Time Setting—The Seven-Year Theory

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Section Titles
1. Bates's Time-setting Theory Stated
2. How Influential Was Bates?
3. Mrs. White's Statements Allegedly Supporting Bates
Fictitious Date Needed to Support Charge
Mrs. White's Second Statement Supposedly Supporting Bates
Her Words in 1854 Explain Key Phrase
Two Points Made Clear
Mrs. White Follows Bible Pattern
She Warns Against Time Setting
James White and Time Setting
Six Reasons Against Seven-Year Theory
How Widespread Was the Theory?

Charge: Mrs. E. G. White and her husband, James White, were led by Joseph Bates to believe that the time of Christ's work in the most holy place in heaven would be seven years (from the autumn of 1844 to the autumn of 1851) and that the Advent would occur on the latter date. Mrs. White made repeated statements which revealed that she believed this. A few months before this seven years ended, Elder White and wife became convinced that this theory had to be given up. When they gave up this time view they decided at the same time to give up the view that there was no more mercy for sinners.

This charge has a twofold objective: (1) to prove Mrs. White a false prophet, for Christ did not come in 1851; (2) to provide a foundation for the further charge that, after the seven-year period, she suppressed certain of her earliest writings.

Three arguments are presented to prove that Mrs. White and her husband believed the end would come in 1851:

1. That Joseph Bates, in an 1850 pamphlet, predicted that Christ would come again in 1851.

2. That Bates was very influential, and the Whites were unknown, poverty-stricken, and beholden to him.

3. That Mrs. White made certain statements that clearly supported Bates's view.

1. Bates's Time-setting Theory Stated

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It is true that for a brief period Bates believed Christ would come in 1851. He published his view sometime in 1850. We quote:

“The seven spots of blood on the Golden Altar and before the Mercy Seat, I fully believe represents the duration of the judicial proceedings on the living saints in the Most Holy, all of which time they will be in their affliction, even seven years, God by his voice will deliver them, ‘For it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul.’ Lev. xvii. 11. Then the number


seven will finish the day of atonement, (not redemption.) Six last months of this time, I understand, Jesus will be gathering in the harvest with his sickle, on the white cloud.”—An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-typical Sanctuary, pp. 10, 11. (A sixteen-page pamphlet.)

Now, inasmuch as Bates believed that Christ entered the most holy place in 1844, his view regarding the “number seven” meant that he believed that Christ would come in 1851.

This pamphlet bears the date 1850. Whether it was published early or late that year, we have no way of knowing. However, we can be sure beyond all reasonable doubt that Bates's first advocacy of this 1851 date was at the time he published this pamphlet. It is incredible that he would remain silent a day after he had made what he believed was a great theological discovery concerning the date of Christ's coming. Bates's autobiography clearly reveals that he was a man of action, forthright and vigorous. As soon as he had a conviction or a belief he was in action in behalf of it. Is it credible he could come to the startling conclusion that Christ would return in the autumn of 1851, and remain silent for a period of time concerning it? He was the one man in the little group of Sabbathkeeping Adventists who had gone into print with several pamphlets, from 1846 to 1849, to set forth his various views. But in none of these was there any reference to the seven-year period. Nor was there any article from his pen in behalf of this view in Present Truth, which was published from July, 1849, to November, 1850. The same may be said regarding the Advent Review, of which a few numbers were published at this time. He was not the kind of man who left to others the responsibility of preaching his beliefs.

As will become evident, the date of the publication of this pamphlet, and of the beginning of Bates's belief in and advocacy of the seven-year period, is important. We repeat, that date can most certainly be set as 1850.

2. How Influential Was Bates?

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Now, according to the charge, James and Ellen White accepted Bates's view. That Bates was one of the influential figures in the Millerite movement, having spent all of a substantial fortune in


the promotion of the Advent doctrine, under Miller, is quite true. That James and Ellen White were “penniless, absolutely poor,” is also true. But the bold declaration that the Whites greatly needed the influence that Bates could give them, and therefore gladly accepted his seven-year time theory, is pure assumption and contrary to the facts.

By a casual reference to Bates's influence in the late Millerite movement, and to his expenditure of his fortune upon it, the reader is permitted to conclude that Bates probably still had both money and influence after 1844. This conclusion makes plausible the assumption that the Whites were beholden to him. But what are the facts? Bates was influential in the movement up to October 22, 1844, but not afterward, and for the very reason that he accepted and began to promote the same theological views that were soon to distinguish the Sabbathkeeping group of Adventists.

