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Ellen White as the Lesser Light

“Whatever makes manifest is light.”[1]

The Source of the Term “Lesser Light”

Ellen White’s use of the term “lesser light” did not arise in a vacuum. A sermon that she preached in 1894, aimed partially at exposing the “higher critics” and the dangers of their influence at our schools, also traces the term “lesser light” to its Biblical origin. “Who is the Higher Critic?” she asked. “It is the Lord God of the universe, who has spread the canopy of the heavens above us, and has made the stars and called them forth in their order; that has created the lesser light, the glory of the moon, to come in its order and to shine in our world.”

The moon was the first lesser light. According to White, and indeed, according to the scriptures, the moon had its own “glory.” It was given to shine and to rule “in its order,” to rule the night. “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon.” I Corinthians 15:41. “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: He made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:16-18.

In this metaphor the moon is not represented as having an imperfection. It was “good” both in its creation and in its function. It was given for the same purpose as the sun and in fact gave light only because of the sun. But at those times when the sun was obscured, when even those that might strain their eyes would be unable to see it, the moon was “to rule.”

 

John the Baptist a Lesser Light

In all these ways the metaphor lends itself to the work of prophets in revealing Jesus. And this is how Ellen White first used the term “lesser light.” In an 1873 Review article she invites us to consider the case of John the Baptist.

“John was the lesser light, which was to be followed by a greater light. He was to shake the confidence of the people in their traditions, and call their sins to their remembrance, and lead them to repentance; that they might be prepared to appreciate the work of Christ. God communicated to John by inspiration, illuminating the prophet that he might remove the superstition and darkness from the minds of the honest Jews, which had been, through false teachings for generations, gathering upon them.” Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 04-08-73

An apostle traced the truth that John was the “lesser light” 1800 years before the Review article. In the fourth gospel the Baptist is introduced with Jesus. The framework of the discourse revolves around Jesus as the Greater light that John was to exalt.

“All things were made by [the Word]; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” John 1:3-9.

The surface reader might suppose that the passage denies that John was a light, for Jesus said “He was not that Light.” But while John was not the light of Life that lights every man that comes into the world, he was “a burning and a shining light: and ye [Jewish leaders] were willing for a season to rejoice in his light” John 5:35. The function of John’s light, his message, was to “bear witness of the Light.”

The passage in John 1 affirms that John was “a man sent from God.” As the evening preceded the morning on the first day, the ministries of the Baptist and of Jesus followed each other and were referred to respectively as times of “darkness” and of “great light.” Isaiah had foretold that Jesus would bring “great light” to the Jews that lived in the region of darkness. Jesus timed the fulfillment of this prophecy by the imprisonment of the Baptist. When John could no longer carry the message “Repent” Jesus picked it up and added to it great light and power.

“Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee . . . in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, ‘The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.’ From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17.

John the Baptist is presented to our view a second time in the first chapter of John, and again in contrast with the light emanating from Jesus. This time the apostle extends the contrast. Not only the spoken message of John the Baptist, but the canonical writings of Moses are presented in distinction to the “True Light.” While Moses presented the law, “grace and truth” came from “Jesus Christ.”

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” John 1:14-17.

 

Moses and the Old Testament as Lesser Lights

A full fifteen years before Ellen White ever referred to her own writings as a “lesser light,” she had followed the Apostle John in applying that idea to law as given by Moses. After exalting the Law of God and its relation to the gospel, Ellen wrote

With the first advent of Christ there was ushered in an era of greater light and glory; but it would indeed be sinful ingratitude to despise and ridicule the lesser light because a fuller and more glorious light had dawned. Those who despise the blessings and glory of the Jewish age are not prepared to be benefited by the preaching of the gospel. The brightness of the Father’s glory, and the excellence and perfection of his sacred law, are only understood through the atonement made upon Calvary by his dear Son; but even the atonement loses its significance when the law of God is rejected. — Signs of the Times 08-25-87

The words “lesser light” here carry no overtones of inferiority in the manner of inspiration. Nor do they add weight to the falsehood that Moses’ writings were dated, were good only for his time. On the contrary, the paragraph indicates a distinct relation between the accepting of the lesser light as an essential preparation for the Jews that would accept the greater light. Nor does the term here imply that the writings of Moses were to be judged by the statements of Jesus. Jesus allowed his message, as a newer revelation, to be tested by the prophets.

