Ellen White’s Mournful Christmas: the Death of Edith Andrews
by Amalia Goulbourne | 13 December 2022 |
Cheer and happiness are key facets of the holiday season. But after losing two grandparents in two years, I recognize how isolating it can be to feel heavy and sorrowful during the weeks of holiday cheer.
The following historical story is not for the cheerful, but for the heartbroken. It is the story of when Ellen White herself felt burdened by the loss of a precious young woman named Edith Andrews, niece of J.N. Andrews, during the Christmas season.
It was December 18, 1885, when Ellen White was called to the bedside of twenty-two year old Edith Andrews. Edith Andrews was the daughter of William and Martha Andrews. In 1879, at the age of sixteen, Edith moved with her uncle, J.N. Andrews, to Europe. After seeing her uncle succumb to tuberculosis, she herself contracted the consumptive illness which led to her deterioration.
During the prior nine months, Ellen White had taken a special interest in the young woman. Edith, who, by her pictures was attractive, was said to be constantly surrounded by pitying friends and flirtatious suitors. At that time tuberculosis was romanticized in the United States and Europe. The disease that had killed 7 million people a year worldwide, which led to pale skin, red cheeks, and weight loss, shaped Victorian ideals of beauty. Poets, artists, and high-class young women yearned for those sorts of features, perhaps explaining why Edith continued to receive fanfare in her decline.
But even with so much attention, Edith’s life was coming to a close.
While Edith was trying to avoid the sadness and heaviness of her inevitable death, Ellen White called her to turn to her relationship with Christ:
You have ever been reaching out for human sympathy, human love, and you have led others to center their affections upon you. You have not loved Jesus, nor served Him. To make God’s grace our own, we must do our part most faithfully, work to keep our souls in the love of Jesus, and then we shall bring forth fruit meet for repentance. We are to seek, that we may find; knock, that it may be opened unto us.
Ellen White had much to say about Edith’s spiritual condition, about which she was greatly concerned. She was worried that Edith had spent so much time receiving pity from her friends and loved ones that she had not spent time to know Jesus or share Jesus. On November 23rd, after Edith shared her testimony at church, Ellen White wrote to her son, W.C. White, and told him, “I am sorry to say she is not spiritual and does not know how to come to the light.”
Despite her fears, Ellen White wrote letters and had conversations with Edith over the course of 1885, giving Edith practical advice such as leaving the suitors alone and taking up a more physically active lifestyle. But Ellen White’s most precious comments were found in how she tried to define true religion to a girl who had been brought up in an Adventist home, but had never related to Jesus as her personal friend and Savior.
True religion may be distinguished from its counterfeit. There is a test which shows the difference between the precious coin and the base metal. This test is to be daily applied. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Do we reveal love for God and His truth? Do we love our neighbor as we love ourselves? … It is amid the activities of life, in the everyday contact with one another, that we are to reveal that love which is made of deeds. Like a thread of gold this love must run through the daily experience.
A changing heart
Although at first, Ellen White did not see the effects of her witness, in the few months before her death, Edith took greater interest in repenting and learning the story of the gospel. In a letter to Addie Walling, Ellen White bemoaned the fact that Edith would learn God’s grace so soon to her time of death, when she was at her most frail. Yet, Ellen White was thrilled that Edith would know her Savior.
In a letter to an unknown individual, Ellen White recounted the week before Edith’s death. On December 18, 1885, Ellen White sat beside Edith’s bedside while Edith confessed her uncertainty of the future. Edith had pored over Ellen White’s letters and had apologized to the friends and people she had hurt, but she was still scared that God would not forgive her.
This was a question Ellen White had pondered when she was thirteen, overwhelmed by the weight of her own sin. But now, at the age of fifty-eight, she answered the question for the young woman using the words found in Exodus 34:6-7: ““The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” She assured Edith that God would forgive every transgression and supply for every deficiency.
Edith replied with simple words of faith: “I believe He accepts me. I believe He loves me, and I, all undeserving, have His peace.” For two days, Ellen White ministered to Edith, crying in prayer for her. She prayed for Christ’s peace, which everyone present felt in the room that weekend.
