Speaking of the place of her writings in the church, Ellen G. White wrote: "The Lord has sent His people much instruction, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light."—"Colporteur Evangelist," p. 37.
This recognition of the relative position of her writings was ever maintained by the Lord's messenger. Clearly and forcefully she stated again and again that in her works were to be found God's messages for His people. In speaking of the importance of her work she wrote:
"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. V, p. 661.
As mentioned in former articles, the early numbers of the "Testimonies" appeared at first in small pamphlets. They contained messages of immediate interest and value to the church at the time the messages were given. These published "Testimonies," however, contained only a part of that which had been written, for many of the messages were of such a personal or local nature that there was no need for their publication. From the very first, it was necessary that choice be made of articles best suited for general circulation. In making this choice, Ellen White did not always rely solely upon her own judgment, but welcomed the counsel of workers of long experience in the cause. Her practice of consulting, when possible, with her ministering brethren regarding the best manner of presenting the views given was stated by her in 1906 as follows:
"It requires much wisdom and sound judgment, quickened by the Spirit of God, to know the proper time and manner to present the instruction that has been given. . . . In the early days of this cause, if some of the leading brethren were present when messages from the Lord were given, we would consult with them as to the best manner of bringing the instruction before the people."—"Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church," p. 5.
Circulation, Scope, and Phrasing
At that time, Elder James White, with his general knowledge of conditions in the field, was well qualified to give counsel as to the use of the matter. In the case of the first number of the "Testimonies," the messages were read to the Battle Creek church, and by vote of those present, it was decided that the matter should be published for general circulation. The choice of that which should be placed in print for general circulation, did not rest, however, entirely with human counselors. Quite early in her work she was given the assurance:
"You are not alone in the work the Lord has chosen you to do. You will be taught of God how to bring the truth in its simplicity before the people. The God of truth will sustain you, and convincing proof will be given that He is leading you. God will give you of His Holy Spirit, and His grace and wisdom and keeping power will be with you."—Id., p. LT.
While many of the "Testimonies" by their nature gave instruction of universal application, others met specific issues. Many set forth timely counsel regarding the advancing work of the church. In choosing articles for the later published "Testimonies," if a subect of general interest was found to have been treated in an early number of the "Testimonies," the later article was not, as a general rule, published. As a cumulative group of writings, they grew in scope and value as time advanced, for as more and varied issues were met, counsel was given in the "Testimonies" to meet these issues. As the volume of writings grew larger, and the field of subjects covered increased, greater care had to be exercised in the choice of matter, in order to avoid undue repetition.
Not only was the choice of articles an important task, but study must also be given to the phraseology. The messages must be presented in the clearest way, in order that they might not be misunderstood. In 1901, Mrs. White spoke of her work in gathering and examining matter for publication in Volume VI. Here are her words:
"I have much to do before going to Conference. There are some things to be completed for Testimony 34 [Vol. VI]. . . . I had thought to go to the sanitarium for a while, but I seem to be needed here. I must select the most important matters for the Testimony, and then look over everything prepared for it, and be my own critic ; for I would not be willing to have some things which are all truth to be published ; because I fear that some would take advantage of them to hurt others.
"After the matter for the Testimony is prepared, every article must be read by me.. . .
"I try to bring out general principles, and if I see a sentence which I fear would give someone excuse to injure someone else, I feel at perfect liberty to keep back the sentence, even though it is all perfectly true.
"During my sickness, I have worked every day excepting the Sabbath sitting on the bed propped up with pillows."—E. G. White Letter 32, 1901.
A few months later, she spoke of her letter writing and of the relation of her letters to future books:
"Since the beginning of the year I1902), I have written about seven hundred pages. Much of this matter is letters to different persons. These letters will be used in the 'Testimonies,' and will, I hope, be a help to our people. At times my brain is so intensely active that it seems impossible for me to write the ideas as fast as they come to me."—E. G. White Letter 68,1902.
Influence on Individuals and Church
That the "Testimonies" have accomplished the work for which they were given none can gainsay, in so far as they have been studied and faithfully obeyed. They have been of untold value to those who have been seeking to perfect Christian character and to prepare to meet their Lord at His second coming. The messages of appeal, of counsel, and of encouragement directed to the individual heart have borne fruit unto eternal life.
The influence of the "Testimonies" on church administration can never be measured. Time and time again when steps were being initiated which would lead into policies and plans which at first offered promise of benefit, but which were not well founded, the Lord through the "Testimonies" sent clear messages of warning and counsel. Not only was the church saved from disaster, but through following the encouraging messages urging aggressive work and giving instruction regarding means by which forward steps could be taken, great advances were made in all branches of the work. Each department of our great work finds its guiding principles in the counsel as found in the "Testimonies" and other like volumes. It can be said without fear of contradiction that Seventh-day Adventists as a denomination owe much of their present prosperity to following the leading of the Lord through this chosen means of instruction. In all honesty and sincerity, Elder C. H. Watson said, as he was about to retire from the presidency of the General Conference:
"During the last six years of General Conference administration, this church encountered many crises, for the meeting of which instruction had already been given through the Spirit of prophecy. . . . I want to tell you, my friends, I have never found it necessary to go outside the Bible and the 'Testimonies for the Church,' for direction in the leadership of this movement."—Review and Herald, June 28, 1936.
The Wisdom of a Selection
As church leaders have witnessed how rapidly our membership has increased without a proportionate increase in the circulation of the nine-volume set of the "Testimonies," the wisdom of a selection of matter from these volumes for wide and less expensive distribution was recognized. The trustees of the Ellen G. White Estate and the General Conference Committee jointly assumed the responsibility for bringing out a selection of articles primarily for the laity, containing that which would be of the most interest and value to them. Among the portions omitted were matters of "local and personal" interest, messages addressed especially to ministers and workers in the cause, and much counsel regarding the conduct of institutions and of the organized work. A few articles were omitted because they paralleled subject matter in the "Conflict of the Ages" series. Those to whom this instruction is of special value should have the full set of "Testimonies," as well as the other Ellen G. White books.
As a rule, the articles were selected in their entirety, and arranged in the order in which they were originally published. No verbal changes were made in the language. The source of each article is clearly given,—where it may be found in the full set. The volumes are made attractive and more readable by use of a larger-size page and a clearer type.
It was recognized at the outset that such a selection of matter could not and would not take the place of the full set of the "Testimonies." Today, as in the earlier years, our workers and many students will desire the complete set. There was never any intention to revise or retire the nine-volume set. They will always have a place and will continue to have a wide circulation and systematic study. But the publication in inexpensive form of the "Selections," having to do with Christian experience and a preparation to meet our returning Lord, now opens the way for thousands of Adventist families to benefit by counsel of most vital importance to every believer. Thus the "Selections" will have a wide field of usefulness, and will help to make possible the commendable goal set forth by Mrs. White when she wrote:
“The 'Testimonies' should be introduced into every Sabhathkeeping family."—"Testimonies," Vol. IV, p. 391.
At the present time only about one half of our Seventh-day Adventist homes have the "Testimonies." What would it mean to the individual members, and to the great work of Seventh-day Adventists if the many homes now without "Testimonies" were influenced by the study of these precious writings?