As we enter upon the discussion of the authority of the Ellen White writings it will be well to define our terms at the outset. As defined by Webster, authority is a right to command or to act; power exercised by a person in virtue of his office or trust. Thus, for example: By what authority doest thou these things? (Matt. 21:23). Bernard Ramm in his book The Pattern of Authority (Eerdmans, 1957), in applying the term to the Word of God defines authority in the following manner:
Authority itself means that right or power to command action or compliance, or to determine belief or customs, expecting obedience from those under authority, and in turn giving responsible account for the claim to right or power.Page 10.
Because the Ellen White writings come to us from a prophetic pen, this definition seems appropriate for our work.
* This material was presented to the Seventh-day Adventist graduate-student group at Harvard University, February 18, 1967.
Position of Seventh-day Adventists on the Word of God
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From our earliest existence we have taken a firm stand on God's Word. We have defined our position in an official statement of Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists as follows:
1. That the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, contain an all-sufficient revelation of His will to men, and are the only unerring rule of faith and practice. 2 Tim. 3:15-17.
Ellen White declares:
We are to receive God's word as supreme authority.Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 402.
In His word, God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of experience.The Great Controversy, p. vii.
That this does not preclude manifestations of the prophetic gift beyond the canon of Scripture is made clear as Ellen White continues:
Yet the fact that God has revealed His will to men through His word, has not rendered needless the continued presence and guiding of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, the Spirit was promised by our Saviour to open the word to His servants, to illuminate and apply its teachings.Ibid.
This thought she reiterates.
In ancient times God spoke to men by the mouth of prophets and apostles. In these days He speaks to them by the testimonies of His Spirit. There was never a time when God instructed His people more earnestly than He instructs them now concerning His will and the course that He would have them pursue.Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 661.
Ellen White Statements Bearing on Authority
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At this juncture it is proper to examine several statements made by Mrs. White herself that bear on the question of authority. We present first one that appeared on a broadside dated January 31, 1849:
I saw the state of some who stood on present truth, but disregarded the visionsthe way God had chosen to teach in some cases, those who erred from Bible truth. I saw that in striking against the visions they did not strike against the wormthe feeble instrument that God spake throughbut against the Holy Ghost. I saw it was a small thing to speak against the instrument, but it was dangerous to slight the words of God. I saw if they were in error and God chose to show them their errors through visions, and they disregarded the teachings of God through visions, they would be left to take their own way, and run in the way of error, and think they were right, until they would find it out too late.Selected Messages, book 1, p. 40.
In 1875 she published a challenging statement bearing on this point:
God is either teaching His church, reproving their wrongs and strengthening their faith, or He is not. This work is of God, or it is not. God does nothing in partnership with Satan. My work bears the stamp of God or the stamp of the enemy. There is no halfway work in the matter. The Testimonies are of the Spirit of God, or of the devil.Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 230.
Here is still another statement bearing the date of 1903:
Sister White is not the originator of these books. They contain the instruction that during her lifework God has been giving her. They contain the precious, comforting light that God has graciously given His servant to be given to the world.Review and Herald, January 20, 1903 (quoted in Colporteur Ministry, p. 125).
Illuminating remarks may be added to these, such as:
Make known to others what I have revealed to you.Early Writings, p. 20.
I speak that which I have seen, and which I know to be true.Letter 4, 1896 (quoted in Notes and Papers Concerning Ellen White and the Spirit of Prophecy,* p. 89).
Permit me to express my mind, and yet not my mind, but the word of the Lord.Counsels to Writers and Editors, p. 112.
Ellen White informs us that she was instructed by God:
In all your communications, speak as one to whom the Lord has spoken. He is your authority.Letter 186, 1902 (quoted in Notes and Papers, p. 89).
What the Church Claims for Ellen White
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At the General Conference held in November, 1855, the Sabbathkeeping Adventist faced a major problem. As the way had opened in the early 1850's for the distribution of their one journal, the Review and Herald, beyond their ranks, it took on overtones of a missionary paper, and it was thought best, because of the possibility of their prejudicial nature, to leave out all visions from its pages. Plans were announced to reach the believers through other means. This step, however, resulted in a lessened appreciation of the visions on the part of the believers, and the church suffered. This the leaders sensed, and at the 1855 conference action was taken that Joseph Bates, J. H. Waggoner, and M. E. Cornell be appointed to address the saints in behalf of the conference on the gifts of the church (Review and Herald, Dec. 4, 1855).
The position taken appears in the heart of the address in these words:
While we hold these views [as presented in the visions] as emanating from the divine mind, we would confess the inconsistency (which we believe has been displeasing to God) of professedly regarding them as messages from God, and really putting them on a
* A teaching document provided for the Seminary class in prophetic guidance.
level with the inventions of men. We fear that this has resulted from an unwillingness to bear the reproach of Christ (which is indeed greater riches than the treasures of earth), and a desire to conciliate the feelings of our opponents; but the Word and our own experience have taught us that God is not honoured, nor His cause advanced, by such a course.
While we regard them as coming from God, and entirely harmonizing with His written word, we must acknowledge ourselves under obligation to abide by their teachings, and be corrected by their admonitions. To say that they are of God, and yet we will not be tested by them, is to say that God's will is not a test of rule for Christians, which is inconsistent and absurd.Review and Herald, Dec. 4, 1855. (For the recital of the experience of 1855 see Messenger to the Remnant, pp. 51-53.)
