How Did Ellen White Know?
Compiled by Brother Anderson
Ellen White claimed to be God's special messenger. Part of her work involved revealing and reproving the "secret sins" of others.
"God has been pleased to open to me the secrets of the inner life and the hidden sins of his people. The unpleasant duty has been laid upon me to reprove wrongs and reveal hidden sins." (Testimonies, Vol. 3, p. 314)
Mrs. White wrote many scathing testimonies revealing the personal secrets of others. How could she have known these secrets if God did not reveal them to her? Who told her the secret sins of others? How did she know what was happening on the other side of the world?
H.E. Carver's Testimony
H.E. Carver was an Adventist in the 1860s and was associated with the Whites. He describes four instances when Ellen White wrote out Testimonies based on information he and others had provided to her:
...Eld. Cornell appeared amongst us [SDA believers in Iowa City], and attempted to settle the agitation produced by Bro. Everett's efforts against the visions [of Ellen White]. In prosecuting the case against Bro. E., Eld. Cornell manifested a most unkind, hasty, and unchristian spirit, which was a source of grief to the entire church, and which I took upon myself to communicate to Mrs. White. After having received this information from me, she published in the next "Testimony" that she had been shown that Eld. Cornell had acted hastily in Bro. Everett's case. ...
At the time of the organization of the church at Pilot Grove, Iowa...[I] desired to become a member. But as I could not express a full belief in the inspiration of the visions of Mrs. White, it was thought best that I should not become a
member at that time... Deeply interested in the prosperity of the cause I had espoused, I communicated all the facts in the case to Eld. White and wife, and expected from them instructions or advice as to my case; but nothing was received until the next vision was published, wherein she says she saw that a wrong use was being made of her visions in Iowa. Here, then, were two instances in which she claimed to see in vision things that I had communicated to her myself. ...
During a visit to our church, Eld. White and wife spent a portion of their time in the family of a brother with whom I was intimately connected, and there witnessed some of his peculiarities of demeanor, and which she afterwards wrote to him as having seen them in vision, but which in fact were apparent to any one who happened to spend a few hours in the household, and of which we were all aware from our own observation.
The fourth and last case concerning individuals which has come under my personal observation or knowledge, and which involves the inspiration of a vision, is that of two members of the Pilot Grove church, the nature of which it is not necessary to mention. This case produced a great commotion and trial in the church, which was not quieted until a vision was received from Mrs. White, in which she saw that the brother involved in the case, and who had been dismissed from the church, should resume his place in it. This brother, in kindly attempting afterwards to win me back to my allegiance to Eld. and Mrs. White, referred to his own case as a remarkable and indisputable evidence of the divine inspiration of the
visions; for, said he, "she saw my case in vision." I told him I thought Mrs. White knew of the case before she had the vision. This he denied. I then told him that the other party implicated with him had positively asserted in the presence of my family that Mrs. White did know all about it, for the entire case had been written out and sent to her.1
Mrs. White's "Vision" of Kellogg's Buildings in Chicago
Mrs. White's apparent dependence upon humans for information for her testimonies got her into trouble on more than one occasion. Perhaps the most embarrassing incident happened in 1900, while Mrs. White was living in Australia. She had read a newspaper account from the New York Observer stating that Dr. John Harvey Kellogg had erected a building in Chicago using money from the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Unbeknown to Mrs. White, the newspaper article was incorrect. Kellogg had not built any building in Chicago, nor did he have plans to do so.
When Kellogg's brother Merritt visited Mrs. White at her home she pulled out the article and questioned him about the Chicago building. After denying that any such building had been erected Merritt explains what happened next:
I again endeavored to show Sister White that she held a mistaken view of the matter, but she closed my mouth by declaring with much warmth that she was not mistaken, that she knew whereof she was speaking. She then exclaimed, "Your brother has been expending vast sums of money in the erecting of buildings and in carrying on a work in Chicago to which God has never called him. It was his duty, and the duty of the Battle Creek Sanitarium to help us in establishing a Sanitarium here in Australia. He has always plead poverty and indebtedness as an excuse for not helping us, yet he has spent thousands in his own work in Chicago, a work which God never required at his hand. He has become exalted like
Nebuchadnezzar, and like Nebuchadnezzar he must be humbled. I
am going to write him a short testimony on this subject, but I do not want you to write him a word about what I have said to you about it."
