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"Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation"

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Archives / 1945 / January



"Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation"

Arthur White

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


For years questions have come periodically to the ed­itorial office of THE MINISTRY, varying in phraseology, but always the same in intent ; namely : "Did Mrs. White state that `Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation' was an inspired book, an angel standing by the side of Uriah Smith guiding his hand as lie wrote? Please give reliable information, citing testimony evidence that will guide me in my relationship to this book." The approach­ing elease of the revised "Daniel and the Revelation" led us to ask Arthur White, custodian of the E. G. White manuscripts, to make an exhaustive search of all the ev:clence bearing upon this query, and to make the find­ings available through these columns. We have had sev­eral of the most experienced leaders in our cause read it, and it is now published with their endorsement. The facts here set forth are sound and can be relied upon, The Spirit of prophecy manuscript statements cited have been verified and duly released. We are confident that the information concerning this important book will be gratefully received by the field. Publication of this article at the time of release of the newly revised and reillustrated "Daniel and the Revelation" seems particu­larly appropriate.—EDITOR.

There is abundant evidence that the book Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation was considered by Mrs. White as a timely and im­portant volume, containing the message needed by the world, and she bespoke for it a wide distribu­tion. Here are several characteristic statements:

"The light given was that Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation, The Great Controversy, and Patriarchs and Prophets would make their way. They contain the very message the people must have, the special light God had given His people. The angels of God would prepare the way for these books in the hearts of the people."—E. G. WHITE Letter 43, 1899. (Published in Colporteur Evangelist, p. 21.)

"I consider that that book [Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation] should go everywhere. It has its place and will do a grand, good work."—E. G. WHITE Letter 25a, 1889.

"Instruction has been given me that the important books containing the light that God has given regarding Satan's apostasy in heaven should be given a wide cir­culation just now ; for through them the truth will reach many minds. Patriarchs and Prophets, Daniel and the Revelation, and The Great Controversy, are needed now as never before. They should be widely circulated be­cause the truths they emphasize will open many blind eyes."—Review and Herald, Feb. 16, 1905. (Repub­lished in Colporteur Evangelist, p. 21.)

Granting the force- of such clear endorsement of the book, it is true that nowhere in Mrs. White's writings, published or unpublished, do we find ref­erence to an angel standing by the side of Uriah Smith while he wrote. And certainly we find no indication that Mrs. White ever considered Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation to be an inspired book, thus inerrant in all its expositions.

The basis for a somewhat widely accepted belief to the contrary is a statement made long after the in­cident referred to, by one lone early worker, based upon his memory at the time. Here is the state­ment:

"Many years ago, when the late Elder Uriah Smith was writing Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation, while Elder James White and Ellen G. White were at my house in Enosburg, Vermont, they received by mail a roll of printed proof sheets on Thoughts on Revelation that Brother Smith had sent to them. Brother White read portions of these to the company, and expressed much pleasure and satisfaction because they were so con­cisely and clearly written. Then Sister White stated what she had been shown, as follows :

"'The Lord is inspiring Brother Smith—leading his mind by His Spirit, and an angel is guiding his hand in writing these Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation.' I was present when these words were spoken.

(Signed) "A. C. BOURDEAU."

Memory of One Witness Insufficient

With all due regard to the sincerity and integrity of the one who made this statement, which some years ago was placed in circulation in printed form, it should be pointed out that in matters of such im­portance the memory of one witness alone is not sufficient evidence. Moreover, it is demonstrable that in some of the details of the incident, his mem­ory proved faulty. For instance, Uriah Smith's writings on these prophetic books appeared origi­nally in two sections, Thoughts on Revelation be­ing printed first, and Thoughts on Daniel later. At the time Thoughts on Revelation was brought out, Elder and Mrs. White were living in Greenville, Michigan, where Elder White received and com­mented on the new book. (Review and Herald, July 16, 5867). As it was a few weeks later that they were at Enosburg, Vermont, it must have been the finished book, not the proof sheets, that formed the basis of the conversation referred to. Moreover, Elder Smith at this time had not even announced his intention to write on Daniel. There­fore, Mrs. White could not have used the exact words attributed to her—"An angel is guiding his hand in writing these Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation." If such inaccuracies as these two are found in Brother Bourdeau's statement, the ques­tion naturally arises as to whether we ought to count too heavily on the complete accuracy of other minute details of the reminiscent incident.

