The last of the A. L. White series on, "Prophetic Guidance in. Early Days" appears in this issue. Our workers will be happy to learn that these articles are to be available in brochure form, as a companion to the former two brochures, "The Ellen G. White Books" and "The Custody and Use of the Ellen G. White Writings." These three able discussions should be in the hands of every theological student in, our ranks, and be in the library of every worker in overseas divisions, as well as home bases. Dependable information on the origin and operation of the Spirit of prophecy is imperative for the Public heralds of this message. These are sound, accurate, and informative articles. And the Ministry is negotiating for another helpful series later.
Unwittingly, a grave mistake, made in the early fifties, was destined to have rather far-reaching effects on the cause of God during the next five years. Through the perplexing first six years of the formative period, the Lord had led in a signal manner, directing and protecting the work through the Spirit of prophecy. Even so, the work had moved but slowly. "It was then next to impossible to obtain access to unbelievers. The disappointment in 1844 had confused the minds of many, and they would not listen to any explanation of the matter."—E. G. White, in Review and Herald, Nov. zo, 1883, p. 721, col. 2.
But, as we have already noted in an earlier article, the outlook had improved by 1850 and 1851, and Elder James White could report: "Now the door is open almost everywhere to present the truth, and many are prepared to read the publications who have formerly had no interest to investigate."—Review and Herald, Aug. 19, 1851, p. 13, col. 2.
With brighter prospects for a large work among unbelievers, the general denominational literature was shaped to meet the new conditions. The most noticeable adjustment in this line was made to avert prejudice, and for this reason, all reference to the visions and the Spirit of prophecy was left out of the regular issues of the church paper. This action was explained by Elder White in an Extra of the Review and Herald, made up largely of early Ellen G. White experiences and visions. Here is his last-page note:
"This sheet is the form of the paper that we hope to publish once in two weeks. . . . We do not design this extra for so general circulation as the regular paper, for the reason that strong prejudice exists in many minds against a portion of its contents. Those who judge of a matter before they hear are unwise.
Says Paul, 'Despise not prophesyings, prove all things, hold fast that which is good.'
"We believe that God is unchangeable, that He is 'the same yesterday, and today, and forever.' And that it is His will and purpose to teach His tried people, at this the most important period in the history of God's People, in the some manner as in past time. But as many are prejudiced against visions, we think best at present not to insert anything of the kind in the regular paper. We will therefore publish the visions by themselves for the benefit of those who believe that God can fulfill His word and give visions 'in the last days.' "—Advent Review Extra, July 21, 1851, p. 4, col. 3. (Italics mine.)
Pursuant to this announced policy, the Review for four years was very nearly silent on the visions. During this time, only five Ellen G. White articles were published, and even these were in the form of exhortation, making no reference to revelations. (See "Early Writings," pp. 104-114 for three of them.)
This was in marked contrast to the six Ellen G. White articles in eleven issues of Present Truth, issued during the fifteen-month period from August, 1849, to November, 1850, in each of which frequent mention was freely made to the visions. (See "Early Writings," pp. 19-33.) Although James White stated his intention to issue other numbers of the Extra to supply the needs of the believers, we fail to find that this was done.
James White's Declarations, 1851-1855
In the Review of April 21, 1855, James White announced to the readers of the paper his position in regard to the place of spiritual gifts in the church and their perpetuity, but made no reference to Ellen White's experience. He made it clear that the Bible alone was the test of faith and duty, but that this did not preclude spiritual gifts given to "lead us to His living Word."—Review and Herald, April 21, 1851, p. 70, col. 1. The same position was reiterated in 1854. The 1851 article was reprinted on October 3, with this appended note :
"The position that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is the rule of faith and duty, does not shut out the gifts which God set in the church. To reject them, is shutting out that part of the Bible which presents them. We say, Let us have a whole Bible, and let that, and that alone, be our rule of faith and duty. Place the gifts where they belong, and all is harmony."—Id., Oct. 3, 1854, p. 62, col. 2.
One year later, October 16, 1855, in meeting false charges, Elder White again stated his position:
"There is a class of persons who are determined to have it that the Review and its conductors make the views of Mrs. White a test of doctrine and Christian fellowship. It may be duty to notice these persons on account of the part they are acting, which is calculated to deceive some. What has the Review to do with Mrs. White's views ? The sentiments published in its columns are all drawn from the Holy Scriptures. No writer of the Review has ever referred to them as authority on any point. The Review for five years has not published one of them. Its motto has been, The Bible, and the Bible alone, the only rule of faith and duty.' "—Id., Oct. 16, 1855, it. 61, cols. 2, 3.
To illustrate his uniform position through the years, Elder White then quotes his first published statement on the subject of the Spirit of prophecy. (See the Ministry, March, 1941, p. 1.) In meeting the charge that the denominational doctrinal positions were based on "the visions," he states : "It should be here understood that all these views as held by the body of Sabbathkeepers, were brought out from the Scriptures before Mrs. White had any view in regard to them. These sentiments are founded upon the Scriptures as their only basis."—Ibid.
While the position set forth in the 1855 Review and Herald on the relationship of the Spirit of prophecy to the word of God was sound, yet it is clear from the experience of those years that the rather negative treatment of the subject, together with absence of any of the visions from the columns of the Review, led to a general lack of appreciation of the gift, and to a lowering of its place of importance in the work. The results of this course of near silence was not at once perceived, but at the general conference of 1855, held in Battle Creek, commencing November 16, it was clear that all was not right. A realization of this led to "confessions relative to the evident departure of the remnant from the spirit of the message, and the humble, straightforward course taken by those who first embraced it."—Report of Conference, Review and Herald, Dec. 4, 1855, p. 75, col. I.
