October 19, 2013

Those Who Did—Those Who Didn’t

We woke to a wonderful morning. Blue sky and the reds and yellows of Massachusetts’ forests accompanied us on our way north to Maine where we visited sites related to the life of Ellen and James White.

Our first stop, though, was in Haverhill, Massachusetts, where we visited the grave of Hazen Foss. Before Ellen Harmon received her first vision, God chose two men to communicate His will. William Foy, an African American, and Hazen Foss both received visions, according to their later testimonies. While Foy, albeit timidly, related these visions publicly and continued to be a faithful Baptist preacher, Foss, afraid of being ridiculed, decided not to share the visions given him. Sadly, he died an agnostic in 1893.TRAGIC TWIN: Our fellow travelers listening attentively to the tragic life story of Ellen White’s twin sister Elizabeth. [PHOTO: GK]

In contrast, Joseph Bates, James White, and Ellen Harmon, the three key founders of Seventh-day Adventism, all responded willingly to God’s call to preach the soon return of Jesus and the many other truths they were discovering in Scripture. What made the difference? It couldn’t have been only age or experience. While Bates was 52 years in 1844, both Ellen and James were young adults (Ellen was 17 years old in 1844 and James was 23). Was it somehow easier for them to step out in faith or to accept difficult new concepts?

Perhaps, but what we do know is that all of them at times struggled with new light (remember Ellen White’s early distaste for whole wheat bread!), emotional challenges and other issues. In the end, I think it was their passion for Jesus that made the difference.

The grand old man of Adventism, Joseph Bates, met Jesus on a sailing ship and became a powerful witness in favor of “new light.” If he encountered a new idea in Scripture, he would respond with “that’s the truth.” Ellen Harmon, as a perplexed teen, needed the gentle guidance of Pastor Stockman to discover the assurance of salvation. Once she had seen the matchless love of Jesus, though, she was fully willing to participate in God’s mission. James White, the powerful preacher, administrator, and writer, was willing to be heckled, run out of town, and ridiculed for the Blessed Hope. They were not saints, and not equipped with superpowers—but they knew their Savior personally. Every morning—and often until late into the night—they spent time with Jesus. They were passionate about sharing Jesus with neighbors, family members, and the world around them.

I was moved by our visit to the Gorham North Street Cemetery where Ellen White’s twin sister Elizabeth is buried. As far as we know, Elizabeth never accepted Christ. Listening to one of Ellen’s letters to Lissy (as she was known), in which Ellen pleaded with her sister to give her heart to her Savior, made me swallow hard. Faces of family members or good friends who walked away from Jesus (or never accepted Him) flashed before me. In Ellen’s appealing words, I heard something of God’s longing to wrap those I love in His arms.