Updated: Jul 12
Dr. Jud Lake explains the Civil War through Ellen White's eyes
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Note: Transcript has been edited for clarity and readability, not for typos or grammar.
Dr. Jud Lake:
The rattle of musketry fire tore through the atmosphere with a loud ripping sound, union cannons boomed and roared in the background as billows of white smoke puffed into the sky. The wide field was speckled with Union and Confederate soldiers firing their weapons at one another, charging, screaming, shouting, and falling to the ground.
It was the 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of First Manassas, and I was there, taking in every moment.
Welcome to the Ellen White Podcast.
Here is your host, Dr. Jud Lake.
Dr. Jud Lake:
Hello, friends, and welcome back to the Ellen White Podcast. I'm beginning a series on Ellen White and the American Civil War. This is based on my book, A Nation In God's Hands: Ellen White and the Civil War, published in 2017. I'm going to share with you extracts from the book. So this is not an advertisement for you to buy the book, because I'm giving you the essence of the book here in this series through aspects of it - - the book's 460 pages. So if you want more detail, obviously you can go there. But I want to just hit the highlights in this series. So I'm going to share with you my introduction to the book, which provides a good and comprehensive overview of Ellen White's contribution to the Civil War.
So my experience at Manassas, Virginia, was the beginning of my research into the American Civil War. Fortunately for me, the sesquicentennial celebration of this war 2011 to 2015 coincided with the writing of my book. The many commemorations, conferences, books, exhibits, reenactments, the battles, and other public events during these four years, which continue to the present time, were an asset to my research and testified to the profound influence of this epic war between the North and the South from 1861 to 1865.
This American iliad, as one historian has dubbed it, was a defining event unlike any other in American history. While the American Revolutionary War of 1775 to 1783 created the United States, the Civil War preserved it and shaped it into the modern nation it is today. As one historian put it, before 1861, United States was a plural noun.
The United States have a Republican form of government. Since 1865, United States is a singular noun. That is, the United States is a world power. The North went to war to preserve the Union. It ended it by creating a nation. That's well said by this historian.
The Civil War settled two fundamental festering issues left unresolved by the revolution. Whether the United States would endure as one nation, indivisible, and whether slavery would continue to mock the ideals of liberty on which the Republic was founded. By the war's end in 1865, the unity of the United States was secure, and the institution of slavery had met its demise through the Emancipation Proclamation, the end of the Confederacy, and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
America was now theoretically consistent with its Declaration of Independence that states all men are created equal. And notice, theoretically consistent. We still struggle with that in reality, even to this day, as we all know. But these victories did not come without a heavy price. The tragedies of human suffering and death took their toll on the nation.
According to the latest research, and this figure changes over time with more research. But at this point, some 750,000 soldiers, plus an unknown number of civilians lost their lives in the war. Not to mention the countless wounded soldiers who lived on with significant physical disfigurements. The emotional toll at the home front was also enormous as families mourned the loss of their sons and the population on both sides suffered four long years of deprivation. The Civil War was an event of large-scale destruction that left the great cities of the South in utter ruin and decimated its socioeconomic foundations.
Seventh-Day Adventists lived through these difficult years and experienced all the anxiety and deprivation that come with the nation at war. Like most other Northerners, they eagerly read the news of the war and followed the rise in the fall of the Union armies and the battlefields. Although they had no sympathy for the South in its practice of slavery, neither were they happy with the United States government in its many compromises with the South.
These Adventists felt fortunate, however, that they found a source of insight and encouragement in the visions of Ellen White. By the time the war began, she was in her 70th year, or she, excuse me, I should say 17th year. That's, quite a leap there. 70th. No, she was in her 17th year of prophetic ministry to the Adventist people.
Between the years 1858 and 1862, Ellen White witnessed several visions about slavery in the Civil War. In March 1858, she experienced her comprehensive great controversy vision in which she beheld the entire plan of redemption. From Satan's rebellion in Heaven to the Earth made new, specifically from the perspective of the cosmic battle between Christ and Satan.