She then exacted a promise from me that I would not write to him on the subject. This promise I faithfully kept. Mrs. White evidently kept her promise, for a few months later word came to me from St. Helena that Dr. J. H. Kellogg had refused to acknowledge as true a testimony from Sister White charging him with having spent thousands of dollars in erecting buildings in Chicago which ought to have been sent to Australia in response to Mrs. White's demand.
Being desirous of ascertaining the facts about that testimony, I made a special trip to St. Helena in 1906 and asked W. C. White to show me what his Mother had written Dr. J. H. K. about the erection of buildings in Chicago. ...
In these letters Mrs. White said that she had been shown in vision a great building which Dr. Kellogg had erected in Chicago, and that a sheet of paper had been held up before her on which was written, "Consumers, not Producers." On the sheet of paper were several rows of figures which represented the amount of money which had been expended by Dr. Kellogg in the buildings and work which he had erected and was doing in Chicago. These letters were written in Australia in 1900.
In W. C. White's letter to Dr. Stewart he says that his Mother first saw the newspaper article, herein before referred to, Feb. 24, 1900, and that she wrote the first letter Feb. 27, or three days later. He also said that his Mother said she thought the buildings had been erected, but this was not the case, and she did not know how to correct the mistake she had made...2
Dr. Kellogg explains the problem in an interview in 1907:
Kellogg: I said [to Ellen White's son W.C. White], "There is the matter of those buildings in Chicago. Your mother wrote me, 'You have erected buildings in Chicago to harbor the unworthy poor; you have taken money from the Sanitarium to erect buildings to harbor the unworthy poor.' And I wrote back to Sister White, 'We have erected no buildings, taken no money; you have been misinformed.' And I got back a letter charging me again with it the second time, denouncing me harder than ever for having put up those buildings, misappropriating the Lord's money and with having robbed the treasury of the Lord, defrauded the Lord's people; and I should have sent the money to Australia that I used for putting
up those buildings." I said to Will, "You ought never to have
sent me such a letter as that. And when I denied it -- told your mother she had been misinformed -- she ought to have believed me instead of repeating the charge. And not only that, but sending it all over the world. Now, then. When people come to me and ask me where those buildings are, I am bound to tell them there are no buildings there. I am not going to lie about this thing. I am standing by your mother and the testimonies, but I am not standing by anything that is not true."
He said, "But mother has explained that."
After several years I told her it was not true, when she came to
this country, I spoke to her about it. And she said she had never
done it, she had never seen that I had taken money from the Sanitarium for any such purpose and had no recollection of ever having written me any such thing. Not until after denouncing me in Washington there about the book did I receive anything from her. Sometime after that I got a letter from her saying, "I saw a building in Chicago. I thought it had been erected. I afterwards found out it had not been erected. Dr. Kellogg was very much surprised because I wrote him as though it had been erected when it had not been erected," and that she did not condemn me for erecting the building. So I was tried about her. She had charged me with embezzling money, with robbery, and defrauding the people; and that is what troubled me -- not because she condemned me for erecting the building.
Then she wrote, "My warning reached them just in time to prevent
them from erecting a building which they had planned." I never
planned any building there at all. Never intended to erect a
Amadon: That has all been explained.
Kellogg: It has not been explained at all. I am telling you this so I believe in my soul that you know the facts. Then I am not responsible for what you do in any way at all. Will White said, "Mother has explained it." I said, "But the explanation is worse than it was before. Because her explanation admits that she charged me with fraud and robbery on a mere supposition. She thought the building had been erected, condemned me for erecting it and for taking money to do it with, charged me with robbery and fraud, circulated it all over the world to South Africa and England, as I can prove." On a mere supposition, Brother Amadon, what right had she when she saw a building there to suppose that I did it and charge me openly that I had done it and to send me such a testimony? The Lord never gave her any such liberty as that. It was a mistake to do that, and her explanation that she "thought" it makes it worse, because it shows she charges people and sends people testimonies on suspicion and without a "thus saith the Lord" to back it up.
