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    B. Hermeneutic No. 2

    If a statement seems inconsistent with the general tenor of related statements, study the context—internal and external—in your effort to resolve the apparent discrepancy.HIPSA 10.11

    The internal context deals with what the inspired writer wrote immediately before, or immediately after, the difficult statement. The external context deals with such issues as: To whom was the statement written? When was it written? Why was it written? What circumstances called it forth?HIPSA 10.12

    The problem of context may be particularly acute in connection with compilations of thematic materials. Sometimes there is insufficient quoted material to determine context. And sometimes statements are strung together that produce a conclusion altogether different from that intended by the author.HIPSA 10.13

    Some, recognizing the potential for misunderstanding and distortion in compilation preparation, refuse to read any compilation of Ellen White’s writings—even those prepared by the White Estate itself. They are sometimes quite surprised to learn that preparing thematic compilations from her writings was one of three duties Mrs. White gave the trustees of her estate in their charter.HIPSA 10.14

    The well-intentioned (though mistaken) souls who refuse to read any Ellen White book “that she didn’t write as a book,” are further chagrined to learn that some compilations of her writings were prepared under her supervision!HIPSA 11.1

    The Desire of Ages. For example, was not written as an author customarily writes a book—chapter 1, then chapter 2, and so on. This incomparable biography of our Lord was a compilation. When Mrs. White and her chief literary assistant, Marian Davis, began the “Life of Christ project,” as it was initially known, they assembled everything Mrs. White had written about Jesus—sermon transcripts, essays, book chapters, unpublished manuscript materials, even fragments from correspondence.HIPSA 11.2

    These items were arranged in rough chronological order. Then Mrs. White proceeded to (1) write materials to fill the “gaps,” (2) rewrite some materials that seemed unclear, and (3) expand other materials if supplementary visions had amplified her prior understanding. Thus The Desire of Ages was in reality a compilation. 32See Robert W. Olson, “How the Desire of Ages Was Written” (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1979), 47 pages.HIPSA 11.3

    Mrs. White strenuously protested against the abuse and misuse of her writings by some of the compilation makers of her own day. In 1901 she wrote thatHIPSA 11.4

    Many men take the testimonies the Lord has given, and apply them as they suppose they should be applied, picking out a sentence here and there, taking it from its proper connection, and applying it according to their idea. Thus poor souls become bewildered, when could they read in order all that has been given, they would see the true application, and would not become confused. Much that purports to be a message from Sister White, serves the purpose of misrepresenting Sister White, making her testify in favor of things that are not in accordance with her mind or judgment.... Please let Sister White bear her own message. 33Selected Messages 1:44, 45 (from Ms. 21, 1901).

    Ellen White clearly recognized that the context of a statement could influence the reader’s understanding of the truth she intended to convey. Note these statements:HIPSA 11.5

    “Regarding the testimonies, nothing is ignored: nothing is cast aside: but time and place must be considered.” 34ISM, p. 57 (from Ms. 23. 1911). In 1875 she declared, “That which can be said of men under certain circumstances, cannot be said of them under other circumstances.” 35Testimonies for the Church 3:470.HIPSA 11.6

    James White, in responding to an inquiry from “a brother at Monroe, Wis.,” concerning problems faced by his wife in attempting to counsel and guide the church, wrote in the Review and Herald in 1868 concerning another aspect of the problem of context—and the importance of the reader in determining to whom, when, and why a given Ellen White statement was made:HIPSA 11.7

    She works to this disadvantage, namely: she makes strong appeals to the people, which a few feel deeply, and take strong positions and go to extremes. Then to save the cause from ruin in consequence of these extremes, she is obliged to come out with reproofs for [these] extremists in a public manner. This is better than to have things go to pieces: but the influence of both the extremes and the reproofs are terrible on the cause, and brings upon Mrs. W. a threefold burden. Here is the difficulty: What she may say to urge the tardy is taken by the prompt to urge them over the mark. And what she may say to caution the prompt, zealous, incautious ones is taken by the tardy as an excuse to remain too far behind. 36The Review and Herald, March 17, 1868, p. 220, 31:14.

    Now let us examine a sampling of topics upon which the application of Jemison’s second principle of hermeneutics is critical to gaining a correct understanding of what the prophet meant by what she said:HIPSA 11.8

    A sin to laugh? Some months ago a writer contacted the White Estate and asked us to verify a statement purported to have come from the pen of Ellen White. As I looked at it, I shook my head in disbelief. I have yet to read every published word of Mrs. White’s—much less all of the as-yet-unpublished words (her total literary output is estimated at 25 million words over a period of 70 years). However, I have gained a “feel” for statements that sound like her. This one certainly did not sound like the Ellen White I had come to love and respect.HIPSA 11.9

    “Christ often wept but was never known to laugh...imitate the divine, unerring Pattern.” 37Ms. 11, 1868, p. 2.HIPSA 12.1

