My telescope

In the years since our church was founded, many sincere believers have had questions regarding the role of Ellen White as a modern-day prophet and the relationship of her writings to Scripture. Here Mrs. S. M. I. Henry, a contemporary of Mrs. White and a nationally known temperance lecturer prior to her baptism, shares her personal struggle to understand these issues. The result, she says, was a most beautiful experience something like what Galileo must have felt with his first telescope.

Mrs. S. M. I. Henry (1839-1900) became a Seventh-day Adventist in the late summer of 1896 while a patient at Battle Creek Sanitarium, where she was recovering from a heart ailment. Before her contact with Adventism she had been a nationally known figure in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and after her recovery and baptism she continued this work, combining with it a plan for what she called, "woman ministry." Stressing the themes of temperance and the role of the mother in the moral education of society, she lectured before Adventist and non-Adventist groups throughout the United States and Canada. She also contributed many articles for the various publications of the church, as well as books and pamphlets.

The following article first appeared in The Gospel of Health, a short-lived SDA health journal. In it, Mrs. Henry relates her experience with and reaction to the work of another remarkable woman Ellen G. White. The issues are surprisingly up-to-date. Editors.

It was long after I sent out my leaflet, "How the Sabbath Came to Me," before I had even heard of the Testimonies to the church, or of Mrs. White. The manner in which her work was first brought to my notice was such as to give me an entirely false conception of it, and being built upon this false conception, everything which had followed only increased the difficulties in understanding it.

I supposed these Testimonies were considered as an appendix to the Bible, and of equal authority with it, that there were those among our people who even judged the Bible by these writings. When I came into the church, I stated to the brethren with whom I conversed that I knew nothing about this matter, but that I was so confident that God was leading me hither, and that He would not lead me into any organization where 1 would find an insuperable barrier to faith, that if they were willing to accept me in my ignorance, I was glad to come in.

Evading the issue

A great correspondence, with many absorbing duties, has kept me so occupied that I have had no time to give to a study of the Spirit of prophecy, but it has been kept before me by much that has come in letters as well as things which have been said. People who have been awakened to, and accepted, the Sabbath truth have written me asking me if I had accepted the Testimonies. I have been obliged to evade the question. I could only say that my acceptance or rejection of any point is not to be considered for a moment; every question must be by each individual settled in conference with God alone; in this, as with every truth, the Spirit of God must be teacher. I was trusting to God to teach me in His own way, but all the time the subject grew darker and darker to my mind. There was a time when I was greatly interested in the Testimonies and was anxious to hear about the work which they represented. I sought an interview with Brother W. C. White, in whom I had so much confidence that I did not hesitate to ask him to give his own impression of his mother's work. The conversation was one which I shall never forget, because of the peculiar circumstances, as well as the beautiful, tender spirit manifested by him, and yet it brought me no permanent relief from the burden of my question.

I have always believed that the Spirit of prophecy lived in the church, that it was by this power that Luther, Wesley, and a great many others, even in more modern times, had spoken. I believed that the church had suffered great loss in grieving this Spirit, and that before the coming of the Lord there must be an especial inspiration, a new voice which should speak concerning present needs. Many times a great wish has arisen in my heart that I might be able to recognize such a voice when it should speak as I believed it must sooner or later.

I had so much confidence in the intelligent understanding of my brethren who fully accepted the Testimonies, that I could not repudiate the claim that this is God's way of teaching His people in these days. I had read only a few paragraphs from these writings, but to everything which I had read or heard I had found a chord in my heart ready to respond; nothing seemed strange or new; it was always like a stave or bar from some old song; a repetition or resetting of some truth which I had known and loved long before; hence I had found nothing which could lead to any controversy. But one question troubled me. Suppose I should find some point in these writings with which I could not agree, which would be of vital significance if it were competent to become the end of controversy, what would I do with it? I knew that so far as any light which I now had would serve me, it would be impossible to surrender my own judgment to this authority. The Bible had my unquestioning obedience; but while the Testimonies might be good, sound, helpful, they were not, I had discovered, of sufficient authority to command obedience or to silence controversy in some of those who professed to have been always led by them.

