the Lesser and Greater Light - Part 1)
Elder Lawrence Nelson, January 1, 2000
(Edited from original which was prepared for cassette
recording. Author’s emphasis in italics. Used with permission.)
Every day brings us closer to the Final
Crisis! Inspiration describes it as a "time of trouble such as never
was," that is "soon to burst upon us as an overwhelming
God foreknew the intensity of this
He knew that you and I would never be
able to stand before Satan’s mighty "power of force" without
special assistance from the Holy Spirit.
For Satan will very shortly cause
"all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive
a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
"And that no man might buy or
sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number
of his name." (Revelation 13:16,17)
How thankful we should be that God has
given the Spirit of Prophecy to His church which together with the Bible
will enable His people, through Christ’s power, to prepare for and pass
through the end-time crisis, and to do so with divine assurance of
For only through His Word can we be
assured that Christ will stand by each one who faithfully fulfills the
divine conditions that are clearly revealed to us through these inspired
Before we continue to explore
heaven’s guidelines, let us first seek the aid of divinity:
Loving Father, it is time for us to
awake from Satan’s fearful stupor which is enveloping Thy people.
Please, dear Father, open our spiritual senses so we may comprehend the
divine instruction that You have sent to us, that we may face this coming
crisis fearlessly as soldiers of the cross. We ask this in the holy name
of Jesus. Amen.
We will begin our study by reading from
God’s book, the Bible:
We have also a
more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as
unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day
star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the
scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in
old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved
by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:19-21)
Ellen White writes concerning the Holy
The Spirit was
not given—nor can it ever be bestowed—to supersede the Bible; for the
Scriptures explicitly state that the Word of God is the standard by which
all teaching and experience must be tested. Isaiah declares, "To the
law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is
because there is no light in them." (Isaiah 8:20)—The Great
Controversy, Introduction, p.7.
The writings of the Spirit of Prophecy
have passed every test of the Holy Scriptures! They have been
proven true to the Word of God! Indeed, Ellen White magnifies the light
given by the ancient prophets, making their words clearer and more
understandable in their special application to our time. The Lord
has stated through His last-day messenger:
The Holy Ghost
is the author of the Scriptures and the Spirit of Prophecy.—Selected
Messages, Vol. 3, p. 30.
And, in Letter 92, 1900, we read:
The Bible must
be your counselor. Study it, and the Testimonies God has given; for
they never contradict His Word.
Therefore, since the Holy Spirit is the
author of both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, I’m sure you will
agree with me that the primary purpose of both is to lead men and
women to our Saviour who is the light and salvation of the world!
There are two brief quotations in the
Spirit of Prophecy that we frequently hear quoted among us. But they are
often taken out of context. These statements are then misinterpreted and
misrepresented, not only by individuals, but even by some of the leaders
of our church! In this present study we will search for the true meaning
of the first one of these two passages. A study of the second quotation
will follow in Part 2 of this paper.
The passage we will consider today is
taken from the Review & Herald of January 20, 1903, and reads
Little heed is
given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and
women to the greater light.
Immediately the question must be asked:
Who is the "lesser light," and who is the "greater
light?" It is here that Satan has begun to destroy confidence in the
writings of the Lord’s servant!
Now, the best way to learn the meaning
of a perplexing expression is to ask the author what he or she meant.
Surely Ellen White will explain just what the Holy Spirit, who inspired
her thought, had meant for her to convey. It will be well for us to read
this often-quoted passage in its context.
But first, there are a number of other
passages in which Ellen White uses the expressions, "the lesser
light" and "the greater light." In solving this statement
these should be helpful. We will begin with one that is found in the Spirit
of Prophecy, Vol. 2, pp 83, 84. Consider carefully her explanation of
the work of John the Baptist:
John was the connecting link between the two dispensations. He was the
lesser light which was to be followed by a greater. He was to shake the
confidence of the people in their traditions, call their sins to
their remembrance, and lead them to repentance; that they might be
prepared to appreciate the work of Christ. God communicated to John by
inspiration, illuminating the understanding of the prophet, that he might
remove the superstition and darkness from the minds of the honest Jews,
which had, through false teachings, been gathering upon them for
But the least
disciple who followed Christ, witnessing his miracles, and receiving his
divine lessons of instruction and the comforting words that fell from his
lips, was more privileged than John the Baptist. No light had ever
shone or ever will shine so clearly upon the mind of fallen man, as
that which emanated from the teachings and example of Jesus. Christ and
his mission had been but dimly understood and typified in the shadowy
one of the prophets has a higher mission or great work to perform than had
John, yet he was not to see even the result of his own labors. He was not
privileged to be with Christ and witness the divine power attending the
Did you notice those last words
—"the divine power attending" … Who? There is no question,
her answer is Christ, "the greater light." This sentence
definitely reveals that the greater light was Christ! And who did she name
as the "lesser light?" The prophet John! In this passage she has
defined both of these two terms in unmistakable language! And as we read
other passages from her writings we will find that she will be consistent.
