Prove All Things
A Guide, Not an Innovator
Has It Been Worth While?
Lines of Instruction
FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
Prove All Things.
In Chapter 3, The Prophets and Their Function, description was given of some of the ways God used prophets in Bible times. It was pointed out that theirs was a broad work and that they filled an important place in the history of God's people. They spoke for God, revealed His purposes, strengthened and guided rulers, encouraged the people to faithfulness, protested against evils, directed a variety of activities, taught, and served as consultants and counselors regarding every phase of individual and national life. A survey of the prophetic ministry of Ellen White makes clear that God used her to fulfill a function in the remnant church similar to that of the Bible prophets in ancient times.
The situation in the world and in the church just before the second advent of Christ was anticipated by God, and He has made provision to meet all the needs of His people. The world must hear the everlasting gospel. The church must give that gospel message, and at the same time make preparation for the test that will come when most of the world rejects the gospel invitation and turns against the church. Both of these tasks must be performed at the most difficult time in all historya time when man's weaknesses and tendencies toward sin are greatest, a time when the sin and degradation of the world outstrip that of any previous period, a time when Satan will be permitted to work his most subtle deceptions and offer his most powerful inducements to sin. To meet the situation, the Lord provided a special messenger to give guidance in harmony with the principles of His word. Notice some of the
parallels between the function of the Bible prophets and that of Ellen White in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1. Speaks for God. In ancient times God spoke to men by the mouth of prophets and apostles. In these days He speaks to them by the Testimonies of His Spirit. There was never a time when God instructed His people more earnestly than He instructs them now concerning His will and the course that He would have them pursue.Testimonies, vol. 4, pp. 147, 148; also vol. 5, P. 661. Repeatedly Mrs. White emphasized that the messages she brought were not her own, but were God's instruction for His people. Her only authority was that she was speaking for God and not for herself. I have no special wisdom in myself; I am only an instrument in the Lord's hands to do the work He has set for me to do. The instructions that I have given by pen or voice have been an expression of the light that God has given me.Ibid., vol. 5, P. 691.
2. Reveals God's purposes. Near the end of her stay in Australia, Ellen White talked to those present at the Australasian Union Conference session on the subject of the Avondale School and its work. In her talk she gave emphasis to God's purpose for the school and the missionary character of the work to be done there. God designs that this place shall be a center, an object lesson. Our school is not to pattern after any school that has been established in America, or after any school that has been established in this country. We are looking to the Sun of Righteousness, trying to catch every beam of light that we can .
From this center we are to send forth missionaries. Here they are to be educated and trained, and sent to the islands of the sea and other countries. The Lord wants us to be preparing for missionary work .
There is a great and grand work to be done. Some who are here may feel that they must go to China or other places to
proclaim the message. These should first place themselves in the position of learners, and thus be tested and tried.Ellen G. White, in Australasian Union Conference Record, July 28, 1899, pp. 8, 9.
3. Strengthens and guides leaders. During a period of crisis over certain theological problems, Mrs. White wrote many letters to the denomination's leaders giving detailed instruction as to how they should deal with the problems, To strengthen them to act in harmony with the counsel given, she declared: After taking your position firmly, wisely, cautiously, make not one concession on any point concerning which God has plainly spoken. Be as calm as a summer evening; but as fixed as the everlasting hills. By conceding, you would be selling our whole cause into the hands of the enemy.Ellen G. White Letter 216, 1903. Printed in A. G. Daniells, The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, page 338.
A. G. Daniells, then president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, wrote about one of this series of letters in particular, and made this comment: Your message came on just the right daya day earlier would have been too soon. I read it to the council yesterday, and it produced a most profound impression . These messages you are sending are so clear, so pointed, so applicable, that everyone can see that God has revealed the situation clearly to your mind. Great confidence is being established in the hearts of our workers in the Spirit of prophecy.Letter from A. G. Daniells to Ellen G. White, Oct. 20, 1903, in files of Ellen G. White Publications Office.
4. Encourages people to faithfulness. The importance of the little things is often underrated because they are small; but they supply much of the actual discipline of life. There are really no nonessentials in the Christian's life. Our character building will be full of peril while we underrate the importance
of the little things . Only by faithfulness in the little things can the soul be trained to act with fidelity under larger responsibilities.Christ's Object Lessons, page 356.
