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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    II. A Messenger to the Advent People


    The birthplace of ELLEN GOULD HARMON, later Mrs. James White (1827-1915), was Gorham, some ten miles north of Portland, Maine. According to the local historical plaque, Gorham grew up around a fort erected in 1744 as “A Refuge and a Defense Against the Attacks of the Indians.” The little town spreads itself along the main road. And here, just beyond the site of the fort, the old Harmon homestead (pictured on opposite page), beautifully located on an elevation, overlooks a broad green valley spread out between two lakes-affording a charming view of forest and meadow. And across the Connecticut River the impressive White Mountains of New Hampshire form the inspiring background.PFF4 976.2

    Ellen, with her twin sister, was the youngest of a family of eight. She was a normal child of sunny disposition, quick of mind and resolute. Moving to Portland when Ellen was still a child, her father, who was a hatter, continued his business in the home-all the family helping. Here Ellen attended the old Brackett Street School. Nor was there anything unusual about her early years. However, when she was only eight (in 1836), she found a newspaper account of a prominent preacher in England who had recently declared that the Lord would come some thirty years hence.’” 29Possibly Edward Bickersteth or John Cumming. Several English writers of the day looked to 1866 as the possible time of the world’s climax, though a much larger number looked to 1843 or 1844. (See tabular chart, Prophetic Faith, Vol. III, pp. 744, 745.) Her first intimation of an imminent advent thus came from a British clergyman. A. W. Spalding’s delightful description in Captains of the Host, pp. 62-76. She took it home to the family, greatly impressed that she should be ready to meet her returning Saviour. 30E. G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 20. This section is based on Life Sketches; also A. W. Spalding’s delightful description in Captains of the Host, pp. 62-76.PFF4 976.3

    Harmon home at Gorham, Maine, Where Mrs. White was born, and early photo of Ellen Gould Harmon White
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    Between 1837 and 1843 Ellen passed through a spiritual crisis, similar to that of many others who have struggled to find God. She rebelled against the dismal prospects resulting from an early accident, and its attendant invalidism. But in 1840, in the large Casco Street Christian Church, of which L. D. Fleming was pastor, William Miller gave a series of lectures on the second advent, which stirred Portland and the whole State. From the first the Harmon family was deeply impressed with Miller’s clear expositions, and his kind and fatherly attitude, but continued on in the fellowship of the Chestnut Street Methodist Church of Portland. (Cut of both churches appears on p. 979.) Later in the same year, responding to an altar call at a Methodist camp meeting at Buxton, Ellen found her burden rolled from her shoulders. From then on she knew herself to be a child of God, and was soon baptized by immersion. 31One of the sights of present interest in Portland, along the bay to the west, in the once aristocratic residential section, stands Longfellow’s birthplace—now a dilapidated old three-story house in the midst of an industrial section and filled-in ground covered with railroad tracks. Back in Longfellow’s day, however, a beautiful sandy beach, coming up close to the front of the house, provided the favorite baptizing place of the Methodists. (Spalding, Footprints, p. 63.) While not emphasizing immersion like the Baptists, they then gave candidates their choice of sprinkling or immersion. And it was the conviction of Ellen Harmon that she should be immersed. However, her Christian life was still filled with perplexity, especially over certain theological points-sanctification, and particularly the eternal torment of the wicked.PFF4 977.1

    In the midst of these spiritual struggles, when she was nearly fifteen, Miller gave his second course of lectures in Portland, in 1842, at the same Casco Street Church. It was then that the Harmon family were confirmed in their belief in his teaching on the nearness of the second advent. But by this time the Maine Methodist Conference had passed resolutions condemning Miller’s views, and required its ministers to refrain from promulgating them. Discipline was also meted out to lay members. And among those disfellowshiped for their convictions were the Harmon family, including Ellen.PFF4 978.1

