Background to Exchange of Letters Between James and Ellen White in 1874
An exchange of letters between James and Ellen White in 1874 reveals honest confrontation between two lovers who had learned through the years to trust each other’s integrity, even when dark hours came. What may have prompted this tense interchange?
By 1874 James had experienced four paralytic strokes, signals that his body was weary of the incessant demands of writing, traveling, planning, and administering a growing church and its chief institutions. Zeal and overwork were followed by depression, discouragement, and suspicion of others. Yet, in June 1874, he started another paper, Signs of the Times, on the Pacific coast. At this time he also was president of the Publishing Association (Battle Creek), editor of the church paper, Review and Herald, and nominally pastor of the Battle Creek church. Further, he was deeply involved in the development of a college in Battle Creek.
Gloom and depression followed his bold, expansive moves on the west coast. In spite of his periods of depression, he never questioned the authenticity and legitimacy of his wife’s prophetic ministry. Earlier, on January 1, 1873, he had written out his attitudes toward her visions in a sixteen-page document, entitled, “A Solemn Appeal to the Ministry and the People.” He wrote:
“I find that my wrongs have grown out of not being suitably affected by what God has shown my wife, especially what she has been shown of my dangers and wrongs. . . .
“I have never doubted the visions of Mrs. White. If a trial or temptation had for a moment come over my mind, as I did not, and could not, understand all, I at once fell back upon the vast amount of clear evidence in their favor, and there rested until all was made clear. But this statement applies more particularly to the first ten years of my experience relative to the visions, when many things were shown of the future history of the cause which time alone could explain. For the past ten years the visions have especially pointed out present duty, and all has appeared plain. . . .
“From the time of my first acquaintance with the one whom God has chosen to speak through to His erring people up to the time of the last vision, I have been cautioned from time to time of my danger of speaking, while under the pressure of a sense of the wrongs of others, in an unguarded manner, and using words that would not have the best effect on those I reproved.
“The Lord knowing the trials through which I was to pass, would prepare my mind to guard against the dangers to which I would be exposed. And had I been suitably impressed with His warnings, my usefulness would not have been marred from time to time by Satan’s taking advantage of words that were not best selected. . . .
“I had a view of how terrible was the sin of those who profess to believe that God speaks to them through vision, yet from heedlessness receive no lasting impression when reproved, but go on as before, making no changes in those things wherein they are reproved. I felt that such a course was a fearful insult to the Holy Ghost, and that I was in a degree guilty of this sin.”—Cited in Bio., vol. 2, pp. 425-429.
But history repeated itself in the summer of 1874, even to a tense period between the Whites. The chapter, “The Prophet-Apostle Relationship,” in Bio. vol. 2, pp. 425-445, lays out the circumstances and the forthright, frank letters they shared together. Loving confrontation, even when sharing the most candid observations, can be healthy and healing, if both parties first listen to the Lord’s will. The months and years that followed these exchanges revealed the deep confidence and trust James and Ellen White continued to have for each other.
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