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The Gift that is Prophecy, part 2
Mentone November 7, 2015
A few days ago presidential hopeful Donald Trump said, “I’m a Presbyterian, middle of the road. He’s a Seventh-day Adventist? What is that?” Immediately several news agencies, including CNN and the New York Times fired off brief but fair information on the Seventh-day Adventist Church. God has promised to engineer circumstances so that His name and His truth for these last days will be brought before the world.
I don’t know if Dr. Ben Carson is going to be nominated or elected, or even if he is the right person for the job. It would not be easy to be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian and be president of the United States, but after all God put Joseph in the palace of pharaoh, God placed Daniel in the courts of Babylon, God assigned Nehemiah to carry the cup of the king of Persia, and God elevated Esther to be queen of that empire. Who knows whether Dr. Carson has “come to the kingdom for such a time as this”?
But my prayer has been, from the very start, that God’s name would be glorified and that His truth for these last days would become known. Among the things the world needs to know is the blessing of the ministry of Ellen G. White, whom God used to guide this church from infancy to adulthood.
There are a number of excellent resources for those who wish to study into this further. I’m going to be relying heavily today on information contained in George Knight’s excellent book, Walking with Ellen White. There is also the wonderful 6-volume biography Ellen G. White by her grandson Arthur White. There is autobiographical material in Life Sketches and Early Writings.
We’re taking a look back at her life and ministry because she passed to her rest 100 years ago, July 16, 1915. She had reached the age of 87, having been born in November 26, 1827, in the town of Gorham, Maine of parents Robert and Eunice Harmon. She had served her Lord and her church faithfully for 70 years. She is recognized as being one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which in its infancy numbered only about 50 but has now grown to about 19 million world-wide.
Remember that during her 70-year ministry, she wrote out about 100,000 pages of handwritten manuscript. She is the most prolific American woman author on any subject, be it gardening, novels or cookbooks. She is the most translated woman author in the entire history of literature, and the most translated American author of either gender. I’ll ask the question: Why this woman’s name is not a household word today is a mystery!
Today we’re going to take a brief review of what we discussed last time, then take a look at her personal life and the challenges she met. Next time, we’re going to deal with some of the questions that often come up in regard to her ministry.
Prophecy, which is God’s messengers speaking on behalf of the Lord, became necessary because of sin. Prior to the Fall, there was open communication between the Creator God and His creatures. There was no barrier, no wall, no separation that existed. But sin changed all that. Now there is a curtain that separates God from man. But because God loves us so much, He stepped in and designed a solution to the sin problem, and graciously has chosen to communicate the components of that plan to us.
The Bible says, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” Amos 3:7. God inspired men’s minds, and they wrote out in their language, using their vocabulary and expression, the thoughts that God had given them. So we are blessed today with a volume, a Book that is “God-breathed,” the Word of God, authoritative and competent to teach us about God and His great salvation.
Remember that we spoke of different levels of prophecy; anyone (parent, teacher, neighbor) “speaking for” God; those who wore the authoritative mantle of “prophet,” whether they wrote books of the Bible or not, and at the top of the list is Jesus Himself, “That Prophet” of whom Moses spoke.
There are many passages which teach us to anticipate the ministry of prophecy in the last days. Jesus warned against “false prophets.” If there were not going to be any more prophets, wouldn’t it have been easier just to warn against “prophets”? Paul advises us to “Despise not prophesying. Quench not the Spirit. Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good.” I Thessalonians 5:19-23.
In I Corinthians 1:6, Paul makes it plain that it’s not God’s intention that the church lack any gift, including the Gift that is Prophecy,” as we near the end of time.
We spent quite a bit of time on Revelation 12:17, which includes the “testimony of Jesus” as one of the identifying marks of the last day church, the “remnant.” We looked at the phrases “testimony of (‘from’
as well as ‘about’) Jesus,” as being the content of prophecy, the Spirit of prophecy being the Divine Agent, the Sender, and the “prophet” being the human agent, the receiver of the message. We studied and compared Revelation 19:10 and Revelation 22:8, 9 and found an equivalency between the identification of the brethren who have the “testimony of Jesus, which is the Spirit of prophecy” and the brethren “the prophets.”
Therefore, when Seventh-day Adventists interpret Revelation 12:17, “The remnant which have the testimony of Jesus” as describing a last day church in which would be manifested the ministry of a prophet, there is sound biblical justification for so doing.
