Crucial Question 7: Were William Foy's vision from the same source as Ellen White's, as she claims?
William Foy was an African-American who was studying to become an Episcopal minister. According to Arthur L. White, Foy received two or three visions of the end of time, convincing him to join the Millerites in proclaiming Christ’s soon return. Mrs. White was familiar with Foy’s visions. She had heard him speak when she was a girl, and she had also owned a copy of the book in which Foy relates his visions. Mrs. White only speaks of Foy once in the vast materials that have been preserved from her life. According to Ellen White, Reverend Foy publicly endorsed her visions while listening to an account of her first vision (Arthur White, p. 488).
From the Pen of Ellen White:
The following material comes from an interview between Ellen White and Mr. Dores E. Robinson, her secretary, in 1906.
“Then another time, there was Foy that had had visions. He had had four visions. He was in a large congregation, very large. He fell right to the floor. I do not know what they were doing in there, whether they were listening to preaching or not. But at any rate he fell to the floor. I do not know how long he was [down]—about three quarters of a [sic] hour, I think—and he had all these [visions] before I had them. They were written out and published, and it is queer that I cannot find them in any of my books. But we have moved so many times. He had four.”
Question: Did you ever have an interview with him?
“I had an interview with him. He wanted to see me, and I talked with him a little. They had appointed for me to speak that night, and I did not know that he was there. I did not know at first that he was there. While I was talking I heard a shout, and he is a great, tall man, and the roof was rather low, and he jumped right up and down, and oh, he praised the Lord, praised the Lord. It was just what he had seen, just what he had seen. But they extolled him so I think it hurt him, and I do not know what became of him.” [according to Delbert Brown, Ellen White is incorrect regarding her recollection that Foy’s prophetic fame corrupted him; he apparently served the Lord in humble ministry for the remainder of his life].
“His wife was so anxious. She sat looking at him, so that it disturbed him. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘you must not get where you can look at me when I am speaking.’ He had on an episcopalian robe. His wife sat by the side of me. . . . He was a very tall man, slightly colored. But it was remarkable [the] testimonies that he bore. . . .”
Question: Then you attended the lectures that Mr. Foy gave?
“He came to give it right to the hall, in the great hall where we attended, Beethoven Hall. That was quite a little time after the visions. It was in Portland, Maine. We went over to Cape Elizabeth to hear him lecture. Father always took me with him when we went, and he would be going in a sleigh, and he would invite me to get in, and I would ride with them. That was before I got any way acquainted with him” (17MR 95-97).
Comparing the Visions and Teachings of White and Foy:
Foy: “Before the gate stood a tall and mighty angel clothed in raiment pure and white; his eyes were like flaming fire, and he wore a crown upon his head, which lighted up this boundless plain. The angel raised his right hand, and laid hold upon the gate, and opened it; and as it rolled upon its glittering hinges, he cried with a loud voice, to the heavenly host, ‘Your [sic] all welcome!’”
White: “Jesus raised His mighty, glorious arm, laid hold of the pearly gate, its glittering hinges, and said to us, ‘You have washed your robes in My blood, stood stiffly for My truth, enter in’” (EW).
Foy: “I then beheld, countless millions of shining ones, coming with cards in their hands. These shining ones became our guides. The cards they bore, shone above the brightness of the sun . . . .”
White: “All the angels that are commissioned to visit the earth hold a golden card, which they present to the angels at the gates of the city as they pass in and out” (EW 39).
Foy: “I then beheld angels ascending and descending too [sic] and from the earth; they bore tidings to the recording angels.”
White: “If the saints wept through discouragement, or were in danger, the angels that ever attended them would fly quickly upward to carry the tidings . . . .” (EW 39).
Foy: “With a lovely voice, the guide them spoke to me and said, ‘Those that eat of the fruit of this tree, return to earth no more.’ I raised my hand to partake of the heavenly fruit, that I might no more return to earth; but alas! I immediately found myself again, in this lonely vale of tears” [italics original].
White: “I asked Jesus to let me eat of the fruit. He said, ‘Not now. Those who eat of the fruit of this land go back to earth no more. . . .’ And He said, ‘You must go back to earth again and relate to others what I have revealed to you.’ Then an angel bore me gently down to this dark world. Sometimes I think I can stay here no longer; all things of earth look so dreary” (EW 19-20).
Contrasting the Teachings of White and Foy:
Foy: “I beheld mothers with their infants in their arms come to the flaming bar; the bodies of the infants become like transparent gold, and on wings of flaming fire, they passed the bar, singing with lovely voices, and the unholy mothers, crying for mercy, would sink below.”
