We entered upon our work penniless, with few friends, and broken in health. My husband had inherited a powerful constitution, but his health had been seriously impaired by close application to study at school, and in lecturing. I had suffered ill-health from a child, as I have related. In this condition, without means, with very few who sympathised with us in our views, without a paper, and without books, we entered upon our work. We had no houses of worship at that time. And the idea of using a tent had not then occurred to us. Most of our meetings were held in private houses. Our congregations were small. It was seldom that any came into our meetings excepting Adventists, unless they were attracted by curiosity to hear a woman speak.
At first I moved out timidly in the work of public speaking. If I had confidence, it was given me by the Holy Spirit. If I spoke with freedom and power, it was given me of God. Our meetings were usually conducted in such a manner that both of us took part. My husband would give a doctrinal discourse, then I would follow with an exhortation of considerable length, melting my way into the feelings of the congregation. Thus my husband sowed and I watered the seed of truth, and God did give the increase.
In the autumn of 1846 we began to observe the Bible Sabbath, and to teach and defend it. My attention was first
called to the Sabbath while I was on a visit to New Bedford, Massachusetts, earlier in the same year. I there became acquainted with Elder Joseph Bates, who had early embraced the advent faith, and was an active labourer in the cause. Elder B. was keeping the Sabbath, and urged its importance. I did not feel its importance, and thought that Elder B. erred in dwelling upon the fourth commandment more than upon the other nine. But the Lord gave me a view of the heavenly sanctuary. The temple of God was opened in heaven, and I was shown the ark of God covered with the mercy seat. Two angels stood, one at each end of the ark, with their wings spread over the mercy seat, and their faces turned toward it. My accompanying angel informed me that these represented all the heavenly host looking with reverential awe toward the holy law which had been written by the finger of God. Jesus raised the cover of the ark, and I beheld the tables of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written. I was amazed as I saw the fourth commandment in the very centre of the ten precepts, with a soft halo of light encircling it. Said the angel: "It is the only one of the ten which defines the living God who created the heavens and the earth and all things that are therein. When the foundations of the earth were laid, then was laid the foundation of the Sabbath also."
I was shown that if the true Sabbath had always been kept, there would never have been an infidel or an atheist. The observance of the Sabbath would have preserved the world from idolatry. The fourth commandment has been trampled upon; therefore we are called upon to repair the breach in the law, and plead for the downtrodden Sabbath. The man of sin, who exalted himself above God, and thought to change times and laws, brought about the change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week. In doing this, he made a breach in the law of God. Just prior to the great day of God, a message is sent forth to warn the people to come back
to their allegiance to the law of God which antichrist has broken down. By precept and example, attention must be called to the breach in the law. I was shown that the third angel, proclaiming the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, represents the people who receive this message and raise the voice of warning to the world, to keep the commandments of God as the apple of the eye, and that in response to this warning many would embrace the Sabbath of the Lord.
When we received the light upon the fourth commandment, there were about twenty-five Adventists in Maine who observed the Sabbath; but these were so diverse in sentiment upon other points of doctrine, and so scattered in location, that their influence was very small. There was about the same number, in similar condition, in other parts of New England. It seemed to be our duty to visit these frequently at their homes, and strengthen them in the Lord and in His truth, and as they were so much scattered, it was necessary for us to be on the road much of the time. For want of means we took the cheapest private conveyance, second-class cars, and lower-deck passage on steamers. In my feeble condition I found travelling by private conveyance most comfortable. When on second-class cars, we were usually enveloped in tobacco smoke, from the effects of which I often fainted. When on steamers, on lower deck, we suffered the same from the smoke of tobacco, besides the swearing and vulgar conversation of the ship hands and the baser portion of the travelling public. At night we lay down to sleep on the hard floor, dry goods boxes, or sacks of grain, with carpetbags for pillows, and overcoats and shawls for covering. If suffering from the winter's cold, we would walk the deck to keep warm. When oppressed by the heat of summer, we would go upon the upper deck to secure the cool night air. This was fatiguing to me, especially when travelling with an infant in
my arms. This manner of life was by no means one of our choosing. God called us in our poverty, and led us through the furnace of affliction, to give us an experience which should be of great worth to us, and an example to others who should afterward join us in labour.