She had no "thus saith the Lord" at all in charging me with
having taken money or defrauded or robbed, using money for wrong
purposes. I said to Will, "The explanation was worse than the
original because she admits she never saw I had robbed or
defrauded or erected it, even, or took the money from the Sanitarium; yet she said that she did and also says the building was planned and the testimony came just in time to prevent it, which is not the truth at all. We never planned any building to harbor the unworthy poor. The only plan we had was a building for medical students, a medical college, and I brought it up in 1901 at the Conference here and she endorsed it and helped me make an appeal to the people to raise $100,000 for that very purpose. And it is on the record, and the Bulletin will show it. So it is plain enough that the Lord had nothing to do with it at all.
Will said, "Now, Doctor, I will tell you all about that building
in Chicago. You know mother was writing things in the night that
came to her. In the morning she would write it out. And I said, 'Now, Mother, I don't think the Doctor is doing such great things in Chicago as you think he is.'"
I said, "How on earth, then, did you suppose I was to believe it if you did not believe it yourself?"
He said, "Well, I will tell you. It went on, and by and by the
stenographers copied it out, got it all ready. And I looked it
over and I thought it would not do any harm to let it go because I
supposed, of course, you would understand that it was figurative ambition, all figurative. Well, now," he said, "I will tell you. After awhile, after mother had been writing, she brought me one day a paper which told about what great things you were doing there in Chicago and putting up great buildings, using great sums of money, etc.; so I thought perhaps there might be some truth about the whole business."
I know it is the truth because my brother Merritt told me Mrs.
White came to him with a paper. He said, "Doctor, there is a thing I think I ought to tell you, but I hardly dare to do it; but," he said, "years ago, down in Australia, Mrs. White came to me one day with a newspaper giving an account of large buildings you were putting up in Chicago, and the money you were spending there, and so on. And Mrs. White said to me, 'Now, Merritt, I don't want you to write Dr. John anything about this because I am going to write him myself, and I want to write him first.'" Merritt told me about having seen the article before she sent me her testimony. Will White told me she read the article to him before he was willing to believe the testimony or to let it come to me; and he let it come on the strength of that.
After Sister White wrote me what I stated -- that I was taking
money from the Sanitarium to erect buildings to harbor the unworthy
poor in Chicago, that I should send that money to Australia -- I wrote her back, "You are mistaken, Sister White, you have been
She wrote me back as soon as the letter could come, about three
months after the first letter, saying, "I have not been
misinformed" -- it amounted to that -- and went on and copied from a paper and said, "Two or three days ago I saw an article, my attention was called to a paper giving an article, telling about the work you are doing in Chicago." And she copied from that paper and gave me a reference. It was the New York Christian Advocate, and it was an article written some four years before.
Now, then, I saw at once where she got her information. I knew
the Lord had not shown her that thing because I was not doing it.
The way things were fixed at that time, I could not have done it if I had wanted to. Our charter would have been forfeited, and the whole thing would have been lost, and our attorney here was cautioning me repeatedly every little while with the greatest care: "Be careful not to expend any of the money of the institution here outside of the state," because Harmon Lindsay and others were watching us and had lawyers watching us so that they might use that as a means of breaking our charter. And besides that there was a party in Chicago that had a bogus suit for blackmail against the institution on the ground of malpractice; it was absolutely groundless, but they were trying to break our charter also for the same reason. So I was watching the thing with great care and I would have cut my arm off before I would have taken money from the Sanitarium to put up a building there [in Chicago].
So when that testimony came saying, "You have taken money from the Sanitarium to erect buildings to harbor the unworthy poor in Chicago," I knew the Lord had never shown Sister White any such thing as that.