Heaven's recognition and approval of the wholehearted confession and declaration of acceptance of the authority of the Spirit of Prophecy messenger are reflected in the vision given at the close of the conference and in the following words penned by Ellen White shortly afterward:
At our late conference at Battle Creek, in November, God wrought for us. The minds of the servants of God were exercised as to the gifts of the church, and if God's frown had been brought upon His people because the gifts had been slighted and neglected, there was a pleasing prospect that His smiles would again be upon us, and He would graciously and mercifully revive the gifts again, and they would live in the church, to encourage the desponding and fainting soul, and to correct and reprove the erring.Ibid., Jan. 10, 1856.
It became the custom from time to time in the General Conference sessions to go on record in regard to the Spirit of Prophecy, its value to the church, and the relation of the church to it. At the session of 1870 this action was taken:
Resolved, That we recognize the wisdom of God in the Testimonies to the Church, and that it is dangerous and destructive to disregard or neglect their instructions.Ibid., March 22, 1870.
And three years later, the resolution was worded in this manner:
We hereby request our Executive Committee to prepare or cause to be prepared a work giving our reasons for believing the testimonies of Sister White to be the teachings of the Holy Spirit.Ibid., Nov. 25, 1873.
The Justification for This Position
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Some of the conference resolutions disclosed what were considered sound reasons for accepting the E. G. White writings as authoritative. We note the following two:
Resolved, That we re-affirm our abiding confidence in the Testimonies of Sr. White to the church, as the teaching of the Spirit of God, and that we have each year continual and growing evidence that they are such.Ibid., Feb. 14, 1871.
That we hereby express our continued conviction that we are largely indebted to the gift of prophecy, as manifested through Sister White, for the harmony and unity which this people enjoy.Ibid., Oct. 4, 1877.
Elder George I. Butler while president of the General Conference had occasion at times to speak through the Review and Herald concerning the Spirit of Prophecy in the church. In one article he freely expressed the justification for giving full acceptance to Mrs. White's claims:
They [the visions] have always been held in high esteem by the most zealous and humble among our people. They have exerted a leading influence among us from the start. They have first called attention to every important move we have made in advance. Our publishing work, the health and temperance movement, the College, and the cause of advanced education, the missionary enterprise, and many other important points, have owed their efficiency largely to this influence. We have found in a long, varied, and in some instances, sad experience, the value of their counsel. When we have heeded them, we have prospered; when we have slighted them, we have suffered a great loss.
The majority of our people believe these visions to be a genuine manifestation of spiritual gifts, and as such to be entitled to respect. We believe them, because the Bible teaches that such manifestations will be seen in the last church, because every rule given in
the Bible to test spiritual manifestations by proves them to be genuine, and because in all our experience we have found them to be of great value to us in every important point in our history. When we have Scripture and uniform experience in their favour, we have a strong case.Supplement, Aug. 14, 1883, pp. 11, 12.
Looking back in 1921 near the close of his long life and his close connection with the church, Elder J. N. Loughborough in answer to a question on degrees of inspiration wrote of the uniform acceptance of the Spirit of Prophecy:
This idea of degrees of inspiration is a new idea to me. I never heard of any such position held by those in the work in early times. Those believing the truth, and joining in the work from the first were in accord with Sister White's testimonies and received them as direct instruction from the Lord. If there were any that thought there were degrees in the testimonies, it was those who objected, and took liberty to refuse the light, and left the truth.J. N. Loughborough Letter to E. E. Andross, Sept. 25, 1921.
Relation of the Spirit of Prophecy to the Bible
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The position of the denomination on the relation of E. G. White writings to the Bible has been stated many times and in many ways. James White, in his initial 1847 declaration on the Spirit of Prophecy, spoke clearly. Nor did he ever find occasion to move from this position.
The Bible is a perfect and complete revelation. It is our only rule of faith and practice. But this is no reason why God may not show the past, present, and future fulfilment of His word, in these last days, by dreams and visions; according to Peter's testimony. True visions are given to lead us to God, and His written word.A Word to the Little Flock, p. 13.
Four years later Ellen White in the closing words of her first book penned:
I recommend to you, dear reader, the Word of God as the rule of your faith and practice. By that Word we are to be judged. God
has, in that Word, promised to give visions in the last days; not for a new rule of faith, but for the comfort of His people, and to correct those who err from Bible truth.Early Writings, p. 78.
And George I. Butler in 1883 speaking for the denomination declared:
We do not hold them [Ellen White's writings] to be superior to the Bible, or in one sense equal to it. The Scriptures are our rule to test everything by, the visions as well as all other things. That rule, therefore, is of the highest authority; the standard is higher than the thing tested by it. If the Bible should show the visions were not in harmony with it, the Bible would stand, and the visions would be given up. This shows plainly that we hold the Bible the highest, our enemies to the contrary, notwithstanding.Review and Herald Supplement, Aug. 14, 1883.
An Examination of Areas of Authoritative Writings
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It has been suggested by some that the areas in which the prophet should be considered an authority may be limited. The Ellen White writings dealt with interests and activities in many areas. In how many of these was she an authority? It may be profitable to examine the evidence.
