The Bible provides 10 key indicators that determine whether a person is truly receiving visions from God. They are …
- A true prophet’s predictions will “come to pass” (Jeremiah 28:9)
- He will glorify God rather than himself (John 16:13)
- He does not give his own private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20, 21)
- He points out sin (Micah 3:5-8)
- He warns of coming judgment (Isaiah 24:20, 21)
- He edifies the church (1 Corinthians 14:3, 4)
- His message harmonizes with the Bible (Isaiah 8:20)
- He teaches that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:1-3)
- He has a Christian character (Matthew 7:16-20).
- He is obedient to the will of God (Deuteronomy 18:18).
Modern psychics simply don’t measure up!. Their predictions fail often. They sometimes seem more interested in acquiring fame than in glorifying God. They rarely point out sin or warn of judgment. They often espouse astrology, palm reading, reincarnation, and spirit communication — all of which are condemned in the Word of God.
What’s worse, they don’t adhere to biblical teaching, nor do they generally teach the Christian doctrine of the incarnation of Christ. And the fruits of their teachings, as well as their lives, are often out of harmony with the Bible. Jesus says of them, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).
Prophets After Jesus?
It’s valid to ask if we should expect new prophets after Jesus, since He is the Lord and the ultimate messenger and revealer of the Father.
However, notice Jesus’ warning about knowing false prophets by their fruit. He is speaking to what will soon become the New Testament Church. Why should He warn us of false prophets if there would be no prophets after Him? On the same point, in Ephesians 4:8–13 (also 1 Corinthians 12:28), Paul said that the gifts of the Spirit would be present “till we all come in the unity of the faith.” He details those gifts, listing “prophets” second only to “apostles.” Even more explicitly, Paul wrote that the Christian church “waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” would “come short in no gift.”
Apparently, the gift of prophecy is as essential to the present-day church as it was in the Old Testament. And according to the prophet Joel, the gift of prophecy will continue to be manifest until the end of time. He predicted that “sons and daughters” would “prophesy” when God’s Spirit was poured out prior to the second advent of Jesus, which he called “the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Joel 2:28, 29).
If indeed the prophetic gift is alive and well, is there anyone in recent history who manifested this gift, whose ministry bears the marks of a true prophet of God? It is our purpose to examine the ministry of Ellen White in this fashion, to determine whether she truly did receive visions from the Lord.
Testing Ellen's Gifts
Ellen White’s productive career was enhanced by her character. Generous, kind, and honest, she exemplified the Christian virtues she wrote about. For instance, despite the potential of living extravagantly off the royalties of her written work, she passed much of it on to the spread of the gospel, financially supporting church projects, and helping worthy students going to Christian schools.
For many years, she and her husband did not receive a salary, except that which was needed to provide food and clothing. Their home was a thoroughfare of visitors, workers and boarders, which they took in to assist others in their personal expenses. Domestic and office workers, who were needed to carry on church work, such as publishing, were often paid out of the White’s personal funds.
Nor was Ellen an inaccessible intellectual. By all accounts, she was a friendly neighbor, a loving wife and mother, a diligent housekeeper, and a visitor of the sick and downtrodden. She was well acquainted with the woes of humanity too: losing two of her children to disease — a very common occurrence in the 19th century.
The life of Ellen was both conventional — she played the role of wife, mother, housekeeper and friend — and unconventional, as she responded to God’s call to be His messenger. These two aspects of her person were balanced with uncommon finesse.
But none of this, her personal qualities nor her achievements, prove that she possessed a prophetic gift. Although she didn’t choose to call herself a prophet, she did claim to convey messages from heaven. Why should we believe them? Her visions could have been lies or delusions and her writing could have been the product of hypergraphia or delusion.
Not until we subject her ministry to the 10 tests of a true prophet can we know if her gift was genuine prophecy or pure madness. We’ll do just that in the next section.
The Test Results
Unfortunately, no DNA testing for prophets exists. But there are the biblical criteria that have been outlined for us. Let us now turn our attention to testing the ministry and gifts of Ellen White with our biblically based testing process.
A true prophet’s predictions will “come to pass” (Jeremiah 28:9).
The fulfillments of this test in the ministry of Ellen are many, but one of the most startling may be the 1906 San Francisco/Oakland earthquake. Having received warnings of impending judgment upon the city for many years prior, she had her final and most detailed vision regarding its destruction on April 16, 1906. She saw houses “shaken like a reed in the wind” and buildings falling to the ground. “Pleasure resorts, theaters, hotels, and homes of the wealthy were shaken and shattered. Many lives were blotted out of existence, and the air was filled with the shrieks of the injured and the terrified. … It seemed that the forbearance of God was exhausted, and the judgment day had come.”
Historical accounts reveal that two days later there was no sign of impending doom until 5:12 a.m., when the San Andreas fault slipped over nearly 270 miles, crumbling the very foundations of the city. In its wake, the quake left 490 city blocks in a state of total devastation and more than 225,000 homeless people, along with over 800 dead and 1,500 injured. Several insurance companies went bankrupt trying to meet the claims.
If this was the only example of a prediction fulfilled, we could chalk it up to a lucky guess. But consistently, Ellen’s predictions concerning political, religious, and personal affairs were fulfilled. The exception to these are her "conditional prophecies"—or predictions of God's judgment that did not occur because the behavior of people changed in response to those warnings.
We’ll share many more of her incredible visions later. For now, what about the other tests?
A true prophet will glorify God rather than himself (John 16:13).
