Passing On the Messages
FOR STUDY AND DISCUSSION
Passing on the Messages.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son. Hebrews 1:1, 2. The words at sundry times and in divers manners form a common expression meaning at many times and in many ways. As God has adapted His approach to the needs of each individual, attempting to draw all to Himself, so He has varied His methods of dealing with prophets. He has been guided by the characteristics of the prophet, the needs of the people, and the demands of the circumstances. Not all messages were given to prophets in the same way, and they were delivered to the people by a variety of means. A study of Ellen White's experience in receiving and delivering messages reveals the same variations in methods as does a survey of the work of the Bible prophets.
How the visions seemed to Ellen White. Describing her experience at the time of her first vision, Mrs. White said, While we were praying, the power of God came upon me as I had never felt it before. I seemed to be surrounded with light, and to be rising higher and higher from the earth. I turned to look for the advent people in the world, but could not find them, when a voice said to me: Look again, and look a little higher.Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 58.
She continued the description of the things she saw in the vision, telling of the path before the advent people, the coming
of Christ, heaven, and the new earth. Then, she said, an angel bore me gently down to this dark world. Sometimes I think I can stay here no longer; all things of earth look so dreary. I feel very lonely here, for I have seen a better land. Oh, that I had wings like a dove, then would I fly away and be at rest!
After I came out of vision, everything looked changed; a gloom was spread over all that I beheld. Oh, how dark this world looked to me. I wept when I found myself here, and felt homesick. I had seen a better world, and it had spoiled this for me.Early Writings, page 20.
During the time of the vision, the messenger was totally unconscious of her earthly surroundings, and it seemed to her that she was transported bodily to the place revealed in vision, as had been the case with Ezekiel and Paul. Ezekiel 8:3; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. She seemed to be actually viewing or taking part in the activities shown. All her senses seemed to be employed as in the ordinary activities of life, but none were being used in the ordinary way. The fact that she was shut away from her immediate surroundings during the time of the vision made all that she saw the more vivid and impressive. The statement in the Introduction to The Great Controversy enables us to glimpse what took place in the revelation:
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 .
As the Spirit of God has opened to my mind the great truths of His word, and the scenes of the past and the future, I have been bidden to make known to others that which has thus been revealed,to trace the history of the controversy in past ages, and especially so to present it as to shed a light
on the fast-approaching struggle of the future.Pages x, xi.
This was an intensely vivid experience for the prophet; so real, in fact, that it was painful for her to have to return to a consciousness of earthly things after having been given a view of heaven. It was, however, purely an enlightenment of the mind, and not an actual experience. Therefore, the prophet could be shown things past and future as well as present.
The observation of others. James White observed his wife in vision more frequently than did anyone else. Many of her visions came when she was in public meetings. His description of her condition coincides with that given by others.
1. She is utterly unconscious of everything transpiring around her, as has been proved by the most rigid tests, but views herself as removed from this world, and in the presence of heavenly beings.
2. She does not breathe. During the entire period of her continuance in vision, which has at different times ranged from fifteen minutes to three hours, there is no breath, as has been repeatedly proved by pressing upon the chest, and by closing the mouth and nostrils.
3. Immediately on entering vision, her muscles become rigid, and joints fixed, so far as any external force can influence them. At the same time her movements and gestures, which are frequent, are free and graceful, and cannot be hindered nor controlled by the strongest person.
4. On coming out of vision, whether in the daytime or a well-lighted room at night, all is total darkness. Her power to distinguish even the most brilliant objects, held within a few inches of the eyes, returns but gradually, sometimes not being fully established for three hours. This has continued for the past twenty years; yet her eyesight is not in the least impaired, few persons having better than she now possesses.James White, Life Incidents in Connection With the Great Advent Movement, page 272. Numerous additional descriptions are
available of her condition in vision. J. N. Loughborough brought several of these together in his book The Great Second Advent Movement, pages 204-210.* Without giving space to repeat the accounts, we shall summarize their testimony.
1. Frequently, just prior to a vision, there was a deep sense of the presence of God, both by Ellen White and by others in the room.
2. Often, as the vision began, Ellen White spoke, Glory, or Glory to God, at times repeated.
3. There was a loss of physical strength.
4. Then followed supernatural strength.
5. There was no breathing, although her heartbeat was normal and her color was natural. There was no discernible disturbance in the circulatory system.
6. At times there would be brief statements or exclamations telling something of the scene being presented. On a few occasions longer statements were made.
7. Her eyes were open and she appeared to be watching something in the distance.
8. Her position was not always the same; she might be seated, reclining, or walking around the room.
9. She was unconscious of surroundings or of the presence of other individuals.
10. Observers became aware that a vision was ended when a deep breath was taken. This was followed in a minute or two by another; regular breathing was then resumed.