Our Master was a man of sorrows; He was acquainted with grief; and those who suffer with Him will reign with Him. When the Lord appeared to Saul in his conversion, He did not purpose to show him how much good he should enjoy, but what great things he should suffer for His name. Suffering has been the portion of the people of God from the days of the martyr Abel. The patriarchs suffered for being true to God and obedient to His commandments. The great Head of the church suffered for our sake; His first apostles and the primitive church suffered; the millions of martyrs suffered, and the Reformers suffered. And why should we, who have the blessed hope of immortality, to be consummated at the soon appearing of Christ, shrink from a life of suffering? Were it possible to reach the tree of life in the midst of the Paradise of God without suffering, we would not enjoy so rich a reward for which we had not suffered. We would shrink back from the glory; shame would seize us in the presence of those who had fought the good fight, had run the race with patience, and had laid hold on eternal life. But none will be there who have not, like Moses, chosen to suffer affliction with the people of God. The prophet John saw the multitude of the redeemed, and inquired who they were. The prompt answer came: "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
When we began to present the light on the Sabbath question, we had no clearly defined idea of the third angel's message of Revelation 14:9-12. The burden of our testimony as we came before the people was that the great second advent movement was of God, that the first and second messages
had gone forth, and that the third was to be given. We saw that the third message closed with the words: "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." And we as clearly saw as we now see that these prophetic words suggested a Sabbath reform; but as to what the worship of the beast mentioned in the message was, or what the image and the mark of the beast were, we had no defined position.
God by His Holy Spirit let light shine forth upon His servants, and the subject gradually opened to their minds. It required much study and anxious care to search it out, link after link. By care, anxiety, and incessant labour has the work moved on until the great truths of our message, a clear, connected, perfect whole, have been given to the world.
I have already spoken of my acquaintance with Elder Bates. I found him to be a true Christian gentleman, courteous and kind. He treated me as tenderly as though I were his own child. The first time he heard me speak, he manifested deep interest. After I had ceased speaking, he arose and said: "I am a doubting Thomas. I do not believe in visions. But if I could believe that the testimony the sister has related tonight was indeed the voice of God to us, I should be the happiest man alive. My heart is deeply moved. I believe the speaker to be sincere, but cannot explain in regard to her being shown the wonderful things she has related to us."
A few months after my marriage, I attended, with my husband, a Conference at Topsham, Maine, at which Elder Bates was present. He did not then fully believe that my visions were of God. That meeting was a season of much interest. The Spirit of God rested upon me; I was wrapped in a vision of God's glory, and for the first time had a view of other planets. After I came out of vision, I related what I had seen. Elder B. then asked if I had studied astronomy. I told him I had no recollection of ever looking into an
astronomy. Said he: "This is of the Lord." I never before saw him so free and happy. His countenance shone with the light of heaven, and he exhorted the church with power.
From the Conference I returned with my husband to Gorham, where my parents were then living. Here I was taken very sick, and suffered extremely. My parents, husband, and sisters united in prayer for me, but I suffered on for three weeks. I often fainted like one dead, but in answer to prayer revived again. My agony was so great that I pleaded with those around me not to pray for me; for I thought their prayers were protracting my sufferings. Our neighbours gave me up to die. For a time it pleased the Lord to try our faith. At length, as my friends again united in prayer for me, a brother who was present seemed much burdened, and with the power of God resting upon him, rose from his knees, came across the room, and laid his hands upon my head, saying: "Sister Ellen, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole," and fell back, prostrated by the power of God. I believed that the work was of God, and the pain left me. My soul was filled with gratitude and peace. The language of my heart was: "There is no help for us but in God. We can be in peace only as we rest in Him and wait for His salvation."
The next day there was a severe storm, and none of the neighbours came to our house. I was able to be up in the sitting room; and as some saw the windows of my room raised, they supposed that I was dead. They knew not that the Great Physician had graciously entered the dwelling, rebuked the disease, and set me free. The next day we rode thirty-eight miles to Topsham. Inquiries were made of my father, at what time the funeral would be. Father asked: "What funeral?" "The funeral of your daughter," was the reply. Father answered: "She has been healed by the prayer of faith, and is on her way to Topsham."
A few weeks after this, on our way to Boston we took the steamer at Portland. A violent storm came up, and we were
in great peril. The boat rolled fearfully, and the waves dashed into the cabin windows. There was great fear in the ladies' cabin. Many were confessing their sins, and crying to God for mercy. Some were calling upon the Virgin Mary to keep them, while others were making solemn vows to God that if they reached land they would devote their lives to His service. It was a scene of terror and confusion. As the boat rocked, a lady turned to me and said: "Are you not terrified? I suppose it is a fact that we may never reach land." I told her that I had made Christ my refuge, and if my work was done, I might as well lie in the bottom of the ocean as in any other place; but if my work was not done, all the waters of the ocean could not drown me. My trust was in God; He would bring us safe to land if it was for His glory.
