Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ellen White's view of her inspiration

The Lesson Study Guide for lesson 5 begins with a reference to the following letter from Ellen white published well after her death in Selected Messages. The following is from the Ellen White notes attached to the lesson website:

Ellen G. White, Selected Messages Book 1, p24

A Letter to Dr. Paulson St. Helena, California June 14, 1906 Dear Brother: Your letter came to me while in southern California. For some weeks the consideration of matters connected with the development of our sanitarium work there, and the writing out of the views given me regarding the earthquake and its lessons, have taken my time and strength. {1SM 24.1}

But now I must respond to the letters received from you and others. In your letter you speak of your early training to have implicit faith in the testimonies and say, "I was led to conclude and most firmly believe that every word that you ever spoke in public or private, that every letter you wrote under any and all circumstances, was as inspired as the Ten Commandments." {1SM 24.2}

My brother, you have studied my writings diligently, and you have never found that I have made any such claims, neither will you find that the pioneers in our cause ever made such claims. {1SM 24.3}

In my introduction to The Great Controversy you have no doubt read my statement regarding the Ten Commandments (p. 25) and the Bible, which should have helped you to a correct understanding of the matter under consideration. Here is the statement: {1SM 24.4}

"The Bible points to God as its author; yet it was written by human hands; and in the varied style of its different books it presents the characteristics of the several writers. The truths revealed are all 'given by inspiration of God' (2 Timothy 3:16); yet they are expressed in the words of men. The Infinite One by His Holy Spirit has shed light into the minds and hearts of His servants. He has given dreams and visions, symbols and figures; and those to whom the truth was thus revealed, have themselves embodied the thought in human language. {1SM 25.1}

"The Ten Commandments were spoken by God Himself, and were written by His own hand. They are of divine, and not human composition. But the Bible, with its God-given truths expressed in the language of men, presents a union of the divine and the human. Such a union existed in the nature of Christ, who was the Son of God and the Son of man.

The first reaction I had to this quote in the lesson was why did not she answer the man’s question? In other words why not say that “no don’t take everything I say public or private as being inspired” or “yes it is all inspired”? Why dodge and go to the argument that the Ten Commandments were written by God’s own hand. Because clearly those 10 commandments, as they were recorded in the Bible, are not the words written by God. Anyone with a bit of knowledge knows that there are in fact two versions of the 10 commandments respectively recorded in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. Most Adventists are more familiar with the Exodus 20 version but it is the Deuteronomy 5 version that says it was written by the hand of God :

(Deu 5:22 NIV) These are the commandments the LORD proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.

But of course we don’t have anything actually written by the hand of God; Nothing in the Bible and no stones inscribed by God’s hand. What the lesson does have is a letter from Ellen White used to tell us about inspiration. The question that Dr. Paulson asked Ellen White is just as important today as it was then. Here is the question Paulson asked from his letter to Ellen White:

As far as I know, my father and mother were the first Sabbath- keepers in Dakota. I was from my childhood taught implicit faith in the Spirit of Prophecy. As I grew up I began to undertake a deeper study of the Testimonies. In Testimony #31, page 63, I read more than twenty years ago these words: "I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision -- the precious rays of light shining from the throne." From this and somewhat similar statements I was led to conclude and most firmly believe that every word that you ever spoke in public or private, that every letter you wrote under any and all circumstances, was as inspired as the ten commandments. I held that view with absolute tenacity against innumerable objections raised to it by many who were occupying prominent positions in the cause. A little over six years ago a difference arose between me and a very dear friend of mine on this very point, for I saw he did not take absolutely this view. I wrote him an eight-page letter; told him that he and I would have to part company, as I stood absolutely on this ground.

We find also that this implicit faith in Ellen White was not restricted to just Paulson. A letter from Merritt Kellogg says 1906 :

"I attended the camp meeting from first to last. It lasted ten days. The ministers who preached, were Knox, President of Cal. Con. Cotterel, Geo. Thompson, member of the Gen. Con. Committee, Haskel, Corliss, Gardner, and Mrs. E. G. White. There were a number of other ministers present I think! This was the best camp meeting I ever attended, although Thompson and Haskel each preached one Sab in which the Battle Creek rebellion was the issue. Sister White also referred to it several times in her discourses.

Haskel took the position that the Sabbath is the test for the world and Mrs. White's testimonies the test for the Church. He even affirmed that they who reject the testimonies of Mrs. White cannot be saved. Thompson had most to say about the position occupied by A. T. Jones. Sister White's remarks were against the idea of having the S.D.A. send their children and youth to B.C. to be educated.

The sentiments at the campmeeting were not an isolated incidence, here is an excerpt from a letter to Kellogg:

"Poor Canright, where is he? If ever I pitied a man, I do him. He looks to me like a poor, seedy, used up old man, and he thought he was going to do grand missionary work . . No man in the Cause, believing . . as you have believed, can take your stand against what the Testimonies say and maintain your spirituality." -G. I. Butler, Letter to J. H. Kellogg, dated August 12, 1904.

There seems to have even been a time in Adventism where Ellen White was viewed more on the verbal inspiration level. Listen and/or view the presentation of Craig Newborn linked below:

A Path to Disengagement This presentation explores some of the factors that contributed to the ever-increasing disengagement of many Seventh-day Adventists from Ellen White. Particular attention is given to how belief in verbal inspiration by many Seventh-day Adventists negatively impacted Ellen White’s image as a messenger of the Lord and contributed to misunderstanding and misuse of her writings.

Apparently what we can infer from Ellen Whites letter to Paulson as well as the practices of the White Estate is that indeed Ellen White’s private letters are just as inspired as any of her published works. And we should just be thankful that the White Estate puts out these letters in the form of books like Selected Messages so that we can hear the words of God. Of course that leads us to wonder what more words of the God the White Estate has in their possession and why God granted them the position of gate keeper to the words of God? A problem we would never have to worry about if we just accepted Ellen White as we do any other pastoral writer. But maybe she does not allow that view by her own comments, unless she was just a bit carried away by the fanaticism around her; historically a very real possibility.

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