The Conflict of the Ages Series No. 3
The Place of History
That the reader may understand the principles of the conflict between good and evil, and clearly understand the "fast-approaching struggle of the future," certain portions of "The Great Controversy" are mainly historical in nature; yet Mrs. White did not write as a historian. Moreover, in all her writings, the details of history were always subordinated to the great theme of the conflict.
This is true not only of the original 219-page edition of "The Great Controversy" issued in 1858, but in the same theme as it was greatly expanded in the later books. Even where the facts of the Bible or secular history are introduced, there is always a characteristic background of the invisible, contending forces of good and evil, such as no other writer has ever attempted. Her view of the place of history as exemplified in her own writings, is well expressed in the following words:
"In the annals of human history, the growth of nations, the rise and fall of empires, appear as it dependent on the will and prowess of man ; the shaping of events seems, to a great degree, to be determined by his power, ambition, or caprice. But in the word of God the curtain is drawn aside, and we behold, above, behind, and through all the play and counterplay of human interest and power and passions, the agencies of the All-merciful One, silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will."—"Prophets and Kings," pp. 499, 500.
"We are to see in history the fulfillment of prophecy, to study the workings of Providence in the great reformatory movements, and to understand the progress of events in the marshaling of the nations for the final conflict in the great controversy."—"Ministry of Healing," p. 449.
Having received by revelation the great scenes of the conflict from its inception to its close, it was but natural that Mrs. White should be stirred to a deep interest in the study of historical writings covering the eras of the past that had been presented to her in vision.
When W. C. White was a mere boy, he heard Mrs. White read D'Aubigne's "History of the Reformation" to his father. She read to him on Sabbath afternoons, and sometimes in the evening. She also read from other histories of the Reformation. Her reading helped her to locate and identify many of the events and movements presented to her in vision.
In connection with the writing out of these views of the events of ancient and modern history, and especially the history of the great Reformation of the sixteenth century, she sometimes made use of good and clear historical statements to help make plain to the reader the things which she was endeavoring to present.* Also, by thus corroborating with indisputable historical evidence that which had been revealed to her, she would win the confidence of the general reader in the truths she was presenting.
"The Great Controversy"
In her public ministry, Mrs. White had always shown an ability to select from the storehouse of truth, matter well adapted to the needs of the congregation before her; and she also recognized that in the choice of matter for publication in her books, sound judgment should be shown in selecting that which was best suited to the needs of those who would read the book. Therefore, when the new American edition of "The Great Controversy," enlarged and prepared while she was in Europe, was brought out in 1888, intended for general circulation, there were left out several pages of matter instructive to Adventists, but not appropriate for non-Adventist readers. An example of this may be seen in the chapter entitled, "The Snares of Satan" (pages 518-530 in the edition of 1911). Portions of this chapter, as it appeared in the earliest edition, were omitted in the revised and enlarged book first issued in 1888. More recently the omitted portions have been reprinted elsewhere for our workers. (See "Testimonies to Ministers," pp. 472-475.)
In 1911, because the electrotype plates for the book were badly worn, it was necessary to reset "The Great Controversy," and when this was done, it was reillustrated, the references to historical quotations were inserted, and in a few instances clearer historical citations were substituted with the express approval of the -auther---tlff-July 25; -1,R1-1 soe-m---afteceiviitg copies of this new edition of the book, Mrs. White wrote of her satisfaction regarding it as follows:
"I regard this new edition with great satisfaction." "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."—Letter 56, 1911.
"Patriarchs and Prophets"
After the closing scenes of the great conflict had been presented in a fuller and more complete way for the use of both Seventh-day Adventists and the world, Mrs. White's mind turned back to the beginning of the conflict, and the story of the early ages was rewritten and published in "Patriarchs and Prophets," making a companion book for "The Great Controversy." This volume appeared in 1890.
The Writing of "The Desire of Ages"
All through the years it was Mrs. White's desire to deal very fully with the life of Christ, His ministry, His teachings, and His sacrifice for us. That which she had written on this phase of the conflict during the 70's, and which was published in Volumes II and III of the "Spirit of Prophecy" and in a number of pamphlets, later seemed to her to be inadequate. Therefore when her work on "Patriarchs and Prophets" was finished, her thoughts turned to the preparation of a more comprehensive treatise on the life of Christ. For this work she carried a great burden, and in her letters we find many references to her hope of being able soon to get the book under way.
When she went to Australia in the autumn of 1891, it was her expectation that the longhoped-for life of Christ could soon be prepared. During the years 1892 to 1898, she spent much time in writing chapters for this book.