And what of Bates's finances? James White first met him “in the year 1846.” * It was in that year that Bates sat down to write his first pamphlet. He had no more than begun to write when his wife asked him to buy her some flour. She did not know that he had to his name only a York shilling, worth twelve and a half cents. When he returned from the store with the little package of flour she was amazed. In former years he had always purchased supplies on a large scale. When he confessed he was penniless she burst into tears.

The record is also clear that in those earliest days certain money was subscribed to pay for Bates's traveling as a preacher. And who gathered up the money and gave it to Bates? None other than James White! More than one of his early letters refers to Bates's poverty. For illustration: James White, writing from Port Gibson, New York, August 26, 1848, to “My dear Brother and Sister Hastings,” tells of meeting Bates at a New York City wharf, en route to a meeting.

“We were very glad to see the old pilgrim once more. He had been able

* See The Early Life and Later Experience and Labors of Elder Joseph Bates, edited by James White, p. 311.

See J. N. Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement, pp. 251, 252.


to leave things comfortable at home, and had two dollars in his pocket. Bro. Chamberlain from Ct. had two for him from Sister Hurlbut, I had one from you, and 50 cents from another sister, in all made $5.50 which brought him to the meeting.”—Letter, dated Aug. 26, 1848.

3. Mrs. White's Statements Allegedly Supporting Bates

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What, specifically, is the evidence presented to prove that the Whites accepted Bates's seven-year theory? Two statements by Mrs. White are presented. The first is this:

“I saw some, looking too far off for the coming of the Lord. Time has continued on a few years longer than they expected, therefore they think it may continue a few years more, and in this way their minds are being led from present truth, out after the world. In these things I saw great danger; for if the mind is filled with other things, present truth is shut out, and there is no place in our foreheads for the seal of the living God. This seal is the Sabbath. I saw that the time for Jesus to be in the most holy place was nearly finished, and that time can last but a very little longer; and what leisure time we have should be spent in searching the Bible, which is to judge us in the last days.”

The critic comments thus on Mrs. White's words: “Here is a ‘vision’ given September, 1850, about one year before the seven years were to end.” Obviously the date of this quotation is important. Bates set forth his seven-year view in 1850. If Mrs. White is to be quoted to show that she had accepted Bates's View, her statement could not be earlier than 1850.

Fictitious Date Needed to Support Charge

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We are unable to discover what is the ground for the statement that Mrs. White wrote the foregoing in “September, 1850.” But this we do know, that these words of hers were printed not later than January 31, 1849! On that date there was published a broadside entitled To Those Who Are Receiving the Seal of the Living God. This contained, among other statements, the vision quoted above. At the close of the broadside is the name “E. G. White,” and the line “Topsham [Maine], Jan. 31, 1849.” Hence, whatever the reason that prompted Mrs. White to make her statement concerning the nearness of the end of time, that reason was not Bates's theory.


In commenting further on Mrs. White's statement, the critic declares: “In September, 1850, she limited the time to ‘a few months,’ ‘time almost finished,’ etc. Note how evidently she relied upon Bates's seven years.” We ask the reader to look again at the quotation from Mrs. White that we have given—and we have quoted all that the critic quotes in his work, and more. Her statement does not contain the phrase, “a few months.” Just why the critic declares that she used this phrase in this particular passage will become evident when we examine, now, the second statement by her which is supposed to show that she accepted Bates's seven-year theory.

Mrs. White's Second Statement Supposedly Supporting Bates

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“In a view given June 27, 1850, my accompanying angel said, ‘Time is almost finished. Do you reflect the lovely image of Jesus as you should?’ Then I was pointed to the earth, and saw that there would have to be a getting ready among those who have of late embraced the third angel's message. Said the angel, ‘Get ready, get ready, get ready. Ye will have to die a greater death to the world than ye have ever yet died.’ I saw that there was a great work to do for them, and but little time in which to do it.”—Early Writings, p. 64.

“Some of us have had time to get the truth, and to advance step by step, and every step we have taken has given us strength to take the next. But now time is almost finished, and what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months. They will also have much to unlearn, and much to learn again.”—Ibid., p. 67.

This statement by Mrs. White, which we have quoted at greater length than does the critic, provides the remaining ground for the charge that she accepted Bates's idea on the seven-year period; in other words, that she was teaching that the end of the world would come in a few months.

