The White Lie!

Chapter 4: Gone - but Not Forgotten

by Walter Rea

The world will "little note nor long remember" (to use a phrase by a famous President) what Ellen wrote in the 1850s and 1860s. With the "amalgamation of man and beast," the Tower of Babel built before the Flood, and incorrect current ideas of the formation of coal and the causes of earthquakes, volcanoes, and fiery issues-to say that much of the writing did not catch on would be no overstatement. There is no evidence that the work that contained it all, Spiritual Gifts (volumes one and two), became a best seller. 1

It is appropriate to point out, in defense of Gifts, that the Adventist organization had not yet perfected its system of printing presses, colporteurs, conference Book and Bible houses, church propaganda organs, and a horde of paid workers such as are now used to catechize the church and the world. Inasmuch as there were only about 3,000 Adventists at the time (many of them who couldn't or didn't read), Spiritual Gifts seems to have done as well as could be expected.

Some other ventures in printing were even less successful. Much controversy developed over the printing of some of Ellen's early ideas in the small pamphlet called A Word to the "Little Flock" (published by James White in 1847) in support of her views about the "shut door" and contradictions on vision matters. 2 In later printings, both A Word and another paper called Present Truth (issued between July 1849 and November 1850) were to go through some stages of revision that would cause misgivings in the years to come. 3

It is only fair to hasten to explain that all this rearranging of history and theology was new to Ellen. Since God did not give her much material to work with, that might help explain some of the mix­up. In fact, it would seem at times that even God got mixed up, for she was to let others know that God had shown her that "His hand was over and hid a mistake in some of the figures" of an 1843 error. 4 Likewise she had been shown that "the time for Jesus to be in the most holy place was nearly finished and that time can last but a very little longer." 5 Even the angels got caught up in the whole thing in the view of June 27, 1850: "My accompanying angel said, 'Time is almost finished....' then I saw that the seven last plagues were soon to be poured out." 6 So that no one would get the impression that these were rather general statements and should be taken lightly or philosophically, it was added that "time is almost finished, and what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months." 7

All this background of hauling and filling has led the Adventists to an interesting parley of prophecy and Ellen's often extreme pronouncements. This kind of pronouncement, which has come to be called "conditional prophecy," is detailed in the Seventh­day Adventist Commentary. 8 A loose translation of its reasoning goes something like this:

God, who can see the end from the beginning, may not be able to see all the end from the beginning. With this myopic condition, God has to cover his bets if he goes on record at any time, because much of this area is a gamble. If events should take a sudden turn for the worse and not conform to the record, or the interpretation of the record, it is the circumstances that have made a mistake, not God. Thus, with such a coin as conditional prophecy, all spokesmen for God can be assured that heads they win and tails you lose. But the spokesmen and God are always right in any case.

One of the best examples of that type of reasoning was the statement on some inside information that Ellen received from the angel in 1856:

I was shown the company present at the conference. Said the angel: "Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus." 9

This statement, more than most, provided the basis for a great deal of research. One can readily see the enormous interest that would and did develop over who was at that meeting, how old they were at the time, how many were still alive, who had already gone the way of all flesh, and whether some had been placed in the wrong category and might be raised m some special way to fit into another category. These endless discussions made it obvious, by elimination, that in the 1980s one would have to be in the age range of 130 to fit the condition, though some still say that is not impossible with God-a statement one would not want to find fault with, where God weighs in on the other side.

Even with the help of poet John Milton and his Paradise Lost, things did not go smoothly. A careful examination in recent years has revealed very close parallels between the Ellen White writings and the Book of Jasher-a book mentioned in the Bible, but never a part of it. Francis D. Nichol (twentieth­century writer, Review editor, and staunch supporter of Ellen) also admitted that she was indebted to Second Esdras, another ancient writer who was not included in the Canon but was placed on that level by Ellen. Certain of her statements on last­day events use some of the terminology and picture language of Esdras and add color, if not authority, to her descriptions. 10

But things were changing in the 1850s and 1860s. Despite the help she was receiving from those around her (and from the angels that kept checking in and out), she now acquired a new skill that was to set the tone for the rest of her life. Her third­grade education notwithstanding, she was known to be reading, and subsequent records show that she read and read and read. In the 1970s it came to light that she had been instructed in this art by approximately five hundred books and articles in her library and those libraries that were made available to her. Even further advanced light suggests more material was used than known by even the White Estate staff-and they had been thought to be up on all those things. Also by now she had learned a more liberalized style of copying, which became known from that time to this as borrowing.

