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In 1858, Mrs. Ellen G. White received a vision at Lovett's Grove, Ohio, containing encouragement for the new Sabbath-keeping Advent believers. In addition, the vision repeated scenes Mrs. White had previously received regarding the great struggle between Christ and Satan. She was instructed to write these out, which she did in Spiritual Gifts, vols. 1 and 4 (1858, 1864) and then expanded in Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4 (1884), and in The Great Controversy (1888). 

Ellen G. White and the Protestant Historians by Donald R. McAdams reviews material on Huss added in the 1888 Great Controversy. Click for link.

Expanding the "Great Controversy" Account

After visiting Europe in the mid-1880s and seeing the locations of various scenes in the Protestant Reformation she had witnessed in vision, Mrs. White added to the 1888 Great Controversy some new chapters on the Protestant Reformation and enlarged others. She also included an "Author's Preface," which clarified what some may have misunderstood in reading the 1884 Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4--that she had used historical sources in telling the story. (The 1911 edition of The Great Controversy was updated by her staff to reference the historical sources she used.)

A more observant reader would have recognized that the author was obviously quoting from sources. The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, has quotation marks around the words of various speakers and writers, with nested quotation marks within some of these (i.e., quotation marks within quotation marks--e. g. "He said: 'Here I stand.' "). Many quotations also include ellipses (...), which indicate that portions of the quotations have been left out to shorten the quoted material. The book did have footnotes, though they were not of its historical documentation but of Scriptural references. Since The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan was intended as a Bible study on Christian history, the author obviously wanted to call attention to Scripture.

In the "Author's Preface," Ellen White devoted the first six paragraphs to the Bible--the Christian's guide and the source of knowledge of the war between good and evil. In this section, she emphasized the foundational role of Scripture for human beings:

Pastor Morgan holding the White family Bible
In his Word, God has committed to men the knowledge necessary for salvationThe Holy Scriptures are to be accepted as an authoritative, infallible revelation of his will. They are the standard of character, the revealer of doctrines, and the test of experience. "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work." 2 Tim. 3:16, 17, Revised Version. 

Then she moved on to discuss the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit, predicted in Scripture:
Yet the fact that God has revealed his will to men through his Word, has not rendered needless the continued presence and guiding of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, the Spirit was promised by our Saviour, to open the Word to his servants, to illuminate and apply its teachings. And since it was the Spirit of God that inspired the Bible, it is impossible that the teaching of the Spirit should ever be contrary to that of the Word. 

The Spirit was not given--nor can it ever be bestowed--to supersede the Bible; for the Scriptures explicitly state that the Word of God is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested. Says the apostle John, "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world." 1 John 4:1. And 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." Isa. 8:20. ...

In harmony with the Word of God, his Spirit was to continue its work throughout the entire period of the gospel dispensation. During the ages while the Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testament were being given, the Holy Spirit did not cease to communicate light to individual minds, apart from the revelations to be embodied in the sacred canon. The Bible itself relates how, through the Holy Spirit, men received warning, reproof, counsel, and instruction, in matters in no way relating to the giving of the Scriptures. And mention is made of prophets in different ages, of whose utterances nothing is recorded. In like manner, after the close of the canon of Scripture, the Holy Spirit was still to continue its work, to enlighten, warn, and comfort the children of God. 

Then, for those who might assume otherwise, she outlined the sources of material in the book:
Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the scenes of the long-continued conflict between good and evil have been opened to the writer of these pages. From time to time I have been permitted to behold the working, in different ages, of the great controversy between Christ, the Prince of life, the author of our salvation, and Satan, the prince of evil, the author of sin, the first transgressor of God's holy law. Satan's enmity against Christ has been manifested against his followers. The same hatred of the principles of God's law, the same policy of deception, by which error is made to appear as truth, by which human laws are substituted for the law of God, and men are led to worship the creature rather than the Creator, may be traced in all the history of the past. Satan's efforts to misrepresent the character of God, to cause men to cherish a false conception of the Creator, and thus to regard him with fear and hate rather than with love, his endeavors to set aside the divine law, leading the people to think themselves free from its requirements, and his persecution of those who dare to resist his deceptions, have been steadfastly pursued in all ages. They may be traced in the history of patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, of martyrs and reformers. 

