The Desirer of Wages
By Dr. Jack Gent (1924-2012)
Note: Dr. Gent documents Ellen and James White's money making schemes. You will never find this article in the "good ole" Adventist Review. As I read it, I not only found it amusing but it reminded me of the "snake oil" salesmen of the 1800s and TV evangelists that scam their viewers out of their money.
There is no example in the Bible where a prophet took advantage of his inspiration to enrich himself. Probably there is no better illustration of this than the incident recorded in the life of Elisha the prophet.
Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. He had heard of the mighty miracles that a man of God in Israel had performed and the King sent him to seek healing by this man of God, Elisha.
2 Kings 5:14,15 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a boy. Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant."
Vs.16 The prophet answered, "As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing." And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
Vss.19-27 After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, "My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him."
When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from his chariot to meet him. "Is everything all right?" he asked. "Everything is all right," Gehazi answered. "My master sent me to say, Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephriam. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing."
"By all means, take two talents," said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing....
Then he went in and stood before his master Elisha. Where have you been, Gehazi?" Elisha asked. "Your servant didn't go anywhere," Gehazi answered.
But Elisha said to him, "Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? Naaman's leprosy will cling to you and your descendants forever." Then Gehazi went from Elisha's presence and he was leprous, as white as snow."
I believe that this lets us know in no uncertain words that God does not tolerate any of His prophets or their subordinates to commercialize on the spiritual gifts that they receive through Him.
What about the case where a non-prophet was in a position to cash in on a big scale from his talent's in the work of God? I would feel that this may be less offensive to God, but let us look at two, more contemporary, situations regarding this problem.
The printing press was invented in the mid-1400s. Approximately 75 years later (1523-1532) Martin Luther translated the Bible into the language of the people where he resided Germany. It was an instant success and Luther could have become wealthy on the royalties from the sales of his translation. But Luther refused to take any royalty, stating that he wanted the price of the Bible to remain as low as possible so that the poorest of the poor might have a copy of God's Word.
If Luther had accepted royalties for his translation it would not be like taking the gifts by Gehazi, because Luther would have achieved his proffered gift through the intellectual talents that God had endowed him with and his diligent study to make it possible. He did not claim to be a prophet of God. However, I can't help but feel that God was pleased with Luther's decision in this matter.
In the 1870s, Dwight L. Moody, the great evangelist, and Ira Sankey the great song writer and pianist, teamed to carry out a series of evangelistic meetings in England. They made two trips during this time and on their second trip Sankey made a hymnbook of his many gospel songs that they sang in their meetings.
Their publishers were elated by the response of the churches to purchase these hymnals. When the time came to return to America, the publishers told them that the amount of their royalties amounted to over $35,000.00, Moody and Sankey refused to accept a penny of it, and left it for the committee that directed their campaign to dispose of it as they saw fit. We think of $35,000.00 as not that much money, but that would be $1,750,000.00 in our currency today.
"Since the Federal Reserve System was created in 1913, our currency has devaluated 98%, due to the printing of money." [This means that prior to 1913 two cents had the purchasing power of one dollar at the present time.] "The U.S. dollar has lost 90% of its value since 1950." The Gold Standard and Business Cycle, Austrian School of Economics, 1999.
E.S. Ballenger: "In my early school days, the only book of music that we had in the school was Volume 1, of Moody and Sankey's Gospel Hymns. We sang them every morning. The royalties on their hymn book in the United States amounted to over a million dollars, but these noble characters refused to accept a single dollar of it. The money was used for the advancement of God's kingdom. I can well remember when Moody and Sankey's Gospel Hymns was the most popular hymn book among practically all of the churches." Gathering Call, Jan., Feb. 1954.
This million dollars would be over $50,000,000.00 in today's currency.
Now we will have to switch gears to consider a "prophetess" and her attitude toward mammon. Her financial condition at the beginning of her married life sounds compatible with the financial condition of the usual prophet of God.
"We entered upon our work penniless, with few friends, and broken in health...In this condition, without means, with very few who sympathized with us in our views, without a paper, and without books, we entered upon our work. Testimonies, Vol.1 p.75.
