The Lesser and Greater Light – Part 1
By Elder Lawrence Nelson
Every day brings us closer to the final crisis. Inspiration describes it as, “a time of trouble such as never was that is soon to burst upon us in an overwhelming surprise.” God knew the intensity of this end-time conflict. He knew that you and I would never be able to stand before Satan’s mighty power of force without special assistance from the Holy Spirit. Satan will very shortly cause “all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads. And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” Revelation 13:16.
How thankful we should be that God has given the Spirit of Prophecy to His church which together with the Bible, will enable His people, through the power of Christ, to prepare for and to pass through this end-time crisis and to do so with divine assurance of victory. For only through His words can we be assured that Christ will stand by each one who faithfully fulfills the divine conditions that are clearly revealed to us through these inspired writings.
Now, before we continue to explore heaven’s guidelines let us first seek the aid of divinity. Loving Father, it is time for us to awaken from Satan’s fearful stupor, which is enveloping Thy people. Please, please, dear Father, open our spiritual sense so we may comprehend the divine instruction that you have sent to us that we may face this coming crisis fearlessly as soldiers of the cross. And we ask this in the holy name of Jesus, Amen.
We will begin this study by reading from God’s book, the Bible. I’m reading 2 Peter 1:19-21. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
Ellen White writes concerning the Holy Spirit, “The Spirit was not given – nor can it ever be bestowed – to supercede the Bible; for the Scriptures exclusively state that the word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested….Isaiah declares, ‘To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.’ Isaiah 8:20.” Great Controversy, “Introduction” p. 7.
The writings of the Spirit of Prophecy have passed every test of the holy scriptures. They have been proven true to the Word of God. Indeed, Ellen White magnifies the light given by the ancient prophets making their words clearer and more understandable to their special application to our time. The Lord has stated through His last-day messenger, “The Holy Ghost is the author of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of Prophecy.” Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 30. In Letter 106 , 1907 we read, “The Bible must be your counselor. Study it, and the Testimonies God has given; for they never contradict His word.”
Now, since the Holy Spirit is the Author of both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, I’m sure that you will agree with me that the primary purpose of both is to lead men and women to our Savior, who is the light and the salvation of the world.
There are two brief quotations found in the Spirit of Prophecy that we frequently hear quoted among us, but they are often taken out of context. These statements are then misinterpreted and misrepresented not only by individuals but even by some of the leaders of our church. In this present tape we will search for the true meaning of the first one of these two passages. A study of the second quotation will follow in our next tape, part 2.
The passage we will consider today is taken from Review and Herald, January 20, 1903 and it reads as follows: “Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light.”
Immediately the question must be asked, “Who is the lesser light and who is the greater light?” It is here that Satan has begun to destroy confidence in the writings of the Lord’s servant. Now, the best way to learn the meaning of a perplexing expression is to ask the author what he or she meant. Surely Ellen White will explain just what the Holy Spirit, who inspired her thought, had meant for her to convey.
It will be well for us to read this often-quoted passage in its context and this we will do. But first, there are a number of other passages in which Ellen White uses the expressions “the lesser light” and “the greater light.” In solving this statement these should be very helpful. We will begin with one that is found in Spirit of Prophecy, Volume 2, p. 83, 84. As I read, listen carefully for her explanation as she describes the work of John the Baptist. “The prophet John was the connecting link between two dispensations. He was the lesser light which was to be followed by a greater. He was to shake the confidence of the people in their traditions, call their sins to their remembrance, and lead them to repentance; that they might be prepared to appreciate the work of Christ. God communicated to John by inspiration, illuminating the understanding of the prophet, that he might remove the superstition and darkness from the minds of the honest Jews, which had, through false teachings, been gathering upon them for generations. But the least disciple who followed Christ, witnessing His miracles, and receiving His divine lessons of instruction and the comforting words that fell from his lips, was more privileged than John the Baptist. No light has even shone or ever will shine so clearly upon the mind of fallen man, as that which emanated from the teachings and example of Jesus. Christ and his mission had been but dimly understood and typified in the shadowy sacrifice….Although not one of the prophets had a higher mission or greater work to perform than had John, yet he was not to see even the result of his own labors. He was not privileged to be with Christ and witness the divine power attending the greater light.”
Now did you notice those last words, “the divine power attending” Who? – There is no question, her answer is Christ, “the greater light”? This sentence definitely reveals the “great light” was Christ. And who did she name as the “lesser light”? – The prophet John. In this passage she has defined both of these two terms in unmistakable language. As we read other passages from her writings we will find that she will be consistent.