Besides these evidences, we have what may be called the “major time prophecy pattern,” in which we find that when major time prophecies are fulfilled, God sends a messenger to announce that the time has come. Thus Moses proclaimed the fulfillment of the 400-year prophecy given to Abraham. Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah announced the completion of the 70 years of captivity prophesied by Jeremiah. John the Baptist taught that the “time was at hand” and the 490 years of Daniel’s prophecy had been completed. Thus at the culmination of the 2300-year prophecy, the longest in the Scripture, it would seem reasonable that God would raise up a messenger. This He did in the person of Ellen White, though as we’ll discuss next week, she was not His “first choice.”
She had eyes that danced and a smile that would light up any room. And somehow she inspired you to do, to be your very best. I’m speaking not of Ellen White, but of my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Mabel Miller. Did any of you know her? Did any of you have her as a teacher? When I converse with those that went to San Diego Academy and ask the question, Who was your favorite teacher, invariably the answer is “Mrs. Miller!” Like her great-grandmother, she loved to write, and I well remember her telling us that she was working on another book. It was going to be called “William and His Twenty-Two.” Oh boy! We thought! This was going to be exciting! Then we found out, as she read to our class chapter by chapter the manuscript, that it was not about a boy and his gun, but about William Farnsworth and his twenty-two children. Overcoming our initial disappointment, we enjoyed the book immensely. It’s available online free now in PDF form.
I never had a chance to meet Sister White, though the span of time between her death and my birth (1949) of 34 years, seems much shorter now that I’ve reached my 66th year. It’s almost twice as long since my birth to now, as it was from her death to my birth. I didn’t get a chance to meet Mrs. White, but I’ve often said that if her great-granddaughter, Mrs. Mabel Miller, was anything like her, then Ellen White was someone you would have like to have known. I also had the chance to meet Ella Robinson, Mabel’s mother, the daughter of Willie White, Sister White’s son. To my great sorrow, I regret that when I met Ella, I didn’t take every opportunity to pry personal information and stories from her about her grandmother.
There is so much one could say about the role and impact of Sister White! Volumes have been written highlighting how God used this humble woman to further His work. There is the interesting and charming “personal side” to Sister White that would endear anyone to her. This lady underwent a multitude of severe trials, yet remained faithful to her calling.
She and her twin sister, Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) were born to Robert and Eunice Harmon on November 26, 1827, in Gorham, Maine, bringing the number of children in the Harmon home to eight. Not long after this the family moved to Portland, Maine, where Robert manufactured and sold hats. Her parents would later both join the Adventist church, as would two of her siblings, Robert, who lived to be only 27, and Sarah, who became the mother of Frank Belden, a prolific writer of hymns, 17 of which are included in our present church hymnal. The passion of her appeals to her other siblings who didn’t become Seventh-day Adventists, particularly her twin sister is heart-warming as well as sad, since apparently they fell on deaf ears.
Many are acquainted with the accident that left her as a third-grader facially disfigured for the rest of her life. A stone thrown by a vengeful classmate struck her full in the face and because of the loss of blood, it was uncertain whether she would life. But God had a purpose for her life, and she did survive.
The Harmon family accepted the teachings of William Miller, a Baptist farmer-turned-preacher. In the 1840’s a lot of people in America were caught up in his Second Advent preaching. The sweetness of that expectation was matched by the bitterness of disappointment when Jesus didn’t come back as they expected on October 22, 1844.
It was while in prayer with some believers that 17-year-old Ellen Harmon in December of 1844 received the first of what would become about 2,000 visions or dreams from God. Being shy and diffident, she at first hesitated at the thought of sharing with others what she had seen, especially as some of the visions contained messages of personal correction to church members. She prayed that the burden would be lifted from her and given to someone else, but the conviction remained. She “coveted death as a release from the responsibility.” Though loyal to her dear Lord, she later confessed that she would have rather died than receive a vision.
Fearing negative repercussions from the cutting messages, she at first tried to modify and soften them, but the Lord cautioned her in no uncertain terms to present exactly what she had been shown.
