The Gift of Prophetic Guidance
Visions and dreams establish major ministries
By Merlin D. Burt
Put your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed” (2 Chron. 20:20, NASB).1 The Bible teaches that God leads His people through the prophetic gift. Seventh-day Adventists believe that God led in establishing the first major ministries of the church through the visions and dreams of Ellen G. White.
The Publishing Ministry
The year 1848 was an exciting time of gathering for Advent believers through evangelistic Sabbath conferences. For the first time Sabbathkeeping Adventists were coming together to understand the end-time importance of the Sabbath in connection with the sealing of God’s people.
They were struggling to understand this connection at a study conference at the home of Otis Nichols in Dorchester, Massachusetts, November 17 and 18, 1848. This conference was a follow-up to an October meeting that had been held in Topsham, Maine, where they had studied the sealing of Revelation 7 in the context of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14. They were trying to understand how God would have them share the Sabbath as part of the everlasting gospel.
At this meeting Ellen White had a vision. After coming out of vision she turned to her husband, James, and said, “I have a message for you. You must begin to print a little paper and send it out to the people. Let it be small at first; but as the people read, they will send you means with which to print, and it will be a success from the first.” She then gave a startling prediction: “From this small beginning it was shown me to be like streams of light that went clear round the world.”2
This and subsequent visions led James White to begin publishing Present Truth in July 1849. This paper served to convince Adventists of the importance of the seventh-day Sabbath in light of the soon coming of Jesus. In 1850 it was replaced by the Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, which continues to this day as the Adventist Review and its sister publication Adventist World. The extensive publishing work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is owing in large part to the prophetic visions of Ellen White.
During the 1850s and 1860s Seventh-day Adventists faced a particular challenge. Like Americans in general, many suffered from communicable diseases and lifestyle disorders. Tuberculosis, cholera, diphtheria, pneumonia, and other diseases regularly claimed many lives. Principles of hygiene and cleanliness were largely unknown. A diet consisting mostly of meat, fats, and strong spices led to strokes, heart disease, and nutritional deficiencies.
Ellen White received four identifiable health reform visions between 1848 and 1865. In 1848 she was shown the injurious effects of tobacco, tea, and coffee.3 On February 12, 1854, she had a vision on the importance of cleanliness, temperance, and the danger of rich or refined foods. “I saw some who were sickly among the saints, made themselves [so] by indulging the appetite. If we wish good health we must take special care of the health God has given us, deny the unhealthy appetite, eat more coarse [in natural state] food with little grease.”4
Ellen White’s June 6, 1863, vision at the Hilliard home in Otsego, Michigan, had the most extensive influence on Seventh-day Adventists. This vision expanded on what she had been shown previously, and among other things promoted vegetarianism, abstinence from pork, and the link between health and dependence upon divine power.
On December 25, 1865, she received a fourth vision in Rochester, New York, with instruction that Seventh-day Adventists should establish their own health institution. Though it benefited Adventists, she saw it as a ministry of healing to the world. She wrote: “Such an institution, rightly conducted, would be the means of bringing our views before many whom it would be impossible for us to reach by the common course of advocating the truth. . . . By thus being placed under the influence of truth, some will not only obtain relief from bodily infirmities, but will find a healing balm for their sin-sick souls.”5
In response to these visions Adventists began to shift toward a new way of living and a new way of sharing the three angels’ messages. The health message became the “right arm” of the gospel. God’s guidance through the visions and dreams given to Ellen White brought this new emphasis.
Before the 1870s most Seventh-day Adventists received little formal schooling, yet they were passionately oriented toward reading the Bible and understanding its message. This biblically based orientation gave a particular focus to reading and clear thinking. In 1872 Ellen White published Testimony 22, which is a part now of her nine-volumeTestimonies for the Church.
She was shown in vision the importance of an Adventist Christian education. In a nearly 50-page article she presented various principles of proper education. This included such themes as the importance of teaching children and youth to think for themselves and make personal moral decisions; proper use of time in education; the need to cultivate the whole person—mental, physical, moral, and spiritual.
It also linked health principles to education. She concluded the testimony with these words: “The great object of education is to enable us to bring into use the powers which God has given us in such a manner as will best represent the religion of the Bible and promote the glory of God. . . . We need a school where those who are just entering the ministry may be taught at least the common branches of education, and where they may also learn the truths of God’s Word for this time more perfectly.”6
This message led to the establishment of Battle Creek College in 1874, the first of a worldwide network of colleges and universities. During the 1890s elementary and secondary education became an emphasis, and today Seventh-day Adventists have a particular focus on education, operating the largest Protestant school system in the world.
Like publishing and health, education has dramatically influenced the way Adventists share the gospel. This happened through the prophetic guidance of God in the vision-guided writings of Ellen White.
Prophetic Guidance Is a Gift
Sometimes Seventh-day Adventists, and those who are blessed by the publishing, health, and educational ministries of the church, do not realize that God guided in establishing and developing these ministries. God cares enough about people, and about effectively sharing a message of hope to a dying world, that He gave direct guidance through visions and dreams. No wonder Seventh-day Adventists appreciate the writings of Ellen White.
Perhaps the most helpful response is reading her books. The Ministry of Healing and Educationpresent most of the health and educational principles she was shown in vision.
1 Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
2 Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1915), p. 125.
3 James White, “Western Tour,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Nov. 8, 1870, p. 165; Ellen G. White to Robert Barnes, Dec. 4, 1851, in Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: Early Years(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1985), p. 224.
4 Ellen G. White manuscript 1, 1854, “Reproof for Adultery and Neglect of Children,” Feb. 12, 1854, in A. L. White, p. 292.
5 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 1, pp. 492, 493.
6 Ellen G. White, Testimony for the Church, No. 22 (Battle Creek, Mich.: Seventh-day Adventist Pub. Assn., 1872), p. 48; see also Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 160.
Merlin D. Burt is director of the Ellen G. White Estate branch office located at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.