To the youthful Ellen Harmon, about a week after her first vision, the commission was given, "Make known to others what I have revealed to you."—Early Writings, p. 20. Although at that time she saw in it a weighty responsibility and heavy burden, she little realized that it presaged seven decades of ministry as God's special messenger to the remnant church. The visions might be given within the compass of a few minutes, or they might extend over a period of an hour or more. Usually, however, the period was a relatively brief one. But during this time vast fields of instruction and information were opened up to her.
With the receiving of the vision, Mrs. White's work was just begun. The task of delivering the messages was a large and, many times, a distressing one. Weeks and even months were often devoted to presenting to others what had been revealed to her in one brief vision. The nature of the message determined to a large extent the manner in which it could be presented. This was done in three ways: (1) orally, (2) in personal communications, or (3) through the printed page.
I. Through Oral Presentation
Instruction and information were given to Mrs. White for many individuals—warnings of certain dangers, reproofs of definite sins, words of encouragement, and special instruction. As she had opportunity she met these persons and conversed with them, transmitting the message of God by word of mouth. Much that was given to her was for more than one person—a group here, a church there—or it might be of such a character as to benefit the whole denomination. As arrangements could be made, Mrs. White would meet with those concerned, and, in public services in local churches, camp meetings, or General Conference assemblies, would present what had been revealed to her. She was a fluent, forceful speaker, and all through her life she attracted and held large audiences, both of Adventists and of non-Adventists.
Not always, however, as Mrs. White took her place in the pulpit did she have a special message for those who sat before her. Frequently in her public work as she met regular appointments, she chose to present general lines of admonition and instruction of a character to benefit all who might be present. Not infrequently on such occasions, as she proceeded with her subject, and looked over the congregation, she saw faces which she recognized as having, viewed in vision. Their cases came clearly to her mind, and the discourse was shaped to meet their particular needs. There were several instances when Mrs. White broke off with her subject abruptly and spoke directly to certain persons present, giving them a message which had been entrusted to her for them, and then proceeded with the main line of her discourse. The recognition of their faces revived the message clearly in her mind, and she was impelled to speak of it. Writing in 1882, she declared:
"When I am speaking to the people, I say much that I have not premeditated. The Spirit of the Lord frequently comes upon me. I seem to be carried out of, and away from, myself ; the life and character of different persons are clearly presented before my mind. I see their errors and dangers, and feel compelled to speak of what is thus brought before me." —Testimonies, Vol. V, p. 678.
II. By Personal Letters
Only a part of the messages could be delivered orally. Most of them must be set forth in writing, as it was not possible for Mrs. White to see personally all to whom the messages must be conveyed. Then, too, it was desirable to have a record of the message presented. The writing was done by hand. Painstakingly she wrote, page after page, presenting the views given her and conveying the instruction, cautions, encouragement, and warnings imparted to her for others. Usually several copies were then made by a secretary.
To those for whom she had been entrusted with a personal message, the word was sent by a carefully written personal letter. These letters often, but not always, opened with such expressions as, "I am instructed to say to you," or "I am commissioned to give you a message." Prayerfully Mrs. White selected winsome words which would convey the important message from Heaven, that it might do its appointed work and save a soul from a wrong course of action. Usually the communication was sent at once to the person addressed, but there were times when she was divinely instructed to hold the communication until circumstances developed and she was permitted or bidden to hasten it on its way.
Not always could the full message be presented in the first letter. Ellen White well knew that when one is in error he is under the influence of the -powers of evil, and it is not easy to receive reproof. On not a few occasions we find that she wrote four, six, ten, or twelve letters—spacing them a day or two apart. In the first she gave what encouragement she could, opening the way for what would follow. Then succeeding communications went deeper and deeper into the subject until it.was all presented in its fullness and in its penetrating strength.
Some situations were of such a character that Mrs. White dared not send the message by mail directly to the person involved, for she knew it would be very hard for the one to accept the message. Some trustworthy individual of experience and ability would at such times be asked to read the message to the person addressed. In this way there would be opportunity for united prayer, conversation, and brotherly help. Speaking of her practice in this line, she wrote in 1903:
"Sometimes when I receive a testimony for someone who is in danger, who is being deceived by the enemy, I am instructed that I am not to place it in his hands, but to give it to someone else to read to him, because, being deceived by the insinuations of Satan, he would read the testimony in the light of his own desires, and to him its meaning would be perverted."—E. G. White MS 71, 5903.
