Chapter 7

Personal Characteristics

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Spiritual Awareness
Camp Meeting Appeals
Last Vision
Mental Capabilities
Emotional Experiences
Knew Discouragement
Responding to Discouragement
A Lonely Path
Study Questions

“Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:3, 4).

Ellen White’s primary emphasis in life, born out of her own experience and amplified in her visions, was to obtain and portray an accurate picture of God’s character. She saw correctly that the great religious divisions throughout time and especially those within Christendom developed out of an inadequate understanding of God.

Spiritual Awareness

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In her early life, she was a victim of prevailing errors that permeated various churches within Protestantism. For example, misunderstanding the character of God—and thus the plan of salvation—was at the bottom of her teen-age confusion “concerning justification and sanctification.”1

Further, because she had been taught that God’s sovereignty and justice were Christianity’s central themes, she had little peace and almost a total unawareness of a friendly God.2

The doctrine of eternal punishment, a product of Calvinistic thinking that focused on God’s sovereignty at the expense of human responsibility, unloaded a profound anguish on young Ellen, as it does on anyone who wonders about a God who would punish sinners forever.3

A clearly focused theology. When divine light helped her to read the Bible without being driven by the prevailing misconceptions that dominated contemporary churches, the truth about God became increasingly clear. Her writings soon focused on the main question in the great controversy between God and Satan—what is God really like?4 Who can be trusted—God or Satan?

A clear picture of God’s character. Along with a focused theology that captured the main theme of the Bible came a fresh, captivating picture of God that charmed her into a deep, dynamic relationship with her loving and gracious friendly Lord.5

During the third European Missionary Council in Basel, Switzerland, September 22, 1885, she gave one of her typical talks to workers: “I feel so thankful this morning that we can commit the keeping of our souls to God as unto a faithful Creator. Sometimes the enemy presses me the hardest with his temptations and darkness when I am about to speak to the people. I have such a sense of weakness that it seems like an impossibility to stand before the congregation. But if I should give up to feelings, and say that I could not speak, the enemy would gain the victory. I dare not do this. I move right forward, take my place in the desk, and say, ‘Jesus, I hang my helpless soul on Thee; Thou wilt not suffer me to be brought to confusion,’ and the Lord gives me the victory. . . . Oh, that I could impress upon all the importance of exercising faith moment by moment, and hour by hour! . . . If we believe in God, we are armed with the righteousness of Christ; we have taken hold of His strength. . . . We want to talk with our Saviour as though He were right by our side.”6

Grand subjects such as righteousness by faith, the importance of calm, unimpassioned reason in the Christian’s response to the gospel, and the responsibility of a “prepared people” in completing the gospel commission in the last days were clearly defined in print and realized in her own daily need for pardon and power.7

Trust when the future was unclear. Ellen White was an example of one who trusted God even when outward circumstances seemed forbidding. Typical of hundreds of letters and of her many books is a passage in a letter to James, her husband, from Washington, Iowa, July 2, 1874: “We are justified to walk by sight as long as we can, but when we can no longer see the way clearly, then we need to put our hand in our heavenly Father’s and let Him lead. There are emergencies in the life of all in which we can neither follow sight nor trust in memory or experience. All we can do is simply to trust and wait. We shall honor God to trust Him because He is our heavenly Father.”8

Love Her Motivating Principle. Ellen White’s clear understanding of love set her apart from most other religious writers, before her time or since. Love (agape) as a principle, not a feeling burdened by hope of reward or favor, permeated her writings. For example: “Love is an active principle; it keeps the good of others continually before us, thus restraining us from inconsiderate actions lest we fail of our object in winning souls to Christ. Love seeks not her own. It will not prompt men to seek their own ease and indulgence of self. It is the respect we render to I that so often hinders the growth of love.”9

Practical religion, (applied theology). Practical religion was another all-pervasive theme in Ellen White’s sermons and writings. For her, religion was more than a fountain of feeling. If religion does not motivate a person to reach out to help others without hope of gain, it is worthless. If religion does not change a person so that he or she bears the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22, RSV) and reflects the character of Jesus, one’s professed Christianity is meaningless.

For Ellen White, practical Christianity was not optional; it had everything to do with one’s preparation for eternal life. Writing to a woman who had serious shortcomings, she declared: “Unless this is overcome now, it never will be, and Sister King will have no part with God’s people, no home in His heavenly kingdom. God cannot take you to heaven as you are. You would mar that peaceful, happy place.

