Section B: Prophets Speak Out
One of the identifying marks of God’s people, as described in Revelation 12:17, is that they have “the testimony of Jesus Christ,” which according to Revelation 19:10 is “the spirit of prophecy.” In this lesson we will delve into the way in which God has used prophecy through the years to bless and help His people, and how we may recognize the characteristics of a true prophet. Ellen G. White, as a prophetess for today, will be examined in the light of God’s word. You will find this a fascinating study!
Channel for God’s truth
First of all, let’s examine how prophecy works and what it is. In previous lessons, we have studied various prophecies of the Bible, their symbolic and literal meanings, and their exact fulfillment.
Prophecy is history told in advance; it is a preview of future events in God’s dealing with this world. Throughout all the ages since sin entered, God has been very merciful in doing nothing before first revealing it to His prophets. See Amos 3:7. He spoke to the fathers through the Prophets. Hebrews 1:1. The chain of prophetic revelation goes like this: From God to Jesus to His angel to the prophet to God’s people. Revelation 1:1, 2. Gabriel is Christ’s own angel of prophecy who stands in God’s presence.
Some outstanding prophets of the Old Testament were Moses, a shepherd; David, a king; and Daniel, prime minister of both Babylon and Persia. Similarly, Miriam, the sister of Moses, Deborah, and Huldah were women who prophesied in the Old Testament times.
Prophets in the Christian church
God has placed prophets in His church as one of the gifts to unify and perfect the believers in the knowledge of Christ. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13. See also 1 Corinthians 12:28.
Some outstanding prophets in the New Testament were Jesus Himself, John the Baptist, and John the Revelator. There were also prophetesses in those days, such as Anna (Luke 2:36) and the four daughters of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:9).
The prophets served a valuable role among God’s people. They presented a true picture of the spiritual condition of the church as a whole. However, when the people fell so deeply into apostasy that there was no more hope for them, then the prophets ceased to prophesy. Lamentations 2:9. And Proverbs 29:18 affirms, “Where there is no vision, the people perish:…”
Characteristics of a true prophet
1. The first and broadest test we may apply to any professing prophet is to see if he confesses faith in Jesus Christ and preaches that He came in the flesh. In other words, Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came down to this earth to give His life as a ransom for sinners; the true prophet will proclaim this truth. “Hereby, know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God:…” 1 John 4:2, 3.
2. Next, we can apply a second, equally important test to those prophets who profess Christianity. This test is found in Isaiah 8:20: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” The words of the true prophet will harmonize with the law of God (the Ten Commandments) and the testimony of all previous prophets of God. One who claims to be a prophet may pass every other test, but if his instruction is contrary to the Bible and the testimonies other true prophets, he is false.
3. Once he has passed these two tests, we can apply the third: Do the prophet’s predictions unfailingly come to pass? Deuteronomy 18: 21, 22. If the words which he has spoken in the name of the Lord do not come true, you can be confident that he was not sent by God; and we need not heed his warnings or advice! He is a false prophet. However, suppose a prophet predicts certain things which indeed do happen but at the same time teaches his followers to turn from God’s way in one manner or another? Then he is also a false prophet. Deuteronomy 13:1-3. Therefore, the outcome of a prediction is not, in itself, a reliable sign that a person is sent of God. It is important to remember this, since most people are fascinated by a fulfillment, regardless of the character or teaching of the supposed prophet.
4. Another test deals with the personal life of the prophet. He will be known by his fruits. See Matthew 7:15-20. Frequently a person has arisen claiming to be a prophet sent by God, while his private life revealed greed, immorality, deceit and great pride. This is an indication that he could not possibly be God’s mouthpiece. A man who is used by a holy God to convey messages to other people will lead a holy life. This is not to say that he is perfect or infallible, but he should produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his life for all to see.
5. The last characteristic of a true prophet, which may appear to be a foregone conclusion, is that he communicates with God. This can be through God’s speaking with the prophet directly or through His sending an angel with a message to him. God also communicates with His prophet through visions. A vision in the Biblical sense is a supernatural waking condition in which God reveals some truth or information to His servant. Besides visions, a prophet may also have dreams of divine origin. There are three types of dreams, one caused by daily activity continued in one’s subconscious mind during sleep; another is a nightmare, a dream which may be a direct result of evil forces; the last kind is one inspired by God’s Spirit, conveying a very important message that must be related to God’s people or the whole world.
