The Prophetic Gift in Action

I. How the Visions Were Given

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

The farther we recede from the time of the active messages of God's appointed spokesman to the advent movement, the greater the tendency to haziness, lack of understanding—and sometimes an actual misunder­standing—of the purpose, method, and scope of these communications to the remnant church. Especially is this true of our younger workers, ministerial and Bible instructor interns, and theological students. Traditions and distorted viewpoints, expanding with the years, struggle for place along with the facts. To help in providing a clear, sound, and true understand­ing of this gracious provision, thus to foster a greater appreciation and rightful use thereof, this series has been secured from the custodian of the E. G. White documents, including the diaries, letters, and other contemporary writings. Clarifying light is thus fo­cused upon the subject. These articles have been authorized and approved by the board of trustees of the E. G. White Publications, and at the close of the series will be made available in brochure form. We bespeak their careful study—Editor.

Even though the tragic fall of our first parents at the beginning separated them from face-to-face converse with their Maker, God did not leave man without means by which He could communicate with him In order that those who should so choose might in­telligently avail themselves of the gracious pro­visions for their salvation, they must receive instruction, information, and guidance. The methods of communication have been quite var­ied in their nature, ranging from the audible voice of God in the giving of the law at Sinai, to the Urim and Thummim by which the people might inquire of the Lord. Angels on several occasions have borne Heaven's messages di­rectly to individuals; at times God- has given dreams to warn of impending danger; and all through the centuries the voices of the prophets have been heard. "By dreams, by Urim, or by prophets. . . . These were God's own appointed mediums of communication."—Patriarchs and Prophets (ed. 1890), p. 683.

Of these several means of communication em­ployed by the Lord, the most common and widely used was that of the prophet. To Israel, God Himself declared His intention in simple lan­guage: "If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make Myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream." Num. 12 :6. Information, instruction, and di­rection were to be revealed to the prophet, which he in turn would impart to the people. The process by which the prophet received the divine message was not through face-to-face converse with God, nor on the other hand was it merely through impressions or strong feelings; but it was through a definite, divinely chosen process, designated as "visions."

The Word of God abounds in references to visions, but rarely do we find a description of just what took place in connection with their reception. In the writings of Mrs. E. G. White there are also numerous references to visions, yet rarely did she speak of the circumstances of the visions.

"In Divers Manners."—It seems clear that no one set of facts can be related as constitut­ing an invariable description of the circumstances connected with the visions given to God's prophets. Nor can any one rule be formulated by which we may determine the manner in which the light of divine origin was imparted to God's messengers, to be given in turn by them to others. Not a few, having read or heard a vivid description of the physical phenomena ac­companying certain of the visions, have assumed that all were given in the same manner. A study of the question reveals that "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past . . . by the prophets" (Heb. 1:1), did not alter His methods in speaking to the remnant church through His chosen messenger for the last days.

As it is the purpose of this and succeeding articles in this series to deal particularly with the manifestation of the prophetic gift in the Seventh-day Adventist, or remnant, Church, the Scripture record will only occasionally be cited, and reference, in the main, will be confined to the experience of Mrs. E. G. White. We shall use such of her statements as seem to draw the curtain back and reveal, almost always in a casual or incidental way, the elements which, when pieced together, form an illuminating composite picture, instructive and helpful both in its detail and in its larger, over-all aspects. This E. G. White witness will be supplemented by the testimony of close associates, who have spoken of certain important features scarcely ever referred to by Mrs. White herself.

Circumstances of the Visions

While the work of one who claims to speak for God must meet the sure tests of the Word of God—"by their fruits ye shall know them," "to the law and to the testimony," the fulfillment of the prediction, etc.—yet the circumstances of the visions invariably constitute a point of interest in connection with the manifestation of the gift of prophecy. While such do not right­fully form a test, the circumstances of some of the visions did indeed supply confirmatory evi­dence of great weight. We might divide these manifestations into three general groups:

  1. Visions given in public, and accompanied by the marked physical phenomena.
  2. Visions given during the hours of the night, often referred to as prophetic dreams.
  3. Visions given during periods of prayer or writing, unaccompanied by physical phenomena.

