From the first Mrs. White taught that the Pope changed to Sabbath, that Sunday-keeping is "the mark of the beast," and that before the end Seventh-day Adventists were to suffer great persecution because they would not cease working on Sunday. A decree was finally to go forth to slay them and rid the earth of them (Early Writings, pp. 29, 47, 55, 143, 145, ed. 1882).
After a time, on account of their aggressive ways and their strong denunciations of those who observe Sunday, a few Seventh-day Adventists were imprisoned for short periods here and there for working on Sunday, and finally two of their publishing houses, one in London and one in Basil, Switzerland, were closed out for disregarding Sunday laws and laws regulating the hours of female labor.
This set Mrs. White to thinking, and she finally had a revelation directing her people, the world over, to refrain from work on Sunday wherever the law requires it and prosecutions were threatened. They have all readily obeyed. But, following this instruction, how, then, can they ever be persecuted for Sunday work?
In Australia there was a law requiring them to close their publishing house in Melbourne on Sunday. For three Sundays, after having had notice, they did not obey. Then they were threatened with arrest. What now? Did they brave the law and take the penalty as they had always said they would? Mrs. White, their divine oracle, fortunately was right there. Did she counsel martyrdom? Oh, no! She immediately produced a revelation directing them to obey the law, close the plant on Sunday, and devote the day to the Lord in religious work just as Sunday-keepers do.
Here are her instructions in "Testimonies for the Church," Vol. IX., No. 37, published in 1909. It is a square backdown from all she had published before. It avoids all possibility of persecution for Sunday work. She says: "The light given me by the Lord at a time when we were expecting just such a crisis as you seem to be approaching was that when the people were moved by a power from beneath to enforce Sunday observance, Seventh-day Adventists were to show their wisdom by refraining from their ordinary work on that day, devoting it to missionary effort" (p. 232). "Give them no occasion to call you lawbreakers." "It will be very easy to avoid that difficulty. Give Sunday to the Lord as the day for doing missionary work."
Further on she says: "At one time those in charge of our school at Avondale [Australia] inquired of me, saying, 'What shall we do? The officers of the law have been commissioned to arrest those working on Sunday.' I replied, 'It will be very easy to avoid that difficulty. Give Sunday to the Lord as a day for doing missionary work. Take students out to hold meetings in different places, and to do medical missionary work. They will find the people at home, and will have a splendid opportunity to present the truth. This way of spending Sunday is always acceptable to the Lord'" (p. 238).
It will be readily seen that Mrs. White now directs her people to keep Sunday exactly as all conscientious Sunday observers do; that is, in holding religious meetings and doing religious work! They are to "refrain from their ordinary work on that day"; they are to "give Sunday to the Lord as a day for doing missionary work." And, to complete the somersault, they are told that "this way of spending Sunday is always acceptable to the Lord." A prospect of arrest suddenly converted Mrs. White to a zealous religious observance of Sunday. "Give the day to the Lord." And then especially notice: "This way of spending Sunday is always acceptable to the Lord." Good and true. Now, if it is acceptable to the Lord from Adventists, it must be acceptable to the Lord from Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and others.
But the point is this: If Adventists follow this advice, how will they ever be persecuted for working on Sunday? What becomes of the prediction that an edict will be issued to kill them for violating a Sunday law? That is what Adventists have always taught before. But in 1909 they were directed to refrain from their ordinary work on Sunday, devote the day to religious exercises, and obey the law.
If the prospect of simply a fine will cause Adventists to obey the law and refrain from work on Sunday, would not the prospect of a death penalty quickly induce them to obey? Surely. It shows that their whole theory breaks down when put to a test.
Lastly, if Methodists, Baptists and other Christians have the mark of the beast because they "give Sunday to the Lord" in religious service, why will not Adventists also have it if they give the day to the Lord in the same way? Of course they will.
If Sunday-keeping is the awful thing Adventists say it is, then what Mrs. White here tells her people to do is positively sinful - a compromise with sin. It is as if Daniel had said to his three Hebrew companions: "When the people are moved by a power from beneath to compel you to bow down and worship images, give them no occasion to call you lawbreakers. That difficulty can be easily avoided. You are to show your wisdom by devoting the time to prayer. Bow down, but while bowed pray to the God of heaven. That kind of worship is always acceptable to God."
In giving the instruction she did, Mrs. White herself removed the ground for the persecution under Sunday laws which she had previously predicted.