Ellen White is best known through her books, which currently number forty-five volumes. As early as 1914, George Wharton James, who was personally acquainted with Mrs. White, made this comment: “This remarkable woman, … though almost entirely self-educated, has written and published more books and in more languages, which circulate to a greater extent than the written works of any woman of history.”—California—Romantic and Beautiful, pages 319, 320. Tens of thousands of lives throughout the world have been affected directly or indirectly by the messages of these volumes. Many who have known nothing of the life and character of the author have purchased or borrowed one or more of the books and have read and been blessed for the reading. Other thousands who know of the life and work of Ellen White buy more and more of the books so that they may have ready access to all the counsel.
A knowledge of the background of the writing of the books is essential to our understanding of the full import of the messages they contain. The circumstances, situations, and inspiration out of which the volumes emerged shed light on their meaning and significance. The more nearly one can enter into the life experience of the writer the more fully he will grasp the train of thought presented, and be able to translate it into action in his own life. We recognize this principle in our study of the books of the Bible and their authors. Every time we learn something new about Jeremiah, his associates, the circumstances under which he did his work, or the general historical setting of his life, our added knowledge enables us to interpret more accurately the meaning of the words he wrote. It is because of this that modern archaeology has made such vast contributions
to our understanding of the message of the Bible.
Details of the background of the writing of the Ellen White books could easily occupy a volume of their own. In a one-chapter treatment only a few of the books can be touched, but additional study and work on the part of the student will produce information that will contribute not only to his store of historical information, but to his keenness of spiritual perception as well. In this chapter the major emphasis will be placed on the growth of the sets of books known now as the Conflict of the Ages Series, and Testimonies for the Church. With few exceptions these are the Ellen White books that are best known and have had the widest circulation. However, before coming to these, attention should be given to an earlier volume.
Ellen White introduced her first book with this comment: “By the request of dear friends I have consented to give a brief sketch of my experience and views, with the hope that it will cheer and strengthen the humble, trusting children of the Lord.” (See the full-page photographic reproduction of the original title page and of James White's preface to the work.)
It seems clear from the preface that it was hoped this book would do more than fulfill the request of friends for a printed record of some of the early incidents in the life and work of Mrs. White. There was prejudice against visions in general. Some were permitting the presence of visions among the advent believers to hold them back from accepting other adventist views. Even among those loyal to the advent cause there were some who could not see the need for a manifestation of the prophetic gift. James White admitted that these persons had considerable justification for their skepticism. False visions and fanaticism were prevalent; mesmerism and spiritism were creating disbelief in anything that savored of the supernatural. In view of the unfavorable way the people associated the true
visions with false manifestations, James White set forth a brief, but strong, defense of the gift in the last days. He hoped that the appearance of the book would serve as an encouragement to those whose minds were settled on the validity of Mrs. White's claims, and a persuasion to some who were uncertain or actively opposed.
Less than seven years before the publication of Experience and Views, in December, 1844, Ellen Harmon had received her first vision. While a few of the letters she had written to individuals describing her visions were published by those who had received them, not many were brought to general attention. James White's Present Truth carried seven articles by her during 1849 and 1850. Of the seven, four told directly of things she had seen in vision, two others contained expressions like “I saw,” and “the Lord has shown me,” along with some admonition and instruction. One spoke of visions that had been published without her consent. Each article contained something about the visions, but the whole story had not been told. It was natural that some of these things, including her first vision, should be brought together with others not previously published. They were placed with a brief biographical sketch in a form that would be readily available for reference by those who wished to use them. Out went the sixty-four-page booklet, concluding with this sentence: “To those who may circulate this little work, I would say, that it is designed for the sincere only, and not for those who would ridicule the things of the Spirit of God.” Significantly, the paragraph just preceding that last sentence gives an insight into Ellen White's attitude toward the Bible and what she understood to be the relation of her writings to the Book.
“I recommend to you, dear reader, the word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that word we are to be judged. God has, in that word, promised to give visions in the ‘LAST DAYS;’ not for a new rule of faith, but for the comfort of His people, and to correct those who err from Bible truth. Thus
God dealt with Peter when He was about to send him to preach to the Gentiles. Acts x.”—Experience and Views, page 64.
Three years later, in 1854, a forty-eight-page supplement was added to Experience and Views, and this described several later revelations. The two booklets, as reprinted in 1882, make up the first two sections of Early Writings.
The last of the five volumes of the Conflict of the Ages Series to be published, entitled Prophets and Kings, came from the press in 1916; but the roots of the series go back beyond the middle of the nineteenth century.
In the spring of 1858 there were at Lovett's Grove, Ohio, about forty Sabbathkeepers who had recently accepted the advent message as a result of the work of George W. Holt. It was planned that as a part of a visit to several places in Ohio, Elder and Mrs. White should hold meetings with the new believers on Sabbath, March 13, and Sunday morning, March 14. Services were conducted in the schoolhouse as scheduled, but on Sunday afternoon another was held which had not been included in the original planning. A young man of the community had died, and Elder White was asked to preach the funeral sermon. He preached freely and powerfully.
After he had finished speaking and sat down, Mrs. White felt impressed by the Holy Spirit to speak about the coming of Jesus Christ and the resurrection. She spoke of the Christian hope and the joys of heaven. While she was speaking, the Spirit of God came upon her and she was taken in vision. For two hours, while she was totally unconscious of her earthly surroundings, the vision continued. There flashed before her numerous scenes from the great controversy between Christ and Satan, begun before the creation of this world, and to be finished when Christ returns to earth the third time to destroy sin and sinners. A later general statement including the Lovett's Grove
vision and others gives an insight into what was revealed in rounding out the whole of the story.
“Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the scenes of the long-continued conflict between good and evil have been opened to the writer of these pages. From time to time I have been permitted to behold the working, in different ages, of the great controversy between Christ, the Prince of life, the Author of our salvation, and Satan, the prince of evil, the author of sin, the first transgressor of God's holy law. Satan's enmity against Christ has been manifested against His followers. The same hatred of the principles of God's law, the same policy of deception, by which error is made to appear as truth, by which human laws are substituted for the law of God, and men are led to worship the creature rather than the Creator, may be traced in all the history of the past. Satan's efforts to misrepresent the character of 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, Introduction, page x.
As was suggested earlier, this 1858 vision was not the first revelation of the great controversy given to Mrs. White. In 1860, when telling the story of the vision, she commented:
“In the vision at Lovett's Grove, most of the matter which I had seen ten years before concerning the great controversy of the ages between Christ and Satan, was repeated, and I was instructed to write it out.”—Life Sketches, page 162.
At the conclusion of the vision, the funeral service was completed, and the people, who had more than filled the little schoolhouse, returned to their homes deeply impressed with what they had seen.
The next day the Whites began their journey home to Battle
Creek. At Fremont, Ohio, they boarded the train for Jackson. Michigan. Much of the time on the trip was spent discussing their recent experiences and laying plans for writing and publishing the things that had been revealed regarding the great controversy. They felt that this should be Mrs. White's first task after reaching home. However, they had hardly sensed the significance of the warning given during the vision.
“I was shown that while I should have to contend with the powers of darkness, for Satan would make strong efforts to hinder me, yet I must put my trust in God, and angels would not leave me in the conflict.”—Ibid.
Satan's first attempt to hinder the publication of the vision was not long restrained. In Jackson they stopped for a visit at the home of old friends, the Daniel R. Palmers. Daniel Palmer at this time was a member of the three-man publishing committee of the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Mrs. White had been enjoying usual health, and the attack of the enemy took all by surprise except the angels whose companionship had been promised during the conflict. Here is Mrs. White's description of what appened:
“We had been in the house but a short time, when, as I was conversing with Sister Palmer, my tongue refused to utter what I wished to say, and seemed large and numb. A strange, cold sensation struck my heart, passed over my head, and down my right side. For a time I was insensible, but was aroused by the voice of earnest prayer. I tried to use my left limbs, but they were perfectly useless. For a short time I did not expect to live. It was my third shock of paralysis; and although within fifty miles of home, I did not expect to see my children again. I called to mind the triumphant season I had enjoyed at Lovett's Grove, and thought it was my last testimony, and felt reconciled to die.”—Life Sketches, pages 162, 163.
Prayer for her recovery was continued. Before long what she described as a “prickling sensation” came to her limbs, and she regained a measure of control of them. Prayer was continued,
“the power of Satan was broken,” and the following day she was strong enough to return home. Recovery was far from completed, but there seems to have been daily progress. While suffering intensely she began the writing of the great controversy account.
“At first I could write but one page a day, and then rest three days; but as I progressed, my strength increased. The numbness in my head did not seem to becloud my mind, and before I closed that work [Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1], the effect of the shock had entirely left me.”—Ibid., p. 163.
The full significance of the attack was made plain a little time later, along with a promise for the future.
“At the time of the conference at Battle Creek, in June, 1858, I was shown in vision that in the sudden attack at Jackson, Satan intended to take my life, in order to hinder the work I was about to write; but angels of God were sent to my rescue. I also saw, among other things, that I should be blessed with better health than before the attack.”—Ibid.
In the Review and Herald of June 24, 1858, this notice appeared among the announcements on the last page:
“The Great Controversy.—This is the title of a work now in the press, written by Mrs. White. It is a sketch of her views of the great controversy between Christ and His angels, and the devil and his angels, from the fall of Satan until the controversy shall close at the end of the one thousand years of Rev. xx, by the destruction of sin and sinners out of the universe of God. It will contain between two and three hundred pages. Price, neatly bound in muslin, 50 cents.”
The issue of the Review and Herald for September 9 gave notice that “Spiritual Gifts, or The Great Controversy, has now been sent to all who have ordered.” R. F. Cottrell wrote an introductory article for the book in which he outlined reasons for believing in the perpetuity of spiritual gifts. The book's 219 pages portrayed only the high points of the controversy story. The more complete story was yet to be written.
In order to follow the chronological development of the set of volumes known as Spiritual Gifts, volumes 1-4, it is necessary to break into the story of the development of the expanded great controversy account. Spiritual Gifts, volume 2, is an autobiographical work bearing the subtitle My Christian Experience. This was a book of more than three hundred pages, in contrast with the sixty-four pages of the original Experience and Views. The plan for this book antedated that of The Great Controversy, but the work was delayed until the great controversy vision could be published. Again a glance at the preface gives insight into the reasons for the expanded life story.
“Having borne my testimony, and scattered several books containing my visions, in the Eastern, Middle, and Western States, and formed many happy acquaintances, I have felt it my duty to give to my friends and to the world a sketch of my Christian experience, visions, and labors in connection with the rise and progress of the third angel's message….
“As the cry of Mormonism is often raised, especially in the west, at the introduction of the Bible argument of the perpetuity of spiritual gifts, I have felt anxious that my brethren should know what my experience has been, and where it has been.
“When at Knoxville, Iowa, March, 1860, we learned that a man had been reporting that he knew me and my husband twenty years ago, when we were leaders among the Mormons at Nauvoo! At that time I was only twelve years old.
“The statements in this work, backed up by the testimonies of those who have been personally acquainted with my experience and labors for the past sixteen years, may help the minds of some. The tongue of slander will not harm unworthy me. It has been with the hope to benefit, in some degree, the cause of truth, that I have prepared this work. And may God add His blessing, that it may feed and cheer the little flock.”—Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. iii, iv.
