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


The Anna Phillips Experience

One of Ellen White's concerns at this time was the mishandling on the part of some leading brethren in America of Anna Phillips and her claims to special revelations from God. 4BIO 125.5

Miss Anna Phillips—sometimes spoken of as Anna Rice, for she had been taken into the Rice family—felt she had been called by God to serve as a special messenger to the church, inspired by heavenly visions. 4BIO 125.6

Ellen White first learned of this while in New Zealand in October, 1893. Anna resided with Elder and Mrs. J. D. Rice, workers in northern California, and was at times in Battle Creek. 4BIO 126.1

When both Rice and his wife attributed unusual importance to Anna's dreams and impressions, she came to believe that what came to her mind were the intimations of the Spirit of God, that is, that visions were given to her and that she had the gift of prophecy. 4BIO 126.2

She wrote “testimonies,” first to the Rices and then to other husbands and wives, touching on their personal experiences. These were earnest appeals for purity of life, with teachings that went beyond the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Messages were directed to the leaders of the church aimed at giving guidance in administering the work. 4BIO 126.3

Correspondence from America called the matter to Ellen White's attention. On November 1 she wrote to Elder and Mrs. Rice that she had not felt called upon earlier to encourage or condemn so long as she “had no special light in reference to this case.” 4BIO 126.4

She continued: I now feel constrained to write. Matters have been presented before me which I will now mention.... Elder Rice and some others were encouraging this sister to her injury that she had been ordained of God to do a certain work.... I will say the Lord has not given you this work to do to impress minds that this is a work which they must receive as from God. You have no duty to present it to the people in this light. 4BIO 126.5

My guide said to you, “Look unto Jesus; receive your light from Jesus; talk of the light He has already given.” ... 4BIO 126.6

It is not the burden the Lord has given you to explain and interpret the words, the works, the writings of Sister Phillips. If you do this, you will mislead the people.... 4BIO 126.7

The Lord has not laid upon her the work of accusing, of judging, of reproving, of condemning and flattering others.... I will say no more at present on this subject, only this: there will be, I have been shown, many who will claim to be especially taught of God, and will attempt to lead others, and they will undertake a work from mistaken ideas of duty that God has never laid upon them; and confusion will be the result.—Letter 54, 1893. 4BIO 126.8

Almost two months went by before Ellen White addressed herself again to the matter of Anna Phillips. On her journey back from New Zealand she had a few days in Sydney. There, on December 23, she wrote a general warning in the form of a ten-page letter addressed to “Dear Brethren and Sisters.” It opens: 4BIO 127.1

I have a message to you from the Lord. Brother Rice is not engaged in the work which the Lord would have him do....He cannot see the outcome of this work which he has taken up. Anna Phillips is being injured; she is led on, encouraged in a work which will not bear the test of God. 4BIO 127.2

Ellen White then declared: 4BIO 127.3

I have received from God the warning which I now send you. Anna Phillips should not have been given the encouragement she has had. It has been a great injury to her—fastened her in a deception. I am sorry that any of our brethren and sisters are ready to take up with these supposed revelations, and imagine they see in them the divine credentials.—Letter 4, 1893.

Mail each way across the Pacific took a full month, and mail boats ran about once a month. The lack of other data makes it difficult to pinpoint the time of reception and the dispersal of the messages sent. There is evidence that some letters, having missed the boat, were delayed in Australia for several weeks. Ellen G. White letters on file that pertain to this matter carry dates of November 1 and December 23, 1893; and for 1894, January 15, March 15, April 10, April 16, and June 1. Limited space precludes presenting her counsel in detail, but an extensive presentation appears in Selected Messages 2:85-95, in chapter 10, “The Visions of Anna Phillips.” 4BIO 127.4

In the nine-page letter of January 14, written in Melbourne to A. T. Jones, Ellen White discussed several matters. On page 5 she reported that word had reached her that Jones was giving encouragement to Anna Phillips, and even reading some of her messages in public in such a way that people found it hard to discern when he was reading from her writings and when he was reading from Ellen White's pen. She urged, “I want you to consider this carefully, for the Lord has given me light to the effect that the attention of the people is not to be called to Anna Phillips.”—Letter 37, 1894. 4BIO 127.5

