Interpersonal supports: A prophet-scholar model

While we “wrestle not against flesh and blood,” the church had some flesh-and-blood struggles—in high places—and some Blood-bought victories.

Besides her many contributions as a cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Ellen G. White1 had a revolutionary impact on people’s lives.2 Yet, as a prophetess, she faced many issues with individuals because she often rebuked people or confronted their secrets.3 Well-known as a scholar, John Nevins Andrews had a lifelong acquaintance with Ellen White. Historian Joseph G. Smoot describes their interaction as “intriguing” and “of the greatest in his [Andrews’s] surviving papers.”4 Throughout this time, there were “periods of stress and tension,” mutual respect and support,5 and Christian love. Their prophet-scholar relationship remains lightly explored, and this article will identify the main features of their interpersonal exchanges, while seeking to reconcile the tensions around a singular model of brotherly interaction. It seeks, then, to draw lessons pertinent to pastoral ministry.

Historical background: Convictions and characters

Ellen White and J. N. Andrews had much in common. As Gordon Balharrie puts it, “deep religious conviction characterized John very early in life.”6 He “found the savior”7 at the age of thirteen. Ellen, too, dedicated herself to Christ as a teenager. She was baptized by immersion, at her own insistence, at twelve.8 Later, these young Methodist believers adhered to William Miller’s preaching, experienced the “Great Disappointment,”9 and ended up two of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Andrews reported: “My acquaintance with Sister White began in the summer of 1844, and I have been intimately acquainted with her ever since.”10 Yet his memorable words during a meeting in Paris, Maine, on September 14, 1849—“I would exchange a thousand errors for one truth,” (testifying to his acceptance of Ellen White’s appeal against fanaticism)—mark the foundation of their lifelong relationship. Ellen White described this moment as Andrews’s calling: “The Lord was bringing out Bro. Andrews to fit him for future usefulness, and was giving him an experience that would be of great value to him in his future labors, that he should not be influenced by the experience of others, but decide for himself concerning the work of God.”11

From a letter dated July 7, 1842, Andrews’s aunt presented him as a “perfect gentleman by nature, and a fine scholar.”12 He was also a good friend and responsible coworker.13 However, his boldness in upholding his convictions, along with idealist and perfectionist propensities, made it hard for him to relate to others. Thus, his reception of Ellen G. White’s counsels often conflicted with his private judgment and thoughts.

Courage, zeal, determination, and dedication are main features of both temperaments.14 Nevertheless, while Andrews was considered a perfectionist, Ellen was a more balanced and organized person.15 Where Andrews remained sensitive about what others thought of him, Ellen was concerned about how she could be useful to others. She was quick to confess her mistakes and seek forgiveness; Andrews, in contrast, tended to underestimate his mistakes and magnify his own afflictions.16 Ellen White’s pragmatism contrasted with Andrews’s perfectionism.

Interrelational supports17

On Andrews’s relationship with Ellen White. Andrews’s relationship with the Whites was characterized by “mutual admiration and trust.”18 Ellen stayed in his home,19 where The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald was launched.20 Soon Andrews was called to work as an assistant editor for the Review.The time together helped them to know each other quite well. Andrews became a friend to Ellen. In 1855, Andrews wrote a paper at James White’s request, using Scripture to show that sunset was the time for beginning the Sabbath. Ellen White had a vision that confirmed his conclusions.21 A peaceful and promising interaction started: serious Bible study,  and the visions at the service of the growing movement.