Seldom has the path of a prophet of God been an easy one. Almost always there have been questionings and skepticism. Frequently his motives have been impugned, his experience assailed. Some of this has been the result of prejudice, some of ignorance; and a fair share has resulted from defiance. God's warning to Jeremiah was one that might well have been given to every prophet: “And they shall fight against thee.” Jeremiah 1:19. But the sentence does not end at that point. It continues, “but they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.” Spiritual Gifts, volume 2, gives no impression of having been written as a defense, but merely to set before the advent believers and others the facts so that they would be prepared to make their own decisions on the basis of evidence presented.
Prefacing Spiritual Gifts, volume 3, Mrs. White declared her purpose in presenting to the public “this, my third little volume.” Because the Bible dwells at considerable length on the sins and apostasies of some of the servants of God and treats sparingly of praise of noble deeds and holy lives, infidels have sought to denounce all Bible characters as unworthy. Much insight had been given in vision to Ellen White as to the balanced picture of the lives of these men, and she felt it a duty to present the light. The author also indicated that a further volume was in prospect.
“When I commenced writing, I hoped to bring all into this volume, but am obliged to close the history of the Hebrews, take up the cases of Saul, David, Solomon, and others, and treat upon the subject of Health, in another volume.”—Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, P. vi.
Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, passes over the time from the fall of man to the first advent of Christ without comment. Volume 3 begins with the story of creation week, expands the early
history of the antediluvian world, and tells of the Flood and events that followed down to the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt, their arrival at Sinai, and their reception of the law.
The first half of volume 4 treats of the building of the sanctuary, experiences of the Israelites while traveling through the wilderness, and the early kings of Israel before the division of the kingdom, and it closes with miscellaneous chapters on health, some personal experiences, and the delusions of teachings regarding progression. Thus volumes 1, 3, and the first half of 4 combined cover the high points from the fall of Satan to the ultimate eradication of sin. Still the account had not been given in detail. Two major steps remained to be taken before the great-controversy story reached the form in which we find it today.
The Spiritual Gifts volumes were given a hearty reception by the advent believers. As time passed and the editions ran out, it was demanded that they be made available again. New believers were being added to the ranks regularly, and it was necessary that they be given access to the great-controversy story for the spiritual enlightenment and guidance it would bring them. However, since the publication of these volumes, additional revelations had been given to Mrs. White and other views had been repeated in more detail. She felt that she should not permit the books to be reprinted in their old form when she was now able to present the messages much more fully. She asked for time to rewrite and expand in order to present the subjects more fully. Plans were laid for the production of four volumes of about four hundred pages each to take the place of Spiritual Gifts, volumes 1, 3, and 4. It will be recalled that Volume 2 was autobiographical and not a part of the great controversy account.
The Spirit of Prophecy, volume 1, the first volume of this expanded set, came from the press in 1870, and the others spread over the next fourteen years: volume 2 in 1877, 3 in 1878, and 4 in 1884. A brief description of a few of the changes will give an idea of how the expansion was accomplished. The three pages of chapter I of Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, called “The Fall of Satan,” were expanded into a seven-page chapter of the same title in the new book. Larger pages added even more to the contents than the number of pages would indicate. Comparable enlargement and considerable rearrangement of materials took place throughout the development of the story. Lives of additional Old Testament characters were brought in and their stories told at some length. From the fifty-seven pages in Spiritual Gifts, the record of the life of the Saviour unfolded to fill more than 670 pages in The Spirit of Prophecy, volumes 2
and 3. And so characters and details were added and spiritual lessons brought out until the approximately 600 pages of Spiritual Gifts devoted to the controversy story became more than 1,750 enlarged pages in The Spirit of Prophecy.
The Great Controversy, volume 4 of The Spirit of Prophecy, differs markedly from the other three volumes in the series in that it extends beyond the Bible history and deals mostly with events which have taken place since the close of the Bible canon. The first chapter treats the destruction of Jerusalem which occurred before the writing of the New Testament was finished, but which finds no place in the Bible record. It then takes up the persecution of the Christians during the first centuries of the Christian Era, the rise of the papacy, Christians of the Dark Ages, the Reformation, the advent movement, deceptions of the last days, the deliverance of God's people, and the end of the controversy.
Soon after the publication of The Great Controversy in 1884, it was found to be a book suitable for sale to the public as well as to members of the church. Illustrations were provided and a subscription edition was soon ready for distribution. Within four years after its publication, ten editions of the book, totaling about 50,000 copies, were printed and sold.
Mrs. White spent from the autumn of 1885 until late summer of 1887 in Europe, speaking, counseling with leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist work in numerous European countries, and writing. Her visits to many historic places formerly shown her in vision qualified her to write more vividly and fully of some of the things that had been presented to her. Scenes that had come before her two or three times in vision were brought to mind with renewed force when the historic spots were viewed. Plans were considered for the translation of The Great
Controversy into principal European languages, and in connection with this project she made additions to the book to present the matter as fully and graphically as possible. This was published in 1888.
Unlike the 1884 subscription edition, which was the standard edition with added illustrations, the 1888 edition was prepared with the idea in mind of circulation to the general public. Consequently a few pages of material appropriate for the church, but not suitable for general circulation, were omitted. An example may be seen in the chapter, “The Snares of Satan,” pages 518-530, in the 1911 edition. Portions of this chapter, delineating the work of Satan through many Protestant ministers, as it appeared in the earliest edition, were omitted from the 1888 edition in order to avoid giving unnecessary offense to those of other religions. Later the omitted portions were reprinted elsewhere for the information of Seventh-day Adventist workers, e.g., Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 472-475, “The Snares of Satan,” where this matter appears with the footnote: “From the fourth volume of Spirit of Prophecy, or The Great Controversy (1884), ch. 27, pp. 337-340.”
