Ellen White’s Early Ministry

The coughing was incessant and brutal. Propped up against her pillows Ellen’s body convulsed painfully with each spasm and soon she could feel the raw taste of fresh blood rushing through her mouth. Hurriedly she reached for the spitoon by her bedside. Laying it aside she sank back against the pillows and stared into the darkness. Her health had taken a turn for the worse after October 22 had come and gone. She sighed. The disappointment had been too bitter and too deep to bear. She had felt as though her heart would break in two. It didn’t take long for the consumption to rage almost unchecked through her already frail 17-year-old body.

She fingered the edge of her sheet and thought about the invitation her friend Elizabeth Haines had extended to her. Elizabeth lived just across the causeway in South Portland and was an Advent believer as well. I’m in no condition to travel, even across the causeway Ellen thought to herself.

“But you need the encouragement that fellowship with like-minded believers can bring” she hoarsely whispered to herself.

Yes. she did. She would accept Elizabeth’s invitation and spend some time in the Haines home.

A few days later, on a cold December morning in 1844, Ellen Harmon, Elizabeth Haines, and three other young women knelt together for family worship. While they were praying Ellen felt the power of God resting on her as she had never felt it before and she was given her first vision. In it, she was shown the Advent people traveling to the New Jerusalem with a bright light, which was the midnight cry behind them and Jesus Himself leading the way before them. After the vision, Ellen felt prompted to share what she had been shown but she shrank from it choosing instead to jump into a sleigh and run away from her home in order to avoid a meeting of Advent believers that was scheduled to take place there.

Concerns

One of Ellen’s main concerns about sharing her vision was the opposition she was sure she would face. At the time the vision was given, she along with all the other Adventists in Portland had lost their confidence in the midnight cry. While they still believed in the 2300 day prophecy they had lost confidence in the October 22nd date and were looking for the fulfilment of the prophecy sometime in the future. Ellen’s vision struck directly at the heart of that popular concept and reaffirmed the midnight cry. When she ran away from home in order to avoid the Advent meeting she found herself in the home of a close friend. When she arrived she found Joseph Turner in the house. Turner was the leader of the Portland Adventists and was also a leading Millerite Editor. Turner encouraged her to go back home and share her vision but Ellen refused to do it.

She prayed and wrestled over the conviction to share the vision for several days and finally at another meeting of Adventists which took place in her home she shared the vision. The first time she shared the vision was only a few days after she had received it in Elizabeth Haines home. A week after she shared her first vision she was given a second vision. In it, she was shown the trials and the opposition she would have to face as the Lord’s messenger but the attending angel assured her that the grace of God would be sufficient for her and that God Himself would sustain her. Ellen fought against the call. She pleaded with God to take the burden away from her and place it upon someone qualified to bear its responsibilities but all she could hear were the words of the angels echoing loudly in her ears; “Make known to others what I have revealed to you”.

But she couldn’t bring herself to submit to such a phenomenally large calling and the more she resisted it the more she felt the peace of God being withdrawn from her. Soon she began to refuse to attend meetings that were held in her home. One evening however she was persuaded to attend a meeting and John Pearson, another Adventist who was present at the time, encouraged her to accept God’s calling. Ellen struggled against his words and those present, seeing her anxiety began to pray for her. While they were praying she felt the thick blanket of darkness that had enveloped her begin to lift and light shone all around her. Suddenly out of nowhere something like a ball of fire struck her right over the heart and she collapsed. She then seemed to be in the presence of angels and one of them repeated the words “Make known to others what I have revealed to you”, then adding “deliver the message faithfully. Endure unto the end and you shall eat the fruit of the tree of life and drink the water of life”.

The entire episode provided the assurance that Ellen needed to surrender to God’s call. Gathering her courage and with trembling faith, she placed her frail hand in the hand of God. Over the following 70 years of service, God never failed her and she never looked back.

Citations and Further Reading

  • Maxwell, C.M. (1976) – Tell it to the World: The Story of Seventh-Day Adventists
  • White, A.L. (1985) – Ellen G. White: Volume 1 – The Early Years: 1827-1862
  • Knight, G.R. (1999) – A Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists (3rd Edition)
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 1)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)