11. For a time after she was in vision all seemed dark to her.
12. Normal sight, and natural strength and abilities were restored within a short time. There was no drain upon the physical system as the result of the visions. On some occasions, healing from illness took place.
These characteristics marked many of the visions, but all were not given in this manner. On numerous occasions visions
* These have been reprinted in A. L. White, Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, pages 22-24.
were given during periods when Ellen White was praying or writing. At such times she seemed cut off from her immediate surroundings, but the other indications that she was in vision were not present. Such presentations were brief, and frequently had to do with current situations and problems for which immediate guidance was needed. A typical incident was described by W. C. White as it took place at the Minnesota camp meeting in 1870:
Father and mother were carrying a heavy burden in behalf of the ministry who had been working in that state. On Sunday morning they undertook to conduct a revival service. Father spoke for a few minutes, but with little freedom. Then after mother had spoken briefly, they asked the congregation to kneel in prayer. Father offered a labored, sorrowful prayer, then mother began to implore for light and freedom. After she had prayed for about two minutes she stopped. There was silence long enough to count to forty or fifty, about half a minute.
I was kneeling with the congregation, and I turned to see what was the occasion for the silence. Just then she burst forth in prayer. Her voice was melodious, and triumphant, and the remainder of her prayer greatly moved the people present.
During the period of silence, a revelation was given her regarding conditions in the Minnesota Conference, also conditions regarding the work in Battle Creek, also regarding other matters of general interest in the cause. Following the camp meeting, father and mother found retirement at the home of one of our brethren. Mother wrote diligently for about two weeks, in recording what had been shown to her during the half-minute of pause in her prayer.A. L. White, Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, page 8.
Commenting on a later incident, Mrs. White said, While engaged in earnest prayer, I was lost to everything around me; the room was filled with light, and I was bearing a message to an assembly that seemed to be the General Conference. I was
moved by the Spirit of God to make a most earnest appeal; for I was impressed that great danger was before us at the heart of the work.Testimonies to Ministers, page 461.
These revelations came to the messenger while she was in vision, and they were of the same nature as those in which the characteristic physical manifestations were present. They serve as examples of the divers manners in which God has spoken to His prophets.
Types of revelations in the visions. The sentences already quoted from the introduction to The Great Controversy set forth one kind of view given in the visionsthe panoramic view in which events of history and the future passed rapidly before the eyes of the prophet. But conditions existing in homes, institutions, and conferences were also revealed in detail. At times it seemed to Ellen White that she was being led from one place to another in an institution, where she observed the words and actions of the workers. She described one such visit in these words:
An angel of God seemed to conduct me from room to room in the different departments. The conversation I was made to hear in the rooms of the helpers was not of a character to elevate and strengthen mind or morals. The frivolous talk, the foolish jesting, the meaningless laugh, fell painfully upon the ear .
I was conducted to a few rooms from which came the voice of prayer. How welcome was the sound! A bright light shone upon the face of my guide as his hand traced every word of the petition.Counsels on Health, page 412. It will be of interest and value to read the complete description on pages 412, 413.
In the summer of 1893, during her ministry in the Australasian field, Mrs. White spent some time in New Zealand. Delayed on one of her trips by a storm which made the roads impassable, she spent a few days in a home where only one daughter
of the family was a Seventh-day Adventist. During the first night of her staybefore she had met all the members of the familyshe arose at four o'clock to write out some things that had been revealed to her in the night.
The angel of God said, Follow me. I seemed to be in a room in a rude building, and there were several young men playing cards. They seemed to be very intent upon the amusement in which they were engaged and were so engrossed that they did not seem to notice that anyone had entered the room. There were young girls present observing the players, and words were spoken not of the most refined order. There was a spirit and influence that were sensibly felt in that room that was not of a character calculated to purify and uplift the mind and ennoble the character .
I inquired, Who are these and whom does this scene represent?
The word was spoken, Wait.
I had another representation. There was the imbibing of the liquid poison, and the words and actions under its influence were anything but favorable for serious thoughts, clear perception in business lines, pure morals and the uplifting of the participants .
I asked again, Who are these?
The answer came, A portion of the family where you are visiting.Ellen G. White Letter 1, 1893.
In order to ensure the laying of wise plans, the Lord at times gave insight into His will for the future. I have been thinking of how, after we began sanitarium work in Battle Creek, sanitarium buildings all ready for occupation were shown to me in vision. The Lord instructed me as to the way in which the work in these buildings should be conducted in order for it to exert a saving influence on the patients.
All this seemed very real to me, but when I awoke, I found that the work was yet to be done, that there were no buildings erected.Ellen G. White Letter 135, 1903.
On other occasions the Lord pointed out to Ellen White what would be the results of following either of two plans or policies. Indicating the end from the beginning as He did, God gave opportunity for a wise course of action to be selected. Such an instance is recorded in Testimonies, volume 9, pages 28, 29, where two lighted maps were brought to view to illustrate the results of varying courses of action.