Then what do the words “lesser light” mean in this context? The English phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” might serve us here. The picture, by revealing a thousand facts at one time and in exactly their proper connection to each other, makes a more accurate and vivid impression on the mind than a verbal description of a scene. The exception might be when the author so writes as to create the picture in the mind. The life of Jesus was a bright picture painted by prophets from Genesis to Revelation in the fullest colors. But His life on earth, witnessed by those that knew Him here, “ushered in an era of greater light and glory.” The Revelation of Himself put seemingly unrelated truths into their proper relation to each other. Jesus was the Greatest Light.

This contrast between Jesus and the ministration set up under Moses surfaces not only in the writings of White and of the Apostle John, but also in the Epistles of Paul.

In the paragraph just preceding the one last quoted, Ellen White makes an illusion to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. She writes “The position that the law of God is rigorous and unbearable casts contempt upon Him who governs the universe in accordance with its holy precepts. A veil is over the hearts of those who hold this view in reading both the Old and the New Testament.” Ibid.

The veil, and artificial source of darkness that can make even the daytime seem like the night, may help us understand even to a greater extent the term “lesser light.” Paul writes that the symbolic services pointing to Jesus “were glorious” and that, while the services were to be done away with, the glory of them was to be recognized to an even greater extent than before by the taking away of the veil.

The ministration of the Holy Spirit under the gospel dispensation was to be “rather glorious.” The lesser light pointed forward to the greater light. “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” 2 Corinthians 3:13-16.

The writings of Moses revealed a great deal about Jesus. Our Savior made belief on Himself conditional on belief in Moses. “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” John 5:46-47. While the writings of Moses were a lesser light, they were an essential light. While through them Jesus is seen “as through a glass darkly” yet by the life of Jesus their revelation is made more distinct. We behold with “open face . . . as in a glass the glory of the Lord” and we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 3:13

How Lesser Lights Refer to their Own Work and Authority

The Voice in the Wilderness, John the Baptist, was challenged regarding his identity.  Like Ellen White, who was asked a number of times if she was “a prophet,” John was grilled regarding his position. For a man that was called of God to exalt Jesus rather than himself, it was difficult for his questioners to get him to say much about his own mission.

“And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?” John 1:19-22.

But while John was hesitant to speak about his own work, Jesus was not nearly so reticent on that point. When He contrasted the light shining from John with that shining from previous prophets, there was not one greater than John. Not one surpassed the Baptist in clarity.  “Behold,” cried the great prophet, “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” In speaking of John, Jesus used a phrase that Ellen White applied to her self when pushed to define her role as a messenger.

And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11:7-13.

So John was the greatest of the prophets, but the least of Christ’s followers was greater than John? If we would find a concise essay on what it means to have greater light, we need look no further than that 1873 article mentioned earlier that explains in what sense “he that is least in the kingdom” had such greatness.

Said Christ, in vindication of John, “But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.” Not only was John a prophet to foretell future events, but he was a child of promise, filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth, and was ordained of God to execute a special work as a reformer, in preparing a people for the reception of Christ . . . . The least disciple that followed Jesus, that witnessed His miracles, and listened to His divine lessons of instruction, and heard the comforting words which fell from His lips, was more privileged than John the Baptist, for he had a clearer light. No other light has shone, or ever will shine, upon the intellect of sinful, fallen man, save that which was, and is, communicated through Him who is the light of the world. Christ and his mission had been but dimly understood through the shadowy sacrifices. Even John thought that the reign of Christ would be in Jerusalem, and that he would set up a temporal kingdom, the subjects of which would be holy.– Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 04-08-73[2]

The seventy that were sent out as missionaries by Christ, though they were not gifted with the prophetic role, nor were they recipients of visions and dreams, yet they had a clearer light than had John. His prophetic views had not revealed to him all that there was to know. He was shown the light that was most essential for the performance of his work. He was to prepare a people for a greater light. Had he been given that greater light, it would have been shared prematurely and would have precluded his simple calls to revival and reformation.