She took her responsibility very seriously. Later, to the General Conference president she wrote in 1892, “I walk trembling before God. I know not how to speak or trace with pen the large subject of the atoning sacrifice. I know not how to present subjects in the living power in which they stand before me. I tremble and fear lest I shall belittle the great plan of salvation by cheap words. I bow my soul in awe and reverence before God and say, ‘Who is sufficient for these things?’ How can I talk, how can I write to my brethren so that they will catch the beams of light flashing from heaven?” Letter 40, 1892.
Since no male member of her family could go with her as she shared the messages God had given her, James White, an educator- turned-preacher, and six years her senior, accompanied Ellen as protector and chaperone. Romance was not the original objective of these encounters. In fact, in 1845 James wrote that “marriage was a wile of the devil,” and that an Adventist couple who were planning to marry had “denied their faith in the soon coming of the Lord.”
However, as time was extended, this belief, which was held by most early Adventists, was somewhat softened. Even though a couple of sisters went with them on these journeys, James felt that their association left them open to criticism. Ellen reminisced about this later and said that he told her in a rather matter of fact way that, “He should have to go away and leave me to go with whomsoever I would, or we must be married. He said something had got to be done. So we were married.” Knight, p. 70.
After a series of about five strokes, the first of which came in the year 1865, James would die prematurely at age 61 in the year 1881, having literally worked himself to death. Sister White would never remarry (though Stephen Haskell felt he might become the husband of the prophet, a proposition that was declined), though her life would continue for another 34 years.
Their marriage would see four sons come into their home. First there was Henry, born in 1847, their “sweet singer,” who succumbed to pneumonia at age 16, but not before he gave his life completely to Jesus. Mourning his loss, the Whites looked forward to the great day of re-union, the Resurrection when Jesus returns.
Edson was born next in 1849, who became a trial to his parents. A troublesome son, he resented that it seemed that he was always being compared in a disparaging way to “good Willie,” his younger (by five years) brother. He scathed with resentment on this issue for many years. In May of 1893, while his mother was in Australia, he wrote at age 43 that he had “no religious inclinations now in the least,” that he was thinking of leaving the Church, and asserted that in heart he was not a Christian.
This prompted a passionate appeal from his mother, which Edson received on June 21st of that year. Across the top of the letter she wrote, “Edson, please read this carefully. Do not cast it aside or burn it.” Knight, p. 87. Edson responded in September of that same year, and began a work in the southern states for Black Americans that bore fruit, plowing the waters of the Mississippi in his medical-missionary boat the “Morning Star.” However, there were sometimes challenges in that he seemed prone to overspend his evangelistic budget. But he never recanted his conversion.
William Clarence was the third son, born in 1854. He almost died as a toddler. When only 21 months, in May of 1856 Willie had been using a stick to push a toy boat in a “pond” that was actually a tub of used mop water. Being left by himself for a moment, as the cook went to gather a stack of wood, she returned to see just one foot protruding from the tub. She screamed, “He’s drowned, he’s drowned.” Ellen shot from the house and began to roll little Willie on the grassy lawn, a type of artificial respiration.
The water spewed from his nose and mouth, but it didn’t look like her efforts were doing any good. One neighbor lady said, “How dreadful to see her handling that dead child! Someone take that dead child away from her.” James responded that it was her child and that she could roll him as long as she pleased. Finally, after some 20 minutes of this activity, there were signs of life and Willie responded, thanks to the persevering and relentless efforts of his mother. Knight, p. 83. Willie survived and became his mother’s chief assistant.
He was a somewhat typical little boy. Once when he was about 3 years of age, having been put to bed, he heard the strains of a familiar hymn coming from the living room, where his parents were singing with some other believers. Willie felt compelled to join them in song from the bedroom, which produced a hearty laugh from the guests.
Thus encouraged, little Willie emerged from his bedroom in his nightshirt to partake of the fellowship. James picked him up and deposited him back in his bed. Willie came the second time to sing with the company, whereupon James returned him to his bedroom with explicit instructions to remain there. As the singing returned, so did Willie, now for the third time. James hoisted the stubborn toddler, took him outside, placed his foot on the lower timber of the porch railing, and administered a spanking that Willie never forgot.