Now let us look at a second passage
which is found in the Review & Herald, April 8, 1873. Herein
Ellen White writes that John was:
…one of the
greatest prophets that God had sent as a messenger to the earth.… Christ
had said of him that he was more than a prophet…[that] "there is
not a greater prophet than John the Baptist."
In the context of these words Ellen
White continues: "John was the lesser light which was to be followed
by a greater light." And who was that greater light who
followed John? We would all answer: JESUS!
Passing on to a third statement,
we’ll turn to page 220 of The Desire of Ages:
John was the connecting link between the two dispensations. As God’s
representative, he stood forth to show the relation of the law and the
prophets to the Christian dispensation. He was the lesser light, which was
to be followed by a greater. The mind of John was illuminated by the Holy
Spirit, that he might shed light upon his people; [and now notice these
words:] but no other light ever has shone or ever will shine so clearly
upon fallen man as that which emanated from the teaching and example of
From this there can be but one
conclusion: John, the lesser light, was to show the relation of the law
and the prophets of the Old Testament to Christ, the "greater
light," who followed him.
And the Bible confirms Ellen White’s
definitions to be correct! We read in John 1:6-9:
There was a
man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to
bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was
not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the
true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
In John 5:35 and 36, Jesus said: He was
a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice
in his light. But I have greater witness [light] than that of John.…
Then, in John 9:5, Jesus declared:
"I am the light of the world."
If no other light ever has shone or
ever will shine so clearly as Christ, surely all the Old as well as the
New Testament prophets of the Bible were "lesser lights." There
can be no question about this!
In a fourth passage, Ellen White speaks
of the Old Testament era as a "lesser light," and the New
Testament era as "greater light." We quote from This Day With
God, p. 246:
With the first
advent of Christ there was ushered in an era of greater light and glory;
but it would indeed be sinful ingratitude to despise and ridicule the
lesser light because a fuller and more glorious light had dawned. Those
who despise the blessings and glory of the Jewish age are not prepared to
be benefited by the preaching of the gospel.…
So, we can clearly see that Ellen White
does not depart from her established definition. Christ’s first advent
ushered in a time of "greater light and glory." God, through the
Old Testament prophets, had established the "lesser light and glory
of the Jewish age." The purpose of this age was to establish the
sanctuary services which pointed forward to the "greater light"
to be ushered in with the first advent of Christ.
Now we are ready to discuss the passage
in the Review & Herald, January 20, 1903: From this passage it
has been declared from our pulpits and books that Ellen White refers to
the Bible as the "greater light" and to herself and her writings
as the "lesser light."
I refer particularly to a man-made
caption: In Selected Messages, Vol. 3, p. 30 [copyright 1980], it
clearly promotes this mistaken position. The caption reads: Relationship
of E. G. White Writings to Bible—The Lesser Light. Immediately after
this caption, the passage from the Review & Herald is printed:
Little heed is
given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and
women to the greater light.—Review & Herald, January 20,
1903. (Quoted in Colporteur Ministry, page 125.)
Now, let me ask you: Have you ever read
this passage in its context? As we read it, please note the purpose of
this Review article. From its beginning to its ending she is
promoting the sale of [what?] her books. To whom? To the people of the
world. Why?— "to lead them to the Saviour"—the Greater
Note carefully as we read this sentence
in its context:
I thank my
Heavenly Father for the interest that my brethren and sisters have taken
in the circulation of Christ’s Object Lessons. By the sale of
this book great good has been accomplished, and the work should be
continued. But the efforts of our people should not be confined to this
one book.… The larger books, Patriarchs and Prophets, Great
Controversy, and Desire of Ages, should be sold everywhere.
These books contain truth for this time,—truth that is to be
proclaimed in all parts of the world. Nothing is to hinder their sale.
Many more of
our larger books might have been sold if church members had been awake
to the importance of the truths these books contain, and had realized
their responsibility to circulate them. My brethren and sisters, will you
not now make an effort to circulate these books?
is not the originator of these books. They contain the instruction that
during her life-work God has been giving her. They contain the precious,
comforting light that God has graciously given his servant to be given
to the world. From their pages this light is to shine into the hearts of
men and women, leading them to the Saviour. The Lord has declared that
these books are to be scattered throughout the world. There is in them
truth which to the receiver is a savor of life unto life. They are
silent witnesses for God. In the past they have been the means in
his hands of convicting and converting many souls. Many have read
them with eager expectation, and, by reading them, have been led to see
the efficacy of Christ’s atonement, and to truth in its power.…
The Lord has
sent His people much instruction, line upon line, precept upon precept,
here a little and there a little. Little heed is given to the Bible,
and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater
light.… [Surely this is clearly stated.]