Further, even though she spoke commendably of the volume, there are statements penned by Mrs. White which have a negative bearing on the in­spiration of Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation. Speaking, in the nineties, of Elder Smith's books, one of the leaders in our colporteur work asked Mrs. White, "'You believe they are inspired, do you not?'" Indicative of her recognition of the folly of the question, she replied, " 'You may answer that question; I shall not.' "—E. G. WHITE Letter is, 1895. At another time she was asked a similar question. Here are the question and the answer:

"'Sister White, do you think we must understand the truth for ourselves ? Why can we not take the truths that others have gathered together and believe them be­cause they have investigated the subjects, and then we shall be free to go on without the taxing of the powers of the mind in the investigation of all these subjects? Do you not think that these men who have brought out the truth in the past were inspired of God?'

[Answer.] "'I dare not say they were not led of God, for Christ leads into all truth; but when it comes to inspiration in the fullest sense of the word, I answer, No. I believe that God has given them a work to do, but if they are not fully consecrated to God at all times, they will weave self and their peculiar traits of character into what they are doing, and will put their mold upon the work.' "—E. G. WHITE, Review and Herald, March 25, 1890.

Two decades later, in writing regarding an in­terpretation of prophecy given in Thoughts on

Daniel and the Revelation, over which there had arisen some controversy, Mrs. White spoke against "magnifying the importance of the difference in the views that are held," and further said:

"In some of our important books that have been in print for years, and which have brought many to a knowledge of the truth, there may be found matters of minor importance that call for careful study and cor­rection. Let such matters be considered by those reg­ularly appointed to have the oversight of our publica­tions. Let not these brethren, nor our canvassers, nor our ministers magnify these matters in such a way as to lessen the influence of these good soul-saving books." —E. G. WHITE MS. II, 1910. (Published in Preach the Word, p. 7.)

And at another time she wrote:

"There is no excuse for anyone in taking the position that there is no more truth to be revealed, and that all our expositions of Scripture are without an error. The fact that certain doctrines have been held as truth for many years by our people, is not a proof that our ideas are infallible. Age will not make error into truth, and truth can afford to be fair. No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation."—Review and Herald, Dec. 20, 1892.

There stood out clearly, however, in the memory of several workers the oral expression of Mrs. White that she had seen an angel standing by the side of Elder Uriah Smith as he wrote. While there is no documentary confirmation of this, such would not be inconsistent with utterances of a sim­ilar character regarding the work of noble men of God. Thus she wrote of Luther: "Angels of heaven were by his side, and rays of light from the throne of God revealed the treasures of truth to his understanding."—The Great Controversy, p. 122.

And of William Miller, she said: "God sent His angel to move upon the heart of a farmer who had not believed the Bible, to lead him to search the prophecies. Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one, to guide his mind and open to his understanding prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people."—Early Writings, p. 229.

However, these experiences have never conveyed the thought of inerrancy in all the positions taken and the various teachings of these men who were mightily used of God. Nor would it be reasonable to assume that words which may have been spoken by Mrs. White as to the presence of an angel, as Uriah Smith wrote, would indicate that he was in­spired in his writing, and that he was therefore inerrant in all that he set forth.

Historical Development of the Book

The present well-known volume, Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation, was developed through the decades until it reached its present form. For many years, as mentioned earlier, there were two books, first Thoughts on Revelation and later Thoughts on Daniel.

James White in 1862 caught the vision of a com­plete exposition on Revelation as he attended "a large and flourishing Bible class conducted by Brother Uriah Smith" in connection with the Bat­tle Creek Sabbath school. Chapter by chapter they had studied Revelation and "passed through the entire book, . . . all coming to the same conclusion on almost every point," and they were "confident that they had found a better harmony than they had before seen, and clearer light on some portions of the book."—Review and Herald, June 3, 1862. Delighted with the results of their group study, the class decided to go through the book again, "taking one chapter for each lesson."—Ibid.

Here, thought James White, was an opportunity to develop helpful matter for Seventh-day Advent­ists generally, and he announced his intention from week to week to report the results of the investiga­tion in the Review "by way of a few thoughts on one chapter each week." The co-ordination of the plans for study and writing are indicated by the James White comment that "should we be called away for a few weeks, the class propose to leave the book of Revelation, in our absence, for some other portion of the Scriptures, until we return." And he voiced his confident hope in his closing words : "Judging from past investigation of this book by the brethren and sisters of the Bible class, we hope in expressing our views to express theirs also, yet we choose to be alone responsible for what we may say."—Ibid.

