In late October of 1851, 75 Advent believers, some even from out of state, crowded into the Washington, New Hampshire, church. It had been only seven years since the great 1844 disappointment, and those who had not lost faith in Jesus’ coming now set about to firmly establish the church. Some who had been deeply upset by the disappointment criticized the leadersBespecially James and Ellen White. Among them was Brother Stephen Smith. He spoke with a poisonous tongue and did not hesitate to cut down the leaders with savage criticisms.
During this 1851 meeting, Ellen White, who was there with her husband, received a vision showing the spiritual state of the Washington church members. She told her vision during the next meeting, and all those present received it as a message from heaven and resolved to listen to its counsel. That is, all except two individuals welcomed the message. One of these was Stephen Smith. He opposed the testimony so bitterly that the church group finally dismissed him from their fellowship.
But Stephen Smith really wanted to belong to the church, so the next year he was received back into fellowship after he had an apparent change of heart and made a deep confession. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. He joined any opposing movement that came along and agreed with every new attempt to set a date for Christ’s coming. All his strength was used to help the enemies of the infant Adventist church.
But God loved Stephen Smith, and He sent Ellen White’s love and to encourage him to turn from his waywardness. With prayer and painstaking patience Ellen White wrote out the vision at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan, and mailed the letter to Brother Smith.
The following week Smith went to the post office to pick up his mail. He received a long, thick letter with Mrs. White’s name and address in the upper left-hand corner. Hot blood rushed to his face.
“So, she has written me a testimony now,” he muttered, glaring at the unwelcome letter. “I’ll not read it!” Jamming the unopened envelope into his coat pocket, he rushed home. Inside the house he spied a heavy trunk in one corner. At once he knew what he would do with the letter. Raising the lid, he reached inside and lifted the contents until he could feel the very bottom of the trunk. Thrusting in the letter, he slammed down the lid. Then Stephen Smith went his own way doing his own thing.
People who knew him said that he had the most withering, blighting, blistering tongue of any man in the neighborhood. The Whites weren’t the only ones to receive Stephen Smith’s criticisms. His wife and children were often the objects of his sharp, cutting remarks. The following years, which should have been the best and happiest of his life, were full of anger and unhappiness. Twenty-seven years passed. It was 1884. His hair had turned white. Lines of bitterness seamed his face. His back had bent with the years.
One day Stephen Smith picked up from his own parlor table a copy of the Review and Herald. His wife had remained an Adventist and she had taught the children to be faithful. It was she who had continued to subscribe to the Review. As he opened the paper Stephen’s eyes fell on an article by Ellen White. Hastily he read it. Thoughtfully he laid it down. “That’s the truth,” he admitted to himself.
The next week’s Review brought another Ellen G. White article. Again he read it, and again he had to admit, “That’s God’s truth.” From then on he watched for Mrs. White’s articles weekly, and read them. His wife and children began to notice a change coming over him. His words were softer, his comments less sarcastic. He began to wish that he could see James and Ellen White again, but James had been dead for four years, and Ellen now lived in Michigan.
The next summer, 1885, Eugene Farnsworth returned to his home town of Washington, New Hampshire, to hold revival meetings. News of the coming revival reached Stephen Smith, by then living in Unity, twelve miles (19 km) north. He remembered Eugene and wanted to hear him speak. So the old man journeyed south on Sabbath morning to hear Elder Farnsworth preach. The sermon topic that morning was the Seventh-day Adventist movement. Just as Elder Farnsworth finished speaking, old Stephen Smith struggled to his feet and signaled a desire to speak. Eugene hesitated. He wasn’t sure he wanted to allow this bitter, critical man to spoil the church service.
Stephen spoke up. “Don’t be afraid of me, Brethren,” he said. “I haven’t come to criticize. I’ve quit that business. I’ve been with many opposition groups over the years, and I see now that they have come to nothing. No honest man can help seeing that God is with the Advent movement and against us who have opposed it. I want to be in fellowship with this people in heart and in the church.”
When Stephen Smith returned home he began to think over his past life. On Thursday of that week he remembered the letter at the bottom of the trunk. For the first time in 28 years he wanted to know what was in that letter.
It took a while to find the key, but when he unlocked the trunk, he reached clear to the bottom and felt around. There it was, the yellowed envelope, still sealed just as he had left it. Opening it, he slipped out the folded sheets and sat down to read.
In the letter he found an exact and accurate picture of what his life had been, for he had not changed his ways nor had he returned to God. With terrible regret he realized how different his life might have been had he read and accepted that testimony earlier.
The following Sabbath Stephen Smith again returned to Washington for church. As soon as the sermon had ended, he rose to his feet to tell Elder Farnsworth and the congregation about the sealed letter.
“Every word of that testimony is true,” he declared. “I know now that all the testimonies from Ellen White are true. If I had followed the testimony she sent to me, my whole life would have been different. It would have saved me a world of trouble. Instead, I dismissed her writings as ‘old woman’s visions.’ I=m too old now to undo what I’ve done, too feeble to get to our large meetings, but I want you to tell our people everywhere that another rebel has surrendered.”
Stephen Smith did not live many years after that, but until he died he believed in the Advent message.
While most of us do not have any personal testimony from Ellen White hidden in a sealed letter at home, we do have the precious books she has written to help us. The blessings and benefits of her writings will come only to those who read and follow them.BAdapted from The Spirit of Prophecy Emphasis Stories, vol. 2, pp. 168-170.