But let us look more closely. What proof can be presented that Bates's pamphlet setting forth his seven-year time period was written in the first half of 1850? No proof at all. None is possible. He might as easily have written it in the last half of the year. But there is no question as to the date when Mrs. White made the statement just quoted from her, namely, June 27, 1850.


Second, Mrs. White does not declare that Christ will come “in a few months,” but that “what we have been years learning, they will have to learn in a few months.”

It is now evident why the critic from whom we quoted wished the reader to think that in the first of her two statements she used the key phrase, “a few months.” That first statement speaks only of time, and “that time can last but a very little longer.” Her second statement, now before us, speaks not only of time and the need of readiness in general but also of the time involved in “learning,” that is, learning the truth. If time is short and greater battles against our wily foe, Satan, impend, might it not be necessary for believers more quickly to learn the truth than had formerly been the case? When war is imminent the citizenry have to learn quickly the arts of war and the manual of arms. In our warfare with Satan it is the knowledge of the truth that arms us for battle. The “learning” of it is therefore a most important point, and the time element in the learning of it may be equally important. But to conclude that this is equivalent to declaring that “in a few months” Christ will come is wholly unwarranted.

Her Words in 1854 Explain Key Phrase

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Remember that Mrs. White's words are being interpreted in terms of Bates's theory, and further, that it is claimed James and Ellen White gave up this time theory “a few months before this seven years ended,” that is, shortly before October, 1851. But what Mrs. White's critics do not state—and in this instance they are guiltless, because the facts were not available to them—is that in 1854 Mrs. White uses the same phrase, “a few months.” This is in one of her unpublished writings, which is on file in the office of the E. G. White Publications in Washington, D.C. The manuscript is dated “February 12, 1854,” and is entitled “Reproof for Adultery and Neglect of Children.” The manuscript is nearly seven pages long, when put in typewritten form. In the first part of this manuscript is found a vigorous condemnation of a violation of the seventh commandment in a certain church. Some in the particular church had not viewed the matter as gravely as they


should. With this as a background, we quote at some length from this 1854 manuscript:

“He has not been willing to bear reproof, but has been ready to rise up in heart and justify self, was rich and increased in goods, had a whole spirit, would get angry, and all this has been nourished and fostered by some of the church. If those who have been in the church for weeks and months have not learned the straightness of the way, and what it is to be Christians, and can not hear all the straight truths of the word of God, it were better that they were cut off from Israel. It is too late in the day to feed with milk. If souls a month or two old in the truth, who are about to enter the time of trouble such as never was, can not hear all the straight truth, or endure the strong meat of the straightness of the way, how will they stand in the day of battle? Truths that we have been years learning must be learned in a few months by those who now embrace the Third Angel's Message. We had to search and wait the opening of truth, receiving a ray of light here and a ray there, laboring and pleading for God to reveal truth to us. But now the truth is plain; its rays are brought together. The blazing light of truth when it is presented as it should be can be now seen and brought to bear upon the heart. There is no need of milk after souls are convinced of the truth. As soon as the conviction of truth is yielded to and the heart willing the truth should have its effect, the truth will work like leaven, and purify and purge away the passions of the natural heart. It is a disgrace for those who have been in the truth for years to talk of feeding souls who have been months in the truth, upon milk. It shows they know little of the leadings of the Spirit of the Lord, and realize not the time we are living in. Those who embrace the truth now will have to step fast. There will have to be a breaking up of heart before the Lord, a rending of heart, and not the garment.”

Compare this passage with another manuscript statement by Mrs. White, written August 26, 1855. She is here speaking of the labors of her husband when they first began to publish their little paper and to clarify the doctrines that were to become distinctive of Seventh-day Adventists.

“By care and incessant labor and overwhelming anxiety has the work gone on until now the present truth is clear, its evidence by the candid undoubted, and it is easy work now to carry on the paper to what it was a few years ago. The truth is now made so plain that all can see it and embrace it if they will, but it needed much labor to get it out clear as it is, and such hard labor will never have to be performed again to make the truth clear.”—MS. 2, 1855.

In the light of these two manuscript quotations how clear is


the meaning of Mrs. White's statement of June 27, 1850, calling upon believers to learn “in a few months” “what we have been years learning.” It literally took years, at the very first, to gather “a ray of light here and a ray there” before the light was clear and full so that they could see their way. “But now,” says Mrs. White, “the truth is plain; its rays are brought together. The blazing light of truth when it is presented as it should be can be now seen and brought to bear upon the heart. There is no need of milk after souls are convinced of the truth.” Again, “It is a disgrace for those who have been in the truth for years to talk of feeding souls who have been months in the truth, upon milk.” And why? “It shows they know little of the leadings of the Spirit of the Lord, and realize not the time we are living in. Those who embrace the truth now will have to step fast. There will have to be a breaking up of heart before the Lord, a rending of heart, and not the garment.”