Scores of thousands of copies of this new edition were sold, and by 1911 the printing plates were so badly worn that it was necessary to set the type for The Great Controversy again. Other important steps in the improvement of the book for general circulation were taken. New illustrations were supplied, references for historical quotations were inserted, and in a few instances historical citations were substituted for some in the earlier editions of the book, the authorship of which could not be determined. Not long after she received a copy of the new edition, Mrs. White wrote indicating her pleasure with it.
“The book Great Controversy I appreciate above silver or gold, and I greatly desire that it shall come before the people. While writing the manuscript of Great Controversy, I was often conscious of the presence of the angels of God. And many times the scenes about which I was writing were presented
to me anew in visions of the night, so that they were fresh and vivid in my mind…. I regard this new edition with great satisfaction.”—Ellen G. White Letter 56, 1911.
The Great Controversy as it is circulated today is the 1911 edition. It is still available in two types of editions—the illustrated and specially bound editions sold largely by colporteurs to the general public, and the smaller, unillustrated editions usually purchased by church members. Pagings vary somewhat in the illustrated editions, but the contents are the same in all.
After the appearance of the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy, Mrs. White turned her attention to a more complete presentation of the beginning of the great conflict between Christ and Satan. As The Great Controversy pictures the close of the struggle, Patriarchs and Prophets portrays its beginning. From the beginning of sin, before the creation of this world, the account is carried down to the close of the reign of David. This volume came from the press in 1890 as a companion to The Great Controversy.
In the four volumes of The Spirit of Prophecy series, the story of the life of Christ occupies one full volume and more than half of another—more than a third of the total pages of the series; but still Mrs. White felt that she had not written enough. After the completion of Patriarchs and Prophets, her attention was again turned to the life of the Saviour. In her correspondence there are repeated references to her desire to expand and complete her work on the life of Christ. It was about this time that she went to Australia for nine years, and there she was able to do the work she had been looking forward to with such anticipation. Much time was spent over a period of half a
dozen years, from 1892 to 1898, in writing chapters for the book. While Ellen White always wrote with the utmost care and feeling, it is unlikely that any other of her books provoked such deep thought and consecration, or called forth such earnest prayers for divine wisdom as did this one, that the life of the Redeemer might be fittingly represented. Combined with her intense desire to give only the best kind of representation of the life of Christ, one must think of the physical suffering through which she passed during part of the time of the preparation of this book. Not long after she reached Australia, Mrs. White began to suffer from inflammatory rheumatism, and was in constant pain for eleven months. During this time she wrote these lines in a letter to Elder O. A. Olsen, the president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists:
“This is indeed a period of physical weakness for me, and of almost absolute dependence upon others. So new is this experience to me that I have felt amazed that it should be so. But though almost helpless in body, in heart I feel no sense of age.
“This week I have been enabled to commence writing on the life of Christ. O, how inefficient, how incapable I am of expressing the things which burn in my soul in reference to the mission of Christ. I have hardly dared to enter upon the work. There is so much to it all. And what shall I say, and what shall I leave unsaid? I lie awake nights pleading with the Lord for the Holy Spirit to come upon me, to abide upon me. I present these words, ‘Without Me ye can do nothing.’ Jesus means to be with the worker in every line of the work. And the reason so many fail to have success is that they trust in themselves altogether too much, and they do not feel the positive necessity of abiding in Christ, as they go forth to seek and save that which is lost. Until they have the mind of Christ, and teach the truth as it is in Jesus, they will not accomplish much. I walk with trembling before God. I know not how to speak or trace with pen the large subjects of the atoning sacrifice. I
know not how to present subjects in the living power in which they stand before me. I tremble for fear, lest I shall belittle the great plan of salvation by cheap words. I bow my soul in awe and reverence before God, and say, Who is sufficient for these things? How can I talk, how can I write to my brethren so that they will catch the beams of light flashing from heaven? What shall I say?”—Ellen G. White Letter 40, 1892.
After her illness, Mrs. White was not free to pursue the writing of the life of Christ as she wished. She was called on to take an active part in the expanding work of Adventists in Australia. Preaching, correspondence, counsel, and assistance in general lines occupied much of her time. But, a little at a time, material was gathered from what she had written in the past, for she had already penned hundreds of pages on the life of Christ. New articles were written and arranged in their logical order with the earlier articles and selections. Then additional chapters and passages were written to fill in the gaps and make connections. As the work neared completion, it was apparent that there was too much material for one book. The parables were lifted out and published as Christ's Object Lessons. The detailed account of the Sermon on the Mount became Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing. A portion also went into The Ministry of Healing. The Desire of Ages, a detailed account of Christ's life, was published in 1898.
In the story of the life of the Master, as told in these books, is revealed an insight not only into events but into vital Christian experience. In Ellen White's personal acquaintance with Jesus Christ, perhaps even more than the divine revelations that opened to her so many details of the Saviour's life, lies the reason for the heart-appeal of these messages. She wrote to a friend in 1895: “You know that my whole theme, both in the pulpit and in private, by voice and pen, is the life of Christ.”—Letter 41, 1895. Christ was the theme of her life as well as of her words. Only out of that kind of experience could such a book as The Desire of Ages emerge.
There remained two gaps to be filled in the expanded record of the conflict of the ages—from the beginning of the reign of Solomon to the end of the Old Testament, and from the death of Christ to the end of the apostolic period. The book covering the apostolic age appeared first. As had been the case in the preparation of The Desire of Ages, much could be drawn from the hundreds of pages already in print covering many of the events of the period. Then new chapters and other portions were written particularly for the book in preparation. In a letter to one of her sons, Mrs. White brings in both of these final volumes.
