Mrs. White, writing in 1858, declared that the slaves were kept in such ignorance that they could not discern between right and wrong. Therefore God could not take them to heaven, but in mercy will simply not resurrect them. He will simply let them be as though they had not been. This is contrary to facts and Scripture. In truth slaves were often more godly than their masters and perhaps this visionist [Mrs. White] didn't know that the slaves had their own separate places in churches in those days. Mrs. White's statement is contrary to the Word, of God, which declares that all that are in their graves will come forth. See John 5:28, 29.
This charge is based on the following statement by Mrs. White in 1858, in Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, page 193:
I saw that the slave-master would have to answer for the soul of his slave whom he has kept in ignorance; and all the sins of the slave will be visited upon the master. GOD cannot take the slave to heaven, who has been kept in ignorance and degradation, knowing nothing of GOD, or the Bible, fearing nothing but his master's lash, and not holding so elevated a position as his master's brute beasts. But he does the best thing for him that a compassionate GOD can do. He lets him be as though he had not been. (See also Early Writings, p. 276.)
Let us examine in order the two parts of this Charge:
1. That slaves were spiritually ignorant, when in truth slaves were often more godly than their masters. But Mrs. White did not say that all slaves were spiritually ignorant. In fact, she declared as emphatically as do the critics that slaves were often more godly than their masters. Only a few pages beyond this passage (page 193) now under discussion is her statement: I saw the pious slave rise in triumph and victory (Spiritual Gifts, p.
206). Only two paragraphs before the disputed paragraph on page 193 she speaks of the tears of the pious bond-men and bond-women (page 191). In the same connection she hurls anathemas at the cruel masters. We do not know how she could have more clearly taught that in truth slaves were often more godly than their masters.
The language of the whole chapter from which the brief passage in debate is quoted, makes clear that Mrs. White is speaking of two classes of slaves: (1) the pious slave, who evidently has a knowledge of God, knows right from wrong, and acts in harmony with that knowledge. All that is implicit in the word pious. (2) The slave kept in ignorance, who knows nothing of God, or the Bible, who fears nothing but his master's lash, and who does not hold so elevated a position as his master's brute beasts. In making this distinction Mrs. White conforms to history. All slaves were not treated alike. Some slave owners were much more considerate than others, and some did provide for their slaves certain opportunities for religious instruction.
Mrs. White, looking forward to the great day of God, saw the pious slave rise in triumph and victory. She saw the slave that had been kept in complete ignorance allowed to sleep on in the grave and be as though he had not been.
2. That brings us to the second point of the charge; namely, that Mrs. White says that some will not rise in the resurrection, when the Bible says that all will rise. But the Bible writers sometimes use all-inclusive words like all and every with definitely implied restrictions. Let us illustrate:
Christ said, And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. John 12:32. Universalists, who teach that all men will be saved, use this text with great persuasiveness. Does not the text say all? But orthodox Christendom has ever denounced Universalism as heresy.
As to this particular statement by Christ, there have been various interpretations. We think it is simply an illustration of
the fact that Scriptural writers and speakers often make general statements, which, taken apart from their other statements, might seem to be too all-inclusive. But these writers presume that their hearers will interpret a particular statement by all the other statements they have made. When we do this with Christ's words in John 12:32 we soon find ourselves understanding the all as meaning all who are willing to respond to His drawing influence.
John the revelator foretells the second coming of Christ and declares that every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. Rev. 6:15, 16. Note that he says every bondman, and every free man. Yet Isaiah says that in the last great day there will be a company who will look up and rejoice. (See Isa. 25:9.) Shall we then conclude that John contradicts Isaiah? All Bible students understand that when John says every he means only every one of the wicked hosts in the world.
It is no more unreasonable to believe that there may be limitations to the all in the phrase, All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, than in the all of John 12:32, or the every of Revelation 6:15. Christ divides the resurrected into two groups: (1) they that have done good, and (2) they that have done evil. We think that everyone will admit that there are some who have lived and died who have done neither good nor evil. For example, Moses wrote of the little ones and children of the rebellious Israelites, that they had no knowledge between good and evil. Deut. 1:39. Then there are those who are mentally defective. To the list of those who have no knowledge between good and evil Mrs. White simply adds the slave who has been kept in ignorance.
When the question is raised, What will God do finally with all those who have had no knowledge between good and evil? we are immediately plunged into deep theological discussion. Even the wisest of men have no clear answer on this question, which is a most difficult one. Most theologians are content to answer it by voicing the question asked in the Scriptures: Shall
not the Judge of all the earth do right? Mrs. White's statement is simply a commentary on that ancient question, a commentary which does not run contrary to Scripture.
A second, and closely related charge, may be stated thus:
Mrs. White did not expect that slavery would be abolished, for she declared that the slave masters would suffer the seven last plagues. The slave-holders are all dead. Will they be resurrected to pass through the seven last plagues? Quite evidently she could not see a little time ahead to the day when slavery would be abolished in the United States and in all the world.
This charge is based on the words of Mrs. White that follow immediately the passage already quoted, as will be evident:
He [God] lets him [the ignorant slave] be as though he had not been; while the master has to suffer the seven last plagues, and then come up in the second resurrection, and suffer the second, most awful death. Then the wrath of God will be appeased.