I wrote her and told her she had been misinformed. Then she sent
me a letter saying, "Two or three days ago there was placed in my
hands an article saying so and so" -- that went on to tell about
the buildings we were putting up, and I was spending thousands of
dollars every month for that work in Chicago. I had never seen the
article, and I never knew anything of it, did not know it was being
written, and I had nothing at all to do with it. And it was also signed by Mr. Sherin as chairman; but in this same article -- or in the same letter, she rebuked me for having these outside irresponsible parties taking a prominent part in our work, having an active part in it, and I could not understand what it meant. But those men had gotten up a scheme, and this man Sherin thought he was going to get me to do it; but when he told about it, I said, "No, no, we won't do it," and he wrote it out as though it had been done before he saw me; so of course he never showed me the article, and there was not a word of truth in it.
But here was the thing in it, Brother Amadon. That article she
had in her hands before she ever wrote the first testimony, for W. C. White told me so, and M. G. Kellogg told me so. She read it to them. Yet, in that second letter to me, after I had told her she had been misinformed, she brings that [article] in as proof that she had not been misinformed and quotes the article and goes on further to say that she saw it two or three days ago, so as to lead me to think she did not have it when she wrote the first testimony to me.
As soon as I got that second letter, I said to Dr. Paulson right
away, "We now know where she got the information. She did not get it from the Lord, that is sure." So we went to New York and got a
copy of the paper with the article in it, and we got the whole thing. Then I saw at once what the situation was. There is the whole truth of the whole business, the exact thing.
Yet they are going around now -- Will White knows this today; in
this talk with him he told me all I am telling you -- yet they are telling that that [testimony] came "providentially" just in time to keep us from putting the building up. I never had anything to do with any building at all, and it never was contemplated for one minute to take money from the Sanitarium and put buildings up there. I have got the documents in proof of that, and Sister White's admission that she was mistaken in charging me with having put that building up. Yet the testimony charges me with the whole thing.
I know from that, that everything that Sister White writes me
cannot be taken exactly as verbal inspiration, that we have got simply to take the truth of it. A lot of the things she writes have got to be accepted and taken, and what you cannot act upon in the fear of the Lord, ask the Lord to show you what your duty is, and do the very best you can to be square and straight with yourself and with every principle of light and truth you see.3
D.M. Canright's Testimony
The following is written by a reporter who attended Elder Canright's lecture in Healdsburg, California in 1889. It reveals that Ellen White fabricated "visions" on demand.
In his lecture on Mrs. White and her visions, the Rev. Mr. Canright related the circumstances connected with three of her revelations to prove that her sources of inspiration were not divine, but of the earth, earthly.
He once requested an interview with her in the house of Mr. A.W. Smith, of Worcester, Mass., and made certain statements to her regarding several persons in the S.D.A. Church. A day or two later, Mrs. White wrote a testimony, or revelation, which Mr. Canright says was evidently based upon the facts recently related to her by him.
Another time an elder was needed in one of their churches in Maine. Mr. Canright thought a certain man was just the one for the office, but found it difficult to persuade him that he ought to take it. Very well, there is a way to convince him. Mr. Canright went to Mrs. White and laid the matter before her. He told her this was just the man for the office, but that he needed more confidence, needed to feel that God loved him. Sabbath morning she rose very solemnly in the congregation to make known a revelation. She pointed out the young man Mr. Canright had designated shortly before, and gave the message, "God had shown her that he was a precious child of God, and He wanted him to take the office." God calls his servants to their work, but this man was "called" of Canright and holds office through a lying message...
Sometime later Mr. Canright tells us he was carrying on a great meeting and having great success in pulling down a Baptist church. But a Mr. Fargo, who, I think he stated was president of the conference, was a very cautious man and did not supply the needed assistance, and Mr. Canright was obliged to stop the work. Then he says he sat down and wrote to Sister White in Basel, Switzerland. Why did he write to her unless he expected her to forward a "revelation" that would convince Mr. Fargo that he was wrong and Mr. Canright was right? The result justified his expectations. Four weeks later they sat in general conference listening in silence, with bowed heads to a letter from Mrs. White. God had shown her that Brother Fargo was not energetic enough in the work of the Lord and he was rebuked. "Mr. Fargo was a very conscientious man," says Mr. Canright, "and he wept and was greatly distressed when he heard that he had displeased God."4
Joseph Bate's Testimony
Shortly before his death, Mrs. White wrote a letter to Joseph Bates warning him about his diet. What appears to be a portion of this letter was printed in Arthur White's The Retirement Years, page 126:
Dear Brother Bates: [WRITTEN TO JOSEPH BATES IN THE LAST YEAR OF HIS LIFE. HE DIED AT THE AGE OF EIGHTY.]
