A look at the dictionary leads us to define a historian as a writer of a narrative of events, or one who sets forth a systematic account of events. It is as Ellen White served in this role that we shall now observe her. Although she was not commissioned primarily as a historian, in the aggregate E. G. White writings we find a considerable amount of what would come under the heading of history. There comes to mind first and foremost her depiction of events paralleling Bible history but going beyond its scope to deal with historical events from the time of the apostles to the present and reaching into the future to the earth made new. This is one kind of history which Ellen White wrote.
Then there is what we may call denominational historyan account of events relating to the inception and development of the church cropping out here and there in her writings. Closely akin to this account are her autobiographical
* This material was presented to the university and college history teachers at the Quadrennial Council for Higher Education held at Berrien Springs, Michigan, in 1968.
materials. We will concern ourselves mainly with her depiction of events as set forth in her repeated presentation of the great controversy between Christ and His angels and Satan and his angels as illustrated in the affairs of mankind.
The writing in this field occupied a sizable portion of Ellen White's time between 1858 and the close of her life fifty-seven years later. The 1858 presentation, based on the March 14 great controversy vision, is the little Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, of 219 pages. The last of her writings in this field and any field, for that matter, was Prophets and Kings, rounding out in 1915 her work on the five-volume set of the Conflict of the Ages series.
We turn now to the field of coverage of the little 1858 volume, and find that it touches the high points of the inception of sin, the fall of man, and the plan of salvation; it then skips to the life of Jesus, His ministry and sacrifice. From that point it treats in brief form the work of the apostles, the apostasy in the Christian church, the Reformation, the Advent Movement, and the succession of events to the Second Advent and the earth made new. The full content became in 1882 the last part of Early Writings (pp. 133-295). In 1944 the original volume (Spiritual Gifts) was reproduced in a facsimile reprint, and it is currently available.
It is indeed a historical work presenting in vivid language the account of the conflict between the forces of righteousness and the forces of evil, portrayed in almost digest form on the background of ancient and modern history. As Ellen White wrote she employed the terms I saw, I was shown, and so forth, more than once for each page of the book:
I saw that the holy angels often visited the garden.Page 20.
I saw the Roman guard, as the angelic host passed back to heaven.Page 68.
I saw that Luther was ardent and zealous, fearless and bold.Page 122.
I saw Satan and his angels seeking to shut this divine light from the people of God.Page 156.
I saw the saints suffering great mental anguish.Page 202.
I then saw Jesus leading the redeemed host to the tree of life.Page 210.
But this was only the beginning of her portrayals of the great controversy on the background of history. Within five years Mrs. White was diligently at work presenting the story of events that transpired between Creation and the first advent of Christ. The detailed account fills Spiritual Gifts, volume 3, and the first half of volume 4, under the subtitle of Important Facts of Faith in Connection With the History of Holy Men of Old, both to appear in 1864. These with Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, completed a brief coverage of the theme from the fall of Lucifer to the establishment of the new earth.
In her Preface to volume 3, devoted so fully to the historical account, she indicates the source of the information presented:
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.Page v.
From time to time the reader of volumes 3 and 4 is reminded of this fact by such expressions as:
I saw a sadness come over the countenance of Adam.Page 42.
I was then carried back to the creation and was shown that the first week.Page 90.
Concerning the source of information of the historical
writings of prophets and apostles and of Ellen White herself, she has given us these facts:
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 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 of her experience she declared, Wonderful representations are given me of past, present, and future (Letter 86, 1906).
Writing of certain of these 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.
Ellen White in her early experience was given historical insights by revelation. These insights she related as need arose in discourses and writings, bringing out the high lights of the great scenes of the conflict from its inception to its close. It was but natural that she and her husband, James White, should be stirred to a deep interest in the reading of historical writings covering certain eras of the past, which had been presented to her in vision, especially the history of the Reformation.
William C. White, my father, reports that when he was a mere boy he heard his mother read D'Aubign's History of the Reformation to his father. She read to him a large part of the five volumes. She also read from other histories of the Reformation, and often, on the basis of the visions, she commented on the account given by the historian. Her reading helped her to locate and identify many of the events presented to her in vision.
Although she saw the events take place as a part of the enactment of the great controversy, she was not always informed as to just where and when the events transpired.
History Recounted in the Four-Volume Great Controversy Series
[Top of Document]
In Ellen White's experience the Lord often gave her an initial vision devoted largely to one important topic, comprehensive in scope, but without fullness of detail. Then in succeeding years as the more detailed information would prove of service and could be absorbed, more detailed views were received in repeated visions. This was especially so in views given to her relating to the great controversy between Christ and Satan. In the 1870's and the 1880's Ellen White undertook to rewrite the presentation of the conflict story in four volumes of about 400 pages each. She had expected to bring them out in quick succession, but her travels and other labours prevented this accomplishment and extended the work of preparing the manuscripts over a period of 15 years. Each of the four books bore the general title for the seriesSpirit of Prophecyand the subtitle The Great Controversy. An additional subtitle indicated which portion of the great controversy the particular volume dealt with. Thus:
1. Spirit of Prophecy. The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels, and Satan and His Angels. Vol. I. 414 pages. Published in 1870.
