National Sunday Law: Fact or Fiction?   2nd Edition

Chapter 1

Its Strange Origins

By Dirk Anderson, 2022

    In order to understand the origin of the National Sunday Law, one must go back to the turbulent 1840s. This was an era of unprecedented religious controversy in the Northeastern United States. The controversy centered around the timing of Christ's return. It all began when a farmer-turned-preacher named William Miller set out on a campaign to warn communities in his region that, according to his calculations of Bible prophecies, Christ's return was imminent. As Miller's popularity grew, other end-time revivalist preachers jumped on the band-wagon to spread the cry of alarm. Although Miller and his associates suffered a serious setback when Christ failed to return as predicted in 1843, it was soon discovered that a "mistake" had been made in Miller's calculations. After some debate, a new date of October 22, 1844, was finally agreed upon by Miller's colleagues. Once again, the leaders of the movement went around to whatever churches and communities would still accept them, and tried to rouse people with the warning of Christ's imminent return.

While most Christians and serious Bible students dismissed Miller as a misguided fanatic, some were impressed by his "Biblical proofs" of Christ's return in 1844. They wanted to know if the Bible had indeed set a date for Christ's return. Christians began to call upon Bible scholars to examine Miller's "proofs" to determine if they were indeed accurate. Scholars familiar with Bible prophecy and the original languages of the Bible examined Miller's fifteen "proofs" and found them to be seriously flawed. For example, in one of the proofs Miller added the 1335 days of Daniel 12 with the number 666 from Revelation 13 and somehow managed to end up with 1844.1 Scholars pointed to numerous unfulfilled biblical prophecies as proof that Christ's return was not yet imminent. They explained how Miller was standing upon dangerous ground in ignoring Christ's explicit instruction that no one knows the day of His return (Matthew 25:13).

Concerned pastors warned their flocks of the deceptions and falsehoods of Miller's teachings. As Christians became more widely aware of the serious errors in Miller's teachings, the churches began closing their doors to him and his associates. Accusations were hurled between the two groups and antagonism reared its ugly head. Millerites claimed that the non-Millerites did not want the Lord to return. The non-Millerites vehemently denied this, and derided the Millerites as delusional fanatics. Some Millerites who were members of mainstream churches made such a nuisance of themselves that their churches felt compelled to expel them from their congregations, creating animosity on both sides.

As the supposed date of Christ's return approached, the situation worsened. Millerites were scoffed at, lampooned, ridiculed, and ostracized. Hooligans released greased pigs in their camp meetings and collapsed tents on them. The Millerites became increasingly aggressive in their attacks on the churches and the clergy. Millerite leader Charles Fitch raised the level of animosity by labeling the Christian churches "Babylon":

If you are a Christian, come out of Babylon. If you intend to be found a Christian when Christ appears, come out of Babylon, and come out now...2

Although William Miller and his associates initially captured the attention of some Christians in the early 1840s, by 1843 the movement had begun to crumble. As Bible scholars exposed the errors in Miller's proofs, the tide began to turn against him and his fanatical teachings. Millerite follower Joseph Bates lamented:

Presidents and Professors of theological seminaries, learned and unlearned, ministers and laymen, religious and political newspapers, and prejudiced individuals, labored hard, by fair means and foul, to disprove what they called Miller's doctrine.3

These groups were so successful in exposing the flaws in Miller's teachings that the movement began losing momentum. Millerite efforts to recruit new adherents to the time-setting doctrine were thus stymied and Miller and his associates reacted angrily. They denounced the Christian churches as "fallen Babylon," falsely accused them of not desiring Christ to return, and withdrew themselves from the Christian churches and began meeting in homes and rented halls. Bitter animosity blossomed between the two groups with each side deserving part of the blame for the ensuing hostility.

As the projected date for Christ's return approached, many Millerites sold their farms and businesses and poured their life's savings into the Millerite mission to spread the message of Christ's soon return. By October 22, 1844, the movement had managed to garner close to fifty thousand followers, almost entirely in the northeastern United States. As with all fanatical movements, this movement appears to have held a special attraction for the uneducated, the young, and those prone to follow after the latest religious excitement.