He married Mary Kelsey, a union that produced daughters Ella May (who later married Dores Robinson and gave birth to Mabel Miller), and Mabel Eunice. Because Mary died so young (in 1890 at age 33 from tuberculosis), Willie sought a suitable replacement wife and mother to his daughters. His eye fell upon Ethel May Lacey to be his new bride. Ellen White was ecstatic over the idea, and encouraged Ethel to marry Willie, though she was 20 years his junior, and barely older than his daughters! Ethel brought five children into the world, James Henry, Herbert Clarence (the twins), Evelyn Grace, Arthur Lacey and Francis Edward, perhaps the most well-known being Arthur Lacey White, born in 1907 and lived to 1991, who authored the extensive six-volume biography of his grandmother, Ellen G. White.
By the way, in listing the children and grandchildren, it’s obvious that the giving of names became an occasion of remembering friends or relatives, and is somewhat confusing, with multiple instances of several of the names!
John Herbert was the youngest of the White boys, and first to pass away. He lived less than two months and died December 14, 1860. He was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek, Michigan. Three years later, almost to the day, Henry, the eldest son died on December 8 of 1863. He requested to be buried next to his younger brother, so that they could come up together in the resurrection.
What was life like in the “White House”? Typically, all would be up by 6 a.m., though the cook usually rose at 5 a.m. Sister White most often had been up for several hours by that time, treasuring the morning quietness to do her writing. Breakfast was at 6:30, with worship at 7 a.m. Then James would be off to the office to conduct his work. Ellen would spend time with the children, continue writing, visit neighbors or the sick, spend time in the garden or sewing and knitting. If there was not an evening meeting planned, evening worship was at 8 p.m. at which James would read from the Bible or Ellen would share a story or an instructive talk.
Sabbaths were special. Often after church, if weather allowed, an outdoor picnic would be planned, with nature excursions and visits for the ill or discouraged. Willie’s wife Ethel reported that Ellen would say, “‘I’ll talk with the children and tell them stories while you get out the food.’ Then after we had eaten she would have a little game or something for the children to do, send them off to find things in nature. Then after they left she would say, ‘Let’s all lie down and take a nap while they’re gone so we don’t disturb their Sabbath.’”
If it were bad weather, Ellen would read to the children (later grandchildren) from the vast resources of stories she had collected through the years. Knight, p. 89
Being the prolific author and speaker that she was, you might not think that there was time in her life for anything else. But she was a devoted wife, and dedicated mother, loving grandmother, generous neighbor and many other things. Listen to this diary entry dated January 28, 1868. “Brother Corliss helped me prepare breakfast. Everything we touched was frozen. All things in our cellar were frozen. We prepared frozen turnips and potatoes…I baked eight pans of gems, swept rooms, washed dishes, helped Willie (aged 13) put snow in boiler, which requires many tubsful. We have no well water or cistern. Arranged my clothes press (closet). Felt weary; rested a few minutes. Got dinner for Willie and me. Just as we got through my husband and Brother Andrews drove up. Had had no dinner. I started cooking again. Soon got them something to eat. Nearly all day has thus been spent—not a line written. I feel sad about this. Am exceedingly weary. My had is tired.” (MS 12, 1868, quoted by Knight, p. 119)
Ellen White was a determined woman, determined that she would fulfill the commission that God gave her, much of it being writing. By the year 1885 she had criss-crossed the United States at least 24 times, traveling to speaking appointments. Much of the time on the train was spent writing.
In July of 1889 she felt impressed to visit the camp meeting that was being held in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. It became evident that heavy rain had caused extensive flooding (known as the Johnstown Flood). They were advised to discontinue their travels, since so many roads and bridges had been washed away. But Mrs. White pressed on, determined to go until they were absolutely unable to proceed. Their train came to a halt close to Canton, PA, but they were still 40 miles from Williamsport. All but those in Sister White’s party turned to go back, but they waited while new track was laid for the train. But that didn’t solve the problem, since no fewer than 18 bridges had been destroyed between them and Williamsport.
Against the advice of many, Ellen and her companions accepted the suggestion of a local man who thought that if they took the “mountain route” by carriage they could make it. They did, and arrived 4 days later than their expected time, but felt that God had brought them safely there for a reason. Knight, p. 36.
Her husband James suffered the first of some five strokes in 1865. Determined that he would not slip away from her through inactivity, she invented ways to bring him back to health. He became a client in Dr. James Jackson’s health institute in Dansville, New York, which turned out to be a blessing in that, though there were practices there with which they disagreed, nevertheless the concept of Adventist health institutes came to life through that encounter.