This volume, largely a reprint of the 1864 Spiritual Gifts, volumes 3 and 4, opens with the fall of Lucifer and deals with Biblical history to Solomon, with a chapter bridging to the Messiah. This volume was later amplified to become Patriarchs and Prophets (1890), which replaced this volume.
2. Spirit of Prophecy. The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan. Life, Teachings and Miracles of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Vol. II. 396 pages. Published in 1877.
This book treats the life of Christ from His birth to the triumphal entry into Jerusalem; later amplified by Ellen White to become the first 62 chapters of The Desire of Ages (1898).
3. Spirit of Prophecy. The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan. The Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Vol. III. 392 pages. Published in 1878.
This book contained 20 chapters dealing with the last days of the ministry of Christ and 11 chapters touching on the life and work of the apostles; eventually amplified to become the last part of The Desire of Ages (1898) and The Acts of the Apostles (1911), volumes that replaced this work.
4. Spirit of Prophecy. The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan From the Destruction of Jerusalem to the End of the Controversy. Vol. IV. 506 pages. Published in 1884.
The coverage is described in the title. Actually we would consider this the first edition of the book well known today as The Great Controversy, amplified in 1888 to become The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan.
These four books were written essentially for Seventh-day Adventists, who understood Ellen White's call and work; but it was expected that they would be among volumes lent by Seventh-day Adventists to their non-Adventist neighbours and friends, and that our evangelists would use them in connection with their ministry. Some printings were bound in covers bearing the title Spirit of Prophecy, volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4, and some covers were stamped The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan, volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4. But the running titles on all the chapters in all four of the books read: The Great Controversy, and to Ellen White the four volumes told the great controversy story.
The three volumes paralleling the Bible story provide many insights, draw lessons from the events, and in general greatly enrich our concept of the narrative. The fourth volumeThe
Great Controversyalthough a part of the continuing story, in a way enters a new field. Ellen White was instructed in vision to begin the account with the destruction of Jerusalem, which she did, and then she continues the historical narrative to the Advent awakening, the point at which she comes into the picture, and carries it to our day, then in prophetic forecast through the events leading to establishment of the new earth.
In chronicling events in historical narrative she makes no attempt to be complete or exhaustive, but rather is selective, drawing in those events that form the background of the great controversy theme. She did not write essentially as a historian. Moreover, in all her writings the details of history were always subordinated to the great theme of the conflict. Even where the facts of the Bible or of secular history are introduced, there is usually a characteristic background of the invisible contending forces of good and evil such as no other writer has attempted. Her view of the place of history as exemplified in her own writings is well expressed in the following words:
In the annals of human history, the growth of nations, the rise and fall of empires, appear as if dependent on the will and prowess of man; the shaping of events seems, to a great degree, to be determined by his power, ambition, or caprice. But in the word of God the curtain is drawn aside, and we behold, above, behind, and through all the play and counterplay of human interest and power and passions, the agencies of the All-merciful One, silently, patiently working out the counsels of His own will.Prophets and Kings, pp. 499, 500.
We are to see in history the fulfilment of prophecy, to study the workings of Providence in the great reformatory movements, and to understand the progress of events in the marshalling of the nations for the final conflict of the great controversy.The Ministry of Healing, pp. 441, 442.
In connection with writing these views of the events of
ancient and modern history, especially the history of the great reformation of the sixteenth century, her reading of D'Aubign, Wiley, and others proved to be helpful. She sometimes drew on them for clear historical statements to help make plain to the reader the things she was endeavouring to present. Also by thus corroborating with well-accepted historical evidence what had been revealed to her, she would win the confidence of the general reader in the truths she was presenting.
Just as her study of the Bible helped her to locate and describe the many figurative representations given her regarding the development of the controversy, so the reading of the history of the Reformation helped her to locate and describe events presented to her in the visions. (See Appendix C, The 1911 Edition of Great Controversy.)
When Spirit of Prophecy, volume 4, came from the press and our ministers and members began to read it, they discovered that Mrs. White had employed a number of historical quotations, and this use led to some questions. Why had she done so? Did she gain her information on the phases of history these quotations touched on from historians, or did she receive the information from God? Did her use of the quotations place them in the category of inspiration? She replied that what she had presented had been opened to her by God in vision, but she found the historical accounts of service in locating and describing certain of these events. The question having been raised, she in the 1888 edition of the book dealt with the question in her author's Introduction. Of this I shall soon speak.
The Colporteur Edition of The Great Controversy
[Top of Document]
As the 1884 book was running through the press, Seventh-day Adventists having just launched the plan of distributing
message-filled books through literature evangelists in door-to-door selling, the publishers thought that this E. G. White book might be sold in this manner. Illustrations were added and a thicker sheet of paper was employed in issuing from the same printing plates a literature-evangelist edition of the book. It caught on immediately. Ten printings rolled from the presses, producing some 50,000 copies of the book. These books were sold largely to the general public by literature evangelists.
In 1885 just as this first colporteur edition of volume 4 was coming from the press Ellen White responded to an invitation to visit Europe and assist in the work opening in the old world. She spent two full years there, living in Switzerland and travelling to points in many countries where our work was becoming established. Knowing of the successful distribution of volume 4 in the United States, leaders in Europe began to plan with her for its translation and publication in some of the main languages.
