A Sketch of Early Adventist History

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Section Titles
Mrs. White and the Shut Door—Part I
Millerites Restudy Positions
The Seventh-Month Movement
Second Angel's Message
The Climax of the Movement
The Albany Conference
Leaders Did Not Restudy Key Prophecy
457 B.C. Date Questioned
Rise of Seventh-day Adventism
What Hiram Edson Saw
Sabbath Doctrine Accepted
Mingling of Two Beliefs
Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines Begin to Take Shape
Development of Sanctuary Doctrine
Major Differences Between Two Groups
Shut-Door and Sanctuary Doctrine
Vision Supports New Sanctuary Teaching
Early Thinking of Sabbathkeeping Adventists
The Central Point in Shut-Door View
A Logical Lever
James White's 1847 Statement on Shut Door
The Sabbath Doctrine Takes Definite Form
Substance of Bates's Argument
The Sabbath as a Seal
The Sabbath and Sanctuary Tied Together
Three Key Doctrines Rounded Out
Doctrine of 144,000 and Enlarged View
Earliest Activities of Sabbathkeeping Group
False Premise Too Often Employed
Sabbathkeepers' Position Understandable
Sense of Cohesion Developing
James White Reviews the Past
A Prophetic Forecast
Two Groups Contrasted
The Movement Takes Shape
Early Views Summed Up
A Strange Situation

Mrs. White and the Shut Door—Part I

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The next charge to be considered, that Mrs. White taught that the door of mercy was closed on October 22, 1844, can be intelligently discussed only after the presentation of a historical sketch of the Millerite movement and the beginnings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Such a sketch follows.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century there developed almost simultaneously in different lands an awakening of interest in the doctrine of the second coming of Jesus Christ. In America this awakening took definite shape as a religious movement, with William Miller as its leader. Contrary to the fanciful stories circulated by enemies at that time, and grown larger and more fanciful through the years, this Advent movement in America, known generally as Millerism, was not wildly fanatical. On the contrary, the evidence is undebatable that it was constituted of sober men and women, some of them well educated, who longed for the appearing of our Lord from heaven, and that it was directed by equally sober leaders who largely were drawn from the ministry of various religious bodies.

The true essence of the movement was not the preaching of the day of Christ's coming, but the reviving of the long-neglected doctrine of the literal, personal, visible return of our Lord as the goal of Christian expectation and the one and only remedy for the tragedy of a sinful world.*

So far as the time element was concerned, the major prophecy on which William Miller and the movement rested, was that found in Daniel 8:14: “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then

* See The Midnight Cry, by F. D. Nichol, Review and Herald Publishing Association, for a documented account of the Millerite movement.


shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” They rightly believed, as the great majority of Protestant prophetic interpreters before them had believed, that in symbolic prophecy a day stands for a year, and that therefore this particular prophecy deals with a period of two thousand three hundred years. They also believed that this time period began 457 B.C. But due to an error in reckoning they first calculated that it would end not later than the spring of A.D. 1844. They also believed, but wrongly, that the cleansing of the “sanctuary” meant the cleansing of the earth by fire, that is, the final judgments of God climaxed by the coming of Christ.

The parable of the ten virgins, set forth by our Lord in Matthew 25, was also prominent in their preaching. They considered it to be not simply a parable but a prophecy that was to meet its fulfillment in the events clustering around the Second Advent of Christ. The parable tells of an eastern wedding, and of ten virgins who, with their lamps lighted, were waiting according to Oriental custom, for the bridegroom to come, that they might usher him in to the wedding. The record says that while the bridegroom tarried they all slumbered and slept, and that at midnight a cry was heard, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” Then all the virgins bestirred themselves. The five who had oil in their lamps went in with the bridegroom to the marriage, and “the door was shut.” The five foolish virgins, who had failed to fill their lamps, went off, instead, in search of oil. When they returned and sought admittance with the cry, “Lord, Lord, open to us,” the Lord answered, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”

Millerites Restudy Positions

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The spring of 1844 brought what is known as the first disappointment. However, the Millerite movement did not suddenly disintegrate. On the contrary, certain of the Millerites re-examined the evidence, particularly the time of the ending of the 2300-day prophecy. They also saw new force in a prophetic statement by Habakkuk, which they felt applied to them at that very time: “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the


vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” Hab. 2:2, 3. They also re-examined the parable of the marriage.

This general re-examination and comparing of scriptures led a rapidly increasing number of them to conclude, in the summer of 1844:

1. That, in harmony with the language of Habakkuk, they were now in the tarrying time.

2. That the 2300-day prophecy would end, not in the spring, but in the autumn, specifically October 22, 1844. This later date was the result of certain observations:

  1. Since the decree of Artaxerxes, which began the period, was not carried out till the year 457 was well advanced, then 2300 full years would bring the fulfillment correspondingly late in 1844.
  2. They also noted that when Christ came to earth He was offered up as the true antitypical passover lamb at the exact time of year when the typical lamb had been offered; namely, on the fourteenth day of the first month, Jewish reckoning. They reasoned by analogy that the great concluding service in the antitypical sanctuary above should take place at the same time of the year as the typical service had taken place on earth; namely, the tenth day of the seventh month, Jewish reckoning. A study of the Jewish calendar, as kept by the Karaite Jews, who they believed were truly orthodox Jews, revealed that the tenth day of the seventh month coincided with October 22 in the year 1844.
  3. A closer study of the ancient sanctuary service revealed that it came to its climax in the cleansing of that sanctuary, which was a work of judgment. Dimly they sensed that inasmuch as there was no earthly sanctuary now, and as it was only a type of a heavenly, the prophecy in Daniel 8:14 involved in some way the heavenly sanctuary, the cleansing of which, they believed, involved the cleansing of the earth by fire, the final judgment of all men.
  4. All this added up to the conclusion that the cleansing of the sanctuary, the final judgment on all men, would take place on October 22, 1844.

3. That the parable of the ten virgins contained a more exact statement on time than they had; at first, thought. A twenty-four-hour day in prophecy stands for a year; thus the dark half of this period, the night, would stand for six months. And “midnight,” of course, divides this six-month period in two. Now, from the spring of 1844, when the Millerites were disappointed, until October 22, is six months. The middle of this period—“midnight”—would


would be the summer of 1844. Not until that summer was the re-examination of these various prophecies sufficiently well advanced to provide a basis for a renewed hope and definite preaching regarding the time of the end of the world and the coming of Christ.

During the summer camp meeting season of 1844 certain Millerite preachers began to proclaim what they declared was the true midnight cry. They averred that the movement was in the tarrying time, that the 2300 days ended October 22, 1844, and that the cry which was to go forth at midnight, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh,” was due to be heard at that very time, the summer of 1844.

The Seventh-Month Movement

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From this preaching there developed, within the broad and not too sharply defined Advent movement in America, what became known as the “seventh-month movement,” so-called because October 22 was the tenth day of the seventh month, Karaite Jewish reckoning. This was a movement within the larger movement, for it did not at first have the support of the principal leaders. William Miller, Joshua V. Himes, Josiah Litch, and others who had been in the forefront of the Millerite movement since it first had taken definite shape, looked on uncertainly at first, though they did not oppose. As a matter of fact, they did not accept the October 22 date until within a very few weeks of that time.

The seventh-month movement rapidly became the dominant feature of the whole Advent movement. On every side was heard with new emphasis, and with a now specifically timed element, the cry, “Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet Him.”

From the beginning of their preaching, William Miller and the ministers associated with him believed not only that they were reviving a long-neglected and primary truth of the Christian religion, the truth of the personal coming of Christ, but that they were fulfilling the prophecy of the angel described in Revelation 14:6, 7, who proclaimed with a loud voice: “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.” It was this conviction, coupled with a sense of the gravity of the Advent doctrine they were preaching, that gave to leaders and laity alike a


crusading zeal, a sacrificial devotion, and an unremitting ardor in the propagation of the doctrine of the personal, literal coming of Christ. The preaching in the summer of 1844 only intensified that ardor.

Despite the fact that the movement was marked by sobriety, that the leaders preached with dignity from the Word of God and called on men everywhere to believe the apostolic doctrine of the literal, personal coming of Christ, the movement increasingly met bitter opposition, both within and without the churches. The opponents quite generally admitted that the Adventist principles of prophetic interpretation were in harmony with those of historic Protestantism, particularly the principle of a day for a year. Some were even willing to admit that the prophecy of the 2300 days was doubtless due to end about the time that the Adventists declared that it would. In fact a number of the ministry of other religious bodies were forecasting the ending of certain great Bible prophecies approximately at that time.

What, then, was the main cause of the opposition? Chiefly this: Adventists declared that when the great prophecies ended, particularly the 2300-day prophecy, the world would come to a sudden end under the fiery judgments of God and the coming of Christ, and that a wholly new world would be created, as the apostle Peter foretold. No, said all their opponents on every side, what is in store for the world at the ending of the great prophecies, which we also believe are about to be fulfilled, is not a conflagration, but a regeneration of the earth by a gradual improvement of the inhabitants.