Without placing undue stress on the physical phenomena which at times accompanied the visions, it is proper that we should examine this factor, which to eyewitnesses in our pioneer days constituted convincing testimony as one part of a body of evidences. Very feelingly, as she addressed an Australian audience, Mrs. White spoke of the time when, in December, 1844, the "gleams of the glory of God" first came to her:

"They thought that I was dead, and there they watched and cried and prayed so long, but to me it was heaven, it was life, and then the world was spread out before me and I saw darkness like the pall of death.

"What did it mean? I could see no light. Then I saw a little glframer of light and then another, and these lights increased and grew brighter, and multi­plied and grew stronger and stronger till they were the light of the world. These were the believers in Jesus Christ. . . .

"I never thought that I should come to the world again. When my breath came again to my body, I could not hear anything. Everything was dark. The light and glory that my eyes had rested upon had eclipsed the light and thus it was for many hours. Then gradually I began to recognize the light, and I asked where I was.

"'You are right here in my house,' said the owner of the house.

"'What, here? I here? Do you not know about it?' Then it all came back to me. Is this to be my home? Have I come here again? Oh the weight and the burden which came upon my soul."—E. G. White Mg. 16, 1894.

The Account of Eyewitnesses

Quite naturally those who personally wit­nessed the visions which were accompanied by physical phenomena observed very carefully what took place. While at times there was a slight variation in the circumstances, yet in their general features they were quite uniform. The utmost freedom was extended to those pres­ent to examine Mrs. White, and at times physi­cians were called for a more thorough and critical examination. Mrs Martha Amadon, whose father and husband were both pioneer workers, and who for many years was a neigh­bor and close associate of Mrs. White, sums up the circumstances of a number of visions which she personally witnessed. Her account, which follows, is similar to many other accounts which are a matter of record:

"As one who has frequently observed her in vision, knowing the company of people usually present, all deeply observant and believers in her exercises. I have often wondered why a more vivid description of the scenes which transpired has not been given.

"In vision her eyes were open. There was no breath, but there were graceful movements of the shoulders, arms, and hands expressive of what she saw. It was impossible for anyone else to move her hands or arms. She often uttered words singly, and sometimes sentences which expressed to those about her the nature of the view she was having, either of heaven or of earth.

"Her first word in vision was 'Glory,' sounding at first close by, and then dying away in the distance, seemingly far away. This was sometimes repeated....

"There was never an excitement among those pres­ent during a vision ; nothing caused fear. It was a solemn, quiet scene, sometimes lasting an hour.

"When the vision was ended, and she lost sight of the heavenly light, as it were, coming back to the earth once more, she would exclaim with a long-drawn sigh, as she took her first natural breath, 'D-a-r-k.' She was then limp and strengthless."—Martha Amadon, Notebook Leaflets, Miscellaneous Leaflet No. 2, Mrs. E. Gt. White in Vision.

Of her condition while in vision, James White wrote in 1868:

"1. She is utterly unconscious of everything tran­spiring around her, as has been proved by the most rigid tests, but views herself as removed from this world, and in the presence of heavenly beings.

"2. She does not breathe. During the entire period of her continuance in vision, which has at different times ranged from fifteen minutes to three hours, there is no breath, as has been repeatedly proved by pressing upon the chest, and by closing the mouth and nostrils.

"3. Immediately on entering vision, her muscles become rigid, and joints fixed, so far as any external force can influence them. At the same time her movements and gestures, which are frequent, are free and graceful, and cannot be hindered nor controlled by the strongest person.

"4. On coming out of vision, whether in the daytime or a well-lighted room at night, all is total darkness. Her power to distinguish even the most brilliant objects, held within a few inches of the eyes, returns but gradually. . . .

"She has probably had, during the past twenty-three years, between one and two hundred visions. These have been given under almost every variety of circumstances, yet maintaining a wonderful simi­larity."—James White, Life Incidents, p. 272, Battle Creek, Michigan, 1868.

