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During the years 1847 and 1848, the White’s ministry to the Sabbatarian Adventists continued. They travelled widely, preaching and encouraging the group of believers. Ellen’s visions continued and following a vision in Dorchester on November 18, 1848, she told her husband, “You must begin to print a little paper and send it out to the people.” Ellen White, Life Sketches , 1919, 125.
James’ reaction was positive though he had a problem—he was broke. Later Ellen recorded: “ My husband was impressed that it was his duty to write and publish the present truth. He was greatly encouraged and blessed as he decided thus to do. But again there would be doubt and perplexity as he was penniless. But there were those who had means, but they chose to keep it.”
Despite his lack of funds, James set out to publish this “little paper.” Later he reflected, “[We were] destitute of means; our hope of success was in God.” Review and Herald June 17, 1880. James found a printer in Middletown who would publish the eight-page paper and wait until readers had donated money to cover the printing costs. The principle subject of the paper was to be the Sabbath and James decided to name it The Present Truth . The target audience was to be Adventists who had not yet accepted the seventh-day Sabbath.
Ellen recorded the reception of the completed paper in late July, 1849: “ When he brought the first number from the printing office, we all bowed around it, asking the Lord, with humble hearts and many tears, to let His blessing rest upon the feeble effort of his servant.” Life Sketches , 1880, 260
The September issue of The Present Truth (issue 4) carried a report by Ellen of the vision she had received on March 24, 1849 in Topsham, Maine. The vision had dealt with the sanctuary in heaven and the open/shut door. Ellen prefaced the account by stating: “ The Lord had shown me that it is my duty to relate to you, what He has revealed to me relating to the present truth, our present tried, scattered, and tempted state, and our duty in view of the coming judgements of God.” Present Truth , August 1849.
The paper continued to struggle financially, in the December issue James wrote to his readers: “ At the present time I am destitute of means, and am in some in debt. I know that you are ready and anxious to sustain the present cause of truth. Therefore, I state the above to inform you of the present condition of the paper as to means. I hope that all who may esteem it a privilege, and are able, will send in their donations immediately.”
Despite these financial difficulties, The Present Truth continued to be published.
It had an important role in:
The publicizing of Ellen’s visions,
The encouragement of the Adventist believers,
The promotion of “new” doctrines.
A vision on January 26, 1850 emphasized the doctrine of conditional immortality and the sequence of events at the Second Advent: “ I then beheld the beauty and loveliness of Jesus. His robe was whiter than the whitest white. No language can describe His glory and exalted loveliness. All, all who keep the commandments of God, will enter in through the gates into the city and have right to the tree of life and ever be in the presence of the lovely Jesus, whose countenance shines brighter than the sun at noonday….
The saints will rest in the Holy City and reign as kings and priests one thousand years; then Jesus will descend with the saints upon the Mount of Olives, and the mount will part asunder and become a mighty plain for the Paradise of God to rest upon. The rest of the earth will not be cleansed until the end of the one thousand years, when the wicked dead are raised, and gather up around the city. The feet of the wicked will never desecrate the earth made new. Fire will come down from God out of heaven and devour them—burn them up root and branch. Satan is the root, and his children are the branches. The same fire that will devour the wicked will purify the earth.“ Early Writings , 51-52.
On August 4, 1850, Ellen wrote: “ The Lord showed me that he, James, must take the testimonies that the leading Adventists published in 1844 and republish them and make them ashamed.” Letter 8, 1850. The target for evangelism amongst the Sabbatarian Adventists was still other Adventists.
In response, James wrote: “ The Lord has shown Ellen that I must publish the testimonies of those who acknowledge the work done and the Advent move of God after 1844. Now this is my first work. I expect to get out a paper called the Advent Review , sixteen pages, the size of the Present Truth .” The first four issues of the new paper were printed in August and September 1850.
At a conference on November 16 & 17, it was decided to combine the Present Truth and the Advent Review into a single paper. The new magazine was to be called The Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald . The first issue was published that same month.
There were a number of significant changes regarding the new publication.
No mention of Ellen’s visions was made in the first 13 issues of the new magazine.
The target audience shifted slightly, with James stating in August 1851, that, “many are prepared to read the publications who formerly had no interest to investigate.” The Sabbatarian Adventist audience had moved beyond the original Millerite Adventists.
Some Sabbatarian Adventists however, called for the visions to be published, and on July 21, 1851, James issued an Extra aimed solely at believers. He stated, “ We do not design this Extra for so general circulation as the regular paper, for the reason that strong prejudice exists in many minds against a portion of its contents….We therefore publish the visions by themselves for the benefit of those who believe that God can fulfil His word and give visions ‘in the last days.’”