She endeavored to keep James active, both in hand and in mind. Intentionally she would pass on questions by believers to him, inviting, coaxing to use his mind to give answers. Physically, she knew he had to keep active. In dead of winter, she borrowed some snow boots from a neighbor and walked ¼ mile outside, leaving tracks where she had gone. Then she invited him to walk also. Initially he declined, saying he couldn’t do it. But she returned, “Of course you can. Just walk in my footprints.” With that, James gave it a try!
Once during the hay harvest time, James intended to ask neighbors for help, citing his disability. Ellen would have none of it! Outflanking him, she went to each neighbor, instructing that if her husband should come by and ask for help, they should find some excuse why they couldn’t do it. Though their refusals frustrated James greatly, the White family brought in the hay harvest themselves, and engaging in that exercise was a therapy that James desperately needed. He began to slowly recover and become useful to the cause again.
As a speaker, she was not a platform-wanderer, and didn’t wave her hands about much. But she knew how to project her voice, speaking to crowds of 10,000 or more without amplification. Once there were 20,000 in attendance, and all heard her clearly. Her earnest and determined pleas won hearts. So much energy did she put into her discourses that after speaking, she would have to be taken to a private room and given a sponge bath, and new clothing, because of the perspiration.
She was unflappable in her presentations. Sometimes there were disturbances, but Ellen preached on. Knight reports that “On several occasions fanatics and deranged persons attempted to assault her while she was preaching. One such individual seated himself in the balcony as close to the speaker’s platform as possible. ‘Right in the midst of the service,’ G. W. Pettit recorded, ‘this man threw himself down intending to land on top of her. He landed about three or four feet away on his back…Ministers grabbed him and carried him out of the church. She went right on speaking just as though nothing had taken place. Perfectly cool.’ At other times the police had to lend a hand to removing such persons, but report after report indicate that Ellen White maintained her composure, sometimes not even referring to the incident as she kept on speaking.” Knight, p. 126.
On occasion she would be upon on the platform when someone else was doing the preaching, busy with her writing. On one such occasion (she was actually sitting in the front row this time), when J. N. Andrews had delivered the message, she was asked how she had enjoyed the sermon, to which she replied that she couldn’t really say, since it had been so long since she had heard him speak.
Ellen White endured more than her share of physical adversity. What some might not know is how she was tossed from an exuberant pony while in Colorado in 1872 and tore ligaments in her ankles. Because of this, she struggled in walking the rest of her life, making her regular exercise difficult and no doubt leading to the challenges she had keeping in shape.
She also had challenges with her teeth. When in Australia she required dental care, and so the services of Dr. Margaret Caro, an Adventist from Napier, New Zealand, were secured. When the doctor arrived, she asked Sister White if she were sorry to see her, and Ellen replied (this is taken from her diary), “I am pleased to meet Sister Caro, certainly. Not so certain if I’m pleased to meet Dr. Caro, dentist.”
The dental attention that Sister White needed was the removal of 8 abscessed teeth. Because of her reaction to what anesthesia was available, she had to endure the extractions without the benefit of any pain relief. Those were, by the way, her last eight teeth.
Often it was the case that she was afflicted with illness and could hardly manage a hoarse whisper, but when she stood before the people to speak, the Lord gave her strength and within moments her voice would be clear and strong.
Her strong will showed up when the vision on health reform came to her in 1863. Ellen enjoyed eating meat very much, but she instructed that there would no longer be flesh food served at her table. Coming to the next meal, she saw that it was laden bountifully with fruits, vegetables and breads, but no meat. Feeling no appetite, she left and didn’t eat. The next meal was served, with the same outcome. It came time for the third meal, and this time Ellen had a “conversation” with herself, telling her stomach that it would take in what was fed it. She came to enjoy eating vegetarian food.
Ellen was a woman of kindness. Helping neighbors and strangers, purchasing or making clothing to give to those less fortunate, taking in people when in need, she exhibited true Christian charity. Often these acts of kindness led to opportunities to share Christ.
In the 1890’s the General Conference asked Ellen to assist in the opening of the work in Australia. While there, Avondale school was opened and the message of the Three Angels was spread. It appears that the work was very successful. Just last week I received an email forwarded to me from someone in Australia, commenting on American politics and Donald Trump’s question, “Seventh-day Adventism—what is that?” This Adventist writer pointed out that that would be a question which should never be asked in Australia since, among other things, the most favored breakfast cereal over there is WeetBix, made by Adventists, and are (literally) more Adventist churches in Australia than KFC restaurants!
When Ellen and her party arrived, they settled in an area known as Cooranbong, against the advice of the constable. He pointed out that this area was populated by 250 descendants of three crime families, and there was nothing “too hot or too heavy” to be removed. Sadly, the Whites experienced the truth of his prediction, as often things went missing. On occasion Friday would be spent in preparing the Sabbath meal, which would be placed in the outdoor storage building, only to discover in the morning that the meal had been removed, plates, pans and all. The Whites acquired a watchdog to guard their premises, given the name “Tigleth Pileser” (after a particularly ferocious Assyrian king mentioned in the Bible) because he took his duties very seriously.
Nevertheless, Ellen wished to share the Gospel with these people for whom Christ died. The opportunity came when they heard that an 8-year-old girl had slipped on glass and cut herself. A local “doctor” had immersed a bandage in lard as a poultice and wrapped her leg in it, but had not told them how to change the dressing. The leg had become infected and looked like it would have to be amputated. The pain was excruciating.
Sara McEntefer, Ellen’s assistant, removed the old dressing and cleaned the wound, applying charcoal, and re-dressed it. They came back the next day to attend to it, then suggested that the girl come to their home so that they could give it more attention. Imagine the surprise when about 10 days later she returned to her community with the leg healed! Always, by the way, Ellen didn’t charge for her services. Word spread that medical help was within reach, and this became an open door to sharing Jesus with neighbors in need.
She was kind to neighbors, and she was kind to her helpers, her children and grandchildren. Once Sara attempted to can peaches. It happened that they were at a camp meeting, and word came to Ellen that the fruit was ripening, and since she abhorred waste, she sent Sara back to do the canning. Trouble was, she had never done it before. But she did her best, and put up a couple of dozen two-quart jars of peaches.
Sister White commented on how nice they looked, but unfortunately she had neglected to place the rubber gasket under the cap and so they hadn’t been sealed properly, and before too long there were strange “popping” sounds coming from the pantry, as the fruit exploded and spewed everywhere. Sara was afraid to tell her boss about it, but Ellen commented with kindness, “Sara, experience keeps a hard school; but you never forget the lessons.” Knight, p. 42.
Once some children were staying with her, and Sister White was teaching them how to knit. In Ellen’s words, “One of them asked me, ‘Mother, I should like to know whether I am helping you by trying to do this knitting work? I knew that I should have to take out every stitch, but I replied, ‘Yes, my child, you are helping me.’ Why could I say that they were helping me?—Because they were learning. When they did not make the stitches as they should have made them, I took out every stitch afterward, but never did I condemn them for their failure. Patiently I taught them until they knew how to knit properly.” RH, June 23, 1903, Knight, p. 42.
Ellen was sometimes clever and ingenious in her evangelism. A brother who had become discouraged, having been mistreated by the brethren, left the church, but upon finding out that he was a watchmaker, Ellen brought a watch to him that needed repair and used the opportunity to speak to his soul. She earnestly appealed for him to follow the Lord, though it would mean that there would be Sabbath conflict. She argued that the wrongful way that he had been treated by the church was no excuse to break the heart of Jesus. In this instance she appealed for him to make a decision “now” and not procrastinate. The young man did, and resigned his job to follow Jesus.
On another occasion there was a gentleman, a certain Mr. Radley from Australia, who had strayed. Sister White visited him, her arms loaded with books that she had written. She told him that she had come to give assistance to him in sharing the truth with his neighbors. He looked at as if to say, “Don’t you know that I’m not a practicing Adventist?” but she was insistent. He declined her books, citing the availability of books in the library, but Ellen would not be deterred. Eventually the man took the books and began sharing them with neighbors, which led to his re-conversion.
She was patient in her labor for souls, not condoning sin, but exercising forbearance. There was a case when a well-known Adventist pastor was engaged in an affair with a married woman. So flagrant was the transgression that “everybody” knew about it. It had gone on for years. Conference leadership, Butler and Haskell, said it was time to “purge the camp.”
Ellen, not for a moment approving of the man’s moral misstep, nevertheless advised a slower approach. She confronted the man time and again about his problem, and he would make promises which would not be kept. It happened that in November of 1885 this pastor became involved in a situation that concerned another minister who had make mistakes that were lesser in severity, but this brother “came down hard” on him nonetheless. Sister White wrote to him, “I felt that you should be the last man to exercise criticism and severity toward any one.” Letter 10, 1885, Knight, p. 48-50.