The Testimony Summarized

From the many eyewitness accounts available we build the following summary:*

1. Immediately preceding a vision, there was a deep sensing of the presence of God both by Mrs. White and by others in the room.

2. As the vision began, Mrs. White uttered an exclamation of "Glory!" or "Glory to God!" at times repeated.

3. There was a loss of physical strength.

4. Supernatural strength was then apparent.

5. There was no breathing, but the heartbeat continued normally, and the color in the cheeks was natural. The most critical tests failed to reveal any disturbance of the circulatory sys­tem.

6. Occasionally there would be exclamations indicative of the scene being presented.

7. The eyes were open, not with a vacant stare, but as if she were intently watching some­thing.

8. The position might vary. At times she was seated; at times reclining; at times she walked about the room and made graceful gestures as she spoke of matters presented.

9. There was an absolute unconsciousness of what was occurring about her. She neither saw, heard, felt, nor perceived in any way the immediate surroundings or happenings.

10. The close of the vision was indicated by a deep inhalation, followed in about a minute by another, and very soon natural breathing was resumed.

11. Immediately after the vision all seemed very dark.

12. Within a short time natural strength and abilities were regained.

13. The experience of the visions never weakened or debilitated Mrs. White. They were usually followed by increased natural strength and im­proved health.

Place of Physical Phenomena

A logical question arises as to why the visions were so often given in this way. One might reason, Are not the great tests of the prophet set forth in the Word of God sufficient? The answer is found in a thoughtful analysis of the situation. Here was a maiden of barely seven­teen years claiming that she had been instructed of God. She had been favored with revelations, she asserted, and had a message of divine origin for the people. Eventually the great test, "by their fruits ye shall know them," would deter­mine the validity of her claims.

As we look back today, we see Mrs. White's claim that she was the recipient of light di­vinely imparted by God tested by the Word of God; we view a voluminous body of writings on many subjects, but with a perfect unity stretching from the earliest to the last; we wit­ness the fruit in the lives of those who con­sistently endeavor to follow the counsel given; we see in the development and conduct of the work of the remnant church the guidance of these messages. Also, we have witnessed and are today witnessing the fulfillment of predic­tions recorded many decades ago. From our perspective today, we see many incontrovert­ible evidences which form a sound basis for belief.

But, back in the beginning days, before there was time or opportunity for the development of fruit, convincing evidences were given to those who must at the time judge as to the messages presented. Were they of God? Much depended upon the answer. The very manner in which the visions were given was one strong evidence, among many, which settled the matter in the minds of most eyewitnesses. The primary value of such testimony was, no doubt, in the aid that it gave to those who must at the outset evaluate the claims of the one who spoke for God before there was full opportunity for the application of the sure tests of the Word of God.

On one occasion, when Mrs. White wrote of her condition while in vision, she declared: "These messages were thus given to substanti­ate the faith of all, that in these last days we might have confidence in the Spirit of proph­ecy."—Review and Herald, June 14, 1906.

Visions Received at Night

In the Ellen G. White writings, expressions of this character are frequent: "In the visions of the night some things were clearly presented before me"; or "In the night season the Lord gave me instruction." All through her experi­ence, and more particularly in the later years of her life, the visions were frequently given during the hours of the night, while the mind was at rest and entirely severed from circum­stances and influences about her. Questions may arise concerning the relationship between a prophetic dream, or night vision, and an or­dinary dream. Of this Mrs. White wrote in 1868:

"There are many dreams arising from the common things of life, with which the Spirit of God has nothing to do. 'There are also false dreams, as well as false visions, which are inspired by the spirit of Satan. But dreams from the Lord are classed in the Word of God with visions, and are as truly the fruits of the Spirit of prophecy as visions. Such dreams, taking into the account the persons who have them, and the circumstances under which they are given, contain their own proofs of their genuineness.' "—Testimonies for the Church, Vol. 17, p. 658.

At one time Mrs. White's son, W. C. White, made this inquiry of her: "Mother, you often speak of matters being revealed to you in the night season. You speak of dreams in which light comes to you. We all have dreams. How do you know that God is speaking to you in the dreams of which you so frequently speak'?"

