A Prophet Among You


Chapter 17—Making Preparation For Publication

The preparation of manuscript matter for publication is pains-taking work. Seldom, if ever, does the product of the most careful writer appear in print in exactly the same form in which the original draft was written. After the thoughts are first expressed, the manuscript passes through various stages of rewriting; of transposition of phrases, clauses, or sentences; of rephrasing; of clarification of expressions; of revised punctuation; of addition or deletion of words. What is required in the preparation of the writings of a secular author was required in a degree in the preparation of Ellen White’s writings for the press. APAY 330.1

God’s call of art individual to the prophetic office does not eradicate all of that person’s shortcomings. It does not endow him with a full knowledge of historical facts, or make him a faultless grammarian and speller, or give him the ability to express himself so flawlessly that no improvement could be made in the method of expression. Though the call will inspire the man to make full use of his capabilities, it will not alter his social or educational background. APAY 330.2

Letters in Ellen White’s handwriting, like the one illustrated on page 211, written when she was twenty years of age, reveal that her well-chosen words gave the same forcefulness and clarity of expression to these early communications that characterized her writings later in life. A careful scrutiny reveals some errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but the style is distinctive. Mrs. White’s meager classroom education was a source of continual regret to her, and led her to turn to others better qualified than herself to help with the technical details of readying copy to be sent to the printer, and in later years to do the same for letters and other communications. For some years, Elder James White was the one who gave help along this line. APAY 330.3

“While my husband lived, he acted as a helper and counselor in the sending out of the messages that were given to me. We traveled extensively. Sometimes light would be given to me in the night season, sometimes in the daytime before large congregations. The instruction I received in vision was faithfully written out by me, as I had time and strength for the work. Afterward we examined the matter together, my husband correcting grammatical errors, and eliminating needless repetition. Then it was carefully copied for the persons addressed, or for the printer.” Ellen G. White, “The Writing and Sending Out of the Testimonies to the Church,“ page 4. APAY 331.1

Even during James White’s lifetime it was necessary for additional help to be enlisted. Elder White traveled widely and carried weighty responsibility. He could not give all the needed assistance. After his death even more aid was essential to carry on the ever-broadening work of preparing the writings for publication. APAY 331.2

“As the work grew, others assisted me in the preparation of matter for publication. After my husband’s death, faithful helpers joined me, who labored untiringly in the work of copying the testimonies, and preparing articles for publication.” Ibid. APAY 331.3

Although Mrs. White employed other persons to assist in the preparation of copy for books and articles, the writings were in no part the product of the pens of these assistants. Some have misunderstood the work of Mrs. White’s secretaries and literary assistants. The next sentence in the quotation above regarding her helpers reads: “But the reports that are circulated, that any of my helpers are permitted to add matter or change the meaning of the messages I write out, are not true.” What, then, was the work of these assistants? This question must be considered in its context—the broader picture of how the messages were written out and made ready for circulation. APAY 331.4

Mrs. White has described the way in which light and instruction were often given to her in vision. “As inquiries are frequently made as to my state in vision, and after I come out, I would say that when the Lord sees fit to give a vision, I am taken into the presence of Jesus and angels, and am entirely lost to earthly things. I can see no farther than the angel directs me. My attention is often directed to scenes transpiring upon earth. APAY 332.1

“At times I am carried far ahead into the future and shown what is to take place. Then again I am shown things as they have occurred in the past. After I come out of vision I do not at once remember all that I have seen, and the matter is not so clear before me until I write, then the scene rises before me as was presented in vision, and I can write with freedom.” Spiritual Gifts 2:292. APAY 332.2

Seldom did Ellen White simply chronicle words that had been revealed to her. There seem to have been five different ways in which she was given a basis for what she wrote in her articles, letters, pamphlets, and books. APAY 332.3

1. At times the written material was a direct account of a single vision. Expressions like this are found frequently: “August 24, 1850, I saw.” Early Writings, 59. APAY 332.4