Thus a true prophet does not think up his messages by himself; the messages are completely independent of his thinking processes, his intellect, his learning, or his past experience. He is at the moment only an instrument in God’s hand.
Physical test of a true prophet
Certain physical phenomena occur while a prophet is in vision. A careful analysis of these facts will reveal the basic difference between the true prophet of God and the spiritualistic medium or clairvoyant who claims to be able to predict the future.
Daniel was a great prophet in the Old Testament times. He described what happened to him when he was in vision.
1. He lost all his own strength, “Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.” Daniel 10:8. Daniel was in a sort of coma, lying prostrate on his face; yet he was able to hear a voice from far away speaking to him.
2. Then he sensed a hand touching him, which strengthened him and made him assume a position on his hands and knees. Daniel 10:10. Following this, he heard the command to stand up, and he stood, trembling.
3. As the heavenly messenger spoke, Daniel became speechless. Daniel 10:15. His lips were then touched by the angel, and he opened his mouth. The first words he spoke gave expression to the powerful way the vision affected him, and he stated again that he had neither strength nor breath. Daniel 10:17.
4. This speaking was supernatural, for he was not breathing; and who can live for more than a few minutes without breathing? The prophet was supernaturally sustained.
5. Furthermore, he was speaking without breath, which is humanly impossible, for it is the rush of air past the vocal cords that produces speech. The prophet Jeremiah explained this phenomenon in the following way: “Then the Lord put forth His hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth.” Jeremiah 1:9. And David, another prophet of great standing in the Scriptures, said basically the same thing: “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue.” 2 Samuel 23:2. When a prophet thus speaks under the inspiration of God, he can never reverse his words. This was the experience even of Balaam, the apostatized prophet who tried to curse Israel, as recorded in Numbers 23:20.
6. When in vision, the prophet’s eyes remain open and unblinking. Numbers 24:16.
7. The prophet is totally unconscious of his surroundings. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. We shall study this characteristic further in the section concerning Ellen G. White as the prophetess for today.
We should not regard the prophets as supermen or perfect human beings. They came from diverse circumstances of life; some were married; some were faithful prophets at one time who later became unfaithful and left God, such as Samuel’s sons. The work of these prophets varied, but they all had close contact with the people for whom they laboured. They were very much like us, except that God saw fit to use them specifically as His spokespersons; He knew they would be humble and obedient to Him. Regarding the human instrument, we have the lesson of the Jewish people, who saw in Jesus only the “carpenter’s son” and therefore, rejected Him. Likewise today, many fail to see divinity in the message from God and reject it because it is delivered by unimpressive human beings. But we are to apply all the tests and thus be led into paths of truth by God’s true prophets.
Ellen G. White as the prophetess for today
It is often supposed that there were no prophets after the death of John the Revelator. It is true that the canon of the Scriptures closes with the book of Revelation, but it was promised that the special gift of prophecy would remain with God’s church until the end of time. See 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:8, 11, 12. The purpose for these gifts is to perfect the saints, the work of the ministry, and the body of Christ. Clearly, this gift of prophecy will remain in force until the church has reached perfection, an enviable condition we have not yet reached. Therefore, we expect this gift to be in the church today. A few years before the close of the 2,300 day/year prophecy in 1844, God desired to communicate directly to the world and His people important details concerning the closing events. The Holy Spirit had guided men, as they searched God’s word, to understand the prophecies of Daniel 8 and 9. And they preached the first and second angel’s messages with a power that shook the world. But as the cleansing of the sanctuary in heaven, the investigative judgment, began, a special work had to be done to prepare a people for Christ’s advent. Review Lesson 12 for the history of the three angels’ messages.
Born in 1827 in Gorham, Maine, Ellen Gould Harmon was to play a vital role as a spiritual counselor in the movement through which God would accomplish this work. Being of delicate health because of a nearly fatal accident which put an end to her formal schooling at the age of nine, Ellen was raised as a devout Methodist. Suffering much from the experiences of her accident and people’s attitude toward her facial disfigurement, Ellen early turned to Christ for comfort. She was converted when 11 years old and baptized at 12. She believed with all her heart the prophecies concerning the second coming of Christ in 1844 and, with others, bore the bitter disappointment when He did not come. Ellen’s faith, however, remained strong.