Regardless of this type of human help--plus an additional score or more of assistants, book editors, secretaries, and helpers--Ellen White always persisted in saying that it all came from God. Even as early as the second volume of Spiritual Gifts (1860), she said:

I am just as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in relating or writing a vision, as in having the vision. It is impossible for me to call up things which have been shown me unless the Lord brings them before me at the time that he is pleased to have me relate or write them."

That astounding statement went far beyond anything that the Bible writers had ever claimed for themselves; and, in fact, it went far beyond anything she had ever claimed before. This call to the colors was contagious. Others took up the cry and have been using it ever since. That others took up the motto that the prophet herself laid down illustrates only that it is always an advantage to be the cheerleader. George A. Irwin (president of the Adventist General Conference 1897­1901) followed her lead by stating in a tract entitled "The Mark of the Beast" (1911) that:

It is from the standpoint of the light that has come through the Spirit of Prophecy [Mrs. White's writings that the question will be considered, believing as we do that the Spirit of Prophecy Is the only infallible interpreter of Bible principles, since it IS Christ through this agency giving the real meaning of His own words [italics added]. 12

No one raised up against this assertion at the time. So that shows how far and how fast a small­town girl with the right connections can go. As Ellen herself kept telling everybody, her connections went all the way to the top.

It took a few purges to tidy up things a bit and get order among the boys m the back room who might have had some misgivings about what they had seen and heard, but that was a small matter. 13 One of the favorite weapons in the arsenal of a psychic is to call down judgments on the head of the defector, and Ellen came into her own in this area of warfare. Not many of the later members of the church knew that often her "testimonies" were sent to the press or the pulpit before they were hand­delivered to the ones who were being rebuked. This habit of making public what often was based on rumor and gossip, leaving little or no room for the recipient to defend himself, usually made Ellen a winner. Responding to her circulated invitation, for those with perplexities regarding her testimonies to write her about their objections and criticisms, physicians Charles E. Stewart and William S. Sadler both wrote Ellen and expressed their objections to her publicizing practice as nonbiblical and otherwise unsound. But she never took up the challenge and answered them, as she had stated she would, as far as IS known. 14

Others soon found that it was futile to fight against God, at least in public. Uriah Smith found it thus-and said so on his attempt to survive as an editor of the Adventist Review. By 1883 he knew that the Jig was up. Although he had expressed his reservation about the works of art that Ellen was putting out, he said:

It seems to me that the testimonies, practically, have come into that shape, that it is not of any use to try to defend the enormous claims that are now put forth for them. At least, after the unjust treatment I have received the past year, I feel no burden in that direction.... If all the brethren were willing to investigate this matter candidly and broadly, I believe some consistent common ground for all to stand upon could be found. But some, o the rule or rum spirit? are so dogmatical and stubborn that I suppose that any effort in that direction would only lead to a rupture of the body. 15

It is interesting to read so many years later that at the 1919 Bible Conference the college religion teachers and the church leaders reached much the same conclusion but hesitated to do anything that might bring a rupture of a much larger body. 16

Again, to show that by the late 1870s and early 1880s there was very little middle ground in the case of Ellen White, Smith wrote on April 6,

The idea has been studiously instilled into the minds of the people that to question the visions m the least is to become at once a hopeless apostate and rebel; and too many, I am sorry to say, have not strength of character enough to shake off such a conception; hence the moment anything is done to shake them on the visions, they lose faith in everything and go to destruction. 17

On July 31 of that same year, again Smith gave evidence that he was no match for Ellen:

And my reason is that Sr. W. has herself shut my mouth. In the Special Testimony to the B.C. [Battle Creek] church, quoted in the Sab. Advocate Extra, (both of which I suppose you have seen) she has published me as having rejected not only that testimony, but ALL the testimonies. Now if I say that I haven't rejected them, I thereby show that I have, for I contradict this one. But if I say that I have, that will not do them any good that I can see, but will be saying that which I have not supposed to be true. Her attack upon me seems to be most uncalled for and unjust.... She has forced me without a cause, into a very embarrassing position. 18

Others were to feel her wrath in her "testimonies," and her victory was as sure as any ancient or private witch doctor's. But before he went down for the last time, Smith (as others before him had and others for long after him would) tried to salvage his reason and his pride by saying that "I now have to discriminate between 'testimony' end 'vision." 19

It had been plain for most to see, even before the Smith run­in, that Ellen was winning. Long before the final curtain was to fall on the Uriah Smith act, it was known that Ellen was both orchestrating the music and leading the band. Others would arise to challenge the correctness of the scores, but she was in charge and would remain so. The claims would grow more outrageous by the decade, and the voices of the extremists would sound more shrill to those, either in OF out of the fold, who did not hold her and her writings to be the final word in just about anything and everything.

