good boy Willie White, and will put upon your head a wreath of gold, and put in your hand a little harp that you can play upon, and it will send forth beautiful music, and you will never be sick, never be tempted then to do wrong; but will be happy always, and will eat of rich fruit, and will pluck beautiful flowers. Try, try, dear boy, to be good. Your affectionate Mother.” [*“By the blessing of God and his mother’s instruction, Willie has overcome the impatient spirit which he sometimes manifested when quite young, and he now possesses a most affectionate, amiable, and obedient disposition.”—A.P.P.]—Ellen White, An Appeal, pp. 62-63. A careful look at the whole letter (and her total writings on child guidance) suggests strongly that when Ellen White wrote that “wicked children God does not love,” she meant that ultimately children who continue to be “wicked” will not be taken to heaven.

41. Signs of the Times, February 15, 1892; “His [Jesus] heart is drawn out, not only to the best behaved children, but to those who have by inheritance objectionable traits of character. Many parents do not understand how much they are responsible for these traits in their children. . . . But Jesus looks upon these children with pity. He traces from cause to effect.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 517.

42. See Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 558-565, for a sensitive letter to an indulged teenager.

43. Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 74, 84, 123; Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 355, 356.

44. Note her oldest son’s attitude toward his parents and his imminent death—page 58.

45. See previous footnotes, citing Signs, Feb. 15, 1892, and The Desire of Ages, p. 517.

46. The Adventist Home, p. 289.


Study Questions

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1. What evidence do we have that Ellen White was a devoted wife, ever loyal to her husband, James?

2. What circumstances may have led to James White’s struggles with discouragement in later life?

3. What obvious tensions would arise today in a family if the wife was expected to fulfill many public responsibilities, and was more popular than her husband?

4. What role, if any, did James White have in helping to prepare his wife’s books for publication?

5. List some experiences that demonstrate the close working relationship between James and Ellen White.

6. What can be learned from Ellen White’s rearing her children as a working mother?

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