Glorious will be the reward bestowed when the faithful workers gather about the throne of God and of the Lamb . They will stand before the throne, accepted in the Beloved. All their sins have been blotted out, all their transgressions borne away. Now they can look upon the undimmed glory of the throne of God. They have been partakers with Christ in His sufferings, they have been workers together with Him in the plan of redemption, and they are partakers with Him in the joy of seeing souls saved in the kingdom of God, there to praise God through all eternity.
My brother, my sister, I urge you to prepare for the coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven.Testimonies, vol. 9, P. 285.
Encouraging the church members to be faithful in personal matters, in the work of God, and in spiritual experience, is a prominent part of the Ellen White writings. The prophet's divinely given foreknowledge of serious times ahead causes the writings to ring with an urgency rarely heard elsewhere among men.
5. Protests against evils. It is not difficult to see the fulfillment of Christ's prediction that wheat and tares would grow together in the church until the time of the harvest. But God has never allowed evil to continue without raising vigorous protests through His appointed servants. Ellen White was used repeatedly in this way.
In His providence the Lord has seen fit to teach and warn His people in various ways. By direct command, by the sacred writings, and by the spirit of prophecy has He made known unto them His will. My work has been to speak plainly of the faults and errors of God's people. Because the sins of certain individuals have been brought to light, it is no evidence that they are worse in the sight of the Lord than many whose failings
are unrecorded. But I have been shown that it is not mine to choose my work, but humbly to obey the will of God. The errors and wrongdoings in the lives of professed Christians are recorded for the instruction of those who are liable to fall into the same temptations. The experience of one serves as a beacon light to warn others off the rocks of danger.Ibid., vol. 4, PP. 12, 13.
6. Directs activities. On the night of February 18, 1902, the main building of the Battle Creek Sanitarium burned. On December 30 of the same year the main building of the Review and Herald Publishing Association was destroyed by fire. The two fires within one year led to a study of the advisability of removing the publishing house and the denominational headquarters to some other place. The problem was carefully considered at the 1903 General Conference session. During the session Mrs. White commented:
In reply to the question that has been asked in regard to settling somewhere else, I answer, Yes. Let the General Conference offices and the publishing work be moved from Battle Creek. I know not where the place will be, whether on the Atlantic coast or elsewhere; but this I will say: Never lay a stone or a brick in Battle Creek to rebuild the Review Office there. God has a better place for it.Life Sketches, page 389.
In response to later inquires the word was given: Decided efforts should be made in Washington, D.C.Ibid., 390.
Still later, the message was given: I am sure that the advantages of Washington, D.C., should be closely investigated.Ibid., p. 392.
Finally, definite guidance was given: From the light given me, I know that, for the present, the headquarters of the Review and Herald should be near Washington.Ibid., p. 394.
God gave guidance for the development of every major phase of the activities of Seventh-day Adventists through the agency of this messenger to the remnant church.
7. Teaches. Most prominent of all the functions of the messenger was that of teaching the principles of the kingdom of heaven. As has been seen previously, new principles were not added, but simple down-to-earth applications of the principles of life came daily from the pen and the lips of the prophet. The books and articles are filled with practical instruction, particularly adapted to the needs of the church near the end of time.
As in the case of the Bible prophets, there was no matter too large or too small to warrant the attention of the messenger. Ellen White served where she was needed, and the counsels sent through her were suited to the situation and circumstances. It seems to have been the Lord's plan that the influence of the prophet should be felt everywhere in the expanding church, so that it might serve as a leavening agent and a unifying factor. Thus the whole movement would be bound together by the influence of the Holy Spirit.
There is little possibility of making even a casual study of the history and present situation of Seventh-day Adventists without taking into consideration the place and influence of Ellen White. It would be like trying to study the Exodus of Israel from Egypt without noting the work of Moses. A glance at any part of the record of the life of Ellen White after her childhood will indicate something of her relationship to the advent people. The two are bound together in such a fashion as to render them inseparable.