On Andrews’s relationship with Annie Smith. While working for the Review in Rochester, New York, Andrews met Annie R. Smith, sister to Uriah Smith and coworker in the editing house.22 Some markers in the historical data suggest that Andrews raised Annie’s expectations of a future together. They were remarkable intellectuals and shared common values but, unexplainably, Andrews turned his affections toward Angeline Stevens and left Annie with a broken heart. Disappointed, and after a long struggle with tuberculosis, Annie died in July 1855. One month later Ellen White wrote to Andrews: “I saw that you could do no better now than to marry Angeline. . . . The best course you can take is to move on, get married, and do what you can in the cause of God. I saw that you [John] were injudicious in her [Annie’s] case and it all grew out of a mistaken view you had of James. You thought he was harsh and impatient toward Paris friends, and you stepped right in between Annie and us; sympathized with her in everything. Your interest manifested for her was undue and uncalled for, and showed that you had a great lack of confidence in us.”23

Here, Ellen White’s direct admonition to John Andrews is clear: “Don’t do the same thing to Angeline that you did to Annie.”24 It took some time, but he followed Ellen White’s counsels and married Angeline on October 26, 1856.

On Andrews’s physical deficiencies.Andrews’s mind and body were affected by Annie Smith’s death. Depressed, in poor health, he left the ministry, retired to his father’s farm in Maine, and later moved to Waukon, Iowa, with the Stevens family. Ellen White and her husband made “a legendary travel” to Iowa, as she saw in vision the need to bring Andrews and J. N. Loughborough back to the ministry. Andrews accepted her counsels and, with financial support from the Whites,25 improved his health and returned to full-time work. “Because of adopting health reform practices,” James White wrote, Andrews “was relieved of ‘long-continued digestive distress, and catarrh and other ailments.’ ”26

Even though he accepted the health reform counsels, John struggled to apply them consistently. Ellen White continued pushing him toward becoming a well-balanced person. By late 1871, early 1872, she seriously challenged Andrews’s goal of writing a “too perfect” History of the Sabbath: “Don’t be too perfect. . . . There are few minds that can follow you unless they give the subject the depth of thought you have done . . . the History of the Sabbath should have been out long ago. You should not wait to have everything so exactly as strong as you can possibly make it before giving it to the people.”27

On the visions of Ellen G. White. Until 1870, Andrews nourished doubts about Ellen White’s prophetic gift. “In 1858, after hearing Ellen White giving an account of her vision of the great controversy, J. N. Andrews asked her if she had read Milton’s epic. She assured him she had not, so he brought a copy to her home.”28 The attitude of Andrews and his wife toward Ellen White’s visions could be traced back to the influence of the Stevenses, his relatives-in-law. He confessed: “I have not stood up for them (the visions) and borne testimony in their favor.”29

Andrews needed time and study to cast away his doubts. In March 1868, he wrote, “My convictions that the testimonies of Sister White are from Heaven, have been greatly strengthened by the opportunity which I have had to observe the life, and experience, and labors of these servants of Christ.”30 He then left one of the earliest biblical apologies of her prophetic gift. He wrote, “The Seventh-day Adventists are believers in the perpetuity of spiritual gifts. It is also understood that we regard the visions of Sr. White as given by the Spirit of God.”31

Andrews’s work in Europe: Supports overseas

On September 1874, Andrews sailed to Switzerland as the church’s first cross-cultural Adventist missionary. His trials, despair, and discouragement escalated during his ministry in Europe. At his departure, Ellen White’s sentiments were mixed. She wrote to her family members: “He [Andrews] leaves for Europe next week. Our prayers are that God may go with him.”32 “I had no opportunity to bid him goodbye and I did not care to say goodbye. We may never, never meet again.”33 Yet, as far as she could, she remained supportive of Andrews in almost all aspects of his life.

In Europe, Andrews lived as a poor man. Mrs. W. Ings pitied his situation: “The way he was living, he must break down soon. Having so . . . an impoverished diet makes him as if he had not a friend on earth.”34 While the church leadership could not respond systematically to his financial needs, Ellen sold a dress of her own in order to help support Andrews’s work.35 Unfortunately, after years of his efforts, his missionary harvest was still very little; thus his abilities were questioned.

