Ellen G. White: The Progressive Years: 1862-1876 (vol. 2)


A Relapse During the Ensuing Years

It would be satisfying to the biographer if he could report that during the ensuing years of James White's life there was no recurrence of depression accompanied by suspicions, ill-advised statements, and accusations. We have noted his repeated paralytic strokes and their debilitating influence on his life, which, it seems, laid the foundation for erratic movements and fluctuating attitudes. In spite of the disheartening experiences marked by discouragement, distrust, and accusation that occasionally took place, his talents, dedication, and experience were such that God continued to use him mightily at a time when the church was in great need of his contributions. In 1876, there was a repetition of the experience of 1874. James and Ellen White were residing in their Oakland, California, home, close to the Pacific Press. She was diligently writing on the life of Christ; James was president of the General Conference and at the same time was much involved in the developing interests of the newly established publishing house. He was called east to attend a special session of the General Conference and oversee the proposed enlargement of the Health Institute. He wanted her to accompany him and to remain in the East to attend the coming camp meetings. Blessed with the good help of Mary Clough as a literary assistant, Ellen did not want to leave her writing, and he went on without her. Their letters (she wrote every day) indicated that there were some tensions, each certain they were in the line of duty, although acting somewhat independently. Her letter of April 20, 1876, reads in part: 2BIO 442.6

You are happy and never so free. Thank the Lord for this.... I am happy and free and I thank the Lord for this. You are in the line of duty. God blesses you. I am in the line of my duty and God blesses me. It may never be as well as now for me to write.... Should I leave now to go east, I should go on your light, not on mine.—Letter 11, 1876. 2BIO 443.1

The interchange of letters over the next few weeks indicate that there had been a growing tendency on the part of James to dominate Ellen's program, something that in earlier years he had studiously avoided. In a letter dated May 12, referring to what he had termed her independence, she wrote to him: 2BIO 443.2

In regard to my independence, I have had no more than I should have in the matter under the circumstances. I do not receive your views or interpretation of my feelings on this matter. I understand myself much better than you understand me.—Letter 25, 1876. 2BIO 443.3

She hoped to bring moderation into his growing dictatorial stance. In one letter James expressed himself in unrestrained terms: 2BIO 444.1

I shall use the good old head God gave me until He reveals that I am wrong. Your head won't fit my shoulders. Keep it where it belongs, and I will try to honor God in using my own. I shall be glad to hear from you, but don't waste your precious time and strength in lecturing me on matters of mere opinions.—Letter 66, 1876. 2BIO 444.2

During this tense period in which James was attempting to dominate Ellen's program, an effort that, considering her special work, was very distressing to her, she wrote three letters to Lucinda Hall. Making it clear that she could not submit to James's opinions of her duty, she reached out for human sympathy. 2BIO 444.3

On May 16, she wrote to James: 2BIO 444.4

It grieves me that I have said or written anything to grieve you. Forgive me and I will be cautious not to start any subject to annoy and distress you. We are living in a most solemn time and we cannot afford to have in our old age differences to separate our feelings. I may not view all things as you do, but I do not think it would be my place or duty to try to make you see as I see and feel as I feel. Wherein I have done this, I am sorry.

I want a humble heart, a meek and quiet spirit. Wherein my feelings have been permitted to arise in any instance, it was wrong. Jesus said, “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” 2BIO 444.5

I wish that self should be hid in Jesus. I wish self to be crucified. I do not claim infallibility, or even perfection of Christian character. I am not free from mistakes and errors in my life. Had I followed my Saviour more closely, I should not have to mourn so much my unlikeness to His dear image. 2BIO 444.6

Time is short, very short. Life is uncertain. We know not when our probation may close. If we walk humbly before God, He will let us end our labors with joy. No more shall a line be traced by me or expression made in my letter to distress you. Again, I say, forgive me, every word or act that has grieved you.—Letter 27, 1876. 2BIO 444.7

In her letters she had indicated that she would remain in California and continue her writing on the life of Christ, unless the Lord indicated to her otherwise. Such an omen must have come to her, for ten days later she was at James White's side at the Kansas camp meeting, the first one of the season. They worked through the summer together, sharing the burden of fourteen camp meetings. The writing she had hoped to finish in California in the spring of 1876 was finished in Battle Creek in December. James, however, did not forget the injustice to Ellen, and in the late summer of 1877 it was much on his mind. She wrote of this to Willie: 2BIO 445.1

His great trouble is battling with depression of spirits. He seems to feel that he has wronged me very much. He goes back to the letters he wrote me when he was in California, and you and I attended the camp meetings. He feels that he has committed a great sin that the Lord can hardly forgive.—Letter 13, 1877. 2BIO 445.2

She added, “My work is to comfort him and to pray for him; to speak cheerful, loving words to him and soothe him.” Regardless of James's somewhat fluctuating attitudes, Ellen moved forward with her work, uninfluenced by human associates. 2BIO 445.3

Before the close of this review, one more point deserves notice. Four years later, on May 24, 1881, at a time when D. M. Canright was recovering from a period of discouragement and lapse in his ministry and faith, James White wrote him a letter in which he made some incautious remarks. Among these was his opinion that “Elders Butler and Haskell have had an influence over her that I hope to see broken. It has nearly ruined her.” But his opinion held at that moment did not change the fact that Ellen White remained uninfluenced in her work as God's messenger. 2BIO 445.4