It wasn't many years later, when Ellen and James had accumulated a list of magazines, pamphlets and books, that they were found to be avidly sought after due to her claims and their belief that she was a speaker or messenger from God. Their financial condition became greatly improved in regards to their bank account. Notice the account of a close personal friend and associate of how this bank account, was enhanced on one occasion.
"Take an example of how she used her revelations to make money. In 1868, Elder White had on hand several thousand dollars' worth of old books which were dead property, as they were not selling, and were going out of date. He hit on a plan to raise a "book fund" for the free distribution of books and tracts. This fund he used to buy out his and his wife's old books. When the money did not come fast enough, she had a revelation about it thus:
"Why do not our brethren send in their pledges on the book and tract fund more liberally? And why do not our ministers take hold of this work in earnest?...
We will not hold our peace upon this subject. Our people will come up to the work. The means will come.
And we would say to those who are poor and want books, send in your orders...We will send you a package of books containing four volumes of 'Spiritual Gifts,' 'How to Live,' 'Appeal to Youth,' 'Appeal to Mothers,' 'Sabbath Readings,' and the two large charts, with key of explanation,...and charge the fund four dollars." (Testimonies, Vol.1 p.689).
Every one of those books was their own. The money came, and they pocketed it all. I was there, and know." The Life of Mrs. E.G.White, by D.M. Canright pp.208, 209.
It is interesting to note the statement in Vol.1 above from her book:
"Send fifty cents to pay the postage, and we will send you the five-dollar package and charge the fund four dollars." Testimonies, Vol.1 p.689)
The fifty cents would represent twenty-five dollars at current value. That would be about right to mail a package of that weight at the present time. The four dollars would be equivalent to $200.00 dollars at present value.
Note from a letter that James White sent to his wife, in 1880.
"I shall have a picture that will readily sell for $2.00 a copy...
We must get out certain books. These we shall not complete in California or in Battle Creek, unless we keep away from the Office and its business...
Our financial matters stand well, and there is wealth yet in our pens. In this way we can leave something that will tell when we may be gone." (J. W. to E.G.W., 17 April, 1880.) [Little did James know that in one year he would be gone.]
Again from James to Ellen:
"I prefer to receive nothing back from the Sanitarium and College, and in order to have means, to act our part in point of giving to other enterprises, we should receive liberally on our books.
With the increasing demand for our writings, and the new "Way of Life" picture, there will be an income of several thousand dollars annually." Letter from James White to Ellen G. White, February 18,1881.
Every $1,000.00 then would equal $50,000.00 now!
It still remained difficult for me to see how James and Ellen could accumulate the equivalent of present day million dollars from their efforts in raising up a struggling new church organization. This organization was continually in financial straits. Could this financial windfall be the result of overwhelming blessings of God?? I believe we have John Harvey Kellogg to thank for some insight into how this millionaire status came about.
In 1907 the Church sent two of their officers (George W. Amadon and Elder A. C. Bordeau) to interview Dr. Kellogg as the first step in having him disfellowshipped. Dr. Kellogg managed the Sanitarium and had control of how its funds were disbursed. He had an excellent reputation and was well known throughout the United States. To get control of the Sanitarium, the Church truly had to "kill the goose" who laid the golden egg—Dr. Kellogg.
Dr. Kellogg was aware of the purposes of the interview and stipulated that he would give them the interview only if they would have a professional secretary who could take down every word of the conversation. He also required that copies, signed by each of the discussants, be made available to each party. He knew that, unless this was done, the contents of the discussion would be distorted from both sides, with no evidence to reveal what really transpired. They all agreed to his requirement; therefore, a full and complete transcript of the conversation has been preserved for posterity. The contents of this discussion has never been promoted by the Church, to my knowledge.
Under the topic of James White there is a section that sheds light on how James operated, which makes it easy to see how this fortune was accumulated. This section is entitled: "The $5,000.00."
Dr. Kellogg: "The Elder (James White) had a dealing with the Sanitarium by which he got possession of five thousand dollars that did not belong to him. He told them if they did not let him keep it he would throw up the sponge, withdraw his influence from the Sanitarium. So the Elder kept the money.
About the time we started the new building the Elder got sick. He had a stroke, went down to South Lancaster, stopped with Elder Haskell, and sent me a check for five thousand dollars. He told me he had intended to pay the money back, that he had always intended to pay it back, that he had told the members of the Board so, told Drusilla Lamson, Mrs. Hall, and others. They all knew he had intended to pay the money back."
