While the Adventist denomination was recovering from the crisis of 1902—1903, and while plans were being made to expand the work, to launch new enterprises, and to establish new institutions, the servant of the Lord warned the leadership and the people about a much more fearful crisis that the church would have to face in the near future. She was shown the preparations that were being made in the political world for a series of conflicts that would start with World War I and how these conflicts would affect the people of God.
"The nations of the world are eager for conflict," she had written back in 1900; "but they are held in check by the [four] angels. When this restraining power is removed, there will come a time of trouble and anguish." –The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White comments], vol. 7, p. 967.
Sister White wrote Testimonies for the Church, volume 9, during a period of five years, from 1904 through 1909. Deeply impressed by the scenes that she had seen in vision, she started the first chapter of that book by sounding a warning:
"We are living in the time of the end. The fast-fulfilling signs of the times declare that the coming of Christ is near at hand. . . . Plagues and judgments are already falling upon the despisers of the grace of God. The calamities by land and sea, the unsettled state of society, the alarms of war, are portentous. They forecast approaching events of the greatest magnitude.
"The agencies of evil are combining their forces and consolidating. They are strengthening for the last great crisis. . . .
"The condition of things in the world shows that troublous times are right upon us. The daily papers are full of indications of a terrible conflict in the near future." –Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 11.
"The world is stirred with the spirit of war. The prophecy of the eleventh chapter of Daniel has nearly reached its complete fulfillment. Soon the scenes of trouble spoken of in the prophecies will take place." –Ibid., p. 14.
"Fearful tests and trials await the people of God. The spirit of war is stirring the nations from one end of the earth to the other." –Ibid., p. 17.
In connection with this warning, she quoted, among other verses,—8. Verse 1 mentions the destruction that would be caused by wars in the latter days: "Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof."
In spite of the warnings that the Advent people had received, the majority were not able to see what was actually going on behind the scenes. Only those who were prayerfully watching the signs of the times saw that the world was about to be involved in an international conflict identified with "the beginning of sorrows" ().
World War I did not start suddenly out of events emerging in 1914. The real causes of the conflict can be traced much further back. Tensions resulting from unwise political attitudes over a period of years lined up the most powerful nations of Europe in two blocs. Each side was proud, jealous, suspicious, and filled with a spirit of nationalism. Both sides were heavily armed and fearful of each other.
Sensing that war was about to erupt, wise leaders in those nations did their best to ward off the imminent danger. Also, a Permanent Court of Arbitration was established at The Hague, the Netherlands, for the purpose of helping nations to settle disputes. The first international peace conference, attended by 24 nations, was held at The Hague in 1899. A second peace conference, to which 44 nations sent their representatives, took place in l907. But the Hague Court had practically no authority, as it could only help settle disputes that the contending nations were willing to submit to it for arbitration.
Besides the efforts made through the Hague Court and the Hague Conferences, there were organized peace movements supported by wealthy men in the early years of the twentieth century.
Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite, donated a high sum of money to be distributed in the form of prizes in the interest of peace and cooperation among the nations. Andrew Carnegie, an American steel manufacturer, built the famous Peace Palace for the Hague Court. But "the nations were angry" () beyond human help. While the Peace Palace was under construction, a reporter wrote:
"The erection of the Peace Palace at The Hague is going on satisfactorily. There is much discouragement connected with this peace building. It has quite a dangerous drawback. Proof: When the construction was approved, the Boer war broke out. When the plans for the building were accepted, the Russo-Japanese war started. At the time of the laying of the foundation, the German emperor visited Tangier and the unrest in Morocco began. When the first floor was completed, Austria conquered Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Turks. When the second floor was finished, the German-French tension over Morocco began. Since the completion of the attic chambers, the Italian-Turkish war broke out. I have been following with great fear the progress of the building. The closer it is drawing toward its completion, the worse the situation is becoming. When you think that the glaziers, the paperhangers, and the decorators have not even started their job, what will it be like when these men begin working? I have heard of some of the great symbolic peace paintings which should brighten the triumph of the peace movement. I’m afraid. As often as one part is completed, somewhere in the world there will be a shrapnel shower. Also a few statues are to be placed in the gallery of this palace–Pax, Lex, Labor, etc. Every one will cost thousands of lives. And, finally, the day when this temple of peace shall be dedicated, every one of us will shoulder his gun. A general World War will then break out–all against all. Therefore, I request that this palace be torn down as quickly as possible." –Taegliche Rundschau, No. 473.
The spirit of imperialism kept fueling the tension existing especially among the European powers. So, before 1914, Europe was split into two rival military alliances, as mentioned before. On the one hand there was the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy, and on the other hand the Triple Entente of Great Britain, France, and Russia.