When October 22, 1844, came and went without the return of Christ, Miller's followers were severely disappointed. Many suffered financial loss and ruin. Many had sold their means of making a livelihood or spent their life's savings to spread the message. Now they were poor, destitute, and miserable. There were some who were so devastated that they committed suicide. The movement disintegrated and Miller finally admitted he was in error. Some of his followers gave up faith in Christ altogether. Some ended up in mental institutions. Others gradually began returning to their former churches in shame and humiliation. However, there was a small group that refused to return to their former churches for various reasons. Some were not ready to swallow their pride and return to churches they had so recently condemned as being synagogues of Satan. Some did not desire to face the censure and reprimands of their former brethren. The former Millerites who did not give up the faith, and who did not return to their former churches, began forming their own churches which eventually became known as the Adventist churches.

The split between the "Adventists" and the "non-Adventists" would form the foundation upon which the Sunday law teaching would later be built. After the Disappointment, the Adventists needed an issue upon which they could differentiate themselves from the other Christian denominations whom they had so recently labeled to be Babylon. Originally, the dividing issue had been that non-Adventists did not believe in Christ's imminent return in 1844. However, after Miller admitted his mistake, that issue lost momentum. What else could differentiate the Adventists from the non-Adventists? What reason could they think of for staying separated? It was here that Joseph Bates stepped in and made his mark in Adventist history, devising a doctrine which would eventually lead to the National Sunday Law teaching.

Joseph Bates, Father of the Sunday Law

Joseph Bates was a former sea captain residing in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. After attending a meeting where he heard Miller give his fifteen proofs of Christ's imminent return, Bates adopted the doctrine and began advocating it. After the Disappointment, Bates led a small cell of disheartened fellow Adventists in Fairhaven. Bates grappled with the Disappointment, trying to understand how Miller and his associates could have been so wrong. Although having no formal training in the principles of biblical interpretation, he began studying Bible prophecy hoping to discover some further truth that Miller had missed. In his studies, Bates took an unorthodox approach that differed widely from traditional biblical scholars. For example, Bates took non-prophetic passages of the Old Testament and "discovered" end-time prophecies hidden in those passages. Like other Adventists of his day, he also assumed that the Book of Revelation was unfolding in the events of the Millerite movement.

During this time of deep study, Bates learned about Saturday being the Sabbath from a tract written by a Millerite preacher named Thomas M. Preble.4 When Bates learned the true day of worship was Saturday, not Sunday, he finally discovered what he believed to be a credible reason for why Adventists should remain separated from the other Christian churches. The Adventists had been separated from the influence of the Christian churches so that they could more readily adopt the Sabbath doctrine of the Seventh Day Baptists. Bates came to believe that God was giving the Adventists a brief probationary period before his return in order for them to be tested on whether or not they would keep the seventh day Sabbath.

Joseph Bates and the Shut Door

By 1845, the Adventists began splintering into separate groups. The main group of Adventists, which included Miller and most of the former Millerite leaders, continued to keep Sunday and adopted the doctrine of soul-sleep in death. This group later became the Advent Christian Church. There were also a few scattered groups that adopted the Sabbath doctrine. Most of these groups later joined together to form the Church of God (seventh day). Finally, there was one small group of Sabbath-keepers, led by Joseph Bates, that became known as the "shut door Adventists." After the Disappointment, many Adventists believed that Christ had shut a door of salvation to those who rejected Miller's message (Matt. 25:10). They believed they were in a lingering time, and they still believed that Christ would return imminently. However, after Miller admitted his mistake and repudiated the shut door teaching, nearly all Adventists abandoned that doctrine. However, Bates and his followers were one of the few groups that continued to hold to the hardline position that any Christian who rejected William Miller's time-setting message was permanently and irretrievably lost.

From his biblical studies, Bates became convinced that the door of salvation had been permanently shut on all those who rejected Miller's message. Bates began teaching this doctrine to other groups of Adventists. These groups would later develop into the Seventh-day Adventist sect. In 1847, Bates published a book in which he quotes Miller:

We have done our work in warning sinners and trying to awake a formal church. God in his providence has shut the door. We can only stir one another up to be patient. Never since the days of the Apostles has there been such a division line drawn, as was drawn about the 10th, or 23d day of the 7th Jewish month. Since that time they say 'they have no confidence in us.' We have now need of patience after we have done the will of God, that we may receive the promise; for he says, 'Behold I come quickly, to reward every one as his work shall be.'5

Even though by the time Bates published this quote Miller had long since repudiated the idea that a door was shut and freely admitted it was a mistake, Bates continued to hold that there was a division line drawn between the Adventists and non-Adventists. He believed that the Adventists were the only ones who could be saved and the door of salvation had been shut to the Christian churches who had rejected Miller. Like Fitch, Bates regarded the "nominal churches" as part of the false religion of Babylon:

