We Seventh-day Adventists have been particularly sensitive to God’s special leadings. We have believed that God may speak through selected messengers. Indeed, we believe there is convincing evidence that He has done so through Ellen G. White “by the testimonies of His Spirit.”1
As recurring November birthdays added years to Ellen White’s life and it became clear that she would rest in the grave before the Lord came, Seventh-day Adventists wondered—What of the future? There had not been a time when Seventh-day Adventists had not had a prophet in their midst. When asked, Ellen White would at times pick up her Bible and some of her books and declare, “Here is light which will take the people through to the kingdom.”
When Ellen White lived in Australia, Anna Phillips in Battle Creek, Michigan, claimed to have visions given to her and that she had the gift of prophecy. Phillips wrote out “testimonies” to various church members, including some leaders. A. T. Jones fully accepted her claims and assumed the responsibility of presenting her messages to the church. Her messages related what she “saw,” often using this term as she described what had passed before her.
From Australia, Ellen White sent warning messages to Jones and others in Battle Creek. A significant point made by White was that although nothing objectionable had been discovered in the teachings of Anna Phillips, this did not constitute a sound basis for accepting them. One of her letters was so providentially timed that it carried convincing evidence unmasking the true nature of the work of Anna Phillips. White’s counsel led Phillips to reexamine her experience. She renounced her “visions,” brought her life into harmony with the teachings of God’s Word and Spirit of Prophecy counsels, and became a trusted Bible instructor.2
Again and again in the later years of her life Ellen White recounted the many times that Satan had attempted to mislead the Seventh-day Adventist Church through spurious visions and passionate enthusiasm.3
In 1908 an Adventist couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Mackin, called on Ellen White to solicit her support in their unusual experiences. When Mr. Makin volunteered the possibility of a demonstration that might enable Ellen White to determine the genuineness of their experiences, she told them she could not consent, “because I have been instructed that when one offers to exhibit these peculiar manifestations, this is a decided evidence that it is not the work of God.”4
On the night of January 21, 1915, an alleged vision was given to a German Seventh-day Adventist soldier, J. Wieck, confined to a prison cell in his homeland for his refusal to accept a required vaccination. In his vision he saw himself proclaiming that the end of all things had come. A voice asked, “How long will you preach these words?” When he hesitated to answer, the answer came—“Until the stone fruits [cherries, plums, etc.] bloom.”
Wieck sent the vision to the German Adventist press, but they did not publish it. What was unusual was that without knowing Wieck’s experience, several other people in central and southern Europe also claimed to have visions. All had the same common element—that the stone fruits would mark the end of probation. The “visions” were published privately and circulated. As time passed supporters of the “visions” kept setting new dates until people became weary and disillusioned.
Eleven months after the death of Ellen G. White in July 1915, Margaret W. Rowen, a member of an Adventist church in Los Angeles, California, published her initial visions in a 32-page pamphlet, claiming that God “has in these last days again chosen a mouthpiece through whom He speaks to His people.” The matter came to the attention of church leaders in southern California and they advised members to await further developments.
Rowen’s visions continued until February 21, 1917, when a committee of church leaders was formed to investigate. They offered their conclusion days later—they could not establish conclusive evidence of divine origin. They advised that “if they be of God, then we feel assured that He will not leave us in uncertainty, but will give indisputable and conclusive evidence of their origin.”
Most accepted this, but those who supported Rowen continued to press her message to the surrounding churches, causing leaders to make a formal statement against the messages. Rowen formed an organization and launched her own publication, The Reform Advocate and Prayer-Band Appeal. Some began sending their tithe and offerings to her as well.
In desperation to secure recognition, Rowen stooped to forgery. She composed a statement to which she signed the name of Ellen G. White. On November 11, 1919 this statement, which authorized Rowen as Mrs. White’s successor, was surreptitiously placed by one of her supporters in the Ellen G. White manuscript files. The forgery was so poor that no one was deceived, yet still some believed and continued to follow Rowen.
The climax came when Rowen predicted Christ’s return on February 6, 1924. When the date slipped by, she assured people it was actually February 6, 1925. The day came and went again. These events opened the eyes of her close associate and editor. He published an issue disavowing Rowen and her teachings. Shortly thereafter, Rowen attempted to take her editor’s life, which resulted in a prison term.
One might think this the end of those claiming to be prophets to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but there are more instances, including some today of people who make such claims. The church is warned by both the prophets of old and by Ellen White to take heed lest we be misled by false prophets. Important biblical tests are established by which we may determine the validity of claims of divine enlightenment.
Test those who claim to have “new light” or “words from God.” Apply these biblical tests. In addition: gauge the level of spirituality, the timeliness and practicality of the message, and the manner in which it is given. Seventh-day Adventists face the future with confidence and expectancy. We know not what may be in store for us, but we know that Christ is our leader and that He will lead us safely.
Adapted from a four-part series written by Arthur L. White, then secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate, and grandson of Ellen G. White. The weekly series ran June 8-29, 1967 in the Review and Herald (now Adventist Review).
