By Charles White
I am a retired Adventist pastor and a great-grandson of James and Ellen White. My father was W.C. White’s youngest son. My dad, Francis, was not quite two when Ellen died in 1915, so obviously I never met my great-grandmother. But I did know personally family members who knew her—my grandmother and my aunts and uncles. These relatives were loving, caring Christian people, and they remembered her with warmth and aﬀection. They frequently shared their recollections with me.
Some people may think Ellen White’s primary role in the early Adventist Church was to tell people what do—frequently in negative terms. They may feel her primary work was to give correction, instruction, admonition, and criticism. I have heard it said, “Wind up the Ellen White doll, and what does she say? ’No, No, No, No.’” Her “testimonies” were very direct, and they can even seem harsh. Faithfully, though sometimes reluctantly, she administered these responsibilities. However, though these messages were a part of her prophetic role, they were not at the heart of her ministry. Admonition was not her calling or her first love.
What was it that gave direction to my great-grandmother’s life and ministry? What were the passions that empowered her to work, and speak, and write, and live as she did? I would suggest that there were three:
1. Ellen White had a great love for God’s Word. She referred to the Bible as the “greater light” and to her writings as the “lesser light.” She also said, “The Bible is the only rule of faith and doctrine” (Christian Education, p. 118). At her last General Conference in 1909, her final statement to the delegates as she held up the pulpit Bible was, “I commend to you this Book.”
“I would go the ends of the earth to bring men and women a knowledge of the truth.”
2. She had a deep love for those who were without Christ. She said, “I have pledged that every energy of my life should be devoted to the work of winning souls to Him” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 103). Her most quoted text was Matthew 5:14-16: “You are the light of the world.…” At a camp meeting in Fresno at age 75, she stated, “I would go the ends of the earth to bring men and women a knowledge of the truth” (The Review and Herald, Nov. 11, 1902).
3. She had a passion for Jesus and for God’s amazing love. Shortly after her conversion, she wrote, “I felt an inexpressible love for God.… My views of the Father were changed. I now looked upon Him as a kind and tender parent, rather than a stern tyrant.… My heart went out toward Him in a deep and fervent love.… I felt the assurance of an indwelling Saviour” (Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, p. 39).
These are three great themes that gave direction and purpose to her ministry and mission. She loved the LIGHT. She loved the LOST. She loved the LORD. I see the central focus and passion of her life as being rooted in this third theme: the amazing love of God in Jesus.
She stated a number of times, “Christ’s favorite theme was the paternal character and abundant love of God” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 55). I would suggest that this was also my great-grandmother’s “favorite theme.” She spoke and wrote of God’s love in Jesus throughout the course of her 70 years of service and ministry.
“Christ’s favorite theme was the paternal character and abundant love of God.”
How appropriate that October is Spirit of Prophecy month in the Recorder and that the general theme for this issue is love. What an opportunity to focus on vital priorities that transform our lives and can a make a diﬀerence in our homes, in the workplace, and in our communities.
Let me share a brief sampling of some phrases and quotes that illustrate Ellen White’s passion for God’s love in Jesus.
She wrote about “the infinite, exhaustless love of God” that could never be fully comprehended in its length and breadth, depth and height (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 740).
After writing for an extended period of time, she emotionally penned, “I lay down the pen, and exclaim, O what love! What wondrous love! The most exalted language cannot describe the glory of heaven, nor the matchless depths of a Saviour’s love” (Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, pp. 210-211).
From her diary of July 15, 1892, we read, “My whole being longs after the Lord. I am not content to be satisfied with occasional flashes of light. I must have more.”
Ellen White did not just write thematically or theoretically. Her frequent emphasis was on personal experience and appropriation of God’s love. “What shall account for the great love wherewith He has loved us? We cannot understand it, but we can know it is true in our own experience” (The Desire of Ages, p. 327). Again, she wrote: “If Christ be in us the hope of glory, we shall discover such matchless charms [a favorite expression of EGW] in Him that the soul will be enamored” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 162) Also, from her classic book on the life of Christ: “The love of Christ will animate the believer with new life” (The Desire of Ages, p. 280).
Just a year before her death, Ellen White was interviewed by C.C. Crisler, one of her assistants. She made this meaningful statement: “I find tears running down my cheeks when I think of what the Lord is to His children, and when I contemplate His goodness, His mercy, and His tender compassion” (C.C. Crisler, July 2, 1914).
Ella Mae (White) Robinson was the first of Ellen White’s grandchildren. She spent a lot of time with her grandmother and often traveled with her. My Aunt Ella was 33 years old when Ellen passed away. Jim Nix (current director of the E. G. White Estate) had the foresight to interview Ella before she died in the ‘70s. He asked her for her favorite recollection of her grandmother, and this was her response:
“I see grandma standing in the pulpit, dressed in her loose fitting, black sack suit, narrow cuﬀs of white, narrow white collar secured at the throat by a small brooch. She’s been telling of the matchless love of Christ in suﬀering ignominy and death and even running the risk of eternal separation from His Father in heaven by taking upon Himself the sins of the world. She pauses, looks up, and with one hand resting on the desk and the other lifted heavenward she exclaims in a ringing voice, ‘O Jesus how I love you, how I love you, how I love you.’ There is a deep hush. Heaven is very near.”
Ellen White was a pioneer and visionary who was instrumental in helping establish Adventism, especially here in the West. Her deep passion was God’s love in Jesus. This passion infuses her writings, and we can recapture it when we read her messages. What a transformation it makes in our lives when we experience and comprehend how much God loves us and those around us. We can find the encouragement and inspiration to let our LIGHT shine, sharing with the LOST our love for the LORD.
Charles White, great-grandson of Ellen White, retired from Camelback church in Phoenix, Arizona, and hosts Ellen G. White seminars.