And last, the cry is made in the Protestant churches, 'Come out of her, my people.' What is now the response? Thousands on thousands dissolve their connection, and out they come, under the full conviction that this loud cry is to them, and the churches which they are leaving are fallen Babylon, because they have rejected the message which preceded this. 'The hour of his judgment is come.' Their houses which they have closed against this second advent message, are left unto them desolate. God has left them in their own confusion. ... The advent doctrine was the last, and crowning test which God ever gave his people to come away and separate themselves from all unrighteous unbelievers.6

Bates' bitter animosity against the mainstream Protestant churches is evident as he uses the derisive terms "desolate," "confusion," and "unrighteous" to describe them. Amazingly, Bates decreed the Protestant churches to be Babylon simply because they rejected a message that even the originator of the message admitted was a falsehood! In essence, Bates was claiming the Protestant churches were lost because they rejected a false teaching!

Bates continued to hold to the heretical belief that non-Adventists could not be saved after October 22, 1844, and that all labor for lost souls should cease. Like all of the "shut door" brethren, he made no personal effort to save lost souls. In 1847, he wrote:

"Here then of course ended the 2300 days of the vision, because there is to be a tarrying after. Don't forget this, neither. 'For at the time appointed the end shall be.' Here too ended our last work in warning the world; and our labor ceased. Why? Because the messages ceased, and left us entirely destitute of labor. And there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour, a whole week or seven and a half days. Here we say our glorious High Priest began the cleansing of the sanctuary, and 'received his kingdom, dominion, and glory,' the 'New Jerusalem.'"7

In Leviticus, Bates discovered that on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest dipped his finger in blood seven times to "cleanse" and "hallow" the children of Israel (Leviticus 16:19). Bates was apparently unaware that the Hebrew word for "times" refers to occurrences, not duration (Strong's H6471). Assuming this verse to mean time, Bates seized upon it as the cornerstone of his shut door doctrine. Applying the biblical prophetic year-day principle to the "seven times," Bates calculated the Adventists were in a seven-year period during which they could be cleansed and hallowed, but only if they adopted the Sabbath doctrine. Thus, he concluded the door of salvation would remain shut for seven years, from 1844 to 1851. At the conclusion of that seven years, in October of 1851, Christ would return to take home those Adventists who had accepted the Sabbath, which he labeled the Seal of God. Here is how he describes this doctrine in his book:

"The seven spots of blood on the Golden Altar and before the mercy seat, I fully believe, represent 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 the atonement for the soul' (Lev. 17:11). Then the number seven will finish the day of atonement (not redemption)."8

Following in the footsteps of William Miller's questionable biblical interpretations, Bates apparently had his own methods of interpreting the Bible which remain a mystery to this day. Regardless of how Bates' concluded that those "seven spots of blood" on the altar were seven years, he now had the basic theology in place to establish the Sabbath as the differentiating mark between the true Israel of God and Babylon. For seven years Adventists would be "tested" on the Sabbath, and this test would determine who received the Seal of God and who received the Mark of the Beast. Bates claimed:

...this message was urged on God's people, to test their sincerity and honesty in the whole word of God...9

At the culmination of this seven-year period, in 1851, Christ would return to the earth. Those who accepted the Sabbath, and thereby had received the "Seal of God," would be saved. Those Adventists who rejected the Sabbath would rejoin the Sunday keeping churches and receive the "Mark of the Beast." They would be lost along with all non-Christians. Bates' teachings on the Seal of God and Mark of the Beast would later become the foundation of Seventh-day Adventist doctrine on end-time events.

Bates and the end of the world

While to most candid observers there was no evidence of the imminent end of the world, Bates found evidence everywhere he looked. Like most Millerites, Bates assumed large portions of the book of Revelation were being fulfilled in the 1840s. Therefore, Bates tried his best to correlate current events to various passages of Bible prophecy. His efforts reveal how truly flawed was his understanding of Bible prophecy. In every fire, in every storm, in every disaster, he saw another sign of the end being fulfilled:

Here lies before me a pamphlet of 83 pages, entitled, the voice of God, or an account of the unparalleled Fires, Hurricanes, Floods, and Earthquakes, beginning with 1845; also Pestilence, Famine, and Crime - compiled by Thomas M. Preble. Since this work was issued at the beginning of this year, the periodicals of foreign countries and those of our own boasted happy Republic, show that these calamities among men are still increasing to a fearful extent. The inhabitants of many nations are at their wits' end.10

Bates warned that the third woe of Revelation was falling upon the world:

...and tell me if you can what all these calamities mean. If it is not the third wo [sic] that is rumbling through the nations of the earth, and hastening greatly to form its focal centre for 'such a time of trouble as never was since there was a nation.'11

Bates warned of fires...

