Autobiographical Sketch of Ellen G. White
Note: Since criticisms about Ellen White's life are dealt with elsewhere on this site,
we here simply let her tell in her own words her life story.—WebMaster
Chapter 3: Feelings of Despair
Fear of Hell
In my mind the justice of God eclipsed His mercy and love. I had been taught to believe in an eternally burning hell, and the horrifying thought was ever
before me that my sins were too great to be forgiven, and that I should be forever lost. The frightful descriptions that I had heard of souls in perdition sank deep
into my mind. Ministers in the pulpit drew vivid pictures of the condition of the lost. They taught that God proposed to save none but the sanctified. The eye of
God was upon us always; every sin was registered and would meet its just punishment. God Himself was keeping the books with the exactness of infinite
wisdom, and every sin we committed was faithfully recorded against us.
Satan was represented as eager to seize upon his prey and bear us to the lowest depths of anguish, there to exult over our sufferings in the horrors of an eternally
burning hell, where, after the tortures of thousands upon thousands of years, the fiery billows would roll to the surface the writhing victims, who would shriek:
"How long, O Lord, how long?" Then the answer would thunder down the abyss: "Through all eternity!" Again the molten waves would engulf the lost,
carrying them down into the depths of an ever-restless sea of fire.
|—US Geologic Survey.|
While listening to these terrible descriptions, my imagination would be so wrought upon that the perspiration would start, and it was difficult to suppress a cry
of anguish, for I seemed to already feel the pains of perdition. Then the minister would dwell upon the uncertainty of life. One moment we might be here, and
the next in hell, or one moment on earth, and the next in heaven. Would we choose the lake of fire and the company of demons, or the bliss of heaven with
angels for our companions? Would we hear the voice of wailing and the cursing of lost souls through all eternity, or sing the songs of Jesus before the throne?
Our heavenly Father was presented before my mind as a tyrant, who delighted in the agonies of the condemned; not the tender, pitying Friend of sinners, who
loves His creatures with a love past all understanding and desires them to be saved in His kingdom.
My feelings were very sensitive. I dreaded giving pain to any living creature. When I saw animals ill-treated, my heart ached for them. Perhaps my sympathies
were more easily excited by suffering because I myself had been the victim of thoughtless cruelty, resulting in the injury that had darkened my childhood. But
when the thought took possession of my mind that God delighted in the torture of His creatures, who were formed in His image, a wall of darkness seemed to
separate me from Him. When I reflected that the Creator of the universe would plunge the wicked into hell, there to burn through the ceaseless rounds of
eternity, my heart sank with fear, and I despaired that so cruel and tyrannical a being would ever condescend to save me from the doom of sin.
I thought that the fate of the condemned sinner would be mine, to endure the flames of hell forever, even as long as God Himself existed. This impression
deepened upon my mind until I feared that I would lose my reason. I would look upon the dumb beasts with envy, because they had no soul to be punished after
death. Many times the wish arose that I had never been born.
Total darkness settled upon me, and there seemed no way out of the shadows. Could the truth have been presented to me as I now understand it, much
perplexity and sorrow would have been spared me. If the love of God had been dwelt upon more, and His stern justice less, the beauty and glory of His
character would have inspired me with a deep and earnest love for my Creator.
I have since thought that many inmates of insane asylums were brought there by experiences similar to my own. Their consciences were stricken with a sense of
sin, and their trembling faith dared not claim the promised pardon of God. They listened to descriptions of the orthodox hell until it seemed to curdle the very
blood in their veins, and burned an impression upon the tablets of their memory. Waking or sleeping, the frightful picture was ever before them, until reality
became lost in imagination, and they saw only the wreathing flames of a fabulous hell, and heard only the shrieking of the doomed. Reason became dethroned,
and the brain was filled with the wild phantasy of a terrible dream. Those who teach the doctrine of an eternal hell would do well to look more closely after
their authority for so cruel a belief.
I had never prayed in public and had only spoken a few timid words in prayer meeting. It was now impressed upon me that I should seek God in prayer at our
small social meetings. This I dared not do, fearful of becoming confused and failing to express my thoughts. But the duty was impressed upon my mind so
forcibly that when I attempted to pray in secret I seemed to be mocking God because I had failed to obey His will. Despair overwhelmed me, and for three long
weeks no ray of light pierced the gloom that encompassed me.
My sufferings of mind were intense. Sometimes for a whole night I would not dare to close my eyes, but would wait until my twin sister was fast asleep, then
quietly leave my bed and kneel upon the floor, praying silently with a dumb agony that cannot be described. The horrors of an eternally burning hell were ever
before me. I knew that it was impossible for me to live long in this state, and I dared not die and meet the terrible fate of the sinner. With what envy did I regard
those who realized their acceptance with God! How precious did the Christian's hope seem to my agonized soul!
I frequently remained bowed in prayer nearly all night, groaning and trembling with inexpressible anguish and a hopelessness that passes all description. Lord,
have mercy! was my plea, and, like the poor publican, I dared not lift my eyes to heaven, but bowed my face upon the floor. I became very much reduced in
flesh and strength, yet kept my suffering and despair to myself.
(Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, pp. 23-26)