“For all who receive Him [Jesus], the keynote of the Word of God is ‘rejoicing.’”
By Jud Lake
Ellen White had every reason to be joyless. At the age of 9 she experienced a devastating accident that left her in bed for months and deformed for life. The “Great Disappointment” of 1844 left her youthful heart wondering why Jesus did not come. Her early visions were ridiculed and rejected by many who heard them. Her husband died at age 60, and two of her four children died in their youth. Throughout her 70-plus-year prophetic ministry critics worked feverishly to discredit her every word. Even some of her followers repeatedly rejected her counsels.
Joy in the Journey
Yet, in spite of all this opposition and discouragement, she would write in 1902: “Heaven is full of joy” and “resounds with the praises of Him who made so wonderful a sacrifice for the redemption of the human race.”1 Those who will one day “join with the angelic choir in their anthem of praise must learn on earth the song of heaven, the keynote of which is praise and thanksgiving.” Such was her understanding of the role of joy in the Christian life. In the midst of trials and disappointments, Christians can learn that they have every reason to be joyful.
While commenting on Jesus’ words in John 15:11 she wrote:
“Why should not our joy be full—full, lacking nothing? We have the assurance that Jesus is our Saviour, and that we may freely partake of the rich provision He has made for us. We may believe on Him, knowing that He will give us grace and power to do just as He bids us. He has given us every assurance that He will fulfil all that He has promised. It is our privilege to seek constantly the joy of His presence. He desires us to be cheerful and to be filled with praise to His name. He wants us to carry light in our countenances and joy in our hearts. We have a hope that is far above any pleasure the world can give; why should we not then be joyful?2”
Ellen White is very clear that the assurance of salvation, companionship with Christ, and the rich provision of God’s promises are mighty reasons to be joyful. “Christ dwelling in the soul is a well-spring of joy,” she declared. “For all who receive Him, the keynote of the Word of God is ‘rejoicing.’”3
Life’s Challenges and Frustrations
This understanding and experience of Christian joy did not come easy in Ellen’s youth, however. As a young girl, she experienced a major setback when, in the fall of 1836, she was hit with a rock thrown by a classmate that left her seriously injured. Convinced that she was dying, the young 9-year-old Ellen gave her heart to Jesus in simple faith. Several months later, on January 25, 1837, a dramatic aurora borealis lit up the New England sky. Young Ellen remembered the event vividly, because her mother took her to the window and she saw the glow in the heavens, the “red and angry” lights that made the “snow” look like “blood.” The neighbors were frightened but young Ellen was happy. She thought Jesus was coming and clapped her hands as if her suffering were over. “But I was disappointed,” she later recalled; “the singular appearance faded away from the heavens, and the next morning the sun arose the same as usual.”4 The prospect that she must continue living in the midst of her suffering extinguished Ellen’s short-lived, childlike joy.
Over the next four years she struggled with discouragement and depression. Because of her poor health, she could not return to school and gave up her hope of an education—something she very much desired. “I was unreconciled to my lot,” she wrote, “and at times murmured against the providence of God in thus afflicting me.”5 She experienced strong feelings of guilt over her resentment. Her simple faith in Jesus disappeared, and she was left in darkness. This feeling was compounded by her belief in an eternally burning hell, exacerbating her fears and agony of soul.
Blessed Assurance … Jesus Is Mine!
Fortunately, a breakthrough in her spiritual experience occurred at the Buxton, Maine, Methodist camp meeting late in the summer of 1841. Upon hearing a convicting sermon on righteousness by faith, Ellen cried out to God for salvation. “As I knelt and prayed,” she recalled, “suddenly my burden left me, and my heart was light…. I can never forget this precious assurance of the pitying tenderness of Jesus toward one so unworthy of His notice.”6 The culmination of Ellen’s conversion experience was a counseling session in 1843, initiated by her mother, with the Millerite Methodist minister Levi Stockman. Ellen poured out her heart to Stockman, who in turn told her about the “great love of Christ and the plan of redemption.” This meeting with Stockman, followed by a significant prayer-meeting experience later that same day, transformed young Ellen’s entire Christian experience. She later wrote:
“My views of the Father were changed. I now looked upon Him as a kind and tender parent, rather than a stern tyrant compelling men to a blind obedience. My heart went out towards Him in a deep and fervent love. Obedience to His will seemed a joy; it was a pleasure to be in His service.7”
This experience of joy in God’s service stayed with Ellen the rest of her life. It would become a significant component in her philosophy of Christian education and a distinctive theme in her understanding of the Christian life. “Our God is a tender, merciful Father,” she penned in 1892. His service should not “be looked upon as a heart-saddening, distressing exercise.” Rather, it should be a “pleasure” for His children to take part in His service. “He is their best friend; and when they worship Him, He expects to be with them, to bless and comfort them, filling their hearts with joy and love.”8 Although Ellen experienced depression at times, she “struggled against the feeling” and affirmed: “I know that God wants His joy to be in us, that our joy may be full.” After all, “He has a heaven full of blessings, and these blessings He will give to us, if we will take them.”9
Her most memorable discussion of Christian joy is found in the last chapter of Steps to Christ, entitled “Rejoicing in the Lord”:
“Many, walking along the path of life, dwell upon their mistakes and failures and disappointments, and their hearts are filled with grief and discouragement. While I was in Europe, a sister who had been doing this, and who was in deep distress, wrote to me, asking for some word of encouragement. The night after I had read her letter I dreamed that I was in a garden, and one who seemed to be the owner of the garden was conducting me through its paths. I was gathering the flowers and enjoying their fragrance, when this sister, who had been walking by my side, called my attention to some unsightly briers that were impeding her way. There she was mourning and grieving. She was not walking in the pathway, following the guide, but was walking among the briers and thorns. ‘Oh,’ she mourned, ‘is it not a pity that this beautiful garden is spoiled with thorns?’ Then the guide said, ‘Let the thorns alone, for they will only wound you. Gather the roses, the lilies, and the pinks’ [pp. 116, 117].”
As Ellen White looked back over her own life she found every reason to be joyful. She still challenges us to discover the same joy today!
1Ellen G. White, “A Word of Cheer,” The Southern Watchman, December 4, 1902 in Ellen G. White Writings Complete Published Edition CD-ROM (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 2005), paragraph 2.
2Idem, “That Your Joy Might Be Full,” Signs of the Times, August 11, 1909, in Ellen G. White Writings Complete Published Edition CD-ROM, paragraph 4.
3Ibid., paragraph 3.
4Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 11; other eye witness accounts of this celestial event are found in Charles Bowen, The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1838 (Boston: Charles Bowen, 1837), pp. 80-83, accessible online at books.google.com.
5Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 13.
6Idem, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1915), p. 23.
7Ibid., p. 39.
8Idem, Steps to Christ (Mountain View: Pacific Press, 1956), p. 103.
9Idem, General Conference Bulletin, April 1, 1903, p. 32.
Jud Lake, Th.D., D.Min., is professor of Preaching and Adventist Studies at Southern Adventist University and loves to share the joy of Jesus in his classroom.