“My work on the book, The Acts of the Apostles, is completed. In a few weeks you shall have a copy. I have had excellent help in preparing this work for the press. There are other writings that I desire to get before our people, that they may speak when my voice is silent. The book on Old Testament history [Prophets and Kings], which we hope to bring out next, will call for earnest effort. I am grateful for the help the Lord is giving me in the labors of faithful, trained workers, and that these workers are ready to carry forward this work as fast as it is possible.”—Ellen G. White Letter 88, 1911.
By this time Ellen White had reached the age of eighty-three. She knew that little time remained for her to complete the tasks the Lord had assigned her. All haste was being made to complete the Conflict Series before she should have to lay down her pen. Soon after the completion of The Acts of the Apostles, Prophets and Kings was undertaken in the same fashion as the earlier books. Work progressed slowly because of many interruptions; but by February, 1915, the task was nearing completion. It was at that time that Mrs. White met with the accident that confined her to her bed and wheel chair until her death.
A brief statement from Life Sketches tells of the completion of the book.
“At the time of her accident, in February, 1915, all but the last two chapters had been completed; … and these final chapters had been sufficiently blocked out to admit of completion by the inclusion of additional matter from her manuscript file.”—Page 436.
Thus over a period of fifty-seven years the Conflict of the Ages Series grew, until it stands today a monumental and distinctive work of more than thirty-six hundred pages, giving the clearest insight into the Bible history, and carrying the mind from the rebellion in heaven through the history of the world to the day when sin shall end and eternity shall begin. It will not be misusing the words of the author of these books if her stated objective in the writing of the one volume, The Great Controversy, is applied to the whole of the series.
“To unfold the scenes of the great controversy between truth and error; to reveal the wiles of Satan, and the means by which he may be successfully resisted; to present a satisfactory solution of the great problem of evil, shedding such a light upon the origin and the final disposition of sin as to make fully manifest the justice and benevolence of God in all His dealings with His creatures; and to show the holy, unchanging nature of His law, is the object of this book. That through its influence souls may be delivered from the power of darkness, and become ‘partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,’ to the praise of Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, is the earnest prayer of the writer.”—The Great Controversy, Introduction, page xii.
A careful, earnest reader of all these volumes will be constrained to agree that the objective of the author, under God, was achieved.
Side by side with the Conflict of the Ages Series stands the second major series of books, Testimonies for the Church. Different
in nature from the largely historical and biographical “Conflict” books, the Testimonies are made up of letters, articles, records of visions, sermons, and addresses containing simple, straightforward instruction concerning the everyday affairs of life. While they outline broad principles that all can apply, they also bring the principles down to specific applications. Mrs. White sets forth the purpose of the volumes succinctly in Testimonies, volume 2, page 608. There she quotes the words spoken to her in a prophetic dream. “One stood by my side,” she said, and spoke, among other things, these words: “‘Your success is in your simplicity. As soon as you depart from this, and fashion your testimony to meet the minds of any, your power is gone. Almost everything in this age is glossed and unreal. The world abounds in testimonies given to please and charm for a moment, and to exalt self. Your testimony is of a different character. It is to come down to the minutiae of life, keeping the feeble faith from dying, and pressing home upon believers the necessity of shining as lights in the world.’”
Near the end of April, 1855, a conference of advent believers convened at Battle Creek, Michigan. As one item in his report of the meetings, James White wrote in the Review and Herald of May 15, 1855: “The brethren in Battle Creek and vicinity are generally awake to the wants of the cause, and are anxious to establish the Review Office in that place. They are able and willing to do so, and manifest much anxiety to relieve us of those cares and responsibilities which we have too long borne. The climate, water, prices of rent, fuel, provisions, &c., seem favorable to the location.”
Since April, 1852, the Review office had been located at Rochester, New York. For several years interests of the cause had developed slowly and painfully. Commenting on their situation, Ellen White said: “In 1855 the brethren in Michigan opened the way for the publishing work to be removed to Battle Creek. At that time my husband was owing between two and three thousand dollars; and all he had, besides a small lot of
books, was accounts for books, and some of these were doubtful…. Orders for publications were very few and small. My husband's health was very poor. He was troubled with cough and soreness of lungs, and his nervous system was prostrated.”—Life Sketches, page 157.
There were men at Battle Creek who were eager to promote the advent cause, and at the same time to relieve the Whites of the pressure of the full responsibility for the publishing work. Daniel R. Palmer, Cyrenius Smith, J. P. Kellogg, and Henry Lyon each agreed to furnish $300 without interest to purchase a lot and erect a publishing office. On the lot a 20 × 30 foot two-story wooden building was built. At about the same time the first Seventh-day Adventist meetinghouse was erected not far away. It was only 18 × 24 feet, but it marked a beginning. Circumstances improved decidedly soon after the removal to Battle Creek. The friendly earnestness of the believers caused the future to appear brighter.
“From the time we moved to Battle Creek, the Lord began to turn our captivity. We found sympathizing friends in Michigan, who were ready to share our burdens and supply our wants. Old, tried friends in central New York and New England, especially in Vermont, sympathized with us in our afflictions, and were ready to assist us in time of distress. At the conference at Battle Creek in November, 1856, God wrought for us. New life was given to the cause, and success attended the labors of our preachers.”—Life Sketches, page 159.
The last issue of the Review and Herald to be printed at Rochester was dated October 30, 1855. None came out in November. Battle Creek, Michigan, December 4, 1855, was the date line for the next issue. In the meantime an important conference had been held. James White reported on the conference in the first Review sent out from the new publishing house in Battle Creek.
“Held at the ‘House of Prayer,’ at Battle Creek, Nov. 16th-19th, was a Meeting of importance, and deep interest. Brn.