The extremists were to lose only one battle in the war for control of people's minds. That took place in order to meet the growing criticism of the 1940s and 1950s when prominent evangelical groups came to Washington to examine Adventism for themselves. A cluster of anonymous leaders published a volume called Seventh­day Adventists Answer Questions on Doctrine (commonly known as Questions on Doctrine). The book was designed to convince the visiting friends that Ellen White was not the patron saint of the Seventh­day Adventist Church; that her writings were not on a level with the writings of the Canon; that her inspiration was not as that of the writers of the Canon; and that the church did not hold her as the interpreter of the Scriptures but the other way around. All this was stated very clearly and forcefully in Questions on Doctrine. 20

It took almost twenty­five years of working, waiting, and infiltrating of positions for the radical right to come roaring back. In 1980 the General Conference in session at Dallas, Texas, rammed through a plank in the church's spiritual platform that told all who could read that Ellen White is indeed the saint of the church and that Ford, Brinsmead, Paxton, or all Australians and Americans, or anyone to come, would have to choose between coming to the church, and indeed coming to the Canon and to God himself, through the writings of that small­town girl from Gorham, Maine-Ellen Gould (Harmon) White. 21

It had taken a long time, but she had made good. The extremists who prevailed on the delegates to adopt the plank were to use it almost at once as a weapon on Ford, the Australian scholar­teacher on trial for his works, his reputation, and (some thought and hoped) even his life.

Ford, like Uriah Smith before him, was to lose, mainly because he wanted to salvage some of Ellen's works and lessen the authority of most of it. Like Smith before him, he wanted to separate, at least in his own thinking, her testimonies from her visions. But his trial judges (and all subsequent Review articles) were to make clear that it was all or none -that the Seventh­day Adventist Church does indeed believe, as George Irwin had indicated in his 1911 tract, that Ellen was canonized as the divine, infallible interpreter of all Adventist doctrine and thought. The die was cast. Or, to put it another way, the Rubicon was crossed. Or the bridges were burned behind them.

In any case, the Seventh­day Adventist Church stood naked and alone before the world-as a cult-believing that salvation is hardly possible and that Scripture is indeed impossible as a guide to Christ and the Gospel except through Ellen. A movement that had begun with extreme views in 1844, closing the door to all others but themselves, again some 140 years later had taken the road of extremism-defying all efforts to open that closed door; slamming it shut again (if possible, forever); declaring once more that they were the saved, the keepers of the keys, the epitome of human perfection. God's people and all others would have to start up the stairs of Ellen's writings on their knees, like Luther's trip of old, if they had any thoughts of reaching heaven.

It may be that history has already concluded that Ellen had some farseeing power, not only in the way others had come to accept. It is just possible that in the early 1870s-when the way was cleared of most vocal opposition, and she began her most significant task of reassigning history and its events to her concepts, and rewriting Scripture to her vision-that she saw the end­results if it all worked. And the record shows that it did work for some. Too well, perhaps. Most who went that far now seem to stand alone with only Ellen as their trophy. Perhaps she would have liked that, inasmuch as she lived in loneliness and often wrote about it and told her followers to anticipate it and prepare for it.

Not available are the minutes of any gatherings or meetings where

the formal plans were finalized for producing the written material of the 1870s and 1880s. Perhaps there were no such meetings, no rush to judgment, only a slow evolution. By now Ellen's writings had included many authors who strengthened her account of the past and her view of the events that were to take place in the future. The idea was best expressed in the introduction of the four volumes that sought to do the task:

Preface to Reprinted Edition:

Ellen White, through most of her life ministry, gave high priority to the task of keeping the story of the great controversy between Christ and Satan before the church and the world. There was first the very brief, almost resume, account published in the diminutive Spiritual Gifts, volume 1. In its 219 pages it spans the story from "The Fall of Satan" to "The Second Death" -the end of Satan and sin. With Sabbath keeping believers numbering fewer than three thousand, the issuance of this work was a courageous publishing venture. Volume 2 in 1860 presented the Christian experience and views of Ellen White.

This was followed in 1864 by Spiritual Gifts, volumes 3 and 4, filling in the Old Testament history, which, except for three brief chapters, was barely referred to in volume 1.

The four­volume Spirit of Prophecy series, published between 1870 and 1884, provided for the growing church a much more detailed presentation of the great controversy story in a total of 1,696 pages of Ellen G. White text. This in time was replaced by the still further expanded, and to the author most satisfactory, five­volume Conflict of the Ages Series. These give the reader 3,507 pages of text in recounting the great controversy story. 22

The key words in this preface are "was replaced by the still further expanded, and to the author most satisfactory, five­volume Conflict of the Ages Series." Twentieth century Adventists generally had not known that the Conflict Series was an expansion of anything. Although it had been accepted that Ellen had done some preliminary work in the rewriting of history and theology, very few had guessed that the first four books of The Spirit of Prophecy were really a trial run for the job. Obviously if the early books stood the test for its author and her helpers, they would become a firmer and much stronger foundation for any revision of thought that the church would have to be conditioned to accept.

