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Ellen G. White: The Early Years: 1827-1862 (vol. 1)

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    A Bitter Lesson on Compromising on Doctrinal Truth

    This was a period of learning on the part of the leaders of the emerging church. On their first visit to Wisconsin in late May, 1854, James and Ellen White met J. M. Stephenson and D. P. Hall, former ministers among the first-day Adventists who, under J. H. Waggoner's ministry, had accepted the third angel's message. The acquisition of the two men doubled the ministerial force in Wisconsin. During the preceding months both had been in communication with White. On meeting them, he was favorably impressed and asked both of them to write for the Review. There was just one catch in the matter. Both Stephenson and Hall held the “age to come” doctrine, which presented the prospect of a second probation following the millennium. Months later White told the story of his contacts with these men:1BIO 310.7

    When we were in Eldorado, Wisconsin, June, 1854, Elders Stephenson and Hall stated to us that they were firm believers in the “age to come.” We asked them if they had ever known one sinner converted, or a backslider reclaimed, as the fruits of preaching “age to come.”1BIO 311.1

    The answer was “No.”1BIO 311.2

    We then asked if that, in their opinion, much harm had not been the result of preaching “age to come,” in dividing the Advent people.1BIO 311.3

    The answer was, “Yes.”1BIO 311.4

    We inquired, “Then why preach it?”1BIO 311.5

    The reply was “We are willing to waive the subject, and unite on the third angel's message, if those who oppose the ‘age to come’ will do the same.”1BIO 311.6

    We then stated that we could speak in behalf of Brethren East, that they would be willing to waive the subject.1BIO 311.7

    At this point in the conversation, said Elder Stephenson, “The ‘age to come’ is premature. It is future truth, it is not the present truth, and if the third angel's message had been presented to us at the time the ‘age to come’ was, we would not have taken hold of the ‘age to come.’”—Ibid.1BIO 311.8

    White wrote that up to the time of the conference at Mill Grove, New York, in April, 1855, nothing appeared in the Review on the “age to come.” In the meantime White had invited Stephenson and Hall to come to the East. At the commencement of the year 1855, D. P. Hall was in Pennsylvania and New York holding meetings (Ibid.February 20, 1855). A little later a notice appeared in the Review.1BIO 311.9

    It is now expected that Brethren Hall and Stephenson, of Wisconsin, will visit this State the first of April, when it will be proper to have two or three conferences in the State. Those churches wishing conferences will please send in requests in season to give notice in the next Review.—Ibid., March 20, 18551BIO 312.1

    The Review of April 3 carried an appeal for funds to provide a tent in Wisconsin for the use of the two ministers. A conference was called for Jackson, Michigan, which they would attend. White reported that at this conference “Brethren Stephenson and Hall, of Wisconsin, were present, ... and improved most of the time in preaching the Word.”—Ibid., May 1, 1855. The visiting ministers attended other weekend conferences as they made their way east. They were at the Mill Grove meeting in western New York the weekend of April 7 and 8 and here again met Elder White.1BIO 312.2

    Quite sure that a discussion of the “age to come” could not be avoided, White proposed to Stephenson that they discuss the doctrine in tracts, each meeting the expense of publication. This was rejected, and at that point “Stephenson pronounced the covenant, made at Eldorado, June, 1854, to use his own words, ‘null and void.’”—Ibid., December 4, 1855. When he urged that he be given access to present his views to the church through the Review, White referred him to the publishing committee, promising that he would abide by the committee decision. While in Michigan and New York the two men attended several conferences, including the one at Rochester, May 26 and 27 (Ibid., June 12, 1855). Some seventy-five were present on Sabbath, mostly Sabbathkeepers, and on Sunday about eight hundred came out to “hear the word of the Lord” (Ibid.).1BIO 312.3

    While in Rochester, James White took the visiting ministers into his confidence, opening up to them the conditions and work of the office. What he did not at the time discern was opened up a few months later to Ellen White in vision:1BIO 312.4

    While my husband was openhearted and unsuspecting, seeking ways to remove their jealousy, and frankly opening to them the affairs of the office, and trying to help them, they were watching for evil, and observing everything with a jealous eye.—Testimonies for the Church, 1:117.1BIO 312.5

    A few days after the visit of Stephenson and Hall, James and Ellen White started on a tour through New England. The visiting ministers returned to Wisconsin to carry on evangelistic meetings in the new tent secured for their use. At this time the Messenger party, roundly denounced by Stephenson (The Review and Herald, March 20, 1855), was breaking up. But more of this later.1BIO 313.1

    On their return to Wisconsin, Stephenson and Hall prepared for tent meetings, which they called for October 5 and 6, urging good attendance as “topics of vital interest will be investigated.”—Ibid., September 4, 1855. At the conference they openly denounced the Review and decided to withdraw their support from it (Ibid., December 4, 1855). They now turned to the Messenger of Truth. This was a severe blow to James White, who a year before had compromised on the matter of freedom to discuss a point of error in doctrine.1BIO 313.2

    In a vision given to Ellen White at the close of the conference held in Battle Creek in November, the whole matter was opened up to her. She wrote:1BIO 313.3

    I was shown the case of Stephenson and Hall of Wisconsin. I saw that while we were in Wisconsin, in June, 1854, they were convicted that the visions were of God; but they examined them and compared them with their views of the “age to come,” and because the visions did not agree with these, they sacrificed the visions for the “age to come.” And while on their journey east last spring, they both were wrong and designing.1BIO 313.4

    They have stumbled over the “age to come,” and they are ready to take any course to injure the Review; its friends must be awake and do what they can to save the children of God from deception. These men are uniting with a lying and corrupt people. They have evidence of this. And while they were professing sympathy and union with my husband, they (especially Stephenson) were biting like an adder behind his back. While their words were smooth with him, they were inflaming Wisconsin against the Review and its conductors. Their object has been to have the Review publish the “age to come” theory, or to destroy its influence.—Testimonies for the Church, 1:116, 117.1BIO 313.5

    Ellen White was shown the shortness of the life of the opposition:1BIO 314.1

    Said the angel as I beheld them: “Think ye, feeble man, that you can stay the work of God? Feeble man, one touch of His finger can lay thee prostrate. He will suffer thee but a little while.”—Ibid., 1:117.1BIO 314.2

    Then the whole matter was put in its proper perspective:1BIO 314.3

    I was pointed back to the rise of the Advent doctrine, and even before that time, and saw that there had not been a parallel to the deception, misrepresentation, and falsehood that has been practiced by the Messenger party, or such an association of corrupt hearts under a cloak of religion. Some honest hearts have been influenced by them.... I saw that such will have evidence of the truth of these matters. The church of God should move straight along, as though there were not such a people in the world.—Ibid.

    Within a year or two the Messenger party and the “age to come” advocates who united with the party fell apart and lost all influence.1BIO 314.4

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