Messenger of the Lord

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Chapter 5—Messenger, Wife, and Mother

“Who can find a virtuous wife? ... The heart of her husband safely trusts her; ... Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come.... Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all’” (Proverbs 31:10, 11, 25, 28, 29). MOL 52.1

During 1845, Ellen Harmon was invited to share her early visions with adventist groups in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. A young preacher, six years older than Ellen, became convinced that her visions were genuine and that her message of encouragement was needed. And so James White entered young Ellen’s life, but not with romantic thoughts—at first. MOL 52.2

In fact, for a few months after October 22 he and most others in the fourth group of Millerites mentioned in the last chapter, viewed marriage as a denial of their faith in the soon-coming of Christ. In the Day Star, James condemned a couple who, in announcing their approaching wedding, had “denied their faith in being published for marriage, and we all look upon this as a wile of the Devil. The firm brethren in Maine who are waiting for Christ to come have no fellowship with such a move.” 1 MOL 52.3

But reality and common sense prevailed. James discovered that love was becoming more than a principle! After realizing that his joint ministry with young Ellen, though always chaperoned by her sister Sarah or other faithful friends, was activating gossip, he proposed marriage. Ellen accepted his proposal and they were married by a justice of the peace in Portland, Maine, on August 30, 1846. 2 MOL 52.4

Ellen recalled after James’s death: “It was not over a year before James White talked it over with me. He said something had come up, and he should have to go away and leave me to go with whomsoever I would, or we must be married. He said something had got to be done. So we were married, and have been married ever since. Although he is dead, I feel that he is the best man that ever trod shoe leather.” 3 MOL 52.5

James viewed Ellen as his “crown of rejoicing.” 4 MOL 52.6

L. H. Christian, long-time church leader, recalled a conversation with a woman who, in her early youth, had played together with young Ellen and remembered her sad accident. When Christian asked her what she remembered about Ellen as a young woman, she responded with a smile, “Well, that is an interesting story which I delight to tell. James was older than Ellen by about six years. We were young people there together. Their friendship was a model and an inspiration to us all, and their marriage a most beautiful and happy event.” 5 MOL 52.7

Thus began a remarkable 35-year marriage founded on their mutual love and conviction that Ellen’s visions were of divine origin. Ellen Gould Harmon became Mrs. Ellen G. White, the name by which she is known as the prophetess/ messenger of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. MOL 52.8

The public saw Ellen as the revivalist and James as the organizer. “As man and wife they were a unique and strong gospel team. Their method and division of the work were perfect. Adventists have never had their equal.” 6 MOL 53.1

Even before their marriage James recognized Ellen’s exceptional preaching skills: “Although but sixteen, she was a laborer in the cause of Christ in public and from house to house. She was a decided Adventist, and yet her experience was so rich and her testimony so powerful that ministers and leading men of different churches sought her labors as an exhorter in their several congregations. But at that time she was very timid, and little thought that she was to be brought before the public to speak to thousands.” 7 MOL 53.2

Known for his persistence and sound judgment, James was considered a trusted leader by fellow Seventh-day Adventists. He was not only a strategist, he fought like a warrior in the field. He started the church’s publishing work with nothing, fostered church organization, and developed an educational system when others saw only a dream. His rugged faith and contagious cheer moved audiences. Funds and support emerged. His remarkable business skills saved the denomination from many embarrassments. 8 MOL 53.3

When James White died, the editor of the Battle Creek Journal (who had lived very close to most of White’s enterprises) wrote: “He was a man of the patriarchal pattern, and his character was cast in the heroic mold. If the logical clearness to formulate a creed; if the power to infect others with one’s own zeal, and impress them with one’s own convictions; if the executive ability to establish a sect and to give it form and stability; if the genius to shape and direct the destiny of great communities, be a mark of true greatness, Elder White is certainly entitled to the appellation, for he possessed not one of these qualities only, but all of them in a marked degree.” 9 MOL 53.4

Probably, however, James White would not be admired and remembered today so vividly if he had not been teamed with one who possessed the Spirit of prophecy. L. H. Christian wrote: “Great as was the leadership service of Elder White to the advent cause, his greatest service was his abiding faith in and defense of the Spirit of prophecy. That he—a strong businessman of broad good sense and balanced judgment, absolutely free from fanaticism, always against counterfeit manifestations of religion, and knowing the messenger intimately as his wife—should always stand so staunchly for her calling and work as a messenger from God, gave our members great confidence in her testimonies.... He thought of his life mission as an instrument to make known to the church the visions of the Lord given to his companion. These testimonies instructed and reproved him as they did others, but he accepted and followed them implicitly as light from heaven.” 10 MOL 53.5

Messenger and master builder, prophet and apostle, “James and Ellen White were an invaluable team. Ellen shared with James her wisdom based on her revelations; he acted vigorously to implement what she advised and what to him seemed common sense.” 11 MOL 53.6

