Some Illustrations from Adventist History

Continuing a series on the Bible, ordination, and the upcoming General Conference in San Antonio.

In the early 1800s William Miller’s attention was drawn to Revelation 10. Coming toward the close of the seven trumpets, this chapter had something to say about the period of earth’s history just before the Second Coming. That meant to Miller that Revelation 10 must be speaking specifically to the time in which he lived. Miller rightly saw that Revelation 10 built on Daniel 12 (Rev 10:5-6, cf. Dan 12:7). A sealed book (Dan 12:4) was now open (Rev 10:1-2). What was sealed in Daniel were particularly the prophetic time periods, the 2300-day prophecy (Dan 8:13-14, 26) and the 1260-day prophecy (Dan 12:7, 9). Since those time periods, in his calculation, ended in 1798 and 1843-44 respectively, Miller came to believe that Revelation 10 was talking about the very time period in which he was living, the last 45 years before Jesus’ return (1798-1843). If the cleansing of the sanctuary (Dan 8:14) was Jesus’ Second Coming, the world was about to come to an end. The message was electrifying, the biblical arguments were compelling, and a great movement arose, seeking to prepare the world for the soon return of Jesus.

Everything was in place except the coming of Jesus itself. But it never happened. When Jesus did not come on October 22, 1844, people began to notice that the open scroll in the prophecy would be sweet in the mouth but bitter in the belly (Rev 10:8-10). In other words, there were clear indications in the text that God knew about The Great Disappointment before it happened, but they had completely missed that part of the prophecy. The purpose of Revelation 10 was not to provide the date of the Second Coming, but to galvanize the final proclamation of the gospel to the world (Rev 10:11; 14:6-7). Adventist understanding of Revelation 10 had been perfectly clear and compelling before 1844. But after October 22, 1844, the Adventist pioneers were forced to re-read and re-think what the Bible had to say about their era. Circumstances alter cases.

The same thing can happen with the writings of Ellen White. According to records at the 1919 Bible Conference, the General Conference president was holding some meetings in the city we know as Oslo. Attendees had come from all over Scandinavia. One of the attendees was an extremely thin and pale colporteur based in Hammerfest, at the time the northernmost city in the world. Hammerfest back then rarely received any canned goods, and fruits and vegetables were extremely expensive when they arrived at all. A man on a missionary salary could not afford either. So when A. G. Daniells (the GC President at the time) asked the unhealthy-looking man what he ate back home the man replied, “Mostly the north wind.”

The primary food options in Hammerfest at the time were reindeer meat, fish, potatoes and starchy foods like corn meal mush. The colporteur was an ardent follower of Ellen White’s writings, so he refused to eat any animal products. But the result of his “faithfulness” was the opposite of good health. Daniells advised the man to center his diet on reindeer meat when he got back home. But on the long boat ride back to the United States, the GC President began to feel a bit guilty about his advice and how that might play around the world. So when he returned to the United States he made the long trek across the continent to visit Elmshaven and get Ellen White’s reaction.

According to Daniells, Ellen White’s response was, “Why don’t people use common sense? Don’t they know that we are to be governed by the places we are located?” After further conversation, she was concerned enough to wonder if her Testimonies should not be recalled and “fixed up,” in other words, written in a way that principles given to particular people in particular circumstances could not be absolutized in an unhealthy way. Circumstances alter cases.

To be continued. . .

2 thoughts on “Some Illustrations from Adventist History

  1. Alice

    Interesting story! Excellent point made, too. I believe that EGW would turn over in her grave if she know how folks misused her writings. I love the statement about using common sense! That shows to me that she was a “real” person, not a harsh, unbending, unfeeling, dogmatic person that said things had to be her way or no way.

    Reply

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