Ellen G. White: The Later Elmshaven Years: 1905-1915 (vol. 6)


“The Bible and the French Revolution”

On August 1, the very day Ellen White gave study to and settled the question of the D'Aubigne quotations, Clarence Crisler, working in Mountain View, wrote to W. C. White: 6BIO 313.5

I wish very soon to look up items connected with the French Revolution. This has been left, as you know, to the very last. Most of the other items have been cleared up. 6BIO 313.6

On August 11, Crisler was rummaging through secondhand bookstores in San Francisco, looking for works that might help. He was pleased to find a single volume of the big set Historians’ History of the World—the volume covering the entire period of the French Revolution. He felt it was well worth the dollar he paid for it. A few days before, he was working at the Stanford University library, reading up on French history. Of this, he reported: 6BIO 314.1

Examined a good many works. Some works haven't a thing in them that is of any special value to us. There is one work, however, which will help a lot in establishing the soundness of the present philosophy of the French Revolutionary period, as outlined by Sister White, and that is Buckle's History of Civilization in England. 6BIO 314.2

Buckle is one of the greatest of the philosophic historians; and in his work he makes very plain the fact that prior to any attempt whatever to revolt against the social and political situation in France, there was a determined effort, on the part of the thinkers and, in fact, of most of the educated men of France, to break through the long-established tyranny of the church, which stifled all true reform, whether religious, social, or political. Buckle makes very clear the differences between true Christianity and the religion, so-called, revealed in the lives of the French clergy of that period.—CCC to WCW, August 11, 1910. 6BIO 314.3

The twenty-four-page chapter in The Great Controversy on the Bible and the French Revolution was a very important one, in which many lessons were brought out showing the ultimate fruitage of rejection of God and His Word. Ellen White in this chapter introduced the prophecy in Revelation 11, concerning the “two witnesses” and the 1260-year time prophecy of the period that began A.D. 538 and ended in 1798. One scholar who in April was asked to read The Great Controversy carefully and point out places that might need strengthening if the book was to accomplish the most good, took exception to Ellen White's interpretation of the two witnesses and the validity of the dates of the 1260-year period. This intensified the need for a careful study of this chapter. 6BIO 314.4

No occasion was found to turn away from the position taken on the 1260-day (or year) prophecy, but difficulty was experienced in endeavors to document specific actions of the French Assembly in 1793, edicts abolishing the Bible, and then three and a half years later restoring it to favor. Painstaking research failed to disclose such specific legislation, but edicts were found that did so in effect. Crisler found that one of the British lords, in a debate in Parliament as it opened in January, 1794, declared, after reading at length from French documents, that “The Old and New Testament were publicly burnt, as prohibited books.” “This,” Crisler commented in a letter to W. C. White on October 5, “is quite close to Sister White's declaration, for which we want authentic historical evidence, that ‘it was in 1793 that the decree which prohibited the Bible passed the French Assembly.”’ Crisler continued: 6BIO 315.1

You will note, upon examining Sister White's statement carefully, that the act which passed the assembly “prohibited the Bible.” Even if we cannot find in the wording of an act these words or words very similar, we can find acts which prohibited the worship of God, or rather abolished the worship of God; and, as was plainly brought out in the British Parliament a few weeks after these excesses in France, the enactments against the Deity were followed by the burning of religious books, including the Bible. 6BIO 315.2

In one French source, the original French of which we hope to find soon, it was announced that the Popular Society of the Section of the Museum had “executed justice upon all the books of superstition and falsehood; that breviaries, missals, legends, together with the Old and New Testaments, had expiated in the fire, the follies which they had occasioned among mankind.” 6BIO 315.3

I wish you might have the privilege of reading the statement which the Rev. Dr. Croly makes concerning this period. It is in his work Croly on the Apocalypse.... Dr. Croly takes the position squarely that the enactments of the French Assembly abolishing all respect and worship of God, in fact abolished the Bible; and reasoning thus, he holds to the same exposition of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 that is given in Great Controversy. 6BIO 315.4

His statements are very much to the point; and even if we cannot find an express law against the Bible, or prohibiting the Bible, we can still go far toward defending the position taken in Great Controversy. 6BIO 315.5

In January, 1911, Clarence Crisler reported that there were a few references in the French Revolution chapter that they had not yet found. Two days later he wrote of receiving a report from Brother Vuilleumier, a denominational worker in France, that gave “one good passage on the restoration of the Bible at the close of three and a half years,” which was highly prized (DF 84d, CCC to Guy Dail, January 3, 1911). 6BIO 316.1

Crisler also wrote: 6BIO 316.2

Elder Conradi has given, in his Die Offenbarung Jesu, more proof in connection with the prophecy of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 than has any other of our Biblical expositors.—Ibid.