Now let us look at a second passage, which is found in the Review and Herald, April 8, 1873. Herein Ellen White writes that John was one of the greatest prophets that God had sent as a messenger to the church. Christ had said of him that he was “more than a prophet.” That “there has not been a greater prophet” than John the Baptist.
In the context of these words, Ellen White continues, “John was the lesser light, which was to be followed by a greater light.” And Who was that greater light who followed John? – We all will answer, Jesus.
Passing on to the third statement we’ll turn to Desire of Ages p. 220. “The prophet John was the connecting link between two dispensations. As God’s representative he stood forth to show the relation of the law and the prophets to the Christian dispensation. He was the lesser light, which was to be followed by a greater. The mind of John was illuminated by the Holy Spirit, that he might shed light upon his people; (and now notice these words that follow) but no other light has ever shone or ever will shine so clearly upon fallen man as that which emanated from the teaching and example of Jesus.”
Now from this we can but come to one conclusion. John, the lesser light, was to show the relation of the law and the prophets of the Old Testament to Christ, the greater light, who followed him. And the Bible confirms Ellen White’s definition to be correct. Read in John 1:6-9, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”
Continuing on in John 5:35,36 Jesus said, “He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. But I have greater witness (meaning light) than that of John.” Then in John 9:5 Jesus declared plainly, “I am the light of the world.” If no other light ever had shone or ever will shine so clearly as Christ, surely all the Old as well as the New Testament prophets of the Bible were lesser lights. And friend, there is no question about this.
In the fourth passage, Ellen White speaks of the Old Testament era as a lesser light and the New Testament era as a greater light. We quote from This Day With God p. 246, “With the first advent of Christ there was ushered in an era of great light and glory; but it would indeed be sinful ingratitude to despise and ridicule the lesser light because a fuller and more glorious light had dawned. Those who despise the blessings and glory of the Jewish age are not prepared to be benefited by the preaching of the gospel.”
So we can clearly see Ellen White does not depart from her established definition. Christ’s first Advent ushered in a time of greater light and glory. God, through the Old Testament prophets, had established the lesser light, the glory of the Jewish age. The purpose of this age was to establish the sanctuary service which pointed toward the greater light to be ushered in with the first Advent of Christ.
Now friend, I believe that we are ready to discuss the passage in the Review and Herald, January 20, 1903. From this passage it has been declared from our pulpits and books that Ellen White refers to the Bible as the greater light and to herself and her writings as the lesser light. I refer particularly to the man-made caption in a recently published Ellen White book, Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 30 (copyright 1980). It clearly promotes this mistaken position. The caption reads, “Relationship of E.G. White’s writings to the Bible. The lesser light.” Immediately after this caption, the passage from the Review and Herald is printed. “Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light.” Review and Herald, January 20, 1903.
Now, friend, let me ask you a question. Have you ever read this passage in its context? As we read it, please note the reason for this Review and Herald article. From its beginning to its ending she is promoting the sale of what? – Her books. To whom? -The people of the world. Why? – To lead them to the Savior, the Greater light.
Listen carefully as we read this sentence in its context. “I thank my Heavenly Father for the interest that my brethren and sisters have taken in the circulation of Christ’s Object Lesson s. By the sale of this book great good has been accomplished, and the work should be continued. But the efforts of our people should not be confined to this one book. …The larger books, Patriarchs and Prophets , Great Controversy , and Desire of Ages , should be sold everywhere. These books contain truth for this time, — truth that is to be proclaimed in all parts of the world. Nothing is to hinder their sale….Many more of our larger books might have been sold if church members had been awake to the importance of the truths these books contain, and had realized their responsibility to circulate them. My brethren and sisters, will you not now make an effort to circulate these books?” She continues, and I quote, “Sister White is not the originator of these books. They contain the instruction that during her life-work God had been giving her. They contain the precious, comforting light that God has graciously given his servant to be given to the world. From their pages this light is to shine into the hearts of men and women, (notice) leading them to the Saviour. The Lord had declared that these books are to be scattered throughout the world. There is in them truth which to the receiver is a savor of life unto life. They are silent witness for God. In the past they have been the means in his hands of convicting and converting many souls. Many have read them with eager expectation, and, by reading them, have been led to see the efficacy of Christ’s atonement, and to trust in its power….The Lord has sent his people much instruction, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little. Little heed is given to the Bible, and the Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light.”
