Crucial Question 9: Is Ellen White's claim regarding Hazen Foss's endorsement accurate?
Hazen Foss was the brother-in-law of Ellen’s sister Mary. During the winter of 1845, Ellen travelled to Poland, Maine, to relate her vision. The day after Ellen met with the Advent believers at a meetinghouse on Maguire’s Hill, she was supposedly confronted by Hazen Foss, who wanted to tell her an interesting story. EGW’s account of the experience, written in 1890, has become a major part of SDA lore.
From the Pen of Ellen White:
The Hazen Foss story is told in Letter 37, 1890, and this letter is Ellen White’s only mention of the Foss story. Unfortunately, the letter has not been released by the White Estate, except for a poor photocopy of the handwritten letter appended to a paper entitled “The Salamanca Vision and the 1890 Diary”(available from the White Estate). The following is Arthur White’s summary of his grandmother’s letter, along with a few quotations which he chooses to provide.
“Some time before the first vision was given to Ellen in December, the Lord had given just such a vision to Hazen. . . . [H]e refused to obey the promptings of God's Spirit. Again the Lord came near to him in vision; he was instructed that if he refused to bear the message . . ., the Lord would reveal it to someone else, placing His Spirit on the weakest of the weak.
“But Hazen still felt that he could not bear the burden and the reproach of standing before the people to present a vision from God. He told the Lord that he would not do it. Then very strange feelings came over him, and "a voice said, 'you have grieved away the Spirit of the Lord."'--Letter 37, 1890. This frightened Hazen. . . . He called a meeting of the Adventists for the purpose. When the people came together he recounted his experience. Then he tried to tell what was shown to him, but he could not call it to mind. Even with the most concentrated effort he could not recall a word of it. He cried out in distress, ‘It is gone from me; I can say nothing, and the Spirit of the Lord has left me. . . .’--Ibid.
“As Hazen talked with Ellen that February morning in Poland, he told her that although he had not gone into the chapel where she had spoken the evening before, he had stood outside the door and heard every word that she had said. He declared that what the Lord had shown to her had first been shown to him. But, said he: “‘I was proud; I was unreconciled to the disappointment. I murmured against God, and wished myself dead. Then I felt a strange feeling come over me. I shall be henceforth as one dead to spiritual things. . . . I believe the visions are taken from me, and given to you. Do not refuse to obey God, for it will be at the peril of your soul. I am a lost man. You are chosen of God; be faithful in doing your work, and the crown I might have had, you will receive’—Ibid” (A.L. White, The Early Years, pp. 66-67).
Here is the beginning and the end of the letter in which EGW tells her story about Foss:
“Dear Sister Mary Foss: I wrote to you a few days ago and now another matter comes up. Elder Loughborough is writing me asking if I know of anyone now alive who was present at the meeting I have mentioned held at Maguire's Hill, where I related the first visions I had. . . . Mary, you were at the meeting, were you not? Your memory is so good. Do you have any remembrance of this? If so, state on paper what you do know in regard to it” (Letter 37, 1890; printed in “The Salamanca Vision and the 1890 Diary,” p. 49).
According to the substantial records available regarding the life of Ellen White, the Hazen Foss story does not emerge until 1890, although it supposedly happened in 1845. Prior to 1890, Ellen White issued several autobiographical accounts, but none mentioned Foss (or Foy). Even her final autobiography, published after her death in 1915, fails to include the Hazen Foss endorsement that has become so integral to SDA lore. Why would Ellen White bring up the Foss story after so many years? Why didn’t she utilize it as a divine affirmation during the early years of her struggling ministry? Instead, she waited until virtually everyone with first-hand knowledge of the incident was dead.
In 1890, Ellen White was still dealing with the fallout from the 1888 General Conference, when she had alienated many key leaders by apparently flip-flopping regarding the identity of the law mentioned in Galatians 3. While her husband James had been alive, she had apparently had a vision showing that the law in Galatians 3 is the ceremonial law rather than the moral law. As a result, a book by J.H. Waggoner was removed from SDA publication by James White. At the 1888 General Conference, E.J. Waggoner, son of J.H. Waggoner, revived the teaching that Galatians 3 deals with the moral law. Church leadership, including Uriah Smith, long-time director of the Review & Herald Publishing Association, strongly contended for the old interpretation, arguing that it was based on an EGW testimony. However, the alleged testimony could not be found, and Ellen White claimed she could not recall it (Whidden 100, 103; Wieland and Short 49-50). Ellen White’s endorsement of the E.J. Waggoner position in 1888 prompted many SDA leaders to question her ministry, which could explain the timing of the belatedly recalled Foss affirmation.
The letter to her sister (Letter 37, 1890) is an interesting document that begins by implying that EGW does not recall the details of her encounter with Foss clearly, but she then goes on to relate her account of this miracle story. While her supporters would be uncomfortable with this conclusion, it is hard to escape the idea that Sister White, facing a crisis of authority emanating from the 1888 debacle, created a miracle story to shore up her support, while carefully laying the groundwork (a fading memory) for backing down from the story if anyone still alive could contradict it.
- If the Foss story is true, would it prove that Ellen White IS a prophet?
- Does the Foss story fit into a pattern of misrepresentations?
- Why did EGW wait so long to recall the Foss story?
- If this story is falsified, what is the impact on the prophetic claims of Ellen White?
“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:
- Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years, pp. 65-67
- Schwarz, Richard W., Light Bearers to the Remnant (1st ed.), p. 64
- “The Salamanca Vision and the 1890 Diary,” pp. 49, 89-92 (available from the White Estate)
- Loughborough, John N., The Second Great Advent Movement, pp. 182-83, 212-13
- Spalding, Arthur W., Captains of the Host, pp. 58, 61-62
- Whidden, Woodrow W., E.J. Waggoner: From the Physician of Good News to Agent of Division, pp. 100-103
- Wieland, Robert J., and Donald K. Short, 1888 Re-examined (rev. ed.), pp. 49-50
Continue on to Crucial Question #10: Testimonies on Doctors
Go back to Crucial Question #8: What Did Father Pearson See?