Ellen G. White® Estate
Sharing the Vision
The question has been asked, "Is it true that when Mrs. White died, she left
a large debt? If she incurred a large debt, how can we maintain that she lived
in accordance with her teachings on this subject?"
It is true that when Mrs. White died, she was owing a considerable sum of
money. Her books of account show this amount to be $86,923.70. This represented
money she had borrowed, and for most of which she had given notes. But this
debt was not uncovered by assets. She owned her home and several buildings
occupied by her helpers, also an office building which provided a place for her
helpers to work. All of these buildings together with the land on which they
were located were appraised at $14,000.00 at the time of her death. The assets
which were chiefly responsible for the debt were in the form of book
copyrights, book plates, manuscripts and indexes, also a valuable library.
These at the time of Mrs. White's death were valued on her books at $74,797.32.
For probate purposes this figure was cut by the appraisers to $40,300.00.
It was expected by Mrs. White that through the sale of her real estate and
through the income which would be received from the royalty on her books, this
debt within a reasonable time would be fully paid. The expectation has been
realized, and today there is no debt against the E.G. White Estate. This
royalty income has been drawn upon to a considerable degree for the carrying
forward of several lines of important work such as the preparation of copy for
several books, including the Comprehensive Index which alone cost not less than
Some critics have asserted that the large debt left at Mrs. White's death,
had been incurred as the result of reckless spending, that she had made no
provision for its liquidation, and that the General Conference was
obliged to come forward and assume responsibility for its payment. What are
We have already pointed out that Mrs. White did owe, mostly in the form of
notes, nearly $90,000.00. We have also shown that the assets from which this
debt was to be liquidated were mostly in the form of copyrights and book plates
and manuscripts. The real estate could be sold and the proceeds applied on the
debt, but it would be impossible for the book properties immediately to furnish
means to liquidate the balance of the obligations. Therefore, to enable those
who had lent their means to Mrs. White to receive their money at once, the
General Conference stepped in and advanced money to pay these loans.
The whole transaction has been held in separate account in the General Conference
books, and against the sum advanced the earnings of the Estate have been credited.
Interest has been paid by the Estate on this money advanced by the General Conference
and no one has been the loser by the transaction. And as stated above, the whole
of the money advanced has now been returned to the General Conference by the
Trustees of the Estate. This has been done entirely from the sale and earnings
of assets which Mrs. White left.
We believe it will be interesting to our people to learn how Ellen G. White
used her means, and how the debt was incurred. There were three main sources
of revenue from which Mrs. White received her income. From the General Conference
she received a salary as a minister of the Gospel. From the publishing houses,
she received a modest royalty on her books. And in some instances, for a period
of a few years, she received an allowance for certain articles prepared for
our periodicals. The amount received for periodical articles was less than the
actual cost of preparation.
It would be absurd to look at the income which Mrs. White received in the form
of royalty without taking into consideration the fact that it was not all net
profit. There were heavy expenses connected with the preparation
of her books.
For many of her books, Mrs. White not only furnished the manuscript but also
met the expenses of type-setting, plate making, and providing illustrations.
She also spent many thousands of dollars in the translation of her books into
Up to the time of her death, she continued the work of preparing manuscripts
for publication. The salaries paid to her secretaries came chiefly from the
royalties that she received.
Those who knew her, and especially those who were often at her home, know
that she indulged in no extravagance, and that Mrs. White's interests were not
directed toward her own aggrandizement.
Up to the time of her husband's death in 1881, Elder and Mrs. White had not
borrowed large sums of money. Five years after her husband's death, she stated
that between them they had invested in the cause $30,000.00. The Pacific Press,
the Healdsburg College, the St. Helena Sanitarium and the Oakland and San Francisco
Meeting House projects, had shared largely in this beneficence. In 1885, reference
is made in her letters to pledges for missions amounting to $3,000.00.
Her large borrowing commenced with the publication of
Controversy and Patriarchs and
Prophets, as she met the expense of several sets of electrotype plates.
While in Europe she gave freely to help the struggling work. Letters written
during those years make mention of hundreds and fifties given to many
In 1890 she assisted the Chicago Mission with a gift of $1,000.00.