[When James White had the stroke he came face to face with his mortality and the guilt of his purloined $5,000.00 caused his conscience to agonize. The fear of explaining this to God brought about "restitution." But this restitution was short lived, as you will readily see.]
Dr. Kellogg Continued: "But he got well, came around and demanded it back. I headed him off for awhile, but finally he came out and demanded it. I told him it belonged to the Sanitarium, that he knew it and I knew it. Then he went right at it to down me. When it came to the election, I told the nominating committee they could leave him off or leave me off. I would not serve on the Board with him.
He had been using his influence against the institution, telling people all over the country the institution was going bankrupt and they should withdraw their money. I would not serve if he was on the Board, so they left him off.
An arbitrating committee came to me and said, "We have talked with Sister White, and she says she has seen that you should pay that money back to the Elder."
I said, "She never saw it."
"Oh," said Elder Butler, "do you mean to say that you know better than Sister White what she has seen?"
I said, "I can prove to you that the Lord never showed her any such thing."
"Well, you have a big task, it seems to me, for a little doctor." And I proved it to him.
But there it was. Sister White had said the Lord had said we should pay that back. The Sanitarium Board hedged, but because Sister White said she had seen it of the Lord, they thought they should pay the money back. But I took my stand against it.
However, the next morning I went to the bank, got the check and paid that money back to the Elder when I knew he ought not to get it.
"The Lord had said it." I could not stand up against that. But I let them know how I felt about it."
[From the jaws of death, James gets over his stroke, and now, from his usual "modus operandi" he feels safe in asking for his "restitution" to be restored to him. Dr. Kellogg is stubborn, and Ellen tips the scales by a testimony where God tells her that the money should be given back to James. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, the $5,000.00 is again returned to James.]
Dr. Kellogg Continued: "The Elder took the money, paid it into the Review and Herald to settle up old scores when he had had more profits than he ought to have had on his books.
Then he got up a special supplement of the Review, saying he admitted he had had more of the profits than he ought to have had, and he was making it right by paying the Review and Herald office five thousand dollars.
The five thousand dollars he had stolen from us went to pay back five thousand dollars he had stolen from the Review and Herald."
[Now, James takes the $5,000.00 that he got back again, after having restored it to its rightful owners‹the Sanitarium, and makes restitution to the Review and Herald office, where he had previously purloined $5,000.00 from them. This time the Lord didn¹t give him another wake-up call, but the call that ends it all. At this time he received the fatal stroke.]
Dr. Kellogg Continued: "Now I waited. In the meantime, the Elder died (August, 1881). He would not have done such crazy things if he had been sound.
I told W. C. White, S. N. Haskell, and H. W. Kellogg that the five thousand dollars had been gotten by wrong doing, and I was going to have it back.
H. W. (Kellogg) shook his fist in my face and said, "You¹ll never get a dollar of it."
I said, "I will have every penny of it."
I said to W. C. White, "If the money isn¹t paid back, I shall stand up before the next General Conference and tell the entire story from beginning to end." I said, "It will be a hard thing to do now that your father is dead, but I will do it."
They had a business session at the Review and Herald office. I happened to be down there in the counting room, and H. W. (Kellogg) walked in and said, "Here is a check for you." He handed me it, a check for five thousand dollars.
He said, "I want you to understand I don¹t do this of my own free will, but because I am instructed to do it by the Board."
"I suppose you (Amadon) were one of the men that told him to do it."
Amadon: "I don¹t think I was on the Board then."
Dr. Kellogg: "Perhaps you were not, but you knew about it."
Amadon: "Oh, yes, I knew about it."
Dr. Kellogg: "I took that five thousand dollars, stood against crookedness and won.
Now, this is the point: I took my stand square against Elder White and Sister White and the Testimonies, and the whole General Conference Committee, and they gave me the five thousand dollars because they didn¹t dare face the truth.
Sister White knew from that time on it wasn¹t any use sending me Testimonies that were not square, that I would not submit and say, "The Lord says it."
