Madison, God’s Beautiful Farm
(The E. A. Sutherland Story by Ira Gish & Harry Christman.)
The story starts out where you’d expect it to – on the steamboat Morning Star going up the Cumberland River near Nashville Tennessee in 1904. Percy Magan and Edward Sutherland are told by Ellen White that the Lord wishes them to buy a large worn-out farm against their better judgment. Of course we know the outcome, and the result is clearly given in the book title.
Sutherland and Magan should be regarded as the pioneers in following counsel in the Spirit of Prophecy in educational lines. These two men were personally responsible for starting Walla Walla College, moving Battle Creek College out into the country side in Berrien Springs (now Andrews University), helping College of Medical Evangelists (Loma Linda)’s fledging endeavor, the Seventh-day Adventist church school system, and of course – Madison College.
The greatest success was found in the Madison example, as the neglect and opposition by church leaders gave them the freest rein to run their school exactly according to Bible and Spirit of Prophecy counsel. If the Lord said the students need to learn agriculture, they would learn agriculture. Poor students should be allowed opportunity to work for an education? No problem. After learning that the practice of conferring degrees was started by a pope, they published this notice in the school paper: “Preparation for usefulness in the cause of Christ will be the subject constantly held before students, replacing the courses and diplomas of the past.” Teachers and students worked together with one spirit in the fear of the Lord, and what mighty things did God do for them!
The book struggles in not condemning those against educational reform. But overall it gives a mostly balanced picture of how this work of reform by these two men was in general not received well by SDA church leaders.
The two main problems with the book are in the near “hero worship” adulation of Edward Sutherland, and in repetition. For example, Madison spawned many other “units” or self-supporting institutions. It is nice to see a place where i went to school (Highland Academy) mentioned – but 3 times?! “heroic leader….rare kind of courage….no bitterness….father – to thousands of young people who…felt the magic of his outgoing affection”. Maybe once as a eulogy i can understand, but this type of prose is overused.
Reasons for the demise of Madison are given, but not perceiving them, they are given in a congratulatory manner: “In 1917 the Southern Accrediting Association accepted the Madison High School into its association.” Whoops, slippery slope which got slippier in 1933 when the college was also accredited. Then in the year of the golden anniversary (1954): “the sanitarium expanded to a 220-bed facility and fully staffed with qualified physicians and nurses.” All quite contrary to the inspired counsel not to affiliate with the world and put so many resources into one place. I’m not sure about at that time, but i know for sure that in the 1970s at least some of those “qualified physicians and nurses” were not SDA, meaning they were qualified by man, not by God.
I personally lived in Madison from 1962-1968, and continued to live within a one-hour drive until 1983. My mother went to college for Bible instruction in the last year of its existence. The hospital was sold in the 1980s i believe, and if you drive past there now, you can see a large sign saying “Tennessee Christian Medical Center, a Baptist Affiliate”. Ellen White and Edward Sutherland must be rolling in their graves!
The morals of the story are:
God will bless as you do what he says.
Adversity tends to strengthen character, and prosperity tends to destroy it.
May we do our part in heeding inspired counsel and training the youth to meet Jesus soon