Biographical Sketch, No. 1
On Sunday afternoon, December 14, 1884, Ellen White and her traveling companions found themselves in Daggett, California, a small town on the Mojave Desert near Barstow. She had been in the East for nearly six months attending camp meetings as well as the General Conference session that had been held in November in Battle Creek, Michigan. After the session closed, two chartered railroad cars full of workers traveled together cross country, heading back to Oakland where the Pacific Press was then located. Since the train stop in Daggett was to be for several hours, the Adventists decided to hold a meeting. Station employees came in as did many of the people from townincluding the editor of the local paper. As Mrs. White spoke, the group listened to her respectfully, some saying it was the first sermon they had heard in many months. She based her short talk on Matthew 6:25-34. This quickly arranged, impromptu meeting was nothing out of the ordinary for Mrs. White. Throughout her lifetime she had become used to speaking in a variety of localities.
Ellen Gould Harmon was born in Gorham, Maine, in 1827. When she was a young girl she and her family became Millerite Adventists. In December of 1844, just a few weeks after the Great Disappointment of October 22, she received the first of many visions. Shortly after her marriage to Elder James White in August of 1846, the two of them accepted the seventh-day Sabbath. She then spent much of her time traveling and speaking with her husband as well as writing and counseling. Ellen and James had four sons, two of whom lived to maturity. Her husband died in 1881.
Besides preaching to Adventist audiences, she also spoke to the general public. Her favorite topic when speaking to the latter group was Christian temperance. Among other things, she helped establish both the forerunners of Avondale College in Australia in the 1890's and later, after the turn of the century, Loma Linda University in Southern California. Her death came in July of 1915 at her "Elmshaven" home in Northern California.
As has been mentioned, speaking under unusual circumstances, like at the train station in Daggett, was not uncommon for Mrs. White. Several years prior to this she was once invited by the Temperance Society in Battle Creek to compete with a circus that had come to town. The large Michigan Conference evangelistic tent was pitched in a city park to be used as a temperance restaurant. It was hoped that the crowd could be kept from going to the local saloons. Mrs. White was asked to speak there on Sunday evening. She addressed an estimated audience of 5,000 for ninety minutes on temperance from a religious and home standpoint. They were reported to have listened to her in "almost breathless silence."
Over the years, Mrs. White spoke in a variety of tents to crowds of varying sizes. In fact, at the 1876 camp meeting held at Groveland, Massachusetts, she spoke to an audience estimated at 20,000 people. This was the largest group to which she is ever known to have spoken.
The year following her sermon at the train station in Daggett, Ellen White went to Europe for two years. During her stay there while visiting in Drammen, Norway, in 1885, she was invited to speak in the largest hall in town. Six beer tables were brought in from an adjoining room and pushed together for her to stand on. A carpet was thrown over them and then another table was set on top for her to use as a pulpit!
With such a background it is easy to see why speaking at a hurriedly arranged meeting in a train station would not have seemed unusual to Ellen White at all. Since she was an evangelist at heart, she was not one to lose any opportunity to speak to others about her faith.
Although Mrs. White's being a woman speaker was a natural drawing card, she was also an effective speaker in her own right. A reporter for The Battle Creek Journal, a local newspaper, reported on a talk Ellen White gave in that city after her return from Europe in 1887. His remarks were reprinted in the Review and Herald of October 11, 1887:
"This lady gave her audience a most eloquent discourse, which was listened to with matched interest and attention. Her talk was interspersed with instructive facts which she had gathered in her recent visit to foreign lands, and demonstrated that this gifted lady has, in addition to her many other rare qualifications, a great faculty for attentive, careful observation, and a remarkable memory of details. This, together with her fine delivery and her faculty of clothing her ideas in choice, beautiful, and appropriate language, made her lecture one of the best that has ever been delivered by any lady in our city. That she may soon favor our community with another address, is the earnest wish of all who attended last evening; and should she do so, there will be a large attendance."
Even though her Daggett, California, sermon appears to have been edited before being published in the Review and Herald, it illustrates not only the type of extemporaneous talk she could give on short notice, but also represents the varied circumstances under which Ellen Whit delivered her sermons.
For additional information about Ellen White's public speaking, see the introduction to her sermon on "Lessons from the Fifteenth of Romans."
