The Time to Begin the Sabbath

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Section Titles
The Historical Setting
The 1855 Battle Creek Conference
The Crux of the Matter

The Time to Begin the Sabbath

Charge: “Elder Bates led Mrs. White and her husband to accept the Sabbath in 1846. He had been a sea captain, and by nautical time began the day at 6 P.M. So he began the Sabbath that way. By him Mrs. White was led to keep it the same way till 1855—nine years.”

James White declares: “Mrs. W. has in two visions been shown something in regard to the time of the commencement of the Sabbath. The first was as early as 1847, at Topsham, Me. In that vision she was shown that to commence the Sabbath at sunrise was wrong.”*Review and Herald, Feb. 25, 1868, p. 168.

“If the Lord gave her this vision, how natural and easy it would have been for him to tell her that sunset was the right time. Why simply tell her sunrise was wrong, and leave the whole church in error eight years more as to what time was right? The answer is easy. Bates was still in the lead, and opposed sunrise time, and she ‘saw’ through his glasses; that was all….

“How did she finally find out? This way: A division among them was arising over this question. So Elder J. N. Andrews, the best scholar they then had, was requested to study the subject and present his conclusion to the conference held at Battle Creek, Mich., Nov. 16, 1855. This he did, and decided that sunset was the Scriptural time to begin the Sabbath. The conference voted to accept his view….

“Then, four days after Andrews and the conference had settled it, Mrs. White had a vision in which an angel told her that sunset was the right time!!! … In that vision she complained to the angel and asked for an explanation. She says: ‘I inquired why it had been thus, that at this late day we must change the time of commencing the Sabbath. Said the angel, “Ye shall understand, but not yet, not yet.”’ (‘Test.,’ Vol. I., p. 116).

“That was over sixty years ago; Mrs. White is dead; but the promised explanation has never been given. So I will give it now: In her visions she saw just what Bates taught her. When Andrews had the lead, then she changed her views and saw just what he and the conference taught. That is the whole of it, and the like of that is the source of all her revelations.”

* This is one of Mrs. White's early visions that was delivered only orally. There is no published record of it.


Most of the arguments in this charge have a strangely familiar ring. They have been answered before. Let us look at this charge in its historical context.

The Historical Setting

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In December, 1844, Mrs. White began to have visions. In 1845 Joseph Bates accepted the seventh-day Sabbath, though he did not become fully established on it until 1846. In the autumn of that year he brought this truth to Elder and Mrs. James White, who accepted it. Bates, who had been a sea captain, concluded that the day begins at 6 P.M. James White, who wrote an extended account of the matter in 1868, states:

“The six o'clock time was called in question by a portion of believers as early as 1847, some maintaining that the Sabbath commenced at sun-rise, while others claimed Bible evidence in favor of sunset.”—Review and Herald, Feb. 25, 1868, p. 168.

James White explains that Bates “was very decided upon the six o'clock time. His decided stand upon the question, and respect for his years, and his godly life, might have been among the reasons why this point was not sooner investigated as thoroughly as some other points.”—Ibid.

James White also explains Mrs. White's connection with the matter in its earliest stages:

“Mrs. W. has in two visions been shown something in regard to the time of the commencement of the Sabbath. The first was as early as 1847, at Topsham, Me. In that vision she was shown that to commence the Sabbath at sunrise was wrong. She then heard an angel repeat these words, ‘From even unto even shall ye celebrate your Sabbaths.’ Bro. Bates was present, and succeeded in satisfying all present that ‘even’ was six o'clock. Mark this: The vision at Topsham did not teach the six o'clock time. It only corrected sunrise time.”—Ibid.

In 1855 James White wrote a short editorial for the Review and Herald, entitled, “Time of the Sabbath,” from which we quote:

“Equatorial time, or from six o'clock to six o'clock, has been observed by the body of Sabbath-keepers. The truth is, the subject has not been fully


investigated till within a few months. We have never been fully satisfied with the testimony presented in favor of six o'clock. While the various communications received for a few years past, advocating both sun-rise and sunset time, have been almost destitute of argument, and the spirit of humility and candor. The subject has troubled us, yet we have never found time to thoroughly investigate it….

