During the 1840s Ellen White used the term shut door in two ways, not in self-contradiction but with each way emphasizing a different, though complementary, point. Most criticism arises because (1) these two separate concepts are often treated synonymously, and (2) no distinction is made between what Shut-door Millerites believed regarding the shut door and what Ellen White meant beginning with her first vision.
For her, the phrase the shut door, on one hand became a code word that symbolized the validity and significance of the 1844 experience (thus agreeing with the Shut-door Millerites on that point). On the other, it was the code word for the sanctuary doctrine with its emphasis on Jesus leaving (shutting the door) His Holy Place ministry and beginning (opening the door) the second phase of His mediatorial work in the Most Holy Place.
However, critics maintain that the shut door term had only one meaning for Ellen White, as it did for Shut-door Millerites and, for a time, Sabbatarian Adventists: that the door of mercy had shut for everyone in 1844. With this presupposition, Ellen Whites various comments during the 1840s sound confused and inconsistent. When one recognizes that she used this term in two ways, Ellen Whites writings unfold in a simple coherence.
Furthermore, another distinction must be observed: When Shut-door Millerites used the term, shut door, they automatically welded two thoughts: (1) if the 1844 message, including the date, was correct, it followed that (2) Christ had come, and that the door of mercy had shut. Any message that proposed a different understanding of that date would, for the Millerites, mean abandonment of any significance to their message and experience.
In other words, for Shut-door Millerites to retain confidence in the 1844 message meant automatically that one believed in the shut door for all on October 22, 1844the two concepts were inseparable. Those who eventually repudiated their 1844 message and experience were called Open-door Millerites; those who held fast to their confidence that something significant happened in salvation history on October 22 were called Shut-door Millerites.
However, when Ellen White confirmed the validity of 1844 she was not stating that probation had closed as other shut-door advocates did (Turner, Hale, etc.). Her first vision separated this equation which seemed so logically compelling to the Shut-door Millerites. No longer did confidence in the 1844 message mean, at the same time, that one had to believe that probation had closed generally for the world. For Ellen White, the doorof probation had not completely shut. Her first vision corrected the error of the extreme shut-door position.1 In that vision the future for the affirmers of the 1844 experience was even more important than their past! They were not sealed yet! Ahead of them was an open road that would require further responsibilities before probation would close for them and others.2
Beginning with her first vision, Ellen Whites understanding and enrichment involved in the term, shut door, developed with further Bible study and vision-messages. To keep communication lines open with Shut-door Millerites (who were the most apt to listen to her), she indeed emphasized the shut-door concept as something never to be repudiated. But there was more, as she led them along as fast as God led her along.
Thus, it seems clear that anytime after December, 1844, when Ellen White referred to the wicked world, or salvation is past, etc., she was referring to those who had either knowingly rejected the messages of 1844 prior to October 22, or had repudiated that message after that date. Such people, in the noon-day awareness of truth, closed their own door of probation, as people continually do today, and will every day until all people are brought to final decision as to what to do with known duty in the light of truth.
Mrs. White did not use the term shut door to imply that God had automatically shut the door of mercy on October 22. She used it as a code word, not only to symbolize that something significant in salvation history had happened on that date but also for what happened on that date. The sanctuary doctrine of Christs function as High Priest made it possible not only to confirm the change of ministry at the end of the 2300-year prophecy but also to explain that October 22 was not the Second Advent but the beginning of the antitypical day of atonement. The shut-door code word embodied both concepts.
For some Shut-door Sabbatarian Adventists between 1846-1850, that distinction was slowly grasped. But patiently, as occasions were provided, Ellen White tried to visit as many places as possible, almost a one-to-one evangelism, with her new insights. The few publications that did contain her developing messages were severely limited in their circulation, even by 1848. It simply took time to get into print even the few lines that reported her vision-messagesand then more time to get those pages around to the scattered flock.
In her 1847 Halo of Glory vision3 Ellen White clearly emphasized that she saw that God had children who do not see and keep the Sabbath. They had not rejected the light upon it. Here again she applied the principle of rejection: only those who had decidedly rejected the light were in darkness, thus shutting their own door of salvation. But only God could know when people had shut their hearts door against further light. For Ellen White, the door was not shut to those (1) who had not understood clearly the Midnight Cry messages or (2) who had not yet heard the Sabbath truth. Her reasoning: The door was always open to the repenting sinner who responded to the clear light of truth.
In summary, Ellen White, from her first vision, taught that probations door had not shut for everyone on October 22, 1844. However, she agreed with the Shut-door Millerites that something significant in salvation history did happen on that date. She disagreed with their interpretation of what had happenedthus rejecting their extreme shut-door position. By adding new truths to the teaching that the 1844 experience was valid, Ellen White led Sabbatarian Adventists into enriching their understanding of the shut-door code words. It now meant that (1) God had led in the 1844 movement, and (2) He was further leading as they walked through the open door into the sanctuary truths.
1. See pp. 503, 552.
2. See p. 552.
3. See pp. 504, 553.