J. N. Andrews: The Self-Educated Scholar

Share It :

J. N. Andrews: The Self-Educated Scholar

James White’s Melanchthon

The Protestant Reformation was led forth by the fiery personality of Martin Luther. More behind the scenes in those times was the scholarly Philip Melanchthon. He helped to organize Luther’s thoughts into a system of truth and even helped to correct some errors of the older man.

J. N. Andrews was like the Melanchthon of the Adventist movement. In the foreword of Gilbert Valentine’s biography on Andrews, George Knight writes, “Readers will discover that in nearly every challenge in Adventism’s first twenty-five years, [James] White requested Andrews to study the topic from the Bible and write out his findings for the church at large.”[1]

Andrews gave James White the help he needed, just as Melanchthon did for Luther. His scholarly bent is the main reason that the most prominent school in Adventism still bears his name today. The road traveled by J. N. Andrews to become such an academic carries many lessons for us still.

The Young Intellectual

John Nevins Andrews’s intellect was noticed by his aunt when he was an early teenager. She had experience teaching in high schools and thought that Andrews would benefit from better schooling than was available to him in his rural home in Paris, Maine.

Andrews excelled in his studies while living with his aunt and uncle in 1843, but would not continue for long. It seems that the Millerite movement had already caught his attention before moving in with them. In early 1844 he returned home to take an active part in preparing others for the second coming of Jesus.[2]

After the great disappointment in October of 1844, the Andrews family still believed that they had been correct about the time prophecies. They believed that Jesus must still be coming soon, and it was important to stay ready. For 15-year-old J. N. Andrews to go back to school would have been a denial of his faith in their eyes. From this point on in his life, all the education Andrews gained would be self-taught.

Involved in Fanaticism

The Andrews family adopted spiritualized views of the second coming soon after the disappointment. They believed that Jesus had come into their hearts on October 22, 1844, and that they were already prepared for heaven. They demonstrated this by what was called “spiritual crawling.”[3]

One report shows “the six-foot-tall John Andrews crawling on hands and knees around the room… and across every bridge he came to.” This was to show that he was converted and humble like a little child, as Jesus taught in Matthew 18.

The family also began to believe that an eternal Sabbath had come and that they should not go back to work. “As winter turned to spring in 1845, the no-work conviction began to put severe economic strains on the Andrews family.”[4]

Post-disappointment Adventism was full of fanaticism like this. The Andrews family persisted in these views until they became emotionally burned out in 1847. Although J. N. Andrews would have to carry the baggage from these experiences through the rest of his life, the power and truth of the word of God won out in the end.

Rescued from Error

It wasn’t until 1849 that J. N. Andrews finally began to come to a biblical understanding of what had happened in 1844. This occurred when the White’s and Joseph Bates came to Paris, Maine to teach the small group of believers.

The truths that had been studied out by the believers, and then corroborated by the visions of Ellen White, were clearly explained to the Andrews family. J. N. Andrews confessed that he would rather “yield up a thousand errors” in exchange for “one single truth.”[5] This was a huge turning point for the then 20-year-old.

By 1850 the Whites had actually moved in with the Andrews family to have a better place to print the new paper, Present Truth. The increased involvement of the Whites with J. N. Andrews would lead to a long working relationship and friendship in the future.

Publishing and Evangelism

Andrews’s first published article was a defense of the Sabbath, which came out in December 1850. “In years to come, Andrews would be given the opportunity to write much more extensively on all aspects of the history and theology of the Sabbath, as he became the church’s leading authority on the topic.”[6]

That December J. N. Andrews also set out on his first evangelistic tour with another experienced preacher. This would be one of many such travels where Andrews would cover hundreds of miles preaching and teaching. While on these adventures he would continue to write for the church paper.

For his second piece of writing Andrews “completed a tightly written almost ten-thousand-word defense of the perpetuity of the law that James White published as a two-part cover-page series in the January and February issues of the new paper.”[7] His writing proved to be very thorough, and James White wasted no time in using Andrews’s skills as an author.