Can there be any accurate evaluation of the contribution made by Ellen White to the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist movement? There are certain intangibles that make evaluation difficult. Who can estimate the ultimate effects of influence? Who can know the extent of the responses to instruction given? Who can test the holding power of confidence? Yet, an observing eye cannot fail to note the numerous contributions
that lead to the conclusion that if it had not been for the life and work of this messenger of the Lord the development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church would have been vastly different.
Prove all things, Paul suggests; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:21. It seems that Paul's attention was turned to the gift of prophecy when he gave this counsel, for the preceding verse reads, Despise not prophesyings. In spiritual things it is extremely important that we discard anything that is useless or erroneous, and that we discover and hold to all that is truth. Jesus tested the traditions of the Jews and found them worthless. Luther found that the system of salvation by works under which he had been living was an erroneous system. Suppose he had retained it. Joseph Bates heard that the seventh day was the Sabbath. He tested the claim by the Bible and found it true. Suppose he had rejected the Sabbath in favor of the day he had been keeping. It is not difficult to conjecture what some of the results might have been had these men not proved these teachings and held fast the good.
Much has been said in previous chapters about some of the contributions of Ellen White to the growth of the church, but no general summary has been made. Has it been worth while to have this manifestation of the gift of prophecy in the church? What has it meant to the church as a whole and to the individual members? Some points that have been covered in earlier parts of the book will be reviewed briefly in this general summary.
The presence of the manifestation of the gift of prophecy has meant:
1. Assistance in developing doctrines. The relation of Ellen White to the early development of the system of teachings held by Seventh-day Adventists was presented in chapter 12. These doctrines were not given to the church through revelations to Mrs. White, but the influence of the visions provided guidance so that right conclusions might be reached and substantiated.
All theological problems are not settled by the writings, but sufficient help has been given so that no mistake need be made in any vital matter. The variations that exist in the doctrines of other denominations have not crept into Seventh-day Adventist teachings because this special guidance has indicated the validity of the Bible positions. Without this unifying factor, there would, no doubt, be many different views regarding the second advent of Christ, the nature of man, and other topics.
2. Saving from false teachings and fanaticism. In the early days of the advent movement, before clear doctrinal positions had been worked out, there was serious danger from the introduction of false teachings among the advent believers. Numerous ways in which erroneous teachings were corrected are noted in the early history of the movement. In some cases errors crept into the thinking of substantial Adventists, but they were willing to correct their views when their errors were indicated. In other instances the errors led to fanaticism and increased the difficulty of dealing with the problems. A striking example from the early days may be found in A. W. Spalding's Captains of the Host, pages 128-130, where he tells the story of the encounter with the fanatics Sargent and Robbins. For details of the account Spalding combines the records of J. N. Lough-borough and lames White.
Attempts to introduce false teachings did not cease with the passing of the years. A. G. Daniells, in The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, pages 330-341, records how God used the gift of prophecy to prevent the injection of subtle pantheistic teachings into Seventh-day Adventist doctrines. How the problem of the rise of a false prophetess was met is told in the experience of Anna Phillips, found in Appendix A at the close of this book. See pages 469-471. This persistent guarding of the truth has been as important as its original discovery. The teachings of the church must neither be warped by error nor marred by fanaticism.
3. Developing organization. The major steps in the growth of denominational organization were traced in chapter 12. The general plan in operation today is that which came about as the result of the 1903 General Conference and the suggestions made by Ellen White. It is an organization ideally suited to maintaining close contact with all parts of the world field and fostering united action in all areas.
4. Guidance in current problems. In November, 1890, Ellen White was given a vision while she was stopping for a few days at Salamanca, New York. Several times she tried to tell what she had seen, but she was unable to do so. Why? Because some of the things she had seen had not yet taken place; she was unaware of this, and she must wait until the problem arose before she presented what had been revealed to her. When the need was present and the problem had to be faced, God prompted her to recall the vision and recount it. The story is told in detail in Appendix A. See pages 471-480.
5. Guidance in plans for the future. Working from day to day with no long-range plan is unfavorable to the prosperity of any enterprise. Knowing the end from the beginning, God is able to give direction through His prophets that will result in well-laid plans for His church. Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets. Amos 3:7.
