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It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God
Ellen Gould Harmon (Mrs. James) White
1827 to 1915
Ordained minister 1884 to 1915
It is difficult to believe that a woman who spoke effectively before audiences of 5,0001 to 20,0002 could earlier have been terrified at the thought of giving her testimony in the presence of 10 or 20 people. However, that was the experience of the woman who with her husband was cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination,3
A sensitive child, troubled about religion, Ellen struggled against fears of being unsaved. As a teenager she experienced a dream that left her in agony, sure that the Holy Spirit had departed from her. Then, soon afterward, she dreamed that she saw Jesus; and this dream gave her hope. With the hope came a strong sense of responsibility to share the love, peace, and understanding that God had given to her.The early 1840s were the time of the Advent Movement, when the return of Christ was thought to be imminent. Ellen attended an advent meeting, as she had done often before. For the first time, when opportunity was given for Christ's followers to share their testimony, Ellen was able to stand up and speak before the others present. She made no preparation beforehand but freely shared her experience of God's reaching out to her in love.
Soon the Harmon family, including Ellen, were dropped from membership in their Methodist church because of involvement in the Advent Movement. While this was disappointing to the Harmons, it meant that Ellen's full energies were thrown with the Advent believers.
After the great disappointment of 1844, when Jesus did not return to earth as expected, Ellen Harmon experienced her first vision, showing the spiritual journey of the Advent people and their ultimate union with Christ in heaven. About a week later, in her second vision, Ellen had a view of the trials she must endure to relate to others the truths that God would share through her. She was assured that God's grace would sustain her throughout.
Ellen emerged from this vision in a troubled state of mind. Since childhood when her face had been struck with a rock hurled by an angry playmate, Ellen had been so frail that she could not attend school. Now, at 17, she was unaccustomed to society, so shy and retiring that meeting strangers was a painful experience.4
As she prayed for the burden to be removed from her young shoulders, Ellen sensed instead the repeated directive from God that she should share with others what He was revealing to her. So impossible did the challenge appear, so fraught with certain failure in her eyes, that she cringed in terror and would have welcomed death as a release.
Through a signal demonstration of divine power during a prayer session,5 Ellen recovered her trust in God's leading. Then she was troubled for fear she might become proud when placed in a special role, even in a religious setting. She prayed that if she must go out to relate what God was showing her about salvation and truth, He would somehow protect her from self-exaltation. Satisfied that this request was granted, Ellen committed herself to follow God's leading wherever that might be.
Opportunities came for her to bear her testimony in Portland, Maine, 30 miles away, and then in eastern Maine. Her voice, hoarse and weak, became strong and clear as she spoke to the congregations that gathered.
Soon she traveled to New Hampshire to address people who were so bitter over the 1844 disappointment that they now denounced as a delusion the movement in which they had participated. Fanaticism of several sorts had set in. At Orrington through mutual friends she met Elder James White, a young minister who was doing a similar work to her own. James and Ellen together exposed incorrect practices and beliefs, calling their listeners back to the purity of Bible truth. While working together they developed a close relationship.
Ellen Harmon and James White united their lives in marriage on August 30, 1846. Their ministry for the Lord formed the focal point in their union. Together they traveled, seeking to bring souls into Christ's kingdom. Before long they were convinced that the seventh day was the Sabbath and incorporated that truth into their teaching and living.
Ellen gave birth to a son, Henry, on August 26, 1847. While James and Ellen traveled and moved frequently to share the good news of Adventism, for five years a family by the name of Holland cared for Henry.6 Naturally it was painful to Ellen to leave her baby in someone else's care and see him only occasionally. But this was the way she understood her commitment to carry the message of truth wherever God called.
James and Ellen's second child, James Edson White, was born July 28, 1849. When he was six weeks old his parents took him to Paris, Maine, for a meeting at which the power of God was invoked against fanaticism.
The Whites set up housekeeping temporarily in Oswego, New York, with furniture borrowed from fellow believers. From this base James wrote, published, and preached, while Ellen shared with him in combating error and promoting truth.