This caused a heavy and sad burden on my soul. I had supposed, because of the solemnity of the truth as we believe it and the times in which we live, that the people who are known as Seventh-day Adventists must of necessity most earnestly believe and endeavor to practice all that they did accept as truth. But as I went out from the quiet seclusion of the Sanitarium, and mingled more with people abroad, I found coupled with a professed belief in their authority a practical disbelief in the Testimonies among our own people, especially in the matter of health principles. It was natural that I should take especial note of this, because I had as a W.C.T.U. woman adopted and followed all the health principles which we had discovered; and as new light had come, I promptly walked in it. But now I found in some Adventist homes a total disregard of these principles; and learned that there was controversy even among the brethren who were quoting and teaching from these writings.

In letters from some members of other churches and in conversation, I had been assured that these writings were no longer considered of authority by the "more intelligent Adventists"; that they were accepted theoretically, but only as obsolete doctrines were by other denominations: for instance, that they stood on the same relative footing with the teaching of eternal torment in other denominations, acknowledged at best with a very pronounced mental reservation even by those who preach it. And so at last I came to question the necessity of myself considering the matter any further. I reasoned that I was in all essentials a Seventh-day Adventist, and that I, a new member, need not concern myself about anything which was a point of controversy in the church. I did not like to seem to be standing for something which I did not believe, but, at present saw no help for it. I realized the importance of care in anything which I should write or say to others, and was careful, for I could not but see how helpful, inspiring, and full of truth these writings are, even if they should carry no special weight over and above those of any good man or woman who had light and experience in Christian doctrine.

In this state of mind I went to the Medical Missionary Convention which was called at the Chicago Medical Missionary Training-School, December 7-16. This meeting was one of peculiar power. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out from the first, and everything was brought into a very strong light, especially the principles which it has been the peculiar work of Sister White to bring to notice; and as the discussions progressed, my perplexities increased. I felt more and more sure day by day that I was coming to another point on which depended much of experience of some sort. At least I had another question to settle very soon.

Truth is truth

One day at dinner, a brother who sat next to me inquired if I had found any difficulty in accepting any of the points of truth. This struck me as a little singular. How could any one have difficulty in accepting a point of truth? It could not be a point of truth to him until he was convinced that it was truth, and then how could he help accepting it? No man can deny anything which he beholds as truth. He may refuse to obey it, but he must recognize and consent to it. While this was flashing through my mind, the brother was talking on, and among other things he made reference to the Testimonies. I was greatly disturbed, and hastily replied, "I know nothing about the Testimonies; but when I see anything as truth, I have nothing to do but to receive and obey it."

I suddenly lost all relish for food, and soon left the table, feeling that I could not take up and carry this question again, since I saw no light, only darkness, in it. All the afternoon, and on into the evening meeting, this feeling grew. It seemed to me during that evening session that more was said about the-Testimonies than I had ever heard before, and every such reference caused new pain, until I found myself in the midst of a bitter struggle in the darkness after light. For a long time I had no thought of bringing my difficulty into that meeting, which was already over loaded with vital questions of general importance. I thought that I would again begin to seek God on this point and settle it between Him and myself alone; but the things which were constantly dropping from the lips of my brethren at last compelled me to speak out the questions and doubts which had arisen, and to tell how the atmosphere of discussion in this conference had caused them to thicken about me. The failure to see eye to eye had perplexed me, for if they believed that there was authority in the word which had brought these principles to them, how could it do other than settle every one of these questions beforehand? The fact that it had not the power to do so proved to me that they did not believe it. From my standpoint, to see anything in the Bible was to believe it, to receive it it was the end of all controversy; and if Adventists believed the Testimonies to be invested with authority from the Spirit of God, how could there be all this controversy upon points concerning which they had so clearly spoken?

Crisis of belief

My attitude, I now see, was like that of an unbeliever in the Bible before a congregation of Christians, if he should see the same inconsistency, and declare it, as he might have done in the same words; and the effect on my brethren must have been to arouse them to the same earnest self-examination and consecration which any honest Christian would have experienced in such a crisis. I knew at once that the sympathies of my brethren were aroused for me, but felt that I was beyond any human help. If the Testimonies were the word of God for this time in which we live, if this was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel, I wanted to know it, but only God could make me know it. The brethren did their best to help me, but all that was said seemed only to add to my perplexity, until at last, feeling that I could go no further in any direction until this question was disposed of, I determined to give myself to it at the sacrifice of any and all things. Brother Ballenger was arising again to give me something further, in the hope that it might be light to me, but I asked him to wait while they should join with me in prayer that the Spirit of the Lord might come to my relief.

