As this group of Millerites (including Joseph Bates, one of the few Millerite leaders among them) reevaluated their position on the cleansing of the sanctuary, they began to understand the Scripture's teaching on the sanctuary. They saw that the sanctuary and its worship services foretold the Gospel--that it was given to ancient Israel to teach them, in symbol and ritual, about Christ, the sacrificial lamb who is also man's High Priest-Intercessor. Twice, when some group members were on the verge of accepting a new date for Christ's return, they were persuaded to turn their minds from such speculating and to learn, instead, their present duty by consulting the Word of God.
However, the other (and much larger) groups of Millerites continued to set additional dates--only to be more disappointed and disillusioned as each date passed and Christ did not return. (Ultimately those groups dispersed.) Thus, the little group that had been studying the Scriptures explaining the sanctuary was called by one author "a little ragtag end of a raveled-out movement." Nevertheless, the new little group grew and in time built many publishing houses and medical institutions, a worldwide mission network, and a large educational system. Why did it survive--and thrive? Part of the answer must be traced back to 1844.
The Experience of a Teenager
About two months after the Great Disappointment of 1844, Ellen Harmon, then a teenager, told a small group of Millerites in Portland, Maine, that God had given her a vision. The group had no reason to question her upright personal life. On the other hand, Miller had cautioned against fanatics and had warned particularly against people who claimed to have received visions. Indeed, the Millerites attending the Boston Advent Conference on May 29, 1843, had taken an action stating: "We have no confidence whatever in any visions, dreams, or private revelations.''1 Likewise, this remnant of the Millerite movement was ready to doubt anyone who made such claims. Yet now the claim was made by one of their own.
Ever since her accident when she was nine years old, Ellen had been shy and frail. But that day she told the Portland group that God had given her guidance, not only for herself, but also for them and for others. She felt such a burden to share the message given in the Portland vision that she began to travel and to speak to other groups. Wherever she went people asked, "Could it be that she has the ÔSpirit of Prophecy'?" Time and experience would tell.
Captain Bates, a "Doubting Thomas"
Among those who listened to Ellen from 1844 to 1846 was a long-time sea captain and Millerite leader, Joseph Bates. Once a hard-bitten skeptic, though now a sincere Christian, he was wary of anything that seemed fanatical. Few expected him to accept her message as one from God. However, he did record his early impressions of her. Relating his experience, which is typical of that of others, he wrote in 1847:
"It is now about two years since I first saw the author [Ellen Harmon White] and heard her relate the substance of her visions as she has since published them in Portland [April 6, 1846]. Although I could see nothing in them that militated against the word [of God], yet I felt alarmed and tried [distressed] exceedingly, and for a long time [was] unwilling to believe that it was any thing more than what was produced by a protracted debilitated state of her body....
"I have seen her in vision a number of times,...and those who were present during some of these exciting scenes know well with what interest and intensity I listened to every word, and watched every move to detect deception, or mesmeric [hypnotic] influence. And I thank God for the opportunity I have had with others to witness these things. I can now confidently speak for myself. I believe the work is of God, and is given to comfort and strengthen his Ôscattered,' Ôtorn'...'people,' since October, 1844.... I believe her to be a self-sacrificing, honest, willing child of God...."2
So, Bates, after two years of observing Mrs. White, was convinced that she truly was a messenger of God sent to guide, counsel, teach, and point men to the Word.
The Gift of Prophecy
Many, like Bates, were slow to accept Mrs. White as having the gift of prophecy. But deep conviction took hold of those who witnessed her visions and listened to and practiced her counsels and, in time, this Sabbath-keeping, post-Millerite group recognized in Ellen White the restored gift of prophecy, a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29: "...and your daughters shall prophesy...." They saw that this gift did not lead Ellen White to teach new, strange doctrines, that it was not a new revelation to replace the Holy Scriptures, but rather that it encouraged study of and obedience to every word of God.
