Q. When you were a boy you saw Ellen White personally, didn't you? Can you tell me a little bit about her?
A. Yes, when my brother and I were little boys she came to Denver and talked with Father and Mother. My brother sat on one side of her and I on the other, and she talked to us, too. I don't remember much about what she said, but when I was about 16 we had a camp meeting in Boulder, Colorado, where the campus of the University of Colorado is now. There was a big octagon building with an iron roof that seated about 1,000 people. The Adventist population of Colorado then was only about 500, and there were probably about 250 there at that meeting. But that day the building was packed. People of all faiths were interested in seeing the Adventist prophet.
Q. What year was that?
A. It was 1909. She died in 1915. I don't remember her subject, but I was one of the boys who put the furniture in the tents.
She wore a long, black silk dress. She wore good material, very plain—a little white around her wrists and around her throat. On her head was a little motherly cap over her gray hair. I remember her as a sweet, old motherlike woman. She had a big floppy Bible, and just as she began to talk, it began to rain. You can imagine the noise it made on that iron roof. She had no amplifier, but she did have a tremendous preaching voice. It was just like a silver bell. You could hear it right through all that rain on the iron roof. She talked for about thirty minutes, using more than one hundred texts. She'd turn to the texts in her Bible, but she didn't stop to look and read. She knew and quoted every text she used. One text just after another. It just came as natural as part of her speech.
After about thirty minutes, Willie White came up behind her and said, "Now, Mother, we've got a long journey ahead." That was their first stop from California, you see. "You've got meeting, after meeting, after meeting—dozens of towns and long journeys, and we don't want you to overdo and get tired." She replied, "I don't want to stop yet. I haven't prayed yet; I want to pray first." So she talked for about three minutes more and then knelt down on the plat form and began to pray. Her first words were, "Oh, my Father." She didn't say "Our Father"; it was "my Father." Within two minutes there was a mighty power that came over that whole place— a great power. I was afraid to look up for fear I'd see that God was standing right there. She was talking to Him. She'd forgotten all about us. She only prayed about five or six minutes at the most, but as she prayed there were sobs all over that audience—people weeping over their sins. She wasn't even looking at them. She was down on her knees with her eyes closed while praying, and Heaven came down and touched the earth, and God honored her as His prophet.
Q. That personal experience convinced you that she was a prophet?
A. Yes. I know all the arguments why there should be a prophet, and I believe them. But if we didn't have a single one of them, I'd still believe that she was God's prophet because of what I saw. It was one of the turning points in my life. I've never doubted her since. A revival broke out. Those Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, and Adventists were all weeping over their sins. You know she was a great revivalist, but she didn't get up and harangue the crowd. She prayed, and men took their stand and some of them became preachers. She was a humble woman. She kept her place as a mother in Israel. She was like the prophetesses Deborah and Huldah in the Bible.
Q. What you have just said is really quite impressive because today there are so many attacks on Ellen White and questions about her. You know, for instance, she is accused of plagiarism, of absorbing or selecting the ideas and concepts of others.
A. Well, what if she did?
Q. Such charges do bother some people. How do you deal with those who raise these kind of questions?
A. I tell them just what Willie White said to me, that just like any person who was quite sensitive, she could remember much of what she felt and heard as she listened to or read what others had to say. So Ellen couldn't help using many of the things she was exposed to. She's accused of using some of the material from a book on the life of Paul, and, of course, she did. But she asked her editors to put in the quotes for her. They neglected to do so, and she's been blamed. Actually, what we call copyright wasn't very closely monitored in those days. People didn't think so much about it. After all, you find things written by some of the Bible writers that were just like others, don't you?
Q. Tell us what the Spirit of Prophecy has meant to you in your life and in your preaching?
A. I've preached all my life under the wonderful conviction that this movement was predicted in the prophecies. Part of those predictions is that the last church should have the Spirit of Prophecy, and I'm a part of the last church, and we have the Spirit of Prophecy. It gives me great confidence. In fact, I wouldn't want to belong to a church that didn't have the Spirit of Prophecy.
Now what has it really done for me? One man who constantly fought and picked at the Spirit of Prophecy was talking to my father once, and my father couldn't seem to help him. He wouldn't listen to anything but his own loud mouth. Finally, my father said to him, "Well, I guess we can't agree, but before you go, would you please tell me one thing and really be honest with me. When you read these books that you've found fault with, what's the general tendency of them? Is it to make you a better man or a worse man?" "Oh," he said, "a better man, of course." "Well, that's all I wanted to know. That's all I care about," my father said. You get the point.
Q. Do you have any suggestions as to how a minister should use the Spirit of Prophecy? Sometimes we are accused of using it as a club.