    Levi F. Stockman (see chapter 36), was one of the Methodist ministers who, about this time, was disciplined by the Maine Conference. Hearing of Ellen Harmon’s singular religious experience, he assured her that God has a plan and a place for each of His children, and must have some special work for her to do. This encouraged her to participate publicly in the prayer meetings. Immediately her distress of soul left her and her perplexities vanished, and she constantly bore witness to the transforming power of God. She was now sixteen, in the summer of 1844, when James White, visiting Portland, was deeply impressed by her piety.PFF4 978.2

    (Left) upon Lorenzo Fleming’s invitation, William Miller gave two series of lectures in the Casco street Christian Church, in 1841 and 1842, leading to fleming’s acceptance of the advent faith. Fleming soon became one of their editors. Here also Ellen Harmon first Heard Miller, and likewise accepted the Premillennial Faith; (right) Chestnut Street Methodist Church from which Ellen Harmon, Her older sister Sarah, and their parents were disfellowshiped in 1843 for holding the second advent hope
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    It was in December, 1844, when Ellen, visiting her friend Mrs. Elizabeth Haines, in South Portland, was kneeling quietly at the family altar with some other young women of the Adventist faith. 32E. G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 64-68; also her Christian Experience and Teachings, pp. 57-61; Testimonies for the Church 1:58-61; and Christian Experience and Views (1851), p. 5. They were earnestly praying for light and guidance. Then it was that she experienced her first vision, in which was portrayed before her the travels of the advent people on their way to the city of God. 33It was essentially the same view that had been shown to the reluctant Hazen Foss, studying for the Episcopalian ministry, who had been bidden to bear his testimony to the bewildered Adventists around Portland. But, feeling that he had been deceived by the recent Disappointment, he refused to relate what had been shown him. Then the dismal conviction came to him that the Spirit of God had left him. (Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement, pp. 182, 183.)PFF4 979.1

    When Ellen Harmon related this vision to the little group of sixty perplexed and disappointed Adventist believers in Portland, their personal knowledge of her unique Christian experience, her sincerity, and her consistent life, and the practical nature of the message, led them to accept it as a message from Heaven. Shortly after this a second vision revealed the disbelief, fanaticism, misrepresentation, and calumny she must meet, but she was told that it was her duty to relate to others what God had shown her. Overwhelmed by the prospect and its unknown implications, she shrank from such a mission. Despair pressed upon her, and for a time she absented herself from public services.PFF4 980.1

    It was a crisis hour in her life. But in one of the Portland meetings, light seemed suddenly to come upon her, and she responded, “Be it unto me according to Thy Word.” Her life thenceforth forms an amazing story. From the weakest of the weak she developed into a well-poised, eloquent, persuasive speaker and a forceful writer. She found great pleasure in study of the Word. She was well read, and her travels greatly broadened her views of life and helped her in expounding truth. In her public work she spoke with a persuasive authority, based on the conviction that she bore a message for and from God. She helped guide the infant Sabbatarian church through crisis after crisis-when it was plagued by abuse, divisive suggestions, defection, and poverty.PFF4 980.2

    She neither claimed nor accepted the role of infallibility—which is vastly different from inspiration, which is the influence of the Spirit of God upon the spirit of the submissive servant and messenger. Like the prophets of old, she illuminated and applied truth, and gave guidance to her fellow believers. She did not lay claim to the title of prophet, preferring to be called a “messenger” 34E. G. White, Manuscript 140, 1905; cf. her article “A Messenger,” The Review and Herald, July 26, 1906, pp. 8, 9. and “servant” of God. But she proved herself to be in the line of succession of those worthies of old-humble, earnest, faithful, and effective. At the time of her death an editorial in The Independent, leading New York weekly of the time, after giving a recital of the rise and worldwide expansion of Seventh-day Adventists, declared:PFF4 980.3