Second Angel's Message

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Many who belonged to the Advent movement, which was really interdenominational, were cast out of their respective churches because of their belief in the literal coming of Christ. Others, while not cast out, were given vigorously to understand that they must not speak of their belief in Christ's coming.

Not only was there opposition to the Advent movement from many pulpits; there was violent ridicule in the press, both secular


and religious. There were also caricatures of the Advent preaching and belief on the part of mobs and sometimes even the breaking up of meetings by such mobs.

This varied opposition, particularly the opposition of the churches, caused the Advent leaders to begin to look further into the prophecies of the Bible. They were already preaching the prophetic message of the angel of Revelation 14:6, 7, “The hour of his judgment is come.” They noted that a second angel followed, proclaiming, “Babylon is fallen.” Rev. 14:8. They noted also that this same cry, “Babylon is fallen,” is repeated in Revelation 18, coupled with the command, “Come out of her, my people.” The study of these passages led to the conclusion that “Babylon” is a prophetic, symbolic term to describe the fallen churches of Christendom, and at this time, very particularly the Protestant churches, because they rejected the doctrine of the literal, personal coming of Christ as the goal of Christian hope and the solution of the tragedy of the world. This led the Millerite leaders in general to apply to the members of these churches the command: “Come out of her, my people.” This feature of the Advent preaching began to be increasingly prominent as the opposition and ridicule increased.

The Climax of the Movement

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The movement came to its natural climax on October 22, 1844, the time of the second, or great, disappointment. The best estimate is that on that date about fifty thousand persons were believers in the teachings of the movement.* Their disappointment was quickly followed by bewilderment, and even by confusion of thought. It could hardly have been otherwise. The first great question to trouble every Advent believer was this: Is this whole movement a delusion? Did the devil lead us into all our belief and activity, or is the movement of God, as we have so devoutly thought? Some quickly revealed the answer that their minds gave to the question by fading out of the picture immediately. The

* This is the figure generally accepted, though obviously vague. William Miller described the total as “some fifty thousand believers.” See his Apology and Defence, page 22. James White also estimated 50,000. See his Life Incidents, page 236.


number that thus departed there is no way of knowing, but there seems good reason to believe it was large. Certainly the “mixed multitude” soon melted away.

Most of those who did not depart took the position, at first, that although the Lord did not come on October 22, some minor variation in prophetic reckoning might explain the delay and that in this further tarrying time that still remained there was naught for them to do but to comfort one another, and to strengthen each other's faith. They firmly believed that their work for the world was done. That was the logical corollary of their belief that the movement was of God, that the reckoning of the time was correct, or at least essentially so, and that therefore the destruction of the world immediately impended.

A few weeks after the disappointment William Miller wrote:

“We have done our work in warning sinners, and in trying to awake a formal church. God, in his providence has shut the door; we can only stir one another up to be patient; and be diligent to make our calling and election sure.”—Letter dated November 18, in Advent Herald, Dec. 11, 1844, p. 142. (Italics his.)

A little later he wrote again:

“I did believe, and must honestly confess I do now, that I have done my work in warning sinners, and that in the seventh month.”—Letter in Advent Herald, Feb. 12, 1845, p. 3.

However, even before Miller made these statements other prominent leaders in the movement had already begun to question the idea that the day of probation had ended.

The Albany Conference

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In the spring of 1845 a conference of Advent believers was called in Albany, New York, in an endeavor to clarify the thinking of the Millerites. The Advent Herald thus summarizes a portion of an address William Miller gave at the conference:

“After the seventh month, he felt for a time that his work was done. But when he commenced his lectures at Albany, all his darkness was gone. Therefore brethren, he said, where you find a door open, enter upon that field of labor, and labor until the Master shall tell you to stop. As yet he


has given you no such command. Go, labor in the vineyard, and you will still find souls willing to listen to the glad tidings.”—June 4, 1845, p. 132.

In the summer of 1845 William Miller published what he called his Apology and Defence in relation to the movement and its great disappointment. He made a distinction between the Advent movement in general, which had been expanding for years preceding 1844, and the seventh-month movement which, as we have seen, developed within the framework of the large movement in the summer of 1844. We observed that Miller and most of the other leaders were the last to accept the distinctive tenet of the seventh-month movement; namely, that the 2300-day prophecy was to end October 22, 1844, and that the preaching of this specific date for the cleansing of the sanctuary constituted the true midnight cry. In August, 1845, Miller wrote:

“I have no confidence in any of the new theories that have grown out of that [seventh-month] movement, viz., that Christ then came as the Bridegroom, that the door of mercy was closed, that there is no salvation for sinners, that the seventh trumpet then sounded, or that it was a fulfilment of prophecy in any sense.”—William Miller, Apology and Defence, p. 28.

Miller is here referring to various views that began to be preached and published by different individuals in an attempt to find their way out of the great disappointment. He refused to consider any new interpretation of the words, “Behold the bridegroom cometh,” or to believe that the seventh-month movement “was the fulfilment of prophecy in any sense.”

Leaders Did Not Restudy Key Prophecy

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The Millerite leadership in general did not seek to find an explanation for their disappointment by a re-examination of the words of the prophecy of the 2300 days. They were still sure the coming of the bridegroom was the second coming of Christ in glory, and that the cleansing of the sanctuary involved the destruction of the world by fire. Neither event had taken place. Therefore, they concluded, they must look to the future for the coming of the bridegroom and the cleansing of the sanctuary.


That conclusion carried with it, of course, the inevitable decision that the seventh-month movement—which was the climax of the whole Millerite movement—was not of God, and that at best it was a theological delusion.

With Miller, Himes, and other prominent leaders taking this position, it is no surprise that the great body of Adventists accepted this view. But if the midnight cry, the shutting of the door, and the cleansing of the sanctuary were still in the future, it was most natural that new dates would be set, and set they were. It should ever be said to the credit of Miller and Himes and a few other key men like them, that they were most restrained in this matter. But Miller was growing old and feeble—he died in 1849—and neither Himes nor any other leader was strong enough to hold the movement together.* A variety of dates was set by different men, with the result that this or that little group among the Adventists was repeatedly brought to the point of expectation only to be disappointed again, with all that such continued disappointments could do to the faith of trusting, believing people.

The keystone of the whole structure of the Advent movement, from the day that William Miller first went out to preach, had been the prophecy of the 2300 days, with its climax, the cleansing of the sanctuary. But in order for that great Bible time prophecy to have meaning, it had to have a time of beginning; hence the endeavor that had been made by Miller and all other leaders in the movement to discover the time when this prophecy should start. They held that the 70-week period was the first part of the 2300-day prophecy. This led them to conclude that the beginning date was 457 B.C. Hence the ending was patently A.D. 1844.

457 B.C. Date Questioned

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The very logic of the position taken by the Millerite leaders after 1844 soon demanded that they question the date of the beginning of the 2300-day prophecy. They spoke, at first, of a margin of error of a few years as to its starting date, and as to the

* In fact, within a few years after 1844 dissension arose between Himes and a certain segment of the movement.


date of the crucifixion, which was a key date in the 70-week prophecy. They could entertain this idea of a small error in chronological and historical reckoning without questioning the major premises on which the movement rested. It was this margin-of-error idea that provided the plausibility for the new time setting of different Adventist preachers who kept announcing the end of the world, that is, the cleansing of the sanctuary, as due in 1845, 1846, and so on. Always their thinking was controlled by the premise that the sanctuary cleansing involved Christ's Second Advent and the earth's fiery destruction. Obviously the earth was still standing; therefore the sanctuary cleansing was still future.

The original margin-of-error idea quickly spent its force and did its sorry work of depleting the ranks through repeated disappointments, which cast doubt on the divine origin of the whole movement.

This led to the separating of the seventy weeks of Daniel's prophecy from the 2300 days, for Adventist leaders in their study were unable to justify moving far from A.D. 457 as the starting date for the seventy weeks. But to do this was to leave the 2300-day prophecy floating in air, with no certain beginning, and consequently no certain ending. Furthermore, to separate these two prophecies was to repudiate the most primary premise on which the Advent movement had been reared. Miller believed that the seventy weeks belonged to the 2300 days and provided the clue to the beginning of that long period. There would probably have been no Advent Awakening in America in the 1840's if he had not been persuaded that the two prophetic periods are related.

Thus the logical result of separating the seventy weeks and the 2300 days was to take from the movement its prophetic validation, and to self-condemn it before the world as being a false religious movement. Each step that the Millerite leaders took after 1844 led toward this sorry end. Rarely in religious history has a movement been so thoroughly undermined by its own leadership. The fact that the leadership proceeded sincerely, as they thought, only adds tragedy to the result that followed. The undermining, which began immediately after 1844, in a repudiation of the seventh-month


movement, followed on logically to the virtually complete undermining of the prophetic pillars of the Millerite movement within a few decades.