“ The visions trouble many. They [know] not what to make of them. We shall have the visions published in pamphlet form…. We now think that you can have the book in about four weeks. You must write us upon the reception of this.” Letter 4, 1851. As they were publishing the Extra they decided to turn to a pamphlet or book as a means of making the visions available in permanent form. To begin with, they could use the same type already set for the Extra , and a little book would be more serviceable than the paper. James promised that it would contain sixty-four pages and that two thousand copies would be printed, at a cost of $5 per hundred.
Though the pamphlet contained only sixty-four pages, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen. G. White , is considered her first book. Most of the chapters were a reprinting of previously published articles. The entire book was republished in 1882, and then as the first section of Early Writings —also in 1882.
Later in 1850, Adventist printing entered another dimension. On October 21, Ellen had a “very interesting vision.” (Letter 26, 1850) The vision concerned a new chart to illustrate clearly “the present truth.” The chart was finished and advertised in January 1851. it was designed according to James White, "to supply those who travel and teach the present truth."
During this early period of her ministry, the majority of Ellen’s visions had been doctrinal in nature. By now however, doctrinal beliefs have been generally established. Ellen wrote on December 13, 1850, “We know that we have the truth.”
On December 14 Ellen White wrote a letter as follows: “Dear Brother Barnes: I received a few lines from Brother Hewett. He wishes me to write whether I have seen in vision [that] it is wrong to use tobacco. I have seen in vision that tobacco was a filthy weed, and that it must be laid aside or given up. Said my accompanying angel, "If it is an idol , it is high time it was given up, and unless it is given up, the frown of God will be upon the one that uses it, and he cannot be sealed with the seal of the living God. If it is used as a medicine, go to God; He is the Great Physician, and those that use the filthy weed for medicine greatly dishonour God. "There is a balm in Gilead, there is a Physician there. Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.…
I saw that Christ will have a church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing to present to His Father...as He leads us through the pearly gates of the New Jerusalem....After Jesus has done so much for us, will anyone be undecided whether to deny himself of the filthy weed for His sake? We must be perfect Christians, deny ourselves all the way along, tread the narrow, thorny pathway that our Jesus trod, and then if we are final overcomers, heaven, sweet heaven will be cheap enough.” Letter 5, 1851.
She wrote understandingly of the struggle some will have to leave off the use of tobacco, and suggested that they do as S. W. Rhodes did when he was battling to break away from its use. “He called for the brethren to pray for him,” she wrote, “and we did. He was cured and has desired none since.” She counselled: “ Go to God, dear brother; wrestle with Him and you can overcome. Pray in faith, nothing doubting. Jesus will be touched with the brother's infirmities.” Letter 5, 1851. This was the first of many “health visions.”
Despite these words, tobacco use was tolerated amongst the Sabbatarian Adventist group. No public pronouncement in print was made until December 13, 1853 in a Review and Herald article.
In an effort to ensure that there was no misunderstanding that Adventist doctrine came from the Bible not Ellen White’s visions, James White—as publisher of The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald did not mention Ellen’s visions in the new paper—though they were published in an Extra on July 21, 1851. This was the first and only edition of the Extra (despite James’ promise to publish it every two weeks). For more than four years the Review and Herald was almost silent regarding Ellen White—publishing only five articles by her—none referred to visions. During these four years, this silence regarding Ellen White’s ministry led to a general lack of appreciation for her ministry within the Sabbatarian Adventist group.
At a conference called at Battle Creek in November 1855, it was evident that things were not right in the group. Ellen White reported the vision given to her toward the close of the conference: “I saw that the Spirit of the Lord has been dying away from the church.” Testimonies I , 113.
Looking back a few weeks later, Ellen White wrote: “ The visions have been of late less and less frequent, and my testimony for God's children has been gone. I have thought that my work in God's cause was done, and that I had no further duty to do, but to save my own soul, and carefully attend to my little family.” Review and Herald , January 10, 1856.
In a report of the conference, James White also expressed concern that there had been a “departure of the remnant from the spirit of the message, and the humble, straightforward course taken by those who first embraced it.” Review and Herald , December 4, 1855.
James White as editor of the Review and Herald , was under pressure from a dissident group known as the Messenger Party. Led by two ministers named Case and Russell in Michigan, the Messenger Party had started their own paper—the Messenger of Truth . They focussed on criticizing the White’s ministry, accusing them—amongst other things—of financial irresponsibility and irregularity. They also attacked Ellen’s visions, stating that the Sabbatarian Adventists were putting these visions before the Bible.
