Basic Charge: At the time of the Civil War, Mrs. White made allegedly prophetic statements about the war which were no more than common knowledge. She sided with those who belabored Lincoln and his administration. She also made a series of predictions [mentioned, in order, in the body of this chapter] that proved false.
The portion of Mrs. White's writings on which most of these charges are based, was printed first as a little pamphlet entitled Testimony No. 7, in February, 1862. The rest of the charges are based on Mrs. White's statement that appeared originally as another pamphlet, entitled Testimony No. 9, in January, 1863. Now, if her Civil War predictions were so glaringly wrong, and if, according to the critic, as we shall note later, certain of our earliest pamphlets and papers were suppressed by Mrs. White and her associates, so that none might see her mistakes, would we not naturally expect that these two little pamphlets would also have been suppressed? But this was not the case. The quotations supporting his charge are drawn from a current work published by Seventh-day Adventists, Testimonies for the Church,* volume 1.
Mrs. White's revelations concerning the Civil War simply told just what everybody already knew about the causes of the war and the factors operating in connection with it.
This charge is based upon the presumption that even from the outset of the war everybody had a clear understanding of the issues involved, the trend, and the implications of certain courses of actions followed by different leaders in government.
* Testimony No. 7, that appeared first as a pamphlet in February, 1862, was reprinted, along with other testimonies, as pages 253-302 of volume 1, Testimonies for the Church, in 1885. Testimony No. 9, which first appeared as a pamphlet in January, 1863, constitutes pages 355-389 of this same volume. Testimonies for the Church became, finally, a nine-volume work. This work has been increasingly circulated from the time of publication up to the present.
The facts are that no period in United States history has been more debated than the period of the Civil War. The debate began at the very outset of the war, and central to it were questions as to the causes of the war and the objectives that the North and South had in lighting it.
A few years ago a committee of leading historians prepared a group work on the subject of how to write history. In this they discussed some of the difficulties that confront the historian who seeks to discover, amid the welter of facts and discordant claims that surround any period of history, the true picture in proper proportion and focus. The particular exhibit that they employed to show the problem that confronts historians was the Civil War, very particularly the causes of that war. We quote two sentences:
Study of what historians have said were the causes of this particular war makes one skeptical of all simple explanations of all wars .
Conclusions about this particular historical problem have been constantly changing ever since the events occurred, as available data and men's environmerit, techniques, and philosophies have changed.Theory and Practice in Historical Study (a report of the Committee on Historiography of the Social Science Research Council), p. 90.
According to the charge, all that Mrs. White said was just what everybody already knew. Great historians are less certain about the transparently simple character of the facts and information and conclusions possible to men even today concerning the Civil War, much less to men in the days of the war itself. A reading of all that Mrs. White wrote concerning the Civil War, in the Testimonies from which the critic has quoted, reveals that she was concerning herself very definitely with the causes that were operating in connection with the war, particularly the factor of the desire for abolition of slavery.
Mrs. White's Civil War revelation reflected the sentiments of those opposed to the Government and the war. Her whole message was one of opposition, faultfinding, condemnation, and a prophecy of defeat and final failure,exactly that of the opponents of Lincoln and his management of the war. It [her message of January 4, 1862] is all a bitter denunciation of Lincoln's administration and his management
of the war, and his appeals for special days of fasting and prayer for victory.
The facts are that though the many critics of the government during the war focus upon Lincoln personally, often making him the object of vilification, Mrs. White does not even mention him by name. She very largely concerns herself, when discussing the trend of affairs, with the actions of an array of government leaders and generals who are not named.
