The passing of the time of expectation, in 1844, left many thousands of God's faithful believers in the second advent in bitter disappointment and bewilderment. The very word of God itself seemed to have failed, and the foundations of their faith to have crumbled. Many of the advent host yielded to the seemingly logical conclusion that the rising of the sun on the morning of October 23the day following the great disappointmentconstituted unmistakable witness to the error of their prophetic calculations. Such soon renounced the entire movement as having been a fanatical delusion. Many who speak or write of that amazing experience are wont to impugn the sincerity or the sanity of those who, they aver, were so easily duped by fanatical teachers.
But this is not a necessary conclusion. The student of Scripture will readily recognize that in the past God's people have repeatedly been disappointed in their expectations,just because they have misunderstood God's providences. Many times they have been perplexed and discouraged, and often have passed through strange experiences,all because of the failure of some hope based upon faulty understanding of the prophetic word. Some have even been perplexed by the direct word of the Lord.
By the command of the Lord, the prophet Jonah had warned the inhabitants of Nineveh that their great city would be destroyed in forty days. When the allotted time passed and no destruction came, the prophet was grievously perplexed. So great was his humiliation and confusion that he prayed: O Lord, take, I beseech Thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live. Jonah 4:3. But the Lord did not leave him in darkness. He led him into an understanding of the secret of the divine providence that had in mercy spared the repentant sinners.
Again, picture the terrible sorrow and disappointment that came to the disciples of Christ when their Lord was actually crucified and buried, when they had fondly expected Him to
ascend the throne. With blasted hopes they communed together and reasoned concerning the strange events that had taken place,events so different from what they had hoped and had looked for. Luke 24:15. We trusted, said they, that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel. Verse 21.
But in pitying love the risen Saviour appeared to them, and so clearly opened the Scriptures that they at last understood that in harmony with all prophecy Christ ought to have suffered these things. Still, they did not see things plainly, for a few days later as they communed with Jesus, they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? Acts 1:6. Only when He had opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:45), did they see for the first time that it had not been His purpose at that time to take the throne of His earthly kingdom.
Yet more than this. For years after the ascension of Christ these same disciples labored under serious misapprehension concerning the teaching of the Scriptures and of the purpose of God. They believed that the gospel message they had been commissioned to proclaim was for the Jewish nation only. They did not include the Gentile world in the plan and purpose of God, nor in the commission given them. To this mistaken view they clung most tenaciously for several years. Not until a most impressive vision was given to the apostle Peter, followed immediately by a definite call to go to the home of a Roman centurion and preach Christ, would he venture to offer the cup of salvation to any save the Jews.
In obedience to the vision and the call, however, Peter, for the first time in his ministry, entered the home and preached Christ to a group of Gentiles who were present. When the preaching of the word was accompanied by a demonstration of spiritual power, both he and the Jewish converts who accompanied him were greatly astonished because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. Acts 10:45.
For this wide departure from the views of his associates the apostle had to give serious account. When he returned to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision [the Jews] contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised [the Gentiles], and didst eat with them. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them. When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. Acts 11:2-4, 18.
These strikingly impressive experiences, with additional revelations and divine providences, finally led the disciples to abandon their mistaken views and come into harmony with God's purpose. But so cautious and slow were they in making changes that it literally took years to comprehend the fullness of God's purpose, and to preach and teach accordingly.
These strange incidents, so clearly set forth in the Scriptures, did not merely happen. Nor were they merely mistakes of men. They were divine providences, the purpose of which we may not fully understand. But they show that God's accepted leaders and His chosen people may be right in the main, yet be sincerely mistakeneven regarding important truths. They also show that those who hold some mistaken views are not, therefore, necessarily wrong in other things. Limited views, or imperfectly understood truths regarding certain particulars, do not of themselves, therefore, set aside the fundamental verity of the movement with which they may be connected. If that movement holds to its basic principles, and continues to advance, increased light will eventually be given, the mistakes will be revealed and rejected, and correct views take their place.