Wise plans were laid for the growth of the educational work at the Australian college at Avondale. Professor C. W. Irwin, who took charge of the school soon after Ellen White returned to the United States from Australia, wrote this after he had been the head of the school for eight years:
As time has gone on, and we have had an opportunity to watch the work develop, we can say most assuredly from our experience, that God led in the selection of this place. Everything that has been said about the location of the school in this place has been fulfilled.
The brethren in counsel with Sister White had made such broad and liberal plans for the school that through my eight years' connection with it I have never yet needed to change a single plan they had laid down. God guided in the establishment of the work there; and all we have endeavored to do during these eight years, has simply been to develop more fully the plans already made. I believe the working out of this has proved that God's instruction was true.Australasian Union Conference Record, Aug. 27, 1928.
6. Revelation of future events. The major prophecies of the Bible carry us down to the end of the controversy between Christ and Satan. As the result of revelation, Ellen White was able to supply a number of details not mentioned in the Bible concerning these final events. Some of these details are set forth in the closing chapters of The Great Controversy.
This more complete picture of the days ahead has given the church an added safeguard against the deceptions of Satan. The deceptions will increase in number and subtlety as we approach the end, and they will reach a climax in the appearance of Satan in person, as he proclaims himself to be the Christ. For all who are not thoroughly prepared for these delusions, they will be overpowering. The more we know of the ways the deceiver will work, the better we will be prepared to avoid his traps.
7. Encouragement and aid to Bible study. As the Christian knows of a certainty what lies ahead, he better realizes his need for Bible study and a closer walk with God. In order to endure the trial before them, they must understand the will of God as revealed in His word . None but those who have fortified the mind with the truths of the Bible will stand through the last great conflict.The Great Controversy, page 593. Whatever may be man's intellectual advancement, let him not for a moment think that there is no need of thorough and continuous
searching of the Scriptures for greater light. As a people we are called individually to be students of prophecy. We must watch with earnestness that we may discern any ray of light which God shall present to us. We are to catch the first gleamings of truth; and through prayerful study clearer light may be obtained, which can be brought before others.Testimonies, vol. 5, P. 708.
Not only do the Ellen White books constantly remind one of the need for Bible study, but they serve as a guide to the clear understanding of the word of God.
8. Guidance in Christian living. It is God's plan to reveal to the world His character, His love, and His grace through the lives of His followers. In this way He will give a full and final display of the effectiveness of the plan of salvation. Practical applications of the principles of Christian living, as presented in the Bible, form a large share of the Ellen White writings. Not only are the principles emphasized, but, in most instances, detailed instruction is given as to ways in which they may be carried out in everyday living. Even the titles of many of the books reveal the aim of careful guidance: Steps to Christ, Messages to Young People, The Adventist Home, Child Guidance, Fundamentals of Christian Education, Counsels on Diet and Foods, Counsels on Stewardship. These are not theoretical messages, but words to real men and women who need help in meeting personal problems and in building Christian character. Appendix A contains the account of one man's reaction to the practical Christian counsel in these books. See pages 480-482.
It is not necessarily the function of a messenger of the Lord to open up new channels of theological thought, or to create new pathways for the Christian life. The messenger is to guide the people of God in safe pathways. This may involve the new
application of an abiding principle, or the re-emphasis of a way that is already recognized and practiced. That was true of Bible prophets, as is evidenced by the frequent repetition of certain prophecies and the repeated messages calling the people to walk in the old paths. Jeremiah 6:16. It is also true of the work of Ellen White. She did not claim to be the first to introduce every application of the great principles of Bible truth and Christian living that is made prominent in her teachings for special application to Seventh-day Adventists. We have already noticed the kind of guidance that was given in the study that resulted in the system of doctrines held by the church today. Mention has been made also of the rise of Seventh-day Adventist medical and educational work. See pages 229, 230, 243, 245.
Three years after Ellen White's vision of 1863, which called the attention of Seventh-day Adventists to health reform, and eight months after she received instruction calling for Adventists to start a medical institution, J. H. Waggoner made this statement on health-reform principles: We do not profess to be pioneers in the general principles of the health reform. The facts on which this movement is based have been elaborated, in a great measure, by reformers, physicians, and writers on physiology and hygiene, and so may be found scattered through the land. But we do claim that by the method of God's choice it has been more clearly and powerfully unfolded, and is thereby producing an effect which we could not have looked for from any other means.
