The Messenger Party: "The Resistance Begins"

By Dirk Anderson

In the early days of Adventism, many individuals rejected the visions of Ellen White as false and contradictory. However, the first organized resistance did not start until 1853. At that time, two Sabbath-keeping ministers, C.P. Russell and H.S. Case were leading the work in Jackson, Michigan.

The Palmer Incident

It all started with a minor incident in May of 1853. A lady in the church, Sister Palmer, was having some ongoing difficulty with an unbelieving neighbor. One day, in the heat of the moment, she reportedly spoke harshly to her, calling the woman a "b*tch." Brother Case's daughter was an eyewitness to the event, and reported the incident, and the word used, to Elder Case. The ministers charged Mrs. Palmer with wrongdoing and asked her to explain herself. She denied the incident and refused to reveal the word she called the neighbor.1

Elder and Mrs. White arrived in Jackson on Friday, June 3, for a meeting at the church. They quickly learned there was a controversy in the church over this matter. During the meeting, Mrs. White had a vision about Mrs. Palmer and afterward reproved her, saying:

I saw that Sr. Palmer had been proud and exalted, and had been worldly-minded, that she had not possessed right feelings and a right spirit towards unbelievers. There was a feeling of hatred in her heart toward them, and words were spoken concerning them which should never have been said words were spoken concerning them which should never have been said...2

At that point, Case and Russell were pleased with the outcome, which they believed to be just. They claimed to have faith in the visions and they strongly urged Sister Palmer to confess, but she remained silent.3 The next day, Sister White had another visions, in which her spirit guide spoke to her:

I then was pointed again to Sr. Palmer. Said the Angel, it does not belong there. Words were spoken but not the ones that were said that she spake. I saw words spoken that were wrong, that should not have been spoken, and which in no way could glorify God; but which were the fruits of the risings of self. But the words which were considered the most sinful she did not speak. ... I saw that Brother Case’s daughter did not mean to lie about Sr. Palmer, but she thought she heard her say something much as she told, and she was willing to have it look worse than it was, and as bad as possible.4

She went on to say there had been trouble between the Case and Palmer families before this incident, and that Case and Russell used poor judgment in believing the testimony of Case's daughter.5 At that point, Mrs. Palmer confessed but insisted the word she used was "witch."6 Case and Russell were confused. They thought they had handled the matter appropriately and were surprised by Ellen White's rebuke of them. To them, it probably seemed like Mrs. White switched her story after finding out more from the Palmers. Case and Russell had their eyes opened. They began to realize the visions were false and contrived. Case was later disfellowshipped because of his "doubts relative to the truthfulness of the visions."7 Case's daughter, Savilla, was devestated at being called a liar by someone she thought was a prophet. Several months later, she found the courage to speak out at a church meeting about the period of depression she went through. She concluded by insisting that Ellen White's visions were "false and that she did hear Sr. P. say the word."8

The Messenger of Truth

Not long afterward, Russell and Case formed a Sabbatarian group that took a stand upon the Bible alone. They named themselves the "Messenger Party" and started a paper called the Messenger of Truth, which they sent out to many Adventists in the region. In its pages the authors advocated for the Bible alone as the rule of faith. They also warned against being deceived by false visions.

After they came out against the visions, Mrs. White fired off a testimony warning the Messenger Party that they were under the "frown of God" and condemning their "selfishness", their "lying tongues," and their "corrupt hearts."9 In the same testimony, Mrs. White claimed the Party would not injure God's cause. In fact, the Party helped solidify the belief of many Adventists that the visions were false. Believers in Ellen White responded to this crisis by coming out in battle against the heretics who doubted her visions. Throughout the region, the visions of Ellen White became a major point of contention. Many who did not believe the visions were disfellowshipped.

As the visions became a test of fellowship, the battle lines were drawn between those who stood upon the visions and those who stood upon the Bible alone. At a Messenger Party meeting in Franciscoville, in October of 1854, the building was crowded to overflowing. A number of Adventists "expressed their determination to let go of the visions, and for the future, take the word alone as their only rule of faith and duty."10 As a result of the meeting, two-thirds of the 45 Adventists came out against the visions.11

Many letters came into the Messenger of Truth, thanking them for having the courage to reveal the truth about the visions. Below are some of the comments sent in by readers:12

  • Ransom Hicks - ...it [is] self-evident to every unprejudiced mind that her visions are not of God because of their confusion, which God certainly is not the author.

  • George Cottrell - There are many things in the visions I cannot reconcile with the word of God...

  • Vestus Chapin - We have no confidence in Ellen's Visions, nor never had, from their first introduction into this place.

  • Solomon Myers - We have never had much faith in the visions of Sister White, but supposed they might be mental hallucinations...

  • T.I. Giddings - I see that you have some experience in the desolating influence that the visions have caused. You are not alone in this matter; for we have seen the dire effect they produced on the band north of us. But thank the Lord the church at Plum River have thrown off the yoke of bondage and have taken the Word alone as our rule of faith and practice.

  • John Hardy - That there is confusion contained in the visions, is sure; any one can see that.

  • J.K. Bellows - When I first embraced the Sabbath I felt somewhat favorable toward the visions; but on examination, I found they neither agreed with the Bible, nor with themselves. Some things have been presented to us by Bro. Bates and others, which I could not reconcile with the Bible and when I insisted on their giving scripture evidence which they could not do, they would say, 'Ellen saw it was so' and they believed it. I told them they thought more of the visions, than they did of the word of God. So it is; they are, many of them, carried away with the delusion...

  • J.B. Bezzo - ...in the second vision, she [Ellen White] condemned me for what she justified me in the first vision. I have the visions with E.G's. name attached to them. ... Justify my course in one vision, and see that it was right for me to do so and so, and then have another, and condemn me for doing so and so. Oh, what confusion.

  • Polly G. Pitts - ...I would say, that to me there are things in the visions [of Ellen White] that contradict the word of God.

  • Signed by 19 people - We, the undersigned, members of the Sylvan band, have no confidence in the visions of E.G. White...

Conclusion

The Messenger Party was very successful in turning many away from belief in the visions of Ellen White. From the letters that poured into the paper, it appears many people already had their own doubts about the inspiration of Ellen White. Having accomplished their goal, the group stopped publication of their paper in 1857.

Several copies of Messenger of Truth are available in digital format:

Citations

1. Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years: 1827-1862, p. 276.

2. Ellen G. White, Manuscript 1, 1853, par. 23 (1LtMs). This was not released by the White Estate until 2014.

3. Arthur White, ibid.

4. Ellen White, ibid., par. 24, 29.

5. Ibid.

6. Arthur White, ibid.

7. Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 3, Oct. 19, 1854, p. 2.

8. Sister J. Morrill, Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 5, Nov. 30, 1854, p. 4.

9. Ellen White, Testimonies vol. 1, p. 122. Chapter 20 - "The Messenger Party."

10. Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 3, Oct. 19, 1854, p. 2.

11. Ibid.

12. Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 3, Oct. 19, 1854, pp. 3-4; Messenger of Truth vol. 1, no. 5, Nov. 30, 1854, pp. 2-3.

Category: Bible vs. Mrs. White
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