She acknowledged that “the plague of sin is upon him,” and “we cannot pass lightly over this matter.” She appealed to the president of the General Conference, “save him if you can. We want a man that has his capabilities, his experience, and not his weaknesses….Satan is trying hard for his soul. He has nearly made shipwreck; but, oh, if he will let Jesus take the helm…it shall not be wrecked. We must not give place to the devil.” Letter 84, 1886.
The errant pastor made confession, but Butler and Haskell felt that his repentance was not sincere. They removed him from his position, to which Ellen responded, “you have shut off the man where he has no chance of his life,…he cannot recover himself.” She “saw no light in these things.”
She advised Butler that he should be transferred to Europe, and that she had had a dream, “which showed him restored with the blessing of God. Resting upon him, but he was not brought to this positon by the help of yourself, or Elder Haskell, but would have as far as…the attitude you assumed toward him, have ever remained in the dark, and his light would have done out in darkness.” Letter 16, 1887, quoted by Knight, p. 50. It appears that the relocation and repentance had a positive effect, for the pastor labored with success in Norway and other places in Europe. She was not “soft on sin,” but kind-hearted toward the erring, always holding out the rope of rescue to the floundering sinner.
Her kindness was sometimes repaid with the coin of betrayal, illustrating the proverb, “No good deed goes unpunished.” While in Colorado, she was asked by William Walling, the husband of her niece, to take care of his children for a short while in 1873. The months lapsed into years, with the Whites boarding, feeding and educating the girls just as if they had been their own children. Walling didn’t reach out to his daughters by personal contact or by mail for 18 years. Then out of the blue he wanted them back, so that they could keep house for him.
Naturally, they chose to stay with Aunt Ellen. What was Walling’s response? He sued Mrs. White for the “alienation of affection” of his daughters, claiming damages of $25,000. After four years of litigation the case was settled, with the Whites paying Walling $1,500, and incurring legal expenses of $2,000. Commented Sister White, “this has cut away quite a slice.” Knight, p. 51.
Through the pain, through the challenges, through the sorrow, Ellen kept a cheerful outlook on life and had a very active sense of humor. She had no place for what she called “sour piety.” She loved to laugh.
Once when they visited some Samoan Islands, their boat could not come all the way to shore, so some local natives waded out to bring the travelers in. Forming a “chair” made of the arms of two strong men, Ellen rode to land and sat on a rock as the rest were brought in. Her daughter-in-law reported that “One of the men took my 4-month-old daughter…in his arms and held an umbrella over her to shelter her from the sun. Then motioned for me to get on his back. So I scrambled onto his back and wrapped my arms and legs around him, and off we went. Mother White laughed so hard at that sight that she couldn’t stop. She laughed until she fell off the rock.” Knight, p. 20.
Once when Ellen was preaching she detected smiles and snickers within the audience. Knowing that she had not said anything that might have caused laughter, she turned around to look behind her, and saw her son Willie fast asleep on the rostrum. (There was a reason he had acquired the nickname “Slumbering Willie.”) Without batting an eye, she gave this apologetic explanation. “When Willie was a baby I had no baby sitter; so I had a Battle Creek carpenter make me a cradle on rocker-arms, just exactly the width of the pulpit in the (Battle Creek) Tabernacle. I would then place Willie in the cradle before the worship service began; and while I was preaching, I would use my right foot to rock the cradle, to keep him asleep, lest he awaken and disturb the service. So, don’t blame Willie; blame me. I was the one who taught him to sleep in church on Sabbath!” Knight, p. 17, 18.
Elder James Nix, current head of the White Estate, tells this anecdote. In 1914 an admirer knitted a vest and sent it to Sister White from Japan. Trying it on, it became immediately obvious that the vest was too small. She quipped, “It seems that there’s more to Sister White than some realize.” Knight, p. 21.
Next week we’ll continue in remembering the “Gift that is Prophecy,” ministered through Sister Ellen G. White. We’ll look at her call to ministry and how her experience compares with those who received visions in Bible times, and look at the “tests of the prophets” the Bible lays out. The week after that we’ll explore some of the issues and questions that are raised concerning her writings. Thank God for the guidance of His prophet, Ellen White!