I have been informed that you have taken but one meal a day for a period of time; but I know it to be wrong in your case, for I have been shown that you needed a nutritious diet, and that you were in danger of being too abstemious. Your strength would not admit of your severe discipline.
I think that you have erred in fasting two days. God did not require it of you. I beg of you to be cautious and eat freely good, wholesome food twice a day. You will surely decrease in strength and your mind become unbalanced unless you change your course of abstemious diet.
--Letter 2, 1872.
Bates responded shortly thereafter, politely correcting the prophetess' incorrect information, and attributing Mrs. White's source of knowledge about his diet not to angels or visions, but to nosey neighbors:
"God bless you, Sister White, for your favor of yesterday, the 12th. You say I must have good, nutritious food. I learn from report that I am starving myself and am withholding from my daughter, who is with me, and alone a good part of the time in my absence; and that when I ask a blessing at my table, I ask the Lord to bless that which I may eat, and not that which is on the table. This is what I am not guilty of, nor ever was in all my family worship for some fifty years, but once; and I do greatly marvel how my industrious neighbors found out this one exception. But I will tell you the circumstance.
"Several years ago I was with the church in Vassar, Tuscola Co., Mich., and was invited to address them and their children in a barn on the Fourth of July, and also to dine with them. The tables were soon up and loaded with tempting eatables; and I was invited to ask the blessing. The swines' flesh upon the table, I knew was abominable and unclean from creation, Gen. 7:2, 8; and God had positively, by law, forbidden the eating or touching of it. See Lev. 11:7, 8 (law, verse 46); also Deut. 14:1-3, 8. I therefore very quietly distinguished, and asked a blessing on the clean, nutritious, wholesome, lawful food. Some whispered, and some smiled, and others looked, and so on.
"Starving, with more than enough to eat! Now allow me to state what, by the providence and blessing of God, we have in our house from which to choose a daily bill of fare.
"90 pounds of superfine white flour.
"100 pounds of graham flour.
"5 bushels of choice garden corn.
"Pop and sweet corn in abundance.
"Corn meal, rice, and oatmeal.
"Corn-starch, butter, sugar, salt.
"Three varieties of potatoes.
"Sweet turnips, parsnips, squashes.
"Two varieties of onions.
"11 cans of sweet peaches.
"6 cans sweet grapes.
"Strawberries preserved and dried.
"Quince and grape jelly.
"Tomatoes by the jug.
"20 pounds of dried sweet peaches.
"Box of Isabella grapes, most consumed.
"Three varieties of apples and quinces.5
These examples reveal some of the sources for Mrs. White's testimonies. She depended upon church members and their neighbors to reveal information about other church members. She depended upon news agencies to learn what was happening on the other side of the world. Unfortunately, these human sources were not always reliable and she sometimes made mistakes which hurt the members of her church. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this is that she claimed to have gotten the information directly from heaven and even denied getting it from other sources.
1. H.E. Carver, Mrs. E.G. White's Claims to Divine Inspiration Examined, 2nd edition, 1877.
2. Merritt G. Kellogg Statement, 1908.
3. Interview between Elder G. W. Amadon, Elder A. C. Bourdeau, and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg at Dr. J. H. Kellogg's House in Battle Creek,
Michigan, October 7th, 1907, as printed in Spectrum, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 61-62.
4. Healdsburg Enterprise Newspaper, March 20, 1889.
5. James White, ed., The Early Life and Later Experience and Labors of Elder Joseph Bates, (Steam Press of the SDA Publishing Assn., Battle Creek, Michigan, 1877), chapter 26.