As the Sabbath-keeping Adventists studied the prophetic book of Revelation, they found a text that speaks symbolically of Satan's anger against Christ's followers at the end of time. "The dragon [Satan--Revelation 12:4, 9] was wroth [furious] with the woman [the Christian Church, Christ's followers down through the ages--2 Corinthians 11:2], and went to make war with the remnant of her seed [the "remnant" or "last part" of Christ's followers before His Return], which keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ."a Noting that John was speaking of God's faithful people at the end of time, they observed that this remnant "keep the commandments of God." They reasoned that the phrase about commandment-keeping would be meaningless if it was not meant to identify this remnant. They concluded that God meant to restore to His Church in the last days of earth's history the keeping of all ten of His commandments--including the fourth: "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy...the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God...."b
They had also observed in Revelation 12:17 that this remnant would "have the testimony of Jesus Christ," defined in Revelation 19:10 (King James Version) as "the spirit of prophecy." Thus they believed that God would renew in the church just before Christ's Second Advent not only His Sabbath but also the gift of prophecy. In addition to the prophets who wrote the Old and New Testaments, Scripture mentions some 60 other prophets of God--both men and women: Both groups of prophets were filled with the "spirit of prophecy"; they were inspired by "the Spirit of Christ"c to convey to their fellowmen "the testimony of Jesus."
One by one the Sabbath-keeping Adventists were satisfied that this prophetic gift had been given to Ellen White. They referred to the counsels given through her as "the spirit of prophecy."
A Timely Warning
Some of the Millerites soothed their disappointment by setting a new date, claiming to have made a slight error in calculation. The new date was October 1845.
James White was among those anticipating the new October Advent. But because of a vision Ellen received in Carver, Massachusetts, before that date, James turned his mind completely from all time setting. (James White, Ellen's husband, was one of the leaders in what became, 16 years later, the Seventh-day Adventist church.) The vision was one of the first of many that were to guide the new group and protect its members from such detours away from Scripture.
In 1850 Joseph Bates privately published a pamphlet promoting October 1851 as the new date for Christ's Coming. On June 21, 1851, four months before the anticipated event, Ellen had another vision which compelled her to write: "Dear Brethren: The Lord has shown me that...time never will be a test again. I saw that some were getting false excitement arising from preaching time;...I saw that some were making...their calculations in reference to that time. I saw that this was wrong, for this reason: Instead of going to God daily to know their PRESENT duty, they look ahead, and make their calculations as though they knew the work [of God on earth] would end this fall...."3
Mrs. White's unqualified messages protected the Sabbath-keeping Adventists from the danger of being trapped into making further predictions about the time when Christ would return. Her counsel influenced them to heed the Scripture, "No man knoweth the day nor the hour." Bates and his followers dropped their time-setting quickly and quietly, and never again did the Sabbath-keeping Adventists set a date for Christ's return. (She herself said in later years that many of the explicit, specific counsels given through her would have been unnecessary if the general principles of the Scriptures were always believed and obeyed as they should be.)
The Church Threatened
Today the Seventh-day Adventist church is highly organized and carefully integrated in each phase of its work. Its plans and objectives are well defined and vigorously pursued. But such was not always so.
From 1844 to 1860 the Sabbath-keeping Adventists had no formal organization. There was little coordination or church government and not even a church name. The first Sabbath-keeping Adventists actually feared church organization because most of them had been disfellowshipped by denominations which they believed exalted creed or tradition above Scripture.
After the Millerite ministers had been disfellowshipped from their various churches in early 1844 for accepting the literal, personal Coming of Christ, they referred to those churches as "Babylon"--sources of unscriptural teachings and traditions and thus sources of "confusion," the literal meaning of the word Babylon (Revelation 18:1-4). They called for those who believed in the Advent of Christ to "come out" of spiritual "confusion" and to stand on "the Bible and the Bible only" as their source of faith, doctrine, and practice.