Can you picture Ellen White and her family going on vacation? Most of us picture them constantly working, writing, and preaching. We are delighted to share one of their vacation stories, as told by Arthur L. White, James and Ellen White’s grandson. —Editors.
The White family took a vacation in the Rocky Mountains. On the trip were James and Ellen White; their son, Willie, who was 18; and a close friend of the Whites, Mrs. Hall. The Whites had been working hard; they needed a change. Both had a great deal of writing they wanted to do, so they decided to spend the summer of 1873 in Colorado, resting and writing.
Ellen White had a niece who lived in Colorado. The niece’s husband, Mr. Walling, ran a sawmill. The Wallings had a cabin where the Whites could stay. Part of the time they could write, and part of the time they could relax.
One day late in the summer Mr. Walling asked James and Ellen if they would like to go up to Grand Lake for a couple weeks and camp by the lake. So they got their food and clothes ready. They took some candles for light. They planned on camping by the lake for about two weeks.
At 11:00 Sunday morning they started up into the mountains. They got through the pass and started down the narrow winding road and camped for the night. Monday morning they started out again. James, Ellen, and Willie rode horses. Soon an axle on one of the wagons broke. They would have to camp there for a few days while Mr. Walling went to get the axle fixed. A week later Mr. Walling sent one of his hired men with the repaired axle to take the Whites on to the lake.
As Willie was leaving, James called after him, “Don’t forget the shotgun.”
When they got to the lake, the hired man helped the Whites pitch their tents. Soon they were all nicely settled, but already their supplies were running low. After spending Sabbath with them, the hired man said goodbye, promising to send supplies soon, or to have Mr. Walling come and take them back to the cabin.
The Whites enjoyed this beautiful place! It was so quiet, and the lake was so beautiful. They rested, and James and Ellen did a lot of writing. Ellen White was early in the process of writing her book about the life of Jesus, The Desire of Ages.
The Whites became acquainted with two fishermen whose little cabin was right by the lake. The fishermen would catch fish in nets and keep them alive until a man came from Black Hawk with horses to take the fish to market in Central City and Black Hawk.
James and Ellen expected Mr. Walling to get them soon, but he was delayed for some reason. James was working to revise a tract that was going to be printed at the publishing house in Battle Creek. He had promised that the manuscript would be ready by a certain time. If Mr. Walling delayed too long, James wouldn’t be able to keep his promise.
Mr. Walling didn’t come. Soon the candles were gone. So when it got dark, they went to bed; and when it got light, they got up. Another problem was food. It was going fast. They asked the fishermen to sell them some of their supplies, but the fishermen didn’t have much to spare. The Whites found some wild berries here and there, and they ate them. Some of them they made into pies, which they traded with the fishermen for other food. As each day went by, food got more scarce.
James White spent some time writing his tract. As he and Willie came back from a hike one afternoon, James discovered that men had come from town for the fish and would be leaving early the next morning for Black Hawk. He decided that he had to finish the tract and send it with them to the post office when they returned the next day. So he got his Bible and his concordance and continued working on the tract.
Looking occasionally at the sun, James saw that it would soon be going down behind the mountains. When it got dark, he wouldn’t be able to continue writing.
Then he remembered that that very afternoon, as they were out for their walk, they had seen the body of a dead wolf some distance from their camp. James thought that perhaps they could get some fat off the body of that wolf, and he could use that fat to make a light.
“Willie,” he said, “I have to have light to finish this tract tonight. It must go out at 6:00 in the morning when the men take the fish to Black Hawk. Do you remember the body of that wolf we saw out there on the trail? Take your knife, and a pan, and go to the body of that wolf and scrape off all the fat you can. I must have light.”
As Willie was leaving, James called after him, “Don’t forget the shotgun.” There were brown bears in that valley.
So with a double-barreled shotgun over his shoulder, and a pan and knife, Willie started back over the trail to see if he could find the dead wolf. He hoped that coyotes hadn’t already gotten it. But when he came to the spot, there it was. He knelt beside the carcass and scraped a little yellow fat from here, and some fat from there, especially around the liver.
When Willie had gotten all the fat he could, it was getting dark, and he walked hurriedly back to camp. James took the pan, put it over the fire, and melted the fat into oil. Then he tore up some pieces of rag. He took them, dipped them in the oil, and twisted them until they took shape. Then he laid them on the edge of the dish. He lit it. It sputtered a little, then flared up into a nice flame. James White had his light.
James went on with his work of writing with the light from the oil that came from the wolf. Ten o’clock came, 11:00 came, and he hadn’t quite finished. He looked into the dish. Yes, there was still plenty of oil. Twelve o’clock came, and he looked again. He had finished the tract and there was still some oil left. He pinched out the flame and went to bed.
Early in the morning, when the men took the fish to Black Hawk, they took the letter to be mailed to the publishing house, along with a copy of the tract. James White didn’t let the publishing house down. He kept his promise. He found a way to do what he had to do.
This story is adapted from Campfire Junior Stories From the Days of SDA Pioneers (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2000), pp. 33-36. Seventh-day Adventists believe that Ellen G. White (1827-1915) exercised the biblical gift of prophecy during more than 70 years of public ministry.