W. C. White Letter of November 4, 1912
Written to W. W. Eastman, Publishing Department Secretary,
Southwestern Union Conference
Published in Selected Messages, book 3, pp. 445-450.
It seems to me, Brother Eastman, that we must hold fast our confidence in the great Adventist movement of 1844, and we should not be easily moved from the positions held by the leaders in that movement and by the pioneers of our own denomination.
At the same time, I believe we should encourage our editors, our ministers, and the teachers in our schools, and the rank and file of our people, as far as they have time and opportunity, to be thorough Bible students and faithful students of history so that they may know for themselves and so that they can prove to people who do not accept our denominational books as authority, the points that we hold as a people. It is my conviction that those who write for our denominational papers regarding prophecy and its fulfillment ought to be encouraged to give deep and faithful study to the subjects about which they write, and to use in their arguments references and quotations from those historians which will be accepted by the readers as authority.
It may be all right for a preacher in presenting Biblical expositions to his congregations to quote from Daniel and Revelation and Great Controversy as well expressed statement of his views; but it could hardly be wise for him to quote from them as authoritative histories to prove his points. I think you will discern the reasonableness of this proposition. A Presbyterian who was endeavoring to prove the soundness of his theories to a congregation of Methodists would not be expected to depend largely upon Presbyterian writers to prove his points, nor would a Methodist who was endeavoring to convince a Baptist of the soundness of the Methodist religion, make the greatest headway by using Methodist writers as his authority. In all our work we must study to follow methods that are most effective.
When it comes to the matter of writing out expositions of doctrine or of prophecy, still greater care must be taken by the writer than by the preacher to select those authorities which will be accepted as authorities by the critical and studious reader.
If I understand the matter correctly, Brother _____ has been writing articles on prophecy and its fulfillment in which he uses Daniel and Revelation and Great Controversy as authority to prove his points. This I should consider to be a very poor policy. Some readers will accept it as establishing the truth. Some readers will accept it as true, while questioning the authority. With others the use of these denominational books in such a way will constitute a challenge for them to endeavor to prove that there are errors in the books thus used as authority. Will it not be better for all classes if in our sermons and articles, we prove our points by references to authorities that are generally accepted?
Ellen G. White Writings on History
Regarding Mother's writings and their use as authority on points of history and chronology, Mother has never wished our brethren to treat them as authority regarding the details of history or historical dates. The great truths revealed to Mother regarding the controversy between good and evil, light and darkness, have been given to her in various ways, but chiefly as flashlight views of great events in the lives of individuals and in the experiences of churches, of bands of reformers, and of nations. What has thus been revealed to her she has written out first briefly in the early writings, then more fully as in Spiritual Gifts and in Spirit of Prophecy, and finally in the Great Controversy series.
When writing out the experiences of reformers in the time of the reformation and in the great Advent Movement of 1844, Mother often gave at first a partial description of some scene presented to her. Later on she would write it out more fully, and again still more fully. I have known her to write upon one subject four or five times, and then mourn because she could not command language to describe the matter more perfectly.
When writing out the chapters for Great Controversy, she sometimes gave a partial description of an important historical event, and when her copyist who was preparing the manuscripts for the printer, made inquiry regarding time and place, Mother would say that those things are recorded by conscientious historians. Let the dates used by those historians be inserted. At other times in writing out what has been presented to her, Mother found such perfect descriptions of events and presentations of facts and of doctrines written out in our denominational books, that she copied the words of these authorities.
When Controversy was written, Mother never thought that the readers would take it as authority on historical dates or use it to settle controversy regarding details of history, and she does not now feel that it should be used in that way. Mother regards with great respect the work of those faithful historians who devoted years of time to the study of God's great plan as presented in the prophecy, and the outworking of that plan as recorded in history.
In past years whenever definite proof has been found that the writers of our Adventist literature had come short of finding the exact proof regarding details, Mother has taken her position in favor of correcting those things that were clearly found to be in error. When she was consulted about the efforts that were being made to revise and correct the good book Daniel and Revelation, she has always opposed making many changes, and has always favored correcting those things that were plainly shown to be incorrect.
It seems to me there is danger of placing altogether too much stress upon chronology. If it had been essential to the salvation of man that he should have a clear and harmonious understanding of the chronology of the world, the Lord would not have permitted the disagreements and discrepancies which we find in the writings of the Bible historians, and it seems to me that in these last days there ought not to be so much controversy regarding dates.
For myself, I will say this: that the more I study the experience of the Adventist people, the more I feel to honor and praise and magnify the wisdom of the God of heaven who gave to a plain man like William Miller an understanding of the great truths of the prophecies. It is evident to anyone who will study his explanation of prophecy that while he had the truth regarding the principal features, that he adopted at first many inaccurate and incorrect interpretations regarding details. At first these were accepted by his associates; but God raised up scholarly men who had enjoyed broader opportunities for study than Miller, and these men by their study of the prophecies and history found the truth regarding many points in which Miller's exposition was incorrect.
One who studies this experience from the standpoint of faith in that great Advent movement, as presented in Daniel and Revelation, and in Great Controversy, cannot fail to rejoice in the goodness of God as they see how He brought in truth and light through the study of many men and it seems to me that we who love the work that was built upon that foundation ought to treat very kindly, very considerately, very reverently the work which God helped Miller to do.
Make Only Modest Claims
But if we claim that Miller and his associates had a perfect and complete knowledge of the truth regarding the correspondence of history with prophecy, or if we claim for the pioneers in the third angel's message that their knowledge was complete and infallible, if we say, "Never in the history of this cause have we been obliged to confess ourselves in error," we shall unwisely and unnecessarily challenge criticism that will display to the world in a manifold and exaggerated light the imperfection and inaccuracies of some of our expositions which have been corrected by the results of faithful study in later years.
It seems to me, Brother Eastman, that there is great possibility of our weakening our influence by closing our eyes to the fact that we are all as little children learning from day to day from the great Teacher, and that it is our privilege to advance in knowledge and understanding. It seems to me that it is much wiser for us to convince the world that God has been leading us, and that He is leading us by presenting from time to time, unanswerable evidences regarding the soundness of our position by a clear presentation of the correspondence of prophecy and history through the use of historical data which the world cannot question, than by any efforts that we shall make to prove that the positions we held last year or ten years ago or twenty years ago or thirty years ago were infallible and unchangeable.
Regarding Mother's writings, I have overwhelming evidence and conviction that they are the description and delineation of what God has revealed to her in vision, and where she has followed the description of historians or the exposition of Adventist writers, I believe that God has given her discernment to use that which is correct and in harmony with truth regarding all matters essential to salvation. If it should be found by faithful study that she has followed some expositions of prophecy which in some detail regarding dates we cannot harmonize with our understanding of secular history, it does not influence my confidence in her writings as a whole any more than my confidence in the Bible is influenced by the fact that I cannot harmonize many of the statements regarding chronology.