To Comfort and Correct Those Who Err From Bible Truth. At the outset of her work the visions made clear to the early believers that God had led them in their experience and would continue to lead them if they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus. Within weeks of her call she was commissioned by God to go into the field and meet fanaticism. This is hardly the work the church would choose for a maiden of 17 years. Reporting the experience, she relates:
I pleaded with God to spare me from thisto send by some other one. The Spirit of the Lord again came upon me, and I was shown my faith would be tested, my courage and obedience tried. I must go. God would give me words to speak at the right time.
I waited no longer, but went trusting in God. I saw most of the brethren and sisters. As I warned them of their dangers, some were rejoiced that God had sent me; others refused to listen to my testimony.Letter 2, 1874 (quoted in Messenger to the Remnant, p. 32).
In the Fields of Doctrine and Eschatology. While during the period of joint study, in which the leading doctrines of the church were dug from the Word of God and united in a body of truth, Ellen White's mind was locked as it were * and she could not understand the meaning of the scriptures under examination, she was used of God in a unique manner. Of this she wrote in 1906:
When they came to the point in their study where they said, We can do nothing more, the Spirit of the Lord would come upon me, I would be taken off in vision, and a clear explanation of the passages we had been studying would be given me, with instruction as to how we were to labour and teach effectively. Thus light was given that helped us to understand the scriptures in regard to Christ, His mission, and His priesthood. A line of truth extending from that time to the time when we shall enter the city of God was made plain to me, and I gave to others the instruction that the Lord had given me.Special Testimonies, No. 2, p. 57 (quoted in Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 206, 207).
We should note several statements from Ellen White on the point of doctrine:
I believed the truth upon the Sabbath question before I had seen anything in vision in reference to the Sabbath. It was months after I had commenced keeping the Sabbath before I was shown its importance and its place in the third angel's message.Letter 2, 1874 (quoted in Messenger to the Remnant, p. 34).
The Lord showed me in vision, more than one year ago, that Brother Crosier had the true light on the cleansing of the sanctuary, et cetera, and that it was His will that Brother Crosier should write out the view which he gave us in the Day-Star Extra, February 7, 1846. I feel fully authorized by the Lord to recommend that Extra
* Her mind was unlocked in the winter of 1850-1851.
to every saint.A Word to the Little Flock, p. 12 (quoted in Messenger to the Remnant, p. 37).
At an early date the visions given to Mrs. White, although not leading in the development of doctrine initially, sparked Bible study. Note this from James White:
At this time, a few days before the new time set in 1845, Ellen was with the band at Carver, Massachusetts, where she saw in vision that we should be disappointed, and that the saints must pass through the time of Jacob's trouble, which was future. Her view of Jacob's trouble was entirely new to us, as well as herself.A Word to the Little Flock, p. 22.
It was not long after this that she was dealing with views of coming events, basing her acceptance or rejection of points made by Eli Curtis on the light given her in vision. From her communication of April 21, 1847, in A Word to the Little Flock, we quote:
I beg leave to state what I have seen in vision relative to these things on which you have written.
I fully agree with you, that there will be two literal resurrections, 1000 years apart.
I also agree with you, that the new heavens, and the new earth, will not appear till after the wicked dead are raised, and destroyed, at the end of the 1000 years.
You think that those who worship before the saints' feet (Revelation 3:9) will at last be saved.
Here I must differ with you; for God showed me that this class were professed Adventists. In the hour of temptation they will know that they are forever lost; and overwhelmed with anguish of spirit, they will bow at the saints' feet.
You also think that Michael stood up, and the time of trouble commenced, in the spring of 1844.
The Lord has shown me that Michael's standing up (Dan. 12:1) to deliver His people, is in the future.Pages 11, 12.
Fifteen months later we find the light given to her correcting the doctrinal views of David Arnold and others at the
Volney, New York, conference. The enlightening record is worth observing:
Our first conference was at Volney in Bro. Arnold's barn [August 27-28, 1848]. There were about thirty-five present, all that could be collected in that part of the State. There were hardly two agreed. Each was strenuous for his views, declaring that they were according to the Bible. Bro. Arnold held that the 1000 years of Revelation 20 were in the past, and that the 144,000 were those raised at Christ's resurrection.
And as we had the emblem of our dying Lord before us, and was [sic.] about to commemorate His sufferings, Bro. Arnold arose and said he had no faith in what we were about to do; that the Sacrament was a continuation of the Passover, to be observed but once a year.
These strange differences of opinion rolled a heavy weight upon me, especially as Bro. Arnold spoke of the 1000 years being in the past. I knew he was in error, and great grief pressed my spirits. The light of Heaven rested upon me. I was soon lost to earthly things.
My accompanying angel presented before me some of the errors of those present, and also the truth in contrast with their errors. That these discordant views, which they claimed to be according to the Bible, were only according to their opinion of the Bible, and that their errors must be yielded, and they unite upon the third angel's message.
Our meeting ended victoriously. Truth gained the victory.Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, pp. 97-99.
What would have become of the emerging church, the object of Satan's wrath, if the counsels touching the field of doctrine did not carry authority? Let her review the manner in which the messages made clear what was truth and what was error:
At that time one error after another pressed in upon us; ministers and doctors brought in new doctrines. We would search the Scriptures with much prayer, and the Holy Spirit would bring the truth to our minds. Sometimes whole nights would be devoted to searching the Scriptures, and earnestly asking God for guidance. Companies of devoted men and women assembled for this purpose.
