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    Chapter 5—The Man who Hanged Himself

    The decades of the 1840’s and 1850’s saw many kinds of social and religious movements sweep across New England and New York. They ranged from Joseph Smith’s Mormonism to Sylvester Graham’s program of health reform. Some of the movements, especially the religious ones, attracted strange kinds of people.AOT 39.1

    James and Ellen White often met some of them. They had a special problem with religious fanatics. When Christ did not come to earth in the fall of 1844, the Adventists faced growing doubts about the correctness of their understanding of the Bible. As the faith of many weakened, it provided an opportunity for those teaching unusual doctrines to gain followers among the confused people. Many who had once been dedicated Adventists accepted all kinds of strange beliefs. The Whites had to fight such fanaticism to protect those who kept their faith. Many of the fanatics brought dishonor to the name “Adventist.” One day the Whites visited a family living in the tiny New Hampshire town of Claremont. The townspeople had directed them to the husband, saying he and a friend were the local Adventist leaders. But the Whites soon found he had accepted the doctrine of holiness, which teaches that a man can reach a state of perfection where he can no longer sin. The man dressed in the best clothes he could buy, and seemed to have an air of ease and comfort about him. But he loafed and had many bad habits. Instead of supporting himself, he tried to persuade others to support him through charity, creating much prejudice against Adventists.AOT 39.2

    While he and several others sharing his beliefs sat around and bragged to the Whites about the holiness they had attained, into the room walked the man’s son, a boy about eight years old. Shame filled the lad’s mother when she saw the boy’s dirty, ragged clothing, but the father showed no concern, completely ignoring his son. Without paying any attention to him he continued to tell about what he considered his high spiritual qualities.AOT 40.1

    When Mrs. White saw the child’s terrible clothing, any belief she might have had about the man’s holiness immediately vanished. She knew that Christ never taught idleness or encouraged religious devotions to the neglect of family duties. The man’s wife had to completely support the family, yet her husband criticized her for not being as holy as he thought he was. He believed a holy person’s thoughts should be above matters of work, of food, of daily tasks. Yet he would have starved without her. That night the Adventists held a meeting at the home of a Mr. Collier. Mrs. White, wanting to learn more about the men teaching the holiness doctrine, asked Collier what he knew about them. Refusing to answer, he explained, “If the Lord sent you here, you will soon learn what they are like.”AOT 40.2

    The holiness believers also attended the meeting. While Mrs. White prayed that the Holy Spirit would enter the gathering, the fanatics began to groan and exclaim “Amen” in seeming sympathy with her prayer. She stopped, unable to continue.AOT 41.1

    Knowing that the meeting could get out of hand if the men kept trying to demonstrate their supposed sinlessness, James White stood and said, “I am distressed. Such behavior drives the Holy Spirit away. I resist their influence in the name of the Lord. O God, rebuke this evil.”AOT 41.2

    The feeling of depression that had stopped Ellen’s prayer disappeared, and she resumed. After she had spoken a few moments, they started their groans and amens again. Their action seemed to chill her body, and she paused a second time.AOT 41.3

    Once more James White prayed that God would stop the evil power that threatened to control the meeting. The fanatics did not attempt to flaunt their pretended holiness before the people a third time. The meeting continued quietly and orderly.AOT 41.4

    After the meeting James talked to Mr. Collier privately. “You were right,” he commented. “I have learned what these men are like. They act under the influence of Satan, but claim that the Spirit of the Lord guides them in what they do.”AOT 41.5

    Collier nodded. “I believe God sent you to help us,” he replied. “As for them”—he motioned in the general direction of the holiness teachers—“we call their power mesmerism [an early name for hypnotism]. They have a strong control over the minds of others, and have had a bad effect on some. The local Adventists seldom hold meetings anymore. If we do, they show up and try to run things, and we believe we should not associate with them. They appear to show great religious feeling, as you saw tonight, yet they somehow drain all the spirituality out of our prayers and leave us in a state of great depression. Tonight was the first time I ever saw anyone able to control them.”AOT 42.1

    Those who had watched James White silence the holiness fanatics wondered even more about the men’s spirituality. Soon the people of the New Hampshire village learned about the true character of those teaching the “cannot sin” falsehood, and the fanatics lost their followers. But it seemed that as soon as one case of fanaticism ended, another one would arise somewhere else. The Whites hurried from place to place meeting attacks on and dangers facing the little groups of men and women who would eventually become the Seventh-day Adventist Church.AOT 42.2

    In Paris, Maine, the Whites met a man who claimed God did not want him to work with his hands. In hardworking New England such an idea naturally made people dislike him. He took long, tiring journeys to places where he knew people would abuse and mistreat him, thinking that he suffered for Christ’s sake. His ideas made people scorn him and laugh at him until many thought all Adventists were like him. He followed any whim or feeling that came to his mind.AOT 42.3

    God, knowing the damage the man caused to His church, sent a warning to him through Mrs. White. She told him that God said he did wrong in refraining from work and in trying to get others to follow his course. Never, she said, should he condemn people when they would not do as he did. The man spurned her warnings, saying they came from the devil, and she saw that she could not change his mind.AOT 43.1

    To keep Mrs. White from becoming discouraged, God showed her that He would counteract much of the damage the man had done.AOT 43.2

    The fanatic continued to follow his whims and impressions until his friends began to notice that he was becoming mentally ill. When he finally turned completely insane, they confined him in an asylum. Although a few of his followers still clung to his teachings, his suicide finally destroyed their faith in him. Making a rope out of blankets and sheets, he hanged himself.AOT 43.3