When the Whites decided to visit Vermont and Maine in the spring of 1850, they left nine-month-old Edson in the care of Sister Bonfoey and followed God's leading, frequently enduring physical privations. As Ellen White in Vermont saw families comfortably settled in their homes, she thought of her two-year-old son in Maine and her nine-month-old baby in New York. An observer expressed the opinion that Ellen White's carefree traveling must be quite pleasant, but actually the young preacher's heart was longing for her children. She dreamed that an angel spoke of her children as a fragrant offering to her Lord, and encouraged her even in this sacrifice to follow the opening providences of God.7
From Vermont the Whites crossed into eastern Canada. Ellen prayed that her throat, which was troubling her again, would allow her to carry God's message clearly, for many there who professed to believe in the return of Jesus were speaking disparagingly about the law of God. Her request was granted, and she spoke comfortably with a clear voice. The believers were strengthened.
Returning after five weeks to New York and little Edson, the Whites were distraught to find the infant "very feeble." At that point, Mrs. White wrote, "It was difficult to suppress murmuring thoughts."8 James and Ellen prayed for their child; he improved and was able to go with them to a conference in Oswego.
In the midst of continuing moves and travels, Ellen White gave birth to Willie on August 29, 1854. She was glad that the baby to some extent took her mind off the crises with which she seemed surrounded, including a heretical publication Messenger of Truth which slandered her and her husband.9 From time to time James and Ellen both suffered bouts with severe illnesses.
The Whites moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1855 because the publishing work that James had started, with Ellen's strong encouragement, could be established there to advantage. Ellen could have all three children with her. Sometimes she feared that the boys might be left fatherless because of James' tendency, in spite of his poor health, to overwork. The demands of establishing a new denomination were very great.
Things turned for the better after the Whites moved to Michigan. At the conference in Battle Creek in November 1856, support was given to the publications that the Whites had ventured to start by faith. Soon afterward the competing Messenger of Truth folded, and the discordant voices that had spoken through it were scattered. James White was able to pay the debts he had incurred in order to publish, and his health recovered to the point that he could preach three times on a Sabbath with ease.
Battle Creek became headquarters for the denomination that was forming; in 1860 the name Seventh-day Adventist was chosen.
Ellen White incorporated parenting and ministry into a full and productive life. She divided her time among her developing family and the growing church. The heavy responsibility of her prophetic gift she carried with energy and reliance on God.
Ellen continued preaching, usually on trips accompanying her husband. She visited newly formed churches, giving counsel to the members and the leadership. Sometimes she experienced visions in which God revealed specific instruction for the growing church. She preached on the joys open to the Christian in this life and the next.
Little Herbert, a fourth son, was born September 20, 1860, but lived only until December 14 that year. Being parted from an infant with the promise of life before him was painful enough. Still more difficult to bear was the death December 8, 1863, of the oldest son, Henry, aged 16.10 To Ellen and James this was a cruel loss, and Edson and Willie missed their older brother greatly. Yet the Whites pressed on in their work for God, cherishing the hope of meeting their children again in the resurrection and living with them in life free from sickness and death.
Public ministry was a role Ellen White accepted out of conscience in the beginning, for she was very shy. At the age of 41 she wrote,
Though I took the stand as a speaker timidly at first, yet as the providence of God opened the way before me, I had confidence to stand before large audiences. Together we [Elder and Mrs. White] attended our camp meetings and other large gatherings, from Maine to Dakota, from Michigan to Texas and California.11
The Whites spent time during the spring of 1877 in Battle Creek for James to attend board meetings for the Review and Herald Publishing Assocation, Battle Creek College, and the sanitarium. He preached, wrote, worked until late at night, and was thoroughly exhausted. The couple planned a trip to Colorado for rest afterward. However, Mrs. White was strongly impressed that she had work to do at Battle Creek first; therefore, they remained.
During the stay in Battle Creek, Mrs. White spent a week holding meetings every evening and on Sabbath and Sunday for the Battle Creek College students because of her great concern for their salvation. The meetings were well attended. Many students came forward for prayer when Mrs. White issued the invitation. A number of them committed to be baptized as a result of the meetings and the Holy Spirit's work.
Mrs. White then participated in a temperance mass meeting sponsored by the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Battle Creek Reform Club. She was gratified by the spiritual strength of many of the planners. Barnum's Circus was in town, and the temperance workers organized an ambitious food service in order to make it unnecessary for the circus attendees to frequent the saloons for nourishment. This temperance restaurant was housed in the Michigan Conference camp meeting tent.