    “In all this Ellen G. White has been the inspiration and guide. Here is a noble record, and she deserves great honor. Did she really receive divine visions, and was she really chosen by the Holy Spirit to be endued with the charism of prophecy? Or was she the victim of an excited imagination? Why should we answer? One’s doctrine of the Bible may affect the conclusion. At any rate she was absolutely honest in her belief in her revelations. Her life was worthy of them. She showed no spiritual pride and she sought no filthy lucre. She lived the life and did the work of a worthy prophetess, the most admirable of the American succession.” 35Editorial, “An American Prophetess,” The Independent, Aug. 23, 1915.PFF4 981.1


    During that informal season of prayer in Mrs. Raines’s Portland home, in December, 1844, Ellen Harmon was given her first revelation, portraying the future experiences through which the believers were yet to pass, and on to the final return of Christ. This extraordinary message gave light-just a few rays, like the early glow of sunrise appearing long before the noontide blaze of light. Unconscious of her surroundings, she saw a lighted pathway stretching straight through to a glorious destination—the city of God. The light behind the advent believers, which was declared to be that of the Midnight Cry-obviously the well-known seventh-month movement-shone all along the pathway the Christian pilgrims were to travel, until they reached the shining city of God at the end of the far-stretching pathway.PFF4 981.2

    Jesus was their guide and leader, and so long as they kept their eyes on Him they were safe. Moreover, as they journeyed the light increased in brightness. Others joined them, until there was a great company. On the other hand, she saw that some grew weary, indifferent, and discontented. The journey was much longer than they had anticipated, and they decided that God was not leading. Such would stumble off the lighted path into dense darkness below.” 36This was first printed as part of a longer communication in the Day-Star (Cincinnati). Jan. 24. 1846, p. 31, and in Ellen G. White’s Christian Experience and Views (1851), pp. 9-13 (incorporated into her Early Writings, 14-17), and separately in her Spiritual Gifts 2:30-35, and Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 64-68. 982PFF4 981.3

    And along with this revelation came the conviction, which could not be silenced, that she must tell what had been shown to her to the scattered, confused, and troubled advent believers. First in Portland and then throughout New England, this vivid message brought comfort and assurance. Its primary effect was to confirm faith in God’s past guidance. Despite their disappointment, there was light in the message-light that would illuminate their entire future pathway. They were not to look to the world. They were traveling on a path to the heavenly city, high above the world. The portrayal did not explain the nature of their disappointment; that must come through personal Bible study. But they were not to cast away their confidence, for Jesus was leading them. And they were safe as long, but only as long, as they kept their eyes on Him. They were not to grow weary because the journey was long—“a great way off”—but were to persevere to the end of the road.PFF4 982.1

    The saints would suffer persecution, but God would deliver them, for “My grace is sufficient for you.” And the wicked would be terrified as they beheld Christ at His second glorious appearing, and all the holy angels approaching. Then would come the resurrection oi the sleeping saints and the glad reunion, the ascension to the sea of glass, and the welcome into the city containing the throne of God and the river and tree of life. Such was the sweeping panorama opened before her.PFF4 982.2

    It is to be particularly noted that Ellen’s first revelation could not be accounted for as in any wise springing subjectively from her personal beliefs, or that of any of her friends or associates in Portland. Rather, it was their complete opposite. She and they, like the Millerite leaders, had previously come to feel that the Midnight Cry movement must have been a tragic mistake. The very fact that Jesus had not come was taken as evidence that their time calculation of the 2300 years as ending on October 22 had been in error. But in the vision the Midnight Cry was declared instead to be a brilliant light, like the penetrating beam from a giant searchlight-an abiding truth, which was to illuminate the path of the advent people all the way to the city of God. This they accepted. And the fact that it served to change her own personal belief, as well as that of others, is strong evidence that it did not spring from her own consciousness.PFF4 982.3


    Thus while the basic positions of the seventh-month movement were being abandoned by many on the right hand and on the left, Ellen Harmon now identified herself with those who maintained that God had assuredly led them in that great movement, and they advanced step by step in the providence of God, studying the Word of God until a clear, systematic body of truth was gradually established. From 1844 onward she taught that, despite its human frailties and mistakes, the Millerite movement fulfilled a divine purpose, and she strengthened the faithful to believe that clearer light would be given as needed.PFF4 983.1