“What can be done for you? Do you design to wait until Jesus comes in the clouds of heaven? Will He make you all over new when He comes? Oh, no. This will not be done then. The fitting up must be done here; all the hewing and squaring must take place here upon earth, in the hours of probation. You must be fitted up here; the last blow must be given here.”10

Relation between religion and health. Ellen White understood well the relationship between religion and the health of mind and body, that the well-being of one directly affects the health of the other. Her particular insights on this topic were much ahead of conventional thinking. For example: “Pure and undefiled religion is not a sentiment, but the doing of works of mercy and love. This religion is necessary to health and happiness. It enters the polluted soul temple and with a scourge drives out the sinful intruders. . . . With it comes serenity and composure. Physical, mental, and moral strength increase because the atmosphere of heaven as a living, active agency fills the soul.”11

The chapter, “Mind-Cure,” in The Ministry of Healing is recognized by many as breaking new ground. It opens with this paragraph: “The relation that exists between the mind and the body is very intimate. When one is affected, the other sympathizes. The condition of the mind affects the health to a far greater degree than many realize. Many of the diseases from which men [people] suffer are the result of mental depression. Grief, anxiety, discontent, remorse, guilt, distrust, all tend to break down the life forces, and to invite decay and death.”12

Her understanding of the cause of suffering and death. Ellen White’s counsels regarding the cause of suffering and death were not only profound, they have stood the test of a century as a faithful reflection of the mind of God. She maintained that “sickness, suffering, and death are [the] work of an antagonistic power. Satan is the destroyer; God is the restorer.”13

What then is the cause of sickness? One answer was: God’s laws have been violated, either by one’s ancestors or by oneself. She was unequivocal: “When Christ healed disease, He warned many of the afflicted ones, ‘Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee’ (John 5:14). Thus He taught that they had brought disease upon themselves by transgressing the laws of God, and that health could be preserved only by obedience.”14

Suffering, other than sickness due to neglect of physical laws, is also caused by Satan and not the deliberate intervention of God. On many occasions she reinforced the teaching of Jesus on this point. In 1883 she wrote concerning a small group of new believers in Ukiah, California: “Our hearts are made glad as we see this little center of converts to the truth advancing step by step, growing stronger amid opposition. They are becoming better acquainted with the suffering part of religion. Our Saviour instructed His disciples that they should be despised for His name’s sake. ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.’”15

Her teachings regarding the cause of death, as well as suffering, flowed from the big picture of the great controversy between God and Satan: “It is true that all suffering results from the transgression of God’s law, but this truth had become perverted. Satan, the author of sin and all its results, had led men to look upon disease and death as proceeding from God—as punishment arbitrarily inflicted on account of sin.”16

Quick to see her own mistakes. Ellen White was quick to confess her mistakes and seek forgiveness. She knew well the peace of forgiveness and was quick to release others from the weight of remorse and guilt. Out of her own experience and reflecting divine instruction, she offered this counsel: “It is not praiseworthy to talk of our weakness and discouragement. Let each one say, ‘I am grieved that I yield to temptation, that my prayers are so feeble, my faith so weak. I have no excuse to plead for being dwarfed in my religious life. But I am seeking to obtain completeness of character in Christ. I have sinned, and yet I love Jesus. I have fallen many times, and yet He has reached out His hand to save me. I have told Him all about my mistakes. I have confessed with shame and sorrow that I have dishonored Him. I have looked to the cross and have said, All this He suffered for me. The Holy Spirit has shown me my ingratitude, my sin in putting Christ to open shame. He who knows no sin has forgiven my sin. He calls me to a higher, nobler life, and I press on to the things that are before.’”17

Tireless soul winner. Her contemporaries knew Ellen White to be a tireless soul winner. They observed her daily life; they received her earnest letters. Her neighbors and companions in travel were blessed by her helpful initiatives. In fact, her constant, cheerful concern for the spiritual welfare of others became a defining characteristic of her life. She never saw herself as the “ivory-tower author” far removed from the world of spiritual warfare that she wrote about.

Throughout her life, young and old found Jesus through her personal ministry. One of her contemporaries wrote late in life: “My recollection of Sister White is that never in my life have I known a woman who seemed so completely devoted to the Lord Jesus. He seemed to be to her a personal friend whom she knew and loved and trusted. She found great joy in talking about Jesus; and all of the younger people agreed that there, at least, was a young lady who lived very near to the Lord and who in her sincere, practical way tried with all her heart to follow Jesus.”18

A trip to Vergennes, Michigan, in June 1853, is remembered for more than becoming “lost” on a road very familiar to the driver of their wagon. Toward evening after a long day of wandering, without food and water, James and Ellen White were delighted to find a lonely log cabin and the housewife at home. While being refreshed, Mrs. White talked to her hospitable hostess about Jesus and gave her a copy of her first book, Experience and Views. For years the events of that day seemed not only exhausting but meaningless. But in 1876, at a camp meeting in Lansing, Michigan, the housewife in that log cabin more than twenty years before, grasped Ellen White’s hand and recalled their first meeting. Further, she introduced Mrs. White to a group of Seventh-day Adventists, all of whom began their new fellowship with the Lord after reading Experience and Views. The housewife had told her scattered neighbors of this traveling lady who “talked to her of Jesus and the beauties of heaven, and that the words were spoken with such fervor that she was charmed, and had never forgotten them.”19