At this time I prized the Christian's hope. The scene before me brought vividly to my mind the day of the Lord's fierce anger, when the storm of His wrath will come upon the poor sinner. Then there will be bitter cries and tears, confession of sin, and pleading for mercy, when it will be too late. "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all My counsel, and would none of My reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh."
Through the mercy of God we were all landed safe. But some of the passengers who manifested much fear in the storm made no reference to it, only to make light of their fears. One who had solemnly promised that if she were preserved to see land she would be a Christian, mockingly cried out as she left the boat: "Glory to God, I am glad to step on land again!" I asked her to go back a few hours, and remember her vows to God. She turned from me with a sneer.
I was forcibly reminded of deathbed repentance. Some serve themselves and Satan all their lives, and then as sickness subdues them, and a fearful uncertainty is before them, they
manifest some sorrow for sin, and perhaps say they are willing to die, and their friends make themselves believe that they have been truly converted and fitted for heaven. But if these should recover, they would be as rebellious as ever. I am reminded of Proverbs 1:27, 28: "When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me."
At Gorham, Maine, August 26, 1847, our eldest son, Henry Nichols White, was born. In October, Brother and Sister Howland of Topsham kindly offered us a part of their dwelling, which we gladly accepted, and commenced housekeeping with borrowed furniture. We were poor, and saw close times. We had resolved not to be dependent, but to support ourselves, and have something with which to help others. But we were not prospered. My husband worked very hard hauling stone on the railroad, but could not get what was due him for his labour. Brother and Sister H. freely divided with us whenever they could; but they were in close circumstances. They fully believed the first and second messages, and had generously imparted of their substance to forward the work, until they were dependent on their daily labour.
My husband left the railroad, and with his axe went into the woods to chop cordwood. With a continual pain in his side, he worked from early morning till dark to earn about fifty cents a day. He was prevented from sleeping nights by severe pain. We endeavoured to keep up good courage, and trust in the Lord. I did not murmur. In the morning I felt grateful to God that He had preserved us through another night, and at night I was thankful that He had kept us through another day. One day when our provisions were gone, my husband went to his employer to get money or provisions. It was a stormy day, and he walked three miles
and back in the rain. He brought home on his back a bag of provisions tied in different compartments, having in this manner passed through the village of Brunswick, where he had often lectured. As he entered the house, very weary, my heart sank within me. My first feelings were that God had forsaken us. I said to my husband: "Have we come to this? Has the Lord left us?" I could not restrain my tears, and wept aloud for hours, until I fainted. Prayer was offered in my behalf. When I breathed again, I felt the cheering influence of the Spirit of God, and regretted that I had sunk under discouragement. We desire to follow Christ and to be like Him; but we sometimes faint beneath trials, and remain at a distance from Him. Sufferings and trials bring us near to Jesus. The furnace consumes the dross and brightens the gold.
At this time I was shown that the Lord had been trying us for our good, and to prepare us to labour for others; that He had been stirring up our nest, lest we should settle down at ease. Our work was to labour for souls; if we had been prospered, home would be so pleasant that we would be unwilling to leave it; trials had been permitted to come upon us to prepare us for the still greater conflicts that we would meet in our travels. We soon received letters from brethren in different states inviting us to visit them; but we had no means to take us out of the state. Our reply was that the way was not open before us. I thought that it would be impossible for me to travel with my child. We did not wish to be dependent, and were careful to live within our means. We were resolved to suffer rather than get in debt. I allowed myself and child one pint of milk each day. One morning before my husband went to his work, he left me nine cents to buy milk for three mornings. It was a study with me whether to buy the milk for myself and babe or get an apron for him. I gave up the milk, and purchased the cloth for an apron to cover the bare arms of my child.
Little Henry was soon taken very sick, and grew worse so fast that we were much alarmed. He lay in a stupid state; his breathing was quick and heavy. We gave remedies with no success. We then called in a person of experience in sickness, who said that his recovery was doubtful. We had prayed for him, but there was no change. We had made the child an excuse for not travelling and labouring for the good of others, and we feared the Lord was about to remove him. Once more we went before the Lord, praying that He would have compassion upon us, and spare the life of the child, and solemnly pledging ourselves to go forth, trusting in God, wherever He might send us.
Our petitions were fervent and agonizing. By faith we claimed the promises of God, and we believed that He listened to our cries. Light from heaven was breaking through the clouds and shining upon us. Our prayers were graciously answered. From that hour the child began to recover.