The mistaken idea is held by many today, that the Civil War was fought by the North with a clear-cut and express purpose from the outset to abolish slavery, and that from the beginning of the war Lincoln was the outspoken advocate of this objective. Hence any criticism of Lincoln's administration would be a despicable attempt to besmirch a great cause and a great man. Before examining Mrs. White's statements on the objectives and execution of the war, let us look at the historical record on these points. Listen to these words from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
At the beginning of the war the people and leaders of the North had not desired to interfere with slavery, but circumstances had been too strong for them. Lincoln had declared that he meant to save the Union as best he couldby preserving slavery, by destroying it or by destroying part and preserving part. Just after the battle of Antietam (Sept. 17, 1862) he issued his proclamation calling on the revolted States to return to their allegiance before the next year, otherwise their slaves would be declared free men. No State returned and the threatened declaration was issued on Jan. 1, 1863.Article, United States of America, vol. 22, p. 809. (1945 ed., University of Chicago Press.)
Another historical authority declares:
Although Abraham Lincoln was a lifelong opponent of the slave system, he reached his great decision to attack the peculiar institution of the South only because he felt the success of the Union cause required it. As 1862 and the second year of war progressed, the failure of the North to achieve any decisive military success concentrated greater attention than ever on the issue of emancipation .
Urged by many to strike a blow at the heart of the Confederacy by emancipating the slaves, Lincoln did not abandon his paramount belief that the great purpose of the war was to preserve the Union. He was fearful of driving from the Union the loyal, slaveholding border states, and he knew that many in the Union armies were not anti-slavery men. In his famous letter
of August 22, 1862, he wrote to Horace Greelcy, editor of the New York Tribune:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. .
It was on September 22, 1862, that President Lincoln issued his preliminary Proclamation of Emancipation. By virtue of his authority as Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy, he declared that on January 1, 1863, all slaves within any state or district then declared to he in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforth, and forever free.Frank Monaghan, Heritage of Freedom,* pp. 72, 73.
In the setting of these historical statements we can see how wholly unwarranted is the attempt to dismiss Mrs. White's statements on the Civil War as being merely a reflection of the general criticism by the opponents of Lincoln and his management of the war. At first the vicious attacks directed against Lincoln and his administration by his political opponents were not made because he failed to take a decided stand against slavery. As Monaghan observes: Many in the Union Armies were not antislavery men. And certainly many business men in the North were not antislavery men. They had satisfactory business dealings with the South, and had no desire to disturb such dealings. William Lloyd Garrison, founder of the abolitionist movement, was dragged through the streets with a halter around his necknot in a Southern city but in Boston.
By no stretch of the imagination could it be said that the North, as such, entered the war in a spirit of holy crusade against the evil of slavery. The clearly avowed purpose, as stated by Lincoin, was to preserve the Union. Even on this point there was no agreement. No small number of prominent men in the North felt that although it was good to have a Union of all the States in America, the idea of union was not of sufficient value to warrant
* This volume, published in 1947 by the Princeton University Press, gives, as its subtitle declares, The History & Significance of the Basic Documents of American Liberty.
a war, and that it would be better to let the seceding States depart in peace if they were determined to go.
The pattern of general opposition to Lincoln's administration turned upon whether the country should be plunged into war to maintain the idea of union, and second, whether the war was being fought on the most successful lines.
But when Mrs. White wrote in criticism of the Government in January, 1862, it was because the Government had taken no stand against slavery. She notes the fact that prominent men in the Northern Army are pro-slavery men and that some of our leading men in Congress also are constantly working to favor the South. Then she follows immediately with her withering comment on the proclamations for national fasts that God will bring this war to a speedy and favorable termination. I saw that these national fasts were an insult to Jehovah. He accepts of no such fasts.Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 257.
Then she goes on to tell about how some slaves escaping from their masters have been cruelly treated by men in the North, and adds:
And yet a national fast is proclaimed! Saith the Lord, Is not this the fast that I have chosen, to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? [Isa. 58:6]. When our nation observes the fast which God has chosen, then will he accept their prayers as far as the war is concerned: but now they enter not into his ear.Ibid., p. 258.
The whole force of this charge disappears when the context is given.