In a letter addressed to “Dear Brethren in Switzerland,” Ellen White clearly defended Andrews’s authority and called upon a sense of loyalty, enthusiasm, and supportive collaboration toward him. “Bro. Andrews left his aged mother, an only brother . . . and many friends in America, to obey the call of God and enter this new missionary field. He came to you at quite a sacrifice. . . .

“Eld. Andrews is a conscientious servant of Jesus Christ. . . . We sent you the ablest man in all our ranks. . . .We needed Eld. Andrews here. But we thought his great caution, his experience, his God-fearing dignity in the desk, would be just what you needed.”36

At that time, Andrews was about to sail to Battle Creek, Michigan, to attend the upcoming General Conference. He had taken with him his daughter, Mary, who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis. After the conference, Andrews spent most of his time in the sanatorium with Mary, hoping for a recovery. On November 27, Mary died at the age of seventeen.

The loss of Mary was not his first grief. In September 1863, he had buried a four-day-old daughter. In September 1865, his daughter Carrie Matilda died, just over one year old. On March 19, 1872, his lovely wife Angeline died at the age of 48. Andrews buried Mary as a broken man. Only his firstborn, Charles Melville, was alive. Ellen White’s sympathy and comfort toward him are described in prophetic words of hope: “Dear Afflicted Brother Andrews:

“. . . You are not a stranger to Jesus and His love. . . .

“The Lord loves you, my dear Brother. He loves you. . . .

“. . . A better day is coming, precious to the faithful ones. . . . I was shown you with head bowed down and mourning as you followed Mary to her last home in this world.

“Then I saw the Lord look lovingly upon you. I saw the Life-giver come and your wife and children come forth from their graves clothed with immortal splendor. Look at the things which are unseen. . . . May God bless and encourage your heart, is my prayer.

“Your sympathizing sister.”37

Ellen not only consoled Andrews but also counseled him to remarry before returning to Europe. Andrews did not comply.38 He went back, broken in soul, and became very sick. There, in his last days, he received his final counsel from

Ellen White: “I was shown that you made a mistake in starting for Europe without a companion. . . . You would have done a wise thing, and your usefulness would have been tenfold to what it has been.”39

Further, she described how difficult it was for her to relate to Andrews’s delicate character: “I have heretofore written you several letters and never sent them, so I attempt to write you again. I know your temperament is peculiar, and I have felt that you were not able even to bear the truth if it is conflicted with your ideas.”40 She left very strong last words to a dying Andrews, “the truth” that he had to know: “You felt you were a martyr missionary, but it was not so. . . .

“. . . You have magnified your own afflictions.

“. . . You . . . love to be pitied, to be regarded as one suffering privations, and as a martyr. . . .

“God did not decree that you should die, but the course you have pursued in following your own judgment and dwelling on your own impressions has been a species of fanaticism. God was not in it. . . .

“Now if you go down into the grave, I do not want you should go in deception. . . .

“. . . Oh my brother, nine-tenths of all your trials are born of your imagination. . . .

“You have shut yourself within yourself. . . .

“. . . You follow impressions too much; you think your impressions are as the voice of God. . . . You have not discernment of character. You worship intellect.”41

Humbly, Andrews understood how “painful” it was for her to write such words to a dear brother. A few days before he died, he replied to her: “I humble myself before God to receive from his hands the severe rebukes which he has given you for me, I most cordially thank you for your faithfulness in writing me so fully on matters that must be very painful to you to write, I have tried to humble myself before God in the dust in view of my sins. I believe that he does accept me. . . . Do not ever think it possible that I shall not receive whatever testimony you have for me, and if you have still other reproofs to give do not withhold them I pray you.”42


The relationship between Ellen G. White and John N. Andrews is a lesson in interpersonal relations and conflict resolution in the church today. Andrews “was an idealist at war with reality.”43 He was aware of his mistakes, accepted counsels addressed to him, and tried to apply them, albeit within the limits of his independent mind. Despite his critical distance toward Ellen White’s counsels and visions, he proved that biblical scholarly works are not necessarily opposed to the gifts. He provided scholarly assistance to the gift of prophecy, and demonstrated that understanding Ellen White as a person can be an effective starting point toward the acceptance of her prophetic word.