    I immediately noticed the ellipsis, indicating that in the original the sentences did not appear consecutively. (At least the “compiler” was honest enough to show the gap—many are not!)HIPSA 12.2

    I went to our vault to check the context in which she wrote. I noted immediately that this testimony related to a “Sister X” who had a serious spiritual problem. Mrs. White warned that “a work must be accomplished for her before she can be without fault before the throne of God.”HIPSA 12.3

    What was the problem? In brief, Sister X had not learned to control her tongue. She felt at perfect liberty to say anything that came into her head, justifying this on the basis that if she didn’t tell all, she was a hypocrite. “She has not seen the necessity of entirely controlling the tongue, the unruly member.”HIPSA 12.4

    Mrs. White next quoted the counsel found in James 3:2-18, and then addressed Sister X directly:HIPSA 12.5

    My sister, you talk too much...Your tongue has done much mischief. It has been a world of iniquity....Your tongue has kindled a fire and you have enjoyed [standing back and watching] the conflagration....Dear sister, there must be in you an entire transformation of character. The tongue must be tamed. Your words must be select, well chosen....You sport and joke and enter into hilarity and glee.... 38Ibid., pp. 1, 2.

    It is clear that the counsel was directed toward one who had an acute problem in controlling her tongue—one given to excessive “levity, glee, careless, reckless words, speaking at random, laughing, jesting, and joking.” 39Ibid., p. 2.HIPSA 12.6

    While warning against this excessive tendency to “sport and joke and enter into hilarity and glee,” Mrs. White pointed out that “Christ is our example....Christ often wept but was never known to laugh.”HIPSA 12.7

    But she immediately added, “I do not say it is a sin to laugh on any occasion.” (These words the original compiler had left out, for obvious reasons!) Mrs. White added, a few lines farther on, “Christian cheerfulness is not condemned by the Scriptures, but reckless talking is censured.” 40Ibid., pp. 2, 3.HIPSA 12.8

    So Ellen White was not saying that since Christ is the Christian’s example, and He never laughed, the Christian should never laugh either. The context—criticism of “reckless talking”—and the additional qualifying statements about it not being a sin ever to laugh or to be cheerful, help clarify what was originally an unbalanced presentation of the counsel of God’s special messenger to His people.HIPSA 12.9

    A sin to eat eggs? We have already noted that although Mrs. White wrote “Brother and Sister E” to the effect that “eggs should not be placed upon your table,” other subsequent statements modify this prohibition from being used in a general, across-the-board manner.HIPSA 12.10

    One of those other statements includes a precautionary qualifier (“Especially in families of children who are given to sensual habits”) that we will now explore further. Going back to the internal context of the original counsel to “Brother and Sister E,” we discover that this was precisely the problem that called forth her counsel to avoid eggs in the home of the “E” family. For she warned them in this long letter that “your children have practiced self-abuse [masturbation],” 41Testimonies for the Church 2:392. “your eldest son has enervated his entire system....Your second child is fast following in his steps, and not one of your children is safe from this evil.” 42Testimonies for the Church 2:400.HIPSA 12.11

    A sin to wear the wedding band? Ellen White made only one published statement concerning the wedding band, 43Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 180, 181. so it does not take long to follow Jemison’s first rule: gather all statements on the subject. In applying Jemison’s second rule (examine the internal and external context), we find that her statement was written in Australia in 1892. It was addressed jointly to (1) Australian members and church workers, (2) American missionaries serving in Australia, and also (3) Americans living in their own homeland.HIPSA 12.12

    Speaking first to the American missionaries in Australia, Mrs. White said it was not necessary for them to wear the wedding band “down under.” Although it was an obligatory custom for citizens of the British Empire, everyone knew that the custom was not so “imperative” in America. Indeed, “Americans can make their position understood by plainly stating that the custom is not regarded as obligatory in our country [in the 1890s].”HIPSA 13.1

    Still addressing her fellow Americans, Mrs. White considered the wearing of a wedding band by U.S. Adventists as a “leavening process which seems to be going on among us.” She emphasized that “not one penny should be spent for a circlet of gold to testify that we [American Adventists] are married.”HIPSA 13.2

    But Ellen White was also addressing the Australian church members. She did not say that they should nor spend “one penny” for a wedding band. On the contrary, Ellen White (who had herself been a missionary in several parts of the world) recognized that in some parts of the world at that time “the custom is imperative.”HIPSA 13.3

    She laid down only two conditions for those living in such places: (1) the custom must be viewed culturally as “imperative,” and (2) the individual Adventist must feel able to wear the wedding band “conscientiously.”HIPSA 13.4