The position of Seventh-day Adventist leaders in opposition to slavery has been clear cut from the very earliest days of the movement. Indeed, the great Advent Awakening under William Miller, from which Seventh-day Adventism sprang, was headed largely by men who were ardent reformers, particularly in the matter of the abolition of slavery. We need offer no apology for them or
for Mrs. White, who was foremost in her declarations of horror at the slave traffic. If all religious leaders in America in the generation preceding the 1860's had spoken with the same forthright vigor against slavery, we doubt whether there would have been a proslavery political group of any consequence by the year 1861. It is an unquestionable fact that Mrs. White, and the Adventist ministers associated with her, were definitely in advance of the great body of the clergy in America in the matter of opposition to slavery.
We set forth these facts, not to boast on behalf of Mrs. White or the Adventist ministry, but only to keep the record straight. And certainly we do not give this historical material with any desire to stir up what should now be the long-dead embers of the fires of misunderstanding and sectional hatred that once blazed in the United States. We have no way of returning adequate, convincing answer to a series of misrepresentations and half truths except as that answer can be placed in a historical context.
Mrs. White wrote: The system of slavery, which has ruined our nation, is left to live and stir up another rebellion. Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 255. A plain, false prophecy. No such thing happened, as all now know.
But let us give her statement in its context:
Those who have ventured to leave their homes and sacrifice their lives to exterminate slavery, are dissatisfied. They see no good results from the war, only the preservation of the Union, and for this thousands of lives must be sacrificed and homes made desolate. Great numbers have wasted away and expired in hospitals; others have been taken prisoners by the rebels, a fate more to be dreaded than death. In view of all this, they inquire, If we succeed in quelling this rebellion, what has been gained? They can only answer discouragingly, Nothing. That which caused the rebellion is not removed. The system of slavery, which has ruined our nation, is left to live and stir up another rebellion.Ibid., pp. 254, 255.
Mrs. White here is giving the question raised by those who have ventured to leave their homes and sacrifice their lives to exterminate slavery Then she gives the answer that they return to their own question. Even if we took these words as an expression
of Mrs. White's views, there would be nothing amiss in them, nothing of false prophecy; they were simply a statement of conditions as of the moment, and a declaration that the seeds of another rebellion resided in the system of slavery. If she had said, for example, that the war would end with slavery not abolished and that a new war would ensue as a result, then might the critics charge her with false prophecy. But she did not say that. And, in fact, as we have already observed, the context suggests that she is merely quoting what others have said.
Mrs. White wrote: It seems impossible to have the war conducted successfully.Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 256.
Yes, to her it was uncertain, impossible to succeed. But was that all God knew about it?all He could tell her?
It is difficult to see how the critic can construe this statement into a false prophecy. Even prophets, when they write concerning the passing scene, describe it as it then appears. This is what she was doing. She does not say that it could not be possible, or that it would not be possible, at some date in the future, for the war to be conducted successfully.
Mrs. White wrote: Had our nation remained united, it would have had strength; but divided it must fall.Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 260.
No such thing happened. It was not divided, nor did it fall. Did not the Lord know better than that? Yes, but she did not.
We discussed in the preceding chapter the subject of conditional predictions, and showed that some Bible prophecies were not fulfilled, and for the simple reason that the conditions changed, because of the free will of man. As a warning to the United States, no statement probably was more true than that, Divided it must fall. But why did not the critic, in connection with this charge and the four already considered, quote another statement by Mrs. White in the same context?
When our nation observes the fast which God has chosen,*
* Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Isa. 58:6.
then will he accept their prayers as far as the war is concerned. Ibid., p. 258.
Did Mrs. White consign the Government to defeat and collapse? Are her statements, quoted so briefly and out of context, to be understood as making predictions that have not come true? We think this last quotation from her provides a sufficient answer, and is strictly in line with the principles discussed in the chapter that dealt with conditional predictions. She sets forth a procedure by which the Government may have its prayers answered as far as the war is concerned. Prayer for what? For victory.