Rise of Seventh-day Adventism

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But the story of the Millerite, or more properly, Advent movement, is not confined to this main body just described. In the days immediately following the great disappointment of October 22, 1844, there began slowly to take shape in the minds of a few of the disappointed ones certain understandings of prophecy, certain explanations of the disappointment, that were to be the doctrinal nucleus of the future Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In the seventh-month movement Adventists studied Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary in relation to Daniel 8:14, and reasoned that service, if true to the type, would end with a cleansing of the sanctuary. But they had seen in this concluding feature a sudden work of judgment that was to reveal itself in the destruction of the wicked at the coming of Christ. In fact, they focused their thoughts, not so much on Christ's going into, as His coming out of, the sanctuary on that fateful day of cleansing—coming out to bless His waiting people, as did the high priest in the typical service. This coming out to bless, said they, is the second coming of Christ. Thus in the seventh-month movement they drew into their doctrine of the sanctuary cleansing the idea of the antitypical sanctuary in heaven above without surrendering the idea that sudden world judgment and the Second Advent were the distinguishing features of the cleansing of that sanctuary.

What Hiram Edson Saw

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With these facts before us we are prepared to understand the significance of what Hiram Edson saw and told on the morning of October 23. Edson lived in New York State. On the night of October 22, 1844 he, with other Adventists, had been waiting for the Lord to come, until midnight passed, and their disappointment became a certainty. They prayed at dawn for an explanation of their disappointment. And now let him tell the story:


“After breakfast I said to one of my brethren, ‘Let us go and see, and encourage some of our brethren.’ We started, and while passing through a large field I was stopped about midway of the field. Heaven seemed open to my view, and I saw distinctly and clearly that instead of our High Priest coming out of the Most Holy of the heavenly sanctuary to come to this earth on the tenth day of the seventh month, at the end of the 2300 days, that He for the first time entered on that day the second apartment of that sanctuary; and that He had a work to perform in the Most Holy before coming to this earth. That He came to the marriage at that time [as mentioned in the parable of the Ten Virgins]; in other words, to the Ancient of days to receive a kingdom, dominion, and glory; and we must wait for His return from the wedding….

“While I was thus standing in the midst of the field, my comrade passed on almost beyond speaking distance, before missing me. He inquired why I was stopping so long. I replied, ‘The Lord was answering our morning prayer, by giving light with regard to our disappointment.’”—Fragment of Manuscript on His Life and Experiences, by Hiram Edson.

Edson discussed his view with O. R. L. Crosier and F. B. Hahn, with whom, says he, “I was closely associated.” The three were at that time publishing a little Adventist paper called The Day Dawn. In that paper they published this new view, and “The Day Dawn was sent out bearing the light on the sanctuary subject.”—Ibid.* Like most of the short-lived Adventist papers of that time, the Day Dawn probably had a very small circulation, and thus made a negligible impact on the main body of Adventist believers. However, the issue containing this new view of the sanctuary cleansing “fell into the hands of Elders James White and Joseph Bates [two Adventist ministers in the east], who readily endorsed the view.”—Ibid.

Sabbath Doctrine Accepted

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About the time that Edson gained this new view of the sanctuary cleansing, an important theological change was taking place in a company of Adventists in Washington, New Hampshire. A number of them, under the endeavors of Rachel Oakes, a Seventh Day Baptist, began to keep the seventh-day Sabbath.

* No copy of this issue of the Day Dawn is known to exist today.

Some sources say that the group began the observance of the Sabbath in the spring of 1844, others say, in the autumn.


In 1844 there lived in Portland, Maine, a frail young woman, Ellen Harmon, who with her parents had been disfellowshiped from the Methodist Church because of espousing Millerism. She soon began to display singular spiritual activity. She declared that God gave to her visions, in which visions spiritual light and guidance for herself and for others were received.

Mingling of Two Beliefs

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Slowly the holders of the two doctrinal beliefs, Edson's view of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, and the seventh-day Sabbath, began to commingle. In the dim shadows of one hundred years ago, with few contemporary records, we see three figures standing out sharply in this newly forming religious group, with a few others occasionally coming into focus. Those three figures were Joseph Bates, a former sea captain, who had been a prominent Millerite preacher; James White, a young Millerite preacher in his twenties; and Ellen G. Harmon.

The year 1845, the first after the great disappointment, brought forth no published writings from this primary group. In fact, in that year James White was actually anticipating, with others, the coming of Christ that very October. Here are his words:

“It is well known that many were expecting the Lord to come at the 7th month [Jewish reckoning], 1845. That Christ would then come we firmly believed. A few days before the time passed, I was at Fairhaven, and Dartmouth, Mass., with a message on this point of time. At this time Ellen [Harmon] was with the band at Carver, Mass., where she saw in vision that we should be disappointed, and that the saints must pass through the ‘time of Jacob's trouble,’ which was future.”—A Word to the “Little Flock,” p. 22.

James White was evidently carried along with the general enthusiasm and hope of those around him. The theological thinking of the pioneers was not yet formulated. A new theological system, harmonious in all its parts, is not generally formed in a day—or in a year. But it is significant to note that a voice was heard declaring that the Lord would not come in 1845 and calling attention to events that must yet take place before His return in glory.


Seventh-day Adventist Doctrines Begin to Take Shape

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We must come to the year 1846 for the first definite evidence of crystallizing convictions and united thinking on doctrine among those who were to be the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism. In that year O. R. L. Crosier published an amplified statement of the new sanctuary doctrine in a well-known Millerite paper, thus giving the doctrine a certain publicity and prominence that it had not received up to that time.*

It was early in this same year and in this same paper that there appeared the first published writings of Ellen G. Harmon, who in August, 1846, became the wife of James White.

It was in 1846 that Joseph Bates and James White first met.

Though Bates had first been persuaded, in 1845, that the seventh day is the Sabbath, it was not until the summer of 1846 that he became firmly and irrevocably settled in his conviction. It was in this latter year that he brought to James and Ellen White the seventh-day Sabbath, which they soon accepted. And it was in that same year that Bates published the first of a number of pamphlets that were to come from his pen through the years.

Even in 1846 these three principal pioneers—Joseph Bates and James and Ellen White—were leaders of nothing faintly resembling an organization or a denomination. The Sabbath conferences of 1848, which constitute the first evidence of more or less well-defined groups of believers, had an aggregate attendance of only a few hundred persons. In those first years after the great disappointment these three pioneers were the leaders, or rather promoters, of little more than ideas and theological views.

Development of Sanctuary Doctrine

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Let us examine, first, the early development of their doctrine of the heavenly sanctuary, with its interrelated teaching on the shut door; then the growth of their distinctive teaching on the Sabbath.

* See his article, “The Law of Moses,” published as an eight-page Extra of The Day-Star, February 7, 1846. However, Crosier soon repudiated this new sanctuary doctrine and became a sharp critic of the Sabbathkeeping group.

See The Early Life and Later Experiences and Labors of Elder Joseph Bates (edited by James White), p. 311.


The record is clear as to the import of their thinking regarding the heavenly sanctuary. If Christ began His work of cleansing the sanctuary on October 22, 1844, and came at that time to the marriage described in the parable of Matthew 25, then the seventh-month movement, in which virtually all the Adventists had formerly rejoiced, was not a delusion. Instead, they had been preaching the truth when they proclaimed to all men that the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 and the parable of Matthew 25:1-13 would be fulfilled in 1844. The Advent movement could continue to maintain that it arose in response to prophecy, very particularly the prophecies of Daniel 8:13, 14, and Revelation 14:6, 7.

Major Differences Between Two Groups

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Thus the difference between the large body of Adventists and this slowly emerging little group of Sabbathkeeping Adventists was all the difference between denying and affirming the divine guidance of the Millerite movement that had come to an apparently disappointing climax on October 22, 1844. As already stated, Adventists in general steadily maintained that every part of the distinctive teachings of the 1844 movement be squared with the premise that the sanctuary cleansing involves the Second Advent and the destruction of the earth by fire. The Sabbathkeeping group insisted that everything be squared with the premise that the 2300-day prophecy ended in 1844.

The logic of the larger body of Adventists required them to conclude that the midnight cry and shut door, which immediately precede the sanctuary cleansing, were still in the future. And, of course, the further they moved from October 22, 1844, the more sure they necessarily became that the door was not shut at that time. This is but another Way of saying that the further they moved from 1844, the more they were tempted to conclude that the tremendously stirring 1844 movement was simply a false excitement.

In contrast, the logic of the Sabbathkeeping group enabled them to maintain their faith in the 1844 movement in general and the seventh-month movement in particular. They could hold on


to the belief that the 2300-day prophecy began in 457 B.C., and thus ended in A.D. 1844, and that the sanctuary cleansing began at that time. Their new light on the sanctuary enabled them to see how this cleansing could be taking place even though, contrary to their formerly held view, the earth was still untouched by judgment fires. What is equally evident, the logic of the position of this group also demanded that they believe that the midnight cry and its corollary in the parable, the shutting of the door, irrespective of what that shutting might signify, were in the past. Thus belief that the door in the parable was shut on October 22, 1844, carried with it the belief that the 2300-day prophecy had ended, that the sanctuary was being cleansed, and that the 1844 movement was unquestionably of God.

