Stephen Smith and the Unopened Testimony

Arthur L. White
Stephen Smith and the Unopened Testimony
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

The following concerns Stephen Smith, who was once convicted for truth but decided to go his own way. His story reveals how the early church dealt with church discipline and how the Holy Spirit effects spiritual change.—Editors.

In 1850 Stephen Smith, of Unity, New Hampshire, was entering the field of public ministry but was swept off his feet by erroneous truth. He refused to accept the warning counsel, picked up other strange ideas, and joined the opposition. At a conference in Medford, Massachusetts, James and Ellen White were met by his work.

James wrote: “When we arrived there, disunion existed among the brethren. They had been visited by Stephen Smith and Josiah Hart, who had tried to prejudice them against us. It had had a bad effect, but we went on with the meeting.

“The burden of the meeting was pointing out the errors of S. Smith, H. W. Allen, and the importance of church action as to the course of some brethren. Ellen had a vision and saw the frown of God was on us as a people, because the accursed thing was in the camp, that is, errors among us, and that the church must act, and the only way to do Brethren Allen and Smith good was to withdraw fellowship from them, in their present position. All acted on the light given, all received the vision, and, even to an individual, all raised the hand to withdraw fellowship from them.”

The Conference at Washington, New Hampshire

Ellen White described a meeting at Washington (1851) in detail, giving illuminating glimpses of what took place.

“At Washington the Lord took the rule of the meeting Himself. Stephen Smith and Brother [E. P.] Butler were present. There were about 75 present, all in the faith. Brother Stephen Smith was filled with the wrong spirit. J. Hart and himself had filled the minds of many of them with prejudice against us; false reports had been circulated. The band had been sinking and had lost the power of the third angel’s message. They were sickly, but knew not the cause, but the reason was that there was an accursed thing in the camp and by the assistance of God we were trying to get it out of the camp.

“[On Sabbath] I was . . . taken off in vision. . . . The state of things was revealed to me in Washington, which I declared plainly to them. The vision had a powerful effect. All acknowledged their faith in the visions except Brother Butler and S. Smith. We all felt it duty to act, and by a unanimous vote of the brethren, S. Smith was disfellowshipped by the church until he should forever lay down his erroneous views.”

About a year after he was disfellowshipped, Stephen Smith came to see his errors, confessed, and was restored to fellowship in the church (1852). This continued for a few months, and then he again became involved in erroneous views and was disfellowshipped. In 1857 he found his way back, but only for a short time.

At some point in the 1850s, after one of his lapses, Ellen White wrote him a testimony in which she depicted what his life would be if he persisted in the course he was following. When he received the letter, he feared that it was a testimony of reproof, so he took it home from the post office and tucked it deep in a trunk, still unopened and unread. 

For nearly 30 years Stephen Smith was out of the church, opposing his former brethren, mean and cutting in his criticism. His wife remained faithful, and the weekly Review came to their home. One day Stephen Smith picked it up and read an article from Ellen White. He continued to read her articles and found they spoke to his heart. He began to soften. 

Revival and Reformation

In 1885 E. W. Farnsworth was holding revival meetings in the Washington church.  Stephen Smith walked 12 miles to attend the Sabbath meeting. When the sermon was over, he rose to his feet and asked to speak. The audience expected a blast of criticism and meanness. 

“I don’t want you to be afraid of me, brethren,” he said. “I have not come to criticize you. I have quit that kind of business.” Then he reviewed the past, his hatred of church organization, his joining one opposition party after another, which he had seen go down and their sympathizers come to confusion. “Facts,” said he, “are stubborn things, but the facts are that those who have opposed this work have come to naught, while those who have been in sympathy with it have prospered, have grown better, more devoted and godlike. Those who have opposed it have learned only to fight and debate. They have lost all their religion. 

“No honest man can help seeing that God is with them and against us. I want to be in fellowship with this people in heart and in the church.”

Stephen Smith remembered the letter from Ellen White in his trunk. After returning home, he soon had the unopened envelope in his hands. He tore it open and read its contents. 

He returned to Washington the following Sabbath, where he heard Farnsworth preach on the Spirit of Prophecy. When the sermon was finished, he was on his feet again.

“I received a testimony myself 28 years ago. I took it home and locked it in my trunk, and never read it till last Thursday.” He said he had not believed the testimony, even though he had not read a word of it. He was afraid to read it, fearing it would make him mad. But, said he, “I was mad all the time, nearly.”

“Brethren, every word of the testimony for me is true, and I accept it. I have come to that place where I finally believe they [the testimonies] all are of God, and if I had heeded the one God sent to me as well as the rest, it would have changed the whole course of my life, and I should have been a very different man. 

“Any man that is honest must say that they lead a man toward God and the Bible always. If he is honest, he will say that; if he won’t say that, he is not honest. If I had heeded them, they would have saved me a world of trouble. . . . I thought that I knew as much as an old woman’s visions, as I used to term it. May God forgive me! But to my sorrow, I found the visions were right, and the man who thought he knew it all was all wrong. . . . The testimonies are right and I am wrong.”

“Brethren, I am too old to undo what I have done. I am too feeble to get out to our large meetings, but I want you to tell our people everywhere that another rebel has surrendered.” A real change took place in Stephen Smith’s life and experience, and he was remembered in his later years as a kind, sweet, wholehearted Seventh-day Adventist.

Arthur L. White