The power of God would come upon me, and I was enabled clearly to define what is truth and what is error.
As the points of our faith were thus established, our feet were placed upon a solid foundation. We accepted the truth point by point, under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. I would be taken off in vision, and explanations would be given me. I was given illustrations of heavenly things, and of the sanctuary, so that we were placed where light was shining on us in clear, distinct rays.Gospel Workers, p. 302.
Little wonder the pioneers averred: We have the truth. We know it (Letter 18, 1850). Nor did God's leading in this line diminish as the years came and went. The limits of time preclude a detailed enumeration. The pantheistic crisis stood out as the most critical of them all. In the midst of this experience Ellen White told of the commission that came to her in regard to this insidious teaching that she declared would do away with God. Nothing less than the authority of her messages on this doctrinal point could have saved the church.
I am instructed to speak plainly. Meet it is the word spoken to me. Meet it firmly, and without delay. But it is not to be met by our taking our working forces from the field to investigate doctrines and points of difference. We have no such investigation to make. In the book Living Temple there is presented the alpha of deadly heresies. The omega will follow, and will be received by those who are not willing to heed the warning God has given.Special Testimonies, Series B, No. 2, p. 50 (quoted in Selected Messages, book 1, p. 200).
No long investigation was necessary, nor was it to be undertaken. The Lord spoke through His servant, and the authoritative word saved the church.
Lest any should think that Ellen White was ever eager to press in her views on doctrine, it should be noted that when she had no light she was silent. She was greatly perturbed at the divisive influence of the teachings concerning the daily that were pressed hard by some of the leading brethren.
For a few years up to 1910 some were attempting to draw
her writings in to settle the question. On July 31, 1910, she called a halt. She urged her brethren to cease pressing a point that had been shown to her to be of no vital importance, and of which she declared: I have had no instruction on the point under discussion.Selected Messages, book 1, p. 164.
As there was brought to her in 1914 a fine point as to just who would constitute the 144,000, she dictated the following significant statement:
I have no light on the subject. Please tell my brethren that I have nothing presented before me regarding the circumstances concerning which they write, and I can set before them only that which has been presented to me.Reported by C. C. Crisler, her secretary, in a letter to Elder E. E. Andross, president of the Pacific Union Conference, Dec. 8, 1914 (quoted in Notes and Papers, p. 90).
For many years the Eastern question raged, but she was silent, for she had no light from God on this.
One point was clear in Ellen White's mind. The truths firmly established under the influence of the Spirit of God were immovable. Observe these comments on this point:
When the power of God testifies as to what is truth, that truth is to stand forever as the truth. No after suppositions contrary to the light God has given are to be entertained.Selected Messages, book 1, p. 161.
Those who passed over the ground step by step in the past history of our experience, seeing the chain of truth in the prophecies, were prepared to accept and obey every ray of light. They were praying, fasting, searching, digging for the truth as for hidden treasures, and the Holy Spirit, we know, was teaching and guiding us.
Many theories were advanced, bearing a semblance of truth, but so mingled with misinterpreted and misapplied scriptures, that they led to dangerous errors. Very well do we know how every point of truth was established, and the seal was set upon it by the Holy Spirit of God. And all the time voices were heard, Here is the truth, I have the truth; follow me. But the warnings came, Go not ye after them. I have not sent them, but they ran. (See Jeremiah 23:21.)
The leadings of the Lord were marked, and most wonderful were His revelations of what is truth. Point after point was established by the Lord God of heaven. That which was truth then, is truth today.Ibid., book 2, pp. 103, 104.
The continuing value of the messages presenting the light God had given to her was clearly seen by Ellen White as she neared the close of her ministry. On a November morning in 1910 she wrote:
The Lord has given me much light that I want the people to have; for there is instruction that the Lord has given me for His people. It is light that they should have, line upon line, and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. This is now to come before the people, because it has been given to correct specious errors and to specify what is truth. The Lord has revealed many things pointing out the truth, thus saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.Letter 127, 1910 (quoted in Messenger to the Remnant, p. 82).
Other Fields of Counsel. And so it was also with the Ellen White counsels in the fields of church administration, education, health, and the personal messages to individuals concerning their work and their lives. When she spoke her messages were based on the light God gave to her, and she spoke with authority. When she had no light on a subject she usually was silent or made it known that what she spoke was on her own responsibility so that none would be confused. A few quotations will illustrate the point:
Her Testimony Letters.Weak and trembling, I arose at three o'clock in the morning to write to you. God was speaking through clay. You might say that this communication was only a letter. Yes, it was a letter, but prompted by the Spirit of God, to bring before your minds things that had been shown me. In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me.Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 67.
Told by One Who Does Not Falsify.Unbelief is expressed by the words, Who has written these things to Sister White? But I know of no one who knows them as they are, and no one could write that which he does not suppose has an existence. Some one has told
me,He who does not falsify, misjudge, or exaggerate any case.Special Instruction Relating to the Review and Herald Office, and the Work in Battle Creek, p. 16 (1896).
Ignorance of the Counsels Will Not Excuse Us.I am instructed to say to our churches, Study the Testimonies. They are written for our admonition and encouragement upon whom the ends of the world are come. If God's people will not study these messages that are sent to them from time to time, they are guilty of rejecting light.
Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, God is sending instruction to His people. Heed the instruction; follow the light. The Lord has a controversy with His people because in the past they have not heeded His instruction and followed His guidance.Letter 292, 1907.
The Holy Ghost Is the Author of the Messages
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I am so sorry that notwithstanding the warnings that for years God has been giving you, you should act in the oppressive way that worldings act.
The Holy Ghost is the author of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of Prophecy. These are not to be twisted and turned to mean what man may want them to mean.Letter 92, 1900.
When Mrs. White Had No Light. Giving strength to the whole structure are statements made by Mrs. White concerning matters on which she was given no light. Here is a significant illustration she wrote to a minister seeking guidance in the course he should pursue:
I am not at liberty to write to our brethren concerning your future work. I have received no instruction regarding the place where you should locate. If the Lord gives me definite instruction concerning you, I will give it to you; but I cannot take upon myself responsibilities that the Lord does not give me to bear.Letter 96, 1909 (quoted in Messenger to the Remnant, p. 116).
Here is another. She writes of an experience in Australia, when the General Conference president sought counsel:
He [Elder G. A. Irwin] has with him a little note-book in
which he has noted down perplexing questions which he brings before me, and if I have any light upon these points, I write it out for the benefit of our people, not only in America, but in this country.Letter 96, 1899 (quoted in Messenger to the Remnant, p. 117).
The suggestion is made at times that Ellen White may have been influenced by her contemporaries and predecessors. We may dismiss this idea with one quotation and reference to Chapter 3, The Integrity of the Prophetic Message. The matter is summed up in these words:
You think individuals have prejudiced my mind. If I am in this state, I am not fitted to be entrusted with the work of God.Selected Messages, book 2, p. 63.
Counsels in the Field of Science. To some there appears to be a strange gap or even contradiction between the message of the prophet and the discoveries and pronouncements of science. The result is that the laws of nature discovered in scientific study, which were designed by God, are thought to be in conflict with the declarations of the prophets who we grant spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It has even been suggested that the prophet was beyond his depth or his commission when he touched science.
In contesting such a philosophy Ellen White wrote:
Since the book of nature and the book of revelation bear the impress of the same master mind, they cannot but speak in harmony.Education, p. 128.
Her concepts of the reliability of the Word of God in the field of science are revealed in such statements as these:
There should be a settled faith in the divinity of God's holy word. The Bible is not to be tested by men's ideas of science, but science is to be brought to the test of this unerring standard. When the Bible makes statements of facts in nature, science may be compared with the written word, and a correct understanding of both will always prove them to be in harmony. One does not contradict the other. All truth, whether in nature or revelation, agrees.Signs of the Times, March 13, 1884.
I have been shown that without Bible history, geology can prove nothing.Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 93.
Moses wrote under the guidance of the Spirit of God, and a correct theory of geology will never claim discoveries that cannot be reconciled with his statements.Signs of the Times, March 13, 1884.
A scrutiny of the Ellen White writings discloses that God revealed to her in vision many points in the field of science. There is no clue that would justify our placing these statements of fact and counsel in a category by themselves. Her attitude toward the dependability of the scientific statements in the Bible indicates that she drew no line of distinction.
True, a current interpretation of scientific data may be or may appear to be in conflict with the Spirit of Prophecy, but it is remarkable how many times men of science given a little time reverse themselves only to figuratively step over to the side of Ellen White and say, You were right.
Ellen White's pronouncements and counsels usually had relevance to our work and experience. Many of the scientific counsels which she gave were in the area of physiology and nutrition.
Writings in the Field of History. Both the Bible writers and Ellen White wrote much in the field of history. What was the source of their information? Of early world history Ellen White informs us:
The preparation of the written word began in the time of Moses. From Moses, the historian of creation and the law.The Great Controversy, p. v.
Moses wrote under the guidance of the Spirit of God.Signs of the Times, March 13, 1884.
The Bible is the most ancient and the most comprehensive history that men possess. It came fresh from the Fountain of eternal truth; and throughout the ages a divine hand has preserved its purity. It lights up the far-distant past, where human research seeks in vain to penetrate. In God's word only do we behold the power that laid the foundations of the earth and that stretched out the heavens.
Here only do we find an authentic account of the origin of nations. Here only is given a history of our race unsullied by human pride or prejudice.Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 52.
The Holy Spirit guided the pens of the sacred historians, that the record of the words and works of Christ might be given to the world.Gospel Workers, p. 286.
And in her experience history past, present, and future passed before her in vision. Writing of certain revelations, she exclaimed:
Scenes of such thrilling, solemn interest passed before me as no language is adequate to describe. It was all a living reality to me.Selected Messages, book 1, p. 76.
In her introduction to The Great Controversy she relates:
As the Spirit of God has opened to my mind the great truths of His word, and the scenes of the past and the future, I have been bidden to make known to others that which has thus been revealedto trace the history of the controversy in past ages, and especially so to present it as to shed a light on the fast-approaching struggle of the future.The Great Controversy, p. xi.
This statement was written and published in 1888. Thirty years earlier she published a book, Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, which she titled, The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels. In this little work of 219 pages, which spans the whole conflict story, she continually reminds the reader that what she is presenting she saw transpire in vision, by employing the expressions I saw, I was shown, and so forth.
