By Brother Anderson
Ellen White lived in an era of Christianity abounding with prophets. Many of them had "visions," claimed to be hearing from God or his angels, wrote out their testimonies and teachings for their followers, and guided their sects. Below are some of the more prominent "prophets" who lived near the time of Ellen White.
Emanuel Swedenborg, 1688-1772
Emanuel Swedenborg was born in Sweden. He was well-educated, and worked as a prominent scientist and inventor, writing 77 books. At the age of 53 he began receiving "dreams" and "visions." He came to believe that Jesus was appointing him to write books about his revelations. Calling himself the servant of the Lord, over the last decades of his life he wrote 18 spiritual books, which his followers regard as inspired volumes. Regarding his calling, he wrote:
"I have been called to a holy office by the Lord himself, who most mercifully appeared to me, his servant, in the year 1743, when he opened my sight into the spiritual world and enabled me to converse with spirits and angels."1
Like Ellen White, Swedenborg taught that he and his writings were inspired by God:
Like Ellen White, he had an interest in beings on other planets, and wrote an entire book on the subject in 1758, entitled Other Planets. He made some amazing predictions, including predicting the date upon which he died. He wrote 18 spiritual books (click here to read). He rejected the idea of eternal damnation.6
Swedenborg never founded a church, and only had a handful of followers in his lifetime. However, after his death, he lived on through his writings. They were translated into many languages and spread throughout the world. His followers founded a new Christian sect in which both the Bible and his revelations are taught. To learn more about him and the church his followers founded, click here to visit his web site.
Ann Lee and the Shakers, 1736-1784
As a child, her parents were to poor to provide her with an education.7 Like Ellen White, she had four children, but all of Ann's children died as infants. Ann joined a sect later known as the Shakers. They believed that shaking and trembling were manifested in the body as the Holy Spirit was cleansing it from sin. She had visions in which she came to learn the dangers of lust and she gave her testimony about the importance of being celibate. The Shaker community that Ann founded claimed the manifestations of the Holy Spirit such as "shaking, trembling, speaking in unknown tongues, prophesying and singing melodious songs."8 Like Mrs. White, she required a "peculiar kind of dress" and "opposed war and the use of pork."9 Ann "performed a number of miracles, including healing the sick by touch."10 The sect founded by her followers shunned the world and looked forward to the imminent return of Christ. To learn more about Ann Lee and the Shakers, click here.
Mrs. Joanna Southcott, 1750-1814
Joanna Southcott was a poor and uneducated woman who grew up in England. Like Mrs. White, she was originally a Methodist. Ag the age of 42, she "announced that God had chosen her as a messenger of his Second Coming" and "began to write prophecies and published 65 books" and also "announced herself as a prophetess."11 Like Mrs. White, she made a good living off of the books that she published. She made a number of predictions which her followers believe came true. She wrote our her prophecies even though she claimed to be illiterate. She kept the seventh day Sabbath and taught her followers to do the same. She also had trances like Mrs. White, announcing the speedy advent of Christ.12 To learn more about Joanna Southcott, click here.
Joseph Smith, 1805-1844
Like Adventism, Mormonism started in the Northeastern United States. In 1823, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormons (also known as the "Latter Day Saints"), began to have "visions" and "revelations," and even conversed with angels. In the picture (to the right) Smith is shown receiving "inspiration" from an angel or spirit guide. Smith published a number of books, some of which show a remarkable similarity to Mrs. White's writings. Smith claimed the second advent of Christ was at hand, hence the name, "Latter Day Saints." His mission was to introduce "the new dispensation." According to Smith, his followers are the "saints," and all the other churches are "heathen," or Gentiles. (Note: Mrs. White's called her followers "saints" and all other churches "Babylon" or apostate.) Like Ellen White, Smith had health reform revelations. In 1833, when Ellen Harmon was six years old, Smith received his health revelation which included many of the major ideas that Ellen White would later adopt. In the Word of Wisdom revelation, Smith was shown it was wrong to use alcohol, tobacco, or "hot drinks." The revelation advocated a diet of vegetables, fruits, and grain, with very limited use of meat. Like Ellen White, Smith referred to grain products as "the staff of life" (D&C 89:14). By 2019, the church had grown to 16.5 million members operating in at least 160 countries. To learn more about Joseph Smith, click here.
Mary Baker Eddy, 1821-1910
Mrs. Eddy is the prophet-founder of the Christian Science Church. She published a number of books. Like Mrs. White, she had an interest in health. In 1890, she published her most famous book, Science and Health, which has been translated into over 16 languages and read by over ten million people. The disciples of Mrs. Eddy believe the writings of their prophet to be inspired and infallible. She once prophesied:
"To my sense, the most imminent dangers confronting the coming century are: the robbing of people of life and liberty under the warrant of the Scriptures; the claims of politics and of human power, industrial slavery, and insufficient freedom of honest competition; and ritual, creed, and trusts in place of the Golden Rule, 'Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.'"13
Other Visionaries of the 1800's14
According to SDA historian Dr. Ronald Numbers, in the 1800s, America abounded with "prophets" of every description:
Visionaries in Garabanda, Spain15
In the summer of 1961, several young Catholic girls in Garabanda Spain reportedly had "visions" of the virgin Mary. For those familiar with the tales of Ellen White's visions, many of the manifestations of these Catholic girls mirror those of the young Ellen White.
To learn more of these visionaries, click here.