In the first paragraph of her ten-page letter to Jones written March 15, 1894, she dealt quite fully with the situation. She declared: 4BIO 128.1

I have a message for you. Did you suppose that God had commissioned you to take the burden of presenting the visions of Anna Phillips, reading them in public, and uniting them with the testimonies the Lord has been pleased to give me? No, the Lord has not laid upon you this burden. He has not given you this work to do.... Do not belittle the work by mingling with it productions that you have no positive evidence are from the Lord of life and glory. 4BIO 128.2

She pointed out that God had not called Anna Phillips to follow on after the testimonies. She wrote: 4BIO 128.3

Many things in these visions and dreams seem to be all straight, a repetition of that which has been in the field for many years; but soon they introduce a jot here, a tittle of error there, just a little seed which takes root and flourishes, and many are defiled therewith.—Letter 103, 1894 (see also Selected Messages 2:85-87). 4BIO 128.4

W. M. Adams, who was a student of Battle Creek College in 1894, has recounted his experience. He heard Elder Jones preaching in the Battle Creek Tabernacle. He intermingled some of the messages of Anna Phillips with those he read from the testimonies, and asked the congregation whether they did not hear the same voice in each. The people were left in confusion. 4BIO 128.5

The next morning Adams was at the post office in the Review and Herald building, writing a postcard home. Jones came in and asked for his mail. He was handed a long envelope with Ellen White's name in the return address. He dropped on the bench, tore the envelope open, and began to read. Adams reports that as Jones read, tears came to his eyes and dropped on the sheets. 4BIO 128.6

Soon A. O. Tait came in, and Jones addressed him: “Oscar, come here. Sit down. You heard me preach that sermon yesterday?” 4BIO 128.7

“Yes,” replied Elder Tait. 4BIO 129.1

“Well, read this,” Jones said, as he handed him the testimony he had just received from Ellen White. After Tait had had time to read, Elder Jones asked, “Who told Sister White a month ago that I was going to preach that sermon about Anna Phillips as a prophetess?” 4BIO 129.2

“Ah, you know, Alonzo,” Tait answered in his calm yet firm way. 4BIO 129.3

“Yes, I do know. God knew what I was going to do, and He impressed Sister White a month before I preached the sermon to send the testimony that I am wrong. Look at that date.” 4BIO 129.4

It was a thoughtful week for the brusque and ever-ready A. T. Jones. Adams reported that the next Sabbath he again preached in the tabernacle and that he read portions of the testimony he received Sunday morning. He said, “I am wrong, and I confess it. Now I am right.”—The Review and Herald, July 7, 1949. 4BIO 129.5

Elder W. W. Prescott also became a supporter of Anna Phillips, but a few hours before he was to address the students at Walla Walla College, intending to introduce some of her messages, he was handed a copy of a letter from Sister White dealing with the matter. It was the first to come to his attention, and he dropped his plans. S. N. Haskell, president of the California Conference, happened to be at Walla Walla at the time. He exclaimed as he wrote of the incident to Ellen White: “I have heard about testimonies coming just in season, but I never experienced such providence before.”—S. N. Haskell to EGW, March 31, 1894. 4BIO 129.6

Ellen White was very careful in her approach to both Miss Phillips and the two prominent ministers who gave her support. “Sister Phillips is not to be condemned and denounced” (Letter 4, 1893), she counseled, pointing out that others close to her were largely responsible by giving her encouragement. Ellen White was concerned for Jones and Prescott, fearing that people would take advantage of the fact that they had been misled. She found it hard to understand why neither of these men, along with Rice, had communicated with her before supporting Anna Phillips. Of this she wrote: 4BIO 129.7