Shut-Door and Sanctuary Doctrine

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Up to the time of the disappointment, the shutting of the door had been to all the Millerites a synonym for probation's close, even as the sanctuary cleansing had been a synonym for fiery judgment. The Sabbathkeepers quickly escaped from the false interpretation of the sanctuary cleansing through Edson and Crosier's exposition. But there was no one ready, at the outset, with a new interpretation of the shut door. That the Sabbathkeeping Adventists believed, for a time, that probation had ended, was really incidental. In other words, while the logic of the time element in their theological view demanded that they believe that the door in the parable was shut on October 22, 1844, it did not demand that they believe that probation had closed. It is true that in their discussions of Christ's work in the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary, in the years immediately following 1844, they restricted His service to the household of faith, which was “still within the reach of mercy and salvation.”—Review and Herald, December, 1850, p. 14. But this restrictive view of Christ's work simply revealed that they had not yet freed their minds of the idea that probation for the world at large ended in 1844. There is nothing in the belief that Christ began a ministry in the second apartment in 1844 that requires belief, also, that probation for the world ended then.


Seventh-day Adventists today believe that the door of the parable was shut in 1844, for we employ essentially the same logic as did our fathers of a hundred years ago. Yet we do not believe that the world's probation closed in 1844.

Keeping in mind, then, the fact that from the outset, belief in the shut door of the parable was, to our forebears, synonymous with the belief in the truth of divine leadership of the 1844 movement, we can see the full meaning and force of a statement made by James White in 1847. He is speaking of Mrs. White's first vision, in December, 1844, in which she saw the children of God journeying to the New Jerusalem, with a “bright light set up behind them at the first end of the path, which an angel told me was the Midnight Cry.” He states:

“When she received her first vision, Dec. 1844, she and all the band in Portland, Maine, (where her parents then resided) had given up the midnight-cry, and shut door, as being in the past. It was then that the Lord shew[ed] her in vision, the error into which she and the band in Portland had fallen. She then related her vision to the band, and about sixty confessed their error, and acknowledged their 7th month experience to be the work of God.”—A Word to the “Little Flock,” p. 22.

The “band in Portland” were typical of most of the Adventists immediately after the disappointment. They had decided that nothing happened, in fulfillment of prophecy, on October 22, 1844. In other words, that the midnight cry and the shutting of the door were not “in the past,” but were events still to take place. Hence their “7th-month experience” had not been of God. James White declares that Mrs. White's vision caused them to confess their “error” in the timing of these two events. They were then ready to acknowledge “their 7th month experience to be the work of God.”

As we have noted, Edson's view, first expressed on October 23, 1844, which was the core of the revised interpretation on the sanctuary cleansing, placed that cleansing and the coming of the bridegroom, not at the Advent, and in relation to this earth, but before the Advent, and in heaven. Edson declared that Christ “entered” into the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary on October 22, 1844, to cleanse it. At the same time He came in before the


Ancient of Days in the most holy place to receive a kingdom—His marriage to the bride, the New Jerusalem—and that we must wait for His return from the wedding. (See Dan. 7:13, 14; Luke 12:36.)

Vision Supports New Sanctuary Teaching

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Early in 1846 Ellen Harmon published a vision she had received. This vision supported the main outlines of the new interpretation. She wrote:

“In February, 1845, I had a vision of events commencing with the Midnight Cry. I saw a throne and on it sat the Father and the Son…. I saw the Father rise from the throne, and in a flaming Charriot go into the Holy of Holies, within the veil, and did sit. There I saw thrones that I had never seen before. Then Jesus rose up from the throne, and the most of those who were bowed down arose with Him; and I did not see one ray of light pass from Jesus to the careless multitude after he arose, and they were left in perfect darkness. Those who rose up when Jesus did, kept their eyes fixed on Him as He left the throne and led them out a little way.—Then He raised His right arm and we heard his lovely voice saying, ‘Wait here—l am going to my Father to receive the Kingdom; keep your garments spotless, and in a little while I will return from the wedding and receive you to myself.’ And I saw a cloudy chariot, with wheels like flaming fire, and Angels were all around it as it came where Jesus was. He stepped into the chariot and was borne to the Holiest where the Father sat. There I beheld Jesus, as He was standing before the Father, a great High Priest.”—Broadside, To the Little Remnant Scattered Abroad, Portland, April 6, 1846. Signed, Ellen G. Harmon.*

Inevitably the new interpretation of the marriage parable provoked much controversy with the main body of Adventists, particularly because of the phrase in the parable, “the door was shut.” It is easy to see why our fathers were early described as the Sabbath and Shut Door people. The critics of Seventh-day Adventism fasten upon the phrase, “shut door,” lift it out of its historical context, and seek to prove thereby that in our early years we were chiefly distinguished by an ardent belief that the door of mercy was closed to all men on October 22, 1844. Our critics might as properly say that for several years after Christ's ascension the holy apostles were distinguished by a belief that salvation was not only

* See also Experience and Views, pp. 43, 44; Early Writings, pp. 54, 55.


of the Jews but exclusively for the Jews. In both cases the picture is wholly out of focus.

We believe that this historical sketch fully supports the declaration that the newly developing Seventh-day Adventist Church set out to emphasize the shut door of the parable, not from a desire to keep anyone out of the kingdom, but from a resolute determination to hold onto the belief that God had raised up the Advent Movement of the early 1840's in fulfillment of prophecy. This is not said in any attempt to blur the fact that these early Sabbathkeepers believed for a time that probation for sinners had ended, but to place that fact in proper perspective. Certainly they could be best distinguished as the Sabbath and Shut Door people, because they kept the Sabbath, whereas other Adventists kept Sunday; and they believed that the 2300-day prophecy ended in 1844, whereas other Adventists believed that it had not yet ended.

Early Thinking of Sabbathkeeping Adventists

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The thinking of our pioneers on the shut door immediately following 1844 may be summarized in a series of questions:

Was not the whole world lying in sin? Had not even the Protestant churches become Babylon by willfully rejecting the message of the personal coming of Christ? Had not the great Adventist company come out from the fallen churches in 1844 in response to the Bible command, “Come out of her, my people”? Were not all these believers in the Advent, who had not only come out from the fallen churches but had sacrificed and labored for the cause under bitter ridicule, God's special people? Had not the cleansing of the sanctuary begun, the final work of our great High Priest in the second apartment of the heavenly sanctuary? And did He not go into that apartment, in fulfillment of the ancient types, carrying on His breastplate the names of only the twelve tribes of Israel? And were not the Advent believers the spiritual Israel of God in the last days?

Furthermore, they were sure the door of the parable was shut. And had they not been taught in the Millerite movement that the closing of the door meant the end of probation?


Any hesitancy they might have in believing that the world, by rejecting the doctrine of Christ's personal coming, had sinned away their day of grace, seemed to be overcome as they thought of the scoffing, jeering fashion in which the public had treated the Advent message. As already stated, in the days preceding October, 1844, many church members, as well as non-Christians, made open mockery of the whole idea of a personal coming of Christ. And immediately after October 22 the ribald abandon of many of these scoffers seemed to prove that they had done despite to the Spirit of God, and thus sinned away their day of grace. William Miller, writing to a friend shortly after the great disappointment, thus describes what happened immediately after October 22 had passed:

“It passed. And the next day it seemed as though all the demons from the bottomless pit were let loose upon us. The same ones and many more who were crying for mercy two days before, were now mixed with the rabble and mocking, scoffing, and threatening in a most blasphemous manner.”—Manuscript letter to I. O. Orr, M.D., Dec. 13, 1844.

On November 29, 1844, Miller wrote a letter to a fellow Millerite leader, I. E. Jones, in which he discusses the mood of the public, and offers his conviction concerning their having sinned against the Holy Ghost. He speaks of “the most violent mobs” that had attacked the Millerite meetings. These mobs, in some instances, at least, must have been constituted of churchgoers, for Miller remarks: “Yet in no case have the nominal churches dealt with their brethren for such an offence.” Then he adds, regarding the mockers:

“For some time in October they crowded our house night and day; but now ‘there is room enough.’ The trap is laid for them, they appear to know that Christ will never come. They that were crying for mercy a few days since, are now scoffing and mocking us, and ridiculing each others fears. Even some old professors are worse than the world. Have not such individuals sinned against the Holy Ghost?”—Advent Herald, Dec. 25, 1844, p. 154.

We give these two statements by Miller to show that it was not simply the little Sabbathkeeping segment of Adventists who felt that the ungodly and blasphemous actions of many persons indicated that they had sinned against the Holy Ghost, and thus had


moved beyond the pale of salvation. Whether Miller and the large group of Adventists that he represented opened the door of mercy again to such outright blasphemers is not clear from the record, and is not relevant to this sketch. What is relevant is the fact of the blasphemous speech and actions of a certain segment of the population, and the further fact that, for a little while, the Sabbathkeeping Adventists considered this blasphemous conduct as typical of the mood of the world and, therefore, weighty evidence that probation had closed for the world. In the virtual absence of documentary evidence in the earliest years after 1844, we can hardly dogmatize on the relative force that they attached to their different reasons for thinking that probation had closed. It is not hard to conclude, however, that this very commonly displayed blasphemous conduct was one of the most weighty of the reasons that controlled their thinking.