In response, James published an article in the Review and Herald : “ What has the Review to do with Mrs. White's views? The sentiments published in its columns are all drawn from the Holy Scriptures. No writer of the Review has ever referred to them as authority on any point. The Review for five years has not published one of them. Its motto has been "The Bible and the Bible alone, the only rule of faith and duty." Then why should these men charge the Review with being a supporter of Mrs. White's views? Review and Herald , October 16, 1855.
In attempting to make his point, James used strong language and it would appear that this, with the absence of visions in the Review and Herald , had undercut in the minds of some the importance of the gift of prophecy in the remnant church. This was felt at the conference in Battle Creek.
As previously mentioned, on November 20, 1855 at the close of the Battle Creek conference, Ellen White had a vision concerning the spiritual state of the Sabbatarian Adventist group. This was the first vision she had experienced in nearly three months. The content of this vision was read to the Battle Creek church on November 24, and the 36 members present voted to have it published. Initially it was printed as a sixteen page tract in December 1855, titled Testimony for the Church .
This was the first of the nine volume work now known as Testimonies for the Church .
On Friday November 16, 1855, the General Conference session opened the Sabbath at 6.00pm, though the sun had set over an hour before. They closed the Sabbath on Saturday evening at sunset! What had changed?
Ellen White’s vision of November 20, 1855 also helped answer a question the Sabbatarian Adventist group had been grappling with for some time: At what time does the Sabbath begin?
Joseph Bates had been the most prominent promoter of the seventh-day Sabbath, and his tract on the Sabbath became the standard reference on the subject. Bates was a retired sea-captain and knew that on the equator, sunset occurs at 6pm the whole year round. He therefore promoted that Sabbath should be kept from 6pm Friday to 6pm Saturday. This was accepted by many—including James and Ellen White. Others however believed differently, viewing the Sabbath as starting at sunset or even midnight.
In 1855, James White asked J. N. Andrews to study the subject and his conclusions were presented at the Battle Creek conference. On the basis of a Bible study, Bates’ time of 6pm was rejected, as was midnight, and it was concluded that sunset was the correct time to open the Sabbath. However neither Ellen White nor Joseph Bates were convinced—that is—until Ellen’s vision:
I saw that it is even so: “From even unto even, shall ye celebrate your Sabbath.” Said the angel: “Take the Word of God, read it, understand, and ye cannot err. Read carefully, and ye shall there find what even is and when it is”….I inquired why it had been thus, that at this late day we must change the time of commencing the Sabbath. Said the angel: “Ye shall understand, but not yet, not yet.” Said the angel: “If light come, and that light is set aside or rejected, then comes condemnation and the frown of God; but before the light comes, there is no sin, for there is no light for them to reject.” I saw that it was in the minds of some that the Lord had shown that the Sabbath commenced at six o’clock, when I had only seen that it commenced at “even,” and it was inferred that even was at six. I saw that the servants of God must draw together, press together.” Testimonies I, 115.
Thus the matter of the correct time to commence the Sabbath was settled—by Bible study, confirmed by a vision. James White commented later: “ The question naturally arises, If the visions are given to correct the erring, why did she not sooner see the error of the six o'clock time? For one, I have ever been thankful that God corrected the error in His own good time, and did not suffer an unhappy division to exist among us upon the point. But, dear reader, the work of the Lord upon this point is in perfect harmony with His manifestations to us on others, and in harmony with the correct position upon spiritual gifts.”
“ It does not appear to be the desire of the Lord to teach His people by the gifts of the Spirit on the Bible questions until His servants have diligently searched His Word. When this was done upon the subject of time to commence the Sabbath, and most were established, and some were in danger of being out of harmony with the body on this subject, then, yes, then was the very time for God to magnify His goodness in the manifestation of the gift of His Spirit in the accomplishment of its proper work.”
“ The sacred Scriptures are given us as the rule of faith and duty, and we are commanded to search them. If we fail to understand and fully obey the truths in consequence of not searching the Scriptures as we should, or a want of consecration and spiritual discernment, and God in mercy in His own time corrects us by some manifestation of the gifts of His Holy Spirit, instead of murmuring that He did not do it before, let us humbly acknowledge His mercy, and praise Him for His infinite goodness in condescending to correct us at all.”
This PowerPoint presentation has been produced by Jeff Crocombe for a class on EGW: Life and Writings at Helderberg College in Semester 1, 2007. It should not be used without giving credit to its compiler, nor reproduced in any way without permission. You may contact Jeff Crocombe at: [email_address]