"Because," she answered, "the same angel messenger stands by my side instructing me in the visions of the night, as stands beside me in­structing me in the visions of the day." The heavenly being referred to was at other times spoken of as "the angel," "my guide," "my in­structor," "the young man," etc.

Thus we can see clearly that there was no confusion in the prophet's mind, no question as to the revelation which came during the hours of the night while the mind was at rest; for the very circumstances in connection with it made it clear that it was instruction from God. And it may well be said that the prophetic dream is on the same plane and is of equal importance with the prophetic vision. One authority has -written of this :

"It does not seem possible to draw any very precise distinction between the prophetic 'dream' and the prophetic 'vision.' In the case of Abraham (Gen. 15:1) and of Daniel (Dan. 7:1), they seem to melt into each other."---M'Clintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia, Vol. VIII, art. "Prophet," p. 646.

Visions While Praying or Writing

While the two types of visions already men­tioned were the most common in the experience of Mrs. White, the revelations to her were by no means limited to these two. Not infrequently visions unaccompanied by physical phenomena were given while she was writing, speaking, or praying, either in private or in public. At such times the immediate surroundings seemed to be shut out while matters were presented to her in revelation. One outstanding instance of this character was in connection with the Minnesota camp meeting of 1870. W. C. White, who was present, gives the following account :

"Father and mother were carrying a heavy burden in behalf of the ministry who had been working in that State. On Sunday morning they undertook to conduct a revival service. Father spoke for a few minutes, but with little freedom. Then after mother had spoken briefly, they asked the congregation to kneel in prayer. Father offered a labored, sorrowful prayer, then mother began to implore for light and freedom. After she had prayed for about two minutes she stopped. There was silence long enough to count to forty or fifty, about half a minute.

"I was kneeling with the congregation, and I turned to see what was the occasion for the silence. Just then she burst forth in prayer. Her voice was melo­dious, and triumphant, and the remainder of her prayer greatly moved the people present.

"During the period of silence, a revelation was given her regarding conditions in the Minnesota Conference, also conditions regarding the work in Battle Creek, also regarding other matters of general interest in the cause. Following the camp meeting, father and mother found retirement at the home of one of our brethren. Mother wrote diligently for about two weeks, in recording what had been shown to her during the half minute of pause in her prayer."—W. C. White in Lecture at Advanced Bible School, 19.16. (White Publications Document File No. 696.)

References to visions during prayer are quite common in the E. G. White writings. Here is one: "While engaged in earnest prayer, I was lost to everything around me; the room was filled with light, and I was bearing a message to an assembly that seemed to be the General Conference."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 461.

It is clear that the mind of the prophet, dur­ing vision, must be entirely freed from sur­rounding circumstances or influences. It was of little consequence whether this was accom­plished through the loss of ordinary conscious­ness during the hours of wakefulness, or whether the revelations were given during the hours of the night when the mind was free and at rest. In either case God spoke, the mind was enlightened, the agetut was entrusted with im­portant messages to communicate to the church and the world. The varying circumstances of the visions created no degrees of quality of the revelations imparted.

The Length of the Visions

While some of the visions were very extended in their nature, at times lasting more than an hour, and on one occasion four hours, there were other times when the visions were very brief in duration—only a few minutes, or in some cases, seconds. There were times when there was an almost instantaneous flashlight view given of certain situations or conditions. At such times the vision usually related to only one subject or one phase of a subject, while the longer views might take in many, many sub­jects, or deal with events occurring over a long period of time. The visions of the early years were more comprehensive in their content, longer in duration, and less frequent. In later years, they were more frequent but often limited in scope.

Thus it may be seen that "at sundry times and in divers manners" God spoke to Ellen White as He did to the prophets in "time past."

[Other articles in this series will follow in subsequent numbers of the Ministry.—Ed.]

*Note.—For reference to statements from the Scripture record in which mention is made of visions accompanied by similar phenomena, see Dan. 10 :7-10, 10-19; Num. 24 :3, 4, 16.


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

March 1944

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