Nor is this the only statement made by Mrs. White during the dark days of the war that goes counter to the charge of the critics that she was predicting defeat for the North, and thus victory for the South, and that, in fact, she expressed only what was current thinking in all she said about the war. Few onlookers would have ventured to predict in January, 1863, that the war would end as it did. But here is what Mrs. White published at that time:
I saw that both the South and the North were being punished. In regard to the South, I was referred to Deut. 32:35-37: To me belongeth vengeance and recompense: their foot shall slide in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste. For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants; when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left, and he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted?Ibid., p. 368.
Six months later came Gettysburg, the high tide of Southern power, and then the steady ebb. But before the ebb appears, Mrs. White says, I was referred to Deut. 32:35-37. Who referred her to that passage of Scripture? One who knew more than the wise men of the world! And she was so calmly confident of the Source of her counsel that she wrote as she did while the North was experiencing anything but victory.
Mrs. White wrote: This nation will vet be humbled into the dust. Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 259.
Here, again, her prophecy was a complete failure. Our nation was not humbled into the dust.
Now, what did Mrs. White mean when she wrote humbled into the dust? The critic presumably takes for granted that this means that she forecast that the United States Government in Washington would be hopelessly defeated. But that interpretation of her words is not required.
In her opening paragraphs in discussion of the whole subject of the Civil War, she wrote:
The North had boasted of their strength, and ridiculed the idea of the South leaving the Union. They considered it like the threats of a willful, stubborn child, anti thought that the South would soon come to their senses, and, becoming sick of leaving the Union, would with humble apologies return to their allegiance.Ibid., pp. 253, 254.
How great was the humiliation of the North when the South, with a relatively small population and relatively small manufacturing possibilities, administered appalling defeats upon the North for at least two years.
Of the attitude of our Government in relation to other countries Mrs. White wrote:
Our government has been very proud and independent. The people of this nation have exalted themselves to heaven, and have looked down upon monarchical governments, anti triumphed in their boasted liberty, while the institution of slavery, that was a thousand times worse than the tyranny exercised by monarchical governments, was suffered to exist and was cherished.Ibid., pp. 258, 259.
It is in the very next paragraph after this statement that we find the words: This nation will yet be humbled into the dust. Was this country of America humbled in the eyes of countries overseas? Listen to the London Times correspondent quoting for the satisfaction of his English readers the words of the American divine, Reverend Doctor Cheever, who in prayer blessed the name of God for having so humbled the nation that it was compelled as a military necessity to ask the aid of the negro.January 20, 1863.
On July 4, 1863, the London Times referred to the date of the American Independence Day, describing it as this day of festivity, now converted into a day of humiliation.
Thus spoke the London Times in the darkest days of the Civil War. The fact that this leading English paper was most evidently writing in vengeful glee, does not therefore make unwarranted the use of its words as testimony. Something very humiliating must have been happening to the United States to make Englands most conservative, most representative paper speak as it did. That the United States was greatly humbled, so far as England was concerned, is not open to question. We think historians would agree that the London Times was not inventing a story, but was presenting a substantially true picture. It is an interesting fact that Mrs. White's statement that this nation will yet be humbled into the dust is made right in the midst of a discussion of what England is thinking of doing in a military way in the light of America's weakness. Undoubtedly if England had waged war against the Washington Government while it was in its weakened condition, it would have been humbled in a military way. But no one can read these quotations from the London Times in the setting of Mrs. White's statement about the pride of America, without concluding that her prediction that this country would be humbled in the dust, found more than ample fulfillment in the conditions that actually did develop.
For further light on the meaning that Mrs. White herself attached to the phrase, humbled into the dust, we need only to read elsewhere in volume 1 of the Testimonies for the Church. She is discussing an unhappy experience of earlier days in which her husband, poverty stricken and sick, was made the object of cruel insinuations and charges by some who should have dealt kindly with him. His sense of self-respect and dignity were out-raged, and he and Mrs. White were deeply humiliated. Writing of the experience she declares, We were humbled into the very dust, and distressed beyond expression.Page 583.