The Central Point in Shut-Door View

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At least this much is undebatable, that central to their thinking on this subject was the idea that men, by willfully rejecting light from the Scriptures, had sinned away their day of grace. That their willful and fateful action took place prior to, or not later than, October 22, 1844, when God shut the door, could be considered simply as an evidence of God's foreknowledge in dealing with men. This is no fine, technical point. It was this primary thought that probation had ended for the rebellious world because of an intelligent action of men's own free wills, that permitted the Sabbathkeeping group very quickly, as we shall see, to argue consistently that grace was still offered to those who had not made a decision against the truth.

The Christian doctrine of probation's close is set forth in the words of John: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Rev. 22:11, 12.

Here is the real shutting of the door of mercy, the eternal fixing of all men's destiny. Beyond the day of this decree wicked


men cannot, and righteous men will not, change their status. It is set for eternity. There is no ministering Intercessor for either righteous or wicked.

But even the earliest published view of our fathers did not thus fix the destiny of all men as of October 22, 1844. Though they thought the willfully rebellious world had sinned away its day of grace, they did not think that the status of Advent believers was irrevocably fixed, or that they no longer had a great High Priest ministering for them. They made appeals to “lukewarm” Adventists around them to come out of the “Laodicean” state, lest God “spue” them out of His mouth. They themselves were also keenly conscious of the danger of falling away from the pathway of truth along which they were traveling to the New Jerusalem.*

A Logical Lever

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This modification of the Millerite belief that the shutting of the door was the sudden and complete ending of Christ's mediatorial work for saints and sinners alike, was one of the logical levers that gradually opened the door wide to “whosoever will.” By including in their thinking the view that after October 22, 1844, Christ still had a mediatorial function to perform—even if only for a limited fraction of mankind, the household of faith—our fathers laid the basis for an ever enlarging conception of Christ's service in the most holy place in behalf of humanity. That steadily enlarging conception will be evident as we study their statements written during the next few years.

All this is said in no attempt to blur the fact that these pioneers were partly in the dark at first—no one has ever offered greater evidence of their doctrinal fallibility than we are here presenting. We are seeking to show only that the pioneers, despite their evident fallibility, held from the outset certain distinctive doctrines which, when consistently developed, enabled them to preach salvation full and free to all who were willing to hear and accept.

* No point is more clearly emphasized in their writings. It appears first in Mrs. White's earliest vision, December, 1844. This vision will be discussed in a later chapter.


James White's 1847 Statement on Shut Door

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Let us listen to James White speak through the oldest document that presents the semblance of a consensus of Seventh-day Adventist thinking. He is writing in May, 1847:

“From the ascension, to the shutting of the door, Oct. 1844, Jesus stood with wide-spread arms of love, and mercy; ready to receive, and plead the case of every sinner, who would come to God by him.

“On the 10th day of the 7th month, 1844, he passed into the Holy of Holies, where he has since been a merciful ‘high priest over the house of God.’ But when his priestly work is finished there, he is to lay off his priestly attire, and put on his most kingly robes, to execute his judgment on the living wicked…. I think the following is a prophesy which has been fulfilling since Oct. 1844. [Then he quotes Isaiah 59:14-16. The 16th verse begins:]

“‘And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor.’”—A Word to the “Little Flock,” p. 2. (Italics his.)

However, when an opponent cried out that they were closing “the door of mercy,” these Sabbathkeeping Adventists replied in a way that indicates that even at the outset they sensed that God's mercy is great. Listen to these words of Joseph Bates, written also in 1847. He quotes Paul as saying, “I came to Troas to preach Christ's gospel, and a door was opened unto me of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 2:12), and adds immediately:

“Paul's open door, then, was the preaching the gospel with effect to the Gentiles. Now let this door be shut, and the preaching of this gospel will have no effect. This is just what we say is the fact. The gospel message ended at the appointed time with the closing of the 2,300 days; and almost every honest believer that is watching the signs of the times will admit it. I know it will be said ‘why you have, or would close the door of mercy!’ There is no such language in the Bible. I have no desire nor wish in my soul to see my worst enemy lost. I think I have made it manifest for the last twenty years, and am still willing to do what I can to save those that will help themselves. But I am perfectly sensible that it cannot be done only in God's appointed way; and all that will walk under the shadow of his wing will rejoice at the fulfilment of his word, although their hearts may be burdend and pained at seeing the opposite in their friends.”—Joseph Bates, Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps, pp. 67, 68.

In 1847 Bates also wrote the following in a comment on the work of Mrs. E. G. White:


“I believe the work is of God, and is given to comfort and strengthen his ‘scattered,’ ‘torn’ and ‘pealed people,’ since the closing up of our work for the world in October, 1844.”—Broadside, A Vision, April 7, 1847.*

Exclusive of debated passages by Mrs. White, to be considered later, these statements by James White and Joseph Bates, in 1847, are about the earliest published on the subject of probation's close by the spokesmen of the Sabbathkeeping group of Adventists. The lack of harmony between the statements is easily explained by the fact that the writers were in transition in their thinking. They had not yet thought through their new interpretation of the heavenly sanctuary to the point where that interpretation harmonized with all other Christian doctrine. James White could preface his citation of Isaiah 59:16, which speaks of there being “no intercessor,” with the frank, but hardly dogmatic, declaration: “I think the following is a prophesy which has been fulfilling since Oct. 1844.” However, he believed that Christ was still an “intercessor” for the elect of God.

Bates's statement in his broadside about the “closing up of our work for the world” squares with a further statement in his pamphlet, Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps. He is commenting on the prophecies that prove the Advent movement to be of God:

“I am aware of the arguments that are resorted to, to resist these clear scriptural fulfilments in advent history. We hear (say they) there are souls converted. So your argument won't stand. I think the scripture argument will stand ten thousand times firmer than all the said be converts since this [seventh] trumpet has been sounding. How can you have faith in Babylonish revivals, after Babylon has fallen?”—Bates, Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps, p. 53.

Bates had little or no faith, either, in revivals by those Adventists who had really undermined the foundations of the Advent movement by questioning, if not rejecting, the basic premises of prophetic interpretation on which it had been reared.

* This may be Bates's first published statement on the idea of probation's close. His pamphlet Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps, which discusses the shut door, simply bears the date “1847.” We cannot tell, therefore, whether it was published before or after April 7.

James White and Joseph Bates wrote a few articles for Millerite papers prior to 1847 in which brief references were made to the subject.


But that did not prevent him from declaring that he was “still willing to do” what he could “to save those that will help themselves.” He does not clarify his next statement: “I am perfectly sensible that it cannot be done only in God's appointed way.” But he is emphatic in the second half of the sentence: “all that will walk under the shadow of his wing will rejoice at the fulfilment of his word.”

The only way we can explain how these two statements—on pages 53 and 68 of Bates's pamphlet—came from the same writer at the same time is that the “whosoever will” of Revelation 22 was warring in Bates's mind with his earlier Millerite interpretation of the “shut door” of Matthew 25. That such a mental conflict should take place is no rarity in the history of religious thought. The happy sequel is that the “whosoever will” was soon to become dominant and to demand that the shut door open into a new area of light and divine intercession for whosoever will accept the still proffered salvation.

The Sabbath Doctrine Takes Definite Form

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Let us turn, now, to look at the early development of the doctrine of the seventh-day Sabbath. One of the first Millerites to accept the Sabbath was T. M. Preble of New Hampshire. He published his view in February, 1845, in an Adventist paper called The Hope of Israel.* Bates read this article, was persuaded of the Sabbath, and in August, 1846, brought out a forty-eight-page pamphlet entitled The Seventh Day Sabbath, a Perpetual Sign. In his pamphlet he states that the reading of the Preble article “convinced” him of the Sabbath in the spring of 1845, but adds:

“Contrary views did, after a little, shake my position some, but I fed now [August, 1846] that there is no argument nor sophistry that can becloud my mind again this side of the gates of the Holy City.”—Page 40.

In January, 1847, Bates published a second, enlarged, edition of his Sabbath tract.

* In March, 1845, Preble reprinted this article as a 12-page tract, entitled: A Tract, Showing That the Seventh Day Should Be Observed As the Sabbath, Instead of the First Day; “According to the Commandment.”


In the first edition Bates builds his argument for the Sabbath almost exclusively on the premise that the Sabbath was instituted at creation and re-enacted in Exodus 20; that the Ten Commandments are the moral rule for Christians and the seventh-day Sabbath is therein commanded. He touches briefly on a prophetic aspect when he observes, in his historical sketch of the change of the Sabbath, that the prophet Daniel describes the little horn as thinking to change times and laws, that this little horn is the Papacy, and that the times and laws are God's law, very particularly the law of the Sabbath. Bates then asks his Adventist readers: “Now the second advent believers have professed all confidence in his [Daniel's] visions; why then doubt this.”—Page 42.