For this loosely knit group to organize was to many of them a return to Babylon. Their feelings were so strong that many were against adopting even a formal name. Until the 1860s, the lack of church organization presented serious problems. People with strongly differing ideas on how the work of the Gospel should be carried forward caused friction that threatened to divide the various local groups of believers. The record published in the Review and Herald shows that Mrs. White differed with most other contemporary fellow believers on church order and organization, a difference of opinion which often caused her "anguish of spirit." In 1853 she said, "The Lord has shown that gospel order has been too much feared and neglected."4
Finally heeding her counsels on the need for organization, in 1860 they adopted the name "Seventh-day Adventist." By 1861 there was enough support to organize churches and to create the Michigan Conference. Two years later, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was created to coordinate the work of the growing church around the world. The members regarded themselves not so much as members of a denomination but as members of the "remnant" (Revelation 12:17), the continuation of the Church since the time of Christ, the historic movement composed of all those who have believed that the Word of God is the final authority, that Christ must control the life, and that Scripture must be allowed to interpret itself, if the Gospel is to remain pure, clear, able to change hearts.
Publishing Work Launched
In November 1848, a small group of Sabbath-keepers, including James and Ellen White and Joseph Bates, held a meeting in Dorchester, Massachusetts, at the home of Otis Nichols. During the meeting Mrs. White was given a vision. Afterward, she said to her husband: "I have a message for you. You must begin to print a little paper and send it out to the people. Let it be small at first; but as the people read, they will send you means with which to print, and it will be a success from the first. From this small beginning it was shown to me to be like streams of light that went clear round the world."5 She knew of many well-written papers published between 1840 and 1844, each of which failed within a short time: The Midnight Cry, The Glad Tidings, The Advent Chronicle, The Jubilee Trumpet, The Philadelphia Alarm, The Voice of Elijah, The Western Midnight Cry, and The True Midnight Cry. There was the risk of exposing herself and her husband to the embarrassment of failure. Yet, more than a decade before the Seventh-day Adventist church was formally named (1860) and organized (1863), she counseled that a worldwide publishing work be established.
In July 1849, James White published 1,000 copies of Present Truth, an eight-page paper. This first issue was so small it was carried to the post office in a traveling bag. Additional issues appeared for about a year, when the paper was renamed the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, eventually becoming the official monthly forum for church news and views. In 1863, the new church published $3,000 worth of Gospel literature. In 2002, 56 Seventh-day Adventist publishing houses in 53 countries sold 96 million dollars' worth of publications in 343 languages. In all, approximately $4 billion worth of literature has been published since 1863. Seventh-day Adventists consider the publishing work one of the church's greatest sources of strength and another evidence of the inspired character of the vision Ellen White received in 1848.
Thus, through Ellen White's guidance, the young Seventh-day Adventist church was encouraged to build on the Bible and let it be its own interpreter. Through her counsels the church also escaped the disappointments of time setting, became formally organized, and began a successful publishing work. And it was also through her counsels that the church began to take an interest in health.
Visions of Healthful Living
During the early years of the Seventh-day Adventist church, its leaders often suffered from various common and sometimes severe physical ills. Before sunset Friday evening, June 5, 1863, two weeks after the church was officially organized, the Whites met in prayer with fellow believers in the farmhouse home of Aaron Hilliard in Otsego, Michigan, to welcome the Sabbath. As Mrs. White prayed, particularly for her husband's health, she went into vision. In the vision, broad principles of healthful living were shown her, which she was instructed to present to the Seventh-day Adventist church as a divinely inspired message.
In 1864, Mrs. White wrote and published a 31-page chapter on the instructions for healthful living that were given to her in that June 1863 vision (see Spiritual Gifts, vol. 4, pp. 120-51). Afterward, she read works by Larkin B. Coles, Dio Lewis, and other health reformers of her day: "I then searched the various works on hygiene and was surprised to find them so nearly in harmony with what the Lord had revealed to me. And to show this harmony, and to set before my brethren and sisters the subject as brought out by able writers, I determined to publish ÔHow to Live' , in which I largely extracted from the works referred to."6 ("The works of Doctors R. T. Trall, J. C. Jackson, Dio Lewis, and others; Sylvester Graham's Lectures on the Science of Human Life; and Cole's Philosophy of Health were carried in stock by the Review and Herald office."7)
On Christmas Day, 1865, during a vision in Rochester, New York, she received additional information on the subject of health. She was also instructed that Adventists should have their own institution in which to teach and practice these health principles. Although she had received divine instruction on healthful living as early as 1848, it was chiefly these two visions (1863 and 1865) and others that followed that have shaped the health teachings and medical work of the Adventist church and the health practices of its members.
