Sunday Laws and Bible Prophecy (10): The Key Statements of Ellen White

The first of the best-known statements of Ellen White on Sunday laws at the End is in The Great Controversy, page 573. I will quote the full statement and then make some brief comments: “In the movements now in progress in the United States to secure for the institutions and usages of the church the support of the state, Protestants are following in the steps of papists. Nay, more, they are opening the door for the papacy to regain in Protestant America the supremacy which she has lost in the Old World. And that which gives greater significance to this movement is the fact that the principal object contemplated is the enforcement of Sunday observance–a custom which originated with Rome, and which she claims as the sign of her authority. It is the spirit of the papacy–the spirit of conformity to worldly customs, the veneration for human traditions above the commandments of God–that is permeating the Protestant churches and leading them on to do the same work of Sunday exaltation which the papacy has done before them.”

Note first that this statement concerns “the enforcement of Sunday observance” in the United States. It is something that had been commonly done in Europe when the Roman Church had much more authority there than she ever had in the United States. But in this case the driving force behind the drive for enforcement was the Protestant leadership of the US government in the Nineteenth Century. Ellen White is not talking about some distant, future event, the movements to enforce Sunday observance were “now in progress in the United States”. She was speaking about current events in her context and the outcome of those current events for the future.

She returns to this matter on page 579 of The Great Controversy: “It has been shown that the United States is the power represented by the beast with lamblike horns, and that this prophecy will be fulfilled when the United States shall enforce Sunday observance, which Rome claims as the special acknowledgment of her supremacy. But in this homage to the papacy the United States will not be alone. The influence of Rome in the countries that once acknowledged her dominion is still far from being destroyed. And prophecy foretells a restoration of her power. . . . In both the Old and the New World, the papacy will receive homage in the honor paid to the Sunday institution, that rests solely upon the authority of the Roman Church.
“Since the middle of the nineteenth century, students of prophecy in the United States have presented this testimony to the world. In the events now taking place is seen a rapid advance toward the fulfillment of the prediction.”

In this statement she is clearly making reference to Revelation 13 when she mentions the beast with the lamblike horns (Rev 13:11). She indicates that this prophecy will be fulfilled when the United States as a nation shall enforce Sunday observance. In some form this will also occur in the “Old World”, a common reference in Ellen White’s time for Europe. And, once again, she makes it clear that this is not some distant, future event. The movement toward Sunday enforcement is already in motion and moving rapidly toward an outcome that would include both the United States and Europe. Her prophecy of the future was a natural extension of things occurring in her day.

All in all Ellen White makes perhaps a hundred references to Sabbath-Sunday issues at the end of time. But this statement is different from all the earlier ones. What is different about this statement is that it is not referring merely to Sunday legislation here and there in various states, but something that would occur as a whole nation. To see the significance of this, it is helpful to know that the story of the Great Controversy came in seven editions (Early Writings, Spiritual Gifts, Spirit of Prophecy, Story of Redemption, and three editions of The Great Controversy—1884, 1888, 1911). What may surprise some is that the first five editions (through GC 1884) speak in general about Sunday legislation without the specifics of a national Sunday law legislated in Congress. It is only in the year 1888, the same year that Senator Henry Blair introduced a national Sunday law into the US Congress, that we see the addition of a national move to enforce Sunday in her projections of the End. I have gone through two collections of all of Ellen White’s statements on Sunday laws. There are actually only two statements about a national Sunday law, and both of them were written in the year 1888 (later statements, like the 1911 edition of GC, are reprints of the earlier statements). We will come to the second statement in the next blog.

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