In the second edition of his Sabbath tract Bates builds the prophetic argument for the Sabbath not simply on a brief reference to Daniel's vision on the little horn but also on the declaration of the apostle John in Revelation 14:9-11. In so doing he provided the contrast between God's Sabbath and the mark of the beast, which has been a distinguishing feature of Seventh-day Adventist preaching from that day to this.

Substance of Bates's Argument

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The substance of Bates's argument to the Advent believers is this: The great book of the Revelation is the foundation of all the Adventist preaching. We have believed and preached that the message, “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come,” met its fulfillment in the preaching of the Millerite movement. The message of the second angel, who proclaims that Babylon is fallen, and whose message is echoed by another angel in the eighteenth chapter of Revelation that declares, “Come out of her, my people,” also met its fulfillment in the Millerite movement.

Up to this point Adventists of every persuasion, unless they had turned back on the preaching of the Millerite movement, could agree.

Now, declares Bates, a third angel follows after these two; his message is a warning against receiving the mark of the beast, and


those who do not receive that mark are described immediately in this language: “Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Rev. 14:12. Why should the Advent believers give obedience simply to the first two of these three angels? There is a third message to accept—full obedience to all God's holy commandments, including the commandment to keep the seventh-day Sabbath.

Thus did Bates and the Sabbathkeeping Adventists set forth the doctrine of the Sabbath as the third in a series of divinely indited messages intended for the closing days of earth's history.

The Sabbath as a Seal

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The attention of the Sabbathkeeping Adventists soon focused on another passage in the Revelation, the statement of John in the seventh chapter regarding the sealing work. Mrs. White refers to this in January, 1849. However, she does not present any line of reasoning to show what the seal is; she simply states, “This seal is the Sabbath.” *

In January, 1849, Joseph Bates published a seventy-two-page pamphlet entitled A Seal of the Living God. In this he presents a reasoned argument to show that the Sabbath is the seal of God. However, on page 24 Bates credits to Mrs. White the presentation in vision of the first “clear light” on the subject of the sealing work of Revelation 7.

John declares that the number of those sealed is 144,000. From this statement the Sabbathkeeping pioneers drew the conclusion that “the remnant” “which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 12:17), would be 144,000 in number.

Thus was early built into the doctrine of the seventh-day Sabbath an added prophetic element—the “seal”—which gave further Scriptural reinforcement and prophetic timeliness to the doctrine. It became a part of “present truth.” (See Joseph Bates, A Seal of the Living God, p. 17.)

* See Broadside, To Those Who Are Receiving the Seal of the Living God. Signed, “E. G. White, Topsham, Jan. 31, 1849”; also Experience and Views, pp. 19-21; Early Writings, pp. 36-38.


Near the close of his pamphlet Bates seeks to show the distinction between the Sabbathkeeping group, of which he was a part, and “Second Advents,” as he describes all others of the Advent movement. Says he: “The first wonderful sign by which they were distinctly known from Second Advents, was shut door believers, but the greatest wonder, and sign by which they are now known is 7th day Sabbath believers.”—Ibid., p. 56. This leads him almost immediately to observe: “The shut door and Sabbath, then, are the two prominent marks by which they are known.”

In other words, our forebears first grasped the truth of the heavenly sanctuary service, with Christ entering the most holy place on October 22, 1844, for a final work of judgment and the receiving of His kingdom. Second, they saw the Sabbath in a prophetic setting—saw it as the third in a series of angelic messages timed for the last days.

The Sabbath and Sanctuary Tied Together

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The next step in the developing theology of the Sabbathkeeping Adventists was the discerning of a relationship between the Sabbath and shut door. And the relationship discovered was such as to give added force to the Sabbath and to provide a way of escape out of the restricted conception of salvation implicit in their first understanding of the shut door. This enlarged understanding came as a result of a vision given to Mrs. White on March 24, 1849.

In this vision she “was taken off in the Spirit to the City of the living God.” She saw that “the commandments of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ, relating to the shut door, could not be separated, and that the time for the commandments of God to shine out, with all their importance, and for God's people to be tried on the Sabbath truth, was when the door was opened in the Most Holy Place of the Heavenly Sanctuary, where the Ark is, containing the Ten Commandments.” She saw, also, that this door was opened in 1844, when Jesus “shut the door in the Holy Place, and opened the door in the Most Holy.” She quotes Revelation 3:7, 8. Since then “the commandments have been shining out to God's people,


and they are being tested on the Sabbath question.”—Present Truth, August, 1849, p. 21.*

It was this 1849 vision of the open and the shut door that definitely bound together the Sabbath and the sanctuary doctrines in the minds of this little group of Sabbathkeeping Adventists. As they studied the book of Revelation they discovered various references to the sanctuary, or temple, in heaven. They noted that when John describes the very last events of earth's history, he records, “And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament.” Rev. 11:19.

Three Key Doctrines Rounded Out

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Thus were rounded out the main features of the most distinctive doctrines that were to distinguish Seventh-day Adventists from that day to this. Let us summarize:

1. The doctrine of the literal, personal Second Advent of Christ. This doctrine was retained essentially as preached in the Millerite movement, except for the element of definite time. The time element in that movement had been the 2300-day prophecy. But our fathers, by their new interpretation of that prophecy, thereby took from it any possible use as a key to unlock the mystery of the date of Christ's Advent. That is why Seventh-day Adventists, from the very beginning, have been singularly free from the disheartening and embarrassing mistake of attempting to set a definite time for the coming of the Lord. So far as time is concerned, Seventh-day Adventists have confined themselves to the words of our Lord, that when we see certain signs of the Advent take place we can know that “it is near even at the doors.”

2. The doctrine of the Sabbath, which received its first acceptance

* See also Experience and Views, pages 24, 25; Early Writings, pp. 42, 43. The full text of this vision is given in the next chapter.

On April 7, 1847, Mrs. White had a vision in which she was taken, first into the holy place, and then into the most holy, where she “saw an ark” and the Ten Commandments in the ark with “a halo of glory” around the Sabbath [commandment]. But the open and shut-door feature was not introduced.—See Broadside, A Vision, April 7, 1847; also A Word to the “Little Flock,” p. 18; Experience and Views, pp. 15, 16; Early Writings, pp. 32, 33.

In 1854 Mrs. White, in referring to her 1849 vision on the “Open and Shut Door,” wrote: “The application of Rev. iii, 7, 8, to the Heavenly Sanctuary and Christ's ministry, was entirely new to me. I had never heard the idea advanced by any one. Now, as the subject of the Sanctuary is being clearly understood, the application is seen in its beauty and force.”—Supplement to the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, p. 4.

See the chapter entitled “Time Setting,” for a discussion of one modifying exception.


by a little group of Adventists in 1844 in Washington, New Hampshire, under the simple teaching of the binding claims of the law of God, now was reinforced by various prophetic passages, particularly Revelation 14:9-12, which gave to the Sabbath doctrine its significance as a part of present truth, a testing, sealing message for the last days of earth's history.

3. The doctrine of the heavenly sanctuary, which explained their disappointment, now took shape as a well-defined tenet interlocked with the doctrine of the Sabbath.

It is interesting, and we believe significant, that the clear formulating of these major doctrines was accompanied by a correcting of their view of the shut door.

Doctrine of 144,000 and Enlarged View

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Unquestionably, Mrs. White's vision of the open and shut door was a most important means of leading the Sabbathkeeping Adventists out of their restricted conception of salvation for men. There was evidently another factor also, John's description in Revelation 7 of an elect company of 144,000 “sealed” in evident readiness for Christ's Second Advent. As we have noted, the number of Advent believers at the height of William Miller's preaching was estimated as fifty thousand people. And many thousands of these were now not simply in the lukewarm, Laodicean state, as Bates described the majority of non-Sabbathkeeping Adventists; they had actually gone back into the world. Thus the number of Adventists to whom our fathers could preach the further and climactic message of the third angel was very far short of the prophetic total of 144,000 elect. Bates discusses this point in his 1849 pamphlet, A Seal of the Living God. Says he:

“John see[s] that the 144,000 were sealed of all the tribes, &c., and these were the servants of our God, men and women now living. Where are they, say our opponents? Answer, on the earth. Do you know where to find them all? no, not yet, but I believe John saw every one of them, and I had rather believe him, if I should never have the privilege of seeing or hearing from one of them until the resurrection of the just, than to have my part taken from the book of life and out of the holy city, by continually trying to prove that it was not so, because the Sabbath believers could not point them all out, and tell their names.”—Page 38.


Toward the end of his pamphlet he makes this observation as to who will constitute the 144,000:

“Now all advent believers that have, and do, participate in the advent messages as given in Rev. xiv:6-13, will love and keep this covenant with God, and especially his Holy Sabbath, in this covenant; this is a part of the 144,000 now to be sealed.