Before Ellen White left, Edith surrendered her heart to Jesus, trusting that whatever happened next would be with Jesus by her side.
Christmas Eve death
Edith Andrews died on Christmas Eve, 1885. It was a somber day in the community, as another individual, Sister Kelly, had also unexpectedly passed. On Christmas morning, Ellen White spoke of a “great solemnity” upon her mind. But she believed Edith had been accepted by Jesus, awaiting resurrection morning.
To B.L. Whitney, the 1885 Swiss conference president who reported on Ellen White’s missions in Europe, Edith’s death reminded Ellen White of her brother Robert’s death to tuberculosis, and her own suffering with tuberculosis at an early age. Adventist author D.A. Delafield thinks Edith’s death reminded Ellen White of her husband’s sudden death four years earlier, and the deaths of her sons Henry and Herbert.
Whatever was brought to mind, Ellen White in her exhausted state did not take part in Edith’s funeral service. In her words, “Past scenes of suffering and death of my loved ones in the family circle urge themselves upon me and I live it all over again.” Even with the relief of Edith’s trust in Christ, and her own family’s love for Christ, Ellen White’s mind was filled with grief. She spent the day after Christmas in mourning, as grief replayed memories.
Words of comfort
The story ends here, but to those who mourn, Ellen White’s comforting words to Edith in November 1885 may give solace:
Let sad affliction come, let trials enter our circle, and the sunshine leaves us when we need it most. Companions will amuse us with light and cheerful talk; they will frequently flatter us with attention; but the thoughts and heaviness return to us again as unwelcome guests. These are lessons that you have to learn, late: that it is not that which is around us, not place or circumstances, but what is in us; not what we have, but what we really are that makes us have genuine happiness.
What remains in us this season is not the grief of loved ones lost nor commercially generated happiness; it is the presence of a God who came to earth to live in us and love us fully. Mourn and remember that just as the sun struggles through mist and fog, God will soon shine upon your mournful season.
- Ellen G. White, Lt 26, 1885, Ellen G. White Writings Website, December 24, 1885. ↑
- B.L. Whitney, “Death of Sister Edith Andrews.” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 63, no. 4 (January 1886): 59, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Periodicals/RH/RH18860126-V63-04.pdf. ↑
- Annabel Kanabus, “History of TB – Through the Centuries,” TBFacts.org, August 2022, https://tbfacts.org/history-tb/; Imogen Clarke, “Tuberculosis: A Fashionable Disease?”Science Museum Blog, March 24, 2019, https://blog.sciencemuseum.org.uk/tuberculosis-a-fashionable-disease/. ↑
- Ellen G. White, Lt 4, 1885, Ellen G. White Writings Website, November 21, 1885. ↑
- Ellen G. White, MR No. 1293, Ellen G. White Writings Website, November 23, 1885. ↑
- Ellen G. White, Lt 6, 1885, Ellen G. White Writings Website. n.d. ↑
- Ellen G. White, Lt 28, 1885, Ellen G. White Writings Website, November 3, 1885. ↑
- Ellen G. White, Lt 26, 1885, Ellen G. White Writings Website. December 24, 1885. ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Ellen G. White, MS 30, 1885, Ellen G. White Writings Website, December 25, 1885. ↑
- B.L. Whitney, Historical Sketches of Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists (Basel: Imprimerie Polyglotte, Basle, 1886), 52, egwwritings.org. ↑
- D.A. Delafield, Ellen G. White in Europe 1885-1887 (Washington D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1975), 90, egwwritings.org. . ↑
- Ellen G. White, MS 30, 1885, Ellen G. White Writings Website, December 26, 1885. ↑
- Ellen G. White, Lt 4, 1885, Ellen G. White Writings Website, November 21, 1885. ↑
Amalia Goulbourne is currently pursuing her Master of Divinity degree at Andrews University. Originally from Southern California, she is an Oakwood alumna and pastored in Florida Conference as an associate pastor.
Photo of Edith Andrews courtesy of Adventist Digital Library.