 

Information Sources and Erroneous Opinions of Lesser Lights

The paragraph reveals also that John the prophet was mistaken in his opinions. Did his mistaken understandings regarding Christ’s “temporal kingdom” find their way into his sermons? There is no evidence that they did. But the Bible as a whole presents striking evidence that they did not. Prophets know better than to share opinions. Had he written, as Ellen White has done, his testimonies, would his false ideas have received support from those writings? And if the men that John had sent to question Jesus had borne false witness to him upon their return, would that erroneous information have made it into the last letters written from his jail cell?

The apostasies of some of our Adventist’s greatest leaders—Canright, Smith, Jones, Waggoner, Kellogg, Conraddi, Belden, Henry, Ballenger, to name a few—developed more or less over questions such as this one. Smith returned to his loyalty to the testimonies and one of the letters written to call him back includes an appeal to the case of Paul who received second-hand information regarding the condition of the church in Corinth.

Paul was an inspired apostle, yet the Lord did not reveal to him at all times just the condition of His people. Those who were interested in the prosperity of the church, and saw evils creeping in, presented the matter before him, and from the light which he had previously received he was prepared to judge of the true character of these developments. Because the Lord had not given him a new revelation for that special time, those who were really seeking light did not cast his message aside as only a common letter. No, indeed. The Lord had shown him the difficulties and dangers which would arise in the churches, that when they should develop he might know just how to treat them. He was set for the defense of the church.–Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 65-66

Paul’s revelation regarding the problems in the church came in two steps. First he was shown by God what would come and how to respond. Then he was shown by the members of a visiting family that the dangers predicted were now in full bloom. He had been “set for the defense” of the church (see Philippians 1:17) by advance visions and had come to the defense of the church when he learned that the time had come. But the participation of the family’s news was a stumbling block to those that were not “seeking light.”

He was to watch for souls as one that must render account to God, and should he not take notice of the reports concerning their state of anarchy and division? Most assuredly; and the reproof he sent them was written just as much under the inspiration of the Spirit of God as were any of his epistles. But when these reproofs came, some would not be corrected. They took the position that God had not spoken to them through Paul, that he had merely given them his opinion as a man, and they regarded their own judgment as good as that of Paul . . . . If you seek to turn aside the counsel of God to suit yourselves, if you lessen the confidence of God’s people in the testimonies He has sent them, you are rebelling against God as certainly as were Korah, Dathan, and Abiram . . . . How hard it is to convince souls that have become imbued with a spirit which is not of God.”–Ibid

Some, with similar misconceptions, have supposed that it is in this sense that Ellen White’s writings are a lesser light. They reason that there is in those testimonies a mixture of the truth with the opinions of a Victorian woman. Not one of her statements regarding her “lesser light” lends itself to this idea. And her letter to Uriah Smith goes on to specifically deny the ground for the supposition. Both her written and spoken testimonies are referred to in the letter.

As Christ’s ambassador, I would say to you: Be careful what positions you take. This is God’s work, and you must render to Him an account for the manner in which you treat His message . . . . Faultfinding, censuring, envy, strife for the highest place, were among you. I had seen it and to what it would lead. I feared that effort would cost me my life, but the interest I felt for you led me to speak. God spoke to you that day. Did it make any lasting impression? When I went to Colorado I was so burdened for you that, in my weakness, I wrote many pages to be read at your camp meeting. Weak and trembling, I arose at three o’clock in the morning to write to you. God was speaking through clay. You might say that this communication was only a letter. Yes, it was a letter, but prompted by the Spirit of God, to bring before your minds things that had been shown me. In these letters which I write, in the testimonies I bear, I am presenting to you that which the Lord has presented to me. I do not write one article in the paper expressing merely my own ideas. They are what God has opened before me in vision—the precious rays of light shining from the throne. –Ibid, pp. 66-67

Ellen White was not the first “lesser light” to have her authority challenged. When John the Baptist had briefly answered his inquisitors regarding his mission, they pressed him on his right to act. John responded only by alluding to the fact that they were ignorant that the Messiah was in their midst. The next day he called attention of Christ’s yet-to-be-made atonement. He, like Paul, like Ellen, had been given a vision of future events that would help him identify the Messiah when he saw him. He had been given a token that would tell him when to act.