    Not all of the people creating difficulty for the Adventists acted quite so strangely. Some caused trouble in more subtle ways. Hypocrisy—deliberately giving a false image or impression of what one is like—often threatened the faith of early church members. People would give the appearance of being religious when they actually had lives full of evil and wrong practices. As the years passed, the Whites’ travels centered less in New England. They went farther west, spending some time in New York. For a while they rented a house in Oswego, New York. One day Ellen White received a vision concerning a woman attending the Adventist church in Camden, about forty miles east of Oswego. The angel showed her the little group of believers, pointing out one woman who claimed to be especially pious. “The woman is actually a hypocrite,” the angel stated, “and she is deceiving the others.”AOT 43.4

    Arriving at the church, Mrs. White looked around for the woman, but did not see her. Turning to a member, she asked her if everybody belonging to the group had come. She glanced about the room, studying faces, then replied that all had come. Since the woman Mrs. White had seen in the vision lived four miles away, the person Ellen asked had forgotten about her entirely. A few minutes later the hypocritical woman did enter, and Mrs. White instantly recognized her.AOT 44.1

    During the meeting an opportunity came for each to give a short testimony about his personal religious life. When the woman’s chance came, she talked a long time, telling everybody she had perfect love and a holy heart. Unlike other people, she claimed, she did not have to struggle with temptations and difficulties. No discouragements or fears bothered her. Instead, she had perfect peace because she submitted her life completely to God. Not following her own desires, she tried to obey Him in every way. The others attending the meeting seemed to believe her claims. Fearing that no one would believe her because she was a stranger in Camden, Mrs. White did not say anything against the woman. When Ellen asked someone what he thought about the pious woman, he said he considered her the most active and faithful member of the little Adventist congregation.AOT 44.2

    Discouraged, Mrs. White left the meeting with her husband, and they drove to the home where they stayed for the weekend. She knew that she could not tell what she had learned in vision about the woman without turning the people against herself. They would naturally defend their friend and neighbor from the charges of a stranger. Probably the woman would only gain more influence.AOT 45.1

    That night God sent Ellen White a symbolic dream. In it a door opened, revealing a closet crammed with junk. An angel standing beside her told her she must clean it out. Taking a lamp and turning its flame up brighter, she began to remove the rubbish. Soon the closet stood clean and empty. Several persons had watched Mrs. White empty the closet. Turning to them, she said they should not let anyone put any more trash in the little room, but should use it for more important things.AOT 45.2

    Sunday morning included another meeting with the tiny congregation. James White planned to preach on the parable of the ten virgins, but after he started, he began having difficulty speaking. He kept losing his voice and stumbling over words. His thoughts would either jumble up in confusion or his mind would go blank so that he couldn’t think of the right word to say. Realizing that the problem hindering his speaking would not go away by itself, James suggested that the group pray. During the prayer God took Mrs. White into vision.AOT 45.3

    She saw the hypocritical woman groping around in darkness symbolic of her spiritual life. Christ appeared, and looking at the woman and her husband, frowned. Mrs. White trembled at the sight of His expression, knowing that the hidden evil in the woman’s life had caused Christ to frown.AOT 46.1

    Coming out of vision, Ellen, still trembling, told those present what she had seen. Amazement and disbelief crossed their faces. The woman calmly sat and listened until Mrs. White finished. “I am glad the Lord knows my heart,” she said, standing. “He knows that I love Him.”AOT 46.2

    His face angry, her husband rose to defend her. With his Bible in his hand, he exclaimed, “The Bible is all we want. I shall not give up the Bible for visions.” Mrs. White had often heard the argument used against her.AOT 46.3

    “Don’t worry, dear,” the woman said, trying to quiet her husband. “The Lord knows me, and will take care of it all.” Her face showing hurt and puzzlement, she turned to the little gathering and repeated with tears in her eyes, “If my heart could only be opened that you might see it, you would see that it is pure and clean.”AOT 46.4

    The other Adventists quickly felt sympathy for the woman and resentment against Mrs. White. Mrs. White was a stranger, while the woman was a neighbor. Naturally they would believe her instead of someone unknown to them. Although saddened at the people’s hostility and disbelief, Ellen knew she had done her duty before God and felt sure He would take care of the woman and the problem she caused.AOT 46.5

    When the Whites left the meeting, the woman came up to Mrs. White and announced that she held no hard feelings against her. In fact, she added, she would even pray for Mrs. White. If Ellen White reached heaven, the woman promised to greet her there.AOT 47.1

    For a short time after the Whites had traveled on to other places, the Adventists in Camden wondered and debated whether they should believe Mrs. White or their neighbor. Many felt that she had abused the woman and damaged her reputation. Then something happened to prove Mrs. White’s claims.AOT 47.2

    Fear seized the woman’s mind, a fear so strong that no matter how hard she tried she could not escape it. A feeling that she should confess what she was really like overwhelmed her. When she could stand it no longer, she went to her friends and neighbors and began to tell them the secrets of her life. They came tumbling out. She shocked the people by telling them that the man she had lived with for years was not her husband. She had run away from her real husband in England, leaving a child behind.AOT 47.3

    Claiming special knowledge about medicine, she had sold bottles of medicine supposedly originally costing a dollar, but actually worth only twelve cents. Through a false oath she had defrauded a poor man of thirty dollars. The people now realized the truthfulness of Mrs. White’s charges against her.AOT 47.4

    The woman did not stop with just admitting her guilt. She tried to make right as far as possible the wrong things she had done, and at one time prepared to walk forty miles to confess to another person. When she could, she returned money that she had defrauded from people. Her repentance seemed genuine. But equally important, the Camden Adventists knew that God spoke through Ellen G. White.AOT 47.5

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