The entire loss by fires of the last two years amounts to about 65 millions of dollars, about 45 millions in this country. In 1845, about 31 millions of dollars' worth was destroyed in something like 38 cities and towns; in a majority of cases the heart, or business part, was destroyed; besides the multitude of small fires under twenty-five thousand dollars, and also thousands of acres of woodland, probably swelling the amount to about forty millions of dollars, and according to numerous accounts, in a majority of instances they raged beyond the control of man.12

...and floods...

Sea and waves roaring. - The tremendous gales and storms of 1845, and many in '46, certainly have not been surpassed in past ages. ... Floods and inundations in 1845-6 - Since the days of Noah I believe we have no such records.13

...and, of course, earthquakes...

Earthquakes. - I will not stop here to enumerate. The Scientific American records upwards of fifty in 1846.14

...and pestilences...

Pestilence. - The Asiatic cholera, a dreadful pestilence, God's flying messenger with a drawn sword in his hand...15

As for famines, Bates turned to the apocryphal book of Esdras which he apparently believed to be inspired...

Esdras says, 'the seed shall fail through blasting and hail.' xv. same prophet says, 'provision shall be cheap, (they have been) and suddenly the sown places appear unsown, ( seed rotted under the clods,) the full storehouses suddenly be found empty.' Here is the fulfillment: hundreds on hundreds of our ships almost constantly leaving our shores, laden with provisions from the store-houses, to supply the famine in Europe. If accounts respecting the famine be true, they will continue to go until our store-houses be emptied. This is neither fancy nor fable, but history and the word of the Lord our God. The prophecy of Esdras begins to search and burn like fire.16

After reading these "fulfillments" of prophecy, it quickly becomes evident that Bates was wresting the Scriptures, trying to make the "square pegs" of current events fit into the "round holes" of Bible prophecy. There is no hiding the fact that his prophetic interpretations were slanted towards his own personal theories about Christ's imminent return rather than upon actual facts. Furthermore, it calls into question Bates' entire prophetic theology. Here are some other examples of Bates' unusual teachings on prophecy, all of which were rejected by later generations of Seventh-day Adventists:

Bates claimed the third angel's message completed in the fall of 1844:

I ask you to look back to the summer and fall of 1844, where you see the fulfillment of this 3d angel's message in a most wonderful and striking manner in almost every town and city throughout New England.17

In answering the question of why the 1844 movement (3rd angel's message) was largely restricted to the United States instead of the whole world, Bates argued that only the first angel's message went into all the world:

If you will look at the 14, ch. again, you will see that it was the first messenger only that sent his message to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.18

Bates claimed that Christ received His kingdom in 1844:

Here then is positive corroborated proof of Christ's receiving his dominion and glory and kingdom or as in the parable of the ten virgins the Bridegroom came to the marriage under the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and after the third angel's message, and before six of the seven plagues are poured out.19

Most astounding of all, Bates claimed the Sabbath could not be kept prior to 1844...

Says the reader, why did not the people 'keep the commandments of God,' as in the text, before the fall of 1844? Because the message had not been presented, nor could not be until the third angel's message (9th to 11th v.) had made this separation, for they could not keep the fourth commandment, the seventh day Sabbath, while they were united with the nominal church, (Babylon,) hence the separation.20

Bates' interpretation of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14 forces him to conclude that the keepers of the commandments of God did not exist before 1844. This ironic conclusion ignores the fact that Bates himself learned about the Sabbath from the Seventh Day Baptists, a large group of Christian Sabbath-keepers who had been presenting the "message" of the Sabbath to Sunday-keeping Christians for over a century!

Joseph Bates: Can His Prophetic Theories be Trusted?

Can Bates' interpretations of Bible prophecy be trusted? To review:

  1. He claimed that seven drops of blood on the alter in Leviticus 16 show that Adventists must go through seven years of testing on the Sabbath truth. At the conclusion of that seven years, in 1851, Christ would return to take home those Adventists who had received the Seal of God (Sabbath observance).

  2. He claimed that minor disasters that occurred in the late 1840s were signs of the imminent end of the world.

  3. He claimed the gospel message for the lost terminated in 1844, and that after that time, only former Millerites could be saved.

