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101 Questions on the Sanctuary and on Ellen White

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    83. W. W. Prescott’s April 6, 1915, Letter

    How do you explain W. W. Prescott’s April 6, 1915, letter to W. C. White?QSEW 82.5

    The pertinent paragraphs from Prescott’s letter read as follows:QSEW 82.6

    “It seems to me that a large responsibility rests upon those of us who know that there are serious errors in our authorized books and yet make no special effort to correct them. The people and our average ministers trust us to furnish them with reliable statements, and they use our books as sufficient authority in their sermons, but we let them go on year after year asserting things which we know to be untrue. I cannot feel that this is right. It seems to me that we are betraying our trust and deceiving the ministers and people. It appears to me that there is much more anxiety to prevent a possible shock to some trustful people than to correct error.QSEW 82.7

    “Your letter indicates a desire on your part to help me but I fear that it is a little late. The experience of the last six or eight years and especially the things concerning which I talked with you have had their effect on me in several ways. I have had some hard shocks to get over and after giving the best of my life to this movement I have little peace and satisfaction in connection with it, and I am driven to the conclusion that the only thing for me to do is to do quietly what I can do conscientiously, and leave the others to go on without me. Of course this [is] far from a happy ending to my lifework, but this seems to be the best adjustment that I am able to make.QSEW 82.8

    “The way your mother’s writings have been handled and the false impression concerning them which is still fostered among the people have brought great perplexity and trial to me. It seems to me that what amounts to deception, though probably not intentional, has been practiced in making some of her books, and that no serious effort has been made to disabuse the minds of the people of what was known to be their wrong view concerning her writings. But it is no use to go into these matters. I have talked with you for years about them, but it brings no change. I think however that we are drifting toward a crisis which will come sooner or later and perhaps sooner. A very strong feeling of reaction has already set in.”—White Estate Document File #198.QSEW 83.1

    Prescott mentions three problems in his letter. One is the shock which had come to him personally in the previous six or eight years. Another is that “there are serious errors in our authorized books.” 5Prescott did not name the books he had in mind. Uriah Smith’s Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation was a principal target and The Great Controversy was another The third is that the people have a wrong view of the making of Ellen White’s books and “no serious effort has been made” to correct that wrong view.QSEW 83.2

    What were the “serious errors” to which Prescott made reference? He does not elaborate, but in his letter of April 26, 1910, to W. C. White, he mentions his disagreement with Ellen White’s Great Controversy on several counts. He held to the dates 533 to 1793 for the 1260-year period, whereas Ellen White gave 538 to 1798. He insisted that the 2300 years began in the spring of 457 BC, while she said they began in the autumn. He gave 30 AD for the crucifixion, while she held to 31. He disagreed with her explanation of August 11, 1840, her interpretation of the word “also” in Hebrews 9:1, etc.QSEW 83.3

    Prescott was seriously troubled because “the people and our average ministers” were using “our books as sufficient authority in their sermons,” and in doing so they were “year after year asserting things which we know to be untrue.” It appears that he wanted W. C. White to tell the people and the ministers that they should stop quoting The Great Controversy as final authority, not only in historical matters but also in the interpretation of certain Bible prophecies as well.QSEW 83.4

    W. C. White could not go as far as Prescott wanted him to go. He could and did allow that some historical details in The Great Controversy could be called into question. But he could not—and did not —surrender his mother’s doctrinal interpretations or her endorsement of basic dates used in prophetic interpretations.QSEW 83.5

    Prescott was not the only minister with strong convictions. Other strong-minded men had opinions too, and they were pulling in the opposite direction. Prescott wanted W. C. White to surrender too much. Haskell, Loughborough, and Leon Smith, on the other hand, were advocating what is commonly called the doctrine of verbal inspiration. Caught in the middle, W. C. White appealed to Haskell:QSEW 84.1

    “Regarding Mother’s writings, she has never wished our brethren to treat them as authority on history. When Great Controversy was first written, she often times gave a partial description of some scene presented to her, and when Sister Davis made inquiry regarding time and place, Mother referred her to what was already written in the books of Elder [Uriah] Smith and in secular histories. When the “Great Controversy” was written, Mother never thought that the readers would take it as an authority on historical dates and use it to settle controversies, and she does not now feel that it ought to be used in that way....QSEW 84.2

    “I believe, Brother Haskell, that there is danger of our injuring Mother’s work by claiming for it more than she claims for it, more than Father ever claimed for it, more than Elders Andrews, Waggoner, or Smith ever claimed for it. I cannot see consistency in our putting forth a claim of verbal inspiration when Mother does not make any such claim, and I certainly think we will make a great mistake if we lay aside historical research and endeavor to settle historical questions by the use of Mother’s books as an authority when she herself does not wish them to be used in any such way.”—W. C. White to S. N. Haskell, October 31, 1912, W. C. White Letter book #52. On the last page of the letter are the handwritten words, “I approve of the remarks made in this letter. Ellen G. White.” (See also question 54, above.)QSEW 84.3