Thus it has all worked out, as will hereafter be shown, in the great second advent movement of 1844. The movement in general, the disappointment in particular, and the full correction of the error were made subjects of divine prophecy. They were foretold in the tenth chapter of Revelation.
Here a message that there should be time no longer is represented as being proclaimed on land and sea by a mighty angel come down from heaven. Indicative of something not clearly understood, the heavenly messenger was clothed with a cloud. The joy of the expectation and the bitterness of the disappointment are symbolized by the little book that was eaten and that, after being sweet in the mouth, was turned into bitterness. That God had still a great work for those to do who had passed through this experience, is indicated by the divine commission, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
The details of this prophetic picture coincide in every particular with the experiences in the world-wide, advent movement just prior to 1844. The verses that follow in the eleventh chapter of Revelation show briefly but forcefully how by the reed given by an angel the prophecy was made clear through measuring the temple of God, or the sanctuary, in which they soon saw the closing ministry of Christ. They then discovered their mistake in supposing that the sanctuary to be cleansed at the end of the 2300 days was the earth. This explained the cause of their disappointment.
It is well said that there is no crisis with God. He is never taken by surprise. He is never thrown into confusion, as we poor mortals often are. He knew all about the great awakening in regard to the coming of the Lord and the disappointment of 1844. At the right moment He sent a message through the prophetic gift to His sincere people. The manifestation of the gift of prophecy at this crisis was quite similar to the working of that gift in a former crisis of God's people.
Word came to Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, There cometh a great multitude against thee from beyond the sea on this side Syria. Three powerful enemy nations had joined together against Israel, to crush them and drive them out of the land the Lord had given them to inherit. They knew not how to meet the situation, except to seek God for understanding and help.
In this crisis the king set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered them. selves together, to ask help of the Lord: even out of all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord. 2 Chron. 20: 1-4. In the midst of this alarmed and bewildered gathering, Jehoshaphat offered mighty intercession to the Lord for help. In his prayer he said: We have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee. Verse 12.
Then upon Jahaziel came the Spirit of the Lord in the midst of the congregation; and he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God's . Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them: for the Lord will be with you. And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshiping the Lord. Verses 14-18.
In obedience to the words of the prophet, the people rose early in the morning, and went forth into the wilderness of Tekoa to meet the great multitude.
And as they went forth, Jehoshaphat stood and said, Hear me, O Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem; Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe His prophets, so shall ye prosper. Verse 20.
Israel believed that God had spoken to them through the prophet, and they went forth to the battlefield. But while they were on the way, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. And when Judah came toward the watchtower in the wilderness, they
looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped. Verses 22-24.
The Lord allowed this crisis to come to Israel for their good. It alarmed them, and awakened them to a realization of their utter dependence upon God. It led them into His presence to make earnest supplication for help. It gave them fresh evidence of His willingness to hear, His readiness to help, and His great power to save from their enemies. The experience brought to Israel a very helpful lesson.
In the great crisis of 1844, an unbelieving world was arrayed against God's disappointed people. Some shunned them, some ridiculed them, and many were hostile to them. They were surely a forsaken and scattered flock, knowing not what to do. Among them were some who, like Jehoshaphat and Judah, kept their eyes upon God and offered importunate prayer for divine guidance. The Lord heard their prayers, and gave them a remarkable answer through the prophetic gift. He chose for His messenger Miss Ellen Gould Harmon of Portland, Maine,one of the truly devout and sorely disappointed believers in the coming of the Lord in 1844. She gives the following interesting information regarding a part of her Christian experience prior to her call to act as the Lord's special messenger:
At the age of eleven years [1838-9] I was converted, and when twelve years old was baptized, and joined the Methodist Church. At the age of thirteen I heard William Miller deliver his second course of lectures in Portland, Maine. I then felt that I was not holy, not ready to see Jesus. And when the invitation was given for church members and sinners to come forward for prayers, I embraced the first opportunity, for I knew that I must have a great work done for me to fit me for heaven. My soul was thirsting for full and free salvation, but knew not how to obtain it.