In her preface to Spiritual Gifts, volume 3, published in 1864 and subtitled Important Facts of Faith in Connection With the History of Holy Men of Old, she indicates the source of this historical information:
I am comforted with the conviction that the Lord has made me His humble instrument in shedding some rays of precious light upon the past. Since the great facts of faith, connected with the history of holy men of old, have been opened to me in vision
The presentations of this volume read like the descriptions of an eyewitness, and in a sense they were.
Factors That Tend to Undermine Acceptance of Authority
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But there are situations and problems that lead some people to think that full dependence may not be placed on the writings of the prophets in all the areas in which they wrote. Thus, some think that the Bible is undependable in its statements on science and unreliable in its history. Similarly, some assert that Mrs. White was mistaken in some of her statements in the fields of history and science, that in these areas we cannot accept her as authority. Notice what Bernard Ramm says regarding prophetic authority:
Nothing could be more foolish in religion than the rejection of an authority which contained the truth of the living God; and nothing could be more tragic than the substitution of the voice of man for the voice of God.
How can we avoid the folly of rejecting a truth from God? How can we avoid the tragedy of mistaking the voice of man for the voice of God?The Pattern of Authority, p. 16.
Before looking at a few factors that may tend to undermine confidence in the minds of some in the authority of the E. G. White writings, let us consider two points:
1. The concept of inspiration that we entertain may lead us to demand more of Ellen White than we would of the Bible prophets or to demand of prophets generally more than the pattern in which God speaks to man would justify. Attention is called to a documented discussion of this matter in Chapter 1, Toward a Factual Concept of Inspiration.
2. The Lord does not remove an opportunity for doubt, either with His Word or with the Spirit of Prophecy. Indeed, Ellen White declares that faith grows by conflicts with doubts.The Youth's Instructor, April, 1873 (quoted in Sons
and Daughters of God, p. 191). In the light of this declaration consider two other statements made by Ellen White:
Concerning the Word of God
While God has given ample evidence for faith, He will never remove all excuse for unbelief. All who look for hooks to hang their doubts upon will find them. And those who refuse to accept and obey God's word until every objection has been removed, and there is no longer an opportunity for doubt, will never come to the light.
Distrust of God is the natural outgrowth of the unrenewed heart, which is at enmity with Him. But faith is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it will flourish only as it is cherished. No man can become strong in faith without a determined effort. Unbelief strengthens as it is encouraged; and if men, instead of dwelling upon the evidences which God has given to sustain their faith, permit themselves to question and cavil, they will find their doubts constantly becoming more confirmed.The Great Controversy, p. 527.
Concerning the Testimonies
Satan has ability to suggest doubts and to devise objections to the pointed testimony that God sends, and many think it a virtue, a mark of intelligence in them, to be unbelieving and to question and quibble. Those who desire to doubt will have plenty of room. God does not propose to remove all occasion for unbelief. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and a teachable spirit, and all should decide from the weight of evidence. God gives sufficient evidence for the candid mind to believe; but he who turns from the weight of evidence because there are a few things which he cannot make plain to his finite understanding will be left in the cold, chilling atmosphere of unbelief and questioning doubts, and will make shipwreck of faith.Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, pp. 675, 676.
Does the Evidence Justify the Claim to Authority?
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Ramm in his definition of authority declares that the one who makes such a claim must in turn give a responsible
account for the claim to right or power. Ellen White puts it a little differently:
God gives sufficient evidence for the candid mind to believe. He gives evidence, which must be carefully investigated with a humble mind and a teachable spirit, and all should decide from the weight of evidence.Ibid., p. 675.
It may be well to pause occasionally to recount these evidences:
What is the nature and influence of these writingstheir relationship to the Bible?
What have the Spirit of Prophecy counsels done for those who accept them and let them guide in their lives?
What has been the influence of Ellen White's voice in the development of the church and in its work? Have the counsels led to success or to disappointment and failure?
What has been the influence of the counsels in meeting crises? Has not the church been saved in every instance? And what of those who have veered away, certain that they had new and great light for the people? If you are personally acquainted with some such, examine for a moment their state of mind and their relationship to their fellow men, and if they are now deceased, what of their last days?
Can one instance be cited where the church or its memberswhen the counsels have been followed sincerely, rationally, and faithfullyhave been misled by the Spirit of Prophecy? Has it let us down at any point?
So marked was Ellen White's influence that when she passed to her rest in the summer of 1915 a then widely read journal, The Independent, editorialized her and Seventh-day Adventists:
Her revelations were in the nature of instructions to their disciples, mostly aimed at their spiritual life, not forgetting to forbid the sins of custom and fashion. Saturday was the Sabbath; and the Lord's coming was close at hand.
Of course, these teachings were based on the strictest doctrine of inspiration of the Scriptures. Seventh-day Adventism could be got in no other way. And the gift of prophecy was to be expected as promised to the remnant church who had held fast to the truth. This faith gave great purity of life and incessant zeal. No body of Christians excels them in moral character and religious earnestness. And in all this Ellen White has been the inspiration and guide.The Independent, Aug. 23, 1915. Quoted in Messenger to the Remnant, p. 126.
And what of her counsels in the area of science? She had three years of formal schoolwork. She was a busy housewife and a person called upon to travel and engage in public labour. In the 1860's and subsequently her counsels embodied much that dealt with the fields of physiology and nutrition. Anything less than divine guidance would have led her to make pronouncements that in a few years would have been ridiculous. But what are the facts?