But at this point Ellen White, sensing that her reading audience had changed from largely Seventh-day Adventist to largely non-Adventist and wishing to present the story in greater detail, asked the brethren to wait until she could enlarge the book and make such adjustments as were appropriate now that it was to serve both the church and the general public. Out of this idea came the long-range plan to rewrite and enlarge the content of the four volumes of the Spirit of Prophecy-Great Controversy series to produce four much larger volumes written for non-Adventists as well as Adventists. This plan was later expanded to include five books of our present Conflict of the Ages Series, namely, Patriarchs and Prophets, Prophets and Kings, The Desire of Ages, The Acts of the Apostles, and The Great Controversy.
In her public ministry Ellen White had always shown an ability to select from the storehouse of truth material adapted
to the needs of the congregation before her; and she also recognized that in the choice of subjects for publication in her books, sound judgment should be shown in selecting what was best suited to the needs of those who would read them. Therefore, as she undertook in 1886-1888 to present the great controversy story in a volume for the church and the world, she not only enlarged the presentation but employed phraseology adapted to her readers, and in some cases she left out some presentations. An example of this is seen in the familiar chapter entitled The Snares of Satan in The Great Controversy (pages 518-530 in current printings). The first four pages of this chapter as printed in the 1884 book (Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, pp. 337-340* ) dealt with the manner in which Satan employs Protestant ministers to carry out his objectives in depreciating the seventh-day Sabbath. This subject could be understood by Seventh-day Adventists, but inasmuch as the presentation was now to go to non-Adventists, Ellen White thought that the pages dealing with this should be dropped out of the new and larger book. In 1923 the omitted portions of this chapter were reprinted in Testimonies to Ministers, bringing them back for Adventist reading.
In planning this series of books she decided to leave out of the text proper all such phrases as I saw, I was shown, and so forth, lest the reader unfamiliar with her call and work might have his attention directed from the message of the books.
Work Done in Europe
[Top of Document]
Ellen White's contact in Europe with the environs of the Reformation aided her in making more vivid descriptions of
* Note: The four original volumes of Spirit of Prophecy have been issued by the publisher in facsimile reprints, and they may be secured at Adventist Book Centres.
Reformation history. It should also be noted that while she was in these environs, many of the scenes were repeated to her in vision. Of this experience she wrote:
While writing the manuscript of Great Controversy I was often conscious of the presence of the angels of God. And many times the scenes about which I was writing were presented to me anew in visions of the night, so that they were fresh and vivid in my mind.E. G. White Letter 56, 1911.
The work of revising and enlarging the book was carried well along while she was in Europe. Her access to Elder J. N. Andrews' library was helpful to her, for in presenting historical description she at times drew quotations from well-known authors. Not until she was back in her home in Healdsburg, California, however, was she able to bring to completion her work on this volume. Her enlightening Author's Preface carries the date April, 1888.
The new volume bore the title The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan During the Christian Dispensation. The words Revised and Enlarged appear on the title page. The text extended to page 678 in place of the 492 pages of the earlier book. The page size was enlarged. The 1888 printing contained 26 full-page illustrations, and the appendix materials were expanded from 14 pages to 26 pages. This became the book known so well as The Great Controversy. Its pagination is standard today. At the outset several sets of printing plates were made, which were put into use in the United States and overseas. This edition of The Great Controversy was used until 1911, when a revision took its place.
How the Light Came to Ellen White
[Top of Document]
Numerous references have been made to the visions as the basis for Ellen White's writing in the field of history. A knowledge of how this light came to her helps us to understand
certain features of her work and provide answers to some questions that naturally emerge, especially in regard to the sources of her knowledge of the things concerning which she wrote, sometimes referred to as Mrs. White's sources.
As an eyewitness she seemingly viewed the transpiring of the events of history. This experience must have been much in the manner Moses just before his death was permitted to view in advance the history and fortunes of Israel referred to in Chapter 1. The quotation is taken from Patriarchs and Prophets, pages 472-476.
Enthralled, Moses watched the events take place, seemingly seeing, hearing, and participating. In this vivid manner the history of the future was opened to him. Probably dates were not given him. It is not likely that all the cities he saw were named. Those were inconsequential details, not essential to the unfolding theme. (See pages 24, 25 for description.)
The records would indicate that in just this manner history past and future was presented to Ellen White, history on which was woven the tapestry of the great controversy theme. Because of the deep interest in the sources of Ellen White's information in historical lines we will probe the subject quite thoroughly and in detail.
World History as First Portrayed to Ellen WhiteI Saw
[Top of Document]
In the 1858 great controversy vision, as noted earlier, the high points of world history pertaining to the contest between the forces of righteousness and the forces of evil were opened up to Ellen White often in panoramic views of transpiring events and at times in symbolic representations. The written account penned within weeks after the vision as Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, opens with the words The Lord has
shown me. The main part of the account deals with the life and work of Jesus, the early Christian church, the period of time to the Advent Movement, and then events to the new earth. The book carries the reader in one broad panoramic sweep as Ellen White presents the high lights of what she viewed in that vision of the passing events of history. But the account is brief and sketchy, with those features emphasized that had to do with the central theme, the contest between right and wrong, between Christ and Satan, but as exemplified in historical developments largely on earth.
