The Conflict of the Ages Series

A look at the writing of the Great Controversy.

By THE ELMSHAVEN STAFF, Elmshaven, California

Volume IV, "The Great Controversy

It had been Mrs. White's plan to resume the story of the acts of the apostles where it was left at the end of Volume Three, but she was instructed in night visions to adopt the plan now seen in "The Great Controversy." It was revealed to her that she should present an out­line of the controversy between Christ and Satan, as it developed in the first centuries of the Christian Era, and in the great Refor­mation of the sixteenth century, in such a way as to prepare the mind of the reader to under­stand clearly the controversy as it is going on in our day. We can now see that the divine instruction regarding the plan of the book has made it of untold value to the general public. However, at the time of writing, Mrs. White regarded it, like all her former writings, as primarily a message to the church, and in it she used some matter and many phrases and expressions especially adapted to Seventh-day Adventists.

The steps taken in preparing this book may be of interest in this connection. First, the articles which Mrs. White had already written, covering the events from the close of the story in Volume Three to the end of the conflict, were brought together, and those relating to the acts of the apostles were laid aside. Then the articles which she had written on the destruc­tion of Jerusalem, and the apostasy of the Christian church, were brought forth, and were read by Mrs. White, assisted by Miss Marian Davis, her literary secretary. W. C. White was many times present  when the-first- draft of -the chapters of this book were being read. He states that the reading was often accompanied by discussion regarding the strength of descrip­tion, the length of chapters, etc.

Mrs. White then wrote out those parts of the history which she had not previously pre­sented. Prayerful meditation would bring clearly to her mind the views given years be­fore. Then, as she strove to perfect the nar­rative by filling in the gaps, the Lord gave her in night visions, new views or a renewal of former views, which resulted in the rewriting in greater detail of many scenes already de­scribed.

While writing on this book, some of the scenes were presented to Mrs. White over and over again. The vision of the deliverance of God's people, as given in Chapter XL (editions 1888 to 1911) was repeated three times; and on two occasions,—once at her home in Healds­burg, and once at the St. Helena Sanitarium, —members of her family sleeping in near-by rooms were awakened from sleep by her clear, musical cry, "They Come! They Come!" (See "The Great Controversy," 1911 edition, page 636. )

If Mrs. White had written more than one manuscript on the same subject, Miss Davis was asked to study them all, to eliminate repetition, and to make such rearrangement of the matter as would make the presentation of the subject most clear and forceful. When she had thus prepared a chapter, she would read it to Mrs. White, who would often add to what she had formerly written. Then the chapter was recopied, but before going to the printer was given the final reading and approval by Mrs. White.

Usually Mrs. White wrote comprehensively upon the subject she was presenting, and there was occasionally a difference of opinion be­tween her and the publishers regarding the quantity of matter that should be used. She was best pleased when the subject was pre­sented very fully, but the publishers were pleased to have the matter condensed or ab­breviated so that the books would not be too large. To this she would sometimes consent. But there were times when, after important chapters were prepared in as brief a form as possible and sent to the printer, a new presen­tation of the subject would be given to Mrs. White, and she would then write additional chatter anfi insist upon its incorporation.

Mrs. White was not a mere mechanical writer. The deep impressions often made upon the reader of her writings are due in part to her own intensity of spirit while she wrote. Occasionally she referred in correspondence to her emotional depth of feeling as she penned the solemn messages from heaven to a perish­ing world. Thus, on February 19, 1884, while nearing the close of her work on "The Great Controversy," she wrote in a letter to Elder Uriah Smith:

"I write from fifteen to twenty pages each day. It is now eleven o'clock, and I have written fourteen pages of manuscript for Volume IV. . . . As I write upon my book, I feel intensely moved. I want to get it out as soon as possible, for our people need it so much. I shall complete it next month if the Lord gives me health as He has done. I have been unable to sleep nights, for thinking of the important things to take place. Three hours and sometimes five is the most sleep I get. My mind is stirred so deeply I cannot rest. Write, write, write, I feel that I must, and not delay.

"Great things are before us, and we want to call the people from their indifference to get ready. Things that are eternal crowd upon my vision day and night. The things that are temporal fade from my sight."—Letter 11, 1884.

In the fall of 1884, the book was ready for distribution. The price was set at $1, thus harmonizing with the first three books of the series. Very soon it was discovered that it could be sold to those not of our faith, so the publishers took the plates and printed an il­lustrated subscription edition to sell at $1.50. During the first four years after its publica­tion, ten editions, totaling not less than 50,000 copies, of this book were printed and sold.

From 1885 to 1887, Mrs. White visited Europe. While there, her contact with Euro­pean people and her visits to some of the historic places brought to her mind many scenes that had been presented to her in vision during previous years, some of them two or three times, and other scenes many times. And when plans were discussed for the publication of "The Great Controversy" in the principal European languages, she decided to make additions to the book. She was thus able to write more graphically and fully regarding some important events, in preparing the manu­script for translation.

That which Mrs. White has written out, is descriptions of representations, often in flashlight picture form, as given her regarding the actions of men, and the influence of these actions upon the work of God for the salvation of men, together with views of the past, pres­ent, and future in its relation to this work. She speaks in the following words regarding the source of the information which she pre­sents concerning the great conflict, and the commission to write it out:

"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. . .

"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."—"The Great Controversy," Introduction, pp. 10, 11.

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By THE ELMSHAVEN STAFF, Elmshaven, California

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