2. Sometimes there is a composite account of many visions. Speaking of the record in The Great Controversy, Mrs. White said, “From time to time I have been permitted to behold.” The Great Controversy, Introduction, x. APAY 332.5

3. On other occasions counsel was given based on a specific vision, not being a record of the vision itself. “In the night of March 2, 1907, many things were revealed to me regarding the value of our publications.”—Testimonies for the Church 9:65. APAY 332.6

4. Again there was counsel delivered that was based on light given in many visions. “In other cases, where individuals have claimed to have messages for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, of a similar character, the word has been given me, ‘Believe them not.’” Ellen G. White Letter 16, 1893. APAY 332.7

5. Further, light was sometimes given which could be given to various individuals as the need arose. “God has given me a testimony of reproof for parents who treat their children as you do your little one.” Ellen G. White Letter 1, 1877. APAY 333.1

At times Ellen White did record specifically revealed words, but generally she described events as they passed rapidly before her, showing scenes of the past and present, and sometimes the future. Frequently words of instruction were spoken in connection with these views. At times she was taken in vision into homes, committee meetings, churches, councils, and conferences. In some of these instances, not only were the actions and words of individuals and groups revealed to her, but also the motives behind the words and actions. APAY 333.2

When she wrote out what had been shown her, Ellen White endeavored to describe in the best manner of which she was capable the things she had seen and heard. Though at times she quoted exactly what she had heard, the writing was not mechanical, nor were the specific words of the complete record dictated. For the most part, the words used were her own, as was true in the case of the Bible writers. God made use of the messenger’s background, education, and experience in bringing to His people the revelation He wanted them to have. APAY 333.3

It must not be concluded, however, that any prophet was left entirely free to do as he pleased with the message that had come to him. The writing or speaking was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In an early letter, Ellen White told how some individuals had found fault with messages she had given them. They expressed the opinion that part of what was contained in the messages was from the Lord and part was from her own thinking as a result of things that had been told her. She asked in the letter, “Has God placed His work in such a careless manner, that man could fashion it to suit his own inclinations, receive that which was agreeable to him, and reject a portion?” Then she went on to explain: “If God reproves His people through an individual He does not leave the one corrected to guess at matters and the message to become corrupted in reaching the person it is designed to correct. God gives the message and then takes especial care that it is not corrupted.” Ellen G. White Uncopied Letter 8, 1860. By the Spirit the writer was impelled to make the best use of all his powers of insight and description, and was carefully guarded that he might not misrepresent the message with which he had been entrusted. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” 2 Peter 1:21. “Although I am as dependent upon the Spirit of the Lord in writing my views as I am in receiving them, yet the words I employ in describing what I have seen are my own, unless they be those spoken to me by an angel, which I always enclose in marks of quotation.” The Review and Herald, October 8, 1867. APAY 333.4

Speaking of the Bible writers and their varying descriptions of the same incidents, Mrs. White comments: “One writer is more strongly impressed with one phase of the subject; he grasps those points that harmonize with his experience or with his power of perception and appreciation; another seizes upon a different phase; and each, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, presents what is most forcibly impressed upon his own mind—a different aspect of the truth in each, but a perfect harmony through all.” The Great Controversy, Introduction, vi. APAY 334.1

Since the messages were not divinely dictated, there was freedom on the part of the writer to choose words within the limits of the ideas to be expressed. Ordinarily more than one word may be used to represent an idea adequately. In some cases there may be a score of ways of expressing the same idea—more than one of them of equivalent accuracy and value. This being true, there is no apparent reason why the inspired writer should not study to improve his mode of expression and make some modification in his original writing. The work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these voices for God was a continued work. In the case of Mrs. White she endeavored constantly to improve her presentation of truth. In her first writings, as found in Early Writings, we observe a simple yet forceful vocabulary and sentence structure. In her later books we find a broader vocabulary and more complex sentence structure, for she constantly endeavored to improve the presentation of the inspired message. APAY 334.2