The span of centuries between the apostles and the Advent Movement, the point of focus in historic studies, is encompassed in 21 small pages. Nonetheless the reader easily detects that the author is describing events as Ellen White in vision witnessed them transpiring. At times symbolic representations spanned and summarized the events of important periods. Chapter 17 of Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, entitled The Great Apostasy, opens with the words:
I was carried forward to the time when the heathen idolators cruelly persecuted the Christians, and killed them.Page 103.
It was presented before me in the following manner: A large company of heathen idolators bore a black banner upon which were figures of the sun, moon and stars. The company seemed to be very fierce and angry.
I was then shown another company bearing a pure white banner, and upon it was written Purity, and Holiness unto the Lord. Their countenances were marked with firmness and heavenly resignation. I saw the heathen idolators approach them, and there was a great slaughter. The Christians melted away before them.Page 105.
The next chapter, Mystery of Iniquity, continues in the same vein, with the events of centuries reduced to a few scenes and some symbolic representations.
There is a five-page chapter titled The Reformation, with Martin Luther and Melanchthon introduced (page 120) and other Reformers alluded to.
Luther was chosen to breast the storm, and stand up against the ire of a fallen church, and strengthen the few who were faithful to their holy profession. He was ever fearful of offending God.Page 120.
I saw that Luther was ardent and zealous, fearless and bold in reproving sin, and advocating the truth. Luther possessed fire, zeal, courage and boldness, and at times might go too far; but God raised up Melancthon, who was just the opposite in character, to aid Luther, and carry on the work of reformation. I was shown the wisdom of God in choosing these two men, of different characters to carry on the work of reformation.
I was then carried back to the days of the apostles, and saw that God chose as companions an ardent and zealous Peter, and a mild, patient, meek John.Pages 122, 123.
Coming to the Advent Movement, Ellen White opens the chapter titled William Miller with the words:
I saw that God sent his angel to move upon the heart of a farmer who had not believed the Bible, and led him to search the prophecies. Angels of God repeatedly visited that chosen one, and guided his mind, and opened his understanding to prophecies which had ever been dark to God's people.Page 128.
The internal evidence is clear. Ellen White in vision was shown events taking place and at the same time was taken behind the scenes, so to speak, to gain a perception of the deeper meanings involved in what she saw. There is no evidence that there was imparted to her the whole of world history, or even all the events of the history of the periods that passed before her in panoramic view. But that she did see the transpiring of historical events involving the Christian church and the Reformation cannot be denied when one reads this initial E. G. White account thoughtfully. Later visions were to open up this historical background more fully and Ellen White was to write more fully on the history shown her. This fact is clear from a number of corroborating statements from her pen and the pen of her son, who worked closely with her.
The Consistent Witness of Ellen White on Sources
[Top of Document]
Ellen White in her introduction to the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy speaks quite clearly of the sources of her information and refers both to the visions and to her reference to historical works. To get the full picture calls for quite an extensive quotation from the statement signed April, 1888. After discussing how God communicated with His people through prophets, she carries the reader to the prophecy of Joel and the prediction relating to the last days, then introduces herself as one to whom God had given visions:
This prophecy [Joel 2:28] received a partial fulfilment in the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost; but it will reach its full accomplishment in the manifestation of divine grace which will attend the closing work of the gospel.
When the apostles of Christ were to bear His gospel to the world and to record it for all future ages, they were especially endowed with the enlightenment of the Spirit. At this time the special endowment of divine grace and power is not less needful to the church than in apostolic days.
Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the scenes of the long-continued conflict between good and evil have been opened to the writer of these pages. From time to time I have been permitted to behold the working, in different ages, of the great controversy between Christ, the Prince of life, the Author of our salvation, and Satan, the prince of evil, the author of sin, the first transgressor of God's holy law.
The same hatred of the principles of God's law, the same policy of deception, by which error is made to appear as truth may be traced in all the history of the past. Satan's efforts to misrepresent the character of God, to cause men to cherish a false conception of the Creator, and thus to regard Him with fear and hate rather than with love; and his persecution of those who dare to resist his deceptions, have been steadfastly pursued in all ages. They may be traced in the history of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, of martyrs
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. In pursuance of this purpose, I have endeavoured to select and group together events in the history of the church in such a manner as to trace the unfolding of the great testing truths that at different periods have been given to the world, that have excited the wrath of Satan, and the enmity of a world-loving church.
In these records we may see a foreshadowing of the conflict before us. Regarding them in the light of God's word, and by the illumination of His Spirit, we may see unveiled the devices of the wicked one, and the dangers which they must shun who would be found without fault before the Lord at His coming.
The great events which have marked the progress of reform in past ages are matters of history, well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world; they are facts which none can gainsay. This history I have presented briefly, in accordance with the scope of the book, and the brevity which must necessarily be observed, the facts having been condensed into as little space as seemed consistent with a proper understanding of their application. In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but in some instances no specific credit has been given, since the quotations are not given for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has been made of their published works.
It is not so much the object of this book to present new truths concerning the struggles of former times, as to bring out facts and principles which have a bearing on coming events. Yet viewed as a part of the controversy between the forces of light and darkness, all these records of the past are seen to have a new significance; and through them a light is cast upon the future.The Great Controversy, pp. ix to xii.
