The Position and Work of Ellen G. White, Part I

There came to us recently a letter from one of our brethren, an ordained minister, making inquiry regarding the position and work of Mrs. E. G. White. He inquires as to how her work stands related to the work of the prophets of old, and what relation her writings sustain to the Scriptures.

In the Review of July 26, 1906, Sister White discussed in considerable detail the work to which she had been called in connection with this movement.

We believe it will be profitable for our correspondent, and for all our brethren and sisters, to read this statement which she made fifteen years ago. We therefore reproduce it entire in this connection. Following this statement we shall consider some principles bearing upon the work of the spirit of prophecy in connection with this movement.

A Messenger

“Last night, in vision, I was standing before an assembly of our people, bearing a decided testimony regarding present truth and present duty. After the discourse, many gathered about me, asking questions. They desired so many explanations about this point, that I said, ‘One at a time, if you please, lest you confuse me.’

“And then, I appealed to them, saying: ‘For years you have had many evidences that the Lord has given me a work to do. These evidences could scarcely have been greater than they are. Will you brush away all these evidences as a cobweb, at the suggestion of a man’s unbelief? That which makes my heart ache is the fact that many who are now perplexed and tempted are those who have had abundance of evidence and opportunity to consider and pray and understand; and yet they do not discern the nature of the sophistries that are presented to influence them to reject the warnings God has given to save them from the delusions of these last days.’

“Some have stumbled over the fact that I said I did not claim to be a prophet; and they have asked, Why is this?

“I have had no claims to make, only that I am instructed that I am the Lord’s messenger; that He called me in my youth to be His messenger, to receive His word, and to give a clear and decided message in the name of the Lord Jesus. [Italics in original.]

“Early in my youth I was asked several times, Are you a prophet? I have ever responded, I am the Lord’s messenger. I know that many have called me a prophet, but I have made no claim to this title. My Saviour declared me to be His messenger. ‘Your work,’ He instructed me, ‘is to bear My word. Strange things will arise, and in your youth I set you apart to bear the message to the erring ones, to carry the word before unbelievers, and with pen and voice to reprove from the word, actions that are not right. Exhort from the word. I will make My word open to you. It shall not be as a strange language. In the true eloquence of simplicity, with voice and pen, the messages that I give shall be heard from one who has never learned in the schools. My Spirit and My power shall be with you.

“‘Be not afraid of man, for My shield shall protect you. It is not you that speaketh; it is the Lord that giveth the messages of warning and reproof. Never deviate from the truth under any circumstances. Give the light I shall give you. The messages for these last days shall be written in books, and shall stand immortalized, to testify against those who have once rejoiced in the light, but who have been led to give it up because of the seductive influences of evil.’ [Italics in original.]

“Why have I not claimed to be a prophet? Because in these days many who boldly claim that they are prophets are a reproach to the cause of Christ; and because my work includes much more than the word ‘prophet’ signifies.

“When this work was first given me, I begged the Lord to lay the burden on some one else. The work was so large and broad and deep that I feared I could not do it. But by His Holy Spirit the Lord has enabled me to perform the work which He gave me to do.

“God has made plain to me the various ways in which He would use me to carry forward a special work. Visions have been given me, with the promise, ‘If you deliver the messages faithfully and endure to the end, you shall eat of the fruit of the tree of life, and drink of the water of the river of life.’

“The Lord gave me great light on health reform. In connection with my husband, I was to be a medical missionary worker. I was to set an example to the church by taking the sick to my home and caring for them. This I have done, giving the women and children vigorous treatment. I was also to speak on the subject of Christian temperance, as the Lord’s appointed messenger. I engaged heartily in this work, and spoke to large assemblies on temperance in its broadest and truest sense.

“I was instructed that I must ever urge upon those who profess to believe the truth, the necessity of practising [sic] the truth. This means sanctification, and sanctification means the culture and training of every capability for the Lord’s service.

“I was charged not to neglect or pass by those who were being wronged. I was specially charged to protest against any arbitrary or overbearing action toward the ministers of the gospel by those having official authority. Disagreeable though the duty may be, I am to reprove the oppressor, and plead for justice. I am to present the necessity of maintaining justice and equity in all our institutions.

“If I see those in positions of trust neglecting aged ministers, I am to present the matter to those whose duty it is to care for them. Ministers who have faithfully done their work are not to be forgotten or neglected when they have become feeble in health. Our conferences are not to disregard the needs of those who have borne the burdens of the work. It was after John had grown old in the service of the Lord that he was exiled to Patmos. And on that lonely isle he received more communications from heaven than he had received during the rest of his lifetime.

“After my marriage I was instructed that I must show a special interest in motherless and fatherless children, taking some under my own charge for a time, and then finding homes for them. Thus I would be giving others an example of what they could do.

“Although called to travel often, and having much writing to do, I have taken children of three and five years of age, and have cared for them, educated them, and trained them for responsible positions. I have taken into my home, from time to time, boys from ten to sixteen years of age, giving them motherly care, and a training for service. I have felt it my duty to bring before our people that work for which those in every church should feel a responsibility.