Some of Ellen White’s books were
designed to be distributed widely to the public. Why? For the reason that
from their pages "light is to shine into the hearts of men and women,
leading them to the Saviour."
She surely expressed the same thought
when, a few sentences later she said: "The Lord has given a lesser
light to lead men and women to the greater light," because people had
neglected the Bible which God had given to the world for this very
Ellen White pointed to her own
writings, though they were precious and inspired, as the "lesser
light" to lead the peoples of the world to Jesus Christ—the
"greater light." If this passage meant what is commonly
believed, that the "greater light" referred to here is the
Bible, it would not be consistent with all of her other passages in which
she defines the greater light to be Christ.
Therefore, one must conclude from this
article that Ellen White is not demeaning her writings as inferior to the
Bible. For since the Holy Spirit is the author of her writings, as stated
in Selected Messages, Vol. 3, p. 30, and since God, not Ellen
White, is the originator of her writings, as found in the Review &
Herald, January 20, 1903, then who is it that is teaching that
the writings of Ellen White are second-class?
It is none other than the Liberals
among us who are being used by Satan "to make of none
effect" the Spirit of Prophecy. Ellen White was taught by the same
Holy Spirit of God as were the ancient prophets. And if John the Baptist,
the greatest of the prophets, was a "lesser light," surely, the
Bible prophets were all lesser lights. Christ alone is the
In the creation story, there is an
interesting illustration which may help us to understand the difference
between the lesser and greater lights. It is found in Genesis 1:16—
And God made
two great lights; the great light to rule the day, and the lesser light to
rule the night.
I like the way John Janiuk calls
attention to this illustration in his book, The Great Controversy
Endgame, #3, pp. 23,24. He points out that in the context of this
verse, two questions are answered. Namely, (1) What is the greater light?
The answer: the sun that rules the day. The sun is the greater light for
it has original light, or light emanating from itself. And, (2) What is
the lesser light that rules the night? The moon. Does the moon have light
in itself? NO! All the moon can do is to reflect the light of the sun.
Does this not teach an important Bible principle?
A greater light has light in itself,
while a lesser light can only reflect light. A thousand moons together
could never become the greater light, because the greater light is the
original light—the sun!
Janiuk concludes that the writers
of the Bible and Ellen White did not have light in
themselves. As the moon they could only reflect the original light of
Jesus Christ—THE SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS!
Spiritually speaking, Christ is the Sun
The Bible promises in Malachi 4:2 that
as the Sun of Righteousness, He will arise upon us "with healing in
For Jesus is the Light of Life. From Desire
of Ages, p. 463, I quote these beautiful thoughts:
spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that
followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of
When He spoke
these words, Jesus was in the court of the temple specially connected with
the services of the Feast of Tabernacles. In the center of this court rose
two lofty standards, supporting lampstands of great size. After the
evening sacrifice, all the lamps were kindled, shedding their light over
Jerusalem. This ceremony was in commemoration of the pillar of light that
guided Israel in the desert, and was also regarded as pointing to the
coming of the Messiah. At evening when the lamps were lighted, the court
was a scene of great rejoicing.
illumination of Jerusalem, the people expressed their hope of the
Messiah’s coming to shed His light upon Israel. But to Jesus the scene
had a wider meaning. As the radiant lamps of the temple lighted up all
about them, so Christ, the source of spiritual light, illumines the
darkness of the world. Yet the symbol was imperfect. That great light
[here she speaks of the sun which He Himself had infused with original
light] which His own hand had set in the heavens was a truer
representation of the glory of His mission.
This same thought is expressed in Counsels
to Parents, Teachers and Students, p. 54:
The sun rising
in the heavens is the representative of Him who is the life and light of
all that he has made.…
But let us never forget that man has a
part to act in the salvation of the world. For Jesus said, "Ye are
the light of the world." But humanity has no light in itself. Men are
likened, not to the sun, but to the moon. Man can only reflect the
light of Jesus. Listen as I quote this from Mount of Blessings, p.
in itself no light. Apart from Christ we are like an unkindled taper, like
the moon when her face is turned away from the sun; we have not a
single ray of brightness to shed into the darkness of the world. But
when we turn toward the Sun of Righteousness, when we come in touch with
Christ, the whole soul is aglow with the brightness of the divine
followers are to be more than a light in the midst of men. They are the
light of the world.…
As in the moon, all human beings are
"lesser lights," whether they be prophet, priest, or king.
However, when men turn their faces toward Christ, and connect themselves
to Him, they can reflect His light to the world.
I quote the following from This Day
With God, p. 93:
It is the
privilege of the Christian to connect with the Source of light, and
through this living connection become the light of the world.