The central theme of Ellen’s writings was The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan. Her efforts were always aimed at bringing people to the matchless grace of Christ. Her famous Conflict of the Ages books begin and end with the phrase “God is love.” She said, “We must gather about the cross. Christ and Him crucified should be the theme of contemplation, of conversation, and of our most joyful emotion.” She added, “Make Christ first and last and best in everything.”
Few communicators of her caliber refrained from taking credit and glory for themselves. In spite of her great accomplishments, Ellen felt a perpetual sense of dependency upon God. Of public speaking, she said, “When I am about to speak to the people … I have such a sense of weakness that it seems like an impossibility to stand before the congregation.” She would then pray, “Jesus, I hang my helpless soul upon Thee; Thou will not suffer me to be brought into confusion.”
A true prophet does not give his own private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20, 21).
Ever a servant of God and man, a true prophet relates information received through revelation, then submits that information to the scrutiny of the body of believers. These believers are to take the prophet’s word and compare it with the Word of God, as did the Bereans of Acts 17. These students both “received the word with all readiness of mind,” and “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” Proving the message of Paul by comparing it with scripture was part of the process of incorporating his teaching into the church.
Similarly, Ellen called believers to a decision concerning her writings: “My work … bears the stamp of God or the stamp of the enemy. There is no halfway work in the matter. The Testimonies ["the testimonies” was the term she often used for her writings, especially counsels to the church] are of the Spirit of God, or of the devil.” She went on to admonish believers to apply the same test to her messages as they would apply to any: “If the Testimonies speak not according to the word of God, reject them.” Truly Ellen’s ministry bears the evidence of accountability toward both God and man.
A true prophet points out sin (Isaiah 30:10).
In a warning to Judah, Isaiah pointed out one of their sins. “The rebellious people … which say … to the prophets, Prophecy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.” It is our natural bent to want to hear soothing assurances from the lips of religious leaders. Paul told Timothy that the time would come when [e[even church members]ill not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3,4).
From the outset of her ministry, Ellen knew that she would be asked to deliver messages of reproof to many. Not only did her shyness make this an excruciating task, but she was often estranged from those who preferred denial. It was such times she said, “The unpleasant duty has been laid upon me to reprove wrongs and to reveal hidden sins.”
A true prophet warns of coming judgment (Isaiah 24:20, 21).
Not only did Ellen White warn of the destruction of San Francisco and Oakland, but other large cities such as Chicago. She also warned of judgments on her own church’s institutions for unchristian practices, such as publishing degrading literature.
A true prophet edifies the church (1 Corinthians 14:3, 4).
A perusal of her writings reveal that the bulk of them were counsels for the church. Her 5,274 page, nine-volume series called Testimonies for the Church consist of “advice, visions and counsel dealing with institutional development, church organization, home and foreign mission endeavors, social and health reforms, etc.”
Teaming her gifts with the administrative knowledge of her husband, she helped nurture a denomination that grew in her lifetime from a handful of scattered followers to a total of 136,879 members attending 3,876 churches.
A true prophet’s message harmonizes with the Bible (Isaiah 8:20).
Each of her books has literally hundreds of scriptural references. The Scripture Index to 77 of her principal books, not counting periodical articles, contains approximately 30,000 references. Her writings are to the Bible what a state map is to a national map. They agree with the Word without merely reiterating it. In some areas, her writings provide additional detail for present-day application. This is done in such a way as to reinforce, rather than detract from, the message of Scripture.
Another helpful analogy of her writings flows from her own pen. She called her writings “a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light.” This analogy has been experienced by countless seekers who are led to understand and revere the Word of God through her writings.
A true prophet teaches that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:1-3).
Of Jesus’ incarnation, Ellen’s own words are: “[G[God]ave [J[Jesus]ot only to bear our sins, and to die as our sacrifice; He gave Him to the fallen race. To assure us of His immutable counsel of peace, God gave His only-begotten Son to become one of the human family, forever to retain His human nature.”
A true prophet has a Christian character (Matthew 7:16-20).
The New York “Independent” published the following at the time of Ellen White’s death in 1915: “She was absolutely honest in her belief in her revelations. Her life was worthy of them. She showed no spiritual pride and she sought no filthy lucre. She lived the life and did the work of a worthy prophetess.”
A coworker of 23 years described her thus: “Mrs. White’s life far transcends the life of anyone I have ever known or with whom I have been associated. She was uniformly pleasant, cheerful and courageous. She was never careless, flippant, or in any way cheap in conversation or manner of life. She was the personification of serious earnestness regarding the things of the kingdom. I never once heard her boast of the gracious gift God had bestowed upon her, or of the marvelous results of her endeavors.”
A true prophet is obedient to the will of God (Deuteronomy 18:18).
Before Ellen White received her first vision, Hazen Foss was called to the prophetic ministry. Foss hesitated to obey, dreading the ridicule and rejection such a life would entail. His disobedience persisted through a second vision from God. Fearing that he had grieved away the Spirit, he called a meeting to relate the first vision, but his mind was blank. Finally he said, “It is gone from me; I can say nothing, the Spirit of the Lord has left me.”
Some time later, Mr. Foss was witness to Ellen’s ministry and recognized that the gift had been passed on to her. He pled, “The Lord gave me a message to bear to His people. And I refused after being told the consequences; I was proud; I was unreconciled to the disappointment.” He went on to say that he believed he was a lost man.
Ellen’s willing obedience to the call of God wasn’t without a struggle. When first called to travel, she said, “It seemed impossible for me to perform this work … the trials attending it seemed more than I could endure … I coveted death as a release from the responsibilities that were crowding upon me … despair again pressed upon my soul.” Finally, through prayer and counsel, she surrendered to the will of her heavenly Father, and began her lifework as God’s messenger.