In 1842, I constantly attended the second advent meetings in Portland, Maine, and fully believed that the Lord was coming. I was hungering and thirsting for full salvation, an entire conformity to the will of God. Day and night I was struggling to obtain this priceless treasure,
that all the riches of earth could not purchase.Early Writings of Mrs. E. G. White, p. 11, 1920 edition.
For four and a half years, therefore, during the most impressionable period of her life, Ellen Harmon's all-absorbing interest had been in her preparation for the coming of Christ, and in doing her part to make known to others the Saviour she had found. Delicate in health, and deprived of opportunities for an education and of worldly prospects by an accident that had befallen her when she was nine years old, she was providentially led to find her comfort and joy in the anticipation of the future glory, which to her was a living reality.
We may well believe that to such a one especially, the disappointment of October, 1844, came with crushing force. She did not lose her faith in the Saviour; but, in common with most of the advent believers in Portland, she feared that the advent movement, which had brought so much joy to her heart, had been a terrible mistake, from which could come only sorrow and regret.
But she was soon delivered from this state of uncertainty and sorrow. In the latter part of December, she, with a few other women, was visiting at the home of a Mrs. Haines in Portland. While they were all bowed in prayer together, she became unconscious of her earthly surroundings, and was given in vision a view of the future experiences through which the believers in the second advent were yet to pass, and of the final coming of Christ. We relate a part of the vision in her own words:
While I was praying at the family altar, the Holy Ghost fell upon me, and I seemed to be rising higher and higher, far above the dark world. I turned to look for the advent people in the world, but could not find them, when a voice said to me, Look again, and look a little higher. At this I raised my eyes, and saw a straight and narrow path, cast up high above the world. On this path the advent people were traveling to the city, which was at the farther end of the path. They had a bright light set up behind them at the beginning of the path, which an
angel told me was the midnight cry.1 This light shone all along the path, and gave light for their feet so that they might not stumble.
If they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, who was just before them, leading them to the city, they were safe. But soon some grew weary, and said the city was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. Then Jesus would encourage them by raising His glorious right arm, and from His arm came a light which waved over the advent band, and they shouted, Alleluia! Others rashly denied the light behind them, and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out, leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and lost sight of the mark and of Jesus, and fell off the path down into the dark and wicked world below.
Soon we heard the voice of God like many waters, which gave us the day and hour of Jesus' coming. The living saints, 144,000 in number, knew and understood the voice, while the wicked thought it was thunder and an earthquake. When God spoke the time, He poured upon us the Holy Ghost, and our faces began to light up and shine with the glory of God, as Moses' did when he came down from Mount Sinai.
The 144,000 were all sealed and perfectly united. On their foreheads was written, God, New Jerusalem, and a glorious star containing Jesus' new name.Early Writings of Mrs. E. G. White, pp. 14, 15.
Viewed in the light of all the circumstances, this was no ordinary message; indeed, it was most extraordinary. It gave lightnot a noontide blaze, but a few faint rays, like those of the sun's rising. It revealed a pathway straight ahead leading to a glorious destinationthe city of God. The light behind the advent believers was to shine all along the road the people of God were to travel until they should reach their Paradise home. Jesus would be the guide and leader of the travelers; and as long as they kept their eyes on Him, they would be safe. As they journeyed, the light would grow brighter, and others would join them until there would be a great company. Some would grow weary and distrustful. The journey would be longer than they
1 During the summer of 1844, some of the leaders of the advent movement in New England, by a study of the types, came to the conclusion that the 2300-day period would end on the Jewish Day of Atonement, which in that year fell on October 22. This expectation aroused those who, like the sleeping virgins, had become spiritually indifferent, and became a powerful movement called the midnight cry, because of its analogy to that part of the parable of the ten virgins.
had thought it would be, and they would decide that God was not leading them, and would stumble off the path.
To the troubled, confused believers to whom the message was related, it was practical and appropriate. It gave them greatly needed information. Note particularly how it answered the questions that would naturally be uppermost in their minds.