Camp Meeting Appeals

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Ellen White’s camp meeting appeals, from coast to coast, became legendary. For example, in 1884, at the age of 56, she spoke at four camp meetings. Of the Jackson, Michigan, meeting, Uriah Smith, editor of the church paper, reported in the Review that on several occasions between 200 and 350 people responded to her appeals by going forward for prayers. “There was deep feeling and though no excitement or fanaticism, the manifest movings of the Spirit of God upon the heart,” Smith wrote.20

During her visit to England in 1885, Ellen White was invited to speak to an audience of 1,200 in the town hall at Grimsby. Her topic was “The Love of God.” Later she wrote: “I tried to present the precious things of God in such a way as to draw their minds from earth to heaven. But I could only warn and entreat, and hold up Jesus as the center of attraction, and a heaven of bliss as the eternal reward of the overcomer.”21

In 1885, Cecile Dahl, a Norwegian, translated for Mrs. White as they made a six-week tour of Germany and the Scandinavian countries. Miss Dahl was one of many that the speaker had led to the Lord.

Ellen White was ever ready to share the truth about God and salvation, even when it required an aggressive response. On an ocean voyage up the coast from San Francisco to Portland, in June, 1878, she overheard a fellow-passenger, a minister, stating that “it was impossible for any man to keep the law of God; that man never did keep it, and never can keep it. . . . No man will get to heaven by keeping the law. Mrs. White is all law, law; she believes that we must be saved by the law, and no one can be saved unless they keep the law.”

Feeling the injustice of the charge, Ellen White felt that the group listening to this minister should hear the necessary corrections. Finding an appropriate moment, she spoke to the minister: “That is a false statement. Mrs. White has never occupied that position.”

She then developed the Bible story of the law as mirroring sin and Jesus as our pardoning Advocate. “Elder Brown, please never again make the misstatement that we do not rely on Jesus Christ for salvation, but trust in the law to be saved. We have never written one word to that effect, nor taught such a theory in any manner. We believe that no sinner can be saved in his sins (and sin is the transgression of the law), while you teach that the sinner may be saved while knowingly transgressing the law of God.”

Recalling this incident for a Signs article, Ellen White referred to Christ’s words in His Sermon on the Mount: “Christ here shows the object of His mission: To show man by His example, that he could be entirely obedient to the moral law, and regulate his life by its precepts. That law was exalted and made honorable by Jesus Christ.”22

Two days after her sixty-eighth birthday, in 1895, Ellen White was speaking to a camp meeting audience in Hobart, Tasmania, finishing one of her sermons with an altar call. A large share of the audience came forward. But she wasn’t satisfied. She was hunting souls. She left the platform, and went to the back seats where five young people sat. In her quiet way, she invited them to give their hearts to the Lord. All five did, and several other young people joined them, as they went forward in their decision to make Jesus their Master.23

Clear priorities. People can be judged by their “wants.” Ellen White reiterated often her “want list”: “I want to be like Him. I want to practice His virtues.”24 “I want to be among that number who shall have their names written in the book, who shall be delivered. I want the overcomer’s reward.”25 “I want my treasure in heaven.”26 “I want to be like Him; I want to be with Him through the ceaseless ages of eternity.”27 “I want to know more and more of God’s word and of His works.”28 “I want to have a home with the blessed, and I want you to have a home there.”29

Abiding trust. In her late eighties (not a common achievement in the early 1900s), Ellen White was still taking an active part in book development. She moved freely in her Elmshaven home, able to go unassisted up and down the stairs. Often she could be heard singing an old Advent hymn, “The Better Land,” penned by William H. Hyde, words that were composed after Hyde had heard her describe a vision given in the spring of 1845. She often lingered on the last part:

“We’ll be there, we’ll be there in a little while,

We’ll join the pure and the blest;

We’ll have the palm, the robe, the crown,

And forever be at rest.”30

On February 13, Ellen White tripped in her hallway. X-rays revealed an “intracapsular fracture of the left femur at the junction of the head and the neck,” a most painful injury, especially without modern alleviating medication. When asked about pain, she said: “It is not so painful as it might be, but I cannot say that it is comfortable.” Weeks later, when she was asked again about her comfort, she replied: “A good day—in spots.” Her long habit of walking with the Lord was making all the difference.31

Last Vision

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Ellen White had her last vision on March 3, 1915. Summarizing the vision, she said to her son W. C. White: “There are books that are of vital importance that are not looked at by our young people. They are neglected because they are not so interesting to them as some lighter reading. . . . We should select for them books that will encourage them to sincerity of life, and lead them to the opening of the Word. . . . I do not expect to live long. My work is nearly done. Tell our young people that I want my words to encourage them in that manner of life that will be most attractive to the heavenly intelligences, and that their influence upon others may be most ennobling.

