Today, teenagers are often found doing the most amazing things: Climbing extremely high summits; competing on the world's premier playing fields such as Wimbledon; or even getting high-dollar book contracts. It doesn't seem all that out of place for someone not yet a legal adult to be doing very "grown up" things in the public sphere.

Ellen White's world – and the world of the Millerite believers following the "Great Disappointment" of 1844 – was vastly different. Yes, young people were often working, even marrying, and having children, by the time they reached Ellen's age of 17 that year.

But it was still somewhat unusual in 1844 for young adults to strike out as public messengers of God, the stories of a young David versus Goliath or a medieval Joan of Arc notwithstanding. On top of that, the faith to which Ellen subscribed had just suffered the most public, and embarrassing, of defeats in October 1844, when the final prediction of Christ's return failed.

Yet when God speaks, when His angels give someone instruction, there's little choice but to obey; refusing can bring tragic consequences. Indeed, William Foy and Hazen Foss had each been given the same visions by God, but each had refused the directive to share those visions. It then fell to Ellen White to both receive the visions and the mandate to share them in public ministry.(1)

Why Foy, an African-American, and Foss, a brother-in-law to Ellen White, refused to preach these visions, is lost to history. Foy wrote about them, but Foss kept silent until it was too late. "You have grieved away the Spirit of the Lord," Foss was told, and he eventually lost all interest in religion.

Ellen received her first vision in December of 1844, less than two months after the day of the Great Disappointment. It was, as it was with Foy, a vision of God's blessings of the faithful and the fate of the wicked. And, as with Foss, Ellen was instructed to share the vision with others, in public. But for the shy, young, Ellen Harmon – she had not yet met James White, let alone married him – this was a daunting task.

"After I had the vision and God gave me light, He bade me deliver it to the band, but I shrank from it. I was young, and I thought they would not receive it from me," Ellen wrote some years later to Joseph Bates, another co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist movement.(2) Yet she eventually submitted to the heavenly direction and shared this vision with the Advent community in Portland, Maine. Eventually, William Foy heard Ellen's account and confirmed that it equaled the vision he, Foy, had received.

Ellen soon received another vision in which God told the young woman of her destiny, to minister to fellow believers: "About one week after this the Lord gave me another view, and showed me the trials I must pass through; that I must go and relate to others what he had revealed to me; that I should meet with great opposition, and suffer anguish of spirit. Said the angel, 'The grace of God is sufficient for you; he will sustain you.'”(3)

In the middle of January 1845, Ellen Harmon received one further assurance of the Lord's approval of her work: An angel promised that God would protect her and help keep her from self-exaltation.

The angel then added, “Deliver the message faithfully. Endure unto the end and you shall eat the fruit of the tree of life and drink of the water of life.”(4)

As her grandson Arthur L. White noted, "With this assurance in her heart Ellen committed herself to the Lord, ready to do His bidding whatever that might be or whatever the cost."(5)

The details that were to unfold would show a bidding that was global in scope, but one also not without a great personal cost.

 

(1) Nix, James R., "The Third Prophet Spoke Forth," Adventist Review, December 4, 1986, pg. 22.

(2) White, Ellen G., MR No. 281—Three Early Letters, Manuscript Releases Volume 5, page 95.

(3) White, Ellen G., Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 2, page 35.

(4) White, Ellen G. and James, "Life Sketches of James White and Ellen G. White 1880," page 196.

(5) White, Arthur L., Ellen G. White: The Early Years: 1827-1862 (vol. 1), page 65