“While in Australia I carried on this same line of work, taking into my home orphan children, who were in danger of being exposed to temptations that might cause the loss of their souls.

“In Australia we also worked as Christian medical missionaries. At times I made my home in Cooranbong an asylum for the sick and afflicted. My secretary, who had received a training in the Battle Creek Sanitarium, stood by my side, and did the work of a missionary nurse. No charge was made for her services, and we won the confidence of the people by the interest that we manifested in the sick and suffering. After a time the Health Retreat at Cooranbong was built, and then we were relieved of this burden.

“To claim to be a prophetess is something that I have never done. If others call me by that name, I have no controversy with them. But my work has covered so many lines that I cannot call myself other than a messenger, sent to bear a message from the Lord to His people, and to take up work in any line that He points out.

“When I was last in Battle Creek, I said before a large congregation that I did not claim to be a prophetess. Twice I referred to this matter, intending each time to make the statement, ‘I do not claim to be a prophetess.’ If I spoke otherwise than this, let all now understand what I had in mind to say was that I do not claim the title of prophet or prophetess.

“I understood that some were anxious to know if Mrs. White still held the same views that she did years ago when they had heard her speak in the sanitarium grove, in the Tabernacle, and at the camp meetings held in the suburbs of Battle Creek. I assured them that the message she bears today is the same that she has borne during the sixty years of her public ministry. She has the same service to do for the Master that was laid upon her in her girlhood. She receives lessons from the same Instructor.
The directions given her are, ‘Make known to others what I have revealed to you. Write out the messages that I give you, that the people may have them.’ This is what she has endeavored to do.

“I have written many books, and they have been given a wide circulation. Of myself I could not have brought out the truth in these books, but the Lord has given me the help of His Holy Spirit. These books, giving the instruction that the Lord has given me during the past sixty years, contain light from heaven, and will bear the test of investigation.

“At the age of seventy-eight I am still toiling. We are all in the hands of the Lord. I trust in Him; for I know that He will never leave nor forsake those who put their trust in Him. I have committed myself to His keeping.

“‘And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.’ “Sanitarium, California, June 29, 1906.”

The Order of Prophets

The term “prophet” as used in the Bible is a broad and comprehensive one. It is employed to designate men and women engaged in a wide range of service in connection with the work of God. Some of these never uttered a prophecy in the customary use of that term, so far as appears in the Sacred Record. Some were used only for a special occasion, others for a long series of years. Some wrote out the messages God gave them, others spoke only orally. To some, as in the case of Daniel and others, were given prophecies reaching into the distant future, portions of which are still unfulfilled. To others were given messages of local application only, suited to a particular time or occasion. Some were God’s messengers, raised up in periods of great crisis, to warn the church and the world of threatened judgments, and to call men back to allegiance to God. Such were Samuel, Elijah, John the Baptist, and others. John disclaimed the prophetic title, claiming rather that he was a voice or messenger of God, sent to prepare the way of the Lord in calling Israel to repentance. As God’s messenger he was declared by Christ to be a prophet, and “more than a prophet.” Luke 7:26.

But while acting in various capacities,—as judges, kings, prime ministers, counselors, teachers, and preachers,—these men of God all belonged to the order of prophets, and were used by Him as His chosen instruments. We cannot determine the precise position occupied by each one in the prophetic scale. Naturally we should place Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel ahead of John. We should consider their long years of service, the far-reaching import of their prophecies. But of John,—the Lord’s voice or messenger,—who so far as we have any record uttered no prophecies, the Master declared: “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist.” Luke 7:28.

Relation of Mrs. White’s Work to the Work of the Prophets of Old

In the statement given above, Sister White does not claim the title of prophet, nor does she disclaim it. She has “no controversy” with those who call her by that name. She declares that God called her to be His messenger; that her work included “more than the word ‘prophet’ signifies.” When we come to consider the multiplicity of her labors in the church, the various capacities in which she ministered as a teacher and leader, we can understand the distinction she makes.

What relation, then, may we conclude, does the work of Sister White bear to the work of the prophets of old? The Lord did not give to her long lines of prophecy, as He did to Daniel and to John the revelator. He did not make her a judge and lawgiver as He did Moses, nor a ruler of state as He did Joseph and David. Rather, Sister White filled the position of a great teacher in Israel, as did Samuel; of a great reformer, as did Elijah; of God’s special messenger, as did John the Baptist.

She lived in an age of fulfilling prophecy, in a time of marked spiritual declension, when multitudes are turning from the word and commandments of God to the traditions of men. She was commissioned as Heaven’s special messenger of warning and reproof to turn men back to God and to His word. In visions and dreams she was instructed in the mysteries of the word, and given the messages she was to bear.