Surely, nothing could be stated more clearly. Some of Ellen White’s books were designed to be distributed widely to the public. Why? – For the reason that “from their pages light is to shine into the hearts of men and women leading them to the Saviour.” She surely expressed the same thought when, a few sentences later, she said, “The Lord has given a lesser light to lead men and women to the greater light.”
Because people had neglected the Bible which God had given to the world for this very purpose. Ellen White pointed to her own writings, though they were precious and inspired, as the lesser light to lead the people of the world to Jesus Christ, the Greater Light. If this passage meant what is commonly believed, that the greater light referred here to is the Bible it should not be consistent with all of her other passages in which she defines the greater light to be Christ.
Therefore, we must conclude from this article that Ellen White is not demeaning her writings as inferior to the Bible, for since the Holy Spirit is the author of her writings, as stated in Selected Messages, Book 3, p. 30, and since God, not Ellen White, is the originator of her writings, as found in the Review and Herald, January 30, 1903, then who is it that is teaching that the writings of Ellen White are “second class”?
I’ll tell you. It’s none other than the “liberals” among us who are being used by Satan to make of none effect the Spirit of Prophecy. Ellen White was taught by the same Holy Spirit of God as were the ancient prophets, and if John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets, was a lesser light, surely the Bible prophets were all “lesser lights.”
Christ alone is the Greater Light. In the creation story there is an interesting illustration which may help us understand the difference between the lesser and the greater light. It is found in Genesis 1: 16 “And God made two great lights; the great light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.” I like the way John Januik calls attention to this illustration in his Great Controversy Endgame (Book 3). He points out that in the context of this verse two questions are answered: 1. What is the greater light? The answer – the sun that rules the day. The sun is the greater light for it has original light or light emanating from itself. And 2. What is the lesser light that rules the night? The moon. Does the moon have light in itself? No. All the moon can do is to reflect the light of the sun. Does this not teach an important Bible principle? A greater light has light in itself while a lesser light can only reflect light. A thousand moons together could never become the greater light because the greater light is the original light – the sun.
Januik concludes that the writers of the Bible and Ellen White did not have light in themselves. As the moon, they could only reflect the original light of Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness; and spiritually speaking Christ is the Sun of Righteousness. The Bible promise in Malachi 4:2 states as the “Sun of righteousness [He will] arise up with healing in his wings.” Why? – For Jesus is the light of life.
From the Desire of Ages p. 463 I quote these beautiful thoughts, “Then spake Jesus again unto them saying, ‘I am the light of the world; he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’ When He spoke these words, Jesus was in the court of the temple specially connected with the services of the Feast of Tabernacles. In the center of this court rose two lofty standards, supporting lampstands of great size. After the evening sacrifice, all the lamps were kindled, shedding their light over Jerusalem. This ceremony was in commemoration of the pillar of light that guided Israel in the desert, and was also regarded as pointing to the coming of the Messiah. At evening when the lamps were lighted, the court was a scene of great rejoicing….In the illumination of Jerusalem, the people expressed their hope of the Messiah’s coming to shed His light upon Israel.”
But to Jesus, the scene had a wider meaning. As the radiant lamps of the temple lighted up all about them, so Christ, the source of spiritual light, illuminates the darkness of the world. “Yet the symbol was imperfect. That great light (and here she speaks of the sun, which He Himself had infused with original light) which His own hand had set in the heavens was a truer representation of the glory of His mission.”
This same thought is expressed in Counsel to Teachers p. 54. “The sun rising in the heavens is a representative of Him who is the life and light of all that He has made.” But let us never forget that man has a part to act in the salvation of the world. For Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world.” But humanity has no light in itself. Men are likened not to the sun but to the moon. Man can only reflect the light of Jesus.
Listen as I read this from Mount of Blessings p. 40. “Humanity has in itself no light. Apart from Christ we are like an unkindled taper, like the moon when her face is turned away from the sun; we have not a single ray of brightness to shed into the darkness of the world. But when we turn toward the Sun of Righteousness, when we come in touch with Christ, the whole soul is aglow with the brightness of the divine presence. Christ’s followers are to be more than a light in the midst of men. They are the light of the world.”
So as in the moon, all human beings are lesser lights whether they be prophet, priest or king. However when men turn their faces toward Christ and connect themselves to Him they can reflect His light to the world.