“I have no assurance that my life will last long, but I feel that I am accepted of the Lord. . . . I have felt that it was imperative that the truth should be seen in my life, and that my testimony should go to the people. I want that you should do all you can to have my writings placed in the hands of the people in foreign lands. . . . I am impressed that it is my special duty to say these things.”32

A few days before her death, a friend noted her cheeriness. Her reply: “I am glad that you find me thus. I have not had many mournful days. . . . The Lord has arranged and led in all these things for me, and I am trusting in Him. He knows when it will all end.”

The visitor said, “Yes, it will soon end and we shall meet you in the kingdom of God, and we will ‘talk it all over there together,’ as you wrote in one of your last letters.”

To which she replied, “Oh, yes, it seems almost too good to be true, but it is true!”

Her last words to her son and Sara, her nurse were: “I know in whom I have believed.”33

Mental Capabilities

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Although not a formally educated woman, Ellen White utilized every opportunity to increase her bank of information and insights. We noted earlier the trauma of the scarred face (pp. 48, 62, 63) which, she said later, “was to affect my whole life.”34 She was never able again to attend school, yet her innate quest for knowledge led her to amass a personal and office library that, by the time of her death, totaled more than 800 volumes. When she lived in Battle Creek, she freely used the Review and Herald Publishing Company’s library.

As a mother and wife, she and her husband read substantive books to each other and to their children, books such as D’Aubigne’s History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.35

She was an avid reader of religious journals. After Uriah Smith, long-time editor of the Review and Herald, had completed reading the periodicals that came to his office, he would pass them on to her to keep her current regarding religious and political developments.36

The sheer magnitude of her literary production, coupled with her hundreds of sermons that were transcribed, indicate remarkable mental powers. Though she was often under extreme time constraints, as well as unfavorable circumstances, she was still able to present in person or in manuscript form cogent and appealing messages.

Emotional Experiences

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Ellen White was an exceptionally sensitive woman, open to all the human emotions. Her ability to verbalize her various experiences indicates an uncommon capacity for empathy, whether the experience was sad or elevating.

Always a lover of the beautiful, her emotional response to the spectacular Alps, Colorado Rockies, a Norway sunset, or the Milan Cathedral reveals a depth of appreciation for beauty that pervades her writings.

For example, in the summer of 1873, the Whites were seeking much overdue relaxation in Colorado. She reflected: “I love the hills and mountains and forests of flourishing evergreens. I love the brooks, the swift-running streams of softest water which come bubbling over the rocks, through ravines, by the side of the mountains, as if singing the joyful praise of God. . . .

“We have here in the mountains a view of the most rich and glorious sunset it was ever our privilege to look upon. The beautiful picture of the sunset, painted upon the shifting, changing canvas of the heavens by the great Master Artist, awakens in our hearts love and deepest reverence for God.”37

After an early winter sunset in Norway, she wrote: “We were favored with a sight of the most glorious sunset it was ever my privilege to behold. Language is inadequate to picture its beauty. The last beams of the setting sun, silver and gold, purple, amber, and crimson, shed their glories athwart the sky, growing brighter and brighter, rising higher and higher in the heavens, until it seemed that the gates of the city of God had been left ajar, and gleams of the inner glory were flashing through.” This glorious experience required two pages to record.38

Knew Discouragement

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Ellen White knew the bleakness of discouragement as she fulfilled her role as God’s messenger. Throughout her life, discouragement, at times, flirted with temporary depression. No doubt her physical weaknesses, her heart condition and respiratory problems, made her susceptible to discouragement. And being a messenger for the Lord, striking out ahead of her contemporaries on the battlefield of the cosmic conflict, also invited Satan’s constant attacks. How did she relate to this black shadow that so many people from the beginning of time have experienced? Her counsels to others who are discouraged, even in depression, come bathed in her own personal trials.

Throughout her ministry Ellen White faced both the fire of fanaticism and the ice of indifference.39 Her words of counsel, often reproof, frequently were countered with gossip and slander. This affected her physically. Of her experience when she was only 18 and still greatly diminished physically, she reported: “Discouragements pressed heavily upon me and the condition of God’s people so filled me with anguish that for two weeks I was prostrated with sickness.”40

Those reading her letters and diary entries have the privilege of almost “listening” to her heart beat as she recorded her responses to those moments of discouragement from various causes. How she beat back the “hellish shadow” of the evil one may be just the insight some reader needs today!