  4. He claimed the Sabbath could not be kept prior to 1844, along with a host of other odd teachings that later Seventh-day Adventists rejected.

In reviewing Bates' teachings, a pattern emerges of prophetic miscalculation, bungling, distortion, and outright error. It is a pattern of a man who was self-deceived about the return of Christ and the meaning of Bible prophecy. The ultimate example of Bates' delusion is found in his claim that the gospel message itself ended in 1844! The following quote should be sufficient to prove to any Christian that this man was not guided by the Spirit of God in his biblical interpretations:

"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."21

This statement is absolutely contrary to the Great Commission of Jesus. How can a man who developed such warped and perverted understanding of Bible prophecy be trusted? Yet astonishingly, Bates' teachings became the foundation upon which the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of the National Sunday Law would later develop! Any SDA will recognize that Bates' teachings about Babylon, the Sabbath, the Seal of God, the Mark of the Beast, and the "remnant" are the same prophetic teachings that form the core of modern Seventh-day Adventist teachings about Bible prophecy.22 Bates laid the foundation for the National Sunday Law teaching and later Adventists have built upon his foundation.

Naturally, these bizarre teachings generated some resistance from the Christian churches in the 1840s. This resistance was interpreted by the "shut door" Adventists as persecution and yet further evidence that the Christian denominations were fallen and lost. While Bates' theories were accepted by a few, in general, most rejected his outlandish ideas. His theories were easily shot to pieces by biblical scholars. During this period, the "shut door" Adventists gained few adherents. Bates realized he needed some help to keep his sinking theories afloat and he soon found the help he needed in the young and impressionable prophetess Ellen G. White.

Bates finds a friend

Who was Ellen White? At the time they met, she was a frail nineteen-year-old girl who had been a devoted follower of William Miller. She had serious health problems resulting from a childhood brain injury. Later, she claimed to be receiving visions from God, although many who witnessed her visions felt they were more the product of her ill health than divine inspiration. Sister White and her family were among the fanatics who had been ejected from a Methodist church in September of 1843 for causing disruptions during church services. According to the Methodist Church...

"The reason for their dismissal was not that they preached the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is a tenant of our orthodox faith which is confirmed from the Articles of Religion 1784.Their dismissal was occasioned by their breach of discipline in proclaiming the views of William Miller's time-setting. …after much quiet counsel to refrain from their disruptive behavior in church meetings the members of Chestnut Street Church took what they believed to be their only recourse, to dismiss the Harmon Family."23

Ellen White's ejection from the Methodist church, and subsequent persecution from the churches for her false beliefs, led her to the same conclusion as Bates: The Protestant churches were Babylon. Mrs. White lost no opportunity to blast the Christian preachers who had opposed Miller's time-setting:

"Many shepherds of the flock, who professed to love Jesus, said that they had no opposition to the preaching of Christ's coming, but they objected to the definite time. God's all-seeing eye read their hearts. They did not love Jesus near. They knew that their unchristian lives would not stand the test, for they were not walking in the humble path marked out by Him."24

It was not long before Ellen White and Joseph Bates had linked up in their battle against the hated Sunday-keeping churches. Although biblical evidence for Bates' teachings was severely lacking, the deficiency of inspiration was soon supplied by Sister White. She began having "visions" supporting the theories Bates had fabricated. Although the "visions" were merely repetitions of what Bates had already been promulgating, this put the prophetic seal of approval on his teachings. Bates, although initially skeptical of the young visionary, finally decided to accept the prophet whose visions so closely resembled his own writings. This symbiotic relationship proved to be a benefit to both parties. Bates finally found the inspiration his doctrines were lacking, and the Whites received a much-needed boost in their own efforts to establish Sister White's claim to be the Spirit of Prophecy (Rev. 19:10).

By 1850, after years of effort, Bates, Ellen White, and her husband James White had managed to convince several hundred Adventists that Bates' teaching about the Sabbath was God's last message to the world. However, the group fell on hard times in 1851, when Christ failed to materialize as Bates had promised. As the date approached and it became increasingly obvious Christ was not coming, the Whites began distancing themselves from Bates. When 1851 passed without event, the Bates and the Whites suffered a humiliating defeat. The Adventists began turning against Bates and the Whites. They questioned how a prophet of God could not have foreseen how Bates was so terribly wrong about the 1851 date. The Whites, disappointed that many of their followers had turned against them, decided to put some distance between Bates and themselves, and so they moved to the Midwest where they were not so well known.