Ellen White fought to make him a more balanced person; he humbly struggled—but with little success. Interestingly, despite her prophetic authority, Ellen White's counsels to Andrews were contextual and personal. She advised according to the needs of a specific context and respected personal opinions. Her pragmatism surely contributes to her success as a prophetess and would have helped Andrews achieve a more fruitful life and ministry had he listened more carefully.

The serious Bible studies and life-changing counsels of Ellen White must remain landmarks in Adventist ethos. In addition, the loving interpersonal support she modeled should not be limited to this remarkable prophet-scholar context; instead, its deeply loving and sincere elements must characterize every Christlike relation.

1  From 1848 to 1914, Ellen G. White wrote 5,438 letters and received 35,801 letters. Unquestionably, she had quite a few exchanges with several people during her life. “Bibliography of Ellen G. White Titles Results,” Loma Linda University, accessed January 13, 2014, /speccolls/EGWBibliography.php.

2  Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: A Brief Biography, Ellen G. White Estate, updated August 2000, http://

3  “The Lord would rein us up to bear reproof, and then individuals would step right in between us and the people to make our testimony of no effect. Many visions have been given to the effect that we must not shun to declare the counsel of the Lord, but must occupy a position to stir up the people of God, for they are asleep in their sins. But few have sympathized with us, while many have sympathized with the wrong and with those who have been reproved.” Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1 (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2002), 247.

4  “More than 100 letters written by or to Andrews are preserved. . . . Most of the letters are from John Andrews to the Whites.” Joseph G. Smoot, “John N. Andrews: Faithful to His Service,” Adventist Heritage 9, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 5.

5  Joseph G. Smoot, “John N. Andrews: Humblest Man in All Our Ranks,” Adventist Heritage 9, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 24.

6  Gordon Balharrie, “A Study of the Contribution Made to the Seventh-day Adventist Movement by John Nevins Andrews” (master’s thesis, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, 1949), 6. 

7   See Ronald Graybill, “John Andrews: The Family Man, in Harry Leonard, J. N. Andrews: The Man and the Mission (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1985), 16–18.

8  “Young as I was, I could see but one mode of baptism authorized by the Scriptures, and that was immersion. Some of my Methodist sisters tried in vain to convince me that sprinkling was Bible baptism. The Methodist minister consented to immerse the candidates if they conscientiously preferred that method, although he intimated that sprinkling would be equally acceptable with God.” Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1915), 25.

9   The Great Disappointment is a term used by Seventh-day Adventists to refer to the nonappearance of Jesus Christ on October 22, 1844, as expected by William Miller and others. Regarding the Great Disappointment, see Ronald L. Numbers and Jonathan M. Butler, eds., The Disappointed: Millerism and Millenarianism in the Nineteenth Century (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press,1993); Jack M. Patt, “The Millerite Awakening and the Great Disappointment of 1844,” Indian Journal of American Studies 3, no. 1 (1973): 71–82.

10   “Early Experiences and Teachings of Ellen G. White: A Testimonial of J. N. Andrews,” Ellen G. White Estate,

11  Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2 (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Pub. Assn., 1860), 117.

12  William A. Spicer, Pioneer Days of the Advent Movement, 205, accessed March 12, 2018,,%20 William%20Ambrose/PDF/Pioneer-Days.pdf.

13  Balharrie, “Study of the Contribution Made,” 7.

14  According to Herbert E. Douglass, “Ellen White was an exceptionally sensitive woman, open to all the human emotions. Her ability to verbalize her various experiences indicates an uncommon capacity for empathy, whether the experience was sad or elevating.” Messenger of the Lord: The Prophetic Ministry of Ellen G. White (Nampa, ID: Pacific PressPub. Assn., 1998), 73.