She was not the first one through whom God wished to work. The initial vision was given to two others, but they both refused to obey Heaven’s command to relate the vision to others. Therefore, God’s spirit left them, and God chose the weakest of all possible individuals to become His instrument. Beginning when she was 17 years old, Ellen received some 2,000 visions, the messages of which she was instructed to write down. Though at first unable even to hold a pen long enough to write a page, strength was miraculously given her, and until the age of 87 she wrote extensively – some 45,000 pages for books and periodicals, all entirely in harmony with the Bible. She also passed the test of living a dedicated Christian life.
Through divine illumination she penned a wealth of information on prophecy, religion, medical knowledge, ecological necessities, hygiene, diet, psychology, future events, and the fate of some of our large cities. Her amazing observations and predictions regarding the use of hygiene and sunlight in the care of the sick, the dangers of hypnosis, juvenile delinquency, the electrical currents in the brain, and the communication of diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis through flesh eating have been confirmed by science many years later. Her various counsels regarding these subjects were unknown and virtually unaccepted in her day. None of this was her own knowledge; it came from God, the Creator of earth and the human body.
Ellen Gould White (she was married in 1846 to James White and was the mother of four sons) had visions which were genuine and fully in harmony with the physical tests of a true prophet, as outlined in the preceding sections on characteristics and physical tests of a true prophet.
One of the early pioneers of the Great Second Advent Movement, J.N. Loughborough, who wrote a book by this title, stated on p. 204: “The first time I saw Mrs. E.G. White (formerly Miss Harmon) was on October, 1852. On that day I saw her in a vision that lasted over one hour. Since that time I have had the privilege of seeing her in vision about fifty times. I have been present when physicians have examined her while in this state, and I esteem it a pleasure to bear testimony to what I have seen and know. I trust a narration of the facts in the case may not be carelessly cast aside for the random suppositions of those who have never seen her in this condition.
“In passing into vision she gives three enrapturing shouts of ‘Glory!’ which echo and re-echo, the second, and especially the third, fainter, but more thrilling than the first, the voice resembling that of one quite a distance from you, and just going out of hearing. For about four or five seconds she seems to drop down like a person in a swoon, or one having lost his strength; she then seems to be instantly filled with superhuman strength, sometimes rising at once to her feet and walking about the room. There are frequent movements of the hands and arms, pointing to the right or left as her head turns. All these movements are made in a most graceful manner. In whatever position the hand and or arm may be placed, it is impossible for anyone to move it. Her eyes are always open, but she does not wink; her head is raised, and she is looking upward, not with a vacant stare, but with a pleasant expression, only differing from the normal in that she appears to be looking intently at some distant object. She does not breathe, yet her pulse beats regularly. Her countenance is pleasant, and the colour of her face as florid as in her natural state.”
It is no wonder that these strange and supernatural phenomena caused a great stir among the Christians of Ellen White’s day. We would not be any less astonished today. But note how the characteristics of the Bible prophets when in vision were all found in her experience. (1) She lost her strength, then (2) she received supernatural strength; (3) her eyes were always open; (4) she did not breathe, yet (5) her pulse was regular; and (6) she spoke without breath. The fact that she did not breathe was undoubtedly the most spectacular phenomenon of all, and it was tested many times by skeptical physicians. For example, a spirit medium, a certain Dr. Brown, had declared that her visions were of spiritualistic origin. When he watched her once and found out that she didn’t breathe, he turned very pale, gasped, “She does not breathe!” and ran out of the house as fast as he could go.- The Great Second Advent Movement, p. 211.
As stated previously, the true prophet conveys God’s messages independently of his own preferences and thinking. Often he does not even understand fully what he is saying. This was also true of Ellen G. White. She was not a scientist. To the contrary, she barely started normal schooling. She simply wrote as the Lord instructed her to declare important truths essential for the spiritual, mental, and physical health of mankind. She said in Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 344: “The whys and wherefores of this I know not, but I give you instruction as it is given me.”
We are thankful for this valuable source of information and for the humble woman who was used by God in her meekness and devotion to truth.
Some outstanding books written by Ellen G. White:
* Early Writings
* Patriarchs and Prophets
* Prophets and Kings
* The Desire of Ages
* The Acts of the Apostles
* The Great Controversy between Christ And Satan
* Steps to Christ
* The Ministry of Healing
* Christ Object Lessons