Ellen G. White: The Australian Years: 1891-1900 (vol. 4)


Battle Creek Developments

In 1895 and 1896, with growing frequency and accelerating force visions were given to Ellen White in the hours of the night regarding conditions at the headquarters of the work of the church. 4BIO 252.6

Early in 1895 a General Conference session was held in Battle Creek. O. A. Olsen was reelected president for another term of two years; Harmon Lindsay, General Conference treasurer, was also reelected. This posed some occasion for misgivings on Ellen White's part, for Lindsay was not gaining ground in his spiritual experience; his principles were becoming tainted, and he was inclined to approach the business of the General Conference with calculation, and often without spiritual discernment. He stood close to A. R. Henry, treasurer of the Review and Herald, a man of finance who had long served in Battle Creek, and a man whose principles also were becoming tarnished. She saw these two men swaying the General Conference president. The overall situation gave her great concern. 4BIO 252.7

On May 12, 1895, Ellen White wrote a thirteen-page letter to Olsen, reporting on her work in Australia and Tasmania, and the W. C. White—May Lacey wedding. She then expressed some concerns and gave counsel. She introduced this by writing: 4BIO 253.1

I had no other idea than that you would be selected as president of the General Conference. We pray earnestly for you, that the Lord will give you a healthful experience and clear understanding of His mind and will, and that you may be continually imbued by the Holy Spirit. Both Willie and myself understand your perplexities and difficulties. I have a most intense desire that you shall keep an eye single to the glory of God, and that you will not allow any man's judgment to control you. The Lord lives and reigns, and He is to be glorified in those that come near unto Him. I have nothing but the most tender, pitying sympathy for you, my brother. 4BIO 253.2

Then she came more directly to the point of concern: 4BIO 253.3

In the night season I am speaking and writing clear words of admonition. I waken so burdened in soul that I am again driven to take up my pen. In various ways matters are opened up before my mind, and I dare not rest, or keep quiet. I fear and tremble for the souls of men who are in responsible places in Battle Creek.

If their works had no further influence than simply upon themselves, I could breathe more freely; but I know that the enemy is using men who are in positions of trust, and who are not consecrated to the work and who know not what manner of spirit they are of. When I realize that men who are connected with them are also in blindness, and will not see the harm that is being done by the precept and example of these unconsecrated agents, it seems to me that I cannot hold my peace. I have to write, for I know that the mold that these men are giving to the work is not after God's order.—Letter 59, 1895. 4BIO 253.4

There were serious defects in the management of the publishing house and the General Conference. The Battle Creek Sanitarium also stood in peril. Basic to the problem, it seemed, were the keen-minded businessmen, Harmon Lindsay and A. R. Henry. Both were very much involved in nearly all of the financial interests of the church. 4BIO 254.1

When A. R. Henry became a Seventh-day Adventist in 1882, he was president of a bank in Indiana. Soon he was called to Battle Creek to assist in the financial management of the publishing association. A review of the responsibilities he carried, as presented in the SDA Encyclopedia, helps to an understanding of the strong influence he exerted in 1895 and 1896: 4BIO 254.2

Henry, Archibald R. (1839-1909). Treasurer of the General Conference (1883-1888) and a financial officer and adviser of many early SDA institutions.... 4BIO 254.3

In 1882, shortly after he joined the SDA Church, he was called to assist in the financial management of the SDA Publishing Association at Battle Creek, Michigan. He held this position of treasurer continuously until 1897, except between 1885 and 1887 when he was vice-president of the association. Between 1893 and 1895, he was both treasurer and manager of the institution. 4BIO 254.4

In 1883 he was elected to serve also as a treasurer of the General Conference. In 1889 he was president of the General Conference Association of SDA's, in 1890-1891, its vice-president, in 1892, its auditor, and in 1893, its treasurer. Simultaneously he was a member of governing boards of nearly all early SDA medical and educational institutions in the Central and Western States.—SDA Encyclopedia, p. 581. 4BIO 254.5

On May 25, 1896, Ellen White wrote to Olsen: 4BIO 254.6

My mind has been so wrought upon by the Spirit of God that the burden upon me was very great in regard to yourself and the work in Battle Creek. I felt that you were being bound hand and foot, and were tamely submitting to it. I was so troubled that in conversation with Brother Prescott I told him my feelings. Both he and W. C. White tried to dissipate my fears; they presented everything in as favorable a light as possible. But instead of encouraging, these words alarmed me. If these men cannot see the outcome of affairs, I thought, how hopeless the task of making them see at Battle Creek. The thought struck to my heart like a knife.—Letter 87a, 1896.