The facts are that declarations made 70, 80, and even 100 years ago and more, many of which seemed quite out of line at the time, are being verified with such precision that little room is left for question or doubt. And E. G. White statementswhich in the 1930's, 40's, and 50's were by some confidently declared to be in conflict with the facts and at times used as examples of the unreliability of the Spirit of Prophecy in the field of sciencenow stand out as strong exhibits of its certainty and reliability. We might call attention to prenatal influence, the subtle harmful effects of tobacco, the perils of hypnosis, cancer germs, and alcohol and drugs as potent factors in giving rise to birth defects.
How is it that the writings of a person unschooled in the fields of science penned so long ago are now enjoying the support of the most painstaking scientific investigations? Is it so with the works of science of that day or even a decade or two ago? How is it that a number of investigations conducted painstakingly by scientists reveal that the incidence of
several serious diseases is lower among Seventh-day Adventists than among the population as a whole? Also that on the average Adventists live longer? Adventist advantage is the way Time magazine* designates this fact as it reports on a five-year survey. Moreover, in certain nutritional circles it is declared that Seventh-day Adventists are the find of the century!
What weight do these accumulated evidences carry? Do they give a responsible account for the one through whom the counsels came to us?
Factors That May Tend to Undermine Confidence
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But there are factors that may tend to undermine confidence in the authority of the E. G. White writings. These we cannot ignore. To some people these factors may be the hooks upon which doubts may be hung. We are assured that we may find them if we seek them, for God has not removed their existence.
1. In historical account, there may be discrepancies in minor and inconsequential points.
Some people may call to mind the often-quoted W. C. White statement, Mother has never claimed to be authority on history, referred to in Chapter I. A knowledge of the manner in which the light came to the prophets is very helpful in the consideration of this point. The W. C. White statement taken alone and out of context may seem to justify the dismissal of history delineated by Ellen White as without authority. The conscientious student is not likely to find it so
* Time, Oct. 28, 1966.
as he studies the internal evidence and takes into account the full W. C. White statement and other similar statements, as well as Ellen White's own statements. See the paragraph in question in Chapter 1 and Appendix C.
In other statements quoted in Chapter 1, W. C. White emphasizes that it is not the basic historical account on which Ellen White desired that her writings not be taken as authority but minor inconsequential details that some might take to settle points of difference among historians.
2. The question of the relevancy of certain counsels given long ago and our attitude toward such counsels.
True, the counsel given by Ellen White was often couched in the framework of the current situation. So it was with Paul. Mrs. White counselled that girls should learn to harness and drive a horse (Education, pp. 216, 217); that the bicycle craze in Battle Creek in the mid 1890's was detrimental to those involved (see Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, pp. 51, 52); and that the nurses in 1906 at Loma Linda should shorten their skirts.
She also wrote:
Regarding the testimonies, nothing is ignored; nothing is cast aside; but time and place must be considered.Selected Messages, book 1, p. 57.
Behind the specific counsels that the lapse of time may have seemed to antiquate, there are principles. Principles do not change, although their application may change. This fact is discussed in Chapter 5, Hermeneutical Principles in the E. G. White Writings.
In such cases, looking beyond a word or phrase, we may easily focus on the guiding principles and thus find the instruction that was given in the early days of the message, to be safe instruction to follow in these its closing days (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 41).
It should be noted that there are relatively few specific counsels that fall into the category of circumstances which have demonstrably changed.
3. It has been suggested that Ellen White may have been influenced by her contemporaries or predecessors.
On the surface, this charge may seem valid. However, if Mrs. White only reflected the thinking of those about her, the Spirit of Prophecy messages would carry little or no authority. The facts are that she was not influenced, and she took pains to prevent either being influenced or giving rise to the suggestion that she may have been influenced by others. Ellen White specifically refuted this charge when she wrote to a brother who thought she was influenced by others. She said: You think individuals have prejudiced my mind. If I am in this state, I am not fitted to be entrusted with the work of God.Selected Messages, book 2, p. 63. This matter is explained in detail in Chapter 3, The Integrity of the Prophetic Message.
4. The use of Scripture in a manner not in keeping with commonly accepted exegetical procedures.
The manner in which Ellen White used Scripture reveals a keen insight and a source of information in common with the Bible prophets. It is true, however, that at times she employed texts homiletically in a manner that the text itself might not support. In doing this she is simply doing what the gospel writers and the apostle Paul did. This practice might be termed the prophet's exegesis. Being a diligent student of the Word of God and intimately familiar with Bible terminology, it is altogether understandable that she in her thinking, speaking, and writing in an easy manner often partook of Bible phraseology, and as a matter of convenience at times employed scripture phraseology in her writing with little regard for context, couching what she
wished to say in the phraseology of the familiar King James Version even though such use was known to her to have no direct bearing on the intent of the text from which she drew the words.
An illustration of this usage may be found in Education on page 198 in the chapter titled Physical Culture, where she wrote:
Among the first things to be aimed at should be a correct position, both in sitting and in standing. God made man upright, and He desires him to possess not only the physical but the mental and moral benefit which an erect bearing so greatly tends to promote.
In this sentence she clearly couched what she wished to say in the words of Ecclesiastes 7:29. Elsewhere in her books she uses the phrase in proper context, such as in Patriarchs and Prophets, page 49:
God made man upright; He gave him noble traits of character, with no bias toward evil.