With modesty Ellen White could hardly speak more plainly to the world concerning her workthe visions and products of her pen.
Events of Reformation History Presented in Vision
[Top of Document]
In subsequent statements Ellen White was to refer to the visions in which the history of the Reformation was presented to her. Note the following illuminating excerpt from a letter to Wolcott H. Littlejohn, an Adventist author, written in 1894:
The banner of the ruler of the synagogue of Satan was lifted high, and error apparently marched in triumph, and the reformers, through the grace given them of God, waged a successful warfare against the hosts of darkness. Events in the history of the reformers have been presented before me. I know that the Lord Jesus and His angels have with intense interest watched the battle against the power of Satan, who combined his hosts with evil men, for the purpose of extinguishing the divine light, the fire of God's kingdom. They suffered for Christ's sake scorn, derision, and the hatred of men who knew not God. They were maligned and persecuted even unto death, because they would not renounce their faith.Letter 48, 1894.
Ellen White Approved W. C. White Statements
[Top of Document]
With the issuance of the 1911 revision of The Great Controversy, Elder W. C. White, son of Ellen White and her assistant following the death of James White in 1881, issued two formal statements regarding the writing of The Great Controversy, the aspects of the book dealing with historical matter, the sources of the information she presented, and the revision of the book. Ellen White read these, gave her endorsement, and declared that in these statements W. C.
White had correctly portrayed the facts. We give here his statement regarding Ellen White's Sources:
The things which she has written out, are descriptions of flashlight pictures and other representations given her regarding the actions of men, and the influence of these actions upon the work of God for the salvation of men, with views of past, present, and future history in its relation to this work.W. C. White statement in his letter of July 24, 1911, read by him to the General Conference Committee at the Autumn Council, October 30, 1911.
Continuing, he speaks of the reference Ellen White made to historical writings of others:
In connection with the writing out of these views, she has made use of good and clear historical statements to help make plain to the reader the things which she is endeavouring to present. When I was a mere boy, I heard her read D'Aubign's History of the Reformation to my father. She read to him a large part, if not the whole, of the five volumes. She has read other histories of the Reformation.Ibid.
He then explained the relationship of this reading to her writing The Great Controversy:
This has helped her to locate and describe many of the events and the movements presented to her in vision. This is somewhat similar to the way in which the study of the Bible helps her to locate and describe the many figurative representations given to her regarding the development of the great controversy in our day between truth and error.lbid.
In his 1911 statement, he makes also another reference to the many visions given Ellen White relating to the history of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation:
Mother's contact with European people had brought to her mind scores of things that had been presented to her in vision during past years, some of them two or three times, and other scenes many times. Her seeing of historic places and her contact with the people refreshed her memory with reference to these things, and so she desired to add much material to the book. This was done.Ibid.
Just as in her introduction to the 1888 Great Controversy,
the 1911 explanation on Ellen White Sources explains that the visions come ahead of the reading of history. The reading of history helped her in presenting these matters to others. And then there was a repeating of some of the scenes, with visions given in connection with the writing.
Further W. C. White Statements Bearing on Mrs. White's Sources
[Top of Document]
In 1912 as W. C. White writing to a church leader referred to the sources of Ellen White's information as presented in The Great Controversy, he declared:
Regarding Mother's writings, I have overwhelming evidence and conviction that they are the description and delineation of what God has revealed to her in vision.W. C. White to W. W. Eastman, Nov. 4, 1912.
In a letter to Elder L. E. Froom, answering some questions, W. C. White wrote of his personal attitude toward the question of what are said to be the E. G. White sources. Perhaps his first hand observation of the operation of inspiration in his mother's experience led to his attitude. He wrote:
It is a fact that during my 30 or more years of association with Ellen White I had the utmost confidence in her ministry. I know that she received revelations from God which were of untold value to the church and to the world. I did not enter as fully as some of our brethren wish to do in an analysis of the sources of information which enabled her to write her books.W. C. White to L. E. Froom, Dec. 13, 1934.
Then he explains:
The framework of the great temple of truth sustained by her writings was presented to her clearly in vision. In some features of this work, information was given in detail. Regarding some features of the revelation, such as the features of prophetic chronology, as regards the ministration in the sanctuary and the changes that took place in 1844, the matter was presented to her many times and in
detail many times, and this enabled her to speak very clearly and very positively regarding the foundation pillars of our faith.
In some of the historical matters such as are brought out in Patriarchs and Prophets, and in Acts of the Apostles, and in Great Controversy, the main outlines were made very clear and plain to her, and when she came to write up these topics, she was left to study the Bible and history to get dates and geographical relations and to perfect her description of details.Ibid.
This makes clear that just as Moses watched history in advance so did Ellen White in vision watch history develop, both past and future, and she was commissioned to trace this history. This she did, often in the first draft writing much more fully than what the finished chapters might contain.
