Messenger of the Lord


Deepening Insights by a Maturing Prophet

Truth does not change, but a person’s appreciation for, and understanding of, truth does. Even prophets experience a deeper understanding of truth as time passes. In His humanity, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). When we study Peter’s life, we have a clear picture of a maturing prophet after Pentecost. MOL 457.3

In 1906 Ellen White testified that for “sixty years I have been in communication with heavenly messengers, and I have been constantly learning in reference to divine things, and in reference to the way in which God is constantly working to bring souls from the error of their ways to the light in God’s light.” 10 (Emphasis supplied.) MOL 457.4

Mrs. White understood this human matrix through which the Word of God must pass in God’s communication system. 11 In her Introduction to The Great Controversy she alerted readers to the “diversity” of Biblical writers, not only in style but in the unique insights of a writer who “grasps those points that harmonize with his experience or with his power of perception and appreciation.” 12 MOL 457.5

When Mrs. White spoke of “constantly learning,” she was not thinking in evolutionary terms “that leaves God out of consideration, but rather a process of spiritual growth that is directly under the guiding hand of God.” 13 The same principle of growth is emphasized throughout Christ’s parables and the New Testament epistles. 14 The principle of growth underlies the wonder and excitement of the redeemed—the process begun on earth will be unending: “As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase. The more men learn of God, the greater will be their admiration of His character.” 15 MOL 457.6

The principle of growth affected Ellen White’s ministry in two ways: (1) Prophets can lead people only as fast as they can comprehend instruction. 16 This may mean that God will lead the prophet with His instruction only as fast as people would understand the prophet’s message; or (2) God will speak to prophets only in terms that can be understood by the prophet. As prophets grow in knowledge, Christian discipline, and experience, their capacity to understand more about God’s plans increases proportionately. MOL 457.7

In reference to Ellen White’s central theme—the great controversy story—we have found an expanding, more insightful unfolding of that theme from 1858-1911, through the various publications as noted above. 17 Something like a pencil sketch in 1858, the “theme-picture” was outlined in about 219 small pages. The picture was filled in with further details in the larger, 1,600-page, four-volume Spirit of Prophecy series. With the publication of the Conflict of the Ages series and its 3,757 pages, the sketch of 1858 had now become a four-color, 3-D rendition of the original story. MOL 457.8

Do we find any evidence for the principle of growth in the mind of Mrs. White as she amplified the Great Controversy Theme from 219 small pages to the present 3,757 full pages? Much in every way. But the deepening insights are not in conflict with the original sketch in 1858, only the filling in of details. Readers can make the study for themselves by comparing how Mrs. White described key people and events in each of the three renditions—Spiritual Gifts, The Spirit of Prophecy four-volume series, and the Conflict of the Ages five-volume set. MOL 458.1

For example, the expansion of thought, the filling in of details in Patriarchs and Prophets and The Desire of Ages, is dramatic. One senses no contradictions in the amplification; yet, the expansion is profoundly compelling. 18 MOL 458.2

The expansion of insights is not merely a matter of descriptive details. Clearer theological insights are apparent. For example, emphasizing the readiness principle (see pp. 34, 282, 304, 311, 422) God seemed to wait until Seventh-day Adventists were ready for His prophet to speak more clearly about the deity of Christ. In both Spiritual Gifts and The Spirit of Prophecy set, little was said about the deity of Christ. But in Patriarchs and Prophets (1890) and The Desire of Ages (1898), Ellen White wrote clearly and in-depth regarding the eternal preexistence of Jesus. 19 This fresh emphasis became a distinct turning point for denominational thinkers on the deity of Christ. 20 MOL 458.3

In her earlier writings, Ellen White reflected a prevailing Protestant understanding that emphasized God and His law in arbitrary, non-personal terms: if sinners are to be saved from the angry wrath of the Father, then Christ must die. The analogy of the courtroom (Judge) eclipsed the analogy of the family (Father). Although this early picture is correct in rough outline, both Patriarchs and Prophets and The Desire of Ages richly filled in the picture that added significant details to the traditional Christian interpretation of the atonement most often reflecting Calvinistic thought. To move from picturing an offended God, who needed to be placated, to a God who was willing to endure misunderstanding and deception in order for His creation to see the awful results of rebellion, is a magnificent unfolding in understanding the central issue in the great controversy. 21 MOL 458.4

Ellen White’s growth in knowledge regarding practical duties and God’s patience in waiting for her to be ready to understand visions that would unfold additional truths may be demonstrated by the following examples. For years she agreed with other Adventists such as Joseph Bates that the Sabbath begins and ends at 6:00 P.M. In November 1855 she had a vision that affirmed John N. Andrews’s Bible study on the previous Sabbath—that the Sabbath begins and ends at the setting of the sun. 22 In 1858 she wrote Stephen Haskell that he was inappropriate in making an issue over the use of pork. After her vision in 1863 she made clear that pork was indeed a prohibited article. 23 MOL 458.5

Note that in neither case was Ellen White contradicting light given to her in vision. As she grew older, she grew in knowledge. Visions, from time to time, when God knew she was ready, confirmed her Bible studies in such a way that fellow Adventists were impressed with her spiritual authority. MOL 458.6