Through January and most of February it was hoped that with research both in Europe and in America there would be found the exact edicts of the French Assembly on the abolition and reinstatement of the Bible. It was not forthcoming, and on February 26, Clarence Crisler wrote to W. A. Colcord: 6BIO 316.3

In the search for the original sources of passages quoted in the chapter on “The Bible and the French Revolution,” we were led into a more extended inquiry than we had at first anticipated entering into.... We have not found every quotation given in the chapter, but many of them we have found, and verified. 6BIO 316.4

Crisler then explained that “in order to keep a record of our findings,” the staff at Elmshaven had made many notes. Some of these were included in five manuscripts on the French Revolution chapter. Where definite verification could not be found for the crucial statements in The Great Controversy, the wording was modified. The statement as it appeared in the 1888 edition read: 6BIO 316.5

It was in 1793 that the decree which prohibited the Bible passed the French Assembly. Three years and a half later a resolution rescinding the decree, and granting toleration to the Scriptures, was adopted by the same body.—Pages 286, 287. 6BIO 316.6

The wording in the 1911 edition reads: It was in 1793 that the decrees which abolished the Christian religion and set aside the Bible passed the French Assembly. Three years and a half later a resolution rescinding these decrees, thus granting toleration to the Scriptures, was adopted by the same body.—Page 287. 6BIO 316.7

This brought the crucial statement well within the limits of what could be proved from reliable historical sources. There was actually little change in intent, but rather a more precise wording. Ellen White was anxious for this, that the book might serve unquestioned in the widest possible reading circles. On this point, Crisler, in a letter to Guy Dail in Europe, stated: 6BIO 317.1

In all this historical work, we are eager to have the manuscripts that may be submitted, given the most searching tests. We need never be afraid of historical truth. 6BIO 317.2

And then he made an observation, one based on his painstaking research over a period of half a year: 6BIO 317.3

We would do well to avoid accepting the conclusions of some of the more modern historians who are attempting to rewrite history so as to shape it up in harmony with their philosophical viewpoint. We find it necessary to exercise constant vigilance in this respect; and this leads us to set considerable store by the original sources, or fountainheads, of history. 6BIO 317.4

At this point Crisler offered his own testimony of what he saw of God's guiding hand in the writing of The Great Controversy: 6BIO 317.5

The more closely we examine the use of historical extracts in Controversy, and the historical extracts themselves, the more profoundly are we impressed with the fact that Sister White had special guidance in tracing the story from the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, down through the centuries until the end. No mortal man could have done the work that she has done in shaping up some of those chapters, including, we believe, the chapter on the French Revolution, which is a very remarkable chapter, in more ways than one. 6BIO 317.6

And the more we go into these matters, the more profound is our conviction that the Lord has helped not only Sister White in the presentation of truth, but that He has overruled in the work of other writers, to the praise of His name and the advancement of present truth. 6BIO 317.7

Our brethren in years past have used many quotations, and, as a general rule, the Lord surely must have helped them to avoid making use of many extracts that would have led them astray. Of course there is still a great deal of room for improvement, even in a book like Elder U. Smith's Daniel and Revelation. But not so much needs to be done, as might have had to be done, if the Lord had not given special help to these various writers.—DF 84d, CCC to Guy Dail, January 3, 1911. 6BIO 318.1

One other point calling for careful study, which was mentioned in suggestions received in April, 1910, and surfaced again as final work was done on the book, was the statement found on page 50 of the 1888 edition: 6BIO 318.2

The pope has arrogated the very titles of Deity. He styles himself “Lord God the Pope,” assumes infallibility, and demands that all men pay him homage. (Italics supplied.) 6BIO 318.3