Accordingly, we all bowed in prayer, and I stated my case to God, with as deep a sense of need as I had ever known in my life. All the great and marvelous blessings of my life were for the time forgotten in this present need, and as must always be true, I was heard. The manifestation of the power of the Spirit of God was as clear as sunlight; and in that light I saw the Testimony as simply a lens through which to look at the truth. It at once grew from a lens to a telescope—a perfect, beautiful telescope, subject to all telescopic conditions and limitations—directed toward the field of the heavens that field, the Bible. Clouds may intervene between it and a heaven full of stars clouds of unbelief, of contention; Satan may blow tempests all about it; it may be blurred by the breath of our own selfishness; the dust of superstition may gather upon it; we may meddle with it, and turn it aside from the field; it may be pointed away toward empty space; it may be turned end for end, so that everything is so diminished that we can recognize nothing. We may change the focus so that everything is distorted out of all harmonious proportions, and made hideous; it may be shortened that nothing but a great piece of opaque glass shall appear to our gaze. If the lens is mistaken for the field, we can receive but a very narrow conception of the most magnificent spectacle with which the heavens ever invited our gaze; but in its proper office as a medium of enlarged and clearer vision—as a telescope—the Testimony has a wonderfully beautiful and holy office.

Everything depends upon our relation to it and the use which we make of it. In itself it is only a glass through which to look, but in the hand of the divine Director, properly mounted, set at the right angle, and adjusted to the eye of the observer, with a field clear of clouds, it will reveal truth such as will quicken the blood, gladden the heart, and open a wide door of expectation. It will reduce nebulae to constellations; far-away points of light to planets of the first magnitude, and to suns burning with glory.

The failure has been in understanding what the Testimonies are and how to use them. They are not the heavens, palpitating with countless orbs of truth, but they do lead the eye and give it power to penetrate into the glories of the mysterious living word of God.

This has been the most beautiful experience which has ever been granted me; it grows on me from day to day. I think I feel very much as Galileo must have felt when with his first telescope before him, he was bringing himself into position to look—just to look, at last, beyond the stars which he had seen, into the vast, unexplored field where worlds on worlds were keeping rhythmic time to the throbbing heart of the Infinite One whose steady strokes of power set the pace for every moving thing. The simple possession of it must have given a sense of might, even before one glimpse had been taken through it. He knew that 'revelations such as eye had never seen nor ear heard were waiting him as soon as he should humble himself to the instrument, acknowledge its right to control his vision, and fix his eye upon the point of observation.

I have often tried to imagine how Galileo's heart must have throbbed and his whole soul been filled, even before he obtained one glimpse—and now I think I know. I have not had time or opportunity to use the telescope, but it is there, and I have that sense of power which the possession of such an instrument must give.

Do you understand me? I realize that my words fall far short of anything which I would like to say—but O how much they mean to me! It was a fresh token of my Heavenly Father's care, one more beautiful than I have ever received before.

You think it was wonderful when the Lord took me out of my wheelchair and so it was; but I would be willing to go back into my wheelchair if by doing so I could get another glimpse of the hitherto unseen, such as this has been to me. I would go through fire if I knew that out of it would come a corresponding revelation of the glory of God and of His love to me. This experience has given me confidence in this small body of people—new confidence in the organization. I do not believe that God would ever have given me to see the things that I have seen, and to feel what I have felt, and to see Him as I have seen Him in these circumstances, if there were not life and power in this organization to lift it up out of all shadows and doubts into the glory of His presence, and to carry it safely through. This conviction came to me, with all the rest, and has made me rejoice as never before. And I believe that something just as sweet and just as rich, is for every one of my brethren and sisters, if they will only come to God for it and accept it in His own way. —Battle Creek, Midi., Dec. 19, 1897.


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Mrs. S. M. I. Henry (1839-1900) became a Seventh-day Adventist in the late summer of 1896 while a patient at Battle Creek Sanitarium, where she was recovering from a heart ailment. Before her contact with Adventism she had been a nationally known figure in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and after her recovery and baptism she continued this work, combining with it a plan for what she called, "woman ministry." Stressing the themes of temperance and the role of the mother in the moral education of society, she lectured before Adventist and non-Adventist groups throughout the United States and Canada. She also contributed many articles for the various publications of the church, as well as books and pamphlets.

June 1981

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