    If those conditions intersected, Ellen White affirmed, “we have no burden to condemn those who have their marriage ring.” (Of course, she was speaking here of the simple, nonjeweled wedding band, which she never placed in the category of ornamental jewelry.) 44See Roger W. Coon. “Ellen G. White, the Wedding Band, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” unpublished manuscript, Ellen G. White Estate. (Outline of a lecture presented in SDA Theological Seminary course GSEM 5i4 entitled “The Ellen G. White Writings,” Berrien Springs, Michigan, December 2, 1987.)HIPSA 13.5

    Wrong to say “I am saved”? One of the most tragic spiritual realities in the Seventh-day Adventist Church today is that so many of our members—including the students in our schools—not only have a low self-image, but also feel no assurance of salvation.HIPSA 13.6

    This situation is not helped when one reads—out of context—such statements from the pen of Ellen White as the following:HIPSA 13.7

    “Those who accept the Saviour, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or to feel that they are saved. This is misleading.” 45Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, 155 (Mountain View: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1941). (Referred to hereafter as COL.) And, again, a Christian “should never dare to say, ‘I am saved.’” 46ISM, p. 314.HIPSA 13.8

    The internal context of both of these declarations makes it clear that Ellen White is speaking in the framework of the popular (but nonbiblical) doctrine of “Once saved, always saved.” (In theological circles this is known as the “doctrine of eternal security.”)HIPSA 13.9

    Note, however, the context of the first statement: Ellen White was discussing Simon Peter. She described how his “self-confidence” and “boastful assertions” to Christ in Gethsemane paved the way for his shameful denial of Christ in the court of Caiaphas early the next morning. After the Resurrection Christ restored Peter to his ministry and place among the Twelve, and Peter experienced a genuine conversion. “The once restless, boastful, self-confident disciple had become subdued and contrite.” 47Christ’s Object Lessons, 154. Now note the three sentences that immediately precede the declaration, “Those who accept the Saviour, however sincere their conversion, should never be taught to say or to feel that they are saved“:HIPSA 13.10

    Peter’s fall was not instantaneous, but gradual. Self-confidence led him to the belief that he was saved, and step after step was taken in the downward path, until he could deny his Master. Never can we safely put confidence in self, or feel, this side of heaven, that we are secure against temptations. 48Christ’s Object Lessons, 155.

    And then, after the troublesome sentence in question, we read, farther on:HIPSA 13.11

    Every one should be taught to cherish hope and faith; but even when we give ourselves to Christ and know that He accepts us, we are not beyond the reach of temptation....

    Those who accept Christ, and in their first confidence say, I am saved, are in danger of trusting to themselves. They lose sight of their own weakness and their constant need of divine strength. They are unprepared for Satan’s devices, and under temptation many, like Peter, fall into the depths of sin.... Our only safety is in constant distrust of self, and dependence on Christ. 49Ibid.

    Let us now read the second statement in its immediate context:HIPSA 14.1

    We are never to rest in a satisfied condition, and cease to make advancement, saying, “I am saved.” When this idea is entertained, the motives for watchfulness, for prayer, for earnest endeavor to press on to higher attainments, cease to exist. No sanctified tongue will be found in uttering these words till Christ shall come....As long as man is full of weakness—for of himself he cannot save his soul—he should never dare to say, “I am saved.” 50ISM, p. 314.

    While Ellen White saw danger in this unbiblical, false doctrine of eternal security, she also knew that Christians may indeed have assurance of eternal life with Christ in their day-to-day walk on this earth:HIPSA 14.2

    It is the privilege of everyone who has a part in any branch of the Lord’s work [she here is speaking of Christians as a whole, not simply of denominational employees] to know that his sins are forgiven, and to rejoice in the assurance of a higher life in the courts above.... With the hope and assurance that Christ has promised, how can we be unhappy? 51Ellen G. White, Letter 299, October 22, 1905, to the helpers at Paradise Valley Sanitarium, reprinted in This Day With God, 304 (Washington: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1979).

    Following Christ’s example of unselfish service, trusting like little children in His merits, and obeying His commands, we shall receive the approval of God. 52_____, Ms. 120 Oct. 3, 1905, reprinted in The Upward Look, 295

    If you are right with God today, you are ready if Christ should come today. 53_____, Letter 36, 1901 reprinted in In Heavenly Places, 227 (Washington: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1967)

    The last letter Ellen White ever wrote, 13 months before her death, on June 14, 1914, 54Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 516-520. was penned not only for the benefit of a personal friend, “but also for other faithful souls who are troubled by doubts and fears regarding their acceptance by the Lord Jesus Christ.” 55Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 516. This letter breathes out the fragrance of God’s acceptance and our assurance to a superlative degree.HIPSA 14.3

    Thus the statements counseling against a Christian’s saying, “I am saved,” must be viewed within not only the immediate context of warnings against the false doctrine of eternal security, but also within the broader framework of oft-repeated declarations concerning our assurance of eternal life in and through Jesus Christ.HIPSA 14.4

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