Mrs. White was invited to speak in the large tent on Sunday evening, July 1, 1877. She addressed 5,000 or more listeners on the topic of Christian temperance.12
The next month Ellen White, accompanied by her daughter-in-law, Mary White, attended camp meeting at Kokomo, Indiana; James White remained in Battle Creek to attend to responsibilities there. Mrs. White preached at the camp ground to the assembled Seventh-day Adventists and their guests. She noted with surprised joy how much the attendance had grown from the small, mostly poor and uneducated group she had addressed at the same place six years earlier.
Evidently the Sunday afternoon temperance meeting had been well advertised, for people poured out of three excursion trains onto the campground. Ellen White wrote about the large group that assembled and the message she presented to them:
The people here were very enthusiastic on the temperance question. At 2:30 p.m. I spoke to about eight thousand people on the subject of temperance viewed from a moral and Christian standpoint. I was blessed with remarkable clearness and liberty, and was heard with the best of attention from the large audience present.
We left the beaten track of the popular lecturer, and traced the origin of the prevailing intemperance to the home, the family board, and the indulgence of appetite in the child. . . .The great work of temperance reform, to be thoroughly successful, must begin in the home.13
The next night Ellen White appealed to her listeners to give their hearts to Christ. Around 50 came forward to request special prayer, and 15 were baptized as a result of the preaching by Ellen White and Elder Waggoner.
Mrs. White returned to Battle Creek and entered the Sanitarium for treatments. About the same time, Elder White was sick from exhaustion. However, they prayed and decided to venture on God's promises by faith to attend the camp meeting at Groveland, Massachusetts. Thousands of people came on Sunday by boats and trains. Again Ellen White accepted the privilege and responsibility of addressing a huge tent full of people with thousands more packed around the outside. At the beginning she experienced pain in her lungs and throat, but while speaking she forgot her discomfort and weariness. For more than an hour she spoke on Christian temperance.
One evening Mrs. White especially directed her remarks to sinners and backsliders; 200 listeners, from children to gray-haired seniors, came forward for special prayer. In the afternoon a baptism was conducted for 39 converts, and many others declared their intention to be baptized when they returned home.
On and on she wentto Oregon, Colorado, New England, the Midwestconsidering this her only opportunity to call some of those listeners to prepare for the judgment at the end of the world.
As for her method of preparing sermons, it appears that often Ellen White thought and prayed about the subject matter needed for a particular time and place as she traveled. Upon occasion the Lord gave her specific instruction to relay to a particular group.14 She usually spoke in an extemporaneous mode, looking directly at her listeners. As she grew older, when addressing business sessions she sometimes read from a manuscript that she had written and then followed with impromptu comments.15 She could project her voice to be heard by 5,000 to 8,000 people at a time;16 news reports claim that the huge congregations Mrs. White addressed during the camp meetings of the 1870s numbered as many as 15,000 to 20,000.17 Her strong voice, without benefit of amplification, carried clearly across open fields and through large buildings.
Not only was she a minister herself, but Ellen White also repeatedly encouraged other women to use their gifts in ministry for God and the church. She urged the male church administrators to remunerate the women for this work, even indicating that she would have to create a fund from her own tithe to use for that purpose if male administrators continued to be insensitive and unresponsive.18
To one woman Mrs. White wrote in the Review,
You have many ways opened before you. Address the crowd whenever you can; hold every jot of influence you can by any association that can be made the means of introducing the leaven to the meal. Every man and every woman has a work to do for the Master. Personal consecration and sanctification to God will accomplish, through the most simple methods, more than the most imposing display.19
Two years later she wrote in an article that appeared in the Review, "It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God."20
In 1881 James and Ellen White, in their thirty-fifth year of marriage, spent some enjoyable weeks together during the summer in Battle Creek. James White entered his sixtieth year of life vigorous in mind and body in spite of previous illnesses. Then while on a journey with his wife, James White developed a severe chill; on Sabbath, August 6, he died. Thus ended a memorable joint ministry.
That fall Mrs. White resided with her son Willie (W. C. White) in Oakland, California. She spoke at a camp meeting in Sacramento and in the area churches. The next year when Healdsburg College opened, she purchased a home nearby. There she worked intensively at writing out her understanding of God's dealings with humanity as He had revealed this subject matter to her. She also traveled a great deal. In August 1883 she left California to preach in the large Tabernacle in Battle Creek, Michigan, and in various locations in the eastern United States.