Consider the strength of evidence Dr. Kellogg must have had to cause the General Conference Committee to write out that $5,000.00 check. It would represent $250,000.00 in purchasing power today. This check was written to Dr. Kellogg in spite of James¹ previous claim that it was his, as well as Ellen¹s claim that God had shown her it should be given back to James. It was also a committee that was hostile to the interests of Dr. Kellogg.
One can only wonder if this last but fatal stroke had been non-fatal, would James White also have asked the Review and Herald to return that elusive $5,000.00 which he had previously stolen from them?
Ellen White¹s books continued to roll off the presses and she insisted on ten percent as her royalty for all the sales. This became a heavy load for the publishing houses.
In 1911 the royalties to her from their publishing house in Washington, D.C. alone, amounted to over $8,000.00 which would represent $400,000.00 at the present rate of exchange. This was more than the profits for that institution for the entire year. Consider what poor Gehazi received for taking only two talents of silver and two sets of clothing.
Now notice some of the promo to fire the publishing houses and thus the royalty coffers.
"The volumes of Spirit of Prophecy, and also the Testimonies, should be introduced into every Sabbath keeping family,...
It was not the wisest plan to place these books at a low figure and have only one set in a church. They should be in the library of every family and read again and again...
Let them be kept where they can be read by many, and let them be worn out in being read by all the neighbors." Testimonies, Vol.4, p.390.
This doesn't sound like Martin Luther, does it? But then, Luther didn't claim to be a prophet.
"God has caused precious rays of light to be brought out in publications, and these should be owned and read by every family.
Parents, your children are in danger of going contrary to the light given of heaven, and you should both purchase and read the books, for they will be a blessing to you and yours.
You should read the Spirit of Prophecy to your neighbors and prevail upon them to buy copies for themselves." Ibid. p.391.
"Skepticism and infidelity are increasing everywhere. Light so precious, coming from the throne of God, is hid under a bushel. God will make His people responsible for this neglect...
They do not realize their duty to obtain subscriptions for our periodicals, including our health journal, and to introduce our books and pamphlets." Ibid. p.391.
Imagine the load of guilt that most of their true believers felt when they knew that they have not done their maximum effort in advancing this onslaught of material.
"Our publishing houses should show marked prosperity. Our people can sustain them if they will show a decided interest to work our publications into the market. But should as little interest be manifested in the year to come as has been shown in the year past, there will be but a small margin to work upon. The wider the circulation of our publications, the greater will be the demand for books that make plain the Scriptures of truth."...
We must carry the publications to the people and urge them to accept, showing them that they will receive much more than their money's worth. Exalt the value of the books you offer. You cannot regard them too highly." Ibid. p.392.
Due to the burden of the royalty payments, and the red ink that it engendered, the publishing houses of the Church tried various ways of increasing the bottom line. One of the ways was to look for a book that had general appeal but was not saddled with royalty charges.
They found a winner in the book, Bible Readings, which was a book on various Bible topics with texts to identify and describe their meaning. It became ready for publication at the time that The Great Controversy was ready, awaiting promotion, and selling by the church.
Because of the royalty curse, the book on Bible Readings was promoted and sold while The Great Controversy was ignored for the next two years. The words of Ellen White are interesting as to how she viewed this slight of her book. I believe the slight was more for the publisher's survival rather than any slight of her book.
"No one can have been hurt financially more than I was hurt when Great Controversy lay for two years in the office. Just work was not done in this matter.
The book Bible Readings was crowded in before Great Controversy, which was already printed, and should have been placed in the canvasser's hands first...
It seemed like I was mocked because of my intense earnestness in regard to that book, and what it might have done had it not been dropped as it was, and through unsanctified influences and selfish, unprincipled methods shut away from the people.
This was a dishonest transaction toward me, and it was unfaithful stewardship toward God. Special Instructions Regarding Royalties, p.7, 1899.
It was about this same time that the Review and Herald Publishing House decided to completely stop paying royalties. They passed the following resolutions:
"That manuscripts prepared outside the office, at an author's expense, be purchased before publishing the same."
"That no further investment be made in publishing or promoting books unless ownership and full control of the plates can be secured." The Time, The Need, The Message. p.75.
Needless to say that Ellen White refused to submit to this plan. Note her own words:
"Then, if my brethren did not awake to the situation, I was to make no delay in taking the books into my own hands, and the Lord would prepare the way before me." Special Instructions Regarding Royalties. p.7.
