Ellen G. White—The Human-Interest Story

Our continued look at Ellen G. White as God's Messenger.

By ARTHUR L. WHITE, Secretary, The Ellen G. White Publications

I have no claims to make," wrote Ellen G. White in 1906, "only that I am instructed that I am the Lord's messenger; that He called me in my youth to be His messenger, to receive His word, and to give a clear and de­cided message in the name of the Lord Jesus." Review and Herald, July 26, 1906.

That which called forth this utterance and a further explanation of her call and work was a discussion over Mrs. White's status—whether or not she was a prophet. She herself, before a large gathering at Battle Creek, had explained that her work embodied much more than that of a prophet, and at that time had stated, "I do not claim to be a prophetess." In her discussion of her work she continues in the Review article:

"Early in my youth I was asked several times, Are you a prophet? I have ever responded, I am the Lord's messenger. I know that many have called me a prophet, but I have made no claim to this title. My Saviour de­clared me to be His messenger.

"'Your work,' He instructed me, 'is to bear My word. Strange things will arise, and in your youth I set you apart to bear the message to the erring ones, to carry the word before unbelievers, and with pen and voice to reprove from the Word actions that are not right. Exhort from the Word. . . .

"'Be not afraid of man, for My shield shall protect you. It is not you that speaketh: it is the Lord that giveth the messages of warning and reproof. Never de­viate from the truth under any circumstances. Cive the light I shall give you. The messages for these last days shall be written in books, and shall stand immor­talized, to testify against those who have once rejoiced in the light, but who have been led to give it up be­cause of the seductive influences of evil.'

"Why have I not claimed to be a prophet?—Be­cause in these days many who boldly claim that they are prophets are a reproach to the cause of Christ; and because my work includes much more than the word 'prophet' signifies,"—Ibid.

Then follows in the article a delineation of the broad work to which she was commissioned. We will quote a few sentences regarding this:

"The Lord gave me great light on health reform. In connection with my husband, I was to be a medical missionary worker."

"I was also to speak on the subject of Christian temperance."

"I was instructed that I must ever urge upon those who profess to believe the truth, the necessity of prac­ticing the truth."

"I was charged not to neglect or pass by those who were being wronged."

"I was instructed that I must show a special interest in motherless and fatherless children, taking some under my own charge for a time and then finding homes for them."

"In Australia we also worked as Christian medical missionaries. At times I made my home in Cooran­bong an asylum for the sick and afflicted."

She concludes: "To claim to be a prophetess is something I have never done. If others call me by that name, I have no controversy with them. But my work has covered so many lines that I cannot call myself other than a messen­ger, sent to bear a message from the Lord to His people, and to take up work in any line that He points out."

As we contemplate the broad work given to her, we are forced to agree with Mrs. White when she says, "My commission embraces the work of a prophet, but it does not end there."—Letter 244, 1906.

This meant to Mrs. White that her life and all her energies must be fully and constantly consecrated to God. It meant that she must speak for God messages of reproof, of instruc­tion, and of encouragement. It meant that she must write articles and books setting before the church and the world the information and light that God imparted to her. It meant that she must lead out personally in every type of Chris­tian missionary work. It meant at times that she would be honored and lauded by those about her. It also meant that she must stand many times alone, battling evil, selfishness, avarice, waywardness, and coldness. It meant that she would be opposed and maligned. It meant sleep­less nights, separation from her family, endless traveling, incessant interviews, and constant writing. Would anyone choose such a work? Oh, no. Did Mrs. White choose this work? We will let her answer:

"When this work was first given me, I begged the Lord to lay the burden on someone else. The work was so large and broad and deep that I feared I could not do it. But by His Holy Spirit the Lord has enabled me to perform the work which He gave me to do."—Re­view and Herald, July 26, 1906.

No Claim to Be the Leader

Mrs. White's position and work were unique. It would be but natural that one called to_the responsibilities placed upon her might be in­clined to assume the position of leader, and might even become somewhat of a dictator. This was not true of Mrs. White. In 1903 when the public press issued statements that there was a controversy between Dr. J. H. Kellogg and Mrs. E. G. White over the question of leadership of the Seventh-day Adventist peo­ple, the messenger of the Lord declared :

"No one has ever heard me claim the position of leader of the denomination. I have a work of great re­sponsibility to do,—to impart by pen and voice the instruction given me, not alone to Seventh-day Ad­ventists, but to the world. I have published many books, large and small, and some of these have been translated into several languages. This is my work,—to open the Scriptures to others, as God has opened them to me."—Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 236.