I quote this from the book This Day With God p. 92, “It is the privilege of the Christian to connect with the Source of light, and through this living connection become the light of the world….As the light of the sun is light and life and blessing to all that live, so should Christians, by their good works, by their cheerfulness and courage, be the light of the world. As the light of the sun chases away the shades of night and pours its glories on valleys and hills, so will the Christian reflect the Sun of Righteousness which shines on him.” Isn’t that beautiful?
O what a privilege to reflect the light that shines from the Sun of Righteousness. In the book That I May Know Him p. 341 we are advised, “O be sure you receive your illumination from the Source of all light. He is the great central Light of the universe of heaven and the great Light of the world.” May this beautiful counsel be fulfilled in each and every one of us.
Again I quote, “The princely dignity of the Christian character will shine forth as the sun, and the beams of light from the face of Christ will be reflected upon those who have purified themselves even as He is pure.” Sons and Daughters of God p. 10. So friend, let us always remember that the Sun of Righteousness has risen. Christ our Righteousness is shining in brightness upon us.
Beloved, Christ does this for us because He loves us. We read further in Bible Commentaries, Volume 6, p. 1118, “Christ, ‘loved the church, and gave himself for it.’ It is the purchase of His blood. The divine Son of God is seen walking amid the seven golden candlesticks. Jesus Himself supplies the oil to these burning lamps. He it is that kindles the flame. ‘In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. No candlestick, no church, shines of itself. From Christ emanates all its light.”
In Selected Messages, Book 2, p. 249 we are promised, “The trials may be severe, but look to Jesus every moment — not to struggle, but to rest in His love. He careth for you.” I like that. We hope that as trials press closer and closer the hope grows stronger. The beams of the Sun of Righteousness shall shine into your heart with their healing power. Look beyond the clouds to the brightness, even the light of the Sun of Righteousness.
Now with these glorious truths before us we can better comprehend the damage that is being done to our church when through misunderstanding or various means, the writings of Ellen White are downgraded as a lesser light to the Bible.
Satan understands the tremendous blessings and encouragement that the Testimonies are to God’s church when they are treasured and studied by its members. I fear that this misunderstanding is one way, among others, that Satan is seeking to undermine the ministry of God’s messenger to the remnant church so that eventually her writings will become of non-effect in the lives of many. If Satan can downgrade the Spirit of Prophecy by this and other implications so that the Testimonies are neglected, left on the shelves to collect dust, he knows that God’s people may not detect his final deceptions. These are deceptions that the Spirit of Prophecy not only points out clearly but also tells us how to avoid them. Never, never forget, that if it were possible, Satan would have all of us to perish.
Listen carefully to this quotation from Selected Messages, Volume 1, p. 48, “The very last deception of Satan will be to make of none effect the testimony of the Spirit of God. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ (Proverbs 29:18). Satan will work ingeniously, in different ways and through different agencies, to unsettle the confidence of God’s remnant people in the true testimony.” O friend, let us not despise the last-day “lesser light” or regard Ellen White’s writings as “inferior words” from God.
I must be honest with you, for during my sixty years of ministry for the Lord I have constantly used the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy in my preaching to Seventh-day Adventists all over the world and in all of my tape ministry. I have always believed that both the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy originated from the same Source of authority, the Holy Spirit.
Now may I bring one more beautiful thought. In the beginning, when Christ created this world, He set His healing light upon this void and shapeless earth. God said, “Let there be light, and there was light. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” Genesis 1:3,5. On that first day there was no light from the sun or the moon, they were not created until the fourth day. But there was light. And Who was that light? It was Jesus, the Creator, who was that light. And in the earth made new, there will come a time when in the New Jerusalem there will be no need of the light from the sun or the moon for we read in Revelation 21:23, “And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God did lighten it. And the Lamb is the light thereof.”
Jesus was, now is, and every will be, the Sun of Righteousness – our “greater light” forever. O what a Savior! Praise His name! I appeal to you in the name of our Lord and Master, let us face this coming crisis with absolute assurance of victory in Jesus because we have accepted the Spirit of Prophecy and the Bible as the lesser light which leads us to the greater light – the Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, who to alone is able to save us.
Let us pray, Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this positive information that encourages us to believe without question in the writings of Ellen White and the Bible as both authored by the Holy Spirit. Please give us the courage to read, study and obey all of the teachings in these two inspired sources that Thou hast given, that we may fully understand what is soon to come upon the world. And we thank Thee for the promise of Thy dear Son, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with My Father in His throne.” And we ask this in the name of Jesus, Amen.