Through many experiences William White's mind was made clear on the matter of Mrs. White's sources. One such he recounted to the workers and believers in Takoma Park, Maryland, on Sunday, December 17, 1905:
One Sabbath, at Basel, as I was reading Wylie's History of Protestantism, telling about the experience of the Roman armies coming against the Hungarians [Bohemians], and how a large body of persecutors would see a little body of Protestants, and become frightened, and beat a hasty retreat. As I read it to Mother, she interrupted me, and told me a lot of things in the pages ahead, and told me many things not in the book at all. She said, I never read about it, but that scene has been presented to me over and over again. I have seen the papal armies, and sometimes before they had come in sight of the Protestants, the angels of God would give them a representation of large armies, that would make them flee.
I said, Why did you not put it into your book? [Spirit of Prophecy, volume 4.] She said, I did not know where to put it.W. C. White Talk at Takoma Hall, Takoma Park, Md., Dec. 17, 1905.
In this connection the account in The Great Controversy, pages 116 and 117, will be read with interest.
Her visit to Zurich, Switzerland, in 1887 provided just one more instance of corroborative evidence. Wrote her son:
I was with Mother when we visited Zurich and I well remember how thoroughly her mind was aroused by seeing the old cathedral and the market place and she spoke of them as they were in the days of Zwingli.
During her two years residence in Basel, she visited many places where events of special importance occurred in the Reformation days. This refreshed her memory as to what she had been shown and this led to important enlargement in those portions of the book dealing with the Reformation days.W. C. White to L. E. Froom, Dec. 13, 1934.
Regardless of how W. C. White approached the matter of Ellen White's sources, all statements are in agreement, namely, that the basic concepts came to her in vision. Her reading of history aided her in presenting the matters to others. In early Battle Creek days she was given a corner in the Review and Herald library where she could study and write and at times refer to books on the shelves. The matter of her reading is brought out further in W. C. White's letter to L. E. Froom:
Ellen White was a rapid reader and had a very retentive memory. The revelations which she had received enabled her to grip subjects regarding which she read in a vigorous way. This enabled her to select and appropriate that which was true and to discard that which was erroneous or doubtful.Ibid.
It was remarkable that in her reading and scanning of books that her mind was directed to the most helpful books and to the most helpful passages contained in those books. Occasionally, she would mention to father and in my presence, her experience in being led to examine a book which she had never looked into before, and her experience in opening it to certain passages that helped her in describing that which she had seen and wished to present.Ibid.
W. C. White relates another experience in which reading refreshed her mind as to what she had witnessed in vision:
When we were in Basel, in 1886, we had a very interesting experience with a group of translators. We found that our brethren in Europe were very desirous of having Great Controversy, Vol. IV,
translated in the French and German languages.
When we reached those chapters relating to the Reformation in Germany and France, the translators would comment on the appropriateness of the selection of historical events which Sister White had chosen, and in two instances which I remember, they suggested that there were other events of corresponding importance which she had not mentioned.
When this was brought to her attention, she requested that the histories be brought to her that she might consider the importance of the events which had been mentioned. The reading of the history refreshed to her mind that which she had seen, after which she wrote a description of the event.Ibid.
Any attempt to come to an accurate appraisal in the matter of what are said to be Mrs. White's Sources must build heavily on the above statements of key witnesses. That there are some problems is readily conceded. There are problems in the historical and chronological records of the Old Testament prophets and the inspired apostles. Can it be that we should look to rigid concepts of inspiration or misconceptions of inspiration as being at the root of some of these problems?
Thus far we have presented the evidences that the testimony borne by Ellen White was based upon the visions God gave to her, and that in the historical field her writings depicted scenes that passed before her, some in quite minute detail, some in symbolic depiction, some in broad sweeps touching the main points in principles involved. It is clear that she depended upon her Bible and reliable histories for the location of the events she saw or their timing and some descriptive details.
There is evidence that she was not shown the names of all of the places and the dates of all the events. The basic conception of the significant events of the controversy story was clearly laid before her in vision. In many cases minor details were not presented. Some of this information could be ascertained from the sacred writings, some from common
sources of knowledge, some from reliable historians. Apparently God in His providence did not consider it essential to impart these minutiae through vision. Just how much we are justified in demanding of divine revelation is a significant point that has been discussed in Chapter 1 on Inspiration, so it is not repeated here. See pages 13-48.
The 1911 Edition of The Great Controversy
[Top of Document]
In many printings issued from the presses of our several publishing houses, The Great Controversy as enlarged in 1888 had a wide sale. After twenty years' use the printing plates were so badly worn that it became evident that the type for the book must be reset. This was a large and expensive undertaking, for it seemed clear that the book should be reillustrated if a new edition were to be produced. Other features, too, came in for consideration, especially the matter of references to all historical quotations and the furnishing in a comprehensive appendix* of references to standard historical works that related to the materials.
As Ellen White studied the matter she looked even deeper into what might be done. She wrote of this July 25, 1911, very soon after the new revised book appeared:
When I learned that Great Controversy must be reset, I determined that we would have everything closely examined, to see if the truths it contained were stated in the very best manner, to convince those not of our faith that the Lord had guided and sustained me in the writing of its pages.
As a result of the thorough examination by our most experienced workers, some changing in the wording has been proposed. These changes I have carefully examined and approved. I am thankful that my life has been spared, and that I have strength and clearness of mind for this and other literary work.Letter 56, 1911. (See Appendix C.)
* In 1950 this appendix was updated with the aid of Seventh-day Adventist scholars.
