Crucial Question 19: Do Ellen White's predictions about slavery seem true?
Ellen White was a strong opponent of slavery. She considered it a great moral crime on the part of the South, and she blamed the North for tolerating slavery anywhere in the United States. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, she urged Adventists to disobey it. In accordance with her visions, she believed that slavery would exist in the United States until the second coming, but she believed that some slaves had been so brutalized that they would simply pass from existence so they wouldn’t have to face judgment. When the Civil War brought an end to slavery without bringing prosperity and equality to African Americans, Ellen White held to her early vision and anticipated the return of slavery in the South.
From the Pen of Ellen White:
“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; for the wicked could not understand the words of the voice of God. Soon appeared the great white cloud. It looked more lovely than ever before. On it sat the Son of man. . . . The voice of the Son of God called forth the sleeping saints, clothed with glorious immortality. The living saints were changed in a moment and were caught up with them into the cloudy chariot” (EW 35).
“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; 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” (1SG 193).
“On November 20, 1895, at an interview with leading workers in Australia, Ellen White answered certain questions placed before her. The report of this
interview was published by her son, J. E. White, about 1900, in The Southern Work. In this document for rather general distribution
he wisely omitted a sentence concerning the revival of slavery. This statement is all in print except the one sentence in italics, upon which release is
Question: "Should not those in the Southern field work on Sunday?"
E. G. White Answer: "If they do this, there is danger that as soon as the opposing element can get the slightest opportunity, they will stir up one another to persecute those who do this, and to pick off those whom they hate. At present, Sundaykeeping is not the test. The time will come when men will not only forbid Sunday work, but they will try to force men to labor on the Sabbath. And men will be asked to renounce the Sabbath and to subscribe to Sunday observance or forfeit their freedom and their lives. But the time for this has not yet come, for the truth must be presented more fully before the people as a witness. What I have said about this should not be understood as referring to the action of old Sabbathkeepers who understand the truth. They must move as the Lord shall direct them, but let them consider that they can do the best missionary work on Sunday.
"Slavery will again be revived in the Southern States; for the spirit of slavery still lives. Therefore it will not do for those who labor among the colored people to preach the truth as boldly and openly as they would be free to do in other places. Even Christ clothed His lessons in figures and parables to avoid the opposition of the Pharisees. When the colored people feel that they have the word of God in regard to the Sabbath question, and the sanction of those who have brought them the truth, some who are impulsive will take the opportunity to defy the Sunday laws, and by a presumptuous defiance of their oppressors they will bring to themselves much sorrow. Very faithfully the colored people must be instructed to be like Christ, to patiently suffer wrongs, that they may help their fellow men to see the light of truth” (2MR 299-300).
The first statement presented here was written in 1858, prior to the Civil War. Ellen White clearly anticipated that American slavery would exist until the second coming. After the Civil War, though, this vision clearly lost its plausibility. Ellen White believed that “pious” slaves would be saved, but she runs into difficulty because she views slaves as not being fully capable of moral choices. She therefore predicts that some slaves will be blotted from existence at death. She undoubtedly means well, but she is actually depriving them of the human dignity afforded to all sinners, according to the Bible—the right to face one’s record in the judgment. It appears that Ellen White continued to believe her 1858 vision, for she later predicted the return of slavery in the American South. Judging from the severe repression of African-American rights in the post-Civil War South, her opinion would be understandable were she not speaking with prophetic authority. The fact that her 1895 interview (minus the key line) was published by her son indicates that she was intending to speak authoritatively on this subject, so a one shouldn’t argue that she was simply voicing a flawed personal opinion. In the context, she is actually predicting that Sabbatarianism would trigger the return of slavery because Sabbath-keeping African Americans would impulsively violate the Sunday laws, and their “presumptuous defiance” would provide justification for the reinstitution of slavery.
- Would God send a true prophet a fictional depiction of future events?
- Would it be fair of God to treat certain persons “as though [they] had not been”?
- Would Ellen White’s approval of publication for her 1895 interview signal her belief that the material was of God, and not her personal opinion?
“When the word of a prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him” (Jer. 28:9).
“When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22).
For Further Study:
- Early Writings, p. 35
- Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1, p. 193
- Manuscript Releases, vol. 2, pp. 299-300
Continue on to Crucial Question #20: Outcome of Civil War
Go back to Crucial Question #18: Christ's Return Predicted