“The other part are those who do not yet, so well understand the advent doctrine; but are endeavoring to serve God with their whole hearts, and are willing, and will receive this covenant and Sabbath as soon as they hear it explained. These will constitute the 144,000, now to be sealed with ‘a seal of the living God,’ which sealing will bear them through this time of trouble. [I think the evidence is pretty clear that a part of the 144,000 will come from the east; the river Euphrates will be dried up for them to cross over at the pouring out of the sixth seal….]”—Pages 61, 62. (Brackets his.)

Excluding his mistaken interpretation regarding the Euphrates, we may say that Bates here spoke more accurately than he realized. The logical implication in this statement is that those who are sincere, who are willing to accept truth, no matter where they may be in the world, may still receive salvation.

This firm belief that there would be 144,000 elect and that many of these must be found outside the Adventist company, even in far lands, was a leaven working in the minds of our forebears. That belief, combined with Mrs. White's vision of the shut and open door,* constituted the ferment that was to raise and expand this Sabbathkeeping group above and beyond the narrow confines in which their shut-door belief first found them after October 22, 1844.

Earliest Activities of Sabbathkeeping Group

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Now what were this group of Adventists doing in the first few years after 1844? Were they smugly and self-righteously sitting at

* It is true that Mrs. White's first vision, December, 1844, described the heavenward-journeying company, subsequent to October 22, 1844, as being 144,000 in number, and it must obviously follow that at least a portion of them were “sealed” at a time later than the vision. (See Broadside, To the Little Remnant Scattered Abroad; see also Experience and Views, pp. 9-15; Early Writings, pp. 13-20.) However, in this vision Mrs. White does not dilate on the subject, as does Bates in his 1849 pamphlet, and there is no evidence that her reference to the 144,000 immediately provoked any curious question from her associates as to where all these would come from. However, the statement was there, with all its implications that non-Adventists were yet to be saved. Bates had read it, for he was an ardent believer in her visions, and now in January, 1849, he was to take up this question of the sources of the 144,000. In a later chapter the implications in Mrs. White's reference to the 144,000 in her first vision will be discussed more fully.


home waiting for the early destruction of all but themselves? No! Though engaged in vigorous and sometimes unhappy theological controversy with other Adventists, they nevertheless sought to labor for them spiritually. They viewed them as the lost sheep of the house of Israel—lost in certain mistaken ideas of prophecy, but still members of the household of God.

They wished to bring comfort and a further message to these fellow Adventists, whose state of mind ran all the way from simple bewilderment to disillusionment, disaffection, and departure from the faith. They wished to assure them that they could still believe that the Advent movement was of God, that the prophetic interpretation of the seventy weeks and 2300 days was sure, that there was no mistake in the reckoning, and that the whole disappointment could be explained by a corrected interpretation of the meaning and nature of the cleansing of the sanctuary and the coming of the bridegroom. They wished, also, to bring to them light on the message of a third angel that follows the first and the second.

From the very sketchy record we have of those earliest post-1844 years we see Joseph Bates, James White, and his wife, Ellen White, and a few others moving about from one Adventist company to another seeking to bring comfort and renewed confidence.

The record is clear that their labors were unflagging. There were not enough of them to make contact with all the Adventists everywhere.

And to whom else could they have hoped to bring, at the outset, the kind of message that they had. Secular publications of the time, as well as the different Adventist publications, reveal that the non-Adventist public were hardly in a mood to listen to further Adventist preaching. Laughter was about the only response to any kind of Adventist statement. That fact is clear beyond question. More than one Adventist was saluted, after October 22, 1844, with the inquiry, “Why haven't you gone up yet?” To which some Adventists replied with a vigor that closed the discussion: “If I had gone up where would you have gone?” Himes and Miller might speak of preaching to the world and of the possibility of gaining converts almost immediately after the great disappointment, but


their own journals bear eloquent testimony to the bitter opposition that confronted them on every side, and of the fact that they spent most of their efforts and energies going about among Adventist groups to cheer and comfort and hold them firmly together.

False Premise Too Often Employed

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Through the century of Seventh-day Adventist history many things have been written and said concerning those few years immediately following 1844 that do not take all the facts into proper account. Interestingly enough, loyal friend and militant critic have often been controlled in their thinking by the same premise; namely, that proof of anything short of perfection on the part of the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers provides clear evidence that the movement they launched is not of God.

On this premise some loyal members of the church have sought to square all unfavorable evidence with the favorable. This has been a common, and sometimes pardonable, practice in all ages. A vividly held premise can blind the eye and invalidate the reasoning even of the most conscientious.*

On this same premise militant critics have sought to square all favorable evidence with the unfavorable. This has also been a common but rarely pardonable practice in all ages. Specifically, critics of Seventh-day Adventism have attempted to marshal the evidence in such a way as to prove that our forebears were the most deluded, exclusive, and hopelessly mistaken lot of people that ever lived. And, therefore, that this Seventh-day Adventist movement is not a fulfillment of prophecy, not of divine origin.

The premise, of course, is false, and hence the conclusions built upon it, whether by friend or foe, are at best unwarranted or irrelevant, and at worst, erroneous. The writer of the book of Acts held to no such premise when recording the happenings of the earliest years of the Christian church. He described the

* Some of those who have written in defense reveal that they did not have before them, and perhaps had never seen, the earliest writings of our fathers. Otherwise they would not have made certain sweeping generalizations. Fortunately, the reputations of the pioneers do not suffer from a full presentation of all the sources, as this present study, we believe, reveals.

See Appendix G, p. 597, regarding the charge that the Sabbathkeeping group were fanatical.


apostles as being filled with the Holy Ghost in a most unusual and spectacular display of God's power in setting them apart as God's special messengers. But he also records that these Spirit-filled men were dominated for several years with the thought that salvation was only for the Jews.

God had to perform miracles to persuade Peter to bring the gospel to a Gentile, Cornelius, who was actually pleading that the gospel be preached unto him. God had to give Peter a vision, then synchronize that miraculously with the coming of the servants from Cornelius, and climax it with the spectacular pouring out of the Holy Ghost upon Cornelius and his household under the apostle's preaching. Furthermore it took the recital of all these miraculous happenings to persuade the others at Jerusalem that Peter was worthy, not of censure, but of commendation.

Sabbathkeepers' Position Understandable

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No, we need not prove that the Sabbathkeeping pioneers were above mistakes in order to prove that they were men of God, and called of Him to preach a mighty message to the world. Indeed, it is not surprising that these pioneers challenged the validity of the claims made by other Adventist preachers, that men and women had been converted in those years immediately following 1844. There were no miracles to aid their faith in believing this, no spectacular outpouring of the Holy Ghost. There was simply the word of one man against another. In fact, not only was there the absence of supporting miracles; there was, on the contrary, certain strong evidences to lead our fathers to believe that at least some of the revivals, with their alleged conversions, were clearly not of God.

We touch right here upon one of the sorry aftermaths of the great disappointment. At best the Millerite movement had been a loosely knit company of believers. While the movement was strong and active it could maintain a definite shape and standard. After the disappointment certain unruly, self-appointed preachers conducted general and revival services here and there under the name of Adventist, though they may not have been a part of the movement in 1844.


Not infrequently the revival owed its vigor to some new date that the revivalist set for the coming of the Lord, because a new interpretation had been given to the 2300-year prophecy. Obviously, to the Sabbathkeeping group, whose basic premise was that the October 22, 1844, date was correct, all such new dates were anathema and an evidence of the false preaching of the one who presented them.

Furthermore—and this is a most important point—some of those who engaged in revivals shortly after 1844 became entangled in various spiritualistic activities; for the cult of Spiritualism, in its modern form, began about that time with the mysterious rappings carried on through the Fox sisters at Hydesville, New York. And to our forebears, anything tainted with Spiritualism was a product of the bottomless pit.

Sense of Cohesion Developing

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By the year 1849 the still very small group of Sabbathkeeping Adventists was beginning to have a sense of cohesion. Such men as Joseph Bates and James White felt that they represented not only ideas but companies of people who held those ideas. Furthermore, they felt that these views were now rather clearly outlined, well buttressed with Scripture, definitely interlocked, and prophetically timed as “present truth.” It was in July of this year that their first publication, Present Truth, was founded.

It is hardly necessary for us here to go into a detailed presentation of quotations from their writings to show the steady transition from shut door to open door that took place. But it is important for the record to set down here the fact that the transition was gradual, not sudden.* There is nothing in the evidence to warrant the belief that at some particular point along the way these pioneers suddenly saw a great light and from that moment onward completely changed formerly held views about salvation and the shut door.

The most definite piece of evidence as to the time of the termination

* See Appendix H, “From Shut Door to Open Door,” p. 598, for a documented record of the transition.


of their shut-door ideas is a statement by James White in 1854. He is answering a charge by a Mrs. Seymour in the Harbinger, that the Sabbathkeeping Adventists had closed the door of mercy on the world, saying it was too late. Here are his words:

“Now all this is entirely false. Those who have read our publications, especially for the past two years, and have known any thing of the labors of the brethren in the Sabbath cause, know that Mrs. S. has penned untruths, and that the Harbinger has published the same.”—Review and Herald, July 4, 1854, p. 173.