15 On Ellen G. White’s personality, see “The Real Ellen G. White,” in Douglass, Messenger of the Lord, 1998.

16 Mrs. E. G. White to J. N. Andrews, letter dated March 29, 1883.

17 Since the paper is dealing with relationships, the emphasis is more factual than chronological.

18 Joseph G. Smoot, “The Churchman: Andrews’ Relationship with Church Leaders” in Leonard, The Man and the Mission, 43.

19 In a letter to the church in Brother Hastings’s house, Ellen G. White wrote on November 7, 1850, “Our home is in Paris, at Brother Andrews’ home, within a few steps of the post office and printing office. We shall stay here some little time. This is a very kind family, yet quite poor. Everything here is free as far as they have.”

20 In 1850 James White launched The Advent Review, and soon combined his two magazines into The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, which reviewed the prophecies of Christ’s second coming and heralded the proclamation of the seventh-day Sabbath. Today the magazine is named The Adventist Review.

21 See White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 116.

22 Ellen G. White to J. N. Andrews, letter dated August 26, 1855, Ellen G. White Estate, Washington, DC, File #A-1-.1855; Erica Richards, “The Story of Annie Smith,” Adventist World, November 2009, 25, https:// /the-story-of-annie-smith.html; Judith P. Nembhard, “Annie Smith’s Hymns of the Blessed Hope,” Review and Herald, August 28, 1986, 12–14; and James R. Nix, “Annie Smith: Pioneer Poet,” Review and Herald, December 17, 1987, 17.

23 Ellen G. White to J. N. Andrews, letter dated August 26, 1855.

24 Ron Graybill, “Annie Smith, Her Life and Love,” Review and Herald, April 1, 1976, 5.

25 There was a fund raising by James White addressing the brethren to help John Andrews to recover from his physical illness.

26 Marlene Steinweg, “In Defense of the Truth,” Lest We Forget 6, no. 2 (second quarter, 1996): 4.

27 White correspondence 1872, quoted in Joseph G. Smoot, “The Churchman: Andrews’ Relationship With Church Leaders,” in Leonard, The Man and the Mission, 48.

28 Ellen G. White Estate, The Truth About the White Lie, 5, accessed January 26, 2014,

29 J. N. and Angeline Andrews to James and Ellen White, letter dated February 2, 1862, quoted in Ron Graybill, “John Nevins Andrews as a Family Man,”16, quoted in White Estate, The Truth About the White Lie, 5.

30 J. N. Andrews, “The Labors of Bro. and Sr. White,” Review and Herald, March 3, 1868, 184.

31 J. N. Andrews, “Our Use of the Visions of Sr. White,” Review and Herald, February 15, 1870, 64.

32 Ellen G. White to Edson and Emma White, letter 50b, 1874, September 1874.

33 Ellen G. White to “Dear Husband,” letter 51, 1874, September 10, 1874, quoted in Manuscript Releases, vol. 5 (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), 437.

34 Quoted in Jean Zurcher, “John N. Andrews: The Christopher Columbus of Adventism” in Adventist Heritage 9, no. 1 (Spring, 1984): 43.

35 “Talk Before the European Council,” September 20, 1885. Manuscript 14, 1885, Ellen G. White Estate.

36 Ellen G. White to “Dear Brethren in Switzerland,” letter 2a, 1878, August 29, 1878.

37 Ellen G. White to John N. Andrews, Letter 71, 1878, December 5, 1878.

38 Letter of J. N. Andrews to Ellen G. White, December 22, 1878, quoted in Ron Graybill, “John N. Andrews: the Family Man.” Adventist Heritage (Vol. 9, No. 1, 1984), 9–23.

39 Ellen White to J. N. Andrews, letter 1, 1883, March 29, 1883.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid.

43 Bharrie, “Study of the Contribution Made,” 81.

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