It may also be noted in this connection that there had been a partial withdrawal of the prophetic gift from the believers. Writing of this shortly afterward, Ellen White stated:
"The visions have been of late less and less frequent, and my testimony for God's children has been gone. I have thought that my work in God's cause was done, and that I had no further duty to do, but to save my own soul, and carefully attend to my little family."—Id., Jan. ro, 1856, to. 118, col.1.
Difficulty Recognized and Remedied
Recognizing that the right attitude had not been taken by the church toward the Spirit of prophecy, the brethren, assembled in conference at Battle Creek, passed the following formal action at the business session of the general conference: "That Joseph Bates, J. H. Waggoner, and M. E. Cornell be appointed to address the saints in behalf of the conference, on the gifts of the church."—Id., Dec. 4, 1855, p. 76, col. I.
In harmony with this action, a comprehensive address was prepared, which expressed the convictions of the conference. We quote a few paragraphs which present a most significant picture:
1. Confession .—"In view of the present low state of the precious cause of our blessed Master, we feel to humble ourselves before God, and confess our unfaithfulness and departure from the way of the Lord, whereby the spirit of holiness has been grieved, our own souls burdened, and an occasion given to the enemy of all righteousness to rejoice over the decline of faith and spirituality amongst the scattered flock."—Id., p. 78, col. 3.
2. Gifts.—"Nor have we appreciated the glorious privilege of claiming the gifts which our blessed Master has vouchsafed to His people; and we greatly fear that we have grieved the Spirit by neglecting the blessings already conferred upon the church."—Id., p. 79, col. 1.
3. Appreciiated in Past.—"We have also, in our past experience, been made to rejoice in the goodness of our God who has manifested His care for His people by leading us in His way and correcting our errors, through the operations of His Spirit; and the majority of Sabbathkeepers in the third angel's message, have firmly believed that the Lord was calling His church out of the wilderness by means appointed to bring us to the unity of the faith. We refer to the visions which God has promised to the remnant 'in the last days.' "—Ibid.
4. Not To Take Place of Bible.—"Nor do we, as some contend, exalt these gifts or their manifestations, above the Bible; on the contrary, we test them by the Bible, making it the great rule of judgment in all things; so that whatever is not in accordance with it, in its spirit and its teachings, we unhesitatingly reject. But as we cannot believe that a fountain sends forth at the same place sweet water and bitter, or that an evil tree brings forth good fruit, so we cannot believe that that is of the enemy which tends to unite the hearts of the saints, to lead to meekness and humility and holy living, and incites to deep heart searching before God, and a confession of our wrongs.' —Ibid.
5. An Attitude Displeasing to God. — "While we hold these views as emanating from the divine mind, we would confess the inconsistency (which we believe has been displeasing to God) of professedly regarding them as messages from God, and really putting them on a level with the inventions of men. We fear that this has resulted from an unwillingness to bear the reproach of Christ (which is indeed greater riches than the treasures of earth), and a desire to conciliate the feelings of our opponents ; but the Word and our own experience have taught us that God is not honored, nor His cause advanced, by such a course. While we regard them as coating from God, and entirely harmonizing with His written word, we must acknowledge ourselves under obligation to abide by their teachings, and be corrected by their admonitions. To say that they are of God, and yet we will not be tested by them, is to say that God's will is not a test of rule for Christians, which is inconsistent and absurd."
Heaven Accepts the Confession
At the close of the conference, Ellen White was given a revelation: "November 20th, while in prayer, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly and powerfully came upon me, and I was taken off in vision. I saw that the Spirit of the Lord has been dying away from the church."—"Testimonies," p. .r (sixteen-page pamphlet) ; Battle Creek, Michigan, 1835. (See "Testimonies," Vol. I, p. 113.)
It is of special interest to observe in this connection that the matter revealed in this important vision was published by action of the Battle Creek church, and constituted the first of the "Testimony" series, as is evidenced by the following note signed by S. T. Beldon: "The above vision was read before thirty-six members of the Battle Creek church, on the evening of November 24th, who gave their unanimous vote for its publication."—Id., p. 8.
Then, a few weeks later, a reassuring message from Ellen White appeared in the Review. We quote here, as the climax of this stirring account, her own words describing how God looked upon the whole experience:
"At our late conference at Battle Creek, in November, God wrought for us. The minds of the servants of God were exercised as to the gifts of the church, and if God's frown had been brought upon His people because the gifts had been slighted and neglected, there was a pleasing prospect that His smiles would again be upon us, and He would graciously and mercifully revive the gifts again, and they would live in the church, to encourage the desponding and fainting soul, and to correct and reprove the erring.'—Review and Herald, Jan 10, 1856, p. 118, col. 1.
We may well regard this experience as marking the close of the critical, formative period in the work of the Sabbathkeeping Adventists, and as a turning point in their history. With the Spirit of prophecy now given its rightful place, added blessing attended the labors of the ministers, the publishing enterprise prospered, and the work moved onward.
As we look back today, and see how well the foundations of doctrine and practice were established by the pioneers of the message, and witness the work through the years built upon this firm foundation, we can but exclaim, "What bath God wrought !"
[End of Series]