    When the call to bear special messages for God was extended to Ellen Harmon in December, 1844, she had for some years been passing through experiences designed to prepare her for that very ministry. For four and a half years, during the most impressionable period of her life, Ellen’s all-absorbing interest had been that of preparation for the coming of Christ and of actively doing her part to make known to others the Saviour she had found, who, she believed, was returning erelong. During the year “1843,” in the Millerite movement, she had been an earnest worker for her girl companions, starting prayer bands for her friends and winning them to Christ. So that first revelation in the closing month of 1844 and the call to deliver the messages to the people came to one who had the burden of prayer and was active in personal work for her friends. Unrealized at the time, it was to begin a lifetime of almost unparalleled public witnessing, speaking, and writing on three continents.PFF4 983.2


    But Ellen White’s mission was not accepted among the former Millerites at large. There had been a feeling against any manifestation of the spiritual gifts because of the fanaticism of the Irvingites among the English Adventists and the publication of supposed visions in certain religious journals. The “Declaration of Principles” adopted by the Adventists of Boston in May, 1843, contains the following:PFF4 984.1

    “We have no confidence whatever in any visions, dreams, or private revelations. ‘What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord.’ We repudiate all fanaticism, and everything which may tend to extravagance, excess, and immorality, that shall cause our good to be evil spoken of.” 37Declaration of Principles,” Signs of the Times, June 7, 1843, p. 107. The fanaticism of John Stark weather and the episode of Dr. C. R. Gorgas led to the adverse attitude and action toward all “special illumination,” taken by the Mutual Conference of Adventists at Albany, New York, in May, 1845. 38See Advent Herald, May 14, 1845, p. 107. And the New York Conference, that soon followed, passed this action:PFF4 984.2

    “Resolved, that we have no confidence in any new messages, visions, dreams, tongues, miracles, extraordinary gifts, revelations, impressions, discerning of spirits, or teachings, &c. &c, not in accordance with the unadulterated word of God.” 39“Conference of Adventists at New York, Commencing May 6th, 1845,” Advent Herald May 21, 1845, p. 118. Ellen G. White was often confronted with the type of excesses and fanaticism there referred to, but her own life and witness were totally different. Hers was a steadying influence amid the post-Disappointment confusion. Multiplied thousands of Adventist believers from the various churches and the world had been united in their expectation of Christ’s return. And when that failed of realization, the bond of unity that held them together was broken. Confusion reigned. Extremists arose to distract and annoy. Discordant opinions were voiced and conflicting publications appeared on every hand. Fanaticism sought entrance into the “little flock,” as they were called.PFF4 984.3

    It was under these strained circumstances that the prophetic gift was revived, the Sabbatarian Adventists believed. It was not given to teach new truths, they insisted, but to rebuke false and fanatical teachings, and to place a confirming endorsement upon those truths of the Word that had previously been dug out through the diligent prayer and study of individuals or by groups of earnest seekers for light, and to encourage and guide the “little flock.”PFF4 985.1

    Moreover, the popular wave of mesmerism, or-hypnotism, in those days, was soon followed by a sharp upsurge of spiritualism. These Ellen White was also called upon to face and expose, as well as the fanatic and erratic who sought entrance into the movement. At seventeen she bore witness that those who set successive times for the coming of the Lord would be mistaken. Writing, speaking, and counseling were to be her lifework. 40E. G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 85-94. And in time she was addressing the largest audiences of the day, so that leaders of the time recognized her speaking power as unique.PFF4 985.2


    Though she never formally studied theology or ecclesiastical polity, and never held official churchly office, Ellen White set forth and applied foundational principles that aided to no small extent in building up a highly efficient organization. And the wide range of subjects she discerningly discussed is remarkable-salvation in all its phases; instruction for youth, parents, and the aged; counsel on the home and society, for the individual and for the church. Her comprehensive writings deal with equality and liberty for rich and poor alike. They emphasize health, education, temperance, evangelism, sane finance, and world-wide missions. They penetrate to the heart of preaching and enunciate great basic principles of soul winning.PFF4 985.3

