The Ellen G. White Writings


Chapter 4—Ellen G. White as a Historian 11

A look at the dictionary leads us to define a historian as a writer of a narrative of events, or one who sets forth a systematic account of events. It is as Ellen White served in this role that we shall now observe her. Although she was not commissioned primarily as a historian, in the aggregate E. G. White writings we find a considerable amount of what would come under the heading of history. There comes to mind first and foremost her depiction of events paralleling Bible history but going beyond its scope to deal with historical events from the time of the apostles to the present and reaching into the future to the earth made new. This is one kind of history which Ellen White wrote. EGWW 107.1

Then there is what we may call denominational history—an account of events relating to the inception and development of the church cropping out here and there in her writings. Closely akin to this account are her autobiographical materials. We will concern ourselves mainly with her depiction of events as set forth in her repeated presentation of the great controversy between Christ and His angels and Satan and his angels as illustrated in the affairs of mankind. EGWW 107.2

The writing in this field occupied a sizable portion of Ellen White’s time between 1858 and the close of her life fifty-seven years later. The 1858 presentation, based on the March 14 great controversy vision, is the little Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, of 219 pages. The last of her writings in this field and any field, for that matter, was Prophets and Kings, rounding out in 1915 her work on the five-volume set of the Conflict of the Ages series. EGWW 108.1

We turn now to the field of coverage of the little 1858 volume, and find that it touches the high points of the inception of sin, the fall of man, and the plan of salvation; it then skips to the life of Jesus, His ministry and sacrifice. From that point it treats in brief form the work of the apostles, the apostasy in the Christian church, the Reformation, the Advent Movement, and the succession of events to the Second Advent and the earth made new. The full content became in 1882 the last part of Early Writings (pp. 133-295). In 1944 the original volume (Spiritual Gifts) was reproduced in a facsimile reprint, and it is currently available. EGWW 108.2

It is indeed a historical work presenting in vivid language the account of the conflict between the forces of righteousness and the forces of evil, portrayed in almost digest form on the background of ancient and modern history. As Ellen White wrote she employed the terms “I saw,” “I was shown,” and so forth, more than once for each page of the book: EGWW 108.3

I saw that the holy angels often visited the garden.—Page 20. EGWW 108.4

I saw the Roman guard, as the angelic host passed back to heaven.—Page 68. EGWW 109.1

I saw that Luther was ardent and zealous, fearless and bold.—Page 122. EGWW 109.2

I saw Satan and his angels seeking to shut this divine light from the people of God.—Page 156. EGWW 109.3

I saw the saints suffering great mental anguish.—Page 202. EGWW 109.4

I then saw Jesus leading the redeemed host to the tree of life.—Page 210. EGWW 109.5

But this was only the beginning of her portrayals of the great controversy on the background of history. Within five years Mrs. White was diligently at work presenting the story of events that transpired between Creation and the first advent of Christ. The detailed account fills Spiritual Gifts, volume 3, and the first half of volume 4, under the subtitle of Important Facts of Faith in Connection With the History of Holy Men of Old, both to appear in 1864. These with Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, completed a brief coverage of the theme from the fall of Lucifer to the establishment of the new earth. EGWW 109.6

In her “Preface” to volume 3, devoted so fully to the historical account, she indicates the source of the information presented: EGWW 109.7

I am comforted with the conviction that the Lord has made me His humble instrument in shedding some rays of precious light upon the past.... Since the great facts of faith, connected with the history of holy men of old, have been opened to me in vision....—Page v. EGWW 109.8

From time to time the reader of volumes 3 and 4 is reminded of this fact by such expressions as: EGWW 109.9

“I saw a sadness come over the countenance of Adam.” Page 42. EGWW 109.10

“I was then carried back to the creation and was shown that the first week....” Page 90. EGWW 109.11

Concerning the source of information of the historical writings of prophets and apostles and of Ellen White herself, she has given us these facts: EGWW 109.12

The preparation of the written word began in the time of Moses.... From Moses, the historian of creation and the law. ...—The Great Controversy, v. EGWW 110.1

Moses wrote under the guidance of the Spirit of God.—Signs of the Times, March 13, 1884. EGWW 110.2

The Holy Spirit... guided the pens of the sacred historians, that the record of the words and works of Christ might be given to the world.—Gospel Workers, 286. EGWW 110.3

And of her experience she declared, “Wonderful representations are given me of past, present, and future” (Letter 86, 1906). EGWW 110.4

Writing of certain of these revelations she exclaimed: EGWW 110.5

Scenes of such thrilling, solemn interest passed before me as no language is adequate to describe. It was all a living reality to me.—Selected Messages 1:76. EGWW 110.6

Ellen White in her early experience was given historical insights by revelation. These insights she related as need arose in discourses and writings, bringing out the high lights of the great scenes of the conflict from its inception to its close. It was but natural that she and her husband, James White, should be stirred to a deep interest in the reading of historical writings covering certain eras of the past, which had been presented to her in vision, especially the history of the Reformation. EGWW 110.7

William C. White, my father, reports that when he was a mere boy he heard his mother read D’Aubigné’s History of the Reformation to his father. She read to him a large part of the five volumes. She also read from other histories of the Reformation, and often, on the basis of the visions, she commented on the account given by the historian. Her reading helped her to locate and identify many of the events presented to her in vision. EGWW 110.8

Although she saw the events take place as a part of the enactment of the great controversy, she was not always informed as to just where and when the events transpired. EGWW 111.1