Had that preface statement been given sooner than eighty to ninety years after the event, possibly it would have helped to clarify some of the problems that were beginning to surface in Ellen's copywork. Had all the staff that worked with her, and all those who noticed similarities from materials that were seen in her possession, been aware that she was helping herself to large portions of others' material, the banquet that was served up in the name of God might not have been such a picnic. But Ellen was not putting all the food on the table at once or the guests might have become suspicious.

The statement was also to further the White lie, for in no way could those few pages of the "diminutive" Spiritual Gifts be called full­size pages. When compared with the finished product of the Conflict Series, they were to make only about one­third to one­half the size of the later amplification. What this means, then, is that the last commentary on the Old Testament, given in her final Conflict Series, which added hundreds and hundreds of new ideas and thoughts not included in Scripture, started out as 75 to 90 pages of ideas in the 1858 production. Later these illuminations were to cover over twenty­five million wordsl How this expansion took place is what the rest of this story is all about.

References and Notes

1. The first two volumes of Spiritual Gifts were published in 1858 and 1860 and the last two in 1864. A facsimile reproduction of the four volumes (in two books) was issued and copyrighted in 1945.

2. James White, Ed., A Word to the "Little Flock" (Brunswick, ME: private printing, 1847). In recent years a facsimile reproduction of this 24­page pamphlet was issued by the Ellen G. White Estate staff. Added to it was an appendix consisting of two pages of notes by the Estate staff plus four pages of comments and explanations by Ellen White in her Ms. 4, 1883.

3. James White, Ed., Present Truth, July 1849 to November 1850.

4. Ellen G. White, Early Writings (Washington: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1882), p. 64.

5. Ibid., p. 58.

6. Ibid., p. 64.

7. Ibid., p. 67.

8. Francis D. Nichol, Ed., Seventh­day Adventist Commentary, 7 vols. (Washington: RHPA, 1953­57), vol. 4, s.v. "Conditional Prophecy."

9. EGW Testimonies for the Church, 9 vols. (Washington: RHPA, 1885­1909),

10. The Book of Jasher; referred to in Joshua and Second Samuel (NewYork: M. M.

Noah & A. S. Gould, 1840; reprinted: Mokelumne Hill, CA 95245: Health Research, 1966). References to Esdras in A Word to the "Little Flock" are shown in the footnotes of the pamphlet, pp. 14­20. These are reproduced also in Franas D. Nichol, Ellen C. White and Her Critics (Washington: RHPA, 1951), appendix, pp. 561­84.

11. EGW, Spiritual Gifts, vol. 2, p. 293.

12. George A. Irwin, "The Mark of the Beast," pamphlet (Washington:

RHPA, 1911). Irwin was president of the General Conference of Seventh­day Adventists 1899­1901.

13. Ingemar Linden, The Last Trump (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1978),

p. 203. I.inden quotes information from the diaries of George W. Amadon.

14. Charles E. Stewart, A Response to an Urgent Testimony from Mrs. Ellen G.

White, pamphlet enlar~ed from his letter of 8 May 1907 to EGW (n.p. [private printing], pref.1 October 1907). Often called "the blue book."

15. Uriah Smith to D. M. Canright, 11 March 1883.

16. [Bible Conference], "The Bible Conference of 1919," Spectrum 10, no. 1

(May 1979): 23­57.

17. Smith to Canright,6 April 1883.

18. Smith to Canright, 31 July 1883.

19. Smith to Caaright,7 August 1883.

20. [Seventh­day Adventists], Questions on Doctrine (Washington: RHPA, 1957), pp. 7­10, 89­91. Preparation of this book is attributed on the title page to a "Representative Group of Seventh­day Adventist Leaders, Bible Teachers, and Editors." In some circles this "group" is referred to as FRAN, a sort of acronym for Leroy E. Froom, Walter L. Read, and Roy Allan Anderson.

21. Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh­day Adventists-Church Manual Revisions. Advent Review, May 1,1980, p. 23.

22. EGW, The Spirit of Prophecy, 4 vols. (Battle Greek: Review and Herald, 18570­77­78­84. Facsimile reproduction, Washington: RHPA, 1969), vol. 1, pref. to 19ti9 facsimile reproduction.

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