Visionaries in the Millerite Movement16
As a girl, Ellen met two Millerites she regarded as prophets. William Foy claimed to have received visions from God, and later published them in a book. (Some of Ellen's early writings appear to closely resemble Foy's. Click here to examine the evidence.) Ellen's sister Mary's brother-in-law, Hazen Foss, also claimed to have received visions.
In its final days the Millerite Movement was so infected with religious enthusiasm that Joshua Himes complained of being in: "mesmerism seven feet deep". According to Dr. Ronald Numbers, fanaticism continued to plague the Millerites even after the October 22 disappointment, and it seemed particularly prevalent among the "shut door" believers. In Springwater Valley, New York, a black shut-door advocate named Houston claimed that at times God spoke to him in visions. The shut-door group in Ellen Harmon's home town of Portland, Maine, was even more notorious in Millerite circles, as Joshua Himes describes its: "continual introduction of visionary nonsense".
In March of 1845 Himes informed Miller that a Sister Clemons of Ellen Harmon's home town of Portland, Maine, "has become very visionary and disgusted nearly all the good friends here."
But only a couple of weeks later he reported that another Portland sister had received a vision showing that Miss Clemons was of the Devil. Himes concluded: "Things are in a bad way at Portland." Even non-Adventists noted that visionaries were prevalent in Ellen Harmon's hometown of Portland, Maine. One resident wrote that among the city's "children of light...nothing was more common than visions."17 After 1844, there were at least four female Millerite visionaries operating near Ellen White in Maine (Dorinda Baker, Emily Clemons, Mary Hamlin, and Phoebe Knapp).18 Interestingly, Mrs. White did not seem to get along well with any of them.
In 1859, Ellen White rebuked the young Adventist prophetess Phoebe Knapp. She wrote that the woman was "professing to have visions of God, yet teaching the grossest errors..."19 Several years later she also rebuked another up-and-coming SDA prophetess:
"The pretensions of Sister Steward to have visions, the fanaticism of the most wretched, revolting kind being the fruits, and the influence of the false exercises..."20
Another prophet that annoyed Ellen White was Anna Phillips, who gained some noteriety within Seventh-day Adventism in the early 1890s, with her "visions" and "testimonies." Some thought of her as the new Ellen White. Mrs. White put a quick stop to that. Mrs. White fired off several scorching letters claiming "Satan" was using Phillips to lead souls away from the truth, that she had a "conceited and deceived mind," and that the SDA leaders should not call "the attention of the people" to Phillips.21 Her rival was quickly quashed.
The visionary that likely caused Mrs. White the greatest consternation was Sister Ogden. The manner of Ogden's "visions" reminded people of Ellen's "visions" and this caused people to doubt Ellen's visions. Ellen was particularly outraged when Brother Moses Hull "said she looked just like Sister White when she was in vision." Ogden appeared to be under the control of someone else, which reminded people of how Ellen would seem to go into and out of vision at James' whim. As usual, Ellen attributed it all to Satan:
"Satan saw the influence of the visions was affecting some, and by controlling Sister Ogden and making her think she had a vision while under a satanic influence confirmed the opinions of many that Brother White controls his wife and gives her visions; therefore the visions are only Brother White's mind."22
Thus, the 1700s and early 1800s were an era when visionaries and prophets were popular and attracted large followings. Mrs. White grew up in this atmosphere of religious "enthusiasm" and was closely associated with several other visionaries of her time. Perhaps these associations helped to shape her own prophetic career. While affirming herself as the one true prophet, she derided others as fanatical and under the influence of Satan.
1. Daniel Kimball Whitaker, Milton Clapp, William Gilmore Simms, and James Henley Thornwell, Southern Quarterly Review, Vol. 4, (Wiley & Putnam, 1843), p. 419.
2. Ellen White, Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 122.
3. Emmaunuel Swedenborg, Doc. II, p. 404.
4. White, Selected Messages, vol. 3, p. 43.
5. Swedenborg, Journal, p. 245.
8. Gilbert, Shakers Worshipping, Exercise, (Mount Lebanon, NY), LC-DIG-pga-13859.
9. Johnson's Encyclopedia, article "Shakers," cited by D.M. Canright Life of Mrs. E.G. White Seventh-day Adventist Prophet: Her False Claims Refuted, chapter 1.
10. Encyclopedia Brittanica article "Ann Lee: American Religious Leader," https://www.britannica.com/biography/Ann-Lee.
12. Encyclopedia Americana, article "Southcott," cited by D.M. Canright Life of Mrs. E.G. White Seventh-day Adventist Prophet: Her False Claims Refuted, chapter 1.
13. Mary Eddy Baker, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany (1900), p. 266.
14. Ronald Numbers, Prophetess of Health, pp. 16-18.
15. F. Sanchez Ventura, The Apparitions of Garabandal, (USA: Litho, 1966), http://www.garabandal.org/BrownBook/Print/PrintBrownBookA.htm. "The Garabandal Story", http://www.garabandal.org/story.shtml. Extracted Dec. 24, 2018.
16. Numbers, Prophetess of Health, pp. 16-18.
17. Portland Transcript, Nov. 1, 1845.
18. Frederick Hoyt, Ronald Graybill, and Rennie Schoepflin, "Scandal or Rite of Passage? Historians on the Damon Trial," Spectrum 17 (August 1987), 38-39.
19. Ellen White, Manuscript 9, 1859.
20. Ellen White, Manuscript 3, 1862.
21. Ellen White, Letter 4, 1893; Letter 66, 1894; Letter 37, 1894.
22. Ellen White, Manuscript 6, 1862.
Category: Visions Examined
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