In Australia, Sister White found herself in a field with wide open doors for
advancement, but at a time of great depression and proverty in the country. She
labored untiringly, almost beyond belief for one of her age and condition of
health, lifting burdens and encouraging the workers and the work.
In many ways her overflowing generosity and benevolence found expression--in
the helping of poor families to the extent of many hundreds of dollars, in
paying expenses of interested ones to camp meeting, and in lifting in the
expenses of city efforts. At one time we find her paying $20.00 per week to
insure a bare living to three workers in Sydney, whom the Conference could not
In practically every church building erected during the time of her stay in
Australia, she invested from five to forty pounds.
In the first three years of the School for Bible Workers in Australia, when
the work was attended with insuperable difficulties, she gave to it from time
to time, not less than three thousand dollars. She also helped in the
enlargement of the Echo Office, and the starting of the Sydney Sanitarium.
Writing in 1894, to a brother in California from whom, in response to her
solicitation, she had received $1,000.00 for the work in Australia, she said,
"My brother, I have not called for means from others, and failed to impart
myself to the cause. I have invested my means with a free, willing mind, in
order that I might help the cause in every department. When I have seen young
men and women of ability whom I thought God could trust to work in some part
of His vineyard, I have sent them to school and have paid all their indebtedness
for board and instruction. Several of these have been fitting up for the work,
and I hear most excellent reports of their faithfulness. We see other youth
who would be promising subjects to be educated to engage in the work of the
Lord. Our hearts take them in, but our means is not sufficient to accomplish
all that we would like to for them."--H-31-1894.
After several years in Australia, she wrote:
"We are economizing every way possible. I have borrowed money to meet the needs
of the work, until I am thousands of dollars in debt. But it is not this debt
that troubles me now; it is the knowledge that the work is hindered because
of the lack of means. --MS-173-1898.
To a brother of whom she was requesting a loan, Mrs. White wrote in 1904:
"I invest in the work of God all the means that I can possibly spare. I sent
one thousand dollars to Elder Haskell to help in beginning the work in New York
City. . . .
"I wish that I had money to invest in other places like Greater New York.
Many cities in the South should be worked. We who know the
truth should do what we can to proclaim the truth in new places, to carry
the light to those who are in darkness of error. . . .
"Can you influence any of those whom you know to be entrusted by the Lord with
the talent of means, to lend me money, with or without interest, to be used
in the work of the Lord? I will give my note for whatever sums I may receive.
In the past some have lent me money without interest. And no one has ever asked
me for the return of their money without receiving it.
"If our brethren will now lend me money, with or without interest, I will
invest it in various parts of the field to help carry forward the work that
needs to be done.
"It was thus that I helped in the advancement of the work in Australia. . .
. I borrowed money for the erection of meeting houses, and to provide
facilities for tent meetings. . . . I used the royalities on my books to help
in starting a school in Melbourne, and then I borrowed money from those who
were interested in the work. . . .
"We realize that the truths of the word of God must be carried to all the world,
and we are doing the best we can. I have helped the work in Europe as much as
possible. It cost me over three thousand dollars to have my books translated
into the foreign languages. All the royalty on my books sold in Europe, I have
given to the work in that field. This has amounted to several thousand dollars.
. . .
"Besides what I have invested in Australia and in Europe, I have also made
donations to the Southern field. I have borrowed money to send to them when
they were in strait places. I shall continue to do all I can to help the needy
fields. Time is short, and I wish to see the money of our people that is tied
up in banks put into circulation where it can help the work of God.
"When I receive what I have invested in my books, I hope to have money
sufficient to repay what I have borrowed, and to have more of my own money to
From the foregoing, it will be seen that instead of borrowing money for
reckless or extravagant personal investment, Mrs. White used her credit as an
asset, and at various times borrowed many thousands of dollars, turning the
money into some enterprise of God's cause which she knew needed help. And for
this money she gave her own personal note, and in most cases paid interest on
Notwithstanding Mrs. White's heavy personal obligations, she made a donation
of the manuscript of one of her most popular books, without deducting the expense
of its preparation. Christ's Object Lessons,
by the cooperative sacrifice of the publishing houses and many earnest laymen,
has brought in
hundreds of thousands of dollars for the relief of the indebtedness on our
schools. This was always a source of great pleasure to the one who had
furnished the manuscript.
It was in view of this gift to the cause, as well as her generous donations
through the years, that some of her brethren felt that it would be nothing more
than her due if the book Education
were handled as a relief book in a similar way and the proceeds be used
to pay off Mrs. White's indebtedness.
Her modest, large-hearted spirit is descernible in the following letter
written November 1, 1903, regarding this proposed plan for her relief. In it
mention is also made of other large gifts that she had made from time to time
which have not been spoken of in this article.
"I do not wish anything done that will call attention to myself. All I
desire is that a disinterested effort be made to sell my books. They are needed
by the people, and their sale should bring me financial relief.
"I do not wish any plan adopted that will bring in confusion. I do not wish
anything done that will draw the attention of our people from the sale of Christ's
Object Lessons. I regard the plan for the sale of Christ's Object
Lessons as of God's devising--a precious, sacred plan of His, to teach
His people important lessons in regard to how to do missionary work.
"I would not have Education handled as Christ's Object
Lessons was handled. This would spoil the pattern. And more than this, I
do not want any effort made to raise money for me. I do not want one penny as a
gift. I am opposed to receiving money as a gift for the settlement of my debt.
I can carry this debt.
"Ten thousand dollars of this debt was incurred before I went to Australia.
I went to large expense in bringing out the illustrated editions of
Controversy and Patriarchs and
Prophets, and in making four sets
of plates of each. This was done with the expectation of large sales. But these
books were allowed to fall almost dead from the press, and for nearly three
years little was done with them.
"I pledged a thousand dollars to the Chicago Mission, with no thought but
that I could pay this from the royalties on my books. But in order to pay this
pledge, I had to hire money from a brother in the West, and on this I paid
seven (per cent) interest. . . .
"While I was in Australia, I went to large expense in bringing out
The Desire of
Ages. And I used my money freely for the advancement of the work. As a
result of these things, my debt has grown.
"For the past few years my books have not been selling very
rapidly in this country. And the cost of publishing my recent books has been
large.* But I am not at all worried. I hope to settle all my debts. I am in
debt, it is true, but I will not consent to be helped by any fund. When my
books are handled disinterestedly, I think that I shall be able to settle my
Realizing that she had not long to live, Mrs. White, in her later years, connected
with her office force a number of competent and efficient secretaries, in order
to hasten the work of preparing manuscripts for as many books as possible. This
increased her expense, but rather than leave a work undone that could not be
done after her death, she borrowed more money, that she might leave as a legacy
to the cause that she loved more of her Christ-filled books. Many more details
might be given as to enterprises that have been generously supported by Mrs.
Sister White believed that in time, a just royalty on the books would repay
the indebtedness she was creating, and spared no effort to accomplish all that
was possible in giving to the world, and to our people in particular, the light
she had received from heaven. She felt the urgency of the "King's business,"
and continued to borrow that her books might be hastened. Her urge and her
confidence in the final outcome is fittingly expressed in a letter written when
making the appeal for one thousand pounds as a loan that she might hasten the
opening of the school in Australia:
"This is the Lord's work, and when we know that we are doing the very work
He has specified, we must have faith to believe that He will open the way. I am
nearly ready to publish the Life of Christ, and I have several other
books to be printed, but we cannot wait for this. The King's business requires
*Referring chiefly to the cost of illustrations and plates.
Having given evidence that Mrs. White's benevolence far exceeded the amount
of her indebtedness at the time of her death, and having shown that she left
assets which have met the full amount of this indebtedness, we should also
consider the question some have raised as to her teaching regarding the
incurring of debt. Was her teaching contrary to her own example?
This question can be answered only by considering her entire line of
instruction on this subject. It would be manifestly unfair to judge from one or
two or a very few of her statements. Here are some of them.