Some of the authors who were writing books for publishing by Review and Herald Publishing House agreed to the resolutions put out by these publishers. This made Ellen look greedy indeed. She responded with some very unprophet-like advice:
"I wish to say to authors, that I can not see that they have any liberty to either give away or sell their right to books they have written. When you do this, a door of temptation is opened before the publishers to repeat the history of the past.
They will obtain for a small sum books that are not of vital importance. They will say to these authors, 'It is naught, it is naught.'
They will make some little changes, and then exalt these books to the highest in their notices. They will deceive the people, and while doing this will treat valuable books indifferently." Ibid. p.11.
Although Ellen White was on the maximum salary paid to a minister of the Church, her lavish lifestyle couldn't help but feel the results of the dwindling royalty flow. In her own words note how this affected her:
"After the publishers refused to handle my books, I had to draw from the Review and Herald for means to live on. They humiliated me in the dust by telling me that they could not honor my order, for I had overdrawn." Ibid. p.6.
"I have been shown that some men worked with Elder Smith, (Uriah Smith--author of Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation) in an underhanded manner, in order to lead him to place the lowest possible royalties on his books.
Elder Smith was deceived in the object of these men; he thought that they were really trying to advance the cause of God; and they obtained their desire.
Then they came to me and to others, telling us that Brother Smith received only so much for his books, and urging that the canvassers would rather handle books that would sell rapidly." Manuscript Releases, Vol. Seventeen, p.191.
Here she is claiming that God has shown her that some deceitful men have been deceiving Uriah Smith into lowering his royalty fees. Would this be a cardinal sin?
The truth was that her ten percent royalties were pricing her books out of the market and the canvassers were wanting to obtain books more favorably priced as their livelihood depended on their sales of many books.
Isn't it interesting that of all the authors involved, the one that is the most interested in maintaining the highest royalty fees in selling "God's instructions" is the 'prophetess' who claims to have received them from God.
"When the members of the board take it upon themselves to urge that all the profits from our denominational books shall go to the Publishing Association and the agents, and that the authors, after being paid for the time and expense of writing the book, should relinquish their claim to their share of the profits, they are undertaking a work which they cannot carry out." Testimonies, Vol.5, p.564.
"If the board should be able to bring Brethren H and J to their terms, would not these writers feel that they had been dealt with unjustly?...
Should the managers grasp all the profits, it would not be well for the cause, but would produce a train of evils, disastrous to the Publishing Association. It would encourage the spirit of intolerance which is already manifest to some degree in their councils. Satan longs to have a narrow, conceited spirit, which God cannot approve, take possession of the men who are connected with the sacred message of truth." Ibid. p.566.
It is apparent from the above that Ellen was careful to collect all the royalties that were coming to her. One would suspect that she must have been a wealthy woman at the time of her death.
What was her attitude toward being a spendthrift? Was she the borrowing type? Let her tell us herself.
"There must be a strict regard to economy or a heavy debt will be incurred. Keep within bounds. Shun the incurring of debt as you would shun leprosy." Councils on Stewardship, p.272.
"Shun debt. Many poor families are poor because they spend their money as soon as they receive it. You must see that one should not manage his affairs in a way that will incur debt....
When one becomes involved in debt, he is in one of Satan's nets, which he sets for souls...
Abstracting and using money for any purpose, before it is earned, is a snare." The Adventist Home, p.392.
"You had better live very humbly, and keep a clear conscience. Owe no man anything, and you will not have so much perplexity.
Live within your means. Shun debts as you would a great evil.
You are a poor financier. You are a poor manager. You should counsel with men who have made life a success, and be guided by their counsel. If you would do this, you would save yourself great trials, and your course would be more pleasing to God." To Whom it May Concern, p.7.
And to her eldest surviving son she wrote:
"Make no unwise investments. Owe no man anything. Do not bind up borrowed money, making future calculations too abundantly to repay, for this has ever been your weakness." Manuscript Releases, Vol.1, p.265, To J. Edson White, Oct. 7,1895.
"Be determined never to incur another debt. Deny yourself a thousand things rather than to run into debt. This has been the curse of your life, getting into debt. Avoid it as you would the smallpox." The Adventist Home, p.393.
