Messenger of the Lord


Vision Phenomena

Ellen Harmon/White shared with the Biblical prophets similar physical characteristics while in open, or public, vision. 16 In 1868 James White gave the following comprehensive description of his wife in vision: MOL 135.7

“1. She is utterly unconscious of everything transpiring around her, as has been proved by the most rigid tests, but views herself as removed from this world, and in the presence of heavenly beings. MOL 135.8

“2. She does not breathe. During the entire period of her continuance in vision, which has at different times ranged from fifteen minutes to three hours, there is no breath, as has been repeatedly proved by pressing upon the chest, and by closing the mouth and nostrils. MOL 135.9

“3. Immediately on entering vision, her muscles become rigid, and joints fixed, so far as any external force can influence them. At the same time her movements and gestures, which are frequent, are free and graceful, and cannot be hindered nor controlled by the strongest person. MOL 135.10

“4. On coming out of vision, whether in the day-time or a well-lighted room at night, all is total darkness. Her power to distinguish even the most brilliant objects, held within a few inches of the eyes, returns but gradually, sometimes not being fully established for three hours. This has continued for the past twenty years; yet her eyesight is not in the least impaired, few persons having better than she now possesses. MOL 135.11

“She has probably had, during the past twenty-three years, between one and two hundred visions. These have been given under almost every variety of circumstances, yet maintaining a wonderful similarity; the most apparent change being, that of late years they have grown less frequent, but more comprehensive. She has been taken off in vision most frequently when bowed in prayer. MOL 136.1

“Several times, while earnestly addressing the congregation, unexpectedly to herself and to all around her, she has been instantly prostrated in vision. This was the case June 12, 1868, in the presence of not less than two hundred Sabbathkeepers, in the house of worship, in Battle Creek, Mich. On receiving baptism at my hands, at an early period of her experience, as I raised her up out of the water, immediately she was in vision. Several times, when prostrated by sickness, she has been relieved in answer to the prayer of faith and taken off in vision. At such times her restoration to usual health has been wonderful. MOL 136.2

“At another time, when walking with friends, in conversation upon the glories of the kingdom of God, as she was passing through the gate before her father’s house, the Spirit of God came upon her, and she was instantly taken off in vision. And what may be important to those who think the visions the result of mesmerism, she has a number of times been taken off in vision when in prayer alone in the grove or in the closet. MOL 136.3

“It may be well to speak as to the effect of the visions upon her constitution and strength. When she had her first vision, she was an emaciated invalid, given up by her friends and physicians to die of consumption. She then weighed but eighty pounds. Her nervous condition was such that she could not write, and was dependent on one sitting near her at the table to even pour her drink from the cup to the saucer. And notwithstanding her anxieties and mental agonies, in consequence of her duty to bring her views before the public, her labors in public speaking, and in church matters generally, her wearisome travels, and home labors and cares, her health and physical and mental strength have improved from the day she had her first vision.” 17 MOL 136.4

But visions cannot be explained or authenticated by physical characteristics only. Many times, especially during night visions/dreams, Ellen White did not exhibit the typical physical characteristics. Physical phenomena were not the proof of her divine credentials. 18 MOL 136.5

Further, as Arthur G. Daniells wrote: “Those who would accept such physical phenomena as the determining evidence may be deceived, for the enemy of righteousness may produce similar conditions in persons subject to his control.” 19 Ellen White warned: “There will be those who will claim to have visions. When God gives you clear evidence that the vision is from Him, you may accept it, but do not accept it on any other evidence; for people are going to be led more and more astray in foreign countries and in America. The Lord wants His people to act like men and women of sense.” 20 MOL 136.6

Why, then, did physical phenomena accompany the visions given to Biblical prophets? Why were physical manifestations so extraordinary and so widely documented during the public visions of Ellen White? Apparently, as in Biblical times, God used the miraculous to capture attention and hold it long enough for people to hear the message of the prophet. The message itself bore the divine credentials; the physical phenomena demonstrated the presence of the supernatural. 21 MOL 136.7

Ellen White received messages from God in different ways. Messages received during waking hours are called open visions, those during sleep, dreams. The duration of visions extended from less than a minute to more than an hour, and on one occasion, about four hours. At times visions occurred as “an almost instantaneous flashlight view given of certain situations or conditions. At such times the vision usually related to only one subject or one phase of a subject, while the longer views might take in many, many subjects, or deal with events occurring over a long period of time.” 22 MOL 137.1

Open visions could be expected on almost any occasion. At times, while writing out the day’s events in her diary, pertinent thoughts would come “like a flash of lightning ... so sharply [that] I wrote on and on.” 23 MOL 137.2

While a group of believers were united in family prayer on a Sabbath morning, Ellen White gave that ringing shout of “Glory! Glory! Glory!” (to which audiences through the years had become accustomed), and her husband James arose, informing the audience that his wife was in vision. 24 MOL 137.3

Frequently she had a vision in a church service. The Parkville, Michigan, vision, on January 12, 1861, which depicted some of the facts and terrors of the coming Civil War, was received in church after she finished her powerful exhortation and had sat down. The vision lasted for approximately twenty minutes. After she began breathing again, she spoke briefly about what had been revealed to her, especially certain items that related directly to that intensely interested audience. MOL 137.4

Ellen White’s last public vision, for which we have detailed information, occurred in Battle Creek on January 3, 1875. J. N. Loughborough, however, (who personally witnessed “about fifty” visions) attested that her last public vision was at the 1884 Oregon camp meeting. 25 MOL 137.5

Night visions, or dreams, occurred in various ways, such as “at the beginning of the Sabbath I fell asleep, and some things were clearly presented before me.” 26 Hundreds of letters contained the phrase, “in the night season,” wherein she heard or saw a message that had to be communicated to some particular person or group, such as a church, camp meeting, or official meeting. At times that phrase may have been absent but the occasion was obvious: “I cannot sleep. I was awakened at one o’clock. I was hearing a message borne to you.” 27 MOL 137.6

Night visions or dreams became more customary even as open visions became less frequent. MOL 137.7

Recognizing that questions would arise concerning the private nature of “dreams” and their authenticity as revelations, Ellen White wrote: “The multitude of dreams [ordinary dreams] arise from the common things of life, with which the Spirit of God has nothing to do. There are also false dreams, as well as false visions, which are inspired by the spirit of Satan. But dreams from the Lord are classed in the Word of God with visions, and are as truly the fruits of the Spirit of prophecy as visions. Such dreams, taking into the account the persons who have them, and the circumstances under which they are given, contain their own proofs of their genuineness.” 28 MOL 137.8