The revision of an inspired book quite naturally raised some questions in the minds of ministers and laity alike. Some of the questions involved an understanding of inspiration. The fact that Ellen White determined to make the revision and worked closely with her office staff in doing so helped to mitigate some of the questions.
The W. C. White statements regarding the work already referred to, together with considerable correspondence with executives and leading ministers of the church regarding this new edition, provide much valuable data.
The Changes in the 1911 Edition
[Top of Document]
We turn to the W. C. White communications here mentioned to gain a picture of what was involved in bringing out the 1911 book. The key points, which for clarity we will present in numbered paragraphs, are:
1. The most noticeable change in the new edition, is the improvement in the illustrations.
2. The thirteen Appendix notes of the old edition, occupying thirteen pages, have been replaced by thirty-one notes occupying twelve pages. The Biographical Notes have been omitted. [Neither the Appendix notes nor Biographical Notes were prepared by Mrs. White.]
3. The general Index has been enlarged from twelve to twenty-two pages.
4. In the body of the book, the most noticeable improvement is the introduction of historical references. In the old edition, over seven hundred Biblical references were given, but in only a few instances were there any historical references to the authorities quoted or referred to. In the new edition the reader will find more than four hundred references to eighty-eight authors and authorities.
5. In a few instances, new quotations from historians, preachers, and present-day writers, have been used in the place of the old, because they are more forceful, or because we have been unable to find the old ones. In each case where there has been such a change, Mother has given faithful attention to the proposed substitution,
and has approved of the change.
6. In spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, changes have been made to bring this book into uniformity of style with the other volumes of this series [The Desire of Ages and Patriarchs and Prophets].
7. In eight or ten places, time references have been changed because of the lapse of time since the book was first published.
8. In several places, forms of expression have been changed to avoid giving unnecessary offense. An example of this will be found in the change of the word Romish to Roman or Roman Catholic.
9. In two places the phrase divinity of Christ is changed to deity of Christ. And the words religious toleration have been changed to religious liberty.
In the new edition, the rise of the papacy in 538, and its fall in 1798, are spoken of as its supremacy and downfall, instead of its establishment and abolition, as in the old edition.
In each of these places the more accurate form of expression has been duly considered and approved by the author of the book.
10. On pages 50, 563, 564, 580, 581, and in a few other places where there were statements regarding the papacy which are strongly disputed by Roman Catholics, and which are difficult to prove from accessible histories, the wording in the new edition has been so changed that the statement falls easily within the range of evidence that is readily obtainable.
Regarding these and similar passages, which might stir up bitter and unprofitable controversies, Mother has often said: What I have written regarding the arrogance and the assumptions of the papacy, is true. Much historical evidence regarding these matters has been designedly destroyed; nevertheless, that the book may be of the greatest benefit to Catholics and others, and that needless controversies may be avoided it is better to have all statements regarding the assumptions of the pope and the claims of the papacy stated so moderately as to be easily and clearly proved from accepted histories that are within the reach of our ministers and students.
Work Done in Mrs. White's Office
[Top of Document]
These illustrations make clear the type of work that was done in making the revisions for the 1911 edition of The
Great Controversy. The work was done in Mrs. White's office at Elmshaven, near St. Helena in northern California, by her office staff and under her direction. The reader may ask, What evidence do we have that Mrs. White did as she said she did in her statement quoted earlier: These changes I have carefully examined and approved?
The records of the White Estate are very full. In these is a large manila envelope containing proofs showing the changes made in the 1911 edition. This envelope is marked: Controversy Proofs Prepared for Mrs. E. G. White's Inspection and Approval. At the bottom appear the words All Approved.
Everyone, therefore, may rest assured that the 1911 edition, published four years before Mrs. White's death, was her presentation of the subject, in which, as she said, truths were stated in the very best manner, prepared to reach the public in a form bearing her full and unqualified endorsement.
Four sets of printing plates were made, and the book was issued simultaneously from the three publishing houses in North America and the publishing house serving the church in Great Britain.
A Questionable Use of the Book
[Top of Document]
W. C. White, in one of his communications in 1912 regarding The Great Controversy, expressed his misgivings as to the outcome of a course that would lead our ministers to favour the historical areas of The Great Controversy over well-accepted standard works of history. We quote from his letter to Elder W. W. Eastman:
It seems to me, Bro. Eastman, that we must hold fast our confidence in the great Adventist movement of 1844, and we should not be easily moved from the positions held by the leaders in that movement and by the pioneers of our own denomination.
At the same time, I believe we should encourage our editors, our ministers, and the teachers in our schools, and the rank and file of our people, as far as they have time and opportunity, to be thorough Bible students and faithful students of history so that they may know for themselves, and so that they can prove to people who do not accept our denominational books as authority, the points that we hold as a people. It is my conviction that those who write for our denominational papers regarding prophecy and its fulfilment ought to be encouraged to give deep and faithful study to the subjects about which they write, and to use in their arguments references and quotations from those historians which will be accepted by the readers as authority.
It may be all right for a preacher in presenting Biblical expositions to his congregations to quote from Daniel and Revelation and Great Controversy as well expressed statement of his views; but it could hardly be wise for him to quote from them as authoritative histories to prove his points. I think you will discern the reasonableness of this proposition. A Presbyterian who was endeavouring to prove the soundness of his theories to a congregation of Methodists would not be expected to depend largely upon Presbyterian writers to prove his points. In all our work we must study to follow methods that are most effective.