Two Points Made Clear

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Two points are evident. First, that Mrs. White is using the phrase “in a few months” in relation, specifically, to the time needed for learning the truth. She is not limiting the day of the Lord to a few months ahead. In fact, in her 1854 statement she is not discussing specifically the second coming of Christ, though she does talk of our being “about to enter the time of trouble such as never was,” and of our need “to step fast.” But this general statement about the imminence of troubles ahead is intended only to show why new believers should not continue to feed on “milk” but should in a few months be ready to “endure the strong meat of the straightness of the way.” Otherwise, she inquires, “how will they stand in the day of battle?”

Second, Mrs. White is evidently alluding to certain of Paul's statements as the basis for her exhortation. These Scriptural statements make the true meaning of her words even more clear. Says Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews:

“Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the


first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.” Heb. 5:11 to 6:3.

These words of Paul, we might add, are followed immediately by his statement about its being “impossible for those who were once enlightened,” “if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance.”

Again, Paul writes to the church at Corinth:

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” 1 Cor. 3:1-3.

Place alongside these the statement of Peter:

“For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” 2 Peter 2:21.

Mrs. White Follows Bible Pattern

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Mrs. White's urgent appeals to believers to make ready for the soon-coming judgments of God simply follow the Bible pattern. When she speaks of time being nearly finished, when she appeals to new believers to learn in a few months the solid truths of the Word, that they may be ready for perilous days just ahead, she is inventing no new form of exhortation. Indeed she virtually borrows


the words of Scripture. Listen to Paul speaking again, in his letter to the Hebrews:

“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” Heb. 10:35-37.

To the church at Rome, Paul wrote:

“And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Rom. 13:11-14.

Paul declares that “the day is at hand” and that “yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” Mrs. White uses almost identical language, and besides she writes in the very days that the prophet declared to be “the last days.”

Note, incidentally, that Paul's appeal to the church at Rome to be in readiness, ends with the command: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Mrs. White, in her 1854 statement, administered a rebuke to those who were indulging in the “lusts” of the flesh.

She Warns Against Time Setting

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According to the charge, she, along with her husband, gave up the seven-year theory a few months before the 1851 autumn date set by some for the Second Advent. But there is no evidence that she ever accepted the theory! We quote, now, from her Camden vision of June 21, 1851,* that warns against time setting. This vision is the basis, apparently, of the statement that “a few months

* The date and place of this Vision are established by records in the office of the White Publications. This Camden vision is not to be confused with a spurious “Camden Vision” dated June 29, 1851. See Appendix I, p. 615.


before this seven years ended, Elder White and wife became convinced that this theory had to be given up.” In a four-page Review and Herald Extra, dated July 21, 1851, are found the following two paragraphs from Mrs. White's pen that describe her Camden vision:

“Dear Brethren: The Lord has shown me that the message of the third angel must go, and be proclaimed to the scattered children of the Lord, and that it should not be hung on time; for time never will be a test again. I saw that some were getting a false excitement arising from preaching time; that the third angel's message was stronger than time can be. I saw that this message can stand on its own foundation, and that it needs not time to strengthen it, and that it will go in mighty power, and do its work, and will be cut short in righteousness.

“I saw that some were making every thing bend to the time of this next fall—that is, making their calculations in reference to that time. I saw that this was wrong, for this reason: Instead of going to God daily to know their PRESENT duty, they look ahead, and make their calculations as though they knew the work would end this fall, without inquiring their duty of God daily.

“In hope. E. G. WHITE.” (Capitalization hers.)

There is nothing in this statement that suggests that Mrs. White is revising a belief she formerly held. When we remember that the seven-year theory had been set forth only in the preceding year, and when we have considered evidence in the remainder of this chapter as to how narrow were the limits of belief in that theory, there seems nothing strange in the fact that Mrs. White did not speak out against the theory till the summer of 1851.

James White and Time Setting

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And now what of James White and the theory? What is the evidence submitted to prove that he thus believed? None!