A SERMON ON THE CARS
By Ellen G. White
Preached on December 14, 1884
The Sermon on the Mount contains lessons of great practical value. In the teachings of Christ the constant aim is to take the mind from things that are of a temporal nature, and fix it upon those that are spiritual and eternal. The relative value of the things of this life and those of the future immortal life are made plain.
Said the Great Teacher, in this memorable discourse: "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?" Will not He who has given you the blessing of life, with all its rich possibilities, give you also that which is less, – the things that are needful to sustain that life?
But the time and energies of a large class are almost entirely absorbed in eating and dressing. The great question with them is, "What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" They forget that Jesus said: "Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" And "why take ye thought for raiment?" Why devote so much time to the apparel, and so little to the healthful conditions of the body it is to clothe? "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you;" for "your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things."
In many circles it is customary to serve a variety of highly seasoned dishes at a meal. In this way much time and money are spent unwisely. An unnecessary expense is imposed on the provider, and great care and weariness on the cook who prepares the food, when a few simple dishes, free from condiments and spices, would be much more healthful, and would soon be enjoyed with a keener relish. We commit sin when we indulge appetite at the expense of physical and mental soundness, or sacrifice health and comfort for the sake of outward show; for the physical and mental powers are God's gifts, and like all the blessings that he bestows, should be used to his glory, instead of being made to minister to pride or perverted taste. "Ye are not your own. Ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
The great danger of this age, and one which brings much unhappiness to individuals and families, is an intense and increasing worldliness. The love and fear of God, reverence for his name, and thoughts of heavenly things, are banished through busy, anxious seeking for the things of the world. God has made his claims known, but men pay no heed to them. Religious principle becomes extinct in the family. Parents do not realize what obedience to God would do for their children, nor that their eternal interests are affected by the habits formed in this life; and they allow the little ones intrusted to their care to grow up without a knowledge of God or of the future life.
In obedience to the word of God, and in harmony with his will, there is happiness. The family that is governed by right principles is a witness to the world of the power of a pure and holy faith; the influence of such households has a tendency to check in the church and in society the corrupting, polluting influences that are now coming in like a flood. The religion of Jesus is powerful to lift up the fallen, and to bring to reason the intemperate, that they may be found sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in their right mind.
If men were more in love with natural simplicity, and cared less for the artificial and for fashionable show, they would escape many of the perplexities of life, and would find much more peace, quiet, and rest than they now enjoy. God does not impose heavy burdens upon his creatures; they bring them upon themselves by their unwillingness to conform to nature's laws, and their eager desire to meet the demands of fashion. It is this that wears the human machinery by bringing a constant strain upon mind and body. "God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions." And these "many inventions" have brought in their train suffering and woe that would never have been known, had natural simplicity been preserved.
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves [mark the word,--for yourselves] treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
In oriental countries thefts and robberies were of common occurrence; and whenever there was a change in the ruling power, those who had large possessions were put under heavy tribute. As a consequence, it was a study with the rich to devise some means to preserve their wealth from thieves and extortioners. For centuries it had been their custom to hide gold and jewels in the field. The place of concealment was often forgotten; death might claim the owner, imprisonment or exile separate him from his treasure; and the wealth he had taken such pains to preserve was left to the fortunate finder.
In some instances this buried treasure was found, and the impression was made that immense sums might lie buried in any man's field or garden, with no one living to claim them. Many on finding a trifling sum, became crazed, and seemed to imagine that their land was lined with gold. An expectation was aroused that they might at any time happen on great wealth hidden in the earth; and treasure hunting was taken up to the neglect of other business.
Jesus calls the attention of his hearers to an infinite treasure, which all who seek may find. "The kingdom of heaven," he says, "is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." There is no danger of losing this treasure. It is not necessary to place an armed guard over it, or to hide it in the earth. It is for us individually to decide whether we will bend our energies to the accumulation of property with no surety of keeping it, or devote our God-given powers to a better purpose, and secure the treasure that is of enduring worth.
In many cases the devotees to mammon become life-long invalids, no comfort to themselves or any one else. In their eager pursuit of wealth, they have neglected the body, and so have lost the present life, while heaven is lost to them through their neglect to make preparation for the future. And though they may have amassed a large fortune, life to them is a miserable failure. This experience was often repeated among the early settlers of California.
Thirty-five years ago we were holding meetings in the State of New York; and in several places that we visited there were men who had a mania for visiting the gold mining regions of California. They were comfortably situated where they were, and most of them had wives and children. With many tears these wives entreated their husbands to remain at home; but the love of gold excluded every other consideration, and one man even left his wife in a dead faint on the floor.
