Shut Door Fanaticism

By Isaac Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message, vol. 5 (1874) pp. 383-385, 397-398, 400, 401-409

The majority of Adventists took the position that the time was an error of human judgment; but that preaching the coming of the Savior in connection with it, where it was attended with love to God, a desire to save men, and a love for Christ's appearing, was attended by the blessing of the Holy Spirit, not because of the error in the time, but because of their desire to do the will of God, notwithstanding the erroneous calculation. These did not deem it proper to make God responsible for their mistake.

Those who ascribed the work specified to the devil soon apostatized and walked no more with Adventists, some giving up all pretensions to religion. Those who ascribed it all to the Lord, or a majority of such, went into various fanatical views and practices, and imbibed a bitter spirit, which soon made a wide breach between them and those who were willing to admit their own imperfections and to confess their mistake.

To be consistent, those who ascribed that movement entirely to the Lord had to consider that some event, in connection with the fulfillment of prophecy, did transpire at that time. And, as they had taught that Christ would then come, they conceived the idea that he came invisibly and closed the door of mercy to the sinner, illustrating it by the parable of the Bridegroom's coming and shutting the door, after which the foolish virgins sought admittance in vain. Thus they contended that the work of preaching the gospel was ended.

It was an object of some importance to these to get from Mr. Miller some expression favoring their interpretation. It was known that he held that, for a period previous to the actual coming of Christ, he would cease to intercede for, and the Holy Spirit cease to strive with, sinners; and they were in hopes to convince him that that period had arrived. He was accordingly overwhelmed with letters asking his opinion on that point.

Mr. Miller did not give them direct replies, as his own mind was not sufficiently settled to meet the case fairly. He wrote several letters to the believers, which were published in Advent Herald, manifesting great care, and much affection for those who had fallen into grievous errors. He rehearsed the past experience, alluding to the peace and joy of anticipation which preceded the disappointment, and asked them to wait patiently the unfoldings of God's providence. As time passed on he soon learned more of the mischievous work which was going on under the spirit of fanaticism, and which had for some time been working its way up among a class of believers; he was also enabled to understand his own duty more clearly. He then took a stand, with the leading men of the body, which developed that he and they did not approbate these errors, nor have any connection with them. They then did all they were capable of doing to restore these erring ones to a rational and Scriptural position, and to fellowship and union with the body of Adventists, to continue the work of the gospel for the salvation of men, and the proclamation of the Advent Message to awaken and strengthen the church.


The "Shut Door" Theory

This notion originated with Joseph Turner, of Maine, and several others in various places, who simultaneously claimed to have it impressed upon them by the Holy Spirit, on "the tenth day of the seventh month." Oct. 22, 1844, Eld. T. proclaimed it at a campmeeting, in Woodstock, Me., while some penitent ones were being prayed for, repeating, "Every one to your tents, O Israel," and declaring that Christ had left the mercy seat. He soon worked the idea into a theory, which he and others began to proclaim throughout the Advent societies. It was readily accepted by some and as soon confirmed to them and others by visions of one Ellen G. Harmon, who traveled from town to town, where she was strangely exercised in body and mind, usually talking in assemblies until nature was exhausted and then falling to the floor, unless caught by some one sitting near (we remember catching her twice to save her from falling upon the floor), remaining a considerable time in the mesmeric state, and afterwards, perhaps not until another meeting, she would relate the wonders which she claimed had been shown her in spirit (these were subsequently called "visions"), among which was, that she had seen Christ in heaven, that he had ceased mediating, left the mercy seat, come out from "the holiest of all" and organized his kingdom, composed of his saints, including all who held fast to their experience in the 1844 movement. She also claimed to see that all those who gave up that experience, calling it an error, had their names blotted out of the book of life, they being "foolish virgins." Some had such confidence in her "visions" that they were thrown into great distress, nearly to despair, when she related that their names were "blotted out of the book of life."

