Adventist Publishing: A Precursor To Literature Evangelism

At a meeting in Dorchester Massachusetts in 1848, Ellen White was shown that Sabbath keeping Adventists should begin to publish a small paper. After she came out of vision she turned to her husband and placed the burden of that work directly upon him, telling him that she had been shown that he must begin to print a paper which would be small at first but would later turn into streams of light circling clear across the globe.

In 1849, while living in Rocky Hill Connecticut James White was deeply impressed that the time had come for him to begin the work of publishing. White made the eight-mile trek into Middletown in search of a printer and soon the work of publishing was on its way. When the first copies of “The Present Truth” had been folded and addressed, James White packed them into a borrowed carpet bag and walked into Middletown to post them. It was the beginning of what would become a global publishing ministry just as Ellen White had been shown, with publishing houses circling clear across the globe.

The publishing work had been a mainstay of the Millerite movement both as a means of communicating the truth and of broadcasting it. It played a similar role in Adventism with the added dimension of creating a sense of cohesion among the scattered Sabbath keeping Adventists. In 1853 the Review and Herald Publishing House bought a small Washington hand press and relocated its operations to Rochester, New York-based out of the home of James and Ellen White. The publishing house then moved to Battle Creek, Michigan a short while later and continued to grow.

Taking A New Road

A new branch was added to the work in the 1880s when James White met a young Canadian named George King. King desperately wanted to be a preacher and stayed with the White’s for a few weeks in the hopes that James would mentor him. However, spending time observing him James was unconvinced that George King was called to be a preacher. Unsure of how to proceed James White approached Brother Godsmark and explained the situation to him, asking in he would allow King to work on his farm for a year a so. James was hoping that after about a year he would be ready to go out and preach.

King moved in with the Godsmark family and before long they found him preaching in the living room to the empty chairs. They soon arranged for him to preach his first sermon but he bungled his way through it incoherently. It was, to put it mildly, a disaster. After some time in prayer Sister Godsmark gently broke the news to George that he would most likely never become a preacher or hold the attention of a big crowd. She then encouraged him to become a fireside preacher, entering the homes of those who were willing with tracts and books and preaching to them within the circle of their own homes.

The idea appealed to George and he accepted it as God’s will for his life. The next Monday he filled a satchel with tracts, folded a $2 bill into his pocket and set off on his first colpoteuring mission. When Sabbath rolled around he was astonished and overwhelmed by the impact he had made, the people he had been able to connect with and the 62 cents he had managed to earn as well. The following week he was able to sell nearly all of his tracts and soon persuaded the brethren at the Review and Herald office to produce a book specifically designed to sell in homes. The outcome of his request was the publication of the book “Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation” by Uriah Smith.

And so the work of Literature Evangelism began with a man who truly believed he was called to serve in a particular area when all the while God’s calling for him was completely different. Sometimes in life, we set our hearts on a particular goal or direction when all the while God has a more fitting and fruitful place for us to occupy and if we are humble and teachable he will guide our feet in just the right paths.

Further Reading

  • Schawrz, R.W. and Greenleaf, F. (1979) – Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Revised Edition)