Prophetic Guidance in Early Days

Part two of our look at the influence of the spirit of prophecy from 1844 to 1855.

By ARTHUR L. WHITE, Secretary of the Ellen G. White Publications

A few months after the passing of the time of the expected advent in 1844, we find an unassuming girl of seventeen years, in the vicinity of Portland, Maine, re­lating to groups of Adventists here and there prophetic views of the experiences of the advent band, the journey before them, and the final rewards of the faithful. How were Ellen Harmon's claims to divine enlightenment re­ceived? How did the people respond? We turn to the records of the time for the answer: "I told the view to our little band in Portland, who then fully believed it to be of God."—Ellen White, Second Advent Review and Sab­bath Herald Extra, July 21, 1851. (Reprinted  in "Early Writings," p. 20.)

James White gives the number in Portland who accepted the vision as "about sixty." ("A Word to the Little Flock," 1847, p. 22.) Thus we find the fellow believers of Ellen Harmon's acquaintance receiving the revelations as from God. "I shall never doubt again," exclaimed Elder John Pearson when he saw Ellen Har­mon in vision. At first he could not believe the visions as they were related in Portland. ("Life Sketches," p. 71.) But the reaction from workers of her acquaintance in the ad­vent cause was not at all uniform. Some readily accepted, others questioned, and still others rejected and opposed. One worker, early in 1847, wrote thus to James White con­cerning his reaction:

"I cannot endorse Sister Ellen's visions as being of divine inspiration, as you and she think them to be; yet I do not suspect the least shade of dishonesty in either of you in this matter. ... I think that what she and you regard as visions from the Lord, are only religious reveries, in which her imagination runs without control upon themes in which she is most deeply interested. . . . I do not by any means think her visions are like some from the devil."—"A Word to the Little Flock," p. 22.

Joseph Bates Is Persuaded

Joseph Bates, in April, 1847, related his transition from doubt to faith in the revela­tions:

"It is now about two years since I first saw the author {Ellen Harmon] and heard her relate the substance of her visions as she has since published them in Portland (April 6, 1846). Although I could see nothing in them that militated against the Word, yet I felt alarmed and tried exceedingly, and for a long time unwilling to believe that it was anything more than what was produced by a protracted debili­tated state of her body.

"I therefore sought opportunities in presence of others when her mind seemed free from excitement (out of meeting), to question and cross-question her, and her friends which accompanied her, especially her elder sister, to get if possible at the truth. Dur­ing the number of visits she has made to New Bed­ford and Fairhaven since, while at our meetings, I have seen her in vision a number of times, and also in Topsham, Maine, and those who were present during some of these exciting scenes know well with what interest and intensity I listened to every word, and watched every move to detect deception, or mes­meric influence.

"And I thank God for the opportunity I have had with others to witness these things. I can now con­fidently speak for myself. I believe the work is of God, and is given to comfort and strengthen His 'scattered,'                         torn,' and 'pealed people.' "—"Remarks," in broadside, "A Vision," vol. 1, No. 1, April 7, 1847. (Reprinted in "A Word to the Little Flock,' p. 22.)

James White's Position Stated

James White from the first accepted the vis­ions as from God, and in his initial published declaration, pointed out their relationship to the Scriptures:

"Dreams and visions are among the signs that precede the great and notable day of the Lord. And as the signs of that day have been, and still are fulfilling, it must be clear to every unprejudiced mind, that the time has fully come when the chil­dren of God may expect dreams and visions from the Lord.

"I know that this is a very unpopular position to hold on this subject, even among Adventists; but I choose to believe the word of the Lord on this point, rather than the teachings of men. I am well aware of the prejudice in many minds on this subject ; but as it has been caused principally by the preaching of popular Adventists, and the lack of a correct view of this subject ; I have humbly hoped to cut it away, with the 'sword of the Spirit, from some minds, at least. . . .

