A powerful Biblical story about honesty is found in Acts 5 where Ananias and Sapphira, early followers of “The Way,” who held all things together in common (Acts 4:32). They tragically met their demise after they lied and did not follow through on their pledge.
In Adventist history Elon Everts (1807-1858) and Anna Maria (Rider) (d. 1856) are best remembered as prominent early Sabbatarian Adventists. Elon was one of the first Adventist ministers to be ordained (1853), and is best remembered because he was the first person to coin the term “investigative judgment.” For more information on the Evers read by biographical entry on them in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia (Review and Herald, 2013).
In 1878, James White reflected fills in “the rest of the story” about their experience (Review and Herald, Sept. 5, 1878, pg. 84). He states that they were two of the very first to embrace the Sabbath in the state of Vermont. “They were wealthy” and had an only child, a daughter. As a man of “considerable ability” soon after he accepted the message he gave himself to the proclamation of these truths. “The Lord sent Bro. and Sr. E. messages of warning, reproving them for their love of this world, and saying that Bro. E. should consecrate himself and his property to the work and cause of God.”
The Everts sold their property in Vermont and moved to Whiteside county, Illinois, and purchased a “large improved farm.” The money that remained the put out at interest. Elon went west, according to James White, to preach the message. His wife went to farm it. “And so it proved true,” James reflected.
The labors of the large farm and managing their money left no time for Elon to “improve his gifts.” Another young minister went to preach in their area, but the Everts were so stingy that he had to pay his way there. He didn’t receive the support he should have received. They received “warnings” about their dangers from Ellen G. White about their “duty.” The “sin of covetousness” was pointed out to them. Soon, Maria was stricken with sickness and death without a hope of her repentance or “acceptance with God.”
James White then noted that Elon then had a chance to mend his ways from “mammon”–a nineteenth century term for money, wealth, and worldliness. “Again the Lord warned Bro. E. of danger of his deceiving himself. Unless he changed his course, he would soon follow his wife.” But he fell back even deeper into “worldly stupor” until Elon was laid into the grave.
Their property, worth a staggering $15,000 (during a time when the average working person earned perhaps a dollar or two a day) fell into the hands of the only daughter and her husband. They located to Battle Creek, but did not heed counsel given them. They pledged notes worth $300 for the then fledgling Publishing Association for $300, but they never paid.
Hard times pressed on and the “hand of the Lord stretched out to scatter the property that had been kept from the cause of God in the face of repeated warnings. Loss followed loss in quick succession, by bad debts poorly managed and by fire, until every dollar of the large estate was scattered.” The married daughter died leaving a son who has since died.
A tragic end.
What does this mean?
The story mirrors the biblical story of Ananias and Sapphira, a biblical parallel that James White was sure not to miss. For one thing, whereas it appears that most early Sabbatarian Adventists were generally middle class (with a trend toward upward social mobility) this is a clear example that the Sabbatarian Adventist message did extend to those who were on the upper margins of society.
One major theme in Ellen G. White’s writings is the dangers of “mammon” (a fun word search). While I have not been able to match any additional specific correlations beyond my biographical entry in The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, it does appear clear that early Sabbatarian Adventists developed an ethos of hard work and generosity that reflected their Restorationist leanings of upholding the New Testament model of “holding all things in common” with a spirit of beneficence. While some Utopian communities took this quite literally, early Sabbatarian Adventists were more moderate in their interpretation. Church leaders did not have a problem per se with wealth, but such wealth should be strategically directed in order to best support the message and mission of Sabbatarian Adventism.
The example of the Everts later came back as a classic example used by James White to transition from “systematic benevolence” to the tithing system in 1878-1879. The message of Seventh-day Adventist was an all-encompassing lifestyle that included using all resources to share the message. This meant for those who had wealth, like the Everts, allocating these resources was a spiritual discipline. After all, what good would these funds do after the Second Advent of Jesus Christ?