In the great final conflict, Satan will employ the same policy, manifest the same spirit, and work for the same end, as in all preceding ages. That which has been, will be, except that the coming struggle will be marked with a terrible intensity such as the world has never witnessed . Satan's deceptions will be more subtle, his assaults more determined. If it were possible, he would lead astray the elect. Mark 13:22, Revised Version.  

As the Spirit of God has opened to my mind the great truths of his Word, and the scenes of the past and the future, I have been bidden to make known to others what has thus been revealed,--to trace the history of the controversy in past ages, and especially to so present it as to shed a light on the fast-approaching struggle of the future. In pursuance of this purpose, I have endeavored to select and group together events in the history of the church in such a manner as to trace the unfolding of the great testing truths that at different periods have been given to the world, that have excited the wrath of Satan, and the enmity of a world-loving  church, and that have been maintained by the witness of those who "loved not their lives unto the death."

In these records we may see a foreshadowing of the conflict before us. Regarding them in the light of God's Word, and by the illumination of his Spirit, we may see unveiled the devices of the wicked one, and the dangers which they must shun who would be found "without fault" before the Lord at his coming.

The great events which have marked the progress of reform in past ages, are matters of history, well known and universally acknowledged by the Protestant world; they are facts which none can gainsay. This history I have presented briefly, in accordance with the scope of the book, and the brevity which must necessarily be observed, the facts having been condensed into as little space as seemed consistent with a proper understanding of their application. In some cases where a historian has so grouped together events as to afford, in brief, a comprehensive view of the subject, or has summarized details in a convenient manner, his words have been quoted; but except in a few instances no specific credit has been given, since they are not quoted for the purpose of citing that writer as authority, but because his statement affords a ready and forcible presentation of the subject. In narrating the experience and views of those carrying forward the work of reform in our own time, similar use has occasionally been made of their published works.


A Unique View of the Conflict Between Good and Evil

Some critics have promoted the idea that Ellen White got her concept of the great controversy from a similarly titled book by H. L. Hastings:The Great Controversy Between God and Man. While she may have adapted her title from Hastings, a careful comparison of the chapters and phrasing of the two volumes yields only inconsequential similarities. The most significant of difference between the two is that Hastings does not deal with the fall of Satan and the war in heaven. Rather, his book centers on God's controversy with man and not His controversy with angelic "principalities and powers" who war against the government of God on earth. 

"Q&A about The Great Controversy and Sketches from the Life of Paul" contains more information on these books, as well as answers to other questions. To read, click here.

To compare Hastings' and White's books, click on the link after the listing:

The Great Controversy Between God and Man by Hastings Click for link.
The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1) by E. G. White Click for link.

Since the 'great controversy' is a biblical theme, one can catch glimpses of it in the writings of authors besides Ellen White. Yet, neither Hastings, nor Augustine,a nor Milton (suggested by J. N. Andrews as having similar conceptsb), nor Henry Melvill (whose sermons Ellen White adapted in her writings) deal with the concept so directly.

To read Sermons, vol. 1, by Henry Melvill click here.
Paradise Lost by John Milton is available at http://www.brysons.net/miltonweb/pl.html.b



a City of God does not discuss the war in heaven (of Revelation 12) or the cosmic controversy over God's character of love. However, it does refer--ever so briefly in commenting on John 3:8--two passages essential to the great controversy concept: Isaiah 14:12 and Ezekiel 28:13 (City of God, bk. XI, chap. 15). It also mentions Isaiah 14:12 (City of God, bk. III, chap. 37).

Augustine assumed: "... before heaven and earth God seems to have made nothing."  Because of this assumption, he believed that the angels were created on the first day of the Creation (City of God, bk. XI, chap. 9). Though he believed that the devil "was some time without sin" (City of God, bk. XI, chap. 15), he said of the devil: "... from the time he was created he refused righteousness" (City of God, bk. XI, chap. 13). Augustine recognized that the devil was "cast down from his high position," and he believed that God made him "the mockery of His angels" (City of God, bk. XI, chap. 17). He did not use Jesus' description of having seen "Satan as lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18).

b A blogger makes the case for similarity of Ellen White's account of the fall of man with Milton at http://egw-books.info/AnUnexpectedRevelation.pdf. Rather than using Ellen White's early account in Spiritual Gifts, which would have been what J. N. Andrews found similar, he scanned Patriarchs and Prophets to find similar phrasing. Like Walter Rea in The White Lie, he ignores that which is unlike Milton and, therefore, contradicts his case.