Of course these men did not have the insights that the visions gave her. She then pointed out to them that at Battle Creek “things are being swayed in wrong lines.”—Manuscript 62, 1896. 4BIO 255.1

The significance of her concern surfaced in a letter written July 5, to her son Edson, in which she declared: 4BIO 255.2

I dare not think my own thoughts, for indignation comes upon me at times when I think how men in Battle Creek have supposed they could take the place of God and order and dictate and lord it over men's minds and talents—an endowment given them in trust from God to improve every day, trade upon—and if these talents cannot be placed to the control of men to be in service to do their will, then they make those men have a difficult path to travel. They act just as though they were in God's place, to deal with their fellow men as if they were machines. I cannot respect their wisdom or have faith in their Christianity. 4BIO 255.3

And then, writing more directly: 4BIO 255.4

The Lord has presented to me his [A. R. Henry's] dangers. I expect nothing else but he will say, as he has always done, “Somebody has been telling Sister White.” This shows that he has no faith in my mission or testimony, and yet Brother Olsen has made him his right-hand man.—Letter 152, 1896.

Four days later she again wrote about the distressing situation in Battle Creek: 4BIO 255.5

I feel sorry for Elder Olsen. He thought if he should manifest confidence in A. R. Henry and keep him traveling about from state to state, he would be converted, but the conversion has been the other way. We are safe only as we make God our trust. He is our sufficiency in all things, at all times, and in all places.—Letter 153, 1896. 4BIO 255.6

With the confidence Elder Olsen had in the skill and ability of A. R. Henry, it seemed to Olsen that he was unable to stem the tide and fend off propositions and developments that would prove a serious detriment to the proper management of the affairs of the church. 4BIO 256.1

As Ellen White opened her heart to Elder Olsen and presented her feelings, she wrote: 4BIO 256.2

It has been hard for me to give the message that God has given to me for those I love, and yet I have not dared to withhold it. I have to make my face as flint against the faces of those who set themselves so stubbornly to carry out their own way and to pursue their own unrighteous course. 4BIO 256.3

I would not do a work that is so uncongenial to me if I thought that God would excuse me from it. When I have written one testimony to the brethren, I have thought that I should not have any more to write; but again I am in travail of soul, and cannot sleep or rest.—Letter 59, 1895. 4BIO 256.4

Elder Olsen was a man loyal to the message, a deeply spiritual man, a church leader who leaned heavily on God and had respect for and confidence in the messages and work of Ellen White. It was her suggestion in 1888 that had an influence in his being called to the presidency of the General Conference, an office to which he was four times reelected. But as is common to all humanity, he suffered some weaknesses. He made no attempt to hide these weaknesses from either Ellen White or his brethren. As during the last few years of his administration, which terminated in 1897, communication after communication came from Australia pointing out the dangers that at that time threatened the ministry of the church and its administration, he called his associates together and read the messages directed to him. Many of the messages of counsel sent to him for ministers and executives he had printed in envelope-size leaflets or pamphlets. These were distributed to the working force of the denomination under the title Special Testimonies to Ministers and Workers. Many of these are to be found in Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers. It was a dark period for the church. Of it Ellen White declared: 4BIO 256.5

We know not what the developments will be in Battle Creek. There will be a turning and overturning, but God is our Ruler; God is our Judge. The Lord is soon to come, and when the Lord cometh “shall he find faith on the earth?”—Letter 153, 1896. 4BIO 257.1

Worsening conditions at the heart of the work of the church was a topic often touched on by Ellen White in her correspondence with leaders in Battle Creek through the last four years of her stay in Australia. 4BIO 257.2