Should they give up their faith in God's guidance in the past experience of expectation and disappointment? No; there was light in the message that had been proclaimed,light that would illuminate their entire future pathway.
Should they go back into the world? No; those who were on their way to the city were traveling on a path high above the world.
Should they, because of their disappointment, cast away their confidence? By no means; Jesus had led them, would continue to lead them, and they would be safe while they kept their eyes fixed on Him.
Were they to look for the Saviour immediately, or would He tarry? They were told that there was some distance to travel before they would reach the end of the way. Those who grew weary because they expected to have entered the city sooner, and declared that it was a great way off, were to find courage and an incentive to persevere as Jesus beckoned them forward with His glorious right arm.
In the rest of the vision, there were other features of great interest. The saints would be persecuted, but God would deliver them from the wrath of those who sought to destroy them. The glorious appearing of the coming Christ was pictured. In graphic words was set forth the terror of the wicked as they should behold the Saviour descending from heaven in great glory, accompanied by the holy angels; also the anxiety of the saints, as they cried out, Who shall be able to stand? Is my robe spotless ? After a time of awful silence, Jesus spoke, saying, Those who have clean hands and pure hearts shall be able to stand; My grace is sufficient for you.
The resurrection of the sleeping saints; the joy of the glad reunion with loved ones from whom death had separated them; the ascension to the sea of glass; the glad welcome into the city where were the throne, the river, and the tree of lifeall this was calculated to cheer and gladden the hearts of those who were to remain longer in this world than they had expected, and to encourage them to remain steadfast in their faith and service. It was in harmony with the words of the apostle:
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. Heb. 10:35-39.
After a great struggle against her natural feelings of timidity, Miss Harmon related this vision to the band of advent believers in Portland. Its fitness appealed to their hearts. Because of their intimate knowledge of the unique Christian experience of the messenger, they recognized that she was worthy of their confidence, and about sixty of them welcomed it at once as indeed a message from heaven.
About a week later, in a second vision, she was bidden to relate to others what had been revealed to her. In connection with the call to public service, she was shown the trials, opposition, and anguish of spirit that would attend her, but was given the assurance, The grace of God is sufficient for you; He will hold you up.Early Writings of Mrs. E. G. White, p. 20. Timidly she began her work among the companies of believers in neighboring towns.
Further revelations were given to her in relation to a system of truth that explained how the past advent movement, though ending in disappointment, had, nevertheless, been directed by God. In February, 1845, at Exeter, Maine, there was given her
in vision a view of Jesus, our great High Priest, passing from His ministration in the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary into the most holy place, where was the ark containing the Ten Commandments.
Still later, through Bible study and revelation, it was made clear that the time for the ending of the 2300 days, as given in the advent message, had been correct, but through a misunderstanding of what was represented by the sanctuary, in Daniel 8:14, there had been a mistake in supposing that Christ was to come to this earth at that time. It was seen that the great work of the investigative judgment was the antitypical fulfillment of the cleansing of the ancient sanctuary on the tenth day of the seventh Jewish month.
With this message, there came to Miss Harmon a conviction, which could not be silenced, that it was her duty to relate to the scattered groups of believers what had been shown her. Accompanied by some member of her family, or by some sister believer, she went from place to place endeavoring to cheer the hearts of others with the light and hope that had come to her.
Small and poor at first was the company who accepted the light sent from heaven through Miss Harmon. Fewer still were those who were able to give their time entirely to its dissemination. But, fired with the conviction that God Himself had spoken, these few began to do their part in spreading the message that was to gather from all parts of the world that company seen in vision.
Early in her public labors Miss Harmon formed the
acquaintance of James White, a young minister who had been a zealous preacher
in the advent movement, but who was now with the rest of the believers in great
perplexity. This acquaintance developed into a common sympathy and a warm
friendship that resulted in their marriage. From that time on, through her
long, active, public life, she was known, and will be referred to, as Ellen G.