Part of that vision dealt with God's anger about chattel slavery in America, and White published it in the fall of 1858 in Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1. It is a vehement condemnation of slavery and a warning of imminent divine punishment coming to the nation. White's first Civil War vision took place on January 12th, 1861, while she was visiting the church in Parkville, Michigan. We call that the Parkville vision.
After the vision, she explained to an attentive audience that the secession of South Carolina was the beginning of many states that would secede from the Union and that this would result in a terrible war. She described the booming of the cannons and the massive carnage in the battlefields.
Church leader John N. Loughborough, who was present at the meeting, recorded her words as she described what she had seen in the vision. Years later in 1892, he published his account of the vision for the first time in his book, The Rise And Progress Of The Seventh-day Adventists. I will examine this vision in more detail at a later episode in the series.
On August 3rd, 1861, while in Roosevelt, New York, nearly two weeks after the first major battle of the Civil War at Manassas, Virginia, Ellen White experienced her second war vision we call the Roosevelt Vision. Later, she wrote about this experience and published it in the August 27th, 1861, issue of the Advent Review And Sabbath Herald titled Communication from Sister White. She announced that God was publishing - - or punishing both the North and the South for the sin of slavery.
Yet, He, quote, "has the destiny of this nation in his hands." A notable feature of this vision was her depiction of an angel that descended in the heat of Battle at First Manassas and initiated the sudden retreat of the federal troops. This supernatural intervention was an assurance that God would involve himself in the battles of the war.
Based on this angelic intervention, White forecast the pattern of Union victories and losses throughout the entire war, and this forecast of the battle patterns, as well as the angel visitation during the Manassas battle. I will discuss those events in more detail in this series in future episodes.
The third war vision occurred in Battle Creek, Michigan, on January 4th, 1862, and was published as testimony for the church number seven the following month. There's not really a specific title used for this vision. This document was based on a rather comprehensive vision that Ellen White received about the philosophy behind the war, the way it was being prosecuted, the national fast, the conflict with England and the protracted struggle ahead.
She had another vision in November of 1862, and she did not give a specific date for when this fourth vision occurred, but most likely, it was a part of her November 5 vision, the last one in 1862.
The war part of the vision was published in the first section of Testimony for the Church, number 9, in January 1863. It dealt with the challenge of conscription that the young church faced and provided counsel on how to navigate through the crisis. It also addressed problems in the Union Army that were protracting the war such as pro-slavery influences in the military, and officers who sought guidance from spiritualist mediums. I'll also discuss that interesting phenomenon where she saw that the Union officers sought guidance from spiritualist.
This was White's last vision about the war in 1885. The first 28 pamphlet-size testimonies were published in four volumes, which grew into nine volumes toward the end of Ellen White's life. She chose to republish the Roosevelt vision and the Parkville vision with the Battle Creek vision of January 1862 in Testimony for the Church, number 7, which was later republished in Testimonies for the Church, volume 1, the edition we have today.
Testimony for the Church number 9 was also republished in the same volume. Thus, all four of Ellen White's Civil War visions can be read in Testimonies for the Church, volume 1. They comprise about 30 pages total. It should be pointed out that these visions were not only about the war. Other subjects based on the same, these same war visions were written out and published in Testimony for the Church number 7, as well as Testimony for for the Church number 9.
It was not uncommon in White's early experience for a single vision to cover multiple subjects. It should also be mentioned that White's claim in predicting the coming of the Civil War was not unique. Quaker Joseph Hoag, for example, reportedly experienced a vision in 1803 and prophesied a Civil War in which, "an abundance of human blood was shed in the course of the combat ." And that the southern states would lose their power and slavery would be banished from their borders. This vision circulated widely in a manuscript formed during the decade before the Civil War and was first published by Frederick Douglass in 1854.
After the war, the vision circulated among the Adventists and was published in the Review and Herald. In 1832 the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith predicted that a coming war that would begin with South Carolina. The radical Southern secessionist Edmund Ruffin, foretold secession, civil war, and Southern independence in his anticipations of the future.