We are aware that it has been, and is yet, denied in the most positive terms that the above-named woman ever proclaimed such views, but there is a true record in heaven, we are ready to abide that, as many of us, in New England, know the facts when and as they transpired. Later visions which contradict those do not prove them never to have been proclaimed, thought it may militate against the reliability of either.


In addition to the "shut-door" theory, some adopted other extravagant and fanatical views. Visions, etc., where had by some, and dreams by others. Feet-washing and kissing were generally held by them as gospel ordinances. To work was considered a great crime by the majority; and various mesmeric exercises prevailed, which were a subject of scandal.


Another Branch, Established with Visions

The "door-shut" theory, after assuming several forms and phases, disappeared like a fog-bank evaporated by the heat of the sun; but it had generated a new form of error to succeed it, which would appear more plausible than any of the above; captivating and diverting the attention of more from the great central theme-the coming of the Lord. The most of those who had at first accepted the idea that the door of mercy was closed, soon saw it was a snare, a base fraud, and gave it up, confessing it an error, which they regretted accepting, and admitting that the movement was the result of a mistaken calculation and proclamation of time. But others were not ready to admit themselves in error, and these items of their experience the result of their sincere faith in what was not true. And out of this experience and persistency sprang a new theory, which, if true, would justify the "whole movement and experience:" only a trifling error as to details of events.

This new theory after several changes from the Babylonian cry--no mercy for sinners--no organization of churches, has advanced to become of some note, and under it has been organized a church, or class of churches, with rules more stringent and autocratic, we believe, than any of the Protestant churches.

Eld. James White, a native of Maine, and member of the Christian church, a young man of much zeal and ambition, who had commenced preaching while in his own denomination, attended a meeting where he heard Elders Himes, Preble, and Miller preach in 1842, and embraced the views of the Advent near. He commenced preaching them with good success in several towns in Maine, where some were converted, and others awakened to examine the arguments and signs of Christ's speedy coming. He ran well for a season, though too positive on time arguments, but during the cry "Come out of her, my people," and the excitement which prevailed in the autumn of 1844, together with the great disappointment experienced by many on the passing of the time designated for the Lord to come, he passed under the cloud of that tempest of fanaticism which raged among the class who had been the most sanguine in their views. In the midst of the excitement and strange notions of that time he was captivated by fanaticism, receiving the views of Eld. Turner and the visions of Ellen G. Harmon, a native of Portland, and a wonderful fanatic and trance medium, as was supposed by those not under her influence, of whom we have already spoken. In her testimony in meetings she would speak with great vehemence and rapidity until falling down, when, as she claimed, wonderful views of heaven and of what was being transacted there were shown her. She claimed to have seen that Christ had left the office of mediation and assumed that of Judge, had closed the door of mercy, and was blotting out the names, from the book of life, of those who had not been faithful up to the tenth day of the seventh month, and of those who had believed the Lord would come at that time and subsequently confessed they were in error, that their experience was not all of God in thus believing. She claimed to see that "the Lord led his people out on that time," had "blessed them for believing and teaching it, that the prophetic periods had ended, and it was a great sin to deny their former faith and call it an error," etc. We saw her in Poland, Portland, Topsham, and Brunswick during the beginning of this career, and often heard her speak, and several times saw her fall, and heard her relate wonders which she said her heavenly Father permitted her to see. Her supernatural or abnormal views were not readily understood as visions, but as spiritual views of unseen things, which were quite common among the Methodists. They were soon after entitled "visions" by her friends.

These visions were but the echoes of Eld. Turner and others' preaching, and we regarded them as the product of the over-excited imagination of her mind, and not as facts. Eld. White embraced these views and preached them a year or more; others taught them a longer time. It was denominated the "door-shut faith." All who confessed it an error and published the gospel of salvation to sinners, during this time, were called by them "fallen priests," if preachers, and all who professed conversion were denominated "strange children," "children of a month," quoting Hosea v. 6,7, as proof.