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.–John 1:32-34.

For three days in a row, John gave witness to Jesus as the Lamb of God. The third day brought Andrew, and through him, Simon Peter to Jesus. See verses 35-44. John had been a lesser light indeed, but a highly essential one nonetheless. Lesser lights are lights indeed. For more light all we have need.

John’s light was received by many people while he lived. But after he had died, the impact of his plain rebukes of sin seemed to wear away. Jesus taught that the reason men began to side-step the “lesser light” was not because it was “lesser”, but because it was “light.”

‘Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth . . . .  He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.” “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” John 5:33, 35; 3:19-21.

Christ’s call to search the scriptures was leveled at the Jews at the conclusion of Christ’s discussion of the greater and lesser lights of Christ’s works and of John’s message. Though the Old Testament books were a lesser light when placed beside the ministry of Jesus, yet they served a salvational purpose that Christ’s ministry could not serve to the Jews to whom He was speaking.

Namely, the Old Testament scriptures were the only common ground of inspiration left between Christ and His hearers. Here in a source they professed to trust the leaders might find their sins rebuked and their lives corrected. They had rejected some time past the teachings of John. They would not put up with the brighter revelation of Jesus. The scriptures were their last flickers of hope from self-deception. They would testify of Jesus.  John 5:36-37.

Ellen White referred to her writings in two unique statements. The first, in point of time, referred to her writings along with the Smith’s book Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation as a “great light.” They were a greater light when contrasted with other books being heavily promoted by the publishing houses at the time. The most prominent of these other books was Bible Readings for the Home Circle. Sister White wrote in regard to this “Men could not see that in these devisings they were closing the door to great light, which would have shone in the place of lesser light.” Pamphlet 79, p. 7.

Bible Readings, largely a compilation of scripture quotations, could not be said to be inferior to The Great Controversy except as it might make faulty connections or add faulty comments to the texts. But it was inferior in that it did not present the very truth that was needed as clearly as The Great Controversy.[3] Though it was a lesser light, it had done a great good. Yet it was not to take the place that the greater light should have had.

 

Ellen White as a Lesser Light

One December morning in California Ellen White penned a few pages about the opportunities presenting themselves to the church. “Dear Brethren and Sisters: The new year is just before us, and plans should be laid for earnest, persevering effort in the Master’s service. There is much to be done to advance the work of God. I have been instructed that the canvassing work is to be revived, and that it is to be carried forward with increasing success.”

Unfortunately, at least for the impact of the first sentence, the pages were not published until January 20 of the new year, 1903. The contents of the letter included a praise to God for the success attending the sale of Christ’s Object Lessons. Adventist were encouraged to promote the larger books now found in the Conflict series. The effort with Object Lessons had “demonstrated what can be done.” The work of selling the small book had prepared many to become full-time canvassers of the larger books who might not have considered the vocation otherwise. As part of an appeal for believers to join the work she wrote, in the second person, of the value of these, her own books.

Sister White is not the originator of these books. They contain the instruction that during her life-work God has been giving her. They contain the precious, comforting light that God has graciously given his servant to be given to the world. From their pages this light is to shine into the hearts of men and women, leading them to the Savior. The Lord has declared that these books are to be scattered throughout the world. There is in them truth, which to the receiver is a savor of life unto life. They are silent witnesses for God. In the past they have been the means in his hands of convicting and converting many souls. Many have read them with eager expectation, and, by reading them, have been led to see the efficacy of Christ’s atonement, and to trust in its power. They have been led to commit the keeping of their souls to their Creator, waiting and hoping for the coming of the Savoir to take his loved ones to their eternal home. In the future, these books are to make the gospel plain to many others, revealing to them the way of salvation.—Review and Herald, January 20, 1903

It is a sad and ironic commentary on human nature that a paragraph following this one would be used to make unfavorable references to the testimonies.  To discredit their timeliness or accuracy or power or authority, and to profess that Ellen White believed and taught the same about her own writings, this has been the use made by some of this article. After these glowing recommendations Ellen White continued.

The Lord has sent his people much instruction, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, and there a little. Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light. O, how much good would be accomplished if the books containing this light were read with a determination to carry out the principles they contain! There would be a thousandfold greater vigilance, a thousandfold more self-denial and resolute effort. And many more would now be rejoicing in the light of present truth.—Ibid.