Careful students of the original Bible languages have often observed that the insights the visions gave to Ellen White led her again and again to catch meanings more in keeping with the original text than is reflected in the King James Version, which she constantly used. Her acceptance of the newer translations as they became available supports this point.
5. There are statements in the field of science yet seemingly unsustained by accepted evidence. A pertinent illustration is her statement on the age of the earth.
As this information is considered we must take into account the basic nature of her first declaration in 1864 in which she discusses special revelation and natural revelation, recognizing that geologists reject the Bible record, because of those things which are to them evidences from the earth itself that the world has existed tens of thousands of years
(Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, pp. 91, 92). Scientists generally, without regard to the Word of God and its account of Creation and the Flood, base their conclusions on an interpretation of their findings seen in the light of uniformitarianism. However, the Seventh-day Adventist Christian will await patiently evidences in support of the clear-cut statement that he accepts by faith.
As he does so, he will not overlook the manner in which highly respected scientists at times reverse their conclusions. For instance, in the late 1930's the world's leading scientists reported that their studies demonstrated beyond all possibility of doubt that cancer was not germ caused, and, therefore, was not an infectious disease.
This report was in direct conflict with Ellen White's cancer germ statement in The Ministry of Healing in 1905. Some of our physicians considered the findings of science justification for the declaration that Ellen White was mistaken. Then in the mid 1950's the break came. Most cancer research is now in the field of a virusa miniature germ.
Again, we cannot overlook the fact that in the mid 1930's the American public was urged in large full-page advertisements to take a yeast cake a day as a good source of vitamin B. This was in direct conflict with the E. G. White statement in The Ministry of Healing that loaves of bread should be small and well baked, that, so far as possible, the yeast germs shall be destroyed. Questions difficult to answer were raised by some of our church members. Not so now. No advertisements appear urging the consumption of live yeast. Why not? Because live yeast is now known to be positively devastating, actually robbing the body of vitamin B.*
* Note: Live yeast is not to be confused with brewers' yeast, a recognized helpful food supplement.
Perhaps one more example will suffice. In 1955 some people in our ranks were perturbed because the General Conference Committee on the basis of the Spirit of Prophecy counsels went on record in Fall Council action denouncing hypnosis in the treatment of disease. This was at a time when hypnosis was accepted in medical circles and a strong effort was being made to sell it to the American public. Have we been embarrassed for our action taken daringly in the face of scientific acceptance of the moment? No, and no one reads articles in the national journals today giving acclaim to hypnosis as a helpful adjunct in treating the sick.
Something that we should always remember when we are faced with perplexing questions in the field of science is that although the idea largely prevails that He [God] is bounded and restricted by His own laws men do not realize that the Author of nature's laws can work above those laws (Signs of the Times, March 13, 1884).
In view of the foregoing facts, Seventh-day Adventists should be slow to accept so-called scientific evidence that seemingly runs counter to plain statements in the field of science by Ellen White. Patience may be called for; we may have to wait awhile for some answers. Some answers we may never get until Jesus Christ, the Author of the laws of science, gives us the explanation, but this is no reason to lose confidence in the Spirit of Prophecy.
6. A natural resistance to and a hesitancy to accept counsels touching personal life that seem unreasonable, such as: (a) sacrificial giving; (b) the dietetic counsels; and (c) recreation.
It is quite natural when certain counsels touch our personal lives for us to feel uneasy, and we are inclined to resist. This is a natural human tendency. However, is not this question one of conversion and of our willingness to accept what the Lord has made plain to us as affecting our
lives physically, mentally, and spiritually? Some people in an attempt to escape just condemnation dismiss such counsels as being the opinion of the prophet. Ellen White wrote to one man who did this:
You have talked over matters as you viewed them, that the communications from Sister White are not all from the Lord, but a portion is her own mind, her own judgment, which is no better than anybody else's judgment and ideas. This is one of Satan's hooks to hang your doubts upon to deceive your soul and the souls of others who will dare to draw the line in this matter and say, this portion which pleases me is from God, but that portion which points out and condemns my course of conduct is from Sister White alone, and bears not the holy signet. You have in this way virtually rejected the whole of the messages, which God in His tender, pitying love has sent to you.
God presents to you His will and ways which are in marked contrast, in just that way which your case requires, and you are hereby tested whether you will accept the reproof, fall on the Rock and be broken, or will you become vexed over plain statements that come close to your soul, because it is the truth and condemns you, and then you feel at enmity with me. Heb. 4: 12. There is one back of me which is the Lord, who has prompted the message, which you now reject, and disregard, and dishonour. By tempting God you have unnerved yourselves, and confusion and blindness of mind have been the result.Letter 16, 1888.
Of those who follow this course, Ellen White asks:
What reserve power has the Lord with which to reach those who have cast aside His warnings and reproofs, and have accredited the testimonies of the Spirit of God to no higher source than human wisdom? In the judgment what can you who have done this offer to God as an excuse for turning from the evidences He has given you that God was in the work?Testimonies to Ministers, p. 466.
It has meant something to Seventh-day Adventists to have had a prophet in their midst. It means something to us today to have the benefit of the abundant counsel provided by a loving God, that we might enjoy this life and be better prepared for the life to come.