Like the prophets and messengers of old, her work belongs to the prophetic order. The same as this movement answers to the fulfillment of prophecy, so her work meets the divine prediction that the spirit of prophecy would be connected with this movement. Revelation 12:17; 19:10. By the same spirit by which the prophets and messengers of old were guided in their work, she was directed and guided in her work as a prophet of God, as His messenger to the church in this generation. “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.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 661.

The Basis of Judgment

Her work should not be judged by some detail, by the turn of a phrase or sentence, or by some apparent contradiction in her writings, but by the spirit which has characterized her work through the years, by the fruit it has borne in connection with the great religious movement with which it was associated, and in the development of which it bore a prominent part and exerted a molding influence.

And it must either be accepted for what it purports to be, or be rejected altogether. The work of Mrs. E. G. White is either from beneath or from above. It bears the credentials of Heaven or the stamp of Satan. Regarding this, she herself says:

“’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.’

“As the Lord has manifested Himself through the spirit of prophecy, ‘past, present, and future have passed before me. I have been shown faces that I had never seen, and years afterward I knew them when I saw them. I have been aroused from my sleep with a vivid sense of subjects previously presented to my mind; and I have written, at midnight, letters that have gone across the continent, and, arriving at a crisis, have saved great disaster to the cause of God. This has been my work for many years. A power has impelled me to reprove and rebuke wrongs that I had not thought of. Is this work of the last thirty-six years from above, or from beneath?’

“Christ warned His disciples: ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.’ [Matthew 7:15–20.] Here is a test, and all can apply it if they will. Those who really desire to know the truth will find sufficient evidence for belief.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 671, 672.

Relation of Mrs. White’s Writings to the Bible

What relation do the writings of Sister White sustain to the Scriptures? … Some have contended that her writings constitute an addition to the Bible, and should be regarded as Scripture. This manifestly is a wrong conclusion. God in His providence selected from the writings of the prophets of the past those portions which contained that expression of His divine will best suited to constitute a great spiritual guidebook for all nations, times, and conditions. There were many prophetic writings which for some good reason He did not include in this collection. The Bible mentions “the book of Jasher” (Joshua 10:13); “the book of Samuel the seer,” “the book of Nathan the prophet,” “the book of Gad the seer” (1 Chronicles 29:29); “the story of the prophet Iddo” (11 Chronicles 13:22); “the book of Jehu” (II Chronicles 20:34); and others. Of these we know little or nothing today except the names. Nor is it to be presumed that there was included in the sacred canon even all that Jeremiah, or Isaiah, or other canonical prophets wrote. The wisdom of God made that selection which would meet the needs of the church in every period, and which in every age would prove a groundwork “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” II Timothy 3:16.

From among many inspired books and documents the Sacred Canon was signalized by being set apart and safeguarded in the sifting processes of time by God’s preserving and overruling providence. It occupies, therefore, a unique position among the books of divine revelation of past periods, and constitutes the great test book, or standard, of every claim in doctrine and in revelation.

Not an Addition to the Word of God

It evidently was not the divine purpose that any instruction which His Spirit might impart to His church in the latter days should be regarded as an addition to the completed canon of Scripture. This is expressly taught by the Lord’s messenger to the remnant church. She declares that the Testimonies are not “an addition to the word of God,” and that those who teach them in this manner, present them “in a false light.” The Testimonies are given to enable the church to have “a clearer understanding” of the Scriptures.

“‘Brother R would confuse the mind by seeking to make it appear that the light God has given through the Testimonies is an addition to the word of God; but in this he presents the matter in a false light. God has seen fit in this manner to bring the minds of His people to His word, to give them a clearer understanding of it.’ ‘The word of God is sufficient to enlighten the most beclouded mind, and may be understood by those who have any desire to understand it. But notwithstanding all this, some who profess to make the word of God their study, are found living in direct opposition to its plainest teachings. Then, to leave men and women without excuse, God gives plain and pointed testimonies, bringing them back to the word that they have neglected to follow.’ ‘The word of God abounds in general principles for the formation of correct habits of living, and the Testimonies, general and personal, have been calculated to call their attention more especially to these principles.’” Testimonies, vol. 5, 663, 664.

Not New Light, but to Simplify Light Already Given

Sister White clearly states that her writings are not for the purpose of giving new light, but to simplify “the great truths already given.”

“The written testimonies are not to give new light, but to impress vividly upon the heart the truths of inspiration already revealed. Man’s duty to God and to his fellow man has been distinctly specified in God’s word; yet but few of you are obedient to the light given. Additional truth is not brought out; but God has through the Testimonies simplified the great truths already given, and in His own chosen way brought them before the people, to awaken and impress the mind with them, that all may be left without excuse. … The Testimonies are not to belittle the word of God, but to exalt it, and attract minds to it, that the beautiful simplicity of truth may impress all.” Ibid., 665.

How faithfully this instruction was followed, and how greatly Sister White exalted and illuminated the Bible in all her teachings, her published writings amply testify.

—to be concluded…

This article was printed in the Review and Herald, March 17, 1921. At this time the writer was editor of the Review.