This parallel passage should be sufficient, we believe, to prove the reasonableness of our position that the phrase humbled into the dust, as applied to the United States, met an adequate fulfillment in the deep humiliation that confronted this country during the darkest days of the Civil War.
Mrs. White wrote: When England does declare war, all nations will have an interest of their own to serve, and there will be general war, general confusion.Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 259.
England did not declare war. Her prophecy was a complete failure.
Again we need the context in order to see what Mrs. White is setting forth:
England is studying whether it is best to take advantage of the present weak condition of our nation, and venture to make war upon her. She is weighing the matter, and trying to sound other nations. She fears, if she should commence war abroad, that she would be weak at home, and that other nations would take advantage of her weakness. Other nations are making quiet yet active preparations for war, and are hoping that England will make war with our nation, for then they would improve the opportunity to be revenged on her for the advantage she has taken of them in the past, and the injustice done them. A portion of the Queen's subjects are waiting a favorable opportunity to break their yoke; but if England thinks it will pay, she will not hesitate a moment to improve her opportunities to exercise her power, and humble our nation. When England does declare war, all nations will have an interest of their own to serve, and there will be general war, general confusion.lbid., p. 259.
Note the conditional character of these statements: She fears, if she should commence war abroad, that she would be weak at home. But if England thinks it will pay. Then follows the sentence: When England does declare war . It is evident that Mrs. White is here using the word when as a synonym for if, which is good English. In fact, if we do not thus understand the word when in this connection, we have an unusual situation a series of problematical ifs is followed by a simple statement that England is going to declare war. Thus Mrs. White's last sentence would make pointless her preceding sentences.
A similar use of the word when is found on the preceding page in her work: When our nation observes the fast which God has chosen, then will he accept their prayers as far as the war is concerned. No one, least of all the critic, will argue that the word when in this connection introduces a simple statement concerning a future fact that will undebatably happen.
An inspired parallel to this if and when construction is found in Jeremiah 42:10-19. The prophet speaks to Israel about abiding in Palestine rather than going down into Egypt:
If ye will still abide in this land . Verse 10.
But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land . Verse 13.
If ye wholly set your faces to enter into Egypt . Verse 15.
When ye shall enter into Egypt . Verse 18.
The Lord hath said concerning you, O ye remnant of Judah; Go ye not into Egypt: know certainly that I have admonished you this day. Verse 19.
It is evident that the phrase when ye shall enter into Egypt is synonymous with if ye shall enter into Egypt.
With the clause when England does declare war, understood as synonymous with if England does declare war, the statement changes from a prediction to a statement of mere possibility, but a possibility, however, whose full potentialities many might not realize.
Mrs. White wrote: I was shown that God's people, who are his peculiar treasure, cannot engage in this perplexing war, for it is opposed to every principle of their faith. Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 361.
Hence not a single Seventh-day Adventist took any part in the effort to save the union and free the slavesnot so much as to go as nurses. Had all the people done that way, the nation would have been divided, and slavery would be with us now.
We have surely now passed the flay when, as Seventh-day Adventists, we need to offer any apology for our noncombatant position, a position which we had our first opportunity to state at the time of the Civil War. We received then our official recognition from Washington as a noncombatant religious group.
This particular charge would also have lost much of its force if it had been given in its proper context. The preceding paragraph on the same page states explicitly: I saw that it is our duty in every case to obey the laws of our land, unless they conflict with the higher law which God spoke with an audible voice from Sinai, and afterward engraved on stone with his own finger.Ibid., p. 361.
The very sentences that follow Mrs. White's statement that God's people cannot engage in this perplexing war, for it is opposed to every principle of their faith, reads thus:
In the army they cannot obey the truth and at the same time obey the requirements of their officers. There would be a continual violation of conscience.
The columns of the Review and Herald during this period reveal that the Seventh-day Adventist leadership, though not wholly agreed as to all the reasons that should cause them not to enlist in the Army, rather generally set forth such reasons as the difficulty in keeping the Sabbath, the duty to love our enemy rather than kill him, and the difficulty of maintaining a holy life under certain army conditions.
But the Review and Herald also set forth clear, sane counsel against any who would think to defy the draft. Seventh-day Adventists were instructed to comply peaceably with it, if and when the draft fell upon them, then to seek in a lawful manner for a noncombatant status.*
It is evident from a reading of all that the Review and Herald said on the matter at that time, and from all Mrs. White herself said, that she viewed the war as opposed to every principle of Adventist faith in essentially the same sense that conscientious noncombatants view war today. But, we repeat, it is hardly necessary today to provide fair-minded people with proof that a non-combatant may be as loyal to his country and as brave as any man who takes up arms.
It is charged that not a single Seventh-day Adventist took any part in the effort to save the union and free the slavesnot so much as to go as nurses. It is a fact that Seventh-day Adventists did not volunteer, and it was against volunteering that Mrs. White was really speaking. A volunteer then, even as today, could not strike any agreements with officers as to conscientious convictions. Hence a Seventh-day Adventist would violate his conscience in the performance of routine military duties. When Army service
* For a brief, authoritative statement on this matter see the editorial by James White entitled The Nation, in the Review and Herald of August 12, 1862, page 84.
was made compulsorywith release, by purchase, no longer a legal alternativeprovisions were incorporated in the draft law that protected the rights of those who had conscientious scruples as to bearing arms.
Actually, there were a number of Seventh-day Adventist men in the Armyhow many, we have no way of knowing, for figures were never compiled by the church.*
Mrs. White wrote: The scenes of earth's history are fast closing. Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 260.
Mrs. White interpreted the Civil War as a sign of the end of the world, just as Adventists have been interpreting the European war. [The critic wrote at the end of the first world war. Then he quotes Mrs. White:] The one all-important inquiry which should now engross the mind of everyone is, Am I prepared for the day of God? Time will last a little longer. [p. 363.]
Why should anyone feel that Mrs. White is unworthy of confidence because she saw in the dreadful Civil War an appropriate text for exhorting the children of God to make ready for a soon-coming better world. The prophecies of the book of Daniel and Christ's prophecy in Matthew 24 enable us to know when Christ's coming is near, even at the door. One of the signs of the last days is the anger of the nations, the wars and upheavals. And we are to be aware of this sign in order to be protected against the peace and safety cry with which so many in the world will be lulled to sleep.
What this particular critic could not see, because the full effects of the first world war had not made themselves felt when he wrote his book of charges, were the dimensions of the mighty
* The files of the church paper reveal various references to Adventist men in the Army. See, for example, Review and Herald, February 2, 1864, p. 79; July 5, 1864, p. 48; January 24, 1865, pp. 70, 72. In the two world wars the counsel of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to its youth in the United States was essentially this: Do not volunteer for service, because legally speaking, if you do, you can lay claim to no special status in regard to your conscientious convictions. Wait for selective service to call you. Then respond promptly and ask for status as a noncombatant. Many thousands of Adventist youth served in these world wars. many of them receiving decorations for bravery, and one of them receiving the coveted Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II.
We have reproduced the quotation exactly as the critic gave it, including his reference to p. 363. In the interests of accuracy, it should be stated that the first of these two sentences is on page 355, the second is on page 363, and is not a complete sentence but only the first clause in a sentence. In other words, the two are eight pages apart.
upheavals in the first half of the twentieth century, upheavals that no one had dreamed of except, of course, those who were trusting enough to believe the prophecies of the Bible. What the critic apparently did not see, either, was that the great military conscripting of the masses of the people in the lands of Europe, which broke forth finally in a world war in 1914, began in earnest in the last half of the nineteenth century. And the wisest of statesmen, scientists, and others express fear that indeed we are about ready to blow ourselves asunder in a third world war. Yet Mrs. White is ridiculed because she saw in the Civil War one of the omens of the last days.
In exhorting believers in the 1860's to make ready for the day of the Lord, Mrs. White was doing no more than holy prophets and apostles are on record as doing. God gave neither to them nor to Mrs. White the day and the hour of His return. He instructed all who love Him on this earth to be waiting and watching and in readiness against an unknown hour. That is why the apostles exhorted men to be ready for the day of God. Because certain prophecies are now fulfilled we can know more definitely the time of the nearness of the Advent, yes, when it is even at the door, but still we cannot know the day or the hour. Hence, Mrs. White would have been remiss in her solemn duty, and would have failed to follow in the tradition of all the holy prophets and apostles, if she had not used the occasion of that dreadful Civil War to exhort believers to make ready for the day of God.
Mrs. White wrote: I was shown the inhabitants of the earth in the utmost confusion. War, bloodshed, privation, want, famine, and pestilence were abroad in the land. Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 268.
This was exactly what all faultfinders of that date predictedfamine and pestilence. But nothing of the kind happened. There was no famine, no pestilence. Her predictions utterly failed. Where, then, did she get that vision? Not from God, surely, but from the ideas of those around her, the same as she got all her visions. The event proved this.
Mrs. White's statement is from a vision dated August 3, 1861, less than four months after the war began. If we are to understand
her words as applying simply to the Civil War, then we have a rather remarkable prediction. Certainly the North did not think, in so short a time as four months after the war began, that it would become the long-drawn-out, harrowing ordeal that it finally proved to be. Mrs. White was not expressing a generally held Northern view on August 3, 1861, when she wrote of war, bloodshed, privation, want, famine, and pestilence. Let that point be clearly understood. We repeat, it took more than four months for any general impression to take hold upon the North that an extended, sanguinary conflict lay ahead, with all the privations and dangers that such conflicts inevitably bring. Was there famine before the war ended? One of the main factors in defeating the South was reduced food supplies. The historical sketch on the American Civil War in the Encyclopaedia Britannica declares that certain Southern armies were reduced to starvation.Volume 1, p. 767. (14th ed.) Was there pestilence? The facts are that more men died of disease than of bullets in the Civil War.*
Now, we are not here contending that Mrs. White was picturing the Civil War in the sentence under discussion. We simply say that if she was, she pictured it with a prophetic eye, and with knowledge beyond that possessed by others on August 3, 1861.
But we are not quite sure of the timing of this statement. As with some passages of Scripture, we hesitate to be dogmatic about it. The prophets of God have been rather distinguished by the fact that in their prophesyings they have often swept over the centuries, and have moved rapidly from a discussion of some local affair, in Palestine, for example, to a discussion of the events of the last hours of earth's history. All students of the Bible know this. When Christ stood up in the synagogue and read the passage from Isaiah that foretold His coming, He ended with the words, and the acceptable year of the Lord, declaring, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. But Isaiah followed immediately
* See note at close of chapter.
in his prophecy with the words, And the day of vengeance of our God. Let us give the context of Mrs. White's statement:
I was shown the inhabitants of the earth in the utmost confusion. War, bloodshed, privation, want, famine, and pestilence were abroad in the land. As these things surrounded God's people, they began to press together, and to cast aside their little difficulties .
My attention was then called from the scene. There seemed to be a little time of peace. Once more the inhabitants of the earth were presented before me; and again everything was in the utmost confusion. Strife, war, and bloodshed, with famine and pestilence, raged everywhere. Other nations were engaged in this war and confusion. War caused famine. Want and bloodshed caused pestilence. And then men's hearts failed them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 268.
Compare this statement with a similar one made by Mrs. White in January, 1863, in connection with a further discussion of the question of the Civil War:
Everything is preparing for the great day of God. Time will last a little longer, until the inhabitants of the earth have filled up the cup of their iniquity, and then the wrath of God, which has so long slumbered, will awake, and this land of light will drink the cup of his unmingled wrath. The desolating power of God is upon the earth to rend and destroy. The inhabitants of the earth are appointed to the sword, to famine, and to pestilence.Ibid., p. 363.