As already stated in this chapter, the one main publication of the early Sabbathkeeping Adventists, The Present Truth—renamed shortly The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald—contained no article from Bates or anyone else advocating the seven-year theory prior to the printing of Bates's tract in 1850. Attention was called to this fact because it provided strong presumptive evidence that the theory was not invented before 1850. Now we


wish to add that no issue of the Review and Herald, after the publication of Bates's 1850 tract, contains any article advocating the theory. Yet James White, who is alleged to have believed the theory, was the editor! And the theory dealt with the most momentous theme imaginable! Not only did he not write a line in support of it; he did not admit to the columns of the paper any article supporting it. And remember, these Sabbathkeeping Adventists had only this one journal that could rightly be described as the exponent of whatever collective views the group held. A tract published by an individual among them might, or might not, represent the views of others.

James White made one definite statement on the theory, in the Review and Herald of August 19, 1851. His editorial, entitled “Our Present Work,” is long, and is devoted particularly to a discussion of “The Time,” as the editor says in a subhead introduction. This phrase, “The Time,” has a distinctive quality in early Adventist literature, and means, “The time element in relation to the doctrine of the second advent of Christ.” Here is how he opens his discussion under that subhead:

“It is well known that some of the brethren have been teaching that the great work of salvation for the remnant, through the intercession of our Great High Priest, would close in seven years from the termination of the 2300 days, in the autumn of 1844. Some who have thus taught we esteem very highly, and love ‘fervently’ as brethren, and we feel that it becomes us to be slow to say anything to hurt their feelings; yet we cannot refrain from giving some reasons why we do not receive the time.”—Page 13.

Six Reasons Against Seven-Year Theory

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James White sets forth six reasons against the seven-year theory. We abridge them as follows:

“1. The proof presented has not been sufficient…. As we have not been interested in this time, only as we have feared its bad result, perhaps we are not prepared to judge of the amount of evidence in favor of the seven-years time; but if there is proof in favor of it, we confess that we have not been able to see it….

“2. The message of the third angel does not hang on time. Time is not in the least connected with it….


“3. We are now emphatically in the waiting time, in the time of the ‘patience of the saints.’ …

“4. Our present position relative to the truths connected with the third message, is based on positive testimony, and is stronger than time can be, or ever has been….

“5. If it is the purpose of God that time should be embraced we think the brethren generally would be called up to it.—But as far as we have been able to learn, it has not been received only where those who teach it have traveled, and presented it as a subject of importance….

“6. To embrace and proclaim a time that will pass by, would have a withering influence upon the faith of those who should embrace and teach it, and we fear would overthrow the faith of some. What we have witnessed, for more than six years past, of the sad results of setting different times, should teach us a lesson on this point. These are some of the reasons why we do not embrace the seven-years time.”—Ibid.

This was written in 1851. Bates presented his view in 1850. Thus the theory had been in circulation for approximately a year. Now listen to James White's summarization, in the paragraph that follows immediately after his listing of the six reasons against the theory:

“It has been our humble view for the past year that the proclamation of the time was no part of our present work. We do not see time in the present message; we see no necessity for it, and we do not see the hand of the Lord in it. And we have felt it to be our duty to let the brethren know that we have no part in the present movement on time.”—Ibid.

How could he more clearly state that he not only did not at any time accept the theory, but that he vigorously opposed it?

How Widespread Was the Theory?

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We can better understand why James White made only one statement of his position on this theory, when we read the brief report entitled “Oswego [N.Y.] Conference.” A paragraph that tells of the “principal subjects presented,” says:

“The subject of the seven-years time was not mentioned. In fact, we know of no one in this State, or in the west, who teaches it. Some may suppose from our remarks in [Review and Herald] No. 2 [August 19, 1851, quoted above], that the seven-years time is held by quite a large portion of the brethren; but it is not so. The view has been mostly confined to the state


of Vermont, and we learn by Bro. Holt that most of the brethren there have given it up.”—Review and Herald, Sept. 16, 1851, p. 32.

These are the only references to the theory that we have found in the Review and Herald. How different the whole picture looks in the light of these two quotations. The critics of Mrs. White have dogmatically declared that she and her husband accepted Bates's view on time, and have gone on from that to make sweeping statements to the effect that the whole company of early Seventh-day Adventists were thus deluded. It was imperative that such a picture be painted of Adventists in general, and Mrs. White in particular, in order to give plausibility to the charge of suppression that is next brought against her. But the picture stands revealed as a caricature of early Seventh-day Adventists in general, and as absolutely false of James and Ellen White in particular.


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