One of the ways God bridges the gap sin introduced between Him and humanity is through prophets.
The Work Of A True Prophet
Ellen White and Jeremiah have some things in common.
By William Fagal
One of the ways God bridges the gap sin introduced between Him and humanity is through prophets. In Jeremiah’s experiences we can see the work of a prophet more clearly. And we can draw some parallels with Ellen G. White, a prophet closer to our day.
The Making of a Prophet
God is the one who calls prophets, and He called Jeremiah: “Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5).
Jeremiah felt inadequate. He said, “I cannot speak, for I am a youth” (verse 6). But God had chosen him, and He reassured him: “Do not be afraid . . . , for I am with you” (verse 8). Jeremiah agreed to serve only when God assured him of His presence.
Similarly, when Ellen Harmon (later White), a sickly, timid girl, barely 17 years old, with little formal education, saw all the difficulties her call would entail, she begged God to choose someone else. She even longed for death as a welcome alternative. She feared that she would yield to sinful pride, and be lost. In another vision soon after the first, the angel told her: “?‘If this evil that you dread threatens you, the hand of God will be stretched out to save you; . . . He will draw you to Himself, and preserve your humility. Deliver the message faithfully; endure unto the end, and you shall eat the fruit of the tree of life and drink of the water of life.’?” She later wrote that when she came out of that vision, “I committed myself to the Lord, ready to do His bidding, whatever that might be.”1
The Method God Uses
Jeremiah received his first message through a vision. “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’?” (Jer. 1:11). The Hebrew word for “vision” in Numbers 12:6 is the noun form of the verb “to see” in Jeremiah 1:11.
How did Ellen Harmon (White) get her first message—and many others after? She wrote, “It was not long after the passing of the time in 1844, that my first vision was given me.” 2
The biblical pattern for receiving prophetic messages is clear: they come through visions. People sometimes claim that God is giving them messages through other methods, such as thought impressions. But this is different from the biblical pattern, for these are not visions.
Sometimes these other messages come like dictation that the recipient is to write down word by word. Again this is different from the method God used in the past, for both the Bible writers and Ellen White had to take responsibility for expressing the messages they received through inspiration.
Numbers 12:6 also mentions dreams along with visions as a method God uses with His prophets. Most dreams come out of our own thoughts. Jeremiah warns against accepting uncritically every dream as divine guidance (see Jer. 23:25-28).
But God has used dreams, too, to communicate with His prophets. Ellen White had many visions in her earlier experience, and later in life the messages came primarily in prophetic dreams. The main distinction seems to be the time at which they came: visions in the day, prophetic dreams at night.
An Important Mark of a Prophet
In his conflict with the false prophet Hananiah, Jeremiah noted the test of fulfilled prediction: “When the word of the prophet comes to pass, the prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has truly sent” (Jer. 28:9). This is one of Scripture’s explicit tests of a true prophet (see also Deut. 18:22). Jeremiah’s prophecy in Jeremiah 28:15-17 came true, while Hananiah’s (verses 1-4) did not.
During a 70-year prophetic career, Ellen White had visions that repeatedly met the test of fulfilled prediction.
In 1848, when the believers had no organization and no money, she was shown that the publishing work that James White was to start would become like “streams of light” that would go around the world.3 Our publishing work today is worldwide.
In 1850 she predicted the growth of spiritualism from the mysterious “rappings” that began with the Fox sisters in New York.4 Spiritualistic views are rampant today, even in Western culture.
In 1861 she predicted the coming U.S. Civil War. Most people of that time thought that the war would not happen, but it erupted later that year.5
In the 1890s, when people believed in humanity’s upward progress, she predicted that terrible war was coming on the world, with thousands of ships being destroyed and human lives by the millions sacrificed.6 The horrors of World War I, and even more so World War II, fulfilled that prediction.
These and many other predictions met their fulfillment. But Jeremiah tells us that some prophecies may not be fulfilled. God says, “If that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it” (Jer. 18:8). True prophecy may be conditional on the response of people.
The Maligning of a Prophet
Jeremiah’s life reveals an unfortunate reality for God’s prophets—the accusations and opposition that arise against them. Prominent leaders claimed that Jeremiah’s message wasn’t from God. “The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to dwell there.’ But Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us” (Jer. 43:2, 3). Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe (Jer. 36:4).
Likewise, people in Ellen White’s day (and since) have claimed that her messages came from human sources, not God—they were copied from others, or were the result of her accident, or she was influenced by James White, by W. C. White, etc. We can expect opposition to a true prophet.
The Mission of a Prophet
Judah in Jeremiah’s time had wandered far from what God wanted them to be. They were following the gods of their neighbors—a temptation that is still with us! This is what had caused Israel’s destruction and exile 100 years earlier, and now Judah was doing the same thing.
Jeremiah also had to deal with false prophets, whose influence countered the reform. He mentions them as those who “strengthen the hands of evildoers” and “say to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, “You shall have peace”?’?” (Jer. 23:14, 17). He contrasts their work with that of a true prophet in this statement from God: “If they had stood in My counsel, And had caused My people to hear My words, Then they would have turned them from the evil of their way” (verse 22).
The work of a true prophet will always be against the moral and spiritual abuses of God’s people, calling them to faithfulness to God. To call people away from their sins is not a pleasant work. People get angry. But this is the essential work of a prophet. A genuine prophet must reprove sin, turning people from their evil ways.
We will find much of this activity in the work of Ellen White. She was faithful in reproving sin, giving hope, and calling people to fidelity to God. She did not find it pleasant. At one point she said she would rather die than have to give another message of reproof.7 But God sustained her, and the church has been protected and blessed by her mission to bring us to fidelity to God and His Word.
The mission of a true prophet is to tell us: Follow God’s leading! Be true to Him! Trust Him, even when it seems hard to do, and you are on firm ground.
By human standards, Jeremiah’s ministry did not seem very successful. The king rejected his appeals. The people did not believe him. The exile came. And even the few who were left in the land continued to rebel.
But Jeremiah’s message was true, and it has ministered to God’s people through the years since.
By the grace of God, let us determine to believe His prophets, even when they reprove our sins or cherished ideas. God has promised that we will prosper. And those writings will give us new glimpses of God, fresh appreciation for His character and love, and a deepened desire to fellowship with Him forever.
1 Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (MountainView, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1915), pp. 69-72.
2 Ibid., p. 64.
3 Ibid., p. 125.
4 See Ellen G. White, Supplement to the Experience and Views of Ellen G. White (Rochester, N.Y.: James White, 1854), pp. 5, 6.
5 See General Conference Daily Bulletin, Jan. 31, 1893, p. 61.
6 Ellen G. White, Last Day Events (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press. Assn., 1992), p. 24.
7 Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1980), book 3, pp. 36, 37.
William Fagal is an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate.