Drops of Liquid Fire

Originally published in Issue 2: Reference (February 2024)

The sparks began at Battle Creek College.

Edward Sutherland, the recently-appointed president of this institution, had previously been leading Walla Walla College with an inspired innovation that strove to follow all the light he received through Ellen White. However, when he arrived at Battle Creek, he found that this Adventist institution was not following the light the Spirit was giving. 

Ellen White wrote to Sutherland: “I am more and more burdened as I see young men coming from the school at Battle Creek deficient in the education they should have….From the light given me from the Lord, I know that four or five successive years of application to book study is a mistake. Those who encourage this, close application to books, working the brain and neglecting the education they should gain by using the muscles proportionately with the brain, are simply incapable of retaining the lessons they endeavor to learn.”1 

This, and other counsel provided by God through her, highlighted the danger of overworking the mind. Sutherland’s subsequent incorporation of practical work into the students’ programs ensured that their minds and bodies would be developed in a balanced manner. Edward Sutherland and his co-laborer Percy Magan plowed up the tennis court and baseball field and planted a garden for the students to work in. Then, God made a way for the school to purchase 80 more acres so they could have the orchards and fields they desired to help support the school. This would also give their students still more practical education surrounded by God’s object lessons, as well as the ability to earn their tuition. 

Sutherland and his supporters faced the bullets of criticism from every direction. Administrators and students were not as quick to embrace reform, and even church leaders looked down on the young president and his changes to the school.2 Weighed down by the resistance and sharp words, the leaders of the reform put their heads down and pressed on in perseverance and prayer. All their struggles from without and within “demonstrated a constant need to wrestle with God in prayer”.3 Like the disciples in the days of Acts, Sutherland and his small team of staff would agonize in prayer for wisdom and strength to meet the challenges. 

They knew they would never experience revival without prayer. They also knew the power of God alone could accomplish revival’s crucial complementary work of reform. In spite of the storm, they could not slack in their efforts with the solemnity of the educational duties placed before them: “Now as never before we need to understand the true science of education. If we fail to understand this, we shall never have a place in the kingdom of God.”4

At last, they began to see what their eyes of faith had been hopefully looking to for so long. “The heroic dedication of loyal students and teachers brought down heavenly blessing. Reform resulted in progress that everyone could see. Financial relief came too; but most thrilling of all, spiritual revival came.”5

All throughout the campus, many began to feel the wind of the Spirit. Its breeze strengthened until it came in with strong gusts. The Comforter drew close to those on campus, making His whisper more audible. Students and teachers alike listened and wrestled until they surrendered to the Voice. As they repented, their tears of remorse flowed into tears of joy. From room to room, teacher to teacher, student to student, the silent Wind rushed stronger and stronger until it became visible in the changed hearts and faces of the revived. 

The students gave their hearts to the Lord by storm. On Sabbath, the young men held a powerful meeting. Those whose hearts had already been kindled by the Spirit came to their friends with prayers and heartfelt entreaties. All over the meeting room, the college students were breaking down in tears, unable to resist anymore. Not long after their hearts were softened, they were seen going to other students with the same prayers and tears that had broken their own hearts. The effect was astounding. By the end, there was only one man in the meeting place who had not given his heart to Jesus.

Days passed with the same power and school simply could not continue as normal. Monday morning after chapel, instead of classes, there was the most powerful prayer meeting yet. The students took the lead once again and, with burdened hearts, began praying for their fellow classmates. “It was indeed a most touching sight to see the young people all over the room working quietly, as guided by the Spirit, for those who were in the dark. With tears flowing freely, they would kneel in prayer. It was a solemn occasion.”6 The hour hand slowly circled the face of the clock, a silent witness of the burning desire of the students’ hearts for their classmates’ salvation. Their tears were not without effect. As the clock struck the fourth hour of the meeting, seventy five students came to the front for special prayer. 

Tuesday was filled with a similar power and at Wednesday’s meeting a spirit of confession came over the students. Bessie DeGraw, the school secretary, wrote, “Only the Spirit of God could give the young heart the bravery to lay bare its sins as was done by hundreds.”7 That same evening Sutherland read portions of a letter from Ellen White highlighting the importance of practical work combined with studying. Convicted by the Holy Spirit, students and staff alike determined to follow God’s plan of education to incorporate manual labor into their school curriculum.

The Holy Spirit lingered long. Six weeks later, Sutherland joyfully reported that the students’ fervor for their fellow classmates had spread to the community. The students went out by the dozens and, like bees swarming to and from a hive, they seemed to be constantly coming and going—helping needy families, sharing religious literature, and giving Bible studies. Almost every single one of the students became involved as a student missionary in their own community.8 

Ms. DeGraw summed up the life-changing experience of Battle Creek College: “It is a time of such waiting and watching as we have never before seen. We press forward, for we are in the time of the latter rain.”9

This is the story of the prayer, the struggle, and the revival of Battle Creek College—the revival that brought a whole cohort to their knees before God.

The revival that led to intercessory prayer for four hours straight. 

The revival that led to seventy-five young people responding to an appeal. 

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Battle Creek was just a small foretaste of the latter rain—that wonderful deluge of the Holy Spirit coming sometime in the future. I crave to see that power poured out in my own heart and in the hearts of my family, friends, and church. And I believe that I already am seeing a glimmer of this great revival now. I see the sparks already when I hear of the revival groups springing up in some of our universities. I see the sparks when I see and hear the leaders of our colleges share their desire to seek out the old paths and follow God’s blueprint for true education. I see the sparks in my peers who, like Edward Sutherland, are willing to pray earnestly and obey whatever the cost. 

With eyes of faith, I see a roaring fire.

  1. Ellen G. White, Letters and Manuscripts, vol. 12, Letter 103, 1897 (Ellen G. White Estate, 1897), par. 1. ↩︎
  2. Ira Gish and Harry Christman, Madison, God’s Beautiful Farm: The E.A. Sutherland Story (Brushton, NY: TEACH Services, 2005), 98. ↩︎
  3. Gish and Christman, God’s Beautiful Farm, 68. ↩︎
  4. Ellen G. White, “True Education,” in The Christian Educator (Silver Spring, MD: Ellen G. White Estate, 2018), 3-6. ↩︎
  5.  Gish and Christman, God’s Beautiful Farm, 73. ↩︎
  6. M. Bessie De Graw, “The College”, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald (Battle Creek, MI), November 15, 1898, https://adventistdigitallibrary.org/islandora/object/adl%3A350955/%3Fview_only%3Dtrue ↩︎
  7. M. Bessie De Graw, “The College”, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, November 15, 1898, par. 6. ↩︎
  8.  Edward Alexander Sutherland to Mrs E. G. White, December 18, 1898, Ellen G. White Estate, https://ellenwhite.org/correspondence/263268. ↩︎
  9.  M. Bessie De Graw, “Work in Battle Creek College”, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, (Battle Creek, MI), December 13, 1898, https://adventistdigitallibrary.org/islandora/object/adl%3A350959/%3Fview_only%3Dtrue.  ↩︎

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