Shortly before the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, the two military blocs, from fear of each other, increased their military preparations, which, in turn, increased their mutual fears day by day. Only a little "spark"–a new international crisis–was needed to trigger the imminent conflict, and this crisis was provoked on June 28, 1914, when the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, a province which Austria-Hungary had recovered from the Turks in 1908. And then the feared chain reaction began. When the war was over, in 1918, the casualties on all fronts were estimated at 10 million dead and 20 million wounded.
Let us go back a few years before the war. In view of what was about to happen in those eventful days, 1914—1918, Sister White predicted the beginning of a time of trial and persecution for the church as follows:
"A season of great trial is before us. . . . The time is right upon us when persecution will come to those who proclaim the truth. . . . But wherever God’s people may be forced to go, even though, like the beloved disciple, they are banished to desert islands, Christ will know where they are and will strengthen and bless them, filling them with peace and joy.
"Soon there is to be trouble all over the world. It becomes everyone to seek to know God. We have no time to delay. . . . God’s love for His church is infinite. His care over His heritage is unceasing. He suffers no affliction to come upon the church but such as is essential for her purification, her present and eternal good. He will purify His church even as He purified the temple at the beginning and close of His ministry on earth. All that He brings upon the church in test and trial comes that His people may gain deeper piety and more strength to carry the triumphs of the cross to all parts of the world."–Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 227, 228.
Tests and trials have a purifying effect upon the church. When everything seems to be at peace, there is no noticeable difference between the two classes of believers. But when strict obedience to God is followed by oppression and persecution, and threats of imprisonment, torture, and death, the false-hearted professors are clearly distinguished from those who have made a "Thus saith the Lord" their rule of life. This dreadful experience was before the Adventist people when the servant of the Lord was writing Testimonies for the Church, volume 9. She often pointed out the fact that the coming crisis would reveal two distinct companies of Adventists.
"The authorities will make laws to restrict religious liberty. . . . They will think they can force the conscience, which God alone should control. Even now they are making a beginning; this work they will continue to carry forward till they reach a boundary over which they cannot step. . . . Many stumble and fall, apostatizing from the faith they once advocated. Those who apostatize in time of trial will, to secure their own safety, bear false witness, and betray their brethren." –The Desire of Ages, p. 630.
"Thank God, all will not be rocked to sleep in the cradle of carnal security. There will be faithful ones who will discern the signs of the times. While a large number professing present truth will deny their faith by their works, there will be some who will endure unto the end." –Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 10.
"Soon God’s people will be tested by fiery trials, and the great proportion of those who now appear to be genuine and true will prove to be base metal. . . . To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when the champions are few–this will be our test. At this time we must gather warmth from the coldness of others, courage from their cowardice, and loyalty from their treason. . . . The test will surely come." –Ibid., pp. 136, 137.
Some of the readers may think that the oft-predicted test will not come before the Sunday decree. Surely, we will all be tested when the image of the beast is set up shortly before the close of probation. A decree enforcing Sunday observance will go forth to all the nations of the world. But this will be "the final test" (The Great Controversy, p. 605), "the last act in the drama" (The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White comments], vol. 7, p. 980). When E. G. White mentions the coming "test" or "tests," she often refers to a testing time, or a series of tests beginning with the preliminary tests and ending up with the final test. This is evident in, quoted above, as well as in other Spirit of Prophecy statements.
Another point which must be clarified before we can proceed to the next chapter: unless we have a correct concept of what it means to "apostatize from the faith," we will not have a clear understanding of certain Spirit of Prophecy declarations. Some will say that apostatizing from the faith is the same as leaving the church. Not necessarily. History teaches that, century after century, the apostatized majority did not leave the church; on the contrary, they took control of the church. This is why, today, there is a whole family of fallen churches –Babylon, both mother and daughters (). In Testimonies, vol. 3, pp. 265—267, and vol. 5, pp. 210—212, and in many other prophetic writings referring to the end, we read about an unreformed majority which will hold the reins of government in the Adventist Church until it is too late to make a change.
The course of the unfaithful majority was prophetically described as follows:
"There is a prospect before us of a continued struggle, at the risk of imprisonment, loss of property, and even of life itself, to defend the law of God, which is made void by the laws of men. In this situation worldly policy will urge an outward compliance with the laws of the land, for the sake of peace and harmony."–Ibid., p. 712.
"A company was presented before me under the name of Seventh-day Adventists, who were advising that the banner or sign which makes us a distinctive people should not be held out so strikingly; for they claimed it was not the best policy in securing success to our institutions." –Selected Messages, bk. 2, p. 385.
In her prophetic visions, Sister White saw also another company of Seventh Day Adventists, namely, a faithful minority:
"I saw a company who stood well guarded and firm, giving no countenance to those who would unsettle the established faith of the body. God looked upon them with approbation."–Early Writings, p. 258.
"Not all in this world have taken sides with the enemy against God. Not all have become disloyal. There are a faithful few who are true to God; for John writes, ‘Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.’."–Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 15.
The first phase in the fulfillment of these predictions was seen in 1914—1918 under the preliminary tests.