    Concerning the church, she dealt with definite doctrinal foundations, spiritual power, and organization on the basis of Bible order. Moreover, she gave messages on the inspiration and validity of the Bible when the whole trend was toward skeptical and higher critical views of Scripture, and when exposition was surrounded by a cloud of mysticism. And her writings stood as a bulwark against the rising tide of evolution beginning to sweep over the land.PFF4 986.1

    By voice, and in the volumes issuing in a continuing stream from her pen, 41See Appendix E. Mrs. White’s influence upon the growing church was profound. And the world, looking on, recognized a special gift, which had materially aided in the build-up of the Seventh-day Adventist movement, and which had guided the infant organization through its difficult early period. It was her voice of encouragement that built morale and put courage into the poverty-stricken nucleus of Sabbatarians over a century ago. It was her rebuke that had silenced fanatics and extremists. Her voice had called to diligent Bible study and to holier living. It had insisted on world evangelism, and urged a special kind of school, publishing house, and medical institution to meet their own special needs.PFF4 986.2


    Apart from her extensive travels Mrs. White lived thirty years in Battle Creek, Michigan, and fifteen years near St. Helena, California, where she died in 1915. She spent two years in Europe (1885-1887), and nine years in Australia (1891-1900). She was never ordained in the ordinary understanding of the term” 42She did, however, carry ministerial credentials. and was elected to no office or administrative post in the church. She grew up in an age of intense spiritual agitation, when America was engaged in historic, religious, and social discussions and experiments. The weight of Mrs. White’s influence and counsel was ever behind the major moral and physical reforms of the day. In the crisis over slavery her writings were always on the side of freedom and the individual rights of mankind; in temperance reform they were ever in the forefront, going beyond others in teaching the basic control of appetite-not only as regards alcoholic drinks, but including tobacco and narcotics, and all stimulants and injurious foods-with a positive, well-balanced program of health promotion through rational living.PFF4 986.3

    Mrs. White was not tutored in the universities and had no influential connections. She had no outstanding physical vitality or beauty of person such as has frequently marked the dominant women of history. But when she spoke from the platform her simple, moving eloquence held thousands spellbound. Her program of tireless, incessant public speaking and effective writing stands almost without a parallel. The mere physical task of writing over twenty thousand pages of book manuscript and some three thousand periodical articles is itself staggering. 43Sec Appendix E. The sheer extent of her literary output is incredible, yet many of the best literary minds of the century frankly admired the remarkable character of the books she produced. Specialists have been amazed at the knowledge and the fundamental grasp of basic principles in their own and other quite different specialized fields.PFF4 987.1


    As stated, Mrs. White held no official position in the church. There was nothing pretentious about her bearing-no attitude of officiousness, no claim of personal authority, superlative wisdom, impeccability, or infallibility. But with it all there was an inflexible courage to speak forth her message as she felt directed. While Deborah of old was called a “prophetess,” she was also known as “a mother in Israel.” The same was true of Mrs. White. Possession of the prophetic gift, her neighbors found, did not make the human agent a strange and abnormal sort of person. Though considered a messenger to the remnant church, she was, at the same time, a normal, natural, kindly person, a helpful friend and neighbor, a mother and wife, with a home and children, respected in the church and community because of her godly life and influence.PFF4 987.2

    Mrs. White’s bitterest and most relentless critic, Dudley M. Canright, formerly a Seventh-day Adventist minister, who had been well acquainted with her, came with his brother to her funeral. His brother tells the incident:PFF4 988.1

    “We joined the passing throng, and again stood by the bier. My brother rested his hand upon the side of the casket, and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he said brokenly, ‘There is a noble Christian woman gone.’” 44Quoted in William A. Spicer, The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement, p. 127.PFF4 988.2

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