As mere physiological and hygienic truths, they might be studied by some at their leisure, and by others laid aside as of little consequence; but when placed on a level with the great truths of the third angel's message by the sanction and authority of God's Spirit, and so declared to be the means whereby a weak people may be made strong to overcome, and our diseased bodies cleansed and fitted for translation, then it comes to us as an essential part of present truth, to be received with the
blessing of God, or rejected at our peril.Review and Herald, Aug. 7, 1866.
Many of the principles of healthful living pointed out by Ellen G. White for the benefit of Seventh-day Adventists were already being taught in a limited way by others, but had made no real impact on the advent believers or the world generally. Certainly they had not been stressed as a part of a person's spiritual experience. But mingled with the teaching of truth by others, there were also errors and extremes that needed to be avoided. These were pointed out by Ellen White. Although there was an overlapping of some of her teachings with what was held by others, she was not dependent upon them for light on healthful living. If she had been, she would have adopted their errors as well as their truths. In an article in the Review and Herald, of October 8, 1867, Mrs. White wrote of some who said to her, You speak very nearly the opinions taught in the Laws of Life, and other publications, by Drs. Trall, Jackson, and others. Have you read that paper and those works? My reply was that I had not, neither should I read them till I had fully written out my views, lest it should be said that I had received my light upon the subject of health from physicians, and not from the Lord. Much that came to Ellen White by revelation was far in advance of the medical knowledge and practice of her day. Some of her statements have received the confirmation of medical research only within recent years, and others are just now beginning to be understood.
Two important characteristics of the health writings of Mrs. White are: (1) They have stood the test of time in reference to medical and dietetic matters, through a period of radical changes in beliefs and practice in the medical profession as a whole; (2) they point out healthful living as a religious duty and a source of spiritual, as well as physical, blessing.
What is true in reference to health teachings is also true with the principles of Christian education enunciated by Ellen White. Many of her writings dealt with principles and
approaches that were already in use to some extent. But again we must note that these had made no outstanding impact upon Seventh-day Adventists, that the good was blended with the worthless, and that there was little or no stress upon right education as a Christian duty. In her writings, Mrs. White was not dependent on what she observed or heard as a basis for what she outlined as God's plan of education. Everything she wrote did not lead the advent people along new paths, but the message did direct the church to safe paths.
As we glance again at the list of contributions, we find we have noted only one or two examples in connection with each. Paul says, Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Has the gift made sufficient contribution to the advent cause that we may say unqualifiedly that it is good, and something to which we should hold fast?
After Mrs. White's death in 1915, the editor of the New York Independent, a leading religious journal of that day, wrote of her life and contributions to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. First he spoke of some of the teachings of the denomination, in these words: Of course, these teachings were based on the strictest doctrine of inspiration of the Scriptures. Seventh-day Adventism could be got in no other way. And the gift of prophecy was to be expected as promised to the remnant church, who had held fast to the truth. This faith gave great purity of life and incessant zeal. No body of Christians excels them in moral character and religious earnestness. The author then told of the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist work in many lands, of the schools, publishing houses, and sanitariums. The figures, of course, are now out of date. Then he continued: And in all this Ellen G. White has been the inspiration and guide. Here is a noble record, and she deserves great honor.The Independent, Aug. 23, 1915.
A series of resolutions adopted by the 1954 session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists is introduced in part by these words: We recognize that in the early days of the remnant church there was given to it the gift of the spirit of prophecy, and through this gift by voice and pen during the life of Ellen G. White and through her writings since her death, we have been counseled, guided, and led to higher planes of spiritual experience, to higher standards, and to a clear concept of coming events. Farther in the introduction these words appear: We recognize the value of the spirit of prophecy messages to the church throughout the world and that the principles enunciated by the servant of the Lord are of equal value to the church in all lands in fostering Bible standards, encouraging the spirit of devotion and sacrifice, and guarding and unifying the church.Recommendations and Resolutions Adopted at the Forty-Seventh Session of the General Conference, May 24 to June 5, 1954.
