Ellen White:
Critics and Criticism

By T. Housel Jemison

Part 2

Critics charge that numerous predictions made by Ellen White have failed of being fulfilled. Is this so? The prediction most commonly brought up is one made in 1856, currently published in Testimonies, vol. 1, 131-132: "I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: ‘Some food for worms some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.’" All present at the conference are dead, says the critic, therefore Ellen White is a false prophet. We freely admit that during the century that has passed since that conference those who were in attendance have died. But we do not admit that the critic’s conclusion based on this fact is a necessary conclusion. On the contrary, a consideration of all the facts involved shows the conclusion to be wholly unwarranted.

As a basis for considering this problem, it would be profitable to review the matter of conditional prophecy… All of God’s promises of blessing or threatenings of punishment are made upon condition, whether or not the condition is specifically stated. God’s ultimate purposes, of course, cannot be altered by any decision of man, but the coming of blessing or punishment in fulfillment of the prediction is dependent upon whether man’s relationship with God remains the same or changes. That was true with Jonah; it was true with the children of Israel throughout their history.

The fact of the Second Advent of Christ cannot be altered by anything that man can do. Christ will return the second time to gather the righteous and destroy the wicked, then again to create a new earth as a home for His people. All the combined hosts of men and evil angels cannot alter that fact. But there is a place where men come into the picture. Peter tells us that it is possible for men to hasten the day of Christ’s return. "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God!" 2 Peter 3:11-12, RSV. If it is possible for men to hasten the Lord’s return, obviously it is possible for them to delay it by their failure to complete the work entrusted to them to be done in their own lives and for others.

What is the bearing of all this on the question of the conference of 1856? —Simply this: The obvious intent of the words spoken by the angel and heard by Mrs. White in vision was to convey the idea that Christ was to return during the lifetime of some who were present at the conference. Now, as far as we know, all those persons are dead. Does that mean that Christ is not going to return? —Not at all. But it raises the question as to whether some change has come about that has made it necessary for the Lord to delay His return—even as the destruction of Nineveh was delayed beyond the days of the prophet Jonah. During the years following this prediction, while there as still abundant opportunity for it to be fulfilled to the letter. Ellen White gave a number of indications that conditions among God’s people were such that they were even then delaying the Second Advent:

"To become impatient now would be to lose all our earnest, persevering watching heretofore. The long night of gloom is trying; but the morning is deferred in mercy, because if the Master should come, so many would be found unready. God’s unwillingness to have His people perish has been the reason for so long delay." Testimonies, vol. 2, 194 (1868).

"If all who had labored unitedly in the work in 1844, had received the third angel’s message and proclaimed it in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord would have wrought mightily with their efforts. A flood of light would have been shed upon the world. Years ago the inhabitants of the earth would have been warned, the closing work completed, and Christ would have come for the redemption of His people." The Great Controversy, page 291 (1886), or page 458 of the current trade edition.

"Had the purpose of God been carried out by His people in giving to the world the message of mercy, Christ would, ere this, have come to the earth, and the saints would have received their welcome into the city of God." Testimonies, vol. 6, 450 (1900).

"We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel; but for Christ’s sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action." Evangelism, 696 (1901).

These are only a few of the statements that run in this vein. The prediction of 1856 has not been fulfilled, but the reasons are clearly given. We cannot regard predictions given through Ellen White in an entirely different light from that in which we look at Bible predictions. Both must be viewed from the same point.

In dealing with any prediction, either in the Bible or in these messages for the last days, we must be careful to learn all the facts possible involved in its fulfillment or its nonfulfillement. This is not a matter to be dealt with on the basis of what appears on the surface, but one for careful consideration before any conclusion is reached. The Nichol book (pp. 102, 112) touches on a number of predictions that critics claim are unfulfilled. Attention should be given to them so that one is at least aware of the criticism and knows where to turn for help in finding an answer.

The life of the Prophet

Of only One is it written that He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." Hebrews 4:15. The rest of us are characterized by the words of Paul: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23. The classification fits each individual—whether prophet or not. The fact that we see today that there was sin in the lives of some of the Bible prophets after they had been called to the prophetic office in no wise invalidates the instruction God gave through them. God knew the kind of men He was dealing with and did the best He could with the material He had to work with. Today, what we remember about these men is not the sin that was in their lives, but the truth of the gospel that God chose to reveal through them. Prophets needed the working of that gospel in their own hearts as did the people to whom they preached and wrote.

Critics have tried to build a case against accepting the teachings of Ellen White by attempting to show that her life was not always in full harmony with her teachings. Most certainly we would not try to establish that after revelation from God began to come to this messenger, she never made another mistake and always acted in complete accord with every detail of the instruction she passed on to the church. This would be placing her in a class apart from and above ancient prophets. On the other hand, the critic is unjustified in holding Ellen White to a standard to which neither he nor anyone else holds Bible pro-phets. What has been said is not for the purpose of preparing the way to say that the critics have been right in some of their charges against Mrs. White’s personal experience, but that that is something to be expected. The facts are that it is relatively easy to show that in the matters usually selected by the critics to build their case against Mrs. White’s character, her course of action was not contrary to the principles she taught. Perhaps meeting three charges will be sufficient to show the tenor of the criticisms and make it plain that the facts dispel the charges:

Health Reform

A frequently heard charge is that Ellen White did not live according to the health reform principles she taught. One point that is emphasized is that she used flesh as food after giving instruction that the flesh diet should be abandoned. It is not necessary to review here what has been said on the subject of flesh diet; we are dealing only with Ellen White’s relation to the counsel. A good summary of the instruction will be found in Counsels on Diet and Foods, 373. Mrs. White’s experience as a health reformer appears as an appendix to the book. See ibid., 481-494.