I have expected that some account of these matters would be sent to me, and that counsel would be asked, and thus the way would be opened for me to let the light from my past experience shine forth. But nothing has come to me, and now I have my commission to speak concerning these things. I am so sorry that brethren in whom our people have confidence should appear in any way to endorse these things that claim to be from God, when no real ground for faith has been given. It is a terrible mistake to present before the people that which we have not had unmistakable evidence is the revelation of God.—Ibid. 4BIO 129.8

As warnings became known to leaders in America, acknowledgments of being mistaken were made, and tensions over the Anna Phillips work and writings subsided. On June 1, 1894, Ellen White wrote: 4BIO 130.1

I have been much interested to understand more fully the true condition of Anna Phillips. I feel sorry for her. I feel sorry that our brethren have done her so great an injury as they have, by encouraging her in the work she has been doing. I feel sorry that Brother Rice has not followed the counsel of God. I have nothing but tender feelings toward her. 4BIO 130.2

I am indeed sorry both for Brother Prescott and Brother Jones. I have felt very anxious in regard to them both, but especially in regard to Brother Jones, who is so ardent in his faith and does not manifest the caution he should in his statements by pen or voice. I did pray that these dear brethren would be so completely hid in Christ Jesus that they would not make one misstep. 4BIO 130.3

Heartfelt confession having been made, she could say: 4BIO 130.4

I have more confidence in them today than I have had in the past, and fully believe that God will be their helper, their comfort, and their hope. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth those who love and fear Him.

She wrote assuringly, and sounded a warning to those who would be critical: 4BIO 130.5

I have the most tender feelings toward our brethren who have made this mistake, and I would say that those who depreciate the ones who have accepted reproof will be permitted to pass through trials which will make manifest their own individual weakness and defects of character. 4BIO 130.6

Brethren Jones and Prescott are the Lord's chosen messengers, beloved of God. They have cooperated with God in the work for this time. While I cannot endorse their mistakes, I am in sympathy and union with them in their general work. The Lord sees that they need to walk in meekness and lowliness of mind before Him, and to learn lessons which will make them more careful in every word they utter and in every step they take. 4BIO 131.1

These brethren are God's ambassadors. They have been quick to catch the bright beams of the Sun of Righteousness, and have responded by imparting the heavenly light to others.—Letter 27, 1894. 4BIO 131.2

A prominent worker in Battle Creek made this observation on the effectiveness of Ellen White's messages of warning: 4BIO 131.3

It was your testimony to Elder A. T. Jones which saved us from this terrible calamity. Nothing else could have accomplished that end. I tremble when I think how near the whole denomination came to being sold out bodily to the devil.—W. H. Littlejohn to EGW, March 25, 1894. 4BIO 131.4

When the word from Ellen White concerning her work came to Anna Phillips’ attention, she heartily accepted the message and repudiated her claims. She became a trusted Bible instructor, and died after years of faithful service. 4BIO 131.5

In contrast to the way Anna Phillips “bore testimony” to several families regarding intimate matters, Ellen White presented her teaching on moral purity, teachings that linked poor mortals with “the riches of heaven's blessings.” 4BIO 131.6

The purity, the holiness of the life of Jesus, as presented from the Word of God, possess more power to reform and transform the character than do all the efforts put forth in picturing the sins and crimes of men and the sure results. One steadfast look to the Saviour uplifted upon the cross will do more to purify the mind and heart from every defilement than will all the scientific explanations by the ablest tongue.—Letter 102, 1894. 4BIO 131.7

This is my teaching of moral purity. The opening of the blackness of impurity will not be one half as efficacious in uprooting sin as will the presentation of these grand and ennobling themes. 4BIO 132.1

The Lord has not given to women a message to assail men, and charge them with their impurity and incontinence. They create sensuality in place of uprooting it. The Bible, and the Bible alone, has given the true lessons upon purity.—Ibid. 4BIO 132.2

A decade later Ellen White sounded the following warning: 4BIO 132.3

There will be those who will claim to have visions. When God gives you clear evidence that the vision is from Him, you may accept it, but do not accept it on any other evidence, for people are going to be led more and more astray in foreign countries and in America.—The Review and Herald, May 25, 1905 (Selected Messages 2:72).