Hart of Vt., Bates of Mass., Belden of Conn., and Waggoner, lately from Wis., and a goodly number from different parts of this State, were present. Nov. 16th was spent in transacting business expressed in the call for the Conference. Sabbath, 17th, in a most thorough examination and discussion of the time to commence the Sabbath; 18th, three discourses were given by Brn. Waggoner and Bates; 19th, in prayer, and remarks, and confessions relative to the evident departure of the remnant from the spirit of the message, and the humble, straightforward course taken by those who first embraced it. Strong desires were expressed, and fervent prayers were offered to Heaven, for the return of the Spirit of consecration, sacrifice, and holiness once enjoyed by the remnant. Our long-suffering, and tender Father in heaven smiled upon His waiting children, and manifested His power to their joy. The brethren separated greatly refreshed and encouraged.”—Review and Herald, Dec. 4, 1855.
During the four-year period, 1851-55, there had appeared in the Review only four articles of general exhortation from Mrs. White's pen. No reference had been made to the visions. This was one of the items to be considered at the Battle Creek conference, for it was obvious to some that the progress of the work had suffered since little attention was being given to revelations from God. As a result of the conference a decided change was made in attitudes toward the visions and their publication in the paper.
“At our late Conference at Battle Creek, in Nov. God wrought for us. The minds of the servants of God were exercised as to the gifts of the Church, and if God's frown had been brought upon His people because the gifts had been slighted and neglected, there was a pleasing prospect that His smiles would again be upon us, and He would graciously and mercifully revive the gifts again, and they would live in the Church, to encourage the desponding and fainting soul, and to correct and reprove the erring.”—Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Jan. 10, 1856.
Of her experience at a meeting on the day following the close of the conference, Mrs. White wrote: “November 20, 1855, while in prayer, the Spirit of the Lord came suddenly and powerfully upon me, and I was taken off in vision.”—Testimonies, vol. p, 113. The matters seen in the vision were written out and read to the church at Battle Creek. A footnote at the close of the testimony, as later printed, gives the reasons for the publication of the contents of the vision.
“We, the undersigned, being eyewitnesses when the above vision was given, deem it highly necessary that it should be published, for the benefit of the Church, on account of the important truths and warnings which it contains.
|Jos. Bates,||M. E. Cornell,|
|J. H. Waggoner,||J. Hart,|
|G. W. Amadon,||Uriah Smith.|
“Note.—The above vision was read before thirty-six members of the Battle Creek Church, on the evening of Nov. 24th, who gave their unanimous vote for its publication. It can be had by addressing E. G. White, Battle Creek, Mich. Those who would encourage the circulation of such matter, can do so by assisting in its publication. S. T. Belden.”—Testimony for the Church, 1855, page 8.
While it was not known at the time that this was to be the first of many testimonies to be sent to the church and to individuals, and later published, in due time it came to be designated as Testimony Number One. With the eight pages of this testimony were bound eight additional pages of testimony matter, making a sixteen-page pamphlet. Circulation of the pamphlet was small, and it was sent free to believers in many states. One of the notices in the Review of Dec. 18, 1855, said:
“I have sent out (postpaid) to brethren in different States about 150 copies of ‘Testimony for the Church.’ It can be had
by addressing me at Battle Creek, Mich. I shall be happy to hear from those who may receive it. Those who would encourage the circulation of such matter, can do so by assisting in its publication. E. G. White.”
No one among the men and women receiving those little pamphlets could have envisioned the nine volumes of Testimonies for the Church that would eventually achieve such a wide circulation in the church as they enjoy today. When volume 9 was published in 1909, it brought the total to approximately five thousand pages, made up of Testimonies, Nos. 1-37.
In the spring of 1856 another annual conference was held at Battle Creek, and again important matters were revealed to Mrs. White in vision. Again she wrote out what had been shown her, and read it to the group. Once more those to whom it was read felt that it should be printed and distributed for the benefit of others. At the close of this second testimony for the church is this note of explanation by two local church leaders:
“To the Saints Scattered Abroad
“The foregoing testimony was given in the presence of about one hundred brethren and sisters assembled in the House of Prayer, on whose minds it apparently made a deep impression. It has since been read before the church at Battle Creek, who gave their unanimous vote in favor of its publication for the benefit of the Saints scattered abroad.
“J. P. Kellogg.”
Like the first of the testimony series, the second was distributed without charge. Eight more were issued by 1864. All ten were paper-bound pamphlets, and the first four were sent out free. In 1864, when Spiritual Gifts, volume 4, was published, a second part was added to include these first ten testimonies. Ellen White wrote, in introducing this section of the book:
“During the last nine years, from 1855 to 1864, I have written ten small pamphlets, entitled, Testimony for the Church, which
have been published and circulated among Seventh-day Adventists. The first edition of most of these pamphlets being exhausted, and there being an increasing demand for them, it has been thought best to reprint them, as given in the following pages, omitting local and personal matters, and giving those portions only which are of practical and general interest and importance. Most of Testimony No. 4 may be found in the second volume of Spiritual Gifts, hence, it is omitted in this volume. E.G.W.”
Although some portions of the original testimonies were omitted from the group included in the Spiritual Gifts volume, later editions included the complete testimonies as presented in the early pamphlets. Ten more testimonies were sent out between 1867 and 1871. In 1871 copies of the later testimonies were available, but the earlier ones were again out of print. The desire of new church members to possess complete sets of the testimonies made it necessary to reprint the earlier messages. The first sixteen numbers were printed in their entirety and bound in two books of about five hundred pages each, paged consecutively. James White explained in the preface:
“During the period of sixteen years Mrs. W. has published her Testimonies to the Church in a series of pamphlets, which, at this date, number twenty. But as the editions of the first numbers were small, and have long since been exhausted, we are not able to furnish the series complete to the numerous friends who subsequently embrace the views of Seventh-day Adventists. The call for these Testimonies being large, we republish, and offer them in this form.