In 1894 Ellen White wrote: "Since the Lord presented before me, in June, 1863, the subject of meat eating in relation to health, I have left the use of meat… I have lived for nearly one year without meat." Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4, 153. But, says the critic, it is known that Mrs. White ate meat after that time. He is right, but he is not producing evidence of something that had been hidden by Mrs. White. The eating of flesh was not her practice, but in 1890 she stated clearly: "When I could not obtain the food I needed, I have some times eaten a little meat; but I am becoming more and more afraid of it." Counsels on Diet and Foods, 394. In 1895 she wrote: "Since the camp meeting at Brighton (January 1894) I have absolutely banished meat from my table. It is an understanding that whether I am at home or abroad, nothing of this kind is to be used in my family, or come upon my table." Ibid. 488.

But, the critic continues, "We are informed, by those who knew, that she used flesh after that time." In a section in Testimonies, vol. 9, 159, dealing directly with this subject, Ellen White, in 1909, commented on this: "It is reported by some that I have not followed the principles of health reform as I have advocated them with my pen; but I can say that I have been a faithful health reformer. Those who have been members of my family know that this is true." In this instance one must make a choice—between the word of the critic and the word of the one who has borne such a multitude of messages of truth. Some have gone so far as to say that during the last days of Mrs. White’s life she called for and ate meat. While she makes no comment that late, the testimony of one who cared for her during her last illness will be of interest. Speaking of the time she spent as Ellen White’s nurse during the last months of her life, Mrs. Carrie Hungerford wrote: "In regard to her changing her ideas about health reform, she never did. Why should she, when the Lord had shown her about it? She never ate meat or fish, nor were they in her house. Even butter was not served on her table while I was there.

"I was sent on duty by the [Saint Helena] Sanitarium the a.m. following Sister White’s accident, February 1915, and was with her until she breathed her last, July 16. Friday night as the sun was setting, she passed to her rest." Letter to Alonzo J. Wearner, January 11, 1953.

The facts do not support the critics’ charges.


A charge that has been freely circulated is one to the effect that, although Mrs. White taught that the members of the church should shun debt as they would leprosy, she died heavily in debt and that the church had to meet these obligations. It is true that in her writings Ellen White frequently warned against debt. She spoke against personal and institutional debts arising from failure to manage so that income would meet expenses. It is also true that she died owing a considerable sum of money. Then did her practice differ widely from her teaching? The facts concerning why and how her debts were incurred and how they were liquidated, present a picture very different from the critics’ representations:

Mrs. White always lived economically. No indebtedness was incurred to supply her needs. But demands upon her for the work of the Lord were heavy, both for donations to worthy enterprises and for the publishing for her books. At times she found it necessary to borrow money to meet these demands. She did so knowing that there was an assured income from her book royalties to meet the resulting obligations. As she neared the end of her life there were a number of projects that she wished to see completed before her death. To accomplish these ends in the furtherance of the Lord’s work, she mortgaged the assured future income from her books.

In harmony with the provisions of her will (February 1912), all obligations standing at the time of her death have been cleared from the income she designated for that purpose. No loss was sustained by any private individual or by the denomination. Since the obligations have been met, all royalties on the Ellen White books are paid into the treasury of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. When the facts are known there is no occasion for criticism. Additional information will be found in F. D. Nichol, Ellen White and Her Critics, 523.

Owning Property

Did Ellen White hold large and valuable properties at the same time that she counseled the members of the church to dispose of all they had and give to the Lord? There are critics who maintain that this was the case.

Perhaps we should note first that we have no record of Ellen White’s telling Seventh-day Adventists that the time had come for all to sell all their property and give the money to the church. She did counsel against adding lands to lands, and property to property, for the sake of the accumulation of wealth. But she also taught that it was good for people to own their own homes, and lay a little money aside to care for themselves in case of emergency. See The Adventist Home, 372-373, 395. She indicated that the disposition of property was an individual matter, and that if the earnest Christian placed his property in the hands of the Lord, it would be made plain to him when he should sell it. See Testimonies, vol. 5, 734.

What about her own property holdings? At the time usually pointed out by the critics, Ellen White owned about two hundred acres of land. Of this seemingly large area, held for a few years by Mrs. White, one hundred and twenty acres were a wooded hillside, pur-chased for $550 so that the wood might be cut for fuel for herself and her workers. Some timber was sold to neighbors, and needy persons were given employment cutting wood. One Hundred and twenty acres may sound like a good deal of land, but its value, $4.58 an acre, was small, except for the purpose for which it had been purchased. After the timber had been cut from the hillside, the land was traded for some lots in the town of Saint Helena, a few miles from Mrs. White’s Elmshaven home. Some of the lots were donated for the purpose of building a church school in Saint Helena. Possession of a home on a moderate-sized plot of farm and grazing land is not out of harmony with the principle set out in Mrs. White’s writings. See Nichol, Ellen White and Her Critics, 520.


What sort of conclusion should we draw from this brief review of a few of the charges made against Ellen White and her work?

Perhaps we are not as yet ready to draw final conclusions other than that it is never safe to accept any charge of a critic without making much careful investigation and gathering as many facts as possible about the case in hand. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that the life and work of Ellen White do not suffer as a result of honest investigation. The more the whole experience is studied, the more firmly one becomes convinced that here are messages sent from God through a messenger whose earnest endeavor was to live a life matched to the messages.


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