While at Topsham we received a letter from Brother Chamberlain of Connecticut, urging us to attend a Conference in that state in April, 1848. We decided to go if we could obtain means. My husband settled with his employer, and found that there was ten dollars due him. With five of this I purchased articles of clothing which we much needed, and then patched my husband's overcoat, even piecing the patches, making it difficult to tell the original cloth in the sleeves. We had five dollars left to take us to Dorchester, Massachusetts. Our trunk contained nearly everything we possessed on earth; but we enjoyed peace of mind and a clear conscience, and this we prized above earthly comforts. In Dorchester we called at the house of Brother Nichols, and as we left, Sister N. handed my husband five dollars, which paid our fare to Middletown, Connecticut. We were strangers in that city, and had never seen one of the brethren in the state. We had but fifty cents left. My husband did not dare to use that to hire a carriage, so he threw the trunk up on a pile of
boards, and we walked on in search of someone of like faith. We soon found Brother C., who took us to his house.
The Conference was held at Rocky Hill, in the large, unfinished chamber of Brother Belden's house. The brethren came in until we numbered about fifty; but these were not all fully in the truth. Our meeting was interesting. Brother Bates presented the commandments in a clear light, and their importance was urged home by powerful testimonies. The word had effect to establish those already in the truth, and to awaken those who were not fully decided.
We were invited to meet with the brethren in the State of New York the following summer. The believers were poor, and could not promise to do much toward defraying our expenses. We had no means with which to travel. My husband's health was poor, but the way opened for him to work in the hayfield, and he decided to make the effort. It seemed then that we must live by faith. When we arose in the morning, we bowed at our bedside and asked God to give us strength to labour through the day. We would not be satisfied unless we had the assurance that the Lord heard us pray. My husband then went forth to swing the scythe, not in his own strength, but in the strength of the Lord. At night, when he came home, we would again plead with God for strength to earn means to spread His truth. We were often greatly blessed. In a letter to Brother Howland, July, 1848, my husband wrote: "God gives me strength to labour hard all day. Praise His name! I hope to get a few dollars to use in His cause. We have suffered from labour, fatigue, pain, hunger, cold, and heat, while endeavouring to do our brethren and sisters good, and we hold ourselves ready to suffer more if God requires. I rejoice today that ease, pleasure, and comfort in this life are a sacrifice on the altar of my faith and hope. If our happiness consists in making others happy, we are happy indeed. The true disciple will not live to gratify beloved self, but for Christ, and for the good of His little
ones. He is to sacrifice his ease, his pleasure, his comfort, his convenience, his will, and his own selfish wishes for Christ's cause, or never reign with Him on His throne."
The means earned in the hayfield was sufficient to supply our present wants, and also pay our expenses to go to western New York and return.
Our first Conference in New York was held at Volney, in a brother's barn. About thirty-five were present--all that could be collected in that part of the state. But of this number, hardly two were agreed. Some were holding serious errors, and each strenuously urged his own views, declaring that they were according to the Scriptures.
These strange differences of opinion brought a heavy weight upon me, as it seemed to me that God was dishonoured; and I fainted under the burden. Some feared that I was dying; but the Lord heard the prayers of His servants, and I revived. The light of heaven rested upon me, and I was soon lost to earthly things. My accompanying angel presented before me some of the errors of those present, and also the truth in contrast with their errors. These discordant views which they claimed to be according to the Bible were only according to their opinion of the Bible, and they must yield their errors and unite upon the third angel's message. Our meeting closed triumphantly. Truth gained the victory. The brethren renounced their errors, and united upon the third angel's message, and God greatly blessed them and added to their numbers.
From Volney we went to Port Gibson to attend a meeting in Brother Edson's barn. There were those present who loved the truth, but were listening to and cherishing error. The Lord wrought for us in power before the close of that meeting. I was again shown in vision the importance of the brethren in western New York laying aside their differences, and uniting upon Bible truth.
We returned to Middletown, where we had left our child
during our western journey. And now a painful duty presented itself. For the good of souls we felt that we must sacrifice the company of our little Henry, that we might give ourselves unreservedly to the work. My health was poor, and he would necessarily occupy a great share of my time. It was a severe trial, yet I dared not let the child stand in the way of my duty. I believed that the Lord had spared him to us when he was very sick, and that if I should let him hinder me from doing my duty, God would remove him from me. Alone before the Lord, with most painful feelings and many tears, I made the sacrifice, and gave up my only child, then one year old, for another to exercise a mother's feelings toward him, and to act a mother's part. We left him in Brother Howland's family, in whom we had the utmost confidence. They were willing to bear burdens to leave us as free as possible to labour in the cause of God. We knew that they could take better care of Henry than we could while journeying, and that it was for his good to have a steady home and good discipline. It was hard parting with my child. His sad little face, as I left him, was before me night and day; yet in the strength of the Lord I put him out of my mind, and sought to do others good. Brother Howland's family had the whole charge of Henry for five years.