We have seen it stated in a book by Eld. White "that Adventists were agreed that the door was shut." This is a specious statement. Some Adventists were agreed thus, but the great mass were never agreed to believe it. Again, he says, "It is vain for any man to deny that it was the universal belief of Adventists, in the autumn of 1844, that their work for the world was forever done." This is another specious statement. It can only be true by denying that the many who did not embrace the time calculation were Adventists; and it cannot be regarded as true of those who did fully believe in the time only for a single day, for as soon as that day passed without bringing the Lord the mass of believers concluded it an error which they had believed for truth. They at once began to plan and prosecute the work of the gospel, and to show those who had fallen into these strange views (as fast as they met them) that they were errors. But the great movement, the excitement, the experiences, the strange impressions which those had who had been too positive on time, and too unyielding to stubborn facts, when the time had passed, were overwhelmed and led by strange spirits, claiming that the Lord would "yet vindicate them in their belief." All these points were summed up, these arguments and experiences dwelt upon, and some concluded to believe that the Lord was revealing these mysteries to this devout young medium.

From the tenth day of the seventh month, 1844, Eld. White's preaching, experience, and associations changed to another channel, entirely distinct from the Second Advent people as a denomination, only as he could find access among them to teach his views and make proselytes to the views he promulgated. We were in company with him much of the time during the first four weeks of this mania, and during the first five days of it we were carried partially under the sympathetic influence. While attending a meeting in Portland with Eld. White, and hearing some singular experiences and strange messages, claiming to be direct from the Lord, our mind was brought under deep conviction that it was fanaticism; yet, as several were to be re-immersed that day, and we wished to be immersed also, we accepted that opportunity and were baptized by Eld. White, which we should not have consented to a few days later. But with a cautious, hesitating step and prayerful heart, we marked and criticized every movement and new statement made, and within a day or two we saw clearly that it was a fanatical movement under a wild spirit, and we withdrew our sympathy wholly from it. The spell was broken while searching the Scriptures, and we fully realized that these brethren were ensnared by the spirit of fanaticism, and were being led into strange paths of the enemy. We at once abandoned the position we were being insidiously led into, announcing that it was "wrong;" that we had been believing an error; that the time calculation was of men. We then spent four weeks visiting societies and urging them to see and acknowledge it an error, and go to work for the Lord and the salvation of men. We earnestly besought Eld. White to take the same step, as the correct solution of our situation (though this confession subjected us and all who made it to these epithets, "foolish virgins," "false priests," etc.) He admitted to me one day, while walking a street in Brunswick, that he was "often tempted to think the time message an error, and felt inclined to go home to his father's to rest, and to study more upon Christian experience," of which he felt himself "deficient."

But he decided to do otherwise, and entered more fully upon relating, over and over again, the 10 day experiences of this class of believers and giving such expositions of certain Scriptures as to sustain them in their views, while he traveled through the country "to strengthen the little bands," as the companies were then called, confirming those who would listen, and convincing the waverings in the idea that it was all of God, the time in particular, and that the 2300 days ended in 1844,--the door of mercy closed--the church, i.e., those who continued in this confession were "shut in." Miss Harmon traveled with him much of the time in the New England and Middle States, and could witness to all with her "visions," which were said to be frequent, and impressive to some. It was under these circumstances, and during the early part of this experience (we think about the first of 1845), that they each embraced the idea that it was the duty of Christians to keep the ten commandments, not a new idea; but as they would have it, new light was shown them relative to the duty of the church at that particular time, to keep "the fourth," which the Scriptures declare to be "the seventh day," and "the Sabbath of the Lord."

And although the whole decalogue was but a constitution of civil law, for the Jewish people--forever--during their nationality, yet but a small portion of the Christian church seem to have any good understanding of the distinctness of the Old Covenant from the New, and the entire abolition of the one to give force to the other; hence it was an easy matter to make proselytes among those who had found themselves in possession of many errors, which they had now abandoned, and in trial, on their disappointment, were ready to accept any plausible views presented by those who were Adventists, for Eld. W. and Miss H. retained this name, and too many thought all Advent teachers taught "the Bible doctrine." And there were "7th day Baptists" already, who, it was affirmed, had kept the 7th day, down through the Christian dispensation.