In May of 1851, Andrews put out an article that forever changed the Adventist view of the earth beast of Revelation 13. He was the first to show that this beast represented the United States of America. “Andrews’s apocalyptic view of America would become a central characteristic of Adventist prophetic understanding.”[8]

In only his first year of ministry, Andrews established himself as one of the movement’s main biblical scholars. He accomplished this as an itinerant preacher in a time when travel was very tough. It’s amazing what the Holy Spirit was able to teach him under those circumstances when he was only 21 years old. The core of his views written then has stood the test of time until the present day.

Health Problems and the Laodicean Message

Itinerant preaching in those days was a very rough life. J. N. Andrews was pushing himself to the limit traveling around everywhere, while still writing regularly for the Review and Herald.

Reflecting on his health in 1855 he wrote that his head “absolutely refused to perform any more mental labor; my voice was destroyed, I supposed permanently; my eyesight was considerably injured; I could not rest by day, and I could not sleep well at night.”[9] All of the work that Andrews was able to accomplish came at a high price.

For the next three years, J. N. Andrews left full-time ministry and moved out to Iowa with his family to help them make a new financial start. It was during this time that he got married to his wife Angeline, who was a close family friend from his hometown. Life started to become much more comfortable for the worn-out evangelist.

At the end of 1856, James and Ellen White felt convicted to travel through dangerous weather conditions to visit the Andrews family. They made the trek to rescue J. N. Andrews and J. N. Loughborough (who had also moved to Iowa) from the Laodicean mindset.[10] They believed the two young ministers were in danger of focusing more on worldly things than the work of God.

Focus on the Sabbath

Andrews returned to ministry after the Laodicean rebuke. He would go on to help James White flesh out a plan for church finance and organization. He also went on to serve a year as General Conference President in 1868, and then another year as the editor of the Review and Herald in 1869. But during the 1860s the biggest work of Andrews’s life would be his writing on the Sabbath.

In 1862 the first edition of the History of the Sabbath came off the press. This book was then considered the most important work produced in defense of the seventh-day Sabbath. “It was used by every Adventist minister and studied in every Adventist ministerial preparation program for the next eighty years.”[11]

The first half of the book dealt with the biblical history of the Sabbath, proving from scripture that the Sabbath had never changed. The second half covered history after the apostolic church, showing how Sunday worship ended up replacing the Sabbath. He would revise the book in 1873, adding on more history as he came to a better understanding. This revision made the book a massive 512-page volume.

The book was primarily focused on defeating the arguments that others had brought against the fourth commandment. It most likely grew out of all of the objections Andrews faced during the many evangelistic seminars he preached.

This book solidified Andrews’s place as the foremost authority on the Sabbath in the Seventh-day Adventist church. He was passionate about helping people be firmly rooted and grounded in their faith.

His work as an apologetic resource is still valuable today. The only major revisions made after his death deal with the historical details behind the origins of Sunday worship, as scholars now have more access to material than J. N. Andrews did in his day.[12]

Adventism’s First Missionary

Adventists at first didn’t have much interest in overseas missions, surprisingly. They believed that every ethnicity that needed to be ministered to was represented in the United States.[13]

But as more and more letters came over from Europe from people who had been converted by Adventist literature, it became obvious that more needed to be done. These people were crying out for help from the more experienced ministers in America.

In 1873 Andrews suffered the loss of his wife to a stroke when she was only 48 years old. While grieving the death of his wife, and struggling to raise his children on his own, he still decided to go to Europe.

In 1874, J. N. Andrews set sail with his two children, Mary and Charles, as the first official Seventh-day Adventist missionary. He already had some experience with the French and German languages and was seen as the best person to lead the believers in Europe to a deeper understanding of truth. His first home base was in Neuchatel, Switzerland.

After getting over the initial culture shock, and wading through the financial difficulties of starting up evangelistic work in a new field, J. N. Andrews was impressed to start a paper, as Adventists had done in America.

In July of 1876, the first issue of Les Signes des Temps was printed fully in the French language. It was modeled after James White’s recently created Signs of the Times in California. Andrews spent countless hours trying to master French to translate his own writing and others from America.

This paper would take up most of Andrews’s time as a missionary in Europe. It became his main evangelistic outreach tool. “During the eight years of Andrews’s editorship across one hundred issues of the paper, Andrews penned (by one estimate) 480 articles, and by another 550…a major accomplishment.”[14]

More Family Tragedy

In 1878 the daughter of J. N. Andrews came down with a cough that lasted for weeks. This was almost a sure sign that she had come down with what was called in those days consumption (tuberculosis).

Around the time that this occurred Andrews received a letter from America, telling him to attend the next General Conference meeting. This allowed him to get Mary back to Battle Creek where John Harvey Kellogg could work to cure her.

Unfortunately, she would not be healed of the disease. Her father stayed by Mary’s side for long periods of time, against the warnings of Kellogg that this might put him in danger of catching her sickness as well.

On November 27 “Andrews, at her request, bent to say a prayer for her that the Lord would ‘relieve her distress,’ and she also whispered the same prayer. He considered the prayers were answered, for the sleep of death overcame her just moments later.”[15]

This marked another difficult emotional hurdle that Andrews had to overcome in his life. At the age of 50, he had lost two infant children, his wife, and now his oldest child. His willingness to hold on to God by faith is a great lesson for all.

A Full, but Short, Life Comes to an End

As Dr. Kellogg feared, Andrews took Mary’s tuberculosis back to Europe with him. Amazingly, he lasted for almost five more years before succumbing to the disease.

Andrews continued to work hard on the paper he had started in Switzerland despite his ill health. Les Signes des Temps eventually reached the point of self-sustainability. The French-speaking people started to take interest in the Advent message.

J. N. Andrews’s sense of duty kept him holding on to life for as long as possible. His physical stature deteriorated to the point where he described himself as “a mere skeleton” in a letter to Ellen White.[16]

He passed away at his home in Basel, Switzerland, on October 21, 1883, at the age of 55. His 26-year-old son, Charles, was the only one left of his family circle. He avoided the contagious disease that killed so many in those days and would spend the majority of his life in the publishing work for the church.

Positive Lessons from J. N. Andrews

He Gave Church Members Confidence in Their Faith

Every major doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventist church was covered in the writing of J. N. Andrews. As the small movement came out from the shadow of the great disappointment in 1844, they faced many objections from other Christians. The writings of Andrews helped others in the small group of believers have confidence in sharing their faith.

Joseph Bates and James White provided the foundation for the theology of the Adventist movement, but J. N. Andrews was the one that helped many people understand it. One minister says of Andrews’s book on Revelation 14, “No writings of later days have made the subject more simple and plain than that little work.”[17]

Many people today may not feel comfortable giving a Bible study to someone else. The writings of J. N. Andrews are still reliable sources for learning how to explain our doctrines.

His Scholarly Method Resonated with People Outside of the Church

Andrews’s History of the Sabbath is a book that not only touched Adventists but was recommended by the Seventh Day Baptist church as well. “They welcomed the book because of its ‘historic argument’ for the Sabbath.”[18]

When people apostatized from the Adventist church they would often point to the fact that the beliefs of the church were not grounded in proper research. D. M. Canright said this about his old mentor James White.[19]

This was something that was very hard to say about J. N. Andrews, though. He was extremely thorough and didn’t want to say anything without knowing that he could back it up. Andrews University could not have been named after a better pioneer. “Just under 1000 volumes from his personal library have survived across the 134 years since his death.”[20]

Although he did not have the education that is available today, Andrews was lightyears ahead of most of his contemporaries, in terms of scholarship, in the early days of the movement. This type of writing has proven successful today as theologians try to reach out to educated people in society.

