Did Ellen White change as she aged?
Adventists have long explained the internal contradictions within Ellen White's writings by saying that she grew and changed as the years passed. They use the phrase "progressive revelation" to explain the sometimes startling changes in her explanations of various subjects from the nature of Christ to the eating of pork. The generally held view is that as she aged, Ellen White adopted more nearly "orthodox" views of salvation. Hence, Adventists argue, the fact that her early writings often articulated noticeably unbiblical views is "corrected" by her later works which exonerate her as a true prophetic voice.
One problem with this rationalization is that "progressive revelation" is understood as the process of Ellen White's moving from error toward truth. In fact, however, true progressive revelation never begins in error. If a person is inspired by God, He never gives that person "error." God cannot lie, and His revelations are always truth, even if they are not revealed in detail. Revelation from God cannot move from error to truth; it can, however, move from shadows and types, as in the tabernacle ceremonies God gave to Israel, to the fulfillment of those shadows, as in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
It is generally thought that Ellen White's book The Desire of Ages, published in 1898, marked a change in Ellen White's understanding of the identity of Jesus and of righteousness by faith. Below, however, are several examples of Ellen White's statements written between 1898 and her death in 1915.
1898: "His [Jesus'] example declares that our only hope of eternal life is through bringing the appetites and passions into subjection to the will of God." (The Desire of Ages, page 122, paragraph 2). In the context of this passage, Ellen White emphasizes that Jesus' fasting and victory during His 40 days in the wilderness are directly linked…Jesus' example of restraining His appetites, therefore, is our example as to how we achieve righteousness that qualifies us for salvation.
The Bible, however, teaches that the condition for entrance into the kingdom of heaven is being born again.... Our self-discipline does not play a part in our salvation. Romans 6 and 8 teaches that believers overcome temptation primarily by submission to the Holy Spirit. While self-denial is a part of life after one is saved, nevertheless the primary method of overcoming temptation is the surrender of our desires to the Lord Jesus, releasing to Him our "right" to indulge in sin.
1902: "Every one who by faith obeys God's commandments, will reach the condition of sinlessness in which Adam lived before his transgression." (The Signs of the Times, 07-23-1902, paragraph 14).
1906: "He came to this world and lived a sinless life, that in his power his people might also lead lives of sinlessness." (Atlantic Union Gleaner, 01-17-1906, paragraph 5).
Again, "sinlessness" is not a requirement for salvation. God's intention for us is to be credited with righteousness which is alien to us (Phil:3:9, "…not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith").
1910: "Man is no passive being, to be saved in indolence. Let no one think that men and women are going to be taken to heaven without engaging in the struggle here below. We have a battle to fight, a victory to gain. God says to us, 'Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.' How?—'For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.' Man works, and God works. Man is called upon to strain every muscle, and to exercise every faculty, in the struggle for immortality; but it is God who supplies the efficiency." (Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, 04-28-1910, paragraph 3).
The text which Ellen White uses in this passage is Philippians:2:12-13: "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure." In its context, this text is not referring to how one is saved. Rather, Paul is writing to people who are already saved….Paul never addresses unbelievers by telling them to "work out their own salvation" in a joint effort with God whereby they may be saved (Tit:3:5,6). On the contrary, unbelievers are always admonished to "believe in the Lord Jesus" (see Acts:16:31). Only believers have any salvation to "work out", or share, from within themselves—and that is a gift from God.
Summary: This sampling of quotations reveals that as she matured, Ellen White did not begin to get salvation "right". She continued writing admonitions to work hard in order to gain eternal life. Her late writings were nearly as full of confusion and mixed messages as were her early ones. While The Desire if Ages does represent more correct theology than do the other writings of Ellen White, this fact can be primarily explained by the work of Marian Davis, whom EGW called her "book maker." Marian was reading from a variety of Christian authors as she compiled the material for The Desire of Ages, as Walter Rea has demonstrated in his book The White Lie.
The Bible alone contains the gospel, and no modern prophet can make the Bible any clearer. On the contrary, Ellen White's "counsels" do not reflect biblical truth but lead people into the despair of not knowing either how to be saved or whether they are saved (Christ's Object Lessons, p. 155).
(Tinker, Graham, "Did Ellen White change as she aged?" Proclamation, Jan/Feb 2009)