Although eight months pregnant in 1847, she wrote a cheery letter to Joseph Bates, noting that “my health is quite good for me.” Then she bared her heart: “I have had many trials of late, discouragement at times has laid so fast hold upon me it seemed impossible to shake it off. But thank God, Satan has not got the victory over me yet, and by the grace of God he never shall. I know and feel my weakness, but I have laid hold upon the strong arm of Jehovah, and I can say today I know that my Redeemer liveth, and if He lives I shall live also.”41

Trials? Not many people have known the kind of hard times faced by the Whites. These servant-leaders had been given a divine commission, and they dared not turn to a life of ordinary pursuits.

But think, here was a young family in the winter of 1847-1848 (Henry was born on August 26, 1847) trying to speak and write as God opened the way, yet determined to be financially independent. James, at 26, hauled stone at a railroad cut near Brunswick, Maine, until his hands were bloody, and he cut cord wood, working long hours for 50 cents a day. On a limited “budget,” Ellen, now 20, could afford only a pint of milk per day for herself and Henry. Then she had to eliminate the milk supply for three days so that she could buy a piece of cloth to make Henry a simple garment.

The day came when “their provisions were gone.” James walked three miles and back in the rain to his employer for either his wages or needed supplies. When he returned with a bag of provisions, Ellen recalled: “As he entered the house very weary my heart sank within me. My first feelings were that God had forsaken us. I said to my husband, ‘Have we come to this? Has the Lord left us?’ I could not restrain my tears, and wept aloud for hours until I fainted.”

In other words, “Lord, why is life so hard when we have committed ourselves unreservedly to Your cause?”

Through her account of this experience we get a glimpse of how she climbed out of this deep pit of discouragement. She regretted that she had sunk so low; she reminded herself that her first desire was to “follow Christ and be like Him; but we sometimes faint beneath trials and remain at a distance from Him. Suffering and trials bring us nigh to Jesus. The furnace consumes the dross and brightens the gold.”42

In Rochester, New York, late June, 1854, Mrs. White was seven months pregnant with her third son. But other problems faced her daily. Key workers in Rochester were dying of consumption (tuberculosis). Husband James appeared to be sinking also, not only with the signs of consumption but with the lack of sympathy from fellow workers, plus the strain of his usual traveling, speaking, and writing. Try to imagine the full range of concerns facing the young wife and mother!

“Trials thickened around us. We had much care. The office hands boarded with us, and our family numbered from fifteen to twenty. The large conferences and Sabbath meetings were held at our house. We had no quiet Sabbaths; for some of the sisters usually tarried all day with their children. Our brethren and sisters generally did not consider the inconvenience and additional care and expense brought upon us. As one after another of the office hands would come home sick, needing extra attention, I was fearful that we should sink beneath the anxiety and care. I often thought that we could endure no more; yet trials increased.”

What does a young mother of two, seven months pregnant, do under such conditions? “With surprise I found that we were not overwhelmed. We learned the lesson that much more suffering and trial could be borne than we had once thought possible. The watchful eye of the Lord was upon us, to see we were not destroyed. . . . If the cause of God had been ours alone, we might have trembled; but it was in the hands of Him who could say, No one is able to pluck it out of My hands. Jesus lives and reigns.”43

In the weeks preceding the Minneapolis General Conference of 1888, Ellen White was burdened with the “unbelief and resistance to reproof” that prevailed against her ministry, much of it developing while she was in Europe, 1885-1887: “The brethren did not seem to see beyond the instrument. . . . I had also been told [in vision] that the testimony God had given me would not be received, because the hearts of those who had been reproved were not in such a state of humility that they could be corrected and receive reproof.”

Discouragement seemed to overwhelm her, and she became very ill. Recalling the event, she wrote: “I felt no desire to recover. I had no power even to pray, and no desire to live. Rest, only rest, was my desire, quiet and rest. As I lay for two weeks in nervous prostration, I had hope that no one would beseech the throne of grace in my behalf. When the crisis came, it was the impression that I would die. This was my thought. But it was not the will of my heavenly Father. My work was not yet done.”

