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


An Agonizing Letter to Edson

Letters from James Edson White brought little comfort to his mother. While she was in New Zealand, he was in Chicago in the printing business, and quite involved in debt, which was not unusual for him. In one letter he stated, “I am not at all religiously inclined.” There had been times when, with a heart dedicated to God, he had served in the Lord's work—Sabbath school, hymn book preparation, publishing, et cetera. Now his letter, with these words, nearly crushed her. Her response opened: 4BIO 94.7

Dear Son Edson,

Why should you express yourself as you have done? Why use such firm language? Why do you have any satisfaction in this selfish independence? If you were a man unacquainted with truth, I could address you in a different way, approach you by presenting the truth in all its beauty and attractive loveliness, but this would not move you. The answer would be, “I knew all that before. I am not as ignorant as you suppose.” 4BIO 94.8

She wrote to him of the “qualities of character” that he might have displayed and of how different it would have been if he had “surrendered to God and brought Christ and His instructions into” his business. Then she laid her pen down until the next day. When she picked it up again to continue the message, she wrote: 4BIO 95.1

June 21:

I awoke quarter past one o'clock full of terror. I had a scene presented before me. You and four other young men were upon the beach. You all seemed too careless—unconcerned, yet in great danger. Many had collected on the beach to observe your movements, and this seemed to make you more determined and venturesome. 4BIO 95.2

The waves were rolling up nearer and still nearer and then would roll back with a sullen roar. Gestures and warnings were given by the anxious ones looking on, but in answer to all their warnings you were more presumptuous. 4BIO 95.3

Someone placed his hand on my shoulder. “Did you know that is your son Edson? He cannot hear your voice, but he can see your motions. Tell him to come at once. He will not disobey his mother.” 4BIO 95.4

I reached out my hands. I did all I could do to warn. I cried with all the power of voice, “You have not a moment to lose! The undertow! The undertow!” I knew that once you were in the power of the treacherous undertow no human power could avail. 4BIO 95.5

A strong rope was brought and fastened securely around the body of a strong young man who ventured to risk his own life to save you. You seemed to be making light of the whole performance. I saw the merciless undertow embrace you, and you were battling with the waves. I awoke as I heard a fearful shriek from you. I prayed most earnestly in your behalf and arose and am writing these lines. 4BIO 95.6

The undertow! I have had opportunity to watch the movements of the waves as I have often visited Island Bay, four miles from Wellington. In Napier, I had a chance to see its more powerful movements. 4BIO 96.1

Continuing the letter, she told of having a few weeks before read the experience of four young men, “experts in the water” who were caught in the undertow. “Only one was saved,” she wrote, “and not by his own energies.” 4BIO 96.2

As she continued her letter, which filled ten double-spaced typewritten pages, she contemplated, “The undertow—what does it represent? It represents the power of Satan and a set, independent, stubborn will of your own which has reached even against God. You have not preserved a surrender to God.” 4BIO 96.3

Then in graphic terms she pictured changes that had come over a period of a few years: 4BIO 96.4

You are no more a child. I would that you were. I would cradle you in my arms, watch over you as I have done. But you are a man grown. You have taken the molding of your character out of the hands of your mother, out of the hands of God, and are placing defective, rotten timbers in the building. Evil influences are accepted; the good and saving influences refused. 4BIO 96.5

You would almost fail to recognize yourself should your present picture of character be presented by the side of the former one when you tried to walk in the fear of God. And you ... coolly state you will not change your course—that is, as I understand it, come into submission to God—until your debts are paid and you have a reliable competency. 4BIO 96.6

Your religious history need not have been vacillating, but firm and true; but you would be independent and take your own course. You have been strong one hour, vacillating the next. I am now determined to press upon your notice and make you hear: “This is the undertow.” 4BIO 96.7

“Several times has the Lord heard and answered prayer in your behalf and raised you up when your case was apparently hopeless,” she wrote, referring to some of his childhood experiences. “And now I see that invisible foe, lurking, alluring and deceiving your soul to your ruin. I know your only hope is to cling to God and to your mother and brother.” The tearful mother closed her letter with the words: 4BIO 96.8

I cannot save you; God alone can save you. But work, while Jesus invites you, in harmony with God. Mother.—Letter 123, 1893. 4BIO 97.1

The letter, written in such anguish, was attended by the winning and softening influence of the Spirit of God; Edson, yielding his hard heart, experienced a reconversion. His immediate response and his experience of the next two or three weeks is not recorded in the files, but on August 10, 1893, he wrote to his mother: 4BIO 97.2

I have surrendered fully and completely, and never enjoyed life before as I am [enjoying it] now. I have for years been under a strain, with so much to accomplish, and it has stood right in my way. Now, I have left it all with my Saviour, and the burden does not bear me down any longer. I have no desire for the amusements and pleasures that made up the sum of my enjoyments before, but have an enjoyment in the meetings with the people of God such as I never had before. 4BIO 97.3

As to his future, he declared he wanted to connect with the work of the church in some way. Later in the month he wrote his mother: “I have been thinking of going down into Tennessee to work among the colored people.... I shall go into the work somewhere in the spring.... I still hope and trust in God, and am sure He will care for me. I have proved my own way and it is a poor way. I now want God's way, and I know it will be a good way.” 4BIO 97.4

His mother's call and beckoning, heard and seen above the roar of the tumbling ocean waves, had been heeded. The answer—which could not come then to Ellen White in the vivid representation in the hours of the night, for only Edson could determine the response—came shortly in joyous reality. Through the next decade Ellen White thrilled to Edson's vivid reports of God's blessings as he pioneered the work among the blacks in the great Southland of the United States. 4BIO 97.5