In 1866 Elder J. H. Waggoner, a coworker and editor of Signs of the Times, said, "We do not profess to be pioneers in the general principles of the health reform. The facts on which this [health reform] movement is based have been elaborated, in a great measure, by reformers, physicians, and writers on physiology and hygiene, and so may be found scattered through the land. But we do claim that by the method of God's choice it has been more clearly and powerfully unfolded, and is thereby producing an effect which we could not have looked for from any other means."8
Mrs. White spoke and wrote with zeal and clarity as she promoted natural remedies and other principles of healthful living. Her contributions to healthful living stand in contrast to the medical practices of her day, which were sometimes amusing and often deadly. By the 1830s, reformers, including a few physicians, began speaking out, each with his or her own ideas about diet, dress, and the practice of medicine.
Sometimes Mrs. White opposed the ideas of mainstream 19th-century medicine, siding instead with certain "health reformers" who were considered "quacks" by the "professionals." On other points, she sided with the physicians. For example, she did not agree with those who taught that "salt is a mineral poison"; "sugar is not a food"; "milk should be used by infants only";9 diphtheria "is not a contagious, nor an infectious disease."10
At times the principles presented to her in vision contradicted her own beliefs and practices. She wrote, "I was astonished at the things shown me in vision. Many things came directly across my own ideas.''11 Throughout the years, as she received instructions from the Lord regarding health, she reported what she was told, whether she agreed with and understood it or not. As she said in 1901, "The whys and wherefores of this I know not, but I give you the instruction as it is given me.''12 Evidently she was led through the maze of then-current viewpoints, for she promoted by pen and voice those health principles which have shown themselves adaptable to varied cultures and generations, principles which--unlike many 19th-century health-reform notions or medical nostrums--have stood the test of time and the scrutiny of modern science.
"What the Lord had revealed" to her in the 1863 vision and in many later visions on health was a broad philosophy of healthful living and many specific practical instructions. Taking these visions as her guide, she synthesized her own writings, here and there, with the best writings of both the "orthodox" physicians of her time and of the nonmedically trained reformers and healers. This unique synthesis stressed five principles of healthful living:
1. Balanced Diet. During her day, nutritional research had not yet revealed the benefits of a balanced diet in relation to health or recovery from sickness. Yet she wrote Counsels on Diet and Foods, a volume that still offers up-to-date and accurate guidance on how to adopt a balanced, economical diet.
2. Other Natural Remedies. She emphasized natural remedies, such as hydrotherapy; the adequate use of pure drinking water, fresh air, sunlight, rest, exercise; abstinence from anything harmful (such as tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse); moderation in that which is good; and trust in God, the Great Physician.
3. Preventive Medicine. She wrote that a healthful lifestyle could help prevent much disease. In addition to providing medical treatment for the sick and teaching people how to recover their health, Adventist healthcare institutions were to teach people how to prevent illness and preserve health. She emphasized that the body is the temple of God and based her conviction on 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: "What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." Seeking, preserving, and promoting health is a way the Christian can express his faith and love toward God. Such faith in the Creator's life-sustaining power would not presume upon His mercies by deliberately breaking His laws of health--neglecting proper exercise, sleep, nutrition; using harmful drugs; etc.--and then expecting miracles of healing.
4. Mental Health. She often wrote of the intimate relation between the brain and the rest of the body, and the powerful negative or positive effect of each upon the other, and, therefore, of the need for both mind and body to be in the best possible health. In her day there was little appreciation of this interrelationship.
