Messenger of the Lord

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Chapter 12—The Sought-for Speaker

“They read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8). “Encourage all to use simple, pure, elevated language. Speech, pronunciation, and voice—cultivate these talents, not under any great elocutionist of the world, but under the power of the Holy Spirit of God.” 1 MOL 124.1

Probably no public speaker had a more unlikely beginning than Ellen Harmon, but late in 1844 she heard the invitation: “Make known to others what I have revealed to you.” Nothing caused her more despair. She prayed to be released from this burden; she even “coveted death.” 2 MOL 124.2

Was she merely being modest? Was her reluctance prompted by Christian humility? In a way, Yes, to both questions, but she was also a realist, along with anyone else who knew this eighty-pound, “frail,” seventeen-year-old. Contemporaries did not expect her to live; her respiratory problems appeared terminal. In her own words, “[I] was unused to society, and naturally so timid and retiring that it was painful for me to meet strangers.” 3 MOL 124.3

What happened when Ellen Harmon accepted her first invitation to relate her vision in Poland, Maine? Driven by a sense of duty, able to speak only in a whisper, she began “to make known to others” what God had revealed to her. After five minutes her “voice became clear and strong,” and she spoke for nearly two hours “with perfect ease.” 4 When she finished, her vocal problems returned—until the next time she stood in public to share her message. With each repeated “restoration” of vocal strength and ease, she became more certain that she was following in the path of duty. MOL 124.4

From that unlikely beginning, Ellen White’s seventy years of public service reveals an astonishing and unforeseen record. She became a sought-after speaker by Adventists and non-Adventists alike. For many decades she was one of the major speakers at General Conference sessions and possibly the most wanted speaker at camp meetings from coast to coast. Non-Adventists by the thousands (audiences ranging from 20 to 20,000) listened to her evangelistic sermons with great appreciation, long before there were public address systems. 5 MOL 124.5

How did she do it? No doubt God gave her special help when she stepped out in faith in 1845. Other experiences were similar to the following at the Healdsburg, California, camp meeting, in October, 1882. During the summer she exhausted herself in heavy traveling, much preaching, and writing vigorously. 6 Though confined to her bed, she asked that she be taken to the large tent to rest on a sofa. After J. H. Waggoner finished his sermon, she asked her son to help her to the pulpit. MOL 124.6

Recalling later, she wrote: “For five minutes I stood there trying to speak, and thinking that it was the last speech I should ever make—my farewell address.... All at once I felt a power come upon me, like a shock of electricity. MOL 124.7

It passed through my body and up to my head. The people said that they plainly saw the blood mounting to my lips, my ears, my cheeks, my forehead.” MOL 125.1

A businessman from town, standing to his feet, exclaimed: “We are seeing a miracle performed before our eyes; Mrs. White is healed!” MOL 125.2

Elder Waggoner, the previous speaker that day, wrote in his Signs report: “Her voice and appearance changed, and she spoke for some time with clearness and energy. She then invited those who wished to make a start in the service of God, and those who were far backslidden, to come forward, and a goodly number answered to the call.” 7 MOL 125.3