As the light
of the sun is light and life and blessing to all that live, so should
Christians, by their good works, by their cheerfulness and courage, be the
light of the world. As the light of the sun chases away the shades of
night and pours its glories on valleys and hills, so will the Christian
reflect the Sun of Righteousness which shines on him.
Isn’t that beautiful?
Oh, what a privilege to reflect the
light that shines from the "Sun of Righteousness!" The book, That
I May Know Him, p. 341, advises us:
O be sure you
receive your illumination from the Source of all light. He is the great
central Light of the universe of heaven and the great Light of the world.
May this beautiful counsel be fulfilled
in each and every one of us:
dignity of the Christian character will shine forth as the sun, and the
beams of light from the face of Christ will be reflected upon those who
have purified themselves even as He is pure.
Always remember that "The Sun of
Righteousness has risen. Christ our righteousness is shining in brightness
upon us" (Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, p. 932). Beloved, Christ
does this for us because He loves us!
We read further, this time in Bible
Commentary, Vol. 6, p. 1118:
"loved the church, and gave himself for it." It is the purchase
of His blood. The divine Son of God is seen walking amid the seven golden
candlesticks. Jesus Himself supplies the oil to these burning lamps. He it
is that kindles the flame. "In him was life; and the life was the
light of men."
candlestick, no church, shines of itself. From Christ emanates all its
Again, in Selected Messages,
Vol. 2, p. 249, we are promised:
The trials may
be severe, but look to Jesus every moment—not to struggle, but to rest
in His love. He careth for you. [I like that!]
We know that
as trials press closer and closer, the hope grows stronger. The beams of
the Sun of Righteousness shall shine into your heart with their healing
power. Look beyond the clouds to the brightness, even the light of the Sun
Now with these glorious truths before
us, we can better comprehend the damage being done to the church when
through misunderstandings, or various means, the writings of Ellen
White are downgraded as a "lesser light" to the Bible. Satan
understands the tremendous blessing and encouragement that the Testimonies
are to God’s church when they are treasured and studied by its members.
I fear this misunderstanding is one way among others that Satan is
seeking to undermine the ministry of God’s messenger to the Remnant
Church so that eventually her writings will become of none effect in the
lives of many.
For, if Satan can downgrade the Spirit
of Prophecy, by this and other implications, so that the Testimonies are
neglected—left on our shelves to collect dust, he knows that
God’s people may not detect his final deceptions—deceptions that the
Spirit of Prophecy not only points out clearly, but also tells us how to
avoid. Never forget that, if possible, Satan would have all of us
Consider carefully this quotation from Selected
Messages, Vol. 1, p. 48:
last deception of Satan will be to make of none effect the testimony
of the Spirit of God. "Where there is no vision, the people
perish" (Prov. 29:18). Satan will work ingeniously, in different ways
and through different agencies, to unsettle the confidence of God’s
remnant people in the true testimony.
Oh, friend, let us not despise the
last-day "lesser light," or regard Ellen White’s writings
as inferior words from God.
I must be honest with you. During my 60
years of ministry for the Lord I have constantly used both the Bible and
the Spirit of Prophecy in my preaching to Seventh-day Adventists and in
all of my tape ministry. For I have always believed that both the
Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy originated from the same source of
authority—the Holy Spirit!
Now, one more important thought: In the
beginning, when Christ created this world, He set His healing light
upon this void and shapeless earth. God said, "Let there be light,
and there was light. And the evening and the morning were the first
day" (Genesis 1:3,5). On that first day there was no light from the
sun or the moon—they were not created until the fourth day. But
"there was light"! Who was that light? It was Jesus, the
Creator, Who was that "light," and in the earth made new, there
will come a time when in the New Jerusalem there will be no need of
"light" from the sun or the moon, for we read in Revelation
And the city
had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory
of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.
Jesus was, He now is, and ever will
be the Sun of Righteousness. Our Greater Light forever! Oh, what a
Saviour, praise His name!
I appeal to you in the name of our Lord
and Master: Let us face the coming crisis with absolute assurance of
victory in Christ, because we have accepted the Spirit of Prophecy
and the Bible as the lesser lights which lead us to the Great Light—the
Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ Who alone is able to save us.
Let us pray —
Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this
positive information that encourages us to believe without question in the
writings of Ellen White and the Bible as both authored by Thy Holy Spirit.
Please give us the courage to read,
study and obey all of the teachings in these two inspired sources
that Thou hast given that we may fully understand what is so soon to come
upon the world.
We thank Thee for the promise of Thy
dear Son: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my
throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in His
For we ask this in the name of Jesus. AMEN
In Part 2 of this paper, we will
discuss the second passage from the Spirit of Prophecy which is often
quoted out of context and misused, one which can have disastrous results
insofar as God’s people are concerned!