We believe that when the passage under discussion is seen in its larger context, it takes on the appearance, not so much of a description of events in connection with the Civil War, as of events of some time subsequent to that, the time when, as she says, I was shown the inhabitants of the earth in the utmost confusion. This would seem to indicate that she was surveying something larger than the United States, and a condition even more grievous than the Civil War. The phrase, the inhabitants of the earth, is one that she uses in both passages we have quoted. In the first she says, I was shown the inhabitants of the earth in the utmost confusion. In the second passage she uses the expression twice: Time will last a little longer, until the inhabitants
of the earth have filled up the cup of their iniquity. The inhabitants of the earth are appointed to the sword, to famine, and to pestilence.
We think that the most reasonable interpretation of her statements in this connection, is that she was describing events subsequent to the Civil War. If, as we believe, God opened before her the events of the future, what would she, in 1861, see as she looked into the future beyond Civil War days? She would see the first world war and the second world war, and doubtless another fearful conflict, of which the scientists speak. And could she have better described the conditions of the first half of the twentieth century than in the words just quoted from her?
In the light of this, we would ask a question: Would she have found in the popular theology of the 1860's anything to prompt her to see such dire events ahead? The charge is that Mrs. White could see only what her contemporaries saw, and reflected their views. The widely held theological view in the last half of the nineteenth century was that the future held for mankind only increasing improvement and betterment, with the millennium not far away! No, Mrs. White was not prompted to see in vision what her contemporaries believed. She looked ahead and saw fearful war, pestilence, famine, and privation. Then she saw a little time of peace, and again devastation. We think that the unprejudiced reader will agree that the first half of the twentieth century has provided a startling historical parallel to her prophetic statement.
Note.The privations that accompanied and climaxed the Civil War, especially for the Southern States, are scarcely realized by us who live long afterward. Here are some descriptions of conditions in the South as the war closed:
While the negro population, whose labor was so indispensable a factor in the productive system, was thus occupied [in celebrating their new freedom], the returning Confederate soldiers and the rest of the white population devoted themselves with desperate energy to the procurement of what must sustain the life of both themselves and their former slaves. From many a family that had lived in luxury came pitiful cries for the humblest food; and in many regions where nature would have responded bounteously to slight
human effort, the only thing that interposed between the population and famine was the commissary department of the Union army.William Archibald Donning, Reconstruction, Political and Economic, 1865-1877, p. 12. (The American Nation: A History, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, vol. 22.)
Unless the [Confederate] soldier was a land-owner his family was all but helpless. With a depreciated currency and exaggerated prices, his pay, whatever his rank, was too little to count in providing for his dependents. Local charity, dealt out by state and county boards, by relief associations, and by the generosity of neighbors, formed the barrier between his family and starvation.Nathaniel W. Stephenson, The Day of the Confederacy, pp. 109, 110. (The Chronicles of America Series, edited by Allen Johnson.)
A Freedmen's Bureau official traveling through the desolate back country furnishes a description which might have applied to two hundred counties, a third of the South: It is a common, an every-day sight in Randolph County, that of women and children, most of whom were formerly in good circumstances, begging for bread from door to door. Meat of any kind has been a stranger to many of their mouths for months. The drought cut off what little crops they hoped to save, and they must have immediate help or perish. Walter Lynwood Fleming, The Sequel of Appomattox, pp. 13, 14. (The Chronicles of America Series.)
During the latter months of the war the food in the southern prisons was very scarce and inferior, for the Confederates were unable adequately to feed even their own soldiers in the field .
Viewed by our present-day standards, the hospitals of the Civil War were horribly inadequate . Moreover, the deaths from diseases such as dysentery, camp fever, and pneumonia were almost twice as numerous as those from fighting.Sir John Hammerton and Harry Elmer Barnes, editors, The Illustrated World History, p. 921.