After this statement God’s messenger returned in the article to her earnest call for Adventist to “circulate these books.” Parts of the letter, for obvious reasons, were included in The Colporteur Evangelist, and in the later and expanded Colporteur Ministry. After its original publication in the Review and Herald, it was taken up by church papers serving other regions of the world. Finally it found its way into the books Evangelism and Selected Messages, volume 3.

So through the Testimonies the church has been given a lesser light. From what she had written during the previous fifty years regarding the testimonies, from what she had written in the article itself, from her several references previously to the work of John the Baptist, it is doubtful that she ever suspected that the term would be used to denigrate the position and authority of the works. Though she only wrote about the subject once, while she traced other ideas numerously, yet this statement has come to be very well known. The typical Adventist college student, knowing nothing of the gist of the article it is drawn from, knows that Ellen White called herself the “lesser light.” How did this come to be?

We will leave that question for the careful thought of the reader. The information in this article is not sufficient to give a certain answer. But a review of what the Bible teaches regarding John the Baptist, Elijah, and Moses will place us on vantage ground for answering a different question— What relation should we have to the lesser light of the Testimonies?

 

New Light and Ellen White

An apparent contradiction of thoughts appears when one reads a great deal of Ellen White’s writings. On one hand, she provides a great deal of extra-Biblical information regarding Biblical stories and experiences. As an example of this one might return to the statement regarding Paul taken from the fifth volume of the Testimonies and partially quoted earlier in this paper.

Those who were interested in the prosperity of the church, and saw evils creeping in, presented the matter before [Paul], and from the light which he had previously received he was prepared to judge of the true character of these developments. Because the Lord had not given him a new revelation for that special time, those who were really seeking light did not cast his message aside as only a common letter. No, indeed. The Lord had shown him the difficulties and dangers which would arise in the churches, that when they should develop he might know just how to treat them. He was set for the defense of the church . . . . But when these reproofs came, some would not be corrected. They took the position that God had not spoken to them through Paul, that he had merely given them his opinion as a man, and they regarded their own judgment as good as that of Paul.–Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 65-66

The facts in italics are not found in the Bible. And they are not meaningless details. They shed great light on both present duties and on the meanings of several Biblical passages. This is just one example of many hundreds that could be quoted. In the Conflict of the Ages series we are given glimpses into the minds of many Biblical characters, into details of their lives, and into the meaning of otherwise obscure passages.

This extra information has proven to be a snare to some who find in it a violation of John’s warning in the last book of the Bible that “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” Revelation 22:18.

And others stumble over the fact that Ellen White said that “the written testimonies are not to give new light” and that “additional truth is not brought out” [4] despite the fact that new thoughts are brought out over and over again. We will consider the context of these statements and of their bearing on the nature and authority of the extra-Biblical content of Ellen White’s revelations.

As found in Testimonies for the Church, volume 5, or as found in Selected Messages, book 3, one might suppose that the Mr. “J” in the following statement was an over zealous fan of Ellen White. “Brother J would confuse the mind by seeking to make it appear that the light God has given through the Testimonies is an addition to the word of God, but in this he presents the matter in a false light.”[5]

It would be well for us to consider that it is not the words in this sentence that lead us to that conclusion. The sentence lends itself perfectly well to the opposite understanding, namely that Mr. J was an opposer of the Testimonies using the don’t-add-to-the-Bible argument against them. When we read a statement that may be understood two different ways, the way that we first and naturally understand it may give us in insight into our own thoughts. We may have projected our own thoughts into the paragraph.

The Testimonies do not Reveal New Light

Brother J was no friend of the Testimonies. The church meetings in his hometown were oppressive. Members were losing interest in attending because “God’s Spirit does not attend them.” The brothers and sisters in his church, many of them, had confidence in the Testimonies but were too timid to speak of that confidence for fear of a verbal assault from “J.”  His was the “spirit of the dragon” making “war upon those who believe that God has communicated light and comfort to them through the Testimonies.” In such a time “it is . . . for the brethren and sisters to assert their liberty and perfect freedom of conscience.” Since “God has given them light . . . it is their privilege to cherish the light and to speak of it to strengthen and encourage one another.”[6]

It was J’s work to present the Testimonies as an unholy addition to the Holy Bible. Even if the church would be reduced to “six” faithful members, it would prosper better without the help of J’s unbelief. After calling him to repentance, Sister White exhorted the church that “the great reason why so many professed disciples of Christ fall into grievous temptation and make work for repentance is that they are deficient in a knowledge of themselves . . . . You do not take your wrongs and errors to heart, and afflict your souls over them. I entreat you to purify your souls by obeying the truth.”