"The Bible is a perfect and complete revelation. It is our only rule of faith and practice. But this is no reason, why God may not show the past, pres­ent, and future fulfillment of His word, in these last days, by dreams and visions ; according to Peter's testimony. True visions are given to lead us to God, and His written word; but those that are given for a new rule of faith and practice, separate from the Bible, cannot be from God, and should be rejected." —"A Word to the Little Flock," p. 13, May 30, 1847.

At the memorable Albany Conference (April 29-May I, 1845), the first general meeting of nominal Adventists after the disappointment, formal action was taken, placing the body on record as warning against the claim of spe­cial illumination,' those who teach "Jewish fables," and who establish "new tests." (Ad­vent Herald, May 14, 3845.) Thus the general body of Adventists turned, by formal action, from both the visions and the Sabbath, and the door was closed against that advance step of the third angel's message which would have quickly finished the work. Now, instead of a company of ministers and believers fifty thousand strong going forth with the message of the third angel, the work must pass to the hands of a small, scattered group, the noble pioneers of the remnant church of Revelation 12:17. It must begin again, as it were, and this with the handicap of prejudice created by the disappointment and the opposition of the nominal Adventists. Of this Ellen White testified:

"Had Adventists, after the great disappointment in 1844, held fast their faith, and followed on unitedly in the opening providence of God, receiving the message of the third angel and in the power of the Holy Spirit proclaiming it to the world, they would have seen the salvation of God, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts, the work would have been completed, and Christ would have come ere this to receive His people to their reward."—E. G. White MS 4, 1883, in "Testimony of Jesus," p. 79.

Meeting Encroachments of Fanaticism

In every reformatory movement, states Ellen White, Satan has attempted "to deceive and destroy the people by palming off upon them a counterfeit in place of the true work." ("The Great Controversy," p. 186.) This was true in the formative period following the disap­pointment, even as it was in the first century of the Christian church and the Reformation of the sixteenth century. There arose mis­leading elements, which, if left unchecked, would have wrought disaster. Throughout this critical period, the Spirit of prophecy stood as an undeviating bulwark against all encroachments of fanaticism.

In several regions, within a few months after the passing of the time in 1844, fanaticism in various forms broke out among certain of the disappointed Adventists. In fact, one of the leading features of Ellen Harmon's work in 1845-1846 was that of meeting these dis­cordant elements. She was instructed regard­ing their erroneous teachings and commis­sioned to save those involved if possible.

Divine Protection Promised

To launch out and meet fanaticism is not a work ordinarily selected for a maiden of seventeen or eighteen ; yet the instruction came directing Ellen Harmon to this very task. Vividly, in a reminiscent statement, she has pictured this experience :

"I was shown that God had a work for me to do amid dangers and perils, but I must not shrink. I must go to the very places where fanaticism had done the most evil, and bear my messages of reproof to some of those who were influencing others; while I should give comfort and encouragement to those who were timid and conscientious, but deceived by those they thought were more righteous than they.

I saw that we would be in danger of imprisonment and abuse. Although I should have no sympathy with the deceived, fanatical ones, no difference would be made; for anyone bearing the name of Adventist would have no consideration shown them.

"I was young and timid, and felt great sadness in regard to visiting the field where fanaticism had reigned. I pleaded with God to spare me from this —to send by some other one. The Spirit of the Lord again came upon me, and I was shown my faith would be tested, my courage and obedience tried. I must go. God would give me words to speak at the right time. And if I should wait upon Him, and have faith in His promises, I should escape both imprisonment and abuse ; for He would restrain those who would do me harm. . . .

"I waited no longer, but went trusting in God. I saw most of the brethren and sisters. As I warned them of their dangers, some were rejoiced that God had sent me; others refused to listen to my testi­mony as soon as they learned that I was not in union with their spirit. They said I was going back to the world, that we must be so straight and so plain and so full of glory, as they called their shout­ing and halooing, that the world would hate and persecute us."—E. G. White Letter 2, 1874. (Aug. 24, 1874.)

Outstanding Cases of Fanaticism

Varied were the issues of that period. From a number of sources we construct a composite picture of what Ellen Harmon was called upon to meet among those who harassed both Sabbatarian and nominal Adventists.