It was pointed out to Ellen White's staff that “there is abundant proof to establish the fact that the attributes of the Deity have been ascribed to the pope, but the style of expression in Great Controversy makes it appear that the pope, himself, has taken these titles to himself and that he has also assumed infallibility.”—S. N. Curtiss to C. H. Jones, February 14, 1911. There was seemingly full support for the Great Controversy statement in Giustianni's book Papal Rome as It Is. But this source was difficult to find and a bit uncertain as to reliability. Curtiss, manager of the Review and Herald, in his letter to Jones said: “It seems as though we ought to be very careful to eliminate every expression which cannot be backed up by authority. In this, I refer to historical statements, of course. I do not wish to be understood as bringing into question, in any way, the statements based on the authority of the Spirit of Prophecy.”—Ibid. 6BIO 318.4

In December, 1910, Crisler wrote of his discovery on the point of the statement “Lord God the Pope.” 6BIO 318.5

This is taken direct from a decretal by Pope Gregory the Ninth and I have copied it out in a large Jesuit library here on the Coast.—CCC to Adolf Boettcher, December 2, 1910. 6BIO 318.6

But now in late February, the question of authority for the declaration that the pope himself assumed the title having been called up again, it was felt that it could be settled only by Ellen White herself. If any change in wording were to be made, the page would have to be reset and new plates made. W. C. White writing to C. H. Jones in February 28, 1911, declared that: 6BIO 319.1

It will depend upon Mother's decision. We have some questions to submit to her as soon as she is feeling a little better, and willing to consider them. 6BIO 319.2

The question as to what the pope has arrogated to himself is a difficult one. The church has attributed to him all that is claimed in our books, and he has received it and acted upon it, but it is a little difficult to prove from histories within our reach that he has assumed the titles of the Deity and the right to change divine law, and Mother may decide that it is best for us to take a very conservative position in view of the controversies before us. 6BIO 319.3

As soon as she decides this question (I hope she will consider it tomorrow), then we will report to you. 6BIO 319.4

The decision was in favor of wording the statement in such a way that it could be easily supported by documents available. The wording in the 1911 edition reads: 6BIO 319.5

More than this, the pope has been given the very titles of Deity. He has been styled “Lord God the Pope,” ... and has been declared infallible. He demands the homage of all men.—Page 50. (Italics supplied.) 6BIO 319.6

The decision was Ellen White's. While there were days that she, now 83 years of age, found she had to rest her mind, yet she was well able to make important decisions. At one point, while the work on The Great Controversy was in progress, W. C. White wrote of her decision-making ability, an ability that was yet to serve for four more years. He had just returned from a trip to southern California; Elder J. A. Burden was with him, eager to seek counsel on some important Loma Linda matters. Note White's words: 6BIO 319.7

We found Mother quite well, and she entered heartily into a study of the questions which Brother Burden came to present. I was glad indeed to see that she has become sufficiently rested so that she can deal with these important questions in a clear and decided manner.—WCW to C. H. Jones, December 24, 1910. 6BIO 319.8

Another point, much like the one on the assumptions of the pope, related to a somewhat similar statement on page 261. In this case, some quoted material was deleted and the point was covered by words substituted by the author. Crisler explained: 6BIO 320.1

We are simply discontinuing the use of these passages because it would be quite impossible to prove to the world that these passages have in them all the meaning we have hitherto taught that they convey. Even in the passage that we were considering on page 261 of Controversy ... [“’the pope can dispense above the law,”’ et cetera].... I am not at all sure that the author of Controversy erred in its use in former editions. 6BIO 320.2

However, she herself recognizes the wisdom of making a substitution in this instance, and of avoiding the use of it in future, to prove the point under consideration. Sister White has based her decision on the effort that the Roman Catholic divines have made to show that this passage refers only to the ecclesiastical law, and has no reference whatever to the divine law; and also on the fact that in future our published utterances will be subjected to severe and unfriendly criticism. She feels very clear in continuing to use only such extracts as cannot be gain said by our enemies when we are brought into trying situations in future. 6BIO 320.3

And then Crisler went on to explain the basis of other decisions on Ellen White's part: 6BIO 320.4

On the other hand, Sister White has not felt clear in adopting as the full authoritative teaching of the Roman Catholic Church some of the utterances of their apologists in lands where religious liberty prevails. For this reason, she has felt clear in holding to the wording she adopted years ago for her presentation of the doctrine of indulgences, and her various references to this doctrine also, in the main, her references to withholding the Bible from the common people. 6BIO 320.5

I might refer to still other declarations in Controversy that have not been changed in order to harmonize them with the published works of certain apologists of the Church of Rome.—CCC to W. A. Colcord, April 9, 1911. 6BIO 320.6