After her husband's death, Ellen White received the credentials and pay of an ordained minister. Unless the denomination has two categories of ordained ministers, one for Elllen White and the second for all other ordained clergy, Ellen White was an ordained minister.21
In 1884 Mrs. White, her son W. C. White, and her secretary Miss Sara McEnterfer went to visit the Seventh-day Adventist work in Europe, which was then a mission field of the denomination. Ellen White immediately addressed companies of believers in the London area and spoke in public halls. She worked for most of two years in Europe. At the European Missionary Council in Switzerland during September 1885, she delivered a series of sermons in the early morning meetings. She also spoke in the business sessions. She urged continued efforts to sell Adventist literature, in spite of discouraging results. Inspired by Mrs. White's admonition, several young people committed to make another attempt to sell books on a self-supporting basis; training schools for colporteurs were held in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
During an enjoyable visit to the Waldensian valleys in Italy, Mrs. White preached to a scattering of small congregations.
At the fourth European Missionary Council, held in Great Grimsby, England, in the fall of 1886, the difficulties of spreading Adventism in Europe became painfully apparent. Mrs. White encouraged moving forward. Some workers responded with determination and faith. Others thought that Mrs. White did not understand the difficulties peculiar to their area. Still others wanted to be hopeful for the future, and were looking for a basis for optimism.
Mrs. White forcefully related how the matter had been presented to her in vision: the world seemed to be enveloped in mists, clouds, and darkness; then she saw small jets of light appearing dimly through the darkness. Over time their light grew brighter and more light sources appeared, lit from those already existing.
She concluded by saying,
This is a picture of the work you are to do. "Ye are the light of the world." Matthew 5:14. Your work is to hold up the light to those around you. Hold it firmly. Hold it a little higher. Light other lights. Do not be discouraged if yours is not a great light. If it is only a penny taper, hold it up. Let it shine. Do your very best, and God will bless your efforts.22
She visited Scandinavia, preaching and delivering temperance lectures. To small companies of believers in Germany she spoke through an interpreter. She covered a wide variety of topics, including self-culture of one's abilities, the importance of counseling together humbly, and living according to the golden rule.
Mrs. White encouraged the workers in Europe at a crucial time; this ministry was productive. She lived to see an encouraging growth in church membership in Europe and a great increase in the annual sale of Christian literature.
Mrs. White spent another period in the United States occupied with writing, preaching at conferences, and advising church councils. Then church leadership requested her to go overseas again, this time to Australia, to guide development of the educational work there. On November 12, 1891, Ellen White and her son W. C. White, along with four of her writing and personal assistants, boarded ship to travel halfway around the world. This move was occasioned by an action of the Mission Board, which in turn resulted from an appeal by Elder S. N. Haskell at the 1891 General Conference for a training school to be established in Australia to produce Christian workers for that part of the world.
In Honolulu during a 19-hour stopover, Mrs. White addressed a large audience in the Young Men's Christian Association hall. She spent her sixty-fourth birthday, November 26, 1891, on shipboard en route to Samoa, expressing gratitude to God and re-dedicating her life to His service. A week later she preached about the love of Jesus in the first Seventh-day Adventist meeting house to be constructed south of the equator at Auckland, New Zealand. A few days later she spoke twice to the church in Sydney, Australia.
At Melbourne Elder George Tenney, head of the publishing house, had moved out of his new home and insisted that Mrs. White and her helpers stay there. She immediately entered upon meetings to consider the establishment of a school. Ellen White preached from time to time on Sabbaths in the Melbourne Church. Sometimes she needed to be carried up the church stairs, and occasionally she sat in a chair while speaking.
The Bible training school opened in rented buildings in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, on August 24, 1892. The enrollment was 25 at the start; but by June, 56 were attending. Ellen White recommended the purchase of a site in the country, and a 1,450-acre estate was found at Cooranbong. Although some church leaders and agricultural experts reacted negatively to the location, Mrs. White believed that the Lord was leading in that direction. A decision was made in 1895 to locate the school there.23 Ellen White demonstrated her confidence in the college project on the Avondale estate at Cooranbong by purchasing property nearby and arranging for a home to be erected; she called it "Sunnyside." Immediately she instructed that some of her 66 acres be cleared and plowed for fruit trees to be planted. She was certain that fruit and vegetables could be grown there.
