17 Jul 1982, Patterson, California, USA --- Walter Rea, a former Seventh-Day Adventist minister, holds a copy of The White Lie, his controversial book against Seventh-Day Adventism. --- Image by © Roger Ressmeyer/CORBIS

Great Controversy Examined by Walter Rae

by Walter Rea

Adventist have been told that the theme and sentiment of the book, The Great Controversy, supposedly written by Ellen White, was unique with her and given her by God in Revelations. The theme of a controversy between God and man, of course, was the theme of the Bible. John Milton, in his Paradise Lost had amplified that Bible theme many centuries before Ellen White. That Ellen knew about and read Milton there can be no doubt. J. N. Andrews gave her a copy after he recognized some of her themes to be similar. [See “The White Lie.”] However, a much more contemporary insight to her reading can be found in the chapter called Redemption, with the sub-title called Paradise Lost, in her book, Life of Christ and his Apostles, Vol. 1, 1877.

Even more contemporary and convenient to her works however, was that of H. L. Hastings and his book published in 1858, before Ellen had written out in detail her visionary insights into the future. The title of his work was The Great Controversy Between God and Man, Its Origin, Progress and End. Lest it be thought that Ellen was not aware of this interesting book and its contents the Adventist Review and Herald printed in the December 19, 1854, issue an article entitled The Church Not In Darkness, under the byline of H. L. Hastings. This article along with two others that were later to be incorporated in his 1858 book, The Great Controversy were serialized in the January 23, 1855, and February 6, 1855 issues of the Adventist Review and Herald. Further prominence was given the works of Hastings in the book notice of the Review and Herald of March 18, 1858. There it is acknowledged that:

“It contains a general outline of the more prominent events that have transpired along the stream of time, common to both prophecy and history. It abounds in graphic descriptions, showing the futility on the part of man of a controversy with his Maker – showing how God with an outpouring of divine vengeance cut short the controversy with the Antediluvians, the Sodomites, the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Ninevites, the Babylonians, & etc. – and showing, finally the great issue of this controversy, and the cessation of man’s rebellion in the indiscriminate overthrow and rule of the enemies of the Lord.” (pg. 144)

In his work in this area, Don McAdams in his manuscript on John Huss says on Page 21:

“Hastings’ book is remarkably similar to the short Spiritual Gifts volume Ellen published shortly after her Lovett’s Grove, Ohio, vision on March 14, 1858, subtitled, “The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels, and Satan and His Angels.” The two volumes have the same title, the same theme, the same beginning and ending, and in fact interpret Scripture almost identically. The books are very similar, but a careful comparison does not support the idea that Ellen White’s book is based on Hastings’. The book may have stimulated her thinking, and suggested many ideas, but she did not have it open before her when she wrote her volume: she emphasizes some points he ignores and presents detail not found in his book.”

Perhaps Don McAdams did not find any evidence of Ellen’s copy work and thus only surmises that “It may have stimulated her thinking, and suggested many ideas” and that “She did not have it open before her when she wrote her volume,” but the following comparisons might suggest otherwise.

Further study of these articles in the Review and later writings of Ellen White will show the same close parallels, thus leading to the conclusion that Hastings did more than “stimulate her thinking, and suggested some ideas.”

It was not however, just Milton and Hastings that stimulated Ellen’s thinking. Perhaps the greatest boost that her ideas and thoughts and words ever got for her Great Controversy came from her close friend and contemporary J. N. Andrews. Andrews had pioneered many of the ideas and advanced many theories that later became incorporated into Adventist theology having received along the way proper endorsement from Ellen.

Andrews had begun to write about his own views of the Great Controversy in the early editions of the 1850 Review and Herald. There in the 1850s and 1860s both he and his brother in law, Uriah Smith advanced the ideas that Adventist came to accept as ideas coming from Ellen White, such as the Sabbath, the Sanctuary, 2300 Days, Judgement, much of the details of the second coming of Christ, the Millennium, the mark of the beast, the United States in prophecy, spiritualism as part of last day events and Adventism as the center of the Great Controversy and closing events. All of these subjects as well as others were written upon in the Advent Review in those early years, but the most important work of all that was to leave its mark on Ellen White and Seventh Day Adventist, was Andrews’ articles and books on the history of the Sabbath.

In this treatise, Andrews wrote about the Great Controversy from the beginning of the Garden of Eden to the end of time and the second coming of Christ using the Sabbath and the law of God as his central reference point. In the introduction of his book History of the Sabbath 1861-2 Edition the preface states:

“The institution of the Sabbath for the human family while the race was yet unfallen attests alike the sacredness of the institution and the unfounded nature of that theory which represents it as designed only for the Hebrew people. The complete apostasy of the human race, with the single exception of the family of Abraham, fully explains the Law-giver’s choice of that people as the depositories for ages of his Sabbath AND HIS LAW {italics supplied}. At the close of the Mosaic dispensation, the action of the Lord of the Sabbath is scrutinized with peculiar care. It is there shown that while he vindicated the Sabbath as a merciful institution, he did not weaken, abrogate, or change it. The question of the obligation of the Gentiles to observe the Sabbath AND THE WHOLE MORAL LAW {italics supplied} is carefully considered;

The same end was said to be the purpose of Ellen White when she wrote on the Great Controversy. In the 1911 edition of her book The Introduction, which by the way the church does not have in her handwriting, says:

“To unfold the scenes of the great controversy between truth and error; to reveal the wiles of Satan, and the means by which he may be successfully resisted; to present a satisfactory solution of the great problem of evil, shedding such a light upon the origin and the final disposition of sin as to make fully manifest the justice and benevolence of God in all His dealings with His creatures; and to show the holy, unchanging nature of His law, is the object of this book.” Pg. xiv

This indeed, was the object of the Bible writers, Milton, H. L. Hastings, Uriah Smith and J. N. Andrews, which certainly does not make Ellen White unique. As the study of the five books of the conflict series, published under Ellen White’s name, will show, she used J. N. Andrews more than any other author and paraphrased him in all five books. Thus his inspiration became Ellen’s and together they still inspire Adventism today.

As we have seen in the previous chapter, it was to the people no longer a source of refreshment and delight, but a cause of suffering and distress. It had been loaded down with traditions by the doctors of the law until its merciful and benificent design was utterly hidden beneath the rubbish of men’s inventions…. He turned their doctors so to pervert it, that its real character should be utterly changed and its observance entirely unlike that which would please God.

History of the Sabbath, 1861, pg. 116, J. N. Andrews

The Sabbath lost its significance to them. Satan was seeking to exult himself and to draw men away from Christ, and he worked to pervert the Sabbath…. The Jewish leaders accomplished the will of Satan by surrounding God’s rest day with burdensome requirements. In the days of Christ the Sabbath had become so perverted that its observance reflected the character of selfish and arbitrary men rather than the character of the loving heavenly Father.

Desire of Ages, pg. 283-4, Ellen White

The further study of The Great Controversy will greatly advance the idea that Mrs White used J. N. Andrews over and over again, always without credit in the early editions, to advance the ideas she wished readers to believe came to her from God.

In some of this study the Spirit of Prophecy, Vol. 4, will be used because it was the early Great Controversy and shows that Ellen relied on only a few individuals in the beginning of her copy work. When the later revisions are studied, nothing of substance was added but only expansion of the older material using many more Bible texts in each chapter and other authors to back up what had already been said. The first chapters of Great Controversy covers generally the same material used by J. N. Andrews in his History of the Sabbath, often using the same sources that were used by Andrews such as Josephus.

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