Mistakes We Can Learn From

He Worshipped Intellect

Sometimes J. N. Andrews could take getting things exactly right to the extreme. Ellen White rebuked him multiple times for this. She told him that he knew “nothing about leaving off when all has been said that is required and that is profitable.” She came down on him concerning his habit of rising too early and staying up too late studying. And she told him that he needed to make sure that he wrote his History of the Sabbath in a way that wasn’t too deep for his audience.[21]

In another letter to him, she said, “Truth presented in an easy style, backed up with a few strong proofs, is better than to search and bring forth an overwhelming array of evidence.”[22] And in the last letter written to him before he died, she still mentioned the fact that “He worshipped intellect and gave preference to others whom he thought of as educated.”[23]

Andrews’s scholarly personality was his strength. But his life also reveals how our strengths can become weaknesses if taken too far.

Too Argumentative

Most of J. N. Andrews’s writing is done in an argumentative tone. He had many debates with other writers outside of the church that were published in the Review and Herald. His major focus in life was to prove Adventist teachings to be true, against any objection that could be thrown against them.

This was good to a point and helped many church members. But it also fed the early Adventist church’s habit of debating doctrine without focusing on Christ.

Andrews’s writing is valuable for apologetics. However, many readers find themselves wishing that this man, so gifted with giant intellect, could have found time to write without having to address some objection. “The debating context… limited his creativity and tended to confine the scope of his writing to an agenda set by his opponents.”[24]

A study of the life of J. N. Andrews reveals that he had a deep love for God. But his polemic style of writing could sometimes overshadow this love. One scholar says, “The relational side of his theology was under-stressed in favor of the dogmatic side.”[25]

This is a great lesson for us today. We should seek to defend our faith, and be able to give an answer to anyone who questions us. At the same time, we should never make this more important than giving the world a revelation of the loving character of Jesus Christ.

Click here to read the rest of this series on the Adventist pioneers!



[1] Gilbert M. Valentine, J. N. Andrews: Mission Pioneer, Evangelist, and Thought Leader, p. 9.

[2] Ibid, p. 49.

[3] Ibid, p. 67.

[4] Ibid, p. 68.

[5] Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts Vol. 2, p. 117

[6] Gilbert M. Valentine, J. N. Andrews: Mission Pioneer, Evangelist, and Thought Leader, p. 119

[7] Ibid, p. 121-122.

[8] Ibid, p. 134.

[9] Ibid, p. 162.

[10] Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts Vol. 2, p. 212-222.

[11] Gilbert M. Valentine, J. N. Andrews: Mission Pioneer, Evangelist, and Thought Leader, p. 450.

[12] Kenneth Strand, The Sabbath in Scripture and History, p. 15.

[13] Review and Herald, Jan. 1, 1867, p. 48.

[14] Gilbert M. Valentine, J. N. Andrews: Mission Pioneer, Evangelist, and Thought Leader, p. 579.

[15] Ibid, p. 625

[16] Ibid, p. 709.

[17] Review and Herald, Sept. 15, 1904, p. 9.

[18] Gilbert M. Valentine, J. N. Andrews: Mission Pioneer, Evangelist, and Thought Leader, p. 447.

[19] D. M. Canright, Life of Mrs. E. G. White: Seventh-day Adventist Prophet: Her False Claims Refuted, p. 65.

[20] Gilbert M. Valentine, J. N. Andrews: Mission Pioneer, Evangelist, and Thought Leader, p. 645.

[21] Ibid, p. 431.

[22] Ibid, p. 437.

[23] Ibid, p. 706.

[24] Ibid, p. 456.

[25] Siegfried Roske, A Comparative Study of the Sabbath Theologies, p. 274

Share It :


About the author

Tony Dennis

Tony Dennis is from Sacramento, California, and spent most of his life as an atheist. He was converted to Seventh-day Adventism when he was 21 years old by reading the book Steps to Christ. He has served as a teacher of Daniel, Revelation, and Sanctuary classes at the evangelism school Souls West. His passions are education and history.