She further showed her interest by borrowing 5,000 dollars to be used in construction of the school. Mrs. White repeatedly expressed the view that financial assets are of value only as they are used to promote the work of the kingdom of God. "One soul saved in the kingdom of God is of more value than all earthly riches."24 She committed future book royalties for the erection of a school to train workers in Australia. She laid the first brick in the foundation of Bethel Hall, the anticipated women's dormitory, in October 1896. The School for Christian Workers opened April 28, 1897, with two buildings partially completed and 10 students. It was a work of faith throughout. By the end of the term, the enrollment had multiplied to 60.
Ellen White allowed proceeds from the sale of her book Christ's Object Lessons to be applied toward reduction of the college indebtedness of $23,000. More than $20,000 of the debt was liquidated in this way.
For a time Ellen White "served, in a sense, as local pastor of the Kellyville, Prospect, and Parramatta, N.S.W., churches."25 At the same time she was completing her book The Desire of Ages and sending out personal testimonies. In her pastoral role Mrs. White waged energetic warfare against economic hardships suffered by individuals and families during a severe depression in Australia.
During this period a non-Adventist who heard Mrs. White speak exclaimed, "I never heard such preaching as that woman gave us since I was born into the world. These people make Christ the complete center and system of truth."26
Having preached, guided, and contributed financially, Ellen White left a solid basis for the educational work in Australia when she returned to the United States in 1900.
While returning to the 1901 General Conference in Battle Creek, Mrs. White traveled through the South of the United States. She urged that schools and medical work be established in that area and pointed out the need for suitable literature to be prepared for the new Southern Publishing Association.
The cover of this book shows Mrs. White speaking at the 1901 General Conference in the Battle Creek Tabernacle. At that time she advocated establishing training centers in Great Britain and other European countries as well as in the South in the United States.
At the 1903 General Conference Ellen White spoke persuasively in favor of moving the headquarters of the denomination from Battle Creek, following destruction by fire of the General Conference and Review and Herald buildings there. Later she encouraged careful consideration of the Washington, D.C., area for the church headquarters and publishing house.
The 1909 General Conference was the last at which Ellen White addressed the church leaders and members in person. Her sermons were packed with admonition for the church, Biblical teaching, and the essence of the gospel. Although she was 81 years of age and in poor health, she spoke 72 times in 27 places on the 8,000-mile trip from her home near St. Helena, California, to the meetings in Washington, D.C., and in return.27
Back at her St. Helena home, "Elmshaven," in the Napa Valley of northern California, Mrs. White busily pursued completion of writing the Conflict of the Ages series, which portrays God's providence acting throughout earth's history. She finished The Acts of the Apostles in 1911 and Counsels to Teachers, Parents, and Students Regarding Christian Education in 1913.
During her last years Ellen White continued to be cheerful. She loved to meditate on a passage of Scripture or to be taken for a ride through the changing attractions of nature. In February 1915 she fell at her home in Elmshaven. An examination afterward revealed a broken hip. Whether it caused or resulted from the fall was not known.
Thereafter she spent much of her time resting in her comfortable second-story office room. She looked backward through church history with interested listeners, and she looked forward to seeing her Saviour at the resurrection.
Her last sermon preached, her last article written, Ellen White died July 16, 1915, at 87 years of age. As the decades pass, she remains a mighty role model for women who are called by God to minister in His church and to evangelize among the unsaved.
1 Ellen G. White et al., Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, California, 1915), 221-22.
2 "White, Ellen Gould (Harmon)," Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Commentary Reference Series, vol. 10 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association), 1410.
3 Ibid., 1406. Ellen Harmon White.
4 White, Life Sketches, 69.
8 Ibid., 135.
9 Ibid., 155.
10 White, Life Sketches, 165-66.
11 Ibid., 195.
12 Ibid., 221.
13 Ibid., 222-24.
14 Ibid., 111.
15 Ibid., 422.
16 Ibid., 221-22.
17 "White, Ellen Gould (Harmon)," Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 1410.
19 Ellen White, Review and Herald (May 9, 1899).
20 Ellen White, Review and Herald (Jan. 15, 1901).
22 Ellen White, Life Sketches, 295.
23 "Avondale College," Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, 91.
24 Ellen White, Life Sketches, 206.
25 Bert Haloviak, "Route to the Ordination of Women," p. 18.
26 Ellen White, letter to J. H. Kellogg, Oct. 25, 1894; Ellen White, letter to O. A. Olsen, Oct. 26, 1894.
27 White, Life Sketches, 416.
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