"We should shun debt as we should shun the leprosy." "The very highest kind
of education that could be given is to shun the incurring of debt as you would
shun disease." "Let them guard themselves as with a fence of barbed wire
against the inclination to go into debt."--Testimonies for the Church,
Volume 6, pp. 217, 211; Volume 7, p. 236.
These statements, isolated from their context and given a general
application, might plausibly give an impression that Mrs. White taught that any
debt, under any circumstance, should be shunned as the leprosy. A study of the
context shows that the first two quotations relate to school management, and
the third was addressed to our brethren who were seeking to establish the
publishing work at Nashville, and had gone ahead faster than the prospect for
earnings and donations would warrant.
In all these instances, a warning is given against incurring debts that can
be paid only by calling upon the people for gifts, and where there is no
prospect for an income from the enterprise itself, sufficient to meet the debts
Mrs. White borrowed money, and incurred debt, but she never made nor did she
ever expect to make an appeal to individuals for gifts to pay her indebtedness.
Indeed, at one time she refused to accept of a plan by which
others would help her to pay her debts. She had an assured income, and there
were assets which were sufficient to form a sound basis for credit exceeding
the amounts of money which were borrowed by her. That this is so, is evidenced
by the fact that the income from the estate has completely liquidated the debt
which Mrs. White left.
She recognized that there is a vital difference between debts contracted by
institutions or persons not having an earning power to pay these debts, and the
incurring of debts as in her own case.
Mrs. White did give cautions against the incurring of debt through
extravagance or lack of economy, or unwise management. She greatly helped by
her own generosity as well as by her counsels the efforts that were made to
relieve the denominational institutions from debt. She urged the payment of
debts as fast as possible. She decried dishonest debts and debts caused by
reckless and inconsidered moves. Yet she did not teach that under no
circumstances is it right to borrow money. A few of her utterances regarding
conditions under which money should be borrowed follows:
In 1904, she wrote to certain brethren who hesitated because the purchase
price was not in sight to secure property that had been plainly indicated
should be purchased, and upon which quick action was necessary.
"The idea that a sanitarium should not be established unless it could be
started free from debt, has put the brake upon the wheels of progress. In
building meeting-houses we have had to borrow money, in order that something
might be done at once. We have been obliged to do this, in order to fulfil the
directions of God.
"Persons deeply interested in the progress of the work have borrowed money
and paid interest on it to help establish schools and sanitariums and to build
meeting-houses. The institutions thus established and the churches built have
been the means of winning many to the truth. Thus the tithe has been increased,
and workers have been added to the Lord's forces."--B-211-1904.
Some of the conditions that mark the difference between faith and presumption
in the incurring of debt are set forth in the following communication, written
by Mrs. White, January 27, 1910.
"In the providence of God there comes to this people in time of need
favorable opportunities to secure valuable facilities that can be
utilized wisely for the rapid advancement of the cause. At times the Lord
has specified that we should come into possession of property in certain
localities where we needed to gain entrance for the proclamation of the third
"The idea that we are not to purchase any such properties unless first the
money is in hand, is not in accordance with the mind of God. Again and again in
years past the Lord has tested our faith by opening the way for us to secure
places possessing advantages, at a cost far below their real value, and at a
time when we had no money.
"We have at such times met the situation by borrowing money on interest, and
advancing in harmony with the command of our divine leader, who bade us advance
"These experiences have been attended with many perplexing problems, but the
Lord has helped us through them all, and His name has been glorified. Had we
hesitated the precious cause would have been retarded rather than advanced, and
in many cases opportunities would have been given our enemies to triumph over
our failure to secure these advantages placed within our reach. In such matters
as these, we are to learn to walk by faith when necessary, as some have walked
in the past."--B-12 1/2- 9100.
In 1905, our brethren in Nashville were offered a valuable and suitable
church property, and money was borrowed to meet the first payment of one
thousand dollars. In this connection, Mrs. White wrote:
"God would have the standard lifted higher and still higher. The church can
not abridge her task without denying her Master. Meeting-houses must be built
in many places. Is it economy to fail to provide in our cities places of
worship where the Redeemer may meet with His people? Let us not give the
impression that we find it too great an expense to provide properly for the
reception of the heavenly Guest.
