Crucial Question 21: Why did Ellen White's Civil War visions promote a false end-of-the-world scenario?
During the Civil War, the South actively courted British assistance. For a time, Southerners hoped the British would fight against the North in order to protect the interests of cotton-dependent textile mills. At one point, a U.S. vessel detained a British ship in international waters and arrested two Confederate agents on board. Fortunately for the cause of world peace—but unfortunately for the credibility of the struggling prophetess—President Lincoln released the detainees and apologized to England, averting the international crisis.
From the Pen of Ellen White:
“Said the angel: ‘Hear, O heavens, the cry of the oppressed, and reward the oppressors double according to their deeds.’ This nation will yet be humbled into the dust. 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. England is acquainted with the diversity of feeling among those who are seeking to quell the rebellion. She well knows the perplexed condition of our Government; she has looked with astonishment at the prosecution of this war—the slow, inefficient moves, the inactivity of our armies, and the ruinous expenses of our nation. The weakness of our Government is fully open before other nations, and they now conclude that it is because it was not a monarchial government, and they admire their own government, and look down, some with pity, others with contempt, upon our nation, which they have regarded as the most powerful upon the globe. Had our nation remained united it would have had strength, but divided it must fall” (1T 259-60).
“All heaven is astir. The scenes of earth's history are fast closing. We are amid the perils of the last days. Greater perils are before us, and yet we are not awake” (1T 260).
“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’” (1T 268).
Two sentences from the prediction dealing with England are quite remarkable: “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.” The first sentence contains the word if, indicating that the prediction is uncertain (or, as SDAs would say, it is conditional); the second sentence uses the word when, indicating something definite. Ellen White’s defenders point to the if and argue that something must have happened to change God’s mind with respect to the coming global war that He had suggested to His prophetess. This prophecy also contains two strong statements predicting the fall and humiliation of the United States, and these statements are clearly false.
Incredibly, Ellen White predicts that the Civil War would lead to a world war which would cause global devastation and bring about the end of earth’s history. Well over a century later, we can declare this prediction utterly false. So what did EGW see? She saw a little time of peace, followed by worldwide war. She saw that heaven was “astir,” apparently preparing for the Armageddon. There is no stated or implied conditionality to these views—she is recording what she saw. And it is utterly incorrect. However, it seemed plausible at the time….
- Doesn’t God know the day and hour of the second coming?
- Why does she envision an Armageddon-style world war arising from the Civil War?
- Could God have come in the 1860’s under any circumstances, given that the gospel hadn’t yet gone to the whole world?
- Was there any need for a “conditional” prophecy linking the Civil War to the end of the world?
- Did the Civil War visions clearly tell SDA’s what to do regarding military service, the Sabbath, etc.?
“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).
“But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matt. 24:36).
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14).
“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:
- Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 253-268; 355-368
- Arthur L. White, Ellen G. White: The Progressive Years, pp. 46-53; 99-109
Continue on to Crucial Question #22: Denunciation of Hospital
Go back to Crucial Question #20: Civil War Outcome