A glimpse of the intensity under which she worked while preparing copy for "The Desire of Ages" is seen in a letter written in 1892 to Elder 0. A. Olsen, then president of the General Conference:
"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?' "—Letter 40, 1892.
A letter written two years later gives us a picture of Mrs. White's busy life, and explains the delay in preparing copy for the forthcoming book. She says:
"Now after I have been in this country nearly three years, there is still much to be done before the book will be ready for publication. Many branches of work have demanded my attention. I am pressed beyond measure with the work of writing out testimonies, caring for the poor, and traveling with my own conveyance, eight, eleven, and thirteen miles to meet with the churches."—Letter 69, 1894.
Pressed with these burdens and cares, she did much of her writing when others were asleep. "My time for writing usually commences at three o'clock in the morning," she says, "when all in the house are asleep. Often I am awakened at half past twelve, one, or two o'clock."—Letter 114, 1896.
One such morning, before resuming her writing on the book, she penned the following in her diary:
"I awaken at half past two, and offer up my prayer to God in the name of Jesus. I am weak in physical strength ; my head is not free from pain ; my left eye troubles me. In writing upon the life of Christ, I am deeply wrought upon. I forget to breathe as I should. I cannot endure the intensity of feeling that comes over me as I think of what Christ has suffered in our world.
"He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ; He was wounded for our transgressions ; He was bruised for our iniquities ; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed, if we receive Him by faith as our personal Saviour."—MS. 70, 1897.
The Ministry of Suffering
It is well known that some of the world's masterpieces of literature, of poetry, and of gospel hymns have been fashioned on the anvil of pain, and so it was with a part of Mrs. White's writings on the life and ministry of Jesus. Some of the choicest passages in "The Desire of Ages" came from her pen when she was confined not only to her room, but much of the time to her bed or to her writing chair fitted with an adjustable rest for her pain-racked arm. Soon after she reached Australia, she began to suffer with inflammatory rheumatism, and for eleven months was in constant pain. Of this experience she wrote:
"I have been passing through great trial in pain and suffering and helplessness, but through it all I have obtained a precious experience more valuable to me than gold."
After speaking of her feelings of great disappointment, because she was unable to visit among the churches, she said further:
"This unreconciliation was at the beginning of my sufferings and helplessness, but it was not long until I felt that my affliction was a part of God's plan. I found that by partly lying and partly sitting I could place myself in a position to use my crippled hands, and although suffering much pain, I could do considerable writing. Since coming to this country, I have written sixteen hundred pages. . . .
"Many nights during the past nine months I was enabled to sleep but two hours a night, and then at times darkness would gather about me ; but I prayed and realized much sweet comfort in drawing nigh to God. . . . I was all light in the Lord. Jesus was sacredly near, and I found the grace given sufficient."—Letter 7, 1892.
Released at last from the sickroom, Mrs. White was called upon to enter more fully into the rapidly developing work in Australia, and the many calls for her counsel and assistance, in addition to her extensive correspondence, greatly hindered the progress of the work on "The Desire of Ages." In a letter written October 23, 1895, she says:
"I have about decided to . . . devote all my time to writing for the books that ought to be prepared without further delay. I would like to write on the Life of Christ, on Christian Temperance l"Ministry of Healing") and prepare Testimony Number 34 [Volume VI], for it is very much needed. . . .
"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.
Some have marveled at the extraordinary beauty of the language in "The Desire of Ages." The last sentence of the foregoing letter, in stating that this was her favorite theme, suggests the reason for the beautiful phraseology of the book.
In the preparation of "The Desire of Ages," as in the preparation of other later publications, Mrs. White did not write the book straight through, chapter by chapter, in the order in which the chapters appeared in printed form. This was not necessary, for during the preceding thirty-five years she had written many hundreds of pages on this theme, much of which had already been published. With this background of material, she instructed those who were employed as her helpers to gather from her published books, articles, letters, and manuscripts what they could find on the subject. With this in hand, she wrote many additional articles as the experiences of Christ were opened anew to her. When these newly written passages, together with what she had written in former years, were grouped in their natural order, she again studied the story in its connection and sometimes added connecting events.
Her writings on the life and teachings of our Saviour were. found to be so voluminous that they could not all be contained in one book. Therefore some of the material which could not be included in "The Desire of Ages" was used as material for "Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing," "Christ's Object Lessons," and a portion of "Ministry of Healing."
(To be continued)
* For a statement by Mrs. White herself, regarding such use of historical quotations, and her reasons for not citing in the earlier editions of the book all the specific references, see the "Introduction" to "The Great Controversy."
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