One must marvel that a statement from such a context would ever be used as evidence that Ellen White had written so as to limit the authority of her Testimonies. The irony causes painful reflection. And the short story does a great deal for our understanding of Ellen White’s two statements regarding “new light” not being delivered through the Testimonies. They were not a new source of moral obligations. The obligations were established in Scripture, but were dimly understood and little heeded there.

For example, men might study the Scriptures for years without noticing the contradiction between their weekend recreations and the Word’s injunctions to “let nothing be done for strife or vain glory.” They might indulge their lusts for Tobacco without catching that “him that defiles the temple [of the body] him will God destroy.” Their hardened heart might neglect their mother’s need for attention while reading the fifth commandment without shame. The “narrow way” of Scripture, undesired by the natural man, is hardly discerned by him.

But though the moral obligations were as old as the hills, the application of them in history and in the present is the work of continuing revelation. Here is where Ellen White’s new pieces of information enter. Divinity made no promise to bring an end to the gifts of continuing prophecy or inspired exhortation. While it is true that “If you had made God’s word your study, with a desire to reach the Bible standard and attain to Christian perfection, you would not have needed the Testimonies,” yet it does not follow that in the face of our past neglect of that Word that we can get along just as well today without the Testimonies. The method that God has chosen to help us we can not in safety ignore. This is the context of the no “new light” passage.

I took the precious Bible and surrounded it with the several Testimonies for the Church, given for the people of God. Here, said I, the cases of nearly all are met. The sins they are to shun are pointed out. The counsel that they desire can be found here, given for other cases situated similarly to themselves. God has been pleased to give you line upon line and precept upon precept. But there are not many of you that really know what is contained in the Testimonies. You are not familiar with the Scriptures. It is because you have neglected to acquaint yourselves with God’s inspired Book that He has sought to reach you by simple, direct testimonies, calling your attention to the words of inspiration which you had neglected to obey, and urging you to fashion your lives in accordance with its pure and elevated teachings.

The Lord designs to warn you, to reprove, to counsel, through the testimonies given, and to impress your minds with the importance of the truth of His word. The written testimonies are not to give new light, but to impress vividly upon the heart the truths of inspiration already revealed. Man’s duty to God and to his fellow man has been distinctly specified in God’s word; yet but few of you are obedient to the light given. Additional truth is not brought out; but God has through the Testimonies simplified the great truths already given and in His own chosen way brought them before the people to awaken and impress the mind with them, that all may be left without excuse.—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 605.

Additional truth about what? Additional truth about our duty to God and to our fellow men is not revealed in the testimonies.[7] God has chosen to give more information that “in his own chosen way” has “simplified the great truths already given.” Simple principles regulate the addition of further information.

There is nothing in the word of God to be thrown aside; there is nothing in the plan of redemption that is unimportant or that may be lightly disregarded. The Bible gives us an account of the dealings of God with man from the creation to the coming of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven; it carries us even farther in the future, and opens before us the glories of the city of God, and the beauty and perfection of the earth made new, the saints’ secure abode. But although the long line of events extends through so many centuries, and new and important truths are from time to time developed, that which was truth in the beginning is the truth still. The increased light of the present day does not contradict or make of none effect the dimmer light of the past.—Signs of the Times, 06-03-86, edited and republished on 08-26-13

The gift of prophecy is a progressive one, revealing ever more of the history of this world. The “duty” of the gift is to “reflect light on the past, the present, and the future.” This has been the work of Ellen White in all of her historical works and in those testimonies and article that speak of future events.