Then follows the first installment—a three-col­umn article reviewing the important points stressed in the study of May 17, appearing under the title "Thoughts on Revelation." Chapter one of Reve­lation was dealt with in this initial article of the series. First a few verses are quoted, and these are followed with appropriate comment and ex­planation—a form of treatment which was to be­come very familiar in the following decades.

The next five consecutive numbers of the Review carried articles dealing with the book, chapter by chapter, until as James White left for a trip, he inserted a two-line note : "'Thoughts on the Rev­elation' will not again appear till our return from the northern tour."—/bid., July 15, 1862.

After a lapse of two months the articles were resumed in the issue of September 9, with a presenta­tion of Revelation 7. Then James White abruptly closed his work on the series with a brief article headed "Chapters VIII and IX," but commenting' only on the first five verses of Revelation 8, cover­ing the seventh seal and introducing the seven trumpets. Then the article was cut short by James White's explanation that for lack of time to pre­pare an "exposition of the trumpets" he must be excused for passing over them and recommending "as the best light at present," the pamphlet en­titled The Sounding of the Seven Trumpets, listed as for sale at the Review office. The pamphlet re­ferred to was a sixty-eight-page reprint of Josiah Litch's explanation of the seven trumpets, pub­lished by the Review and Herald office in 1859, previously appearing as article reprints. Five weeks later Elder White admitted the futility of his attempting to go on with the work, and announced that, since he was away from home much of the time, "Brother Smith has consented to conclude the book, commencing with Chapter X."—Ibid., Oct. 21, 1862.

In the same style, but with more extended com­ment, Uriah Smith then picked up the work and treated Revelation To to 22, presenting an article in each number of the Review, save one, and clos­ing the series on February 3, 1863, in issue Num­ber roof Volume 21.

"Thoughts on Revelation" Printed First

Two years passed before the readers of the Re­view were informed of the intention of its editor, Uriah Smith, to prepare the manuscript for a book —Thoughts on the Revelation. In speaking of this, he set forth his purpose to build on the series of articles written by Elder White and himself, and called for suggestions from the people. Here is his statement:

"We have commenced to revise, and in a great meas­ure rewrite, the 'Thoughts on Revelation,' published in Review, Volumes XX and XXI. We shall devote what time we can to this work, besides preparing matter for the Review, otherwise than writing. If any brethren have any suggestions to make on any part of the book, we hope to receive them at once."--/bid., July 18, 1865.

From time to time during 1865 and 1866, brief notes informed Seventh-day Adventists that Elder Smith was devoting what time he could to the promised work, but it was not until April, 1867, that the copy was put in the hands of the printer, and the completed book was listed for sale on June 13. As the finished volume was received by James White he reached for his pen, wrote a few words of commendation, and then stated :

"These thoughts are not the fruit of one brain. In the time of the end the Revelation was to be unsealed and opened. And from, the open book, light has been shining. William Miller saw much. Others since have seen more. . . This is a book of thoughts, clothed in the author's happy style, plain, yet critical and prac­tical, coming down to the spiritual wants of the common people, yet elevated and dignified. This standard work should be in the library of every believer."—Ibid., July 16, 1867.

Before the second edition was printed, Elder Smith revised- the work, and in its new form sev­eral printings appeared.

"Thoughts on Daniel" Brought Forth

In 1872, five years,after Thoughts on the Revela­tion was printed, a companion volume, Thoughts on Daniel, was issued and announced for sale on December 31, 1872. This, too, quite largely repre­sented the joint study of able Bible students. After passing through several editions as single volumes, the two companion books in 1881 appeared as a combined- work, Thoughts on Daniel and the Reve­lation.

Elder Smith prepared his manuscripts as a schol­arly writer would, setting forth denominational views on the great lines of clearly understood prophecy presented in Daniel and Revelation. But when he undertook the verse-by-verse exposition of these two books, he ran into many texts of Scripture which dealt with matters regarding which we as a people had not given much if any study, and in such cases he often set forth the views of the best commentators available, and used freely both the lines of argument and the words of Josiah Litch, George Storrs, and others. Elder Smith demonstrated remarkably good judgment in the selection of matter from these writers.

It was but natural that as time advanced, some points became more clear and some errors which had been embodied in his earlier work were seen. This led the author from time to time to make a number of corrections and adjustments in his for­mer statements. Of one such revision, W. C. White wrote in 1910:

"In 1886, 1887, and 1888 there was considerable controversy over some of the expositions in Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation. There was quite a group of men, including myself, who became convinced that there were some errors in this most excellent book that ought to be corrected. Elder Uriah Smith defended very ably the positions taken in the book, but he was a very kind and reasonable man, and was willing to make corrections when errors were made plain.