We have already noted Mrs. White's clear perception of the place of organization in the work of the denomination, and the authority of the General Conference in planning for the ad­vancement of the work. Speaking of her trip to Australia, she testified:

"I had not one ray of light that He [the Lord would have me come to this country [Australia]. I came in submission to the voice of the General Con­ference, which I have ever maintained to be author­ity."—Letter 524, 1896.

This is in full harmony with the utterance re­corded during her illness in Australia when she asked herself: "Have you not come to Australia because you felt that it was your duty to go where the conference judged it best for you to go? Has not this been your practice?"—Letter 18a, 1892.

Although she stood as the Lord's messenger, with instruction for the leaders of the work, she ever gave full recognition to the rightful place of organization.

Spoke With Decision and Authority

As God's messenger, Ellen White spoke with decision and authority. "I speak that which I have seen, and which I know to be true."—Letter 4, 1896. "I implore you [the church members] not to treat this matter with your criticisms and speculations but as the voice of God to you."—Letter 36, 1890. The messages were not to be parried, for she adds :

"What reserve power has the Lord with which to reach those who have cast aside His warnings and re­proofs, and have accredited the testimonies of the Spirit of God to no higher source than human wis­dom? In the judgment, what can you who have done this, offer to God as an excuse for turning from the evidences He has given you that God was in the work?"—Testimonies to Ministers, P. 466.

Whether men would hear or not, whether they followed or rejected the counsel she im­parted, the attitude of others had little effect on her. She knew her message was of God. Usually the messages were gratefully received by those to whom they were directed, and through the years Mrs. White was honored, loved, and highly respected by her brethren in the minis­try and by Seventh-day Adventists around the world. The messages which she bore orally and in writing have exerted an immeasurable in­fluence upon the remnant church and the world.

The work of Ellen G. White was not un­known to the world. Of course, there were vary­ing concepts of her call and her mission. Her public ministry and her writings and the in­fluence of her long life of service drew the re­spect of her contemporaries. George Wharton James, writer and lecturer of note, in his work California—Romantic and Beautiful, in 1914, paid tribute to Mrs. White in these words:

"Near the town of St. Helena is the St. Helena Sanitarium and the home of Mrs. Ellen G. White, who, with her husband, practically founded the church of the Seventh-day Adventists as it is governed today. Mrs. White was also the inspiration and guide of the early day movement toward more hygienic living, and the treatment of disease by what are now known as the Battle Creek Sanitarium methods. . .

"These sanitariums are to be found in every coun­try of the civilized world, and most of them are spe­cific and direct tributes to her power and influence as an organizer.

"Every Seventh-day Adventist in the world feels the influence of this elderly lady who quietly sits in her room overlooking the cultivated fields of Napa Valley, and writes out what she feels are the intima­tions of God's Spirit, to be given through her to man­kind.

"This remarkable woman, also, though almost en­tirely self-educated, has written and published more books and in more languages, which circulate to a greater extent than the written works of any woman of history."—Pages 319, 320.

On Mrs. White's death there was wide edi­torial comment across the United States. The Independent, a weekly journal of the time, pub­lished in New York City, devoted a little more than a full column in noticing her life and death. Overlooking some inaccuracies in his­torical data, and omitting some misstatements, we quote from the article:

"An American Prophetess"

"Mrs. Ellen G. White, leader and teacher of the Seventh-day Adventists, lived and died in comfort and honor... Mrs. White hoped to be one of those who would be taken up alive to meet the Lord in the air. But the Lord delayed His coming, and she entered into rest, just as others do, at the age of eighty-eight, and her burial took place a few days ago at the Advent headquarters at Battle Creek, Michigan. Her husband, Elder White, shares with her the honor of founding the Seventh-day Advent Church, but she was its one prophetess.