A. And sometimes we do. Ellen White never used it that way. In fact, she warns against such misuse. Let me tell you what she told my father. One day when he was pastor of the Denver church he got up to preach, and before he even gave out his text Sister White, Willie, and Miss McEnterfer came in. He didn't even know she was in the country. Father, of course, welcomed them and invited Ellen and Willie White up on the platform—and asked her to speak. She answered, "Now, Brother Richards, did you plan to speak today?" He was just a young man then and exclaimed, "Oh, yes, but I didn't know you were coming." "Well, did you ask God to give you some thing to speak about?" "Yes." "And did you feel that He gave you something? Did you study and pray about it?" He answered "Yes." "Why," she said, "I wouldn't think of preaching." And she sat right there behind him. Afterward, instead of picking fault with him and criticizing his immature efforts, she took him off to one side and told him that the message was a blessing to her.
Then she added, "Brother Richards, if you keep using your voice the way you do, you're going to die." My father had one cold after another—and sore throats all the time. His colds would settle right down in his chest. I've seen him down on his hands and knees coughing until he nearly died. Ellen White took fifteen minutes that day to teach him how to breathe and how to speak. And Father told me, "I've learned more from Sister White in fifteen minutes than I did in my whole course in public speaking at Battle Creek College." She told him to throw his voice out and to use his abdominal muscles. I learned the same thing from my dad, and I'm telling you it changed everything. You know I haven't had a cold or a sore throat more than once or twice in the past twenty years.
When she had finished her breathing lesson, my father asked her, "Now, Sister White, there's something else that I'd like to find out. How should I use your writings in preaching?" She replied, "Here's the way to use them. First, ask God to give you your subject. When you have the subject chosen, then go to the Bible until you know for sure what the Bible really teaches on that point. After that, turn to the writings and see what you can find on the same subject and read that. It may cast light on it or guide you into other scriptures or make some point clearer. When you go to the people, however, preach to them out of the Bible."
Q. What books or passages on the Spirit of Prophecy have meant the most to you?
A. It's very hard for me to choose be tween The Desire of Ages and Steps to Christ. To my mind, The Desire of Ages is one of the greatest books ever written. You can't read it without weeping at times—I can't. Of course, Steps to Christ is wonderful. She wrote it long before the majority of our preachers really understood righteousness by faith. My father was a young intern at that time. That was about 1888-1890. When some say that the church didn't receive that message, I know that's not true. Some didn't, of course. But the church as a whole did not reject it. There were some leaders that were actively against it. Pastor Morrison, the only Ph.D. in the denomination then, I believe, was my father's president. At first he didn't accept it. He thought it was something like the Holy Rollers. But when he under stood what it was really all about a year or two later he wanted all his ministers who could possibly go to attend the school for ministers being held that winter at Battle Creek. There wasn't room in the college so they used the Tabernacle. And who were the teachers? Jones, Waggoner, Prescott, Uriah Smith, and Sister White.
My father said he wanted to go, so Pastor Morrison gave him $50 and said, "When that's up, I'll send you some more. I want you to go if you can." My father lived on apples and oatmeal all winter and attended those meetings. He said they had no textbook but the Bible. Right in the middle of class some times a revival would break out and might last anywhere from forty-five minutes to four hours. Students and teachers both confessed their sins. They had wonderful revivals. My father knew Romans backward and forward, and Galatians, too, because he'd been through those classes. Sister White capped it off and placed her approval on the whole thing. These men went back to their conferences and carried that mes sage back to the ones who couldn't go.
Q. Now let me ask you this. Have there ever been any doubts whatever in your mind about the authenticity of the gift of prophecy?
A. No, there haven't. Not since that meeting when I heard her pray. That isn't to say there aren't things that I don't understand. There are, of course, but there are also things in the Bible I don't understand. You know, when Paul found that Timothy was having difficulty understanding him, he counseled, "Consider what I say."
I heard Brother Andreasen tell how, when he was studying the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy one day, he read in The Desire of Ages that when Jesus came near the city of Jericho, Zacchaeus climbed up a fig tree. A fig tree, Sister White says. "Why," he said, "there's a contradiction. The Bible says that he climbed up a sycomore tree. Now," he said, "it looks like I'll have to give up the second coming of Christ, the state of the dead, and the Spirit of Prophecy because Zacchaeus climbed the wrong tree."
Then one day he was reading the book of Amos, chapter 7, verse 14. There Amos says, "I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet's son, but... a gatherer of sycomore fruit." The margin says "wild figs." "Oh, now," Andreasen said, "they are both right. So I don't have to give up the faith. It's the same kind of tree!"
Here's what I base my advice on to fellows who find things in the Spirit of Prophecy that they can't understand. I've had a number of them that have been cleared up for me. There are some that I don't understand yet. But I believe in the gift enough to believe that it's just like the Bible. I believe the Bible is God's word, but I must confess that there are things that Paul said that I don't understand. Even Peter said that there were some things hard to under stand in Paul's writings that the unlearned twist to their own destruction. So I don't want to twist things to my own destruction.
Q. Brother Richards, thank you for sharing the inspiration of your own strong faith with thousands of our ministers around the world field. Do you have a final word for these workers?
A. It's only through God that we have the strength to accomplish God's work. Ellen White demonstrated that in her life. We should, as preachers, not try to make big things of ourselves. But we can say with the famous poet Charles Kingsley: "Be good, . . . and let who will be clever. Do noble things, not dream them, all day long: And so make life, death, and that vast forever, one grand, sweet song."