1. "Sanctification" "Above Possibility of Sin." ("Life Sketches," p. 83.) "Doctrine of spiritual free love was advocated" (E. G. White in Southern Watchman, April 5, 1904) ; leading to practice of "the worst sins under the garb of sanctification." ("Life Sketches," P. 83.)

2. "Resurrection of Righteous Dead" al­leged to have "already taken place."—E. G. White in General Conference Bulletin, April 23, 1901. At Orrington and Garland, Maine, some "were in error and delusion in believing that the dead had been raised" and were re­peatedly "baptized in the faith of the resur­rection of the dead." (E. G. White Letter 2, 1874.)

3. Bodily Demonstration,s.—"Men would say, I have the Holy Spirit of God, and they would come into meeting and roll just like a hoop." —E. G. White MS 97, 1909. "There was much excitement, with noise and confusion. One could not tell what was piped or what was harped. Some appeared to be in vision and fell to the floor. Others were jumping, dancing, and shouting. They declared that as their flesh was purified, they were ready for translation. This they repeated again and again. I bore my testimony in the name of the Lord, placing His rebuke upon these mani­festations."—E. G. White, General Conference Bulletin, April 23, 1901.

4. No-Work Doctrine.—"Some in Paris, Maine, . . . believed that it was sin to work. The Lord gave me a reproof for the leader in this error, declaring that he was going con­trary to the word of God in abstaining from labor."—"Life Sketches," p. 86.

5. False Humility.—"Some . . professed great humility, and advocated creeping on the floor like children."--/d., p. 85. "I ever bore the testimony God gave me that He did not require this ["voluntary humility"] . . . of His children."—E. G. White Letter 2, 1874.

6. Following "Every Impression."—Laying "aside reason and Judgment" ("Spiritual Gifts," Vol. II, p. 45), maintaining that "all their impressions and notions were the mind of God.' (E. G. White in Review and Her­ald, Nov. 20, 1883.)

7. Frequent Time Setting.—"Different times were set for the Lord to come, and were urged upon the brethren. But the Lord showed me that they would pass by, for the time of trouble must take place before the coming of Christ." —"Testimonies," Vol. 1, p. 72.

The effect on the advent cause of these ex­cesses, in which a few indulged, was disastrous. Mrs. White thus describes it:

"A fearful stain was brought upon the cause of God which would cleave to the name of Adventist like the leprosy. Satan triumphed, for this reproach would cause many precious souls to fear to have any connection with Adventists. All that had been done wrong would be exaggerated, and would lose nothing by passing from one to the other. The cause of God was bleeding. Jesus was crucified afresh and put to open shame by His professed followers."—E. G. White Letter 2, 1874,

Ellen Harmon and others worked earnestly to rescue those who had fallen into error. God blessed their labors, and the results were such that—

"Peace and joy came into the hearts of those who broke away from this deception of Satan, and they glorified God as they saw His unerring wisdom in setting before them the light of truth and its pre­cious fruits in contrast with satanic heresies and delusions. The truth shone in contrast with these deceptions like clear gold amid the rubbish of earth." —E. G. White in Review and Herald, Nov. zo, 1883.

The true aftermath of such experiences is brought to view in this statement regarding one group:

"These sorely repented, and some were afterward among our most reliable men and women. But there were others who ever after walked in sadness. We could not at any time make them feel that they were worthy to work for the Master."—E. G. White in General Conference Bulletin, April 23, 1905. (Italics mine.)

And what effect did this experience have upon the youthful messenger ? She fully sensed her danger and recognized the source of her protection :

"The false burdens and impressions of others might have led me away from duty, but the Lord had pre­viously shown me my duty where to go, and although young and inexperienced, preserved me from falling, by giving me special directions who to fear, and who to trust."—"Spiritual Gifts," Vol. .17, p. 45.

The portrayal of this sad picture of the scat­tered fanatical movements of 1845 and 1846 but causes the truth to shine more brightly, and enables us to see the providential hand of God guiding in those critical, perplexing days at the beginning of our work.


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By ARTHUR L. WHITE, Secretary of the Ellen G. White Publications

March 1941

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