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In 1872, when the first testimony of volume 3 was written, the entire denominational effort of Seventh-day Adventists was in the United States, and largely concentrated in the central and Northeastern States. There were eighty-six ordained and licensed ministers preaching the message and supervising the work. We owned and operated one publishing house and one small medical institution, both at Battle Creek, Michigan. For a quarter of a century God had led His people as rapidly as they could advance intelligently and in unison, first into a clear understanding of the doctrines taught in the word, then into a sense of their responsibility to publish the message, then to organization of the church, and then to better ways of living. But there were new experiences and great opportunities for advance before the church. The counsels of volume 3 pave the way for these.
Through the preceding twenty-five critical years, elder James White had been the leader of the new cause. He had started the publishing work, labored tirelessly for church organization, built up the medical work, and had stood at the head in both administrative and editorial lines. He had pioneered the way. With his keen business foresight and his entire devotion to the growing church, he was recognized as the leader. This being the case, it was but natural that others should fail to see that they should step in and assume responsibility in the various enterprises of the growing denomination. This volume opens with a discussion of this problem and with an appeal for burden bearers to shoulder the work at the headquarters, relieving James White, who was breaking under the load. Again and again, through the volume, reference is made to the expanding work, the enlarging responsibilities, and the need of younger men to take hold and bear the burdens. The hazards of looking to one man as the great leader were clearly enunciated.
The experiences of this period are akin to that of the eagle teaching its young to fly—first bearing the fledgling upon its back and then leaving it to develop its strength, but with the parent ever near enough to render aid when needed. James White’s own failing health, his conviction that others should be stepping in to lift the burdens, and his frequent calls to duty elsewhere, all tended to separate him from the administrative interests at Battle Creek. While Elder and Mrs. White continued to maintain their home midway between the sanitarium and the publishing house in the headquarters city, we find them often in distant parts. In the summers of 1872 and 1873 they spent periods of rest in the mountains of Colorado, and were also for some months in California. A still longer period was spent by them on the West Coast in 1874, at which time Elder White began the publication of the Signs of the Times. Thus others were forced to assume responsibilities of leadership at the headquarters, and the work gained strength.
This was a critical period, too, for, during the time when the church was finding its way in the question of leadership and organization, some were inclined to unduly stress individual independence and were in danger of repeating the experience of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in rebellion against properly constituted authority. Scattered through volume 3 are counsels providing a definite steadying influence through these experiences. Here and there are enumerated in magnificent statements some of the great principles of organization and leadership.
The three-year period of the times of this volume also marked the close of the first decade in the teaching and practice of health reform. Counsel was given to guard against extremes on the one hand and indifference on the other. Again and again, in general articles and personal testimonies, Ellen White pointed to the great principles of temperance and right living, and called the people to advance in their new and helpful health reform experience.