“And we are happy to do this, inasmuch as the testimonies, given under the trying, and ever-changing circumstances of the past sixteen years, ever breathing the same high-toned spirit of Scriptural piety, contain in themselves the best evidences of their being what they profess to be.
“There are in them matters of a local and personal character, which do not have a direct bearing upon our time. But as many have desired it, we give them complete.”—Testimonies for the Church, 1871 ed., vol. 1.
In this preface James White brings out a point of extreme importance, not only in connection with these particular testimonies, but in the consideration of all the Ellen White writings. When the earlier testimonies were first reprinted, certain portions were not included, because they were of such a nature that they did not directly apply to all. It was felt at that time that there was no real need for them to be published again. But, James White emphasizes, if the people want them, there is no reason why they should not be made available again. Every one of them, he says, breathes “the same high-toned spirit of Scriptural piety.” Furthermore, they “contain in themselves the best evidences of their being what they profess to be.”
Between 1871 and 1881, testimonies 17 to 30 were published, first as separate pamphlets, and later bound together, but with the pamphlet pagination retained. In 1882 testimony 31 appeared, but once more the publishers found it impossible to supply the demand for complete sets of the testimonies either as pamphlets or bound books. In 1883 it was decided to reprint Nos. 1-30. Before the printing was undertaken, however, there were some decisions of major importance that had to be made. In some of the testimonies, written under unfavorable circumstances, there were grammatical imperfections that had not been corrected before they were printed. Mrs. White and her associates felt that these corrections should be made before the messages were printed again.
Such importance was attached to the question that it was brought to the General Conference session of 1883 for consideration and an expression of the attitude of the leaders of the work.
The actions of the session as published in the Review and Herald of November 27, 1883, contain the following:
“32. Whereas, Some of the bound volumes of the Testimonies to the Church are out of print, so that full sets cannot be obtained at the Office; and—
“Whereas, There is a constant and urgent call for the reprinting of these volumes; therefore—
“Resolved, That we recommend their republication in such a form as to make four volumes of seven or eight hundred pages each.
“33. Whereas, Many of these testimonies were written under the most unfavorable circumstances, the writer being too heavily pressed with anxiety and labor to devote critical thought to the grammatical perfection of the writings, and they were printed in such haste as to allow these imperfections to pass uncorrected; and—
“Whereas, We believe the light given by God to His servants is by the enlightenment of the mind, thus imparting the thoughts, and not (except in rare cases) the very words in which the ideas should be expressed; therefore—
“Resolved, That in the republication of these volumes such verbal changes be made as to remove the above-named imperfections, as far as possible, without in any measure changing the thought; and, further—
“34. Resolved, That this body appoint a committee of five to take charge of the republication of these volumes according to the above preambles and resolutions.”
This was simply a recognition of the principle already noticed, that neither the Bible writers nor Ellen White received their messages by dictation. Mrs. White was constantly striving to prepare her books to present in a clear and appealing manner the things that had been revealed to her. If the correction of minor grammatical errors would make the books more attractive and if they would better represent the high and holy nature of the thoughts presented, should not those corrections be
made when they in no wise altered the sense of the message? Some might be turned away from the message as a whole because some portion of the truth was not presented in the best manner possible.
In 1885 the new edition of the testimonies was ready for distribution. The needed corrections had been approved by Mrs. White, larger pages and clearer type were used, and the thirty testimonies appeared in four volumes—volumes 1-4 of the present nine-volume set of Testimonies for the Church. In the “Preface to Third Edition,” this explanatory note was included, indicating two additional types of minor changes that were made:
“In the Testimonies as first printed, blanks or initials were generally used for the names of the persons addressed. For these are now substituted the letters of the alphabet, beginning with A in each number.
“In the earlier visions the words ‘I saw’ were very frequently inserted. As the writer considers this repetition needless, and as they constitute no part of the record of what was seen, they are sometimes omitted. Some grammatical and rhetorical changes also have been made for the sake of strength and clearness. In making these changes great care has been taken to preserve every idea, and in no case have either words or sentences been omitted unless as above indicated, to avoid unnecessary repetition.”—Testimonies for the Church, 3d ed., 1885, vol. 1, pp. iii, iv.
Volumes of the Testimonies continued to be issued Until thirty-seven numbered pamphlets and books had come from the press by 1909. These thirty-seven make up the set of nine volumes bound separately or in four books.
In these books is found the fulfillment of the commission quoted earlier: “‘Your testimony … is to come down to the minutiae of life, keeping the feeble faith from dying, and pressing home upon believers the necessity of shining as lights in the world.’”—Ibid., vol. 2, p. 608. Through them the church has
learned God's way of applying the great principles of Christian living as outlined and illustrated in the Bible. Here are brought to focus on the twentieth century rays of light lost sight of through ages past. In these books is “a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light.”—Colporteur Ministry, page 125.
Not only in the books known as the Testimonies is the light visible, but each of the Ellen White books gives an insight into the Scriptures equaled by the writings of no other author. They never take the place of Bible study by giving all the explanation needed—God did not intend that they should serve as crutches. They do not eliminate the need for the prompting of the mind by the Spirit of God, for it is the Spirit who gives perception through any revelation. Chapter 19 of this book pictures the relation of these writings to the Bible. The diligent student who accepts the Bible as his rule of faith and practice can find Ellen White's writings of inestimable service in leading him to a better understanding of Scripture. They will also help him apply its teachings to his present problems as he prepares for the second advent of Jesus Christ.