"Some of Elder Smith's friends and advisers, how­ever, took a very strong position against making any corrections in Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation. They argued that the book was the result of long, faithful study, that it had received the criticism and approval of the pioneers in our cause ; that it had been widely sold and used as an authority by our younger preachers everywhere; that Sister White said that the angel of the Lord stood by Elder Smith as he wrote the book, and that to make changes now would be a confession of  weakness and error which would detract from the influence of all our publications and all our preachers ; that to make changes would make our ministers ashamed; that we could not longer look the world in the face and say that we had a truth which we could stand by through all the years without vacillation.

"To this, some of our brethren answered that it was much better to be correct than to be positive; that it was not necessary that we should claim infallibility in our publications in order to secure the respect of the people, and in order that the Spirit of God should wit­ness to the principles which they contain.

"Some of our ministers and some of our book men argued that if corrections were made, our canvassers would lose confidence in the book, that its sale would be greatly diminished.

"But finally a number of corrections were made, if I remember correctly about thirty, and the evil results which had been anticipated were never experienced. The sale of the book went on, and those who felt that if the book was corrected an injury would be done to our cause, were also able, after the corrections were made, to give it their support of influence."—W. C. WHITE Letter to A. R Harrison, 1910.

For reasons similar to the foregoing, Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation has recently under­gone a most careful revision, and as it now comes from the presses we believe it is destined to have a very wide distribution, continuing to fill the im­portant place in our literature which Ellen White said that it should have:

"Especially should the book Daniel and the Revela­tion be brought before people as the very book for this time. This book contains the message which all need to read and understand. Translated into many different languages, it will be a power to enlighten the world. . . . The Lord has shown me that this book will do a good work in enlightening those who become interested in the truth for this time. Those who embrace the truth now, who have not shared in the experiences of those who en­tered the work in the early history of the message, should study the instruction given in Daniel and the Revelation, becoming familiar with the truth it pre­sents. . . .

"The interest in Daniel and the Revelation is to con­tinue as long as probationary time shall last. God used the author of this book as a channel through which to.• communicate light to direct minds to the truth. Shall we not appreciate this light, which points us to the com­ing of our Lord Jesus Christ, our King ?"—E. G. WHITE MS. 174, 1899.

Supplemental Counsels

Those who are preparing to enter the ministry, who desire to become successful students of the prophecies, will find Daniel and the Revelation an invaluable help. They need to understand this book. It speaks of past, present, and future, lay­ing out the path so plainly that none need err therein. Those who will diligently study this book will have no relish for the cheap sentiments pre­sented by those who have a burning desire to get out something new and strange to present to the flock of God. The rebuke of God is upon all such teachers. They need that one teach them what is meant by godliness and truth. The great, essential questions which God would have presented to the people are found in Daniel and the Revelation. There is found solid, eternal truth for this time. Everyone needs the light and information it con­tains. . . .

God desires the light found in the books of Daniel and Revelation to be presented in clear lines. It is painful to think of the many cheap theories picked up and presented to the people by ignorant, unprepared teachers. Those who present their human tests and the nonsensical ideas they have concocted in their own minds, show the character of the goods in their treasure house. They have laid in store shoddy material. Their great desire is to make a sensation.

The truth for this time has been brought out in many books. Let those who have been dealing in cheap sentiments and foolish tests, cease this work and study Daniel and the Revelation. They will then have something to talk about that will help the mind. As they receive the knowledge con­tained in this book, they will have in the treasure house of the mind a store from which they can continually draw as they communicate to others the great, essential truths of God's Word. . .

Now is come the time of the revelation of the grace of God. Now is the gospel of Jesus Christ to be proclaimed. Satan will ,seek to divert the minds of those who should be established, strength­ened, and settled in the truths of the first, second, and third angels' messages. The students in our schools should carefully study Daniel and the Rev­elation, so that they shall not be left in darkness, and the day of Christ overtake them as a thief in the night. I speak of this book because it is a means of educating those who need to understand the truth of the Word. This book should be highly appreciated. It covers much of the ground we have been over in our experience. If the youth will study this book and learn for themselves what is truth, they will be saved from many perils.—E. G. WHITE MS. 174, 1899.

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