From Australia she writes in 1898:
"Many parents act as if it were a great privilege to be able to introduce their children into so-called 'good society.' To do this their resources are taxed to the utmost. Money and time are laid on the altar of mammon until the expenditure far exceeded the income.
Still further, to keep up appearances, money is borrowed. Daily such parents practice deceit, that they may lead people to think them worthy to be members of what is falsely called 'good society.'
The children of the family understand the programe; they understand that they must seek to be what they are not, they must act a deceptive part in order to be counted worthy of society." The Bible Echo, "Keeping up appearances", p.4, 10-24-98.
This sounds very much like her autobiography, doesn't it?
"Make a solemn covenant with God that by His blessing you will pay your debts and then owe no man anything even if you live on porridge and bread.
It is so easy in preparing your table to throw out of your pocket twenty-five cents for extras. Take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves. It is the mites here and the mites there that are spent for this, that, and the other that soon run up into dollars.
Deny yourself at least while you are walled off into debt." The Adventist Home, p.393.
How about borrowing for a worthy cause? Is that a good practice? What is her advice on this activity?
"Let them guard themselves as with a fence of barbed wire against the inclination to go into debt. Let them say firmly: Henceforth we will advance no faster than the Lord shall indicate and the means in hand shall allow, even though the good work has to wait for a while. In the beginning in new places, we will labor in narrow quarters, rather than involve the Lord's cause in debt." Testimonies, Vol. 7, pp.235,236.
I believe she leaves no doubt as to how she feels about going into debt and how important it is to owe no man anything.
Just how careful was she in carrying out these good instructions in her own life? She has left us with a wealth of information as to this also.
"I prize my seamstress; I value my copyist; but my cook, who knows well how to prepare the food to sustain life and nourish brain, bone, and muscle, fills the most important place among the helpers in my family." Testimonies, Vol.2, p.370
This doesn't sound like living on porridge and bread, does it? How many families do you know who have a full time live-in seamstress? Or a full time cook, for that matter. And these are only a few of the full time, live-in helpers that she employed.
"At present, my dear niece, we have 13 in the family. Let me name them: Sara McEnterfer is my nurse, and takes charge as matron of my home. She was with me for nine years before I left America, and traveled with me wherever I went. But she was taken down with malarial fever, and May Walling and Emily Campbell came with me to this country. About a year ago I was taken very sick, and it was thought that I might die or have a long siege of sickness, and Sara (McEnterfer) was called to come to me. Sarah Belden is with me and does the cooking for the family... Marian Davis and Eliza Burnham are my chief workers in the editorial line. Maggie Hare is editing my articles for the papers. She has not been long at this class of work. She is a young woman of good health, and is highly promising, and appreciated by me. Minnie Hawkins is now being educated to edit my articles for the press. May Israel is my bookkeeper. She is a young woman of good health... She has reported sermons at our camp meetings... Miss Lucas, a young woman whom I should suppose to be about 26 years old, is my seamstress. Edith Ward, I took out of pity. She was 12 years old when she came to live with me, and is now 14. She is Sarah Belden's maid, and helps her in the kitchen. Edgar, a boy of about 15, does the chores about the place such as cutting wood, attending to the fires etc. Mr. Connell is my outdoor manager, caring for the horses and farm work. Harry Hawkins, a brother of Minnie, is a member of my family at present. He is a carpenter, and is very handy." Manuscript Releases, Vol. 14, p.328, "The responsibilities of helpers in Ellen White's Australian home."
Ellen White left America to go to Australia in 1891. If Sara McEnterfer had been with Ellen for nine years prior to that time she had to have started her employment by Ellen in 1882. She remained as Ellen's full time nurse and traveling companion until the time of Ellen's death in 1915. This is a period of 33 years. Sara was a registered nurse and apparently a very competent one.
How many families do you know who are able to hire a registered nurse for the last 33 years of their lives as a live-in full time nurse? And that was at a time when she only needed one after she broke her hip shortly prior to her death.
James White died in 1881. At that time Ellen was 53 years of age. She became sole owner of their $20,000 estate; $1,000,000.00 of present day money.
The following year at the age of 54 she hires a full-time registered nurse, Sara McEnterfer, for general purposes and as her traveling companion. Sara joined the full time seamstress and cook as a few of Ellen's full time servants.