"In laying plans for building, we need the wisdom of God. We should not
needlessly incur debts, but I would say that in every case all the money
required to complete a building need not be in hand before the work is begun.
We must often move forward by faith, working as expeditiously as possible. It
is through a lack of faith that we fail of receiving the fulfilment of God's
promises. We must work and pray and believe. We are to move forward steadily
and earnestly, trusting in the Lord, and saying, 'We will not fail nor become
"Let our brethren in Nashville and in all parts of the South lay aside their
doubts, and come over to the side of faith. Let them say, 'We will do our best.
No longer will we question the work and ways of the Lord. From this time we
will believe the word of the Lord, and obey His command to "arise and build,"
whether all the money required is in sight or not.'"--Review and Herald,
Sept. 7, 1905.
Similar instruction may be found in Testimonies for the Church,
Volume 9, pages 271, 272.
In the Review and Herald of April 11, 1899, there appeared an
article entitled "Denominational Debts." In this article, a good brother who
deplored the heavy indebtedness of many of our institutions took the position
that it was wrong to borrow money. Quoting from Deuteronomy the instruction to
Isreal regarding their prosperity if they remained true and faithful to God,
"Thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow," the writer
"In the verses just cited, He distinctly told His people not to borrow; and
to the spiritual one the command takes the form of a promise, and says in
thunder tones, 'Thou shalt not borrow.' . . .
"All our institutions have been in the borrowing business. It is now time
for them all to quit. . . . Forever then, let loaning to our institutions have
This copy of the Review reached Australia just at a time when efforts
were being made to raise money for a Sanitarium near Sydney. In a meeting in
Cooranbong, Sister White made calls for as many gifts as possible, and then for
loans by those who felt that they could not give all that was asked for, but,
having given some, could lend more. She herself pledged a gift of one hundred
pounds ($500.00). In her appeal, she said:
"We want God to take hold of this work. But to say we will not receive any
loans, with or without interest, would not be wise. There may be those who
could loan us money, while they would not feel able to make a gift. Newly come
to the faith, they might hardly feel that they could give the money. We need a
sanitarium, and we must have it. I have not had much to do with this
institution, but I feel that it is my Sanitarium as much as it is yours,
because my prayers and interest are in it. It is a necessity that we have a
Sanitarium, but I cannot go so far as to say that there will be no debt upon
it. For years I have been hiring money from America. Nevertheless, from those
who can make donations we shall be very thankful to receive donations. There
are many who can give. But to say to our brethren, 'You must make a donation,
because we will not take a loan, with or without interest,' would be unwise.
"One brother said to me not long ago, 'You are in a heavy pressure for
means. I will loan you sixty pounds for one year without interst.' We were
under heavy pressure in order to put up the Health Retreat, and I knew this
means would help us. I felt as though it was a God send, and I was very
grateful for it.
I believe the Lord stirred up our brother's mind to loan this money, and I
felt very thankful. I help as long as I have any means to help with. As for
laying up money, I do not do it; and I do not expect to do it."--Aus. Union
Conference Recorder, July 28, 1899.
Much more might be quoted to show that Mrs. White deplored debts unwisely
made; but that in an emergency, rather than to allow an opportunity to pass for
making a forward move that was in God's providence, she counseled that the
necessary money be borrowed, and then that appeals be made for its payment as
soon as possible. One more brief, well-balanced statement must suffice. Writing
to the brother who was author of the Review article above referred to,
"It is right to borrow money to carry forward a work that we know God
desires to have accomplished. We should not wait in inconvenience, and make the
work much harder, because we do not wish to borrow money. Mistakes have been
made in incurring debt to do that which could well have waited till a future
time. But there is danger of going to the other extreme. We are not to place
ourselves in a position that will endanger health and make our work wearing. We
are to act sensibly. We must do the work that needs to be done, even if we have
to borrow money and pay interest."--M-11-1903.
Thought for the Day
All our good works are dependent on a power outside of ourselves. - COL 159