Responding to Discouragement

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How did Ellen White respond to weighty discouragement? As she had done many times in the past: “To walk out by faith against all appearances was the very thing that the Lord required me to do.”44

“To walk out by faith against all appearances.” Such was the counsel she gave herself throughout her life and often expressed in her counsel to others. In a morning talk at the Minneapolis Conference, October 19, 1888, she spoke out of tested experience: “You say, ‘How can I talk faith, how can I have faith, when clouds and darkness and despondency come over my mind? I do not feel as though I could talk faith; I do not feel that I have any faith to talk.’ But why do you feel in this way? It is because you have permitted Satan to cast his dark shadow across your pathway, and you cannot see the light that Jesus sheds upon your pathway. But another says: ‘I am very frank; I say just what I feel, I talk just as I think.’ Is that the best way to do?—No; God wants us to educate ourselves so that we shall speak right words—words that will be a blessing to others, that will shed rays of light upon their souls.”45

One may wonder whether, after long years of service and trusting God, Christians grow beyond dark moments when they see clouds rather than the sun. Think about Jesus in Gethsemane. Or the lives of saintly people. What they learned through the years is how to battle the devil’s hellish shadows. In Ellen White’s eighty-seventh year, C. C. Crisler, one of her secretaries, wrote to William, her son: “She says she does not wish to make any great noise about having courage continually, although she has; and she adds that the very fact that members of the household are waked up at times hearing her repeating the promises of God and claiming them as her own is proof that she still has battles of her own to fight against Satan.”46

A Lonely Path

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Loneliness, however, not discouragement, was a frequent companion, a lonesomeness not often or necessarily clothed in discouragement. The nature of her divine assignment seemed to necessitate that Ellen White would walk her path alone. The marvel is that she was not known as a dreary recluse. Her family knew her to be the sunshine of the home; her neighbors and co-workers remember her as their source of encouragement.

Prophets, by the nature of their task, deliver more reproofs than praise. This was true with Mrs. White. And not all recipients relate well to messages of correction or rebuke. Misunderstanding and resentment are to be expected.

In addition, being out front in almost every church enterprise from the beginning required an enormous emotional strength such as few people possess. Leading a group of strong-willed men and women into new paths of church organization, developing substantial medical and educational institutions, and helping to navigate a whole denomination through difficult theological controversies—all this invited misunderstanding and estrangement.

Thus, we can understand Ellen White when she wrote in 1902: “I have been alone in this matter, severely alone with all the difficulties and all the trials connected with the work. God alone could help me.”47

In Europe at 59, her husband dead for five years, she was actively trying to put the European program on a solid and united footing. Here was a challenge that would, and did, daunt the strongest of leaders. In a letter to the General Conference president, she penned: “I tell you, these hard spots in my experience make me desire the climate of California, and the refuge of home. Have I any home? Where is it?”48

In the aftermath of the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference, probably Ellen White went through her deepest loneliness. Writing earnestly to Uriah Smith, she declared: “My brethren have trifled and caviled and criticized and commented and demerited, and picked and chosen a little and refused much until the testimonies mean nothing to them. They put whatever interpretation upon them that they choose in their own finite judgment and are satisfied. I would, if I had dared, [have] given up this field of conflict long ago, but something has held me. But I leave all this in the hands of God. I feel cut loose from many of my brethren; they do not understand me or my mission or my work, for if they did they could never have pursued the course they havedone.”49

Through it all, Ellen White knew inward joy and happiness. She urged others by word and example to pick the roses and ignore the thorns.50 In the church paper she wrote: “Let us represent the Christian life as it really is; let us make the way cheerful, inviting, interesting. We can do this if we will. We may fill our own minds with vivid pictures of spiritual and eternal things, and in so doing help to make them a reality to other minds.”51

Loneliness, even frustration and discouragement, need not shut down a cheery Christian. During a troubling time in the 1860s, when the Whites were in Dansville, New York, seeking help for James’s physical problems, Ellen captured in her diary an earlier conversation: “It is the want of genuine religion that produces gloom, despondency, and sadness. . . . A half service, loving the world, loving self, loving frivolous amusements, make a timid, cowardly servant. Such follow Christ a great way off. A hearty, willing service to Jesus produces a sunny religion. Those who follow Christ the most closely have not been gloomy.”52

People can be happy though lonely. Ellen White’s ability to manifest this truth permeates the historical record and vouches for her declaration in Great Grimsby, England, in 1886:

“I do not look to the end for all the happiness; I get happiness as I go along. Notwithstanding I have trials and afflictions, I look away to Jesus. It is in the strait, hard places that He is right by our side, and we can commune with Him, and lay all our burdens upon the Burden Bearer, and say, ‘Here, Lord, I cannot carry these burdens any longer.’”53


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1. “My ideas concerning justification and sanctification were confused. These two states were presented to my mind as separate and distinct from each other; yet I failed to comprehend the difference or understand the meaning of the terms, and all the explanations of the preachers increased my difficulties. I was unable to claim the blessing for myself, and wondered if it was to be found only among the Methodists, and if, in attending the advent meetings, I was not shutting myself away from that which I desired above all else—the sanctifying Spirit of God. Still, I observed that some of those who claimed to be sanctified, manifested a bitter spirit when the subject of the soon coming of Christ was introduced. This did not seem to me a manifestation of the holiness which they professed.”—Life Sketches, pp. 28, 29.

