Surprising Authorship of "The Great Want of This Age"

A thought gem that has been repeated and adapted in many publications from 1866 until the present has interest for Seventh-day Adventists in that the Adventist prophet, Ellen G. White, made her own adaptation of it. As originally written, it begins with the words, “The great want of this age is men …”

Tracing the source of this gem has proved problematic. Its earliest appearances were in 1866—these include the Buffalo Daily Courier  (June 16, 1866), the Cape Ann Light and Gloucester (Massachusetts) Telegraph  (July 14, 1866), and the Cincinnati Daily  Enquirer  (July 6, 1866). The last of these prefaces the gem with: “A writer says.” Some periodicals cite its source as The Investigator. More recent research has located an even earlier appearance—the Junction City (Kansas) Weekly Union (June 2, 1866), where it is part of an article entitled, “Sold Cheap.” Below is a transcription of the article. (1)


One evening as I stood in the Post office in L——, two young men came from the window where stamps were sold and passed by me on their way out. “See here!” said one to his fellow, and glancing towards him I saw in his palm two new two-cent pieces, and my ear caught what sounded thus: —“I gave him five cents for a stamp, and he ought not to have given me back but one, and he gave me two.” —“All right, said his companiot [companion] and they passed on, evidently pleased with the speculation, trifling as it was, while I stood musing to myself. Sold cheap, two cents for the honor, honesty, fairness and manly principles of two young men. I knew that this kind of business is by no means uncommon among young men and old men, and even among men who profess to be devout men, and who sometimes make long prayers; but it is none the better for all of that. Nor am I yet convinced that, while godliness is profitable, ungodliness is still more profitable, or while godliness with contentment is great gain, ungodliness without it is greater still. But I have a strong suspicion that in a pecuniary way, this kind of petty meanness will never pay. Honesty, even in this crooked world, has its market value, and a habit of dishonesty even in little things, cannot long be cherished without being found out. And when once a man has been caught in some mean, pitiful trick, he is marked and watched. Who would like to trust such men as those with uncounted gold, or with business where honesty and fidelity are required? Who would pay such a man as much for his services where integrity was needful, as they would if he had returned the extra penny and rectified the mistake? Who would not feel that a man who would be bought so cheap, was hardly worth a purchase? And besides these petty dishonesties grow so fast and large, that of them come swindles, robberies, forgeries, defalcations, embezzlements, frauds and pickings and stealings of every grade and kind. Hence covetousness overlaps its mark, it vaults skyward and falls as Satan fell like lightning down, down to infamy and shame. The man who will deceive in trade for a dollar, equivocate for a dime, or lie for three cents, may think he is shrewd, but I doubt it. He who will do this to lower the price of what he buys, or raise the price of what he sells, either puts small value on himself and his manhood, or else he is sold cheap. A man may know how to pile cordwood with the big ends in the front and “crow’s nests” in the middle; he may be able to pack his apples with the best ones near the barrel head, or his straw-berries with the big ones on top of the box, or his cloth with the longest cuts on top of the case; he may make bread from alum and gypsum, butter from tallow and ochre, milk from chalk and water, tea from sleo leaves and Prussian Blue, ginger from Indian meal and capsicum, and piety from scowls and crustiness; he may make paper from clay, leather from pasteboard, clothing from shoddy, wine from cider, and reputation from hypocrisy; he may furnish molasses from the pump, milk from the clouds, sugar from the sand bank, and religion from the devil; he may learn all these dlack [black] arts of transmutation taught by Satan to so many apt disciples in these days of rottenness and rascality, and may think he has already found that philosopher’s stone which supercedes the command to love thy neighbor as thyself, and turns everything he touches into gold—but at last he may find that the old tales of leagues with Satan have come true again, and that in every tricky bargain over which he chuckled, he was sold himself, and sold cheap. Using false balance here, he at last may himself be weighed in the balances and be found wanting. The homely German proverb, “He that takes soup with the devil, needs a long spoon,” is well worth remembering, for the spoons that are often used for the purpose, prove far too short for safety.—Many a poor wretch has sold his birthright for a morsel of meat, and has sold it cheap. He that sells himself to Satan a dozen times a day, in petty meanness, in three-cent lies, in traders tricks in small deceptions, may become rich, and seem honorable, but he has rooted out his manhood, his integrity, his nobility of soul; he does not own himself nor does he belong to him who hath bought his people with his blood; he is a slave of the devil, sold under sin, sold to work iniquity—yes, sold, and sold very cheap! Will these profit in the end? Will they pay? Though mere honesty does not save a man, will not dishonesty damn him? Will it not unfit him for the presence of Christ in whose lips no guile was found. Are not lying lips an abomination to the Lord? What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? What shall a man give in exchange for his soul? What is man worth? God has said I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Opher. God help us to be men, men bought by Christ—men whom no one else is rich enough to buy.

The great want of this age is men—men who are not for sale—men who are honest to the bottom, sound from center to circumference, true to the heart’s core. Men that fear the Lord and hate covetousness. Men who will condemn wrong in friend or foe, in themselves as well as in others. Men whose consciences are steady as the needle to the pole. Men who will stand for the right if the heavens totter and the earth reels. Men who can tell the truth and look the world and the devil right in the eye. Men that neither swagger nor flinch. Men who can have courage without whistling for it, and joy without shouting to bring it. Men in whom the current of everlasting life runs still and deep and strong. Men careful of God’s honor and careless of men’s applause. Men too large for sectarian limits, and too strong for sectarian bonds. Men who do not strive, nor cry, nor cause their voices to be heard in the streets, but who will not fail, nor be discouraged, till judgment be set in the earth [Matt. 12:19; Isa. 42:2, 4]. Men who know their message and tell it.— Men who know their duty and do it.— Men who know their place and fill it. Men who mind their own business.— Men who will not lie. Men who are not too lazy to work, nor too proud to be poor. Men who are willing to eat what they have earned, and wear what they have paid for. Men who know in whom they believe. Men whose feet are on the Everlasting Rock. Men who are not ashamed of their hope.— Men who are strong with divine strength, wise with the wisdom that cometh from above, and loving with the love of Christ. Men of God.

God give us men! A time like this demands Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;

Men whom the lusts of office do not kill;

Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;

Men who possess opinions and a will;

Men who have honor—Men who will not lie;

Men who can stand before a demagogue;

And face his treacherous flatteries without winking;

Tall men;

sun crowned, who live above the fog In Public duty and in private thinking;

For while the rabble, with their thumb worn creeds Their large professions and their little deeds, Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Goodness weeps, Wrong rules the land, and waiting Justice sleeps. (2)

In this very early instance, the gem is part of what appears to be an anonymous editorial. In other instances, it stands alone and is attributed simply to “a writer.” Because George W. Martin was the editor of the Junction City Weekly Union, one might think that he was the author. However, recently uncovered evidence points to someone else.

A Chance Discovery

While doing research on a particular early Adventist author (not a Seventh-day Adventist, by the way), the announcement of the launching of a new periodical in early 1866 caught my eye. It would include in its first issue, among other articles, a four-page tract listed as “Sold Cheap.” (3)

The name rang a bell—it was exactly the same as the title of the article in the Junction City Weekly Union. I looked to see if this was simply a coincidence. No, the timing also lined up—the tract “Sold Cheap” was to come out in January 1866. The publication date would have provided time enough for it to be quoted in the June 2 issue of the  Junction City Weekly Union. The description of the tract sounded like what I had read in the article—“A plain talk to young men.” And then there was the author. The announcement said it was written “by H. L. H.” That has to be “H. L. Hastings,” the editor of the new periodical—The Christian. Did other factors line up? “The great want of this age” gem speaks out against “sectarian limits” and “sectarian bonds.” Hastings was known to be a staunch non-sectarian. His motto was: “No creed but the Bible, no master but Christ, no name but Christian.” (4)

The author of the article mentioned being in a post office in a town with a name starting with “L.” Hastings’ wife verified in her autobiographical book, Pebbles  from the Path of a Pilgrim, that they lived in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1866. (5) In fact, they had lived there for at least two years. Their daughter Hattie May was born in Lawrence in 1864. Hastings was a friend of Seventh-day Adventists and had come out of the same Advent movement as they had. His book The Great Controversy between God and Man, as well as many other books and tracts of his had been advertised in the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald from 1854 to 1860. (6)

The evidence pointed to H. L. Hastings as the author of “Sold Cheap” in the Junction City Weekly Union. (I have since been able to obtain a facsimile of the tract “Sold Cheap” from the Jenks Collection at Aurora University, through the kind efforts of Susan L. Palmer, PhD.) Despite “Sold Cheap” being published for years and listed as one of Hastings’ publications in The Publishers’ Trade List Annual for 1887, his authorship of the gem has remained disconnected from it from 1866 until the present.

Seventh-day Adventist Interest in the Gem

Seventh-day Adventists’ interest in the “great want” thought gem is that their prophet, Ellen G. White, made her own adaptation of it, and the adaptation is well known among those who are familiar with her writings. She herself was likely unaware that it originated with her fellow Adventist contemporary H. L. Hastings. Since its debut in 1866, the gem has been adapted many times and attributed to various authors, though all of these are far too late to have been the gem’s original author. (8)

There is a version entitled “The Notre Dame Man” that is attributed to Athol Murray, who was born in 1892. Another version was attributed to Senator Frank Carlson of Kansas, who was born in 1893. (9)

 T. L. Haines and L. W. Yaggy had their version—The Royal Path of Life (1876, 1879). Wilbur F. Crafts had another version—Successful Men of Today (1883) W. W. Breese had another variation—Well-Springs of Truth upon the King’s Highway to Peace and Prosperity (1883). That the gem generally has been published without a name attached to it would seem to indicate that those who published it saw its value in what it says and not in who wrote it. (10)

To get some idea of the similarities and variations between the different versions of the gem, consider the comparative exhibit on the following page. It compares the original version to three later ones, including one taken from the Louisville Commercial that appeared in the Review and Herald of August 30, 1881. (11)

 Typesetters may have introduced some of the variations. (Both Review and Herald versions have “current of everlasting life,” while another version in the Good Health, March 1879, has “courage” instead of “current.”) Other variations seem to point to ideological differences. (The version in the Review and Herald, January 24, 1871, omits the line about “sectarian bonds” or “ponds.”) Though the longer version of the gem may have worked well as oratory in a sermon or speech, Ellen White’s version is more succinct, more universal (e.g., she changed “of this age” to “of the world”), and more memorable. Walter Rea called the original gem “a filler ‘selection’ from an unidentified author” and pointed to Ellen White’s adaptation as “one of the great Adventist gems—memorized, recited, and revered by uncounted thousands of the faithful.” (12)

This means that Ellen White transformed “a filler ‘selection’” into “one of the great Adventist gems.” Now isn’t that an accomplishment! Some have been bothered that she gave no credit to the original writer. (13)

Yet, we ask, how could she have given the original writer credit, and—more importantly—why should she have done so? Careful comparison reveals that Mrs. White thoughtfully made the gem her own, as James Russell Lowell insightfully observed:

Though old the thought and oft exprest— ‘tis his at last who says it best. (14)

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1.     Junction City (Kansas) Weekly Union, June 2, 1866, p. 1, available at, accessed 4/4/16. The tract “Sold Cheap” from the Jenks Collection at Aurora University has a few minor differences due to typographical errors introduced by the Junction City Weekly Union’s typesetter.

2.     Poet Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819–1891) wrote the block quote at the end of the article. The earliest located sources for this statement is under the title “Men, an Aspiration and a Sonnet,” in The Liberator (Dec. 14, 1855, p. 4) and in the Buffalo Daily Republic (Nov. 12, 1855, p. 2). The Liberator identified it as coming from the Springfield Republican. Other sources say that it was originally entitled, “The Day’s Demand.”

3.     H. L. Hastings, “A New Enterprise,” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Feb. 20, 1866, p. 95. Hastings had written before the end of January (RH Jan. 30, 1866, p. 72) and says elsewhere that he began publishing the paper in January. That it is four pages in length is mentioned in the advertising page at the back of Julius L. Esping, Adrift and at Anchor: A Sailor’s  Experience (1870).

4.     See

5.     Harriet B. Hastings, Pebbles from the Path of a Pilgrim, p. 263.

6.     The Review and Herald advertised Hastings’ 24-page tract, “The State of the Dead,” taken from Milton’s prose on the state of the dead in Paradise Lost. It published the tract “The Three Worlds” (RH, Nov. 14, 1854, p. 107, 110, 111; Nov. 21, 1854, p. 118, 119). It also advertised other books and tracts (RH, Dec. 26, 1854, p. 152; July 31, 1856, p. 104). Uriah Smith reviewed Hastings’ 167-page book, The Great Controversy Between God and Man (“Book Notice,” RH, March 18, 1858, p. 144) and advertised the book, along with other books and tracts from February 1859 (RH Feb. 17, 1859, p. 104) to November 1860 (RH Nov. 6, 1860, p. 200). It also advertised and referenced Hastings’ monthly paper, The Christian  (RH, Feb. 20, 1866, p. 95; RH, Jan. 29, 1867, p. 96; RH, Feb. 19, 1867, p. 132; Nov. 12, 1867, p. 344; RH, April 17, 1883, pp. 241, 242). In 1865, it published Hastings’ article, “What Manner of Persons Ought We to Be?” (RH, Nov. 14, 1865, pp. 185, 186), and, in 1873, referenced his book Signs of the Times (RH, May 6, 1873, p. 162).

7.     The tract was listed under Hastings’ publication in the 1887 Publishers’ Trade List Annual, p. 91, available at , accessed 3/15/17.

8.     See David J. Conklin,

9.     See Frank Carlson, “Biographical Directory of the United States Congress,” Some websites attribute the statement to Raymond P. Murray. He was also born too late to be its originator.

10.  Arthur White wrote in Ellen G. White: The Lonely Years 1876–1891, p. 193, that Mrs. White found the gem titled “Oh, for a Man!” in the March 1879 Good Health, which credited it to the Louisville Commercial. The America’s Historical Newspapers service in the Archive of Americana located other sources for the gem—Vermont Watchman and State Journal (Oct. 5, 1866), col. C; Cooper and Barr, Evangelical Repository and United Presbyterian Review, vol. XLIII, Oct. 1866, pp. 323, 324; the Oregon State Journal (April 13, 1867), vol. 4, iss. 8, page [1]; the Elkhart Weekly Review (July 11, 1867), which attributed the gem to the Investigator and followed the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer up to “wear what they have paid for” though it used “flag nor flinch”; the Idaho Statesman (Feb. 6, 1868); the New Haven, Connecticut Columbian Register (Dec. 26, 1868), vol. LVI, iss. 2927, page [1], which is worded the same as in the Elkhart Weekly Review. There are hundreds of other uses of the quotation from 1870 to the present.

11.  The Louisville Commercial was established in 1869 (, so this definitely was not the first appearance of the gem.

12.  Walter Rea, The White Lie, pp. 386, 163.

13.  Willey, “The Specter of Plagiarism Haunting Adventism,” Adventist Today, May-June 2007, p. 18.

14.  Quoted by F. D. Nichol in Ellen G. White and Her Critics, p. 405.


With a love for Christ and a passion for the Seventh-day Adventist message, Pastor Kevin Morgan has studied and worked in Alabama, Tennessee, Puerto Rico, and North and South Carolina. He has a Master’s degree in homiletics from Southern Adventist University, pastors the Warrensville Seventh-day Adventist Church, edits book manuscripts for Honor Him Publishers, and lives at Millers Creek, North Carolina with his wife Susan and three of their children. He and Susan have three wonderful grandchildren through their daughters who live in North Carolina and Tennessee.