Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years: 1876-1891 (vol. 3)


The 1881 Camp Meetings After All

Although James White had given word in the Review when the camp meeting season opened that “Mrs. White is not in a condition of health to go the rounds of camp meetings as in year past” (The Review and Herald, May 24, 1881), she did consent to make an attempt to attend the early Michigan camp meeting at Spring Arbor, some fifty miles east of Battle Creek, near Jackson. It opened on Wednesday, June 1, but Ellen White, pressed for breath and feeling too ill to go into a series of meetings, stopped off with an Adventist family near the campgrounds. Early Sabbath morning James went to the grounds alone. Of her experience that day she wrote Willie and Mary in Oakland: 3BIO 158.4

I knelt with Brother Weed's family and felt that God indited prayer. I importuned the Lord for help, for light, for strength to bear my testimony to the people of God. Light came. I went upon the ground and spoke to a large congregation with great power and clearness. I endured the effort. Sunday I spoke in the afternoon upon temperance and was so much encouraged that I left appointment for evening and spoke in the evening.—Letter 5a, 1881. 3BIO 158.5

James reported that at that evening meeting his wife addressed the people “with clearness, point, and power, probably equal to any effort of her life” (The Review and Herald, June 7, 1881). Tuesday morning the deep impression came to her distinctly, “Go to Iowa; I have a work for you to do.” The Iowa camp meeting would open on Thursday. “I should as soon have thought of going to Europe,” she commented, “but I told your father my convictions, that I should go with him or alone. He seemed surprised and said, ‘We will go.’”—Letter 5a, 1881. 3BIO 158.6

The camp meeting was to be held at Des Moines, opening Thursday, June 9. James and Ellen White arrived about noon on Friday. G. B. Starr, a young minister at the meeting, told of how on arrival Ellen White declared, “Well, we are here at the Lord's bidding, for what special purpose we do not know, but we shall doubtless know as the meeting progresses.”—In DF 274, “The Des Moines, Iowa, Temperance Experience.” Both James and Ellen White threw themselves wholeheartedly into ministry, with Ellen White speaking several times, but particularly on Sunday afternoon addressing the people with “great freedom.” 3BIO 159.1

A heavy rainstorm came up, calling for extra effort on her part to make the people hear. Following the meeting she went to her tent, bathed, and retired early for the night. She reported what then transpired: 3BIO 159.2

In one hour, a message came for me to repair to the tent and speak to some points introduced in their business meetings, upon the right of voting in favor of prohibition. I dressed and spoke to them about twenty minutes, and then returned to the tent.—Letter 5, 1881. 3BIO 159.3

The issue under discussion was on the matter of voting for prohibition. Twenty-six years later, G. B. Starr, laboring in Australia, was confronted with a similar question. He called to mind how Ellen White, at the Iowa meeting, related a dream in which she seemed to be in a large gathering where the temperance movement was being discussed. A fine-looking man with pen in hand was circulating a temperance pledge, but none would sign. As the visitor was leaving, he turned and said: 3BIO 159.4

God designs to help the people in a great movement on this subject. He also designed that you, as a people, should be the head and not the tail in the movement; but now the position you have taken will place you at the tail.—In DF 274, “The Des Moines, Iowa, Temperance Experience.” 3BIO 159.5

“‘Shall we vote for prohibition?’ she asked. ‘Yes, to a man, everywhere,’ she replied, ‘and perhaps I shall shock some of you if I say, If necessary, vote on the Sabbath day for prohibition if you cannot at any other time.’”— Ibid. 3BIO 160.1

Writing of the experience—in an account Ellen White endorsed—Starr declared: 3BIO 160.2

I can testify that the effect of the relation of that dream was electrical upon the whole conference. A convincing power attended it, and I saw for the first time the unifying power of the gift of prophecy in the church.— Ibid. 3BIO 160.3

Before the Whites came onto the grounds in Iowa, an action had been taken at the business meeting, leaving out the words “by vote.” Apparently Ellen White's Sunday afternoon address—which, if it ran true to form, was on temperance—led to a reopening of the question, and the call upon Ellen White for counsel. The action, passed after she gave counsel, read: 3BIO 160.4

Resolved, That we express our deep interest in the temperance movement now going forward in this State; and that we instruct all our ministers to use their influence among our churches and with the people at large to induce them to put forth every consistent effort, by personal labor, and at the ballot box, in favor of the prohibitory amendment of the Constitution, which the friends of temperance are seeking to secure.—The Review and Herald, July 5, 1881. 3BIO 160.5

From Iowa, James and Ellen White went to the Wisconsin camp meeting. It was their plan to attend the Minnesota meeting also, but division of feelings between Butler and Haskell on the one hand, and James White on the other, led the Whites to withdraw instead and hasten back from Wisconsin to Battle Creek. It had been Ellen's hope that as she and James attended these camp meetings there could be a drawing together and reconciliation. 3BIO 160.6

There was another matter that also gave her deep concern. This was that the two leading men in the General Conference were doing little to exert a right influence on the Sanitarium, which she mentioned as being “managed by one man's mind and one man's judgment” and that man veering from the “light God has given” (Letter 8, 1881). Taking the several situations into account, she wrote Butler and Haskell, expressing her distress and concern: 3BIO 160.7

The little interest that has been manifested to see eye to eye by the leaders terrifies me. If God can sanction this lack of harmony, then He has never spoken by me.—Ibid. 3BIO 161.1

The enervating experiences through which she was passing did not, however, deter Ellen White in her usual writing. “I am now settled,” she told Haskell, “and have begun to complete volume 4, Spirit of Prophecy. I have great freedom in writing and great freedom in speaking to the people.”—Letter 2, 1881. 3BIO 161.2