2. “They taught that God proposed to save none but the sanctified; that the eye of God was upon us always; that God Himself was keeping the books with the exactness of infinite wisdom; and that every sin we committed was faithfully registered against us, and would meet its just punishment. . . . If the love of God had been dwelt upon more, and His stern justice less, the beauty and glory of His character would have inspired me with a deep and earnest love for my Creator.”—Ibid., pp. 30, 31.

3. “In my mind the justice of God eclipsed His mercy and love. The mental anguish I passed through at this time was very great. I had been taught to believe in an eternally burning hell; and as I thought of the wretched state of the sinner without God, without hope, I was in deep despair. I feared that I should be lost, and that I should live throughout eternity suffering a living death. The horrifying thought was ever before me, that my sins were too great to be forgiven, and that I should be forever lost.”—Ibid., p. 29.

4. In many ways Ellen White developed the central focus of the Biblical theme of the great controversy. For example: “From the opening of the great controversy it has been Satan’s purpose to misrepresent God’s character, and to excite rebellion against His law; and this work appears to be crowned with success. See p. 256.

The multitudes give ear to Satan’s deceptions, and set themselves against God. But amid the working of evil, God’s purposes move steadily forward to their accomplishment; to all created intelligences He is making manifest His justice and benevolence.”—Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 338.

“Satan’s efforts to misrepresent the character God, to cause men to cherish a false conception of the Creator, and thus to regard Him with fear and hate rather than with love; his endeavors to set aside the divine law, leading the people to think themselves free from its requirements; and his persecution of those who dare to resist his deceptions, have been steadfastly pursued in all ages. They may be traced in the history of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, of martyrs and reformers.”—The Great Controversy, p. x.

“God desires from all His creatures the service of love—homage that springs from an intelligent appreciation of His character.”—Ibid., p. 493.

“The enemy of good blinded the minds of men, so that they looked upon God with fear; they thought of Him as severe and unforgiving. Satan led men to conceive of God as a being whose chief attribute is stern justice—one who is a severe judge, a harsh, exacting creditor. He pictured the Creator as a being who is watching with jealous eye to discern the errors and mistakes of men, that He may visit judgments upon them. It was to remove this dark shadow, by revealing to the world the infinite love of God, that Jesus came to live among men.”—Steps to Christ, pp. 10, 11.

Thus, Ellen White made clear that the main theme, the driving, organizing principle of the church’s everlasting gospel message in the last days would be a recognition of the main focus of the Great Controversy Theme: “It is the darkness of misapprehension of God that is enshrouding the world. Men are losing their knowledge of His character. It has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. At this time a message from God is to be proclaimed, a message illuminating in its influence and saving in its power. His character is to be made known. Into the darkness of the world is to be shed the light of His glory, the light of His goodness, mercy, and truth. . . . Those who wait for the Bridegroom’s coming are to say to the people, ‘Behold your God.’ The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love.”—Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 415.

5. See p. 5.

6. Historical Sketches, pp. 130-133.

7. For a typical review of Ellen White’s understanding of “righteousness by faith,” see Faith and Works, pp. 15-122; Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 350-400;Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 307-319. For her insights into a dynamic religious experience, see The Great Controversy, pp. 461-478. For her teaching regarding a “prepared people,” see Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 405-421; The Great Controversy, pp. 582-634.

8. Bio., vol. 2, pp. 432, 433. See Steps to Christ, pp. 96, 104.

9. Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 124. “Love is power. Intellectual and moral strength are involved in this principle, and cannot be separated from it. The power of wealth has a tendency to corrupt and destroy; the power of force is strong to do hurt; but the excellence and value of pure love consist in its efficiency to do good, and to do nothing else than good. Whatsoever is done out of pure love, be it ever so little or contemptible in the sight of men, is wholly fruitful; for God regards more with how much love one worketh, than the amount he doeth. Love is of God. The unconverted heart cannot originate nor produce this plant of heavenly growth, which lives and flourishes only where Christ reigns.

“Love cannot live without action, and every act increases, strengthens, and extends it. Love will gain the victory when argument and authority are powerless. Love works not for profit nor reward; yet God has ordained that great gain shall be the certain result of every labor of love. . . . Pure love is simple in its operations, and is distinct from any other principle of action. The love of influence and the desire for the esteem of others may produce a well-ordered life and frequently a blameless conversation. Self-respect may lead us to avoid the appearance of evil. A selfish heart may perform generous actions, acknowledge the present truth, and express humility and affection in an outward manner, yet the motives may be deceptive and impure; the actions that flow from such a heart may be destitute of the savor of life and the fruits of true holiness, being destitute of the principles of pure love.”—Testimonies, vol. 2, pp. 135, 136.