5. Spiritual Health. She stressed above all that spiritual life--Christian character and potential for loving service to God and man--could best prosper in a healthy body. She believed that God created man as an indivisible unit. Like an integrated circuit, the body, mind, emotions, social nature, and spirit cannot be separated. The health of one, or an injury to one, is communicated throughout the whole. Thus, keeping each part of this unity in health is vital to overall well-being. As she wrote in 1890: "Let it ever be kept before the mind that the great object of hygienic reform [re-forming one's health practices] is to secure the highest possible development of mind and soul and body. All the laws of nature--which are the laws of God--are designed for our good. Obedience to them will promote our happiness in this life, and will aid us in a preparation for the life to come.''13
The remarkable result of these writings has been the permanent changes in the smoking, drinking, eating, and general health habits of 14 million Seventh-day Adventists now living, besides those who were church members during the past century. And her writings continue to change the health habits of new readers. These changes have been shown to lower greatly the risk of many diseases, to promote health and a feeling of wellbeing, and to prolong life. (See Appendix C.)
In addition to a substantial publishing work and healthcare service, Seventh-day Adventists have a distinctive educational system. Their first college was opened in Battle Creek in 1874, 11 years after the formal organization of the church. It is possible to attend a Seventh-day Adventist school full time for over 26 years, from kindergarten through a residency in neurosurgery.
In 2002 the Seventh-day Adventist church served 1,056,349 students in its 4,407 primary schools, 1,064 secondary schools, one correspondence school, 85 colleges, and 99 tertiary schools, including 32 universities. The justification for having a separate school system was found in the kind of education that Ellen White was shown the church should provide for its youth. In 1903 she wrote:
"Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole [eternal] period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world, and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come....
"Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God's ideal for His children. Godliness--godlikeness--is the goal to be reached.''14
The church's extensive programs of education and of mission outreach began at the same time. When these programs were launched the church was so small and funds so limited that a mission program that could carry the gospel to the whole world seemed impossible. At first, church leaders rationalized that if they preached to the immigrants who came to America, they would in essence fulfill the commission of Matthew 28:19-20 and Revelation 14:6-7 to preach the gospel to "every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,..." Certainly these people would share the "Good News" with their loved ones back home. But Ellen White declared that they must go out and that "our vision must be extended." At the time, church leaders could scarcely see how they could spread the work to California and the large cities, much less to the world.
During a vision one night Mrs. White was told: "You are entertaining too limited ideas of the work for this time. You are trying to plan the work so that you can embrace it in your arms. You must take broader views. Your light must not be put under a bushel or under a bed, but on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house. Your house is the world...."15
Ellen White shared the vision with the leaders who were directing the program of the church. In broad outline she told them what to do, and they followed the counsel, believing that it was not hers, but God's. As a result, in 2004 the Seventh-day Adventist Church was working in 203 countries of the world in 853 languages and dialects.
Ellen White herself went overseas to guide the developing mission program. In the mid-1880s, D. T. Bourdeau, Mrs. White's translator during a two-year stay in Europe, had an excellent opportunity to observe her. After a general meeting of church members in Basel, Switzerland, he reported:
"Never was the gift of prophecy more needed, and its service more timely, than on this occasion. Errors and difficulties that had baffled human wisdom and effort were pointed out, corrected, and removed, with that tenderness, plainness, faithfulness, and impartiality which have characterized this gift during the entire period of its manifestation among us, now about forty years....
"How interesting and wonderful it was to hear [Ellen] White correctly delineate the peculiarities of different fields she had seen only as the Lord had shown them to her, and show how they should be met; to hear her describe case after case of persons she had never seen with her natural vision, and either point out their errors or show important relations they sustained to the cause [of God], and how they should connect with it to better serve its interests!
"As I had a fair chance to test the matter...knowing that no one had informed [Mrs.] White of these things, while serving as an interpreter, I could not help exclaiming, ÔIt is enough. I want no further evidence of its genuineness.'"16
Thus, the new Adventist church accepted Ellen White as a prophet in their midst and her counsels as a gift from God. In an era of appalling medical ignorance, the counsels gave specific directions on healthful living, directions that would build a new kind of healthcare center and benefit the health of millions.