“When in Maine last Summer we stated our feelings on the subject to Bro. [J. N.] Andrews, and our fears of division unless the question could be settled by good testimony. He decided to devote his time to the subject till he ascertained what the Bible taught in regard to it, and his article in this No. [of the Review and Herald] is the result of his investigations. Some have the impression that six o'clock time has been taught among us by the direct manifestation of the Holy Spirit. This is a mistake. ‘From even to even,’ was the teaching, from which six o'clock time has been inferred. We now rejoice that Bro. Andrews has presented the Bible testimony on this question, in his accustomed forcible, candid manner, which settles the question beyond all doubt that the Sabbath commences not only at even, but at the setting of the sun.”—December 4, p. 78.

On pages 76 to 78 of that issue is found Andrews' article, entitled “Time for Commencing the Sabbath,” to which James White refers, and which cogently and Scripturally presents the case in behalf of sunset as the time for beginning the Sabbath. Andrews follows his article with a note “To The Brethren,” in which he says in part:

“The result of the investigation is the firm conviction that the commencement and close of each day is marked by the setting of the sun. It will be asked why this conclusion was not earlier arrived at? The answer is this: the subject has not been hitherto thoroughly investigated.”

The note is dated: “Battle Creek, Mich., Nov. 12th, 1855.”

The 1855 Battle Creek Conference

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In his retrospective 1868 article, from which we have already quoted, James White refers to Andrews' article, and explains that it appeared in the Review, Dec. 4, 1855. Then he adds:

“This article, however, before it appeared in the Review was read at the Conference at Battle Creek about that time,&astl and the subject was discussed

* In the Review and Herald of Dec. 4, 1855, under the heading, “Business proceedings of the Conference at Battle Creek, Mich.,” are found these opening lines: “Brethren assembled in conference at Battle Creek, Nov. 16, 1855, according to appointment in Review of Oct. 16th. Eld. Joseph Bates was chosen Chairman.”


resulting in settling the minds of the brethren on the sunset-time, with the exception of Bro. Bates, and a few others. Since that time there has been general agreement among us upon the subject.”—Ibid., Feb. 25, 1868, p. 168.

Mrs. White again comes into the picture, as James White continues with his 1868 account of the 1855 conference at Battle Creek:

“At the close of the conference at Battle Creek referred to above, the ministers and others, especially interested in the cause had a special season of prayer for the prosperity of the cause, and in that meeting Mrs. W. had a vision, one item of which was that sunset time was correct. This settled the matter with Bro. Bates and others, and general harmony has since prevailed among us upon this point.”—Ibid.

The portion of her vision which dealt with the time for beginning the Sabbath reads thus:

“I saw that it is even so, ‘From even unto even shall ye celebrate your Sabbaths.’ Said the angel, ‘Take the word of God, read it, understand, and ye cannot err. Read carefully, and ye shall there find what even is, and when it is.’ I asked the angel if the frown of God had been upon his people for commencing the Sabbath as they had. I was directed back to the first rise of the Sabbath, and followed the people of God up to this time but did not see that the Lord was displeased, or frowned upon them. I inquired why it had been thus, that at this late day we must change the time of commencing the Sabbath. Said the angel, ‘Ye shall understand, but not yet, not yet.’ Said the angel, ‘If light come, and that light is set aside or rejected, then comes condemnation and the frown of God; but before the light comes, there is no sin, for there is no light for them to reject.’ I saw that it was in the minds of some that the Lord had shown that the Sabbath commenced at six o'clock, when I had only seen that it commenced at ‘even,’ and it was inferred that even was at six. I saw that the servants of God must draw together, press together.”—Testimonies, vol. l, p. 116.