Again, parablelike representations, somewhat similar to many found in the Bible, were given to her. A striking example of this is found in Gospel Workers, pages 136-139, where in a dream she saw a berry-gathering expedition. This was used to illustrate the way some persons go about their soul-winning work.
The different approaches introduced into the Ellen White writings give the instruction an interest and variety that constantly reminds one of the teachings of the Bible. The same general lines of instruction are frequently repeated for the benefit of different individuals or groups, but it is varied to suit the particular needs of those addressed. This results ultimately in a body of teachings that is most enlightening to all readers. Whatever the type of revelation or the circumstances under which it was given, it was from the same source, and the fact that it was a divine message was clear to the messenger. This is true of the light sent in dreams at night, sometimes referred to as night visions, as well as of visions given during the waking hours. No clear distinction is made between the two in either the Bible or Ellen White's writings.
W. C. White once inquired: Mother, you often speak of matters being revealed to you in the night season. You speak of dreams in which light comes to you. We all have dreams. How do you know that God is speaking to you in the dreams of which you so frequently speak?
Her reply was: Because the same angel messenger stands by my side instructing me in the visions of the night, as stands beside me instructing me in the visions of the day.A. L.
White, Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, page 7.
The import of the message is in no wise affected by the manner in which it came to the messenger. In her writings no distinctions or classifications are made. All that was given as instruction is placed on the same plane of validity and importance.
Within a week after she had received her first vision, Ellen Harmon received another vision in which her duty was set forth. In a second vision, which soon followed the first, I was shown the trials through which I must pass, and that it was my duty to go and relate to others what God had revealed to me . The teaching of this vision troubled me exceedingly, for it pointed out my duty to go out among the people and present the truth.Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 62. For several days she prayed that the burden might be removed from her, for she questioned her ability to give the message fittingly. But the light of duty did not change, and the words of the angel sounded continually in my ears: Make known to others what I have revealed to you.Ibid.
A little later, the word came to Ellen Harmon, Write out the instructions I give you for the people. She described her reaction and response in these words: I answered, I cannot write, Lord. Because of the accident which had nearly cost me my life, I had been feeble in health and unable to write, for my hand trembled so that I was forced after many efforts to give up the attempt to write. But one night the angel of the Lord came to my bedside and said to me, You must write out the things that I give you. I said, I cannot write. Again the command was given, Write out the things I give you. I thought I would try, and taking up a lapboard from the table, I began to write, and found that I could trace the words easily. The Lord had wrought a miracle upon me.Ellen G. White, in General Conference Bulletin, May 27, 1909, p. 225.
In the years that followed, Ellen White bore a large number of testimonies of counsel given orally to individuals and groups. An incident during one of the Sabbath conferences in 1848 is typical. There were differences of opinion about the truths being studied. The light of heaven then rested upon me, and I was soon lost to earthly things. My accompanying angel presented before me some of the errors of those present, and also the truth in contrast with their errors. These discordant views, which they claimed were in harmony with the Scriptures, were only according to their opinion of Bible teachings; and I was bidden to tell them that they should yield their errors, and unite upon the truths of the third angel's message.
Our meeting closed triumphantly. Truth gained the victory. Our brethren renounced their errors and united upon the third angel's message, and God greatly blessed them and added many to their numbers.Life Sketches, page 111.
In sermons and personal counsels, these oral testimonies continued to be given throughout Ellen White's ministry. Some were written out and read to those concerned, others were recorded in writing after they were given in person. Of still others, no written record was made.
The major work of Ellen White in the giving of testimonies was accomplished through writing them in the form of letters, and writing them for publication. Many of the testimonies contained in letters were later published. These written messages make up the more than 4,500 periodical articles from her pen, and the forty-five volumes of her writings currently available. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, she wrote some one hundred thousand manuscript pages in longhand. The duty of keeping up with the writing of large numbers of letters and other manuscripts often taxed the messenger's strength to the utmost. In the early morning hours, and late at night, in private and in public, she persisted in her task. Write, write, write, I feel that I must, and not delay.Ellen G. White Letter 11, 1884.
Ellen White carried a deep sense of responsibility that the letters she wrote should bear testimony to individuals in the most appealing way possible to accomplish their intended work. It was the purpose of the testimony to guide those persons addressed in the right way, to help them make wise decisions, or perhaps show them that they must repent and turn to God. Ordinarily the message was sent immediately, but sometimes she was told by the angel that the word should be set aside until she received further instructions. On other occasions the message was not sent directly to the one addressed, but was entrusted to another to be read to the one for whom it was intended. Thus there was opportunity for discussion, counsel, and prayer, that would help bring a better understanding and more ready acceptance. In explanation of her reason for following this practice, she said:
Sometimes when I receive a testimony for someone who is in danger, who is being deceived by the enemy, I am instructed that I am not to place it in his hands, but to give it to someone else to read to him, because, being deceived by the insinuations of Satan, he would read the testimony in the light of his own desires, and to him its meaning would be perverted.Ellen G. White Manuscript 71, 1903.