A little later, in 1846 or 1847, Eld. W. found new light and strength in his position, from Rev. 14:9, and began publishing it with much zeal. This fourth command having been for a long time neglected, or rather, understood by the church to be observed in effect, by observing the first day of the week, must be made to assume new importance; consequently it was put in a new dress with a new title, for they now named their proclamation of the fourth commandment, or, the law of the Lord, as they would call it.

The Third Angel's Message of Rev. 14:9

This was now backed up by assuming and teaching that the false cry which Eld. W. had assisted other misguided ones in proclaiming in 1843-4, viz., "come out of her my people," was truly applied to the calling of the saints out of Protestant churches. Eld. W. claimed that the Protestant churches with the Roman, constituted the Apocalyptic Babylon, and has since devoted twenty-five pages of a book to sustain it, in which he says, alluding to 1844 experience: "Everywhere among believers had been heard the solemn cry, 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen,' 'come out of her my people,' and these messages were clearly seen to be in the past.'" All will admit this to be in the past; but his reference is to the shameful and destructive work to which we have referred before, and which was proclaimed by certain ones in 1843-4.

Eld. White and others who taught the duty to keep the 7th day Sabbath claimed to be true successors of those who made the former cry; this we shall not dispute. They next appropriated God's seal, or taught that the faithful observance of the 7th day secured the "seal of God," while those who refuse to observe it must "drink of the wine of the wrath of God." It took with many of this class who had been under the cloud of fanaticism, and with some others also, for changes in the theory opened the way for accessions from without.

After traveling together among the Second Advent Societies of New England for awhile enforcing these several peculiar and startling messages, confirming them with Miss Harmon's--God sent--visions, they were united in marriage.

The notion of the "door shut" was fast dying out, and they, with others who were teachers of the law, began to promulgate the doctrine that any and all who would now embrace as truth the experience of the church on time in 1844, and acknowledge that the 2300 days ended on the tenth day of the seventh month, that year, and receive the "third angel's message"--to keep the fourth commandment--or as they had rather be understood, "keep the law of the Lord," could be saved.

Eld. White had published several of Ellen's visions on small sheets for general distribution; but as time passed on the theology of her later visions was materially different from former ones, and they were suppressed to give place to those better adapted to enforce the new theological platform which was being framed for future operations. A small paper was started by Eld. White, in Middletown, Ct., called "Present Truth;" soon after it was issued in N.Y.; a little later the title was changed to "Advent Review," and was published at South Paris, Me., then at Rochester, N.Y., and finally at Battle Creek, an appropriate name for the work. Eld. White has shown much ability as a financier and theological manager, and has done much to build up an institution, now commanding a capital of about $100,000, while he is reputed to hold also, about $25,000 worth of property of his own, although he commenced without any capital. This was the process of generating and shaping a new system under the title of "Seventh-day Adventism," which by a new classification and application of certain Scriptures has been gradually maturing and being confirmed by frequent visions, with which Mrs. White was favored; but these visions as published now are greatly in conflict with those which acquaintances and witnesses in New England were accustomed to hear from her lips, after recovering from her clairvoyant state, or to read on sheets as published at first, by Eld. White. However, they are called by their adherents, "as true as the Bible." With these beginnings a sect has been founded, and through persevering efforts, and "visions," a system of dictatorial ecclesiastical government has been established for a class of believers in the Advent near, who have taken the name of "Seventh-day Adventists."

Many have joined them from other churches; they are quite numerous and have some able preachers and writers of their views, and many worthy Christian members, who would not believe the historical sketch we have given, "though a man declare it unto them," as their older teachers have insidiously labored to keep it from them and constantly denied these facts which we have recorded. We should have gladly passed over it could we have done so in justice to the cause we are tracing in history. Many of those who observe the seventh-day Sabbath, however, have repudiated the visions, after some experience, as an imposition, instead of acknowledging them of divine origin and authority for church government, while others never accepted them. Each of these classes are repudiated by the society in return. They have a large printing establishment, under a sympathetic arrangement worthy of imitation by the Second Advent body.