And now the time has come for Ellen's return to America following her nine years in Australia.
"This closed nine busy, fruitful years in the Continent down under. Before them was a 7,200-mile, 23 day journey across the Pacific.
Willie had been successful in securing the most comfortable room for his mother, the bridal stateroom in the first-class section—in the aft of the ship. The tickets had cost $160 each ($8,000.00 each of present day money) for Ellen White and Sara McEnterfer.
The rest of the party traveled second-class. Willie reported that they had been successful in securing the four best rooms in that section, with tickets costing $70 each. ($3,500 each at present rate of exchange)...
Ellen White was pleased with her room. "I have a wide bed," she wrote in her diary, "as I have at home. Sara McEnterfer has her berth opposite mine. It is rather narrow. I have a bureau, wardrobe, and every convenience." (The Early Elmshaven Years Vol. 5, (1900-1905)
"However, she was eager to get on with the book work that awaited her attention. She now had a good staff: Sara McEnterfer was her personal secretary, nurse, and traveling companion; Marian Davis, Clarence Crisler, Sarah Peck, and Maggie Hare composed her secretarial force; M.J.Nelson was cook; Iram James managed the farm; Mrs. N.H. Drulliard was her accountant; and Mr. Drulliard the builder.
W. C. White gave general supervision and served Ellen White and the General Conference in varied capacities." Ellen G. White: The Early Elmshaven Years. Vol.5, p.132, 1900-1905.
Although her son, Willie, worked primarily for his mother, she had been successful in getting the Church to pay him the maximum ministerial wage, but I could find no information how the other members of her staff were paid.
With the large amount of money from her royalties, did she end up with a fortune? Remember that her royalties on one of her books alone amounted to $40,000.00 dollars total. This would be $2,000,000.00 at the present rate of exchange. Her total royalties collected was well over $100,000.00. That would be five million dollars at the present purchasing power.
"I have borrowed money, to the amount of several hundred pounds, at a low rate of interest. We have also received several hundred pounds from our people without interest. When the necessity arises, I feel no hesitation about receiving these loans, either with or without interest." (Australasian) Union Conference Record, 1-1-1900, p.16.
"Therefore, I cannot give my consent to have any of my books handled at the present time in the way you suggest. It would make upon the minds of some of our brethren an impression that would not be desirable.
Even though the whole $30,000.00 of my indebtedness might be settled in the matter you propose, yet I could not give my consent." Letter 94, 1908, pp.1-3, to S. N. Haskell, General Conference President: Topic—Proposal for privately published, inexpensive Editions of Education and Early Writings.
Haskell's proposal was an attempt to have her agree to publishing two of her many books inexpensively, and the royalties be used to help pay off her burdensome debts. This would make them more easily affordable by the common people and should greatly help her to reduce some of her indebtedness. Ellen did not like the idea as "it is not the wisest plan to place these books at a low figure." Apparently she continued to see it that way.
When James White died in 1881, he left an estate of $20,000.00 to his wife. James may have had many short-comings, but keeping insolvent or being in debt was not one of them.
That $20,000 is equivalent to one million dollars at the present time. If Ellen had been living in our day she would qualify as a millionaire with that much purchasing power. This money left to Ellen represented the difficult times and limited royalty earnings of her married life. The glory days of large royalty income was still in the future.
It was common knowledge among the Church officials that Ellen was in debt but it must have been a surprise to them just how much she was in debt, which they discovered at her demise. This in spite of the five million in royalties that she received in addition to the million that she had inherited at the death of her husband, at present day valuation.
"According to the records kept in the office, her financial interests in book rights, primary plates, and manuscripts, together with her home property, et cetera, exceeded comfortably her indebtedness, but on her death, or soon thereafter, her creditors would expect the return of their money." Ellen White: The Late Elmshaven Years. Vol.6, p.446.
In actuality, her assets amounted to far less than her indebtedness. Her accountant had figured her assets as what one might expect to obtain after years of collecting her royalties on her books and magazines.
Her home was valued at $20,000, and with the barn, farming equipment and associated buildings an additional $6,000.00; and fairly priced. That would represent $1,300,000,00 at the present time. It was estimated that a fair market value of all her literary properties and associated assets would be approximately $40,000.00. This would be if a forced sale was made to fulfill the clearing of her indebtedness.