10. Letter 3, 1863, cited in Bio., vol. 2, p. 95. See also Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 355: “When He comes, He is not to cleanse us of our sins, to remove from us the defects in our characters, or to cure us of the infirmities of our tempers and dispositions. If wrought for us at all, this work will all be accomplished before that time. When the Lord comes, those who are holy will be holy still. Those who have preserved their bodies and spirits in holiness, in sanctification and honor, will then receive the finishing touch of immortality. . . . No work will then be done for them to remove their defects, and give them holy characters. The Refiner does not then sit to pursue His refining process, and remove their sins and their corruption. This is all to be done in these hours of probation. It is now that this work is to be accomplished for us.

“We embrace the truth of God with our different faculties, and as we come under the influence of that truth, it will accomplish the work for us which is necessary to give us a moral fitness for the kingdom of glory and for the society of the heavenly angels. We are now in God’s workshop. Many of us are rough stones from the quarry. But as we lay hold upon the truth of God, its influence affects us. It elevates us and removes from us every imperfection and sin, of whatever nature. Thus we are prepared to see the King in His beauty, and finally to unite with the pure and heavenly angels in the kingdom of glory.”

11. Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 1, p. 27. “Health of body depends largely upon health of soul; therefore whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God. Personal religion is revealed by the deportment, the words, and the actions. It causes growth, till at last perfection claims the commendation of the Lord, ‘Ye are complete in Him’ (Col. 2:10).”—Ibid. See also pp. 291-294.

12. The Ministry of Healing, p. 241.

13. Ibid., p. 113.

14. Ibid.

15. Manuscript 5, 1882, cited in Bio., vol. 3, p. 220.

16. The Desire of Ages, p. 471.

17. Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, p. 777.

18. Christian, Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, p. 50.

19. Bio., vol. 1, pp. 278, 279.

20. Review and Herald, Oct. 7, 1884.

21. Historical Sketches, pp. 162, 163.

22. Signs of the Times, July 18, 1878; see also Ibid., Sept. 23, 1889.

23. Bio., vol. 4, p. 235.

24. Manuscript 12, 1894, cited in Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, p. 246.

25. Review and Herald, Mar. 26, 1889.

26. Signs of the Times, Oct. 14, 1889.

27. Review and Herald, July 16, 1889.

28. Review and Herald, Sept. 27, 1892.

29. General Conference Bulletin, April 3, 1901.

30. James Nix, Early Advent Singing, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1994), pp. 141-144.William H. Hyde was only 17 when he wrote this hymn. His father, William Hyde, was a prominent publisher in Portland, Maine.

31. Bio., vol. 6, pp. 423, 424.

32. Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp. 547-549, and in Messages to Young People, pp. 287, 289.

33. Bio., vol. 6, pp. 430, 431.

34. Life Sketches, p. 72.

35. Selected Messages, book 3, p. 437.

36. Ibid., p. 463.

37. Health Reformer, Aug. 1873.

38. Historical Sketches, p. 220. For Ellen White’s description of her visit to the Milan Cathedral and of her trip through the magnificent Alps in 1886, see Arthur Delafield, Ellen G. White in Europe, pp. 175, 176 and 181-183.

39. Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 644; Ibid., vol. 1, p. 502; Review and Herald, Feb. 12, 1901.

40. Bio., vol. 1, p. 88. Later she came to realize that the suffering of the mind directly affects the health of the body—see pp. 330-332.

41. Ibid., p. 131.

42. Ibid., pp. 134, 135.

43. Bio., pp. 304-306.

44. Bio., vol. 3, pp. 385, 386.

45. Signs of the Times, Nov. 11, 1889. A few months later, at a camp meeting in Ottawa, Kansas, she said: “You have to talk faith, you have to live faith, you have to act faith, that you may have an increase of faith. Exercising that living faith, you will grow to strong men and women in Christ Jesus.”—Faith and Works, p. 78. Note other times when, physically and emotionally exhausted, Ellen White moved out in faith, talking faith and bringing this insight to others; for example, in Australia, 1895, cited in Bio., vol. 4, p. 228.

46. Bio., vol. 6, pp. 413, 414.

47. Selected Messages, book 3, p. 67.

48. Bio., vol. 3, p. 354.

49. Ibid., p. 471.

50. Steps to Christ, p. 117.

51. Review and Herald, Jan. 29, 1884.

52. Bio., vol. 2, p. 122.

53. Life Sketches, p. 292.

Study Questions

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1. What were the steps in Ellen White’s thinking that led her to a correct picture of God as her friend?

2. How did Ellen White connect theological belief with a believer’s personal life?

3. How would you express Ellen White’s understanding of the relationship between health and one’s spiritual life?

4. What insights did Ellen White have regarding the cause of suffering and death?

5. How do you account for Ellen White’s remarkable writing career, noting that her formal education ended at the age of nine?

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