Because of the obvious impossibility of publishing all the Ellen White books in the major languages of earth, to say nothing of the minor languages, the General Conference Committee has designated twelve volumes as an Introductory Spirit of Prophecy Library, to be published in the principal languages. Since the nine volumes of the Testimonies for the Church make as many pages as were contemplated for the twelve volumes, steps were taken to provide representative and balanced selections in about one third the number of pages of the complete books. The result is a set of three compact volumes bearing the title Testimony Treasures. Precedent for making such selections from the whole was established by Mrs. White herself in
1864 reprinting of the first ten numbers of the Testimonies. Earlier in this chapter she was quoted in part as follows:
“The first edition of most of these pamphlets being exhausted, and there being an increasing demand for them, it has been thought best to reprint them, as given in the following pages, omitting local and personal matters, and giving those portions only which are of practical and general interest and importance.”—Testimonies for the Church, Nos. 1-10, as republished in Spiritual Gifts, volume 4.
This selection of articles covers every important phase of counsel dealt with in the Testimonies. For the most part, complete articles have been used, but some portions of long articles have been omitted. All deletions are indicated. Repetition of instruction has been avoided. It is only natural that the author, writing to many individuals and groups over a long period of years, should touch on some of the same topics again and again. For instance, there are three major articles in the Testimonies on the subject of tithing. Of these, the longest was selected, and with it were put paragraphs from other articles to round out the subject fully. Nothing of real significance in the three articles has been omitted. A similar procedure was followed in gathering matter for all the other topics. Either at the beginning, in the case of articles, or at the close, in the case of briefer selections, the original source is indicated so that one may turn to the item as it appears in the full volumes if that is desirable. With the testimony articles have been included a few important articles of a testimony character, dealing with vital topics not represented in the Testimonies, but which appear elsewhere in the English editions of the Ellen White books not available in other languages.
It was not planned that the Testimony Treasures should take the place of the full series. Primarily, they are intended for translation into other languages since the originals are too large for that purpose. But these three small volumes do serve a useful purpose in English as well. They are better adapted for
consecutive reading than are the larger volumes which many use mostly as reference books. The lower cost makes Testimony Treasures accessible to many families, especially in other countries where English is read, who might otherwise be unable to purchase the volumes of counsel. It should now be possible for the goal mentioned by Mrs. White to be reached: “The Testimonies, should be introduced into every Sabbathkeeping family.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, P. 390.
1. A knowledge of the background of the writing of the Ellen White books will form the basis for a better understanding of the books themselves.
2. The first small Ellen White book was A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White.
3. Two major sets of books form the center of the Ellen White writings—the Conflict of the Ages Series, and the Testimonies for the Church.
4. The Conflict Series developed through these steps:
5. The Testimonies for the Church were written in the form in which we have them now. Many were first published separately in pamphlet form, then bound in books.
1. Can you see advantages or disadvantages in the way in which the Conflict of the Ages Series was built up? Might they have been more satisfactory if they had been written chapter by chapter to present the full story at the first publication?
2. What relation to the matter of inspiration does the Conflict Series have in the way it was expanded from the first simple presentation? Could each of the successive stages be considered as having been given by inspiration?
3. If the books in the Conflict Series are in full harmony with the Bible story, how do you account for the fact that there are details in these books that are not mentioned in the Bible?
4. Compare the type of instruction in some of the books of the conflict Series with some in the nine volumes of the Testimonies for the Church. What similarities do you note? What differences? Are some of the same subjects covered in both sets of books?
5. Scan the table of contents and a few of the chapters of Testimony Treasures to see the coverage of topics. Note the references at the ends of sections. Then turn to the sources in the Testimonies and see the setting and additional information available there.
(See the chart on the end leaves.)
Explanatory note: The chart “Development of Some of the Ellen G. White Books” presents in simple form a picture of the relationship of issuance and content of the various Ellen White books prepared before the death of Mrs. White. The early visions are easily traced from their first printed form in articles and broadsides to the current Early Writings. “An Explanation” of some misunderstood statements in the early published visions is seen to be carried through to Early Writings in amplified form, finding its place in the central section of the book. The views of the great conflict are shown to be first published in 1858 and then traced through to the last section of Early Writings. They are also shown to be set forth in amplified form, first in the four volumes of Spirit of Prophecy (1870-84), and finally in the Conflict of the Ages Series (1888-1916). The current
books represent an amplified rewritten account based upon the basic great-controversy vision of 1858 and many succeeding views which opened the subject much more fully to the author.
The Testimonies for the Church began with a single sixteen-page pamphlet in 1855, which, with twenty-nine other similar but larger pamphlets, was, in 1885, reprinted in our present Testimonies, volumes 1 to 4. Then the series is seen to be enlarged to nine by the addition of five other volumes in succeeding years. The earlier articles were reprinted, and the series grew as additional volumes of counsel were added.
It will be noted that a number of the books have their roots in earlier volumes, particularly in the Testimonies. In some cases chapters or portions of chapters have formed parts of later productions, as with Christian Education (1894) or Gospel Workers (1892). At other times the subject matter presented first in the earlier books was rewritten and greatly amplified by Mrs. White in later productions. See Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene (1890), and The Ministry of Healing (1905). Such rewriting and expansion are attributed, first, to ever-widening views as presented to the author; second, to a rapidly expanding denominational work; and third, to a broadening field of distribution, in a number of cases reaching beyond the church to serve the world.
The books issued after Ellen White's death are compilations drawn largely from her earlier out-of-print books, periodical articles, and manuscript files. A complete list of Ellen White books will be found in Appendix B, on pages 482-485.
White Arthur L., Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, pp. 55-67 (Development of Conflict of the Ages Series and Testimonies for the Church).
White, Ellen G., Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, pp. 161-163 (Great controversy vision).