A further statement by Mrs. White, which was made in 1847, may possibly also serve as a basis for this charge:
Then commenced the jubilee, when the land should rest. I saw the pious slave rise in triumph and victory, and shake off the Chains that bound him, while his wicked master was in confusion, and knew not what to do.Broadside, A Vision, Topsham, Maine, April 7, 1847.*
The Bible prophets provide us with many illustrations of scenes, separated by greater or less periods of time, which seem to be merged together so that we need to read additional statements in the Bible in order to separate the two or more parts. Isaiah prophesied of the work that Christ would do at His first advent. Christ read from the prophecy in Isaiah 61 and added: This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. Luke 4:21. But He stopped short in the middle of what appears in Isaiah to be a continuing passage. Isaiah 61:2 reads: To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn. Why did He stop before the phrase: and the
* See also A Word to the Little Flock, p. 20; Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 206; Early Writings, p. 35.
day of vengeance of our God? Because that day was still ahead. But one would not discover that fact if he confined his eyes to the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah.
The Bible prophets often moved quickly from a description of an immediately present incident, such as a war, a plague, or a calamity of some sort, to a description of the last hours of earth's history and the coming of Christ. In one sentence they may be speaking of the judgments of God upon the present inhabitants of the land, and in the next, the final judgments of God upon sinful men. They may speak of the sinners in Zionmen living at that very houronly to follow immediately with a description of the cowering wicked at the final day. But we think that the sinners listening at the moment to the prophet's dire words considered that he was continuing to describe them, which, in a sense, he was, for we shall all stand before God's judgment bar. This divine unconcern for establishing any sharp division between the immediate and the ultimate that not infrequently reveals itself in the declarations of prophets is a striking feature of the Bible.
Devout theologians have explained this by saying that God did not vouchsafe to these prophets any revelation as to the time that was to elapse between the present event that they witnessed and the final day of vengeance to which their minds so repeatedly turned. Thus the discussion of an immediate judgment, such as hurricane, pestilence, or war, would present to their minds striking similarities to the final scenes that had been revealed to them of the judgment plagues and the destruction of the wicked. And thus they would merge the two in their descriptions. The result is not a deception upon the hearers but a solemn reminder that all earth's present calamities are but harbingers of the ultimate destruction awaiting the ungodly.
When Mrs. White looked forward to the last hours of earth's history did she see any scenes of slavery in the world that were similar to those she witnessed in mid-nineteenth century? If God
gave to her any picture of final eventsand He didthen she would certainly see slavery. And how do we know? From John the revelator. At the hour of Christ's coming, as we have already noted, every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves. Rev. 6:15. And it is this very text that Mrs. White quotes in connection with her statement about the pious slave rising up at the commencement of the jubilee. (See Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 206.)
Perhaps, with prophetic eye, she saw, what none of her critics dreamed would happen, the reinstitution of actual slavery on a large scale in our postwar world. The public press has carried numerous unchallenged accounts of the actual servitude of great numbers of war prisoners and others in certain lands.
We know that just before the last great hour an apostate religious power, in unholy alliance with the secular, will order the destruction of all who will not give obedience to its evil mandates, that indeed none may buy or sell except those who have a mark of allegiance to that power. In comment on that time Mrs. White wrote:
As the defenders of truth refuse to honor the Sunday-sabbath, some of them will be thrust into prison, some will be exiled, some will be treated as slaves.The Great Controversy, p. 608.
Evidently, from the foregoing, we must conclude that in the very last days, even at the time when the heavens open to reveal Christ descending, there are to be slave-masters. And certainly it will be true that the master must endure the seven last plagues. That will be true no matter whether the slaves in earth's last hour are ignorant or pious, white or colored.
But it may be protested that we are lifting this key clause out of its context. In a sense yes, but no more so than we lift out, or remove chronologically, a clause in a Bible prophecy from the immediate moment of the prophet's description of a current event to the future event of the last judgment. We see in this passage
from Mrs. White an illustration of one of those generalizations of inspiration that do not wait for qualifying time clauses, but hasten to the central truth, in this instance the truth that fearful judgment awaits a particular class of sinners, the slave masters.
We think that Mrs. White followed a practice of the prophets of old; she merged a mid-nineteenth century state of slavery with a last-day state of bondage in which many will find themselves, and moved in her description from one to the other without indication of transition.
No lover of the Bible would indict Paul, for example, or John, for speaking of Christ's coming as near, and accordingly exhorting their immediate hearers to readiness for the day of deliverance. The exhortation to readiness is the only consistent sequel to the declaration concerning the shortness of time.
But the coming of Christ brings not only deliverance to the righteous but destruction to the wicked, including slave masters. Then is not Mrs. White squarely following the prophetic pattern when, in harmony with her declarations concerning the nearness of the end, she warns the wicked, in this instance the slave masters, that judgment awaits them?
True, those very slave masters in mid-nineteenth century who may have heard or read her words, have gone to their graves. But where have those first-century Christians gone who read Paul's epistles of exhortation? To their graves!
It is a common style in Scripture to speak to immediate hearers as if they were to witness, personally, a long series of events. When the disciples asked Christ what would be the sign of His coming and of the end of the world, He made answer by outlining important events that would take place until the Second Advent. But repeatedly through that talk to His disciples Christ uses the pronouns you and ye, which are employed when one is addressing another. For example, when He carne to the end of His list of signs,
He declared to them as they sat beside Him on the Mount of Olives: When ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Matt. 24:33.
But no one would think of confining Christ's words to the life-time of the apostles. We see in His form of speech simply a vivid style of conveying truth, and read into the you and ye all of us who have lived in the hope of the Advent since the days of the apostles. And, we might add, in passing, we combine Christ's words with those of His holy prophets so as to discover when, indeed, the Advent is near, even at the doors.
If we allow to Mrs. White the same methods of speech, the
same privilege of merging present and future events, as we all willingly grant
to Bible writers, the charge before us collapses.