To anyone well acquainted with the history and present operation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the place occupied by the work and writings of Ellen White is clear. The General Conference in session has repeatedly given voice to the conviction that by this means God has given the church the special guidance it has needed. This manifestation of the gift of prophecy may be proved by the application of any practical type of test, and will be found to be one of the good things Paul referred toone to which the church should hold fast.
Persons frequently express amazement at the variety of subjects on which Ellen White has written. Even more striking perhaps is the fact that in none of these writings does she speak as a noviceeach carries a note of authority. But when we recall why God gave instruction through this messenger, it is not strange that they should be so comprehensive. They are
intended to help us know how to apply Bible principle to every phase of life. Certainly the object has been achieved.
No one of the books can be placed in a single classification and be said to deal with only one type of instruction. But for the sake of viewing their varied nature, it may be useful to list some of them in several general classifications.
General books on many subjects: Testimonies for the Church, Volumes 1-9.
Books on the Christian life: Steps to Christ, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, The Sanctified Life, Christ's Object Lessons, My Life Today, Sons and Daughters of God.
Books on Christian education: Education, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, Fundamentals of Christian Education.
Books on the home and family: The Adventist Home, Child Guidance, Messages to Young People.
Books covering the Bible story and prophecy: Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Desire of Ages, The Acts of the Apostles, The Great Controversy.
Books that are aids to better service: Testimonies to Ministers, Gospel Workers, Christian Service, Evangelism, Counsels on Stewardship, Colporteur Ministry, Counsels on Sabbath School Work, Welfare Ministry, Medical Ministry.
Books on healthful living: The Ministry of Healing, Counsels on Diet and Foods, Counsels on Health, Temperance.
This is not a complete list of the Ellen White books, but it will give some idea as to the comprehensiveness of the coverage of the writings. A complete list of out-of-print books, as well as those currently available, will be found on pages 482-485. No principle has been overlooked, no facet of the Christian life has been ignored. It is the breadth of the instruction that makes it of such practical value today. As was true in the case of the Bible prophets, God gave through Ellen White exactly what would be needed and would be of greatest service.
The pattern of the function of the prophets, as it may be
gleaned from all parts of the Bible, has been followed in providing for the remnant church a messenger whose services and messages would meet its needs.
1. Ellen White has been used by God to fulfill a function similar to that of the ancient prophets.
2. The messenger to the remnant church spoke for God, revealed His purposes, strengthened and guided leaders, encouraged the church to faithfulness, protested against evils, directed church activities, and taught the principles of truth.
3. An application of Paul's instruction to prove all things points out several major contributions that have been made to the church by the work of Ellen White.
4. The broad lines of instruction given through Ellen White touch every phase of the life and responsibility of the Christian. Her books are varied in character, and comprehensive in coverage.
1. In the light of the relationships existing between the Bible and the Ellen White writings, discuss the significance of the statements: Ellen White speaks for God, reveals God's purposes, strengthens and guides leaders, etc. How is each of these related to what has been given in the Bible?
2. Can any distinction be made between the importance of following specific Bible counsel and following counsel given in the Ellen White writings? Use texts and quotations to support your answer.
3. What is your own reaction as to the value of the contributions made by the ministry of Ellen White to the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Have they been of sufficient worth to cause you to feel we should continue to give attention to the instruction?
4. Find additional examples that might be placed under the heading of the contributions listed in this chapter.
5. Are there other types of contributions that you think of which have not been listed?
6. Are there subjects presented in the Bible on which no comment has been made in the Ellen White writings? Are there topics introduced which are not treated in some way in the Bible?
Christian, L. H., The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, pp. 126-141 (Much more than a prophet).
Spalding, A. W., Captains of the Host, pp. 372-374 (A worker saved).
Daniells, A. G., The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, pp. 322-369 (Southern Publishing Association crisis; pantheism crisis).
Spicer, W. A., Certainties of the Advent Movement, pp. 201-231, 251-263 (Influence of the gift of prophecy).
White, Ellen G., Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, pp. 312-318 (Story of American Sentinel).