The light of prophecy still burns for the guidance of souls, saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” It shines on the pathway of the just to commend, and on the way of the unjust to lead to repentance and conversion. Through its agency sin will be rebuked and iniquity unmasked. It is progressive in the performance of its duty to reflect light on the past, the present, and the future.

If those who have received the light will appreciate and respect the testimonies of the Lord, they will see the religious life in a new light. They will be convicted. They will see the key that unlocks the mysteries that they have never understood. They will lay hold of the precious things that God has given them to profit withal and will be translated from the kingdom of darkness into God’s marvelous light. —My Life Today, p. 42

The Testimonies Do Reveal “New Light”

The statements referred to above where Sister White repudiates the charge that she has added to the restrictions and injunctions imposed by scripture, are not the only statements she makes on the subject of new light. While denying a charge that her later testimonies contradict her earlier writings, she defended the differences between them on the ground of “new light” being revealed “as the people have been prepared” to receive it.

I do not believe that the testimonies in volume 9 contradict any former testimonies with regard to Sunday labor or any other points. We should bear in mind that Christian experience is progressive, and that the Testimonies have taught advanced principles year by year as the work has progressed and as the people have been prepared to receive new light.—Ellen White Biographies, vol. 6, p. 266

The Testimonies do Expose “New Light”

Who in this world has time to study every heresy that intrudes itself into our life? While it is our duty to study to show ourselves approved unto God, that approval will not rest on those that study to the exclusion of the sleep, exercise, outreach, and proper nourishment. To save church members from an impossible duty of studying from scratch every new wind, God has been pleased to give testimonies that quickly categorize and rightfully stigmatize classes of false would-be teachers.

I long daily to be able to do double duty. I have been pleading with the Lord for strength and wisdom to reproduce the writings of the witnesses who were confirmed in the faith [150] in the early history of the message. After the passing of the time in 1844, they received the light and walked in the light, and when the men claiming to have new light would come in with their wonderful messages regarding various points of Scripture, we had, through the moving of the Holy Spirit, testimonies right to the point, which cut off the influence of such messages as Elder A. F. Ballenger has been devoting his time to presenting. This poor man has been working decidedly against the truth that the Holy Spirit has confirmed. When the power of God testifies as to what is truth, that truth is to stand forever as the truth. No after suppositions contrary to the light God has given are to be entertained. —Loma Linda Messages, pp. 149-150

The danger to many today is that they will doubt the light that has already been confirmed, the truth shining through the testimonies of Ellen White. Jesus had comparatively little to say about “new” light, but He had a good deal to say about the danger of losing the light already shining.

“Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.” “Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.” —John 11:9-10; 12:35-36

When the light is rejected, it does not stay around indefinitely. Paul and Barnabas “waxed bold” when speaking to the Jews, who thought themselves to be a “light to them that are in darkness.” Romans 2:19.

“It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles . . And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:46-47

Someone will receive the light joyfully.

 

 

Appendix A

Ellen White wrote five unique statements that incorporated the term “lesser light.” Several of these were republished and at times slightly edited before their republishing. The five sources and the places where one may find them in a republished form are listed below. They are organized according to the entity that is referred to as the “lesser” light in each case.

The Lesser Light of:

John the Baptist                          Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 04-08-73

Republished 1877 Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, pp. 83-84

Edited and Republished in the Desire of Ages, p. 220

Old Testament                            Signs of the Times 08-25-87

Republished in This Day with God, p. 246

Moon as                                    (Sermon Sunday afternoon, October 28, 1894, Campground, Ashfield, N.S.W.) Published in Sermons and Talks, vol. 1, p. 255

EGW as Greater                          Pamphlet 97 (Special Instruction Regarding Royalties written from “Sunnyside,” Cooranbong, March 11, 1899.) p. 7

EGW as Lesser                           Review and Herald 01-20-03; written from “Elmshaven,” St. Helena, CA. Dec. 6, 1902.

