Messenger of the Lord


Ellen White’s Writings Primarily for the Church

On page 112 we noted how Ellen White and her designated editorial assistants modified her writings when they were printed for the general public. Why? So that no cause for offense would be given to those hearing the distinctive truths of the gospel for the first time. It reflected Paul’s principle of reaching people where they are (1 Corinthians 9:21-23). References to visions were removed from her earlier writings when republished for the general public. When it became obvious that a book like The Great Controversy should be sold to the general public, and especially in Europe, modifications were made. In the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy, for example, certain references that assumed a knowledge of Millerite history were expanded for a worldwide readership. MOL 176.2

Another caution Ellen White gave her co-workers was that ministers should not use her writings in evangelistic meetings to “sustain your positions.” For her, as well as for all Adventists, the Bible must remain “up front” in establishing the main points of the “everlasting gospel” (Revelation 14:6): “Let none be educated to look to Sister White, but to the mighty God, who gives instruction to Sister White.” 50 MOL 176.3

In the first of the Testimonies, Ellen White admonished fellow believers not to take “an injudicious course” when they talked to unbelievers by reading from a vision “instead of going to the Bible for proof.” Why? Mrs. White saw that “this course was inconsistent, and prejudiced unbelievers against the truth. The visions can have no weight with those who have never seen them, and know nothing of their spirit. They should not be referred to in such cases.” 51 MOL 176.4

This principle of accommodation 52 to the experience level of one’s hearers or readers is illustrated in the ministry of Jesus and of Paul. Many times the Saviour wanted to tell the world, even His disciples, the “whole” truth, but they were not ready for it; premature instruction can arouse resistance and prejudice unnecessarily. Even in His parable instruction to His disciples—to those who knew Him best—Jesus taught them only up to a point, “as they were able to bear it” (Mark 4:33). And only hours before His death, Jesus reminded His disciples that they needed to learn much more but they were not ready: “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). MOL 176.5

In proclaiming the gospel to the general public, Jesus was even more restrained. Above all, He avoided offense wherever possible. He did not want to prejudice anyone by saying something that would unnecessarily arouse a negative response. He led them from the known to the unknown by beginning with the authorities they already relied on, even to the witness of nature itself. For these reasons, Jesus withheld much of the meaning in His parables when talking to the general public but, when alone with His disciples, He explained the parables more thoroughly (Matthew 13). MOL 176.6

Paul had a full head and heart to share with the world. With unbelievers, he would think like a Jew or a Greek or a Lystrian, and talk to them in some winsome, unprejudicial way—holding back many things he was able to share with believers (1 Corinthians 9:19-22). But even with believers who were still growing in their experience, Paul said: “I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (1 Corinthians 3:2). MOL 177.1

In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul was developing certain aspects of the Incarnation and why Jesus became man. This information had much to do with a deeper understanding of Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. But Paul knew, for some reason of which we are not aware, that his readers were not ready for the larger implications of further truth about Jesus “of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. You ... need milk and not solid food.... Solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:11-14). MOL 177.2

Ellen White’s experience was the same as that of Christ and Paul: She had the truth, so much so that it burned within her soul, but she could not release it all at once. Teachers can go only as far as their listeners can share basic assumptions. Prophets must be astute and wise in how they present unfolding truth. Even for believers who know something of the working of the Spirit of God, teachers and prophets must use Paul’s careful respect for the hearers’ level of experience—only as they were “able to receive it.” MOL 177.3