Merlin D. Burt, PhD, is the director of the Ellen G. White Estate in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Ellen G. White wrote, “I claim to be simply a messenger of God.”1 She went through an intense conversion process during her childhood and early teenage years. Through it, she came to know Jesus as her Savior. Beginning in December 1844, her first visions had a distinctive emphasis on the redemptive love of God revealed through Jesus. As a result, her early writings and ministry uniquely focused on the cosmic conflict between God and Satan, beginning with the Son of God “pleading with His Father” and obtaining “permission to give His own life as a ransom for the race” to the future when “the pearly gates of the New Jerusalem are thrown open and swing back on their glittering hinges, and the glad and joyful voice of the lovely Jesus is heard, richer than any music that ever fell on mortal ear, bidding us to enter.”2 Her lifelong presentation of this theme would lead to the current five-volume Conflict of the Ages series. She wrote almost continuously on this subject from 1858 until the end of her life in 1915.

A vision of the conflict

On Sunday, March 14, 1858, at a little schoolhouse in the small farming community of Lovett’s Grove, Ohio, USA, Ellen White received a two-hour vision presenting an expansive view of the ongoing spiritual conflict between Christ and Satan. White later recollected: “As I was led to speak upon the coming of Christ and the resurrection and the cheering hope of the Christian, my soul triumphed in God. I drank in rich draughts of salvation. Heaven, sweet heaven, was the magnet to draw my soul upward, and I was wrapt in a vision of God’s glory.”3 The setting was a funeral for a thirteen-month-old boy named John. His parents, William and Betsy Avery, were not yet believers. As the vision continued, the family left to bury their little boy, but quite a few people remained in the schoolhouse until the vision ended.4 As for the Averys, they soon accepted the Sabbath and remained faithful Seventh-day Adventists for the rest of their lives.

Ellen White first published what she had received in this vision in a little book titled Spiritual Gifts.5 That single volume would expand to four by 1864. This first version of the great controversy theme then developed into a second series of four books titled The Spirit of Prophecy.6 Published between 1870 and 1884, it had 1,706 pages of material. Volume 4, released in 1884, contains content similar to what appears in The Great Controversy. This last book, containing important information on the end of time, was so appreciated that between 1884 and 1888, Adventist publishing houses produced ten editions totaling 50,000 copies. The third edition received an attractive green cover and was illustrated with 22 lithographic images and a picture of Ellen White. Colporteurs sold it widely.

A third series

After traveling to Europe between 1885 and 1887, Ellen White was led by God to begin a third series of books on the great controversy theme. She wrote and published the Conflict of the Ages between 1888 and 1916. Its five volumes total 3,760 pages, including the indexes.

The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan During the Christian Dispensation came off the press in 1888. Prepared especially for the public, it included an appendix (not authored by her) with additional information. First published as a colporteur book, it had an attractive cover and illustrations. Many thousands of copies were sold between 1888 and 1907. The publishers had to repair the printing plates for the 1907 edition due to their overuse, but Ellen White realized that it would soon be necessary to create new ones. In 1910, she began revising the book, making minor improvements in the text and expanding the appendix. Published in 1911, her revised edition is essentially the same as the current edition of The Great Controversy, although the appendix has been updated through the years.

The second book of the Conflict of the Ages series was Patriarchs and Prophets.7 Published in 1890, this book was also released as an illustrated colporteur book. It covered the period from when sin began in heaven with the rebellion of Lucifer through the creation of the world, Adam and Eve’s sin, the universal Flood, the stories of Abraham and Moses, and the history of the Israelites up to the end of David’s life.

The Desire of Ages, her masterpiece on the life of Jesus, appeared in 1898. The third and largest book in the series, it had 866 pages, including the index.8 Because she had written more on this vital subject than could be contained in one volume, she published two additional books: Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (1896) about Jesus’ sermon on the mount, and Christ’s Object Lessons (1900) on the parables of Jesus. The latter book was also first released as a colporteur book, which Ellen White donated to raise funds for Adventist schools.

The fourth book in the series, The Acts of the Apostles, covered the period from Christ’s ascension to heaven through the apostolic period. It came off the press in 1911.9 Not initially sold as a colporteur book, it was an enlargement of her earlier book The Spirit of Prophecy, volume 3, with content from Sketches From the Life of Paul.

The final book of the Conflict of the Ages series was Prophets and Kings. It first appeared under the cover title The Captivity and Restoration of Israel.10 The publishing houses released it as a colporteur book in 1916. When Ellen White passed away on July 16, 1915, two chapters had not been fully finished. Her secretaries gathered material from manuscripts she had previously written and completed the volume.

A work of great responsibility

It is vital that Seventh-day Adventists read and study these writings, particularly the current five-volume Conflict of the Ages set, which contains Ellen White’s full understanding of the topic based on the Bible and enriched by many prophetic visions and dreams that she received throughout more than 70 years of ministry.

These volumes are a blessing not only to Seventh-day Adventists but also to the rest of the world. The colporteur emphasis given to their widespread circulation demonstrates this intention. Ellen White explained her ministry and writings in the following manner: “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.”11

I invite you to read her writings in connection with the Bible, particularly the five-volume conflict series. The last half of The Great Controversy is particularly relevant. It unmasks Satan’s deceptions in these last days of earth’s history and provides guidance and encouragement for those who love God and honor His commandments.

Jesus, our Savior, is coming soon in the clouds of glory. We will behold Him. Then He will gather us up into the cloud of angels with all the redeemed of the ages, and we will forever be with the Lord. Maranatha—come, Lord Jesus.

  1. Herbert E. Douglass, Messenger of the Lord (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1998), 170.
  2. Ellen G. White, Early Writings of Ellen G. White (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), 126; Ellen G. White, Letter 3, 1851.
  3. Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2 (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist, 1860), 265, 266.
  4. W. R. H. Avery, “Former Days,” Welcome Visitor, February 22, 1905, 3.
  5. Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts: The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels, and Satan and His Angels (Battle Creek, MI: James White, 1858).
  6. Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy: The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels, 4 vols. (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist, 1870, 1877, 1878, 1884).
  7. Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets or the Great Conflict Between Good and Evil as Illustrated in the Lives of Holy Men of Old (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1890).
  8. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1898).
  9. Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles in the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911).
  10. Ellen G. White, The Story of Prophets and Kings as Illustrated in the Captivity and Restoration of Israel (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1916).
  11. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8 (Oakland, CA: Pacific Press, 1904), 236.

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Merlin D. Burt, PhD, is the director of the Ellen G. White Estate in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

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