That work was published in 1860. Although Ruffin never claimed the prophetic gift, he acted like a prophet and appeared as one to his friends, foes, and even himself, as one historian wrote. The spiritualist, Emma Harding also claimed that she had "fearful and mysterious visions of death and desolation" prior to the war, as did other spiritualists.
The uniqueness of White in the midst of this visionary milieu was that she provided theological commentary on the war as it unfolded. She addressed specific events during the conflict and alluded to others while providing her readers with the theological and Biblical insights and perspectives that she had processed in thinking about the war.
But she never conceived of herself as a lecturer to the North or as a prophetic voice to the nation. There was nothing in her career to suggest that she sought national publicity. She only sought to mentor her church members, embrace them for the trials ahead during the national calamities. The main purpose in all her war essays was to prepare her readers for the second coming of Christ, and that remained a dominant feature in all her Civil War writings.
Now, the purpose of my book is to set Ellen White's war visions in their historical context and provide a theological interpretation of the war through her prophetic lens. Presently, more than 60,000 books, pamphlets, and Internet sources have been written on the Civil War since the guns ceased firing more than a century and a half ago.
And actually that figure 60,000, it's really, that increases every year. So it's really hard to nail down an exact figure. Let's just say that, tens of thousands of resources have been written electronically and in book form about the Civil War.
My book will tell the story of this war again, but from the unique perspective of White's visions. As such, it is first and foremost, a religious interpretation of the American Civil War and is best understood and appreciated in that framework. And that is the same for this series on my podcast.
In a significant God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War, distinguished historian George C. Rable demonstrated that Americans, both North and South, interpreted the events of the Civil War theologically. This volume, or my book that is, is a study of one such American who believed she had the prophetic gift and interpreted the war out of that framework.
Now the book is organized according to Mrs. White's visions in the order that she received them, as the table of contents will show. Starting with the decades before the war and how White became a prophet to the Adventist people, the book moves through the war years and analyzes the visions in relation to the historical and religious settings, and that's what I will do here as well.
The last chapter of the book will reveal a link between the message of White at the beginning of the war and President Lincoln at the end of the war. Her theological message was fully anticipatory of his second inaugural address, a most interesting connection that I will discuss in another episode.
The overarching argument throughout my book is that White comprehended the issues of the war extraordinarily well, and provided a nuanced theological interpretation of this major conflict for the Adventist people. She insisted that God was angry with the nation, that the war was God's punishment on both the North and the South for the sin of slavery, that the Union military was weakened by pro-slavery forces working against the war effort and that the Union forces would not have ultimate success in the war until emancipation of the slaves became the dominant purpose. But in the midst of her grand prognosis, White gave hints that the Union would ultimately prevail over the South in God's time, and the slaves would be free.
Most importantly, White provided a theologically nuanced view of God's providence and care for America that gave hope to her readers. At the outset of the conflict she stated twice that, quote, "God has the destiny of the nation in his hands," end quote. This assertion came within two weeks of the first major Union disaster at the Battle of First Manassas when Adventists and all other Northerners feared the fate of the nation during this hour, White assured the Adventists that God had this nation in his hands and was in control of its future.
But she made this assertion in the midst of her condemnation of the nation for the sin of slavery. So by saying that America's destiny was in God's hands in the midst of the national crisis, she was not only stating that divine providence would preserve the nation, but that it would allow disaster and ruin to occur for moral correction.
This concept is at the core of White's writings on the Civil War and functions as a major theme throughout my work on her visions and throughout this series.
Adventists had mixed feelings about their country. They believed it was the greatest nation on earth and a model republic because of its principles of political and religious liberty. But they also viewed America as the beast power of Revelations 13:11-18. That was lamb-like in its principles of liberty, but dragon-like in its potential threat to religious freedom.
They especially believed that America was marred by the South's institution of slavery. Their only hope was that God had their church and their nation in his hands. Ellen White provided this hope for them and for all others who desire God's providence in this nation's affairs.
And today, friends, in the midst of our chaos in the world, we need the assurance that our nation and all the nations of the world are indeed in his hands.
Well, that's the first episode on Ellen White in the Civil War. Thank you so much for listening. See you next time and always remember: test the prophet by the prophets of the Bible.