The Crux of the Matter

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Now comes the question, which is the crux of the matter, so far as the charge against Mrs. White is concerned: Why did not she reveal this truth about sunset time for Sabbath when she first began to have visions on the importance of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath? The question was anticipated and answered long before the critic framed it. Listen, as James White concludes his narrative in the Review and Herald in 1868:


“But the question naturally arises, If the visions are given to correct the erring, why did she not sooner see the error of the six o'clock time? For one I have ever been thankful that God corrected the error in his own good time, and did not suffer an unhappy division to exist among us upon the point. But, dear reader, the work of the Lord upon this point is in perfect harmony with his manifestations to us on others, and in harmony with the correct position upon spiritual gifts. It does not appear to be the desire of the Lord to teach his people by the gifts of the Spirit on the Bible questions until his servants have diligently searched his word. When this was done upon the subject of time to commence the Sabbath, and most were established, and some were in danger of being out of harmony with the body on this subject, then, yes, then, was the very time for God to magnify his goodness in the manifestation of the gift of his Spirit in the accomplishment of its proper work. The sacred Scriptures are given us as the rule of faith and duty, and we are commanded to search them. If we fail to understand and fully obey the truths in consequence of not searching the Scriptures as we should, or a want of consecration and spiritual discernment, and God in mercy in his own time corrects us by some manifestation of the gifts of his Holy Spirit, instead of murmuring that he did not do it before, let us humbly acknowledge his mercy, and praise him for his infinite goodness in condescending to correct us at all. Let the gifts have their proper place in the church. God has never set them in the very front, and commanded us to look to them to lead us in the path of truth, and the way to Heaven. His word he has magnified. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are man's lamp to light up his path to the kingdom. Follow that. But if you err from Bible truth, and are in danger of being lost, it may be that God will in the time of his choice correct you, and bring you back to the Bible, and save you. And would it become you in such a case to murmur and say, ‘Lord, why didst thou not do this before?’ Take care! ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Our necessity is his opportunity to teach us by the gifts of his Holy Spirit.”—February 25, p. 168.

In the light of this historical record and James White's answer to the question of why Mrs. White did not have her vision earlier, we believe the charge quite largely disappears.

The contention that Mrs. White was beholden to Joseph Bates is an unfounded assumption that we have already dealt with in the chapter entitled “Time Setting—The Seven-Year Theory.”

That Mrs. White should have a vision that went counter to Bates's view on the six o'clock beginning of Sabbath, the critic explains thus: “When Andrews had the lead, then she changed her


views and saw just what he and the conference taught.” What the critic fails to state is that Andrews was not present and that Bates was chairman of the conference that heard and accepted Andrews' view! If we would speak of anyone as in the lead at the conference, it would be the chairman. There is no historical support for the statement that Andrews was “in the lead” in 1855. Incidentally, he was then twenty-six years old. The best evidence supports the view that Bates was unquestionably “in the lead” in those days.

The chairman was not convinced by the paper read. He was convinced a few days later by Mrs. White's vision. Not Bates's guiding Mrs. White's thinking on the matter, but Mrs. White's guiding his, that is the only conclusion warranted by the evidence.

The critic notes the angel's words, as quoted by Mrs. White: “Ye shall understand, but not yet, not yet.” He asserts that the promised explanation has never been given. Hence he volunteers to do so. And he justifies his bold volunteering on the ground that “sixty years” had passed by and no explanation had yet been given.

In doing this, he overlooked two points: (1) The angel did not say that he would explain the matter later, but simply that they, the Sabbathkeeping Adventist group, would understand later. (2) James White, in his statement which discusses the question of why the sunset time had not been revealed to Mrs. White at the outset, shows clearly that he and those who accepted his view of the matter had acquired a clear understanding of it at least as early as 1868.

A true understanding of the function of the gift of prophecy in the Advent movement came slowly. It certainly had not fully come in 1847, when she had her first vision on the matter of the time for beginning the Sabbath, nor in 1855, when she had her vision in Battle Creek confirming the sunset time. But certainly a sufficient understanding had come by 1868 to provide a fulfillment of the angel's words to Mrs. White. The critic's explanation is very belated.

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