Republished in the Southern Watchman 02-02-04

Republished in (Australasian) Union Conference Record 03-15-05

Republished in Pamphlet 164

Republished in Colporteur Evangelist, p. 37

Republished in Colporteur Ministry, pp. 125-126

Republished in Selected Messages Book 3, p. 30

                                                     Republished in Evangelism, p. 257
Appendix B

I was shown that your meetings are losing interest because God’s Spirit does not attend them. The brethren and sisters are in complete bondage because of these two men. They dare not exercise their freedom and speak out their faith in the simplicity of their souls, for here is Brother J, with his cool, severe, critical eye, watching and ready to catch at any word which will give him a chance to exercise the faculties of his unbelieving mind. Between these two, the Spirit of God is grieved away from the meetings. When brethren manifest 246 the spirit of the dragon, to make war upon those who believe that God has communicated light and comfort to them through the Testimonies, it is time for the brethren and sisters to assert their liberty and perfect freedom of conscience. God has given them light, and it is their privilege to cherish the light and to speak of it to strengthen and encourage one another. Brother J would confuse the mind by seeking to make it appear that the light God has given through the Testimonies is an addition to the word of God, but in this he presents the matter in a false light. God has seen fit in this manner to bring the minds of His people to His word, to give them a clearer understanding of it.

The church of —– are growing weaker and weaker because of the influence which has been exerted over them—not an influence to help them advance, but to clog the wheels. It is the privilege of Brother J to cast aside his unbelief and to advance with the light, if he will. If he refuses to do this, the cause of God will advance all the same without his aid. But God designs that a change shall be made in the church at —–. They will either advance or retrograde. God can do more with six souls who are united and of the same mind and judgment, than with scores of men who do as Brother J and G have been doing. They have brought with them into the meeting, not angels of light, but angels of darkness. The meetings have been unprofitable and sometimes a positive injury. God calls for these men to come over on the Lord’s side and to be united with the body, or to cease hindering those who would be wholly for the Lord.  The great reason why so many professed disciples of Christ fall into grievous temptation and make work for repentance is that they are deficient in a knowledge of themselves. Here is where Peter was so thoroughly sifted by the enemy. Here is where thousands will make shipwreck of faith. You do not take your wrongs and errors to heart, and afflict your souls over them. I entreat you to purify your souls by obeying the truth. Connect yourselves with heaven. And may the Lord save you from self-deception.—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 245-246

 

Appendix C

The sayings of the Lord Jesus Christ are of value beyond all computation. Those who casually read them do not comprehend their depths of meaning. They are life and light, and upon their reception depends the soul’s salvation. They are truth and righteousness, and are to be carefully studied and practiced. But the sayings of Christ are not a new revelation. The principles which he expounded were announced to Moses from the pillar of cloud, and to the prophets, who spoke and wrote as they were moved upon by the Holy Spirit. But the Jews had departed from the light and the grace that had been given them, and had not practised the sacred teachings that were essential for their present, spiritual help and for their eternal interests. Because of this, the words of Christ fell upon the ears of the Jewish nation as a new revelation. They were like blind men whose eyes were opened to behold wonderful things; their hearts burned within them as he opened the Scriptures to them. Although he had not been known as a student in any of their schools, Christ told them that he had not been untaught and uneducated. He taught that which he had learned of God. He said, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will [he will not remain in ignorance], he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”  {RH, July 7, 1896 par. 6} Emphasis Supplied.



[1] “But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Ephesians 5:13

[2] This passage was republished in Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 2, p. 83-84 (1877). It was edited and became part of the Desire of Ages eleven years later. In its last form a few thoughts were added. “Even John had not fully comprehended the future, immortal life through the Savior. Aside from the joy that John found in his mission, his life had been one of sorrow.” In this original the followers of Jesus were “more privileged” because they had “clearer light.” In the Desire of Ages they were “therefore said to be greater than he.” See page 220.

[3] “This was the way with The Great Controversy. This book was not even left to have a fair

chance in being handled with Bible Readings. The Bible Readings was brought in before the books of great importance—Great Controversy and Daniel and Revelation –which relate to the vital interests before us. Through the special instruction to the canvassing agents,  The Great Controversy  had little opportunity to be circulated, and the very light which the people needed for that time was nearly eclipsed.”—Manuscript Releases, vol. 19, p. 196

[4] Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 165

[5] Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 663; Selected Messages, bk 3, p. 30

[6] See Appendix B for the entire passage

[7] Ellen also wrote that the words of Jesus, though “of value beyond all computation,” were not a “new revelation.” RH, July 7, 1896. See Appendix C for the paragraph.

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