"Ellen G. (Harmon) White, born in Gorham, Maine, was a very religious child, and when thirteen years old, in 1840, in the midst of the Millerite excitement, heard the Rev. William Miller preach on the speedy coming of Christ, and she was greatly affected. At the age of seventeen she had her first vision, and was bid­den, she believed, by the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the speedy advent of Christ to glorify His saints and de­stroy His enemies. She dreaded the duty, but was given strength to accept it, and was rewarded with a long succession of revelations thru her life. Before she was twenty years old she married Elder White, and their following began to grow.

"Her revelations were in the nature of instructions to their disciples, mostly aimed at their spiritual life, not forgetting to forbid the sins of custom and fashion. . . . Saturday was the Sabbath ; and the Lord's com­ing was close at hand. . . . At first the children were taken out of school to devote themselves to prepara­tion for the advent, but after a while they learned pa­tience, and established schools of their own, and en­tered on a great missionary propaganda, which took Mrs. White for years to Europe and Australia.

"Of course, these teachings were based on the strict­est doctrine of inspiration of the Scriptures. Seventh-day Adventism could be got in no other way. And the gift of prophecy was to be expected as promised to the remnant church' who had held fast to the truth. This faith gave great purity of life and incessant zeal. No body of Christians excels them in moral character and religious earnestness. Their work began in 1853 in Battle Creek, and it has grown until now they have thirty-seven publishing houses thruout the world, with literature in eighty different languages, and an annual output of $2,000,000. They have now seventy colleges and academies, and about forty sanitariums ; and in all this Ellen G. White has been the inspiration and guide. Here is a noble record, and she deserves great honor.

"Did she really receive divine visions, and was she really chosen by the Holy Spirit to be endued with the charism of prophecy? Or was she the victim of an excited imagination? Why should we answer? One's doctrine of the Bible may affect the conclusion. At any rate she was absolutely honest in her belief in her revelations. Her life was worthy of them. She showed no spiritual pride and she sought no filthy lucre. She lived the life and did the work of a worthy prophetess, the most admirable of the American succession."—The Independent, Aug. 23, 1915,

We might naturally ask, What effect did this important position have upon Mrs. White? Did it lead her to draw attention to herself. Did she use her gift to build herself up in popularity or financially? No. Ever did she feel that she was a frail agent, doing the Lord's bidding. There was no self-exaltation, no self-aggrandizement. She amassed no fortune. Her own appraisal of her status is illustrated in a conversation which took place in her home about the year 1902, as it has come to us from the individual con­cerned.

A new housekeeper and nurse had come to the White home. She was a woman in her twenties, and as she crossed the continent to enter Mrs. White's employ, she contemplated, "I am going to the home of the prophet. How will it be?" The evening of the first day Mrs. White and the new housekeeper were thrown together for a time, and after quite a silence,

Mrs. White spoke, pausing between each sen­tence:

"Sister Nelson, you have come into my home. You are to be a member of my family. You may see some things in me that you do not approve of. You may see things in my son Willie you do not approve of. I may make mistakes, and my son Willie may make mistakes. I may be lost at last, and my son Willie may be lost.

"But the dear Lord has a remnant people that will be saved and go through to the Kingdom, and it re­mains with each of us as individuals whether or not we will be one of that number."—As related to the author in 1939 by Mrs. M. J. Nelson.

Although Ellen White, because of her unique work, was often the center of attention, she never asked others to look to her. She did not establish herself as an example or criterion. She was a fellow Seventh-day Adventist seek­ing to please her Lord, hopeful of a crown of reward when the conflict was over, but with no assurance of salvation except as she was faithful and trusted in the merits of her risen Saviour.

As she neared the end of the way, it was a triumphant experience. She knew her Saviour and Friend. She looked forward to a home in the new earth. Often, as she hurried down the hall from her bedroom to her writing room, she would be heard humming the words penned in 1845 by William Hyde, after he had heard her account of the first vision of the new earth. The full wording will be found in Testimonies for the Church, volume t, page 7o, and in the Church Hymnal, Number 305. It was one of the hymns in our first hymnbook issued in 1849, bearing the heading, "The Better Land." It was especially the last part of the poem and hymn that she dwelt upon.

"We'll be there, we'll be there in a little while;

We'll join the pure and the blest;

We'll have the palm, the robe, the crown,

And forever be at rest."


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By ARTHUR L. WHITE, Secretary, The Ellen G. White Publications

September 1948

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