Messenger of the Lord

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Chapter 36—Hermeneutics-Part 5: Authority and Relationship to the Bible

“The Spirit of God rests upon me with power, and I cannot but speak the words given me. I dare not withhold one word of the testimony.... I speak the words given me by a power higher than human power, and I cannot, if I would, recall [retract] one sentence. In the night season the Lord gives me instruction in symbols, and then explains their meaning. He gives me the word, and I dare not refuse to give it to the people.” 1 MOL 416.1

Seventh-day Adventists have believed for more than a century that Ellen White was inspired in the same manner and to the same degree as Biblical prophets. At the same time, they do not make her writings another Bible—her writings differ in function and scope, not in authority. MOL 416.2

But how did Ellen White understand her authority? From her teenage years to her final days, she was clear about her divine assignment. Hundreds of times she prefaced her messages with “I was shown,” or “The Lord showed me.” She reflected on those early moments: “When the Lord first gave me messages to deliver to His people, it was hard for me to declare them, and I often softened them down and made them as mild as possible for fear of grieving some. It was a great trial to declare the messages as the Lord gave them to me.” 2 MOL 416.3

The usual response to all prophets, even to Jesus Himself, has been to ask several basic questions: “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?” 3 What is your work? Who sent you? MOL 416.4

Ellen White answered these questions often. The Lord sent her “for the comfort of His people and to correct those who err from Bible truth.” 4 MOL 416.5

Mrs. White often felt rejected. During the dark hours of Dr. Kellogg’s 1902 confusion in theology, she wrote to her brother-in-law, S. T. Belden: “I am not to be depressed, but am to speak the words of the Lord with authority, and leave with Him all the consequences. I am instructed by the Great Physician to speak the word that the Lord gives me, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.” 5 MOL 416.6

To her son, W. C. White, she wrote: “The awful sense of my responsibility takes such possession of me that I am weighted as a cart beneath sheaves. I do not desire to feel less keenly my obligation to the Higher Power. The Presence is ever with me, asserting supreme authority and taking account of the service that I render or withhold.” 6 MOL 416.7

During the Ballenger confrontation in the early 1900s, she reflected: “The question is asked, How does Sister White know in regard to the matters of which she speaks so decidedly, as if she had authority to say these things? I speak thus because they flash upon my mind when in perplexity like lightning out of a dark cloud in the fury of a storm. Some scenes presented before me years ago have not been retained in my memory, but when the instruction then given is needed, sometimes even when I am standing before the people, the remembrance comes sharp and clear, like a flash of lightning, bringing to mind distinctly that particular instruction. At such times I MOL 416.8

cannot refrain from saying the things that flash into my mind, not because I have had a new vision, but because that which was presented to me perhaps years in the past, has been recalled to my mind forcibly.” 7 MOL 417.1

To Evangelist W. W. Simpson, serving in southern California in 1906, she wrote: “I am thankful that the instruction contained in my books established present truth for this time. These books were written under the demonstration of the Holy Spirit.” 8 MOL 417.2