Ellen White’s role as a loving, loyal wife is well documented. In 1876, while making their home in Oakland, California, Ellen, then 48 years old, felt the need to focus on finishing the second volume of The Spirit of Prophecy, which emphasized the life and work of Christ. James departed alone for Battle Creek to attend a special session of the General Conference. MOL 53.7

In a typical note two days after his departure, she wrote (March 24): “We are all well as usual. It takes a little time to get settled down from the excitement of your going. You may be assured we miss you. Especially do we feel the loss of your society when we gather about the fireside evenings. We feel your absence when we sit around the social board [dining table]. But we shall get more used to this after a MOL 53.8

while. We have been writing today.” 12 MOL 54.1

A few weeks later she wrote a letter that revealed more of her humor as well as her warm relationship with James. Part of the letter reads: “I had written you quite a lengthy letter last night, but the ink was spilled upon it, making an unsightly blotch, and I will not send it. We received your few words last night on a postal card—‘Battle Creek, April 11. No letters from you for two days. James White.’ MOL 54.2

“This lengthy letter was written by yourself. Thank you, for we know you are living. No letter from James White previous to this since April 6, 1876. We were very thankful to receive a few lines in reference to yourself from Sister Hall, April 9. I have been anxiously waiting for something to answer.” MOL 54.3

Then followed an extensive description of the previous day’s activities sailing in San Francisco Bay, the high waves reminding her of the disciples on stormy Galilee. A few lines later, “I will write every morning.... Will you do the same?” 13 MOL 54.4

Several days later, she penned her affection for James and her loneliness when he was away: “We are all quite well and cheerful. We feel every day a most earnest desire for a more sacred nearness to God. This is my prayer, when I lie down, when I awake in the night, and when I arise in the morning, Nearer my God to Thee, nearer to Thee.” 14 MOL 54.5

As most maturing spouses learn sooner or later, stress times do come. In 1876, James 55, was carrying extremely heavy responsibilities as president of the General Conference as well as being the firm counselor to the publishing work. Often his greatest concern was that few of his colleagues were as intense and as courageous regarding challenges as he was. Being a man of action, James tended to become dictatorial and demanding. At times he felt unappreciated. In experiencing the effects of several strokes and advancing age, thoughts of discouragement and resentment assailed him. Bleak thoughts seeped into his letters to his wife. MOL 54.6

On May 12, 1876, Ellen, at 48, replied to one of his letters: “In regard to my independence, I have had no more than I should have in the matter under the circumstances. I do not receive [accept] your views or interpretation of my feelings on this matter. I understand myself much better than you understand me. But so it must be, and I will say no more in reference to the matter. I am glad you are free and happy, and I rejoice that God has blessed me with freedom, with peace, and cheerfulness and courage.... I shall look to God for guidance and shall try to move as He shall lead the way.” 15 MOL 54.7

Four days later she wrote: “It grieves me that I have said or written anything to grieve you. Forgive me, and I will be cautious not to start any subject to annoy and distress you. We are living in a most solemn time and we cannot afford to have in our old age differences to separate our feelings. I may not view all things as you do, but I do not think it would be my place or duty to try to make you see as I see and feel as I feel. Wherein I have done this, I am sorry. MOL 54.8

“I want an humble heart, a meek and quiet spirit. Wherein my feelings have been permitted to arise in any instance, it was wrong.... MOL 54.9

“I wish that self should be hid in Jesus. I wish self to be crucified. I do not claim infallibility, or even perfection of Christian character. I am not free from mistakes and errors in my life. Had I followed my Saviour more closely, I should not have to mourn so much my unlikeness to His dear image.... No more shall a line be traced by me or expression made in my letters to distress you. Again, I say, forgive me, every word or act that has grieved you.” 16 MOL 54.10

James and Ellen wrote their personal, touching letters without any thought that they would be read by others some day. In these letters we gain uncommon insights into how committed Christians handled marital stress, and through them other MOL 54.11

husbands and wives have taken heart and learned how to handle their own tensions and conflicts. These letters have become sources of hope and strength to many modern marriages. 17 MOL 55.1

Did their faithfulness to each other override lonely moments of misunderstanding? Indeed. The years to come revealed their consistent, tenacious love. One year later, James’s health began to fail again. In late October 1877, Ellen wrote to her son William, and Mary his wife, in Battle Creek: MOL 55.2

“Dear Children: I am tired tonight. I have been trying to get a piece for the [Health] Reformer. It is hard to write much, for Father is so lonesome I have to ride out with him and devote considerable time to keep him company. Father is quite cheerful but talks but little. We have some very precious seasons of prayer. We believe that God will raise him to health. We are of good courage.” 18 MOL 55.3