The companions who were left behind never expected to see their husbands again, and some of them never did. The traveling facilities then were in wide contrast to those of the present day. These men went in a company, overland. They endured privations that in their comfortable homes they had never thought it possible for them to live under. They suffered from hunger and cold and from the burning heat of the desert. They were waylaid by Indians, and many of them died without a sight of the gold for which they had sacrificed so much.
If such hardships were imposed upon those who would gain immortal life in the Paradise of God, there might be some ground for murmuring and complaint at the roughness of the way; but Jesus places upon his followers no such burdens. He says: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden [this is an invitation to those who are seeking earthly treasure to the neglect of the heavenly], and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
By adopting the world's standard, and seeking to conform to its customs and accumulate its wealth, we place a grievous yoke upon our necks and grasp a heavy burden in our arms, and thus encumbered it is impossible for us to make any progress in the highway cast up for the ransomed of the Lord to walk in. Many are groaning under these self-imposed burdens. Even professed Christians go stumbling along, tired and careworn, because they carry such loads that are all unnecessary, and that would never be placed upon them if they would "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." Earthly things would then keep a subordinate place, and they would have time for prayer, and to study the chart that points out the way to the city of God.
He who loves us speaks to us of his tender care in the works of nature. They are the evidences of his wisdom and power, and are designed to impress us with the fact that there is a living God, and that in him we may trust. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." The hand of God formed every bud and every blooming flower; it was his wisdom that gave them their varied and delicate tints. What beauty has he bestowed upon these silent soulless things, which are today in the field, tomorrow cast into the oven. If God so clothe the tender, perishing grass of the field, "how much more will he not clothe you, O ye of little faith?"
On our journey westward we have been watching to catch everything new and interesting in the scenery. We have looked upon the lofty, terraced mountains in their majestic beauty, with their rocky battlements resembling grand old castles. These mountains speak to us of the desolating wrath of God in vindication of his broken law; for they were heaved up by the stormy convulsions of the flood. They are like mighty waves that at the voice of God stood still, – stiffened billows, arrested in their proudest swell. These towering mountains belong to God; he presides over their rocky fastnesses. The wealth of their mines is his also, and so are the deep places of the earth.
If you would see the evidences that there is a God, look around you wherever your lot may be cast. He is speaking to your senses and impressing your soul through his created works. Let your heart receive these impressions, and nature will be to you an open book, and will teach you divine truth through familiar things. The lofty trees will not be regarded with indifference. Every opening flower, every leaf with its delicate veins, will testify of the infinite skill of the great Master Artist. The massive rocks and towering mountains that rise in the distance are not the result of chance. They speak in silent eloquence of One who sits upon the throne of the universe, high and lifted up. "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." All his plans are perfect. What awe and reverence should his name inspire! how should a knowledge of his works quicken our perception of his attributes!
God is himself the Rock of Ages, a refuge for his people, a covert from the storm, a shadow from the burning heat. He has given us his promises, which are more firm and immovable than the rocky heights, the everlasting hills. The mountains shall depart, and the hills shall be removed; but his kindness shall not depart, nor his covenant of peace be removed, from those who by faith make him their trust. If we would look to God for help as steadfastly as these rocky, barren mountains point to the heavens above them, we should never be moved from our faith in him and our allegiance to his holy law.
Then why not seek for the things that make for your peace? Why not, dear brethren and sisters, make the kingdom of God and his righteousness the first consideration, assured that your heavenly Father will add unto you all things necessary? He will open ways before you, and all you do shall be blessed; for he has said, "Them that honor me I will honor." Christ died for your redemption. Shall he have died for you in vain? Will you not take his proffered hand, and walk with him in the humble path of faith and obedience?
God is full of love and plenteous in mercy; but he will by no means acquit those who neglect the great salvation he has provided. The long-lived antediluvians were swept from the earth because they made void the divine law. God will not again bring from the heavens above and the earth beneath waters as his weapons to use in the destruction of the world; but when next his vengeance shall be poured out against those who despise his authority, they will be destroyed by fire concealed in the bowels of the earth, awakened into intense activity by fires from heaven above. Then from the purified earth shall arise a song of praise: "Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." "Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints." And every one who has made the heavenly treasure the first consideration regarding it as of priceless value, will join in the glad triumphant strain.
From the Review and Herald, February 24, 1885.