When it comes to the matter of writing out expositions of doctrine or of prophecy, still greater care must be taken by the writer than by the preacher to select those authorities which will be accepted as authorities by the critical and studious reader.
If I understand the matter correctly, Brother has been writing articles on prophecy and its fulfilment in which he uses D&R and Great Controversy as authority to prove his points. This I should consider to be a very poor policy.W. C. White Letter to W. W. Eastman, Nov. 4, 1912.
Many Printings of the 1911 Edition
[Top of Document]
The 1911 edition of The Great Controversy became the standard work used throughout the world. References in the Sabbath school lessons and textbooks are to this edition. It was soon provided on thin paper without illustrations for convenient reference work in what in denominational circles
has become known as the trade edition.
The paging of certain of the editions intended for colporteur sale in some cases has variedthe illustrations have been different; there has been an updating of the appendix notes; in some editions some of the chapter titles have been changed and hundreds of thousands of copies have been distributed under the title The Triumph of God's Love. But the text of the book is the samethe text of the 1911 edition. A few typographical or grammatical errors have been corrected, and current forms of capitalization and spelling have been employed. Such adjustments, made to keep a widely circulated book in the most acceptable form, do not affect the sense of the message in the volume.
As for adjustments related to the passage of time since 1911, the White Trustees in 1950 authorized a rewording of four phrases in the book in order to convey the sense correctly both in 1911 and to the present-day reader. The reader today is often a non-Adventist not familiar with the history of the book and the later of the editions. These four are:
Page 287: In referring to the Bible, the 1911 edition stated: It has since been translated into more than four hundred languages and dialects. By 1950 the number was more than a thousand. The phrase was reworded so as to convey a correct image both in 1911 and the present, and reads in current printings: has since been translated into many hundreds of languages and dialects.
Page 288: Speaking of Voltaire the atheist, Mrs. White stated in the 1911 edition: A century has passed since his death. By 1950 it was more nearly two centuries. The substitute wording correctly stating the fact, whether in 1911 or the present, is Generations have passed since his death.
Page 378: In reference to the Jewish nation, Ellen White stated in the 1911 edition: The people of Israel for eighteen hundred years have stood, indifferent to the gracious offers of salvation. By 1950 it was nearer to nineteen hundred years. Reworded to state the facts correctly in 1911 and the present, the phrase reads: The people of Israel during succeeding centuries have stood, indifferent to the gracious offers of salvation.
Page 579: Mrs. White stated in the 1911 edition: For more than half a century, students of prophecy in the United States have presented this testimony to the world. The earlier 1888 edition read: For about forty years. By 1950 it was actually a full century. The White Trustees in this case authorized a specific reading that would be unaffected by time lapse: Since the middle of the nineteenth century, students of prophecy in the United States have presented this testimony to the world.
To speak of the foregoing four adjustments in wording as changes in wording of the E. G. White books is correct only if we mean technical corrections of historical phrases to keep the statements chronologically accurate.
History and Historical Quotations
[Top of Document]
The fact that some historical quotations were changed, one being substituted for another in the 1911 edition, and the fact that source references were given to historical materials which had not been credited in earlier printings brought to the fore the question of Ellen White's writing in the field of history, and the basic source of the historical information she set forth in The Great Controversy.
We have presented the basic information on these points, well supported by documentation.
Truths Indelibly Traced by the Holy Spirit
[Top of Document]
One point is crystal clear. Ellen White understood that the books recounting the great controversy story embodied what the Lord had revealed to her. Repeatedly she spoke and wrote of this fact. Of the Conflict books before Prophets and Kings and The Acts of the Apostles were published she said:
How many have read carefully Patriarchs and Prophets, The Great Controversy, and The Desire of Ages? I wish all to understand that my confidence in the light that God has given stands firm, because I
know that the Holy Spirit's power magnified the truth, and made it honourable, saying: This is the way, walk ye in it. In my books, the truth is stated, barricaded by a Thus saith the Lord. The Holy Spirit traced these truths upon my heart and mind as indelibly as the law was traced by the finger of God, upon the tables of stone.Colporteur Ministry, p. 126.
Writing specifically of The Great Controversy she declared:
I was moved by the Spirit of the Lord to write that book. The Lord has set before me matters which are of urgent importance for the present time, and which reach into the future. The words have been spoken in a charge to me, Write in a book the things which thou hast seen and heard, and let it go to all the people; for the time is at hand when past history will be repeated. I have been aroused at one, two, or three o'clock in the morning with some point forcibly impressed upon my mind, as if spoken by the voice of God.Ibid., pp. 127, 128.
This is the simple record of the portrayal of historical matters in The Great Controversy. Her writing in this area parallels much of Ellen White's seventy years of active ministryand of the production of books read by millions in the leading languages of the world.
The writing of her own life story and the biographical references in her books and articles are historical writings of an entirely different nature and are dealt with in Chapter 1.
Through the presentation of the Conflict of the Ages story tracing the great controversy story on the backdrop of history of events in the world, we are indeed made children of the light and children of the day.