The Life of Ellen White by D.M. Canright

Chapter 14 - Editor Smith Rejected Her Testimonies

Uriah Smith was editor of the Review and Herald, their church paper, for over fifty years. All these years he was intimately associated with Mrs. White, and had every possible opportunity to judge of her claims to divine inspiration. Like most of us, he began with the fullest confidence in her claims. In 1868 he wrote a lengthy defense of her visions, in a pamphlet of 144 pages. As the years went by he began to question her inspiration. First, he denied that the "testimony of Jesus" of Rev. 12:17 meant to prophesy and be a prophet, as Mrs. White assumed. His position on this was well known. Later he argued that we must discriminate between a direct "vision" and simply letter, or testimonies, she wrote.

From Healdsburg, Cal., March 28, 1882, Mrs. White wrote Elder Smith a scathing letter, condemning him, and requiring him to read what she had written him to the church at Battle Creek. This he refused to do. He said it was only a letter giving her personal opinion, and was not inspired. It cut him deeply.

June 20, 1882, she wrote a letter to the church saying she had written Smith, and that he had withheld the testimony. Both of these communications he was compelled to have printed in "Testimonies for the Church," No. 31, pages 41-80, the first under the heading, "Important Testimony," and the second under the caption, "The Testimonies Slighted." Then these were circulated through all the churches everywhere. This was humiliating to Smith; but he had to swallow it or rebel. For years it was a question which he would do.

In the first letter Mrs. White said: "You despise and reject the testimonies" (p. 45). Here Mrs. White, in an inspired revelation, testifies that Smith had rejected the testimonies. So it must stand as a fact, which he never denied. In the second she said: "If you lessen the confidence of God's people in the testimonies he has sent them, you are rebelling against God as certainly as were Korah, Dathan and Abiram. . . God was speaking through clay" (pp. 62, 63).

Believing, with others, that Smith was about to rebel, she said: "In the mighty sifting soon to take place. . . many a star that we have admired for its brilliancy, will then go out in darkness" (pp. 76, 77). But the prediction failed. The "mighty sifting soon to take place" did not occur, nor has it occurred during the thirty-five years since the prediction was made, and Smith, though doubting, remained in the church.

In the second letter, Mrs. White said: "You might say that this communication was only a letter. Yes, it was a letter, but prompted by the Spirit of God" (p. 63). Smith yielded, but was not convinced. It only increased his doubts. He talked them freely to me.

One day on the steps of the Battle Creek Tabernacle I said to him: "You have written a defense of the visions; but it is not satisfactory to yourself." He simply laughed. I laid one finger across another and said: "You know they contradict themselves just like that." Again he laughed and said nothing.

Apr. 6, 1883, Elder Smith wrote me thus: "If the visions should drop out entirely, it would not affect my faith in our Biblical theories at all. . . I did not learn any of these things from the visions. . . The idea has been studiously instilled into the minds of the people that to question the visions in the least is to become at once a hopeless apostate and rebel."

July 31, 1883, he wrote me again: "Sister White herself has shut my mouth. In the special testimony to the Battle Creek Church she has published me as having rejected, not only that testimony, but all the testimonies. Now, if I say I haven't rejected them, I thereby show that I have, for I contradict this one. But if I say I have, that will not do them any good."

Poor fellow, he was indeed in a dilemma. Under date of Aug. 7, 1883, he wrote me once again: "I now have to discriminate between 'testimony' and 'vision.' I think I know myself as well as Sister White knows me."

March 22, 1883, he again wrote me: "It seems to me that the testimonies have practically come into that shape that it is not any use to try to defend the enormous claims that are now put forth for them. At least, after the unjust treatment I have received the past year, I feel no burden in that direction."

Oct. 2, 1883, he wrote me that he allowed it to be understood that he had not rejected the testimonies, lest others by his example should be led to give up, not only the testimonies, but all the rest of the message as well. With this plausible excuse he silenced his conscience, allowed his influence to favor what he did not himself believe, and kept his office.

From this it will be seen that he was compelled to live a double life, as many other high officials in that church all along have done and are now doing. Publicly, Smith accepted the testimonies; privately, he did not believe them.

When I left the Adventists, I stated that Elder Smith, like myself, doubted the testimonies. The officials then pressed him to state in the Review his position regarding them. This put him in a tight place. After much pressure, he wrote a short article headed "Personal." Every line of this shows that he tried to say something without really saying anything. His brethren were not satisfied. I was told he said, "You will take that or nothing." Here are a few lines from his statement:

"Just how near I ever did come to giving them up, I am willing any one should know who wishes to know if it can be determined. Perhaps I have not come so near as some suppose; perhaps not so near as I have supposed myself. . . Under what has seemed, for the time, strong provocations to withdraw from the work, I have canvassed the question how far this could reasonably be done, or how much of this work could consistently be surrendered. . . A little reflection is sufficient to show that the message, and that which has accompanied it, can not be separated. Well, then, says one, the absurdity of this part [the visions] of the work is sufficient to overthrow the other. To which I reply, No, for the strength of the other parts is sufficient to hold a person from giving up this. And this has been the position I have occupied" ("Replies to Canright," p. 108).

Here Smith owns that Mrs. White's visions are absurd, and that, standing by themselves, he would have given them up. It was his faith in the other parts of the message which held him from repudiating them. And this is what he told me personally. In the testimonies themselves he saw no evidence of divine inspiration, but he did see enough against them to reject them as absurd. No man ever had a better chance to know this than he. For the last thirty years of his life he reluctantly outwardly accepted the testimonies, because he had to or be ousted from office. He was a fair illustration of the spiritual bondage in which many of their more intelligent ministers and officials are held now. I myself wore that galling yoke for years, and know what it means. Once, Elder W.C. Gage, another prominent Adventist minister, said to me: "I hate and despise myself for pretending to believe what I do not believe;" that is, the testimonies. Yet, like Elder Smith, he swallowed his doubts, smothered his conscience, and stayed there till his death, as many more are doing now.

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