Going back “two years” would bring us to the middle of 1852. We think that if the files of our publications had been clear of all shut-door views for longer than “the past two years,” James White would have so stated. The greater the total of years, the more impressive his rejoinder to Mrs. S.

Not by a reversal of views, but rather by an expansion and a development of them in a certain direction, the pioneers gained a sufficiently clear understanding of the sanctuary doctrine in relation to other Bible doctrines to enable them to preach, “Whosoever will may come,” and “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

James White Reviews the Past

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Looking back over those early days, James White wrote, in 1868, a series of articles that best sums up their transition in theological views. He is discussing the question of the shut door that confronted the whole Adventist company immediately after October 22, 1844, and declares:

“The clear light from the heavenly sanctuary that a door, or ministration, was opened at the close of the 2300 days, while another was closed at that time, had not yet been seen. And in the absence of light in reference to the shut and open door of the heavenly sanctuary, the reader can hardly see how those who held fast their advent experience, as illustrated by the parable of the ten virgins, could fail to come to the conclusion that probation for sinners had closed.

“But light on the subject soon came, and then it was seen that although Christ closed one ministration at the termination of the 2300 days, he had opened another in the most holy place, and still presented his blood before the Father for sinners.”—Review and Herald, May 5, 1868, p. 327.


He goes on to show that the prophetic statement in Revelation 3:7-13, which describes the symbolic Philadelphia church, has a direct bearing on the question of the shut door:

“Adventists were agreed that the seven churches of Rev. ii and iii, symbolized seven states of the church, covering the entire period from the first advent of Christ to his second appearing, and that the sixth state addressed represented those who with one united voice proclaimed the coming of Jesus, in the autumn of 1844. This church was about to enter upon a period of great trial. And they were to find relief from it, so far as ascertaining their true position is concerned, by light from the heavenly sanctuary. After the light should come, then would also come the battle upon the shut and open door. Here was seen the connecting link between the work of God in the past advent movement, present duty to keep the commandments of God, and the future glory. And as these views were taught in vindication of the advent movement, in connection with the claims of the Sabbath of the fourth commandment, these men, especially those who had given up their Advent experience, felt called upon to oppose. And their opposition, as a general thing, was most violent, bitter, and wicked.

“The shut and open door of the heavenly sanctuary was the strong point upon which this matter turned. If we were right on the subject of the cleansing of the sanctuary, the preaching of the time was right, and the entire movement has been right.”—Ibid.

A Prophetic Forecast

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Commenting on the prophetic passage: “Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it,” he observes:

“Nothing can be plainer than that man, or a set of men, would, near the close of the history of the church, war against the truth of God in reference to the shut and open door.

“And to this day those who retain the spirit of war upon those who keep the commandments of God, make the belief in the shut and open door odious, and charge it all upon Seventh-day Adventists. Many of them are not unaware of the injustice of this. Some of this people did believe in the shut door, in common with the Adventists generally, soon after the passing of the time. Some of us held fast this position longer than those did who gave up their advent experience, and drew back in the direction of perdition. And God be thanked that we did hold fast to the position till the matter was explained by light from the heavenly sanctuary.

“And it may be worthy of notice that although the belief in, and abandonment of, the shut-door position has been general; there have been two distinct


and opposite ways of getting out of it. One class did this by casting away their confidence in the advent movement, by confessions to those who had opposed and had scoffed at them, and by ascribing the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, which they had felt, to human or satanic influence. These get out of the position on the side of perdition.”—Ibid., p. 330.

Two Groups Contrasted

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He immediately places in contrast with these the Sabbathkeeping group of Adventists:

“Another class heeded the many exhortations of Christ and his apostles, applicable to their position, with its trials, dangers and duties—Watch—Be ye therefore patient—Cast not away therefore your confidence—For ye have need of patience—Hold fast.—They waited, watched, and prayed till light came, and they, by faith in the word, saw the open door of the heavenly sanctuary, and Jesus there pleading his precious blood before the ark of the most holy place.

“But what was that ark? It was the ark of God's testimony, the ten commandments. Reader, please follow these trusting, waiting ones as they, by faith, enter the heavenly sanctuary. They take you into the holy place, and show you ‘the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread,’ and other articles of furniture. Then they lead you into the most holy, where stands Jesus, clad in priestly garments, before the mercy-seat which is upon, and but the cover of, the ark containing the law of God. They lift the cover and bid you look into the sacred ark, and there you behold the ten commandments, a copy of which God gave to Moses. Yes, dear reader, there, safe from the wrath of man and the rage of demons, beside his own holiness were the ten precepts of God's holy law.

“The waiting, watching, praying ones embraced the fourth precept of that law, and with fresh courage took their onward course to the golden gates of the city of God, cheered by the closing benediction of the Son of God: ‘Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.’ Thus they came out of the position of the shut door on the side of loyalty to the God of high Heaven, the tree of life, and the eternal city of the redeemed. The reader will not fail to see the difference between this and getting out of the shut door on the side of perdition. God pity the apostate.”—Ibid.

The Movement Takes Shape

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Unflagging labor on the part of Joseph Bates, James and Ellen White, and a few others who were described as “the travelling brethren” because of their constant journeying to meet with different


companies, slowly added numbers and strength to the movement. In the 1850's, and for some time afterward, the Review and Herald office of publication was the rallying point and was generally referred to as “the office.” The movement early gained strength in Michigan and surrounding territory, which was then known as the West. In 1855 the publishing office was moved from Rochester, New York, to Battle Greek, Michigan, which was to be the center of all denominational activity for about fifty years, or until the publishing house and the General Conference headquarters were moved to Washington, D.C., soon after the opening of the twentieth century. In 1860 the name Seventh-day Adventist was formally adopted. The incorporation of the publishing business and the organization of Michigan and other local conferences followed. The next step was to effect some kind of stable organization that would coordinate the endeavors of all who named the name of Seventh-day Adventist.

On May 21, 1863, in Battle Greek, Michigan, a formal denominational organization was created.

With this event we may say that the early days of Seventh-day Adventism ended. Onward from 1863, when the membership was 3,500, we witness a steady growth and expansion.

Early Views Summed Up

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As we look back over the beginnings of Seventh-day Adventism, we may say this regarding the views of the founders as to salvation for sinners:

They were right in believing from Scripture that men may sin away their day of grace, and who can read the record of 1844 without feeling that many did at that time! They were wrong in generalizing from this that the world at large had done so. They were wrong, also, in their initial view, inherited from Millerism, that the shutting of the door involved the end of probation.

But a religious body should be judged by the doctrines it formulates and adopts as its distinguishing marks, and not by the initial and varied views the founders entertained before they had had opportunity to coordinate or consolidate their thinking.


Though the tree of Seventh-day Adventism sprang from the soil of Millerism, there is a certain real difference between the soil and the tree. Millerism was an interdenominational awakening on a central truth, the personal Advent of Christ, but was in no sense a church or organization with a formal creedal statement or a discipline.

When men first walk a path, particularly if they walk in the dusk of early morning, they may not consistently walk in a straight line. They may step to one side or the other; they may even retrace a step occasionally. Our fathers started out on the path that was to set them off as a distinct church body, because their eyes were on a certain doctrinal road map that they believed would lead them out of the morass of dark disappointment into which they suddenly plunged after October 22, 1844. In the dim light they did not, at first, read the map accurately. But we should never forget that the worth of a road map is not to be measured by the faltering steps of the travelers who use it, but by the destination to which the map leads them. The record is clear that the doctrinal road map did lead our fathers out of the morass onto solid ground and rapidly onto an ever widening road, until, on a vast plateau before them they saw the multitudes of the world to whom Seventh-day Adventists have ever since sought to bring the “everlasting gospel.”

A Strange Situation

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A large segment of Protestantism, following the Reformer Calvin, are known as Calvinistic, and thus include in their creeds the dogma of predestination, which teaches, in part, that a portion of humanity were predestined to destruction, doomed of God to damnation before they were born. In other words, the door of mercy would never open for them. Yet we do not recall that any of the critics of Seventh-day Adventism have raised their voices in an outraged cry against all Calvinistic Protestantism, which is, indeed, a substantial segment of Protestantism. In fact, some of them have belonged to Calvinistic churches! We might add that only in our day, after four hundred years, has Calvin's fearful predestination doctrine begun to be softened.


Our fathers believed that all men had opportunity for salvation, and that only by their own willful action did any of them cut short their day of grace. And though our forebears were too pronounced in their original view of probation's close, they began to modify that view almost in their first pronouncements. A few years was more than sufficient to do for them what four centuries have hardly yet done for Calvinistic Protestantism.

There are those who will ever seek to make what capital they can of the first faltering steps of our fathers. All others, we think, will agree with us that the nature and worth of Seventh-day Adventism should be measured by the road map that led its founders onward to an ever widening field of evangelistic activity.

In the setting of this historical sketch, we wish now to turn to the charge that Mrs. White believed and taught, as the result of alleged visions, that the door of mercy was shut for all sinners on October 22, 1844.


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