Then there were the letters to be written to those she had seen personally, and who asked that she record what she had related to them. This added very greatly to her burdens ; yet she did not refuse such reasonable requests. Speaking of this in 1868, James White said:
"We wish to say to those friends who have requested Mrs. White to write out personal testimonies, that in this branch of her labor she has about two months' work in hand. On our eastern tour she improved all her spare time in writing such testimonies. She even wrote many of them in meeting while others were preaching."—Review and Herald, March 3, 1868.
"Write, write, write, I feel that I must and not delay," she penned in 1884. (Letter ii, 1884.) Only a part of this writing could be done at home, for much of the time she traveled, and we find her employing every spare moment writing—on shipboard, at the homes of friends, on the train, and at times in meetings while Others spoke. Of necessity she had learned to concentrate on her work and often labored under varied and difficult circumstances.
III. Printed in Articles and Books
Many lines of truth opened to Ellen White in vision, were of a nature to be presented to the church and the world. Such matters were carefully written out as articles for our periodicals or for publication in books. As we sum it up today, we find there are no less than 21,500 pages of matter which have appeared in book form, and some 2,500 articles which appeared in such of our papers as the Review, Signs, Youth's Instructor, Health Reformer, etc. This writing was no mechanical task. It represented tireless application to the work. At times the nature of the matters dealt with made the work especially difficult. This is indicated by these words penned in 1895:
"It has been hard for me to give the message that God has given me for those I love, and yet I have not dared to withhold it. . . I would not do a work that is so uncongenial to me if I thought God would excuse me from it."—E. G. White Letter 59, 1895.
There were times, too, when individuals denied the truthfulness of that which was stated by the messenger of the Lord. Then she had to stand firmly, as indicated in the following.: "When I had to tell individuals that 'you did this thing,' etc., without one single human intimation that such was so, you may be assured that I had to set my face as steel before them."—E. G. White MS 12, 1893.
The burden of soul which she carried was a heavy one. Observe this expression of feeling in an appeal written in 1903: "I have been afraid that I should not have the strength to write to you thus plainly, for to do it takes hold of every fiber of my being. It is indeed as if I were writing to my own son."—E. G. White Letter 180, 1903.
Holy Spirit Aided in Delivering Messages
The question has at times been asked, How could Mrs. White remember all that was shown to her in a vision which might take her many months to write out? While she laid no claim to verbal inspiration, nor did her close associates claim it for her, yet she recognized her dependence upon the Holy Spirit for aid in calling to mind and presenting the messages. We turn again to the statement penned in 1860, and referred to in an earlier article:
"After I come out of vision I do not at once remember all that I have seen, and the matter is not so clear before me until I write, then the scene rises before me as was presented in vision, and I can write with freedom. Sometimes the things which I have seen are hid from me after I come out of vision, and I cannot call them to mind until I am brought before a company where that vision applies, then the things which I have seen come to my mind with force. I am just as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in relating or writing a vision as in having the. vision. It is impossible for me to call up things which have been shown me unless the Lord brings them before me at the time that He is pleased to have me relate or write them."—Spiritual Gifts. Vol. II, pp. 292, 293.
Seven years later she alluded to the divine aid experienced in presenting her messages, as she wrote of the choice of words employed in her writings:
"Although I am as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation."—Review and Herald, Oct. 8, 1867.
Speaking of a divine restraint in revealing that which had been opened to her in vision, Mrs. White made this interesting statement, published in 1882:
"While visiting Healdsburg last winter, I was much in prayer, and burdened with anxiety and grief. But the Lord swept back the darkness at one time while I was in prayer, and a great light filled the room. An angel of God was by my side, and I seemed to be in Battle Creek. I was in your councils : I heard words uttered, I saw and heard things that, if Gad willed, I wish could be forever blotted from my memory. My soul was as wounded, I knew not what to do or what to say. Some things I cannot mention, I was bidden to let no one know in regard to this, for much was yet to be developed. . . .
