Testimonies for the Church
The Times of Volume 8
Volume 8 was published to meet a crisis--the greatest crisis which the Seventh - day Adventist church has ever faced. The urgency of the matter is evidenced in that the book came from the press in March, 1904, fifteen months after volume 7 was published. At the time of its issuance it was not known how the tide would turn. Today we can look back and see that its steadying instruction was a large factor in averting threatened disaster. While the work of the denomination was reaching out to encompass the world, and while there had been a reorganization of the general conference which made a rapid yet sound growth possible, developments in our old headquarters city of battle creek, Michigan, took shape which, if they had been unchecked, would have led to the destruction of the very foundations of seventh day Adventist faith. It all came about in such a subtle way that its hazards were not detected at the outset, for error was presenting itself under the garb of "new light."
Near the turn of the century, certain of the workers of the denomination, and especially the leader in the medical missionary interests, espoused certain teachings concerning the personality of god which were quite out of harmony with the clear teachings of the word of god and the positions of the church. Yet these teachings were set forth as an advancement in the understanding of the message, the general acceptance of which would, it was claimed, bring a glorious experience to the people of god and would hasten the finishing of the work. These pantheistic views envisioned god not as a great personal being ruling the universe, but rather as a power, a force, seen and felt in nature and pervading the very atmosphere. Confusing the power of god with his personality, they saw god in the sunshine, in the flower, in the grass, in the tree, and in their fellow human beings.
These strange but entrancing views were publicly presented at one general conference session, they were freely advocated in Battle Creek College, and were presented again and again in the Battle Creek sanitarium. At length this "new light" became a topic of discussion when Seventh - day Adventist workers gathered informally or for seasons of counsel. While it was a matter of deep concern to the leaders of the church, their efforts to check these pantheistic teachings seemed almost wholly ineffective. Through the winter of 1902-03 the movement gained momentum. Then the problem became acute with the publication of a book on physiology and hygiene written in popular style, in which the leading physician of the denomination set forth these views in a subtle way. The book was issued for wide sale by seventh-day Adventists to aid in securing funds for the rebuilding of the Battle Creek sanitarium. It seemed to the leaders of the church that the crisis would most surely be reached at the general conference session held in the spring of 1903, when they hoped Mrs. White would deal clearly with the matter. But each time she spoke she seemed to be restrained and presented a message calling for unity in the work and the need of pressing together in interest.
When the general conference session closed, the issue was still not met. A few months later, in the autumn of 1903, Mrs. White was instructed in vision to meet promptly and squarely the pantheistic doctrines and to point out the dangers of the accompanying speculative and spiritistic teachings. Communications dispatched by her from California reached the brethren in autumn council session in Washington, D. C., at the peak of the crisis. All could now see that god was guiding and guarding his work, and in the light of the spirit of prophecy messages nearly all took their stand on the side of truth. In the field, however, there was perplexity, uncertainty, and confusion. Testimonies for the church, volume 8, bore a message on this matter which in certain terms defined the truth and thus left the error to stand out in bold contrast. The crisis was met, and the church was saved. No human power alone could have preserved the church in this crisis.
Besides this paramount doctrinal controversy, there were other church issues in the times of volume 8. Only a few weeks after volume 7 had come from the press, with its message of counsel regarding the work being done in our publishing houses, the factory of the review and herald publishing association was destroyed by fire. This was the second great disaster in Battle Creek and followed the sanitarium fire by less than eleven months. There were problems incident to this loss much greater than that of replacing destroyed property. For years the spirit of prophecy counsels had called for a dispersion of believers from Battle Creek and the establishment of sanitarium, educational, and publishing interests elsewhere. Our people had been urged not to congregate in large numbers at the headquarters of the work. It was in response to these counsels that the old Battle Creek College had been moved to the country location of Berrien springs, Michigan. Now with the manufacturing plant of the review and herald destroyed by fire, it seemed to the leaders to be a propitious time to relocate the work of the publishing house at some other point, and appropriate steps were taken in that direction from the outset the general conference headquarters had been located near the review and herald office. The two seemed inseparable. Any plan to move one would involve the other. In response to guidance through the spirit of prophecy, suitable locations were sought, and finally, in the suburbs of Washington, D. C., the nation's capital, acceptable properties were found, and the work of the publishing house and the general conference offices were moved to that center in august, 1903.
To help seventh-day Adventists understand the background of the cause of the disaster which wiped out the publishing house, and the need of re-establishing the work on a new basis and in a new location, "counsels often repeated" were set forth in volume 8. These issues, involving our medical work, our publishing work, and the very doctrines of the church, were large and could easily divert the attention of our people around the world from the main task before us--that of carrying the everlasting gospel to all the world. Even though volume 8 was issued primarily to meet these crises, and to make the correct course forever clear to seventh-day Adventists, Ellen white made a positive approach. The book opens, not with a picture of the problems confronting us, but rather with the section entitled "present opportunities" in which "our work" is set forth in appealing terms. Then follow chapters on "the commission," "the power promised," and views of our responsibilities at home and abroad, with special mention of "the work in Europe." how it would have pleased the great enemy of truth if the minds and thoughts of the people of god could have been turned from the great unfinished task by speculations regarding the godhead, by fanaticism, or by confused ideas of organization. But god's people were not to be diverted from their work of enlightening the world. With their eyes on the work, advance moves were made. True, some lost their way in the crisis of 1902-03. Certain institutional properties were lost to the denomination; but, rather than retarding the work, the crisis marked the opening of great aggressive movements. The warnings of the section "be on guard" and the clear delineation of truth in the group of chapters on "the essential knowledge" will ever serve to keep the church from misleading teachings, and the other counsels of volume 8 will be of benefit to the end of time.
The Trustees of the
Ellen G. White