White: “I had some conversation with Elder Matteson in regard to whether children of unbelieving parents would be saved. I related that a sister had with great anxiety asked me this question, stating that some had told her that the little children of unbelieving parents would not be saved. This we should consider as one of the questions we are not at liberty to express a position or an opinion upon, for the simple reason that God has not told us definitely about this matter in His word” (3SM 313).
Foy: “An angel then appeared flying through the midst of this boundless place, and came to the spirit of one of those which had not passed through death, and cried with a loud voice saying, “This is my Mother.” He then became her guide” [italics original].
White: “[Jesus] gazed on the graves of the sleeping saints, then raised His eyes and hands to heaven, and cried, ‘Awake, awake! awake! ye that sleep in the dust, and arise.’ Then there was a mighty earthquake. The graves opened, and the dead came up clothed with immortality” (EW 16).
“There is no occasion to question the genuineness of William Foy’s experience. Loughborough felt that the visions bore clear evidences of being genuine manifestations of the Spirit of God. More significant, perhaps, is the fact that Ellen White . . . in an interview in 1912 [sic] treated his experience as genuine.”—Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years, p. 490
Ellen Harmon attended several lectures given by Foy at Beethoven Hall, and she also had a copy of Foy’s pamphlet relating his visions. According to EGW, Foy heard her speak during the early days of her ministry and confirmed her visions as having been consistent with his own. It is interesting that the Foy story doesn’t emerge until 1906, long after Foy’s passing in 1893, which makes historical validation of Ellen White’s story almost impossible. Her decision to bolster her authority by citing Foy’s experience almost forces Adventists to accept his visions as inspired by God. Otherwise, Ellen’s acceptance of his endorsement would actually cast doubt on the integrity of her own visions. An in-depth analysis of Foy’s and White’s visions actually reveals few similarities and many differences. The similarities include the idea of angels using gold cards to record their whereabouts and heaven’s dependence on angel messengers to bring news from Earth. The presence of major discrepancies between Foy and White casts doubt on Foy’s supposed endorsement of her visions as being “just what he had seen.” Of highest significance is Foy’s revelation showing that a child who had died and preceded his mother to heaven became her guide, a theological position incompatible with Ellen White’s visions and unacceptable to SDA theology. Another question arises from Ellen’s statement that Jesus opens the gate of heaven for the saints, while Foy attributes this to an angel. (The two sections contain many verbal similarities, indicating that she was probably referring to Foy’s pamphlet when she wrote her own, a practice that she would continue throughout her ministry.) While the shift from angel to Jesus sounds like a difference in the visions, it could be reconciled by the fact that Ellen equated Jesus with Michael the Archangel, a position that non-Adventist theologians would consider anti-trinitarian. Ellen White didn’t endorse trinitarianism (early SDA’s were Arians) until her book The Desire of Ages was written. She never retracted the teaching that Jesus is Michael.
- Why did Ellen White wait until 1906, when she was already an established prophetess, to reveal Foy’s endorsement?
- Given the differences between White’s and Foy’s visions, is it likely that Foy would have endorsed her visions as being “just what he had seen”?
- Why are there so few similarities between to two prophets’ visions if they are supposedly the same?
- Could the (few) similarities between the visions be the result of Ellen’s prior contact with Foy?
- Is it likely that angels must present golden cards to document their movements?
- Is it likely that heaven relies on angel messengers for news from Earth?
- Why was Ellen White uncertain about the salvation of little children of unbelieving parents if she believed Foy’s vision, which revealed these children being saved?
- How can the visions of White and Foy be compatible when one saw soul sleep and the other taught the traditional concept of the immortality of the soul?
- Do Ellen White’s recollections sound truthful?
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:22).
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1).
“And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts. Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD. They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word. Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken? Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord GOD. And mine hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies . . . .” (Ezekiel 13:1-9).
“Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these. For if ye throughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye throughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit” (Jer. 7:4-8).
“The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Prov. 12:19).
“Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous” (Ps. 31:18).
“Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue” (Ps. 120:2).
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).
For Further Study:
- Early Writings, p. 39
- The Christian Experiences of William E. Foy, reprinted by Andrews University Press (available from the Adventist Heritage Ministries)
- Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years, pp. 488-490
- Manuscript Releases, vol. 17, pp. 95-97
- Baker, Delbert W., The Unknown Prophet, Washington: Review and Herald, 1987.
Continue on to Crucial Question #8: Miracle Father Pearson Witnessed
Go back to Crucial Question #6: Source of Visionary Details