"Again, while in prayer, the Lord revealed Himself. I was once more in Battle Creek. I was in many houses. I heard your words around your tables, and was sick at heart, burdened, and disgusted. The particulars I have no liberty now to relate. I hope never to be called to mention them.... "While at the Southern California camp meeting, the Lord Partially removed the restriction, and I write what I do. I dare not say more now, lest I go beyond what the Spirit of the Lord has permitted me."—Testimony for the Battle Creek Church, pp. 49, 50. (Italics mine.)
Impelled to Write and Speak.—Usually, however, Mrs. White spoke or wrote readily of matters which had been shown to her, and in so doing she felt she was divinely aided in delivering the message. Thus, in writing to one man in 1900, she says: "I had not the least idea of writing as I have done, but the Lord has carried my mind on and on until you have the matter I send."—E. G. White Letter 33, 1900.
A few years later she penned: "I am now sitting on my couch with my pen in hand, writing... Ideas come clear and distinct, and very forcibly. I thank the Lord with heart and soul and voice."—E. G. White Letter 32, 1906. That she was sometimes impelled to speak is made very clear by the following, recorded in 1890:
"Before I stand on my feet, I have no thought of speaking as plainly as I do. But the Spirit of God rests upon me with power, and I cannot but speak the words given me. I dare not withhold one word of the testimony. . . . I speak the words given me by a power higher than human power, and I cannot, if I would, recall one sentence.
"In the night season the Lord gives me instruction, in symbols, and then explains their meaning. He gives me the word, and I dare not refuse to give it to the people. The love of Christ, and, I venture to add, the love of souls, constrains me, and I cannot hold my peace.",--E. G. White MS 22, 1890.
Not always could the burden be laid aside even after the message was delivered. She speaks of this in 1895:
"When I have written one testimony to the brethren, I have thought that I should not have any more to write; but again I am in travail of soul, and cannot sleep or rest. In the night season I am speaking and writing clear words of admonition. I waken so burdened in soul that I [am] again driven to take up my pen. In various ways matters are opened up before my mind, and I dare not rest, or keep quiet." E. G. White Letter 59, 1895.
Views Revived When Needed.—Another enlightening statement recorded late in Mrs. White's experience, presents the basis of her positive statements:
"The question is asked, How does Sister White know in regard to the matters of which she speaks so decidedly, as if she had authority to say these things? I speak thus because they flash upon my mind when in perplexity like lightning out of a dark cloud in the fury of a storm. Some scenes presented before me years ago have not been retained in my memory, but when the instruction then given is needed, sometimes even when I am standing before the people, the remembrance comes sharp and clear, like a flash of lightning, bringing to mind distinctly that particular instruction. At such times I cannot refrain from saying the things that flash into my mind, not because I have had a new vision, but because that which was presented to me perhaps years in the past, has been recalled to my mind forcibly." —The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church, p. 24. (1913, Pacific Press)
It was often with a heavy heart that Mrs. White continued year after year to stand as God's messenger. It was not a pleasant task to be the agent by which messages of reproof, instruction, and correction were borne. She said in 1894:
"My life has been spared by the mercy of God to do a certain work. I have pledged that life to Him, but the work is not always easy to perform. I have to take positions not in harmony with men whom I believe to be God's workmen, and I see that I must do this in the future as in the past. It hurts me more than I can tell. The dearest hope that I can have may not be realized, yet if God will show me the right way, I will walk in it."—E. G. White Letter 64, 1894.
Painstakingly she endeavored in oral discourse and in writing to set before the people what had been shown to her. Earnestly she sought to set forth the divinely imparted thoughts and ideas in words which would correctly and adequately convey the thought in such a way that it could not be misunderstood. We see a bit of her soul anguish in this important work in another, feeling statement penned in 1894:
"Now I must leave this subject so imperfectly presented, that I fear you will misinterpret that which I feel so anxious to make plain. O that God would quicken the understanding, for I am but a poor writer, and cannot with pen or voice express the great and deep mysteries of God. 0 pray for yourselves, pray for me."—E. G. White Letter 67, 1894.
Mrs. White did not choose her work. Often she wished for release. Although, during her seventy years of active service, she was not relieved of the responsibility of standing as a messenger, God sustained her in her work.