The Church couldn't allow this as all her manuscripts and book rights etc. would become the property of the bankruptcy court to divide with her creditors. They were forced to break her will which had willed a good portion of her future royalties to her two sons and their families. No provision was made by Ellen White to pay her debts.
Even the Church didn't have the finances to clear her indebtedness and had to borrow money to pay off her creditors to save her estate from bankruptcy. It took them several years to save her royalties, and other means to pay back the loans they had accepted; to free them from this onerous financial load.
This is the time that a true count of all those who had loaned her money finally surfaced, some with interest and some without interest. The total came to a staggering $88,000.00. This figure represents the personal loans that she was able to obtain at their face value when she received them and not any interest that might have accrued on these loans.
[This is not counting any encumbrances on any of her personal property. This would be equivalent to $4,400,000.00 of current value, due and payable on demand, without figuring any possible interest. Some of these loans were made several years earlier and there may have been significant interest charges as well.]
"According to the records at the time of her death, Ellen White's properties, including home, farm, book plates, copyrights, and manuscripts were valued, in round figures, at $121,000; the liabilities were recorded at $88,000.00.
When her will was probated in the usual way in the Napa County Supreme Court, the Judge, though friendly, did not agree with the advice of Attorney Bell that provision could be made for the creditors to await payment pending the earnings of the estate in book royalties. Rather he held that, in compliance with law and normal procedures, all claims against Ellen White's estate must be met promptly and the estate closed up.
The Judge appointed three men to appraise the property...It was not difficult for these men to look over the real estate, farm implements and stock, office equipment and supplies, and put down their value. The bulk of the Estate, however, was in literary properties, book plates, and copyrights, and the E.G. White Manuscripts...
When W. C. White opened the vault door and explained that it held the E.G. White Manuscripts and the records of copyrights and book plates, the appraising committee was at a total loss to arrive at an evaluation, and so the men wrote down an arbitrary figure of $40,000.00 merely as a guess."
"This $40,000 for the literary properties, together with the $26,000 at which the home and the other properties was listed, left the Estate $21,000 short of its obligations. Ellen White was, for legal purposes, declared insolvent.
The White Estate Trustees and the leaders of the General Conference who were called in for counsel were confronted with an unexpected but very real problem. These were days when money was in short supply, $21,000 was a large sum, [$1,050,000 in present money] and the shortage was a baffling matter. From a financial standpoint there were no means with which to meet the requests of the will. It was considered a "dry trust." Ibid, pp. 454,455.
"It was finally agreed:
1. That the General Conference would advance to the White Estate Trustees, as an interest bearing loan, sufficient funds to meet all outstanding obligations. The loan to be repaid by sale of property and from royalty incomes." Ibid, p. 455.
[If they were able to sell her home, farm, and the associated buildings and equipment for $26,000, this would leave them with a debt of $62,000. This would be the equivalent of $3,100,000 dollars at the present time. This is the amount of debt that they had to pay in order to retain the books, papers and manuscripts and associated materials in the White Estate.]
2. "That each of the two sons to whom 10% of the Estate was bequeathed would, in exchange for a modest settlement relinquish their claims on the Estate.
To J. E. White, this meant a cancellation of his obligation to the Estate for the nearly $10,000 advanced by his mother to assist in his publishing ventures. To W. C. White, it meant a like amount." Ibid, p.455.
[This would be the equivalent to $500,000 each at present rate of exchange. Modest settlement for their interest in a bankrupt Estate? It took from 1915 to 1933 before this incurred debt, to clear her Estate from bankruptcy, was finally paid off.]
- Can you think of any prophet of God in the Bible whose instructions he or she gave to their adherents as words from God, who so flagrantly did the opposite in their own lives?
- Can you imagine any prophet doing this if they really believed that the messages that they were promoting were, in reality, from God?
- Can you remain convinced that God would continue to send His messages to any messenger of His who would so disregard these instructions in their own life?
- Can you suspect the grade that God will give you if you give a yes answer to any of the above questions?
- Can you feel comfortable with how you will explain these "yes" answers to Him?
—Dr. Jack Gent