The work was not done mechanically. It called for every energy to be devoted to it, every sympathy to be exercised. It required the greatest of tact and the most careful planning. In 1903, Mrs. White wrote: I have been afraid that I should not have the strength to write to you thus plainly, for to do it takes hold of every fiber of my being. It is indeed as if I were writing to my own son . My brother, I am drawn out to write to you the words that I spoke last night when in the night visions I was talking with you.Ellen G. White Letter 180, 1903. What was true of the letters was also true of the articles and books. Painstaking attention was given to them that they might appropriately present Bible truths and that the instruction applying Bible principles might be outlined clearly. It is apparent to
the reader that these works are productions of the heart and not merely from the pen of the messenger.
In speaking, as well as in writing, words of instruction, there was the ever-present guidance of the Holy Spirit. This guidance did not extend to the exact words chosen, except in rare instances. Although I am as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation.Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1867. When I am speaking to the people I say much that I have not premeditated. The Spirit of the Lord frequently comes upon me. I seem to be carried out of, and away from, myself; the life and character of different persons are clearly presented before my mind. I see their errors and dangers, and feel compelled to speak of what is thus brought before me.Testimonies, vol. 5, P. 678.
This sense of sacred compulsion is emphasized further in this explanation penned in 1890. Before I stand on my feet, I have no thought of speaking as plainly as I do. But the Spirit of God rests upon me with power, and I cannot but speak the words given me. I dare not withhold one word of the testimony . I speak the words given me by a power higher than human power, and I cannot, if I would, recall one sentence.
In the night season the Lord gives me instruction, in symbols, and then explains their meaning. He gives me the word, and I dare not refuse to give it to the people. The love of Christ, and, I venture to add, the love of souls, constrains me, and I cannot hold my peace.Ellen G. White Manuscript 22, 1890.
The weight of responsibility for a fitting presentation of the messages was never lifted. Now I must leave this subject so imperfectly presented, that I fear you will misinterpret that which I feel so anxious to make plain. O that God would quicken the understanding, for I am but a poor writer, and
cannot with pen or voice express the great and deep mysteries of God. O pray for yourselves, pray for me.Ellen G. White Letter 67, 1894.
All the factors mentioned have combined to aid in bringing out a body of Christian literature that is practical, enlightening, sympathetic, and appealing; literature that has played a major role in strengthening Seventh-day Adventists as individual Christians, and in building up the church as a whole.
1. To the prophet, the coming of a vision was a real experienceas real as though it were physical. Actually, it was an enlightenment of the mind.
2. There were distinctive physical conditions that prevailed during many of Ellen White's visions, similar to those described in the Bible.
3. All the visions were not of the same general type. Some were panoramic views of past, present, and future. Others dealt with details, parablelike representations, and contrasts.
4. Messages were passed on in a variety of ways,through sermons, interviews, letters, articles, personal statements.
5. The writing of the messages was not done mechanically, but it involved the co-operation of the Holy Spirit with the experience and thought of the prophet.
1. Prepare to discuss the advantages of the variety of methods God used in presenting His messages to the prophets.
2. What has been gained by varying the methods of delivering the communications to the people?
3. Can you think of reasons why God permitted the experience and thinking of the prophet to enter into the writing or
speaking of His message, rather than dictating it word for word?
4. As far as possible, compare the physical condition of Ellen White in vision with what is told of the condition of Bible prophets. How far are they alike? Are there differences?
5. Find several Bible experiences that parallel those of Ellen White as far as receiving and delivering communications from God is concerned.
1. How the Visions Seemed to Ellen White
White, Arthur L., Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, pp. 5-11. Washington, D.C., Board of Trustees, Ellen G. White Publications, 1954.
White, Ellen G., Early Writings, pp. 13-20, 36-38.
, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 292, 293.
2. The Observation of Others
White, James, Life Incidents in Connection with the Great Advent Movement, pp. 272-274. Battle Creek, S.D.A. Publishing Assn., 1868.
White, Arthur L., Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, pp. 22-25.
Loughborough, J. N., The Great Second Advent Movement, pp. 204-210.
Christian, L. H., The Fruitage of Spiritual Gifts, pp. 207-218 Week-by-week messages).
Daniells, A. G., The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, pp. 330-342 (The pantheism crisis).
Spalding, A. W., Captains of the Host, pp. 128-130 (Dealing with fanaticism).
White, Arthur L., Ellen G. White, Messenger to the Remnant, pp. 12-14.
White, Ellen G., Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 292, 293.