We find in Eld. White's "Life Incidents" a long and labored effort to sustain those who embraced the "door-shut" views, instead of commending them for confessing they were wrong. Then another labored effort, which he has been making for almost thirty years, to prove from "Scripture and experience" that the Lord Jesus did change his relation to the church by an official act, on the tenth day of the seventh Jewish month, 1844, and that he opened the door and went in to the "holy of holies" to offer atonement for his people on that day. This argument alone is enough to show a disordered brain or a fanatical faith, without any other knowledge of him. According to the writings of Elder White, in his "Life Incidents," he claims for himself and followers to be the true progressive descendents of the original stock of Adventists; that while the great mass of believers fell from their position and "drew back toward perdition," in 1844, "in denying their experience" (but properly, admitting their errors), he and his have been going on to perfection on the old track!!! We think his claim almost as clear as Pius IX. can show to the chair of Peter and infallibility.

But really, the "Life Incidents" contains much of the errors of Adventists glorified as truths. A wonderful account of "fanaticism," by one who was as deeply in it as any in Maine, and who, with his consort, became leaders in one of its chief phases. His statement on this matter reminds us of the inebriate who staggered through the street badly intoxicated and then entered the complaint that every one in the street staggered; that he posts and trees ran against him. The book also contains many statements of "incidents" which appear, to many of us who knew them in their native dress and simplicity, very strange and singularly stated. Some of them remind us of Don Quixote, which we read in our younger days, while others appear like a woman in full dress of modern style, so changed that the natural is lost in the artificial.

But we are reminded that in the course of singular events in history a book has been published to "vindicate" James and Ellen in their remarkable career. In this book much talent is displayed, greatly to their advantage in the eyes of strangers to the actors. Here we find it stated of Eld. White thus: "The fanaticism and strange delusions that arose during the confusion that followed 1844 he was disconnected form and opposed to. He is not, therefore, to be associated with, or held responsible for, anything of that nature." If this were true then the Christian people of Maine would need a new dictionary to inform them of the proper definition of fanaticism. As to the morals of Eld. W. and wife, their misstatements aside, we have nothing to say. The Lord knows; we make no pretensions. This would be changing the issue from fanaticism to morals. In another effort to vindicate Eld. White and wife from the charge of fanaticism, statements are profusely made, and regularly certified by a long list of names, that they were "not fanatics," and that they did much to avert and cure fanaticism in New England. The most of these signers were as deeply in fanaticism as themselves; some were leading ones. But signers who had not been personally associated in the fanaticism being scarce, to certify in these prepared papers, the names of two young ladies (perhaps more) are added, who, at the time specified for the events, were aged, respectively, nine and fourteen years. Prodigies in intellect and judgment, surely, or, perhaps, endowed with the "gift of discerning spirits." But it is no difficult task to procure the names of partisans, associates, accomplices, their children, cousins, and aunts, to certify one's rectitude, sanity, or orthodoxy. It is more safe and important, however, to have a good "record in heaven."

In the above historical sketch we make no attempt to show that it is not duty to observe the seventh day Sabbath; that is question we are not arguing here. With those who sincerely think it duty to do so we have no quarrel, although we think and teach differently, and may in another place show why, if we find room.

Had the following wise admonition of Mr. Miller been heeded by these young aspiring zealots, the above unpleasant events would have never been furnished for this chapter of sad occurrences. He had said in an address to all, "I beseech you, my dear brethren, be careful that Satan get no advantage over you by scattering coals of wild-fire among you, for, if he cannot drive you into unbelief and doubt, he will try his wild-fire of fanaticism and speculation to get us from the word of God. Be watchful and sober, and hope to the end for the grace that shall be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

Category: Shut Door
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