    Years later, L. E. Froom asked W. C. White if his mother had ever rebuked “the extreme positions set forth by Brother Loughborough, Haskell, and some others.” He added:QSEW 84.4

    “You of course understand, Brother White, that I hold these brethren in high esteem. I recognize the place that they occupy in the work of God, but I do feel that they took unwarranted positions in some of these matters which have in turn brought great perplexity, and in instances ridicule of the whole gift of prophecy to this movement.”—L. E. Froom to W. C. White, February 28, 1932.QSEW 84.5

    With Loughborough and Haskell pulling one way and Prescott the other, W. C. White tried to keep an even balance, which in Prescott’s eyes was not at all satisfactory. Prescott’s comments at the 1919 Bible Conference reveal that this problem was still his one overriding concern.QSEW 84.6

    Early in the discussions relating to the prophetic gift he asked, “How should we use the writings of the Spirit of Prophecy?—as an authority by which to settle historical questions?” The next day he queried, “Do I understand Brother Benson’s view is that such a statement as that in Great Controversy, that the 1260 years began in 538 and ended in 1798, settles the matter infallibly?” (1919 Bible Conference Minutes).QSEW 84.7

    Prescott blamed the White Estate for not getting out something that would explain these matters. When H. Camden Lacey suggested. “Wouldn’t it be a splendid thing if a little pamphlet were written setting forth in plain, simple, straight-forward style the facts as we have them?” Prescott responded, “To my certain knowledge, a most earnest appeal was made for that from her office to issue such a statement, and they would not do it” 6W. C. White worked practically alone in the White Estate for many years after his mother’s death. It is not likely that he could have met Prescott’s demands even if he had wanted to. He may not have seen matters as Prescott did (Ibid.).QSEW 85.1

    Prescott wanted a document that would set forth a true concept of Ellen White’s inspiration, especially with respect to her use of historical sources. He felt alone, distrusted, and the object of suspicion because he did not hold to the doctrine of Ellen White’s verbal inspiration. He asked:QSEW 85.2

    “Can you explain how it is that two brethren can disagree on the inspiration of the Bible, one holding to the verbal inspiration and the other opposed to it, and yet no disturbance be created in the denomination whatever? That situation is right here before us. But if two brethren take the same attitude on the, Spirit of Prophecy, one holding to verbal inspiration and the other discrediting it, he that does not hold to the verbal inspiration is discredited.”—Ibid.QSEW 85.3

    Who would write the volume that Prescott was requesting? Direct evidence linking the 1919 Bible Conference with the choice of A. G. Daniells is lacking, yet, for whatever reason, he was eventually chosen for this highly sensitive assignment. In 1930 Froom wrote W. C. White:QSEW 85.4

    “I am so glad that Elder Daniells is soon to enter upon the preparation of the book on the Spirit of Prophecy. If there is any one volume that is needed at the present time to help toward unity within our own ranks, to silence the lips of opponents, and to place this blessed gift in its true and rational setting, it is one similar to that proposed. There are some who hold to verbal inspiration of all of Sister White’s writings. There are others who go to the other extreme. And there are strong-minded individuals who have such strange relationships that we do need to have a strong, scriptural, reasonable presentation, in harmony with facts and in harmony with the historical position, in harmony with the understanding of those who have had the closest contacts with the manifestation of this gift in the remnant church. I pray that God will greatly bless Brother Daniells in his writing.QSEW 85.5

    “It is my solemn conviction, Brother White, that one of the greatest crises that confront this movement is before us as we come to a sound, rational, Scriptural and historical understanding of the place, the character, the authority, and relationship of the Spirit of Prophecy to this movement. Unfortunately, we have narrow cranks who believe in the verbal inspiration of all that Sister White wrote, rather than the thought inspiration, who make claims for her that she never made, and whose attitude is so harsh and arbitrary that I fear some of these men when confronted with things that are unexplainable according to their ideas will be inclined to throw everything overboard as some have done in the past. Of course, on the other hand, there are others who swing to the other extreme. Brother Daniells’ presentation will doubtless draw the gunfire of some, but I think that is inevitable sooner or later. May God guide us through perplexities of this character into a sane, wholesome, Scriptural understanding.”—L. E. Froom to W. C. white, September 28, 1930.QSEW 86.1

    When Daniells’ book, The Abiding Gift of Prophecy, was published in 1936, it proved to be a historical rather than a theological presentation. Prescott’s concerns still had not been met. Daniells intended to say more than he did, but unfortunately a bout with cancer put a sudden end to his career.QSEW 86.2

    Prescott’s other concern had to do with the making of some of Ellen White’s books. On his world tour he spent ten months in Australia where he had opportunity to observe first-hand the work of Ellen White’s secretaries. He apparently wanted the people to understand the process by which Ellen White’s articles, letters, etc., were turned into books. For a discussion of this point, see question 92.QSEW 86.3

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