While the Whites discarded Bates' teachings about the seven-year period of testing, they continued preaching that the Sabbath was the final test for mankind. Mrs. White wrote,

"The light of the Sabbath was seen, and the people of God were tested, as the children of Israel were tested anciently, to see if they would keep God's law."25

As Bates gradually faded into the background, the Whites took charge of the work and managed to gather a small following and formed the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1863. It was not long before the sect gained a reputation among other Christians. They became known for their efforts to recruit members from out of other Christian denominations. They were also known for referring to Catholicism as Babylon, and Protestants as Apostate Protestantism or the Daughters of Babylon. The Whites remained convinced that all other Christian churches were apostate because they had rejected Miller's fanatical time-setting movement. Needless to say, the Seventh-day Adventists' hostility towards other Christian denominations generated plenty of animosity between the groups. Ellen White describes her displeasure with the "fallen" Christian denominations:

"I saw that the nominal churches have fallen; that coldness and death reign in their midst."26

"The sins of the popular churches are whitewashed over. Many of the members indulge in the grossest vices and are steeped in iniquity. Babylon is fallen and has become the cage of every foul and hateful bird! The most revolting sins of the age find shelter beneath the cloak of Christianity."27

Ellen White and her angel were so upset with Sunday-keeping Christians that they were prepared to pour out the wrath of God upon them:

"I saw that since Jesus left the holy place of the heavenly sanctuary and entered within the second veil, the churches have been filling up with every unclean and hateful bird. I saw great iniquity and vileness in the churches; yet their members profess to be Christians. Their profession, their prayers, and their exhortations are an abomination in the sight of God. Said the angel, "God will not smell in their assemblies. Selfishness, fraud, and deceit are practiced by them without the reprovings of conscience. And over all these evil traits they throw the cloak of religion." I was shown the pride of the nominal churches. God is not in their thoughts; their carnal minds dwell upon themselves; they decorate their poor mortal bodies, and then look upon themselves with satisfaction and pleasure. Jesus and the angels look upon them in anger. Said the angel, "Their sins and pride have reached unto heaven. Their portion is prepared. Justice and judgment have slumbered long, but will soon awake. Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." The fearful threatenings of the third angel are to be realized, and all the wicked are to drink of the wrath of God. An innumerable host of evil angels are spreading over the whole land and crowding the churches. These agents of Satan look upon the religious bodies with exultation, for the cloak of religion covers the greatest crime and iniquity."28

In Ellen White's mind, non-SDA Christian churches were full of sin. In her mind, their worst enemies were not atheists, pagans, and infidels. Their worst enemies were Sunday-keeping Christians!

Ellen White devises National Sunday Law teaching

In the mid-1800s, there were a series of incidents where Seventh-day Adventists ran into trouble with the law because they worked on Sunday. At that time, many states had "blue laws" which forbid work on Sunday. It was against this background of persecution by the state that prophetess Ellen White described the coming persecution of Sabbath-keepers in a series of books and articles. In 1858, she wrote:

"Then I saw the leading men of the earth consulting together, and Satan and his angels busy around them. I saw a writing, copies of which were scattered in different parts of the land, giving orders that unless the saints should yield their peculiar faith, give up the Sabbath, and observe the first day of the week, the people were at liberty after a certain time to put them to death."29

In 1884, Mrs. White claimed the end-time scenario would be brought about by the "superhuman" efforts of the clergy, who prevail upon the legislators to enact laws enforcing Sunday observance, with each subsequent set of laws gradually increasing in severity:

"The clergy put forth almost superhuman efforts to shut away the light, lest it should shine upon their flocks. By every means at their command they endeavor to suppress the discussion of these vital questions. The church appeals to the strong arm of civil power, and in this work, papists are solicited to come to the help of Protestants. The movement for Sunday enforcement becomes more bold and decided. The law is invoked against commandment-keepers. ...

"In the last conflict the Sabbath will be the special point of controversy throughout all Christendom. Secular rulers and religious leaders will unite to enforce the observance of the Sunday; and as milder measures fail, the most oppressive laws will be enacted. It will be urged that the few who stand in opposition to an institution of the church and a law of the land ought not to be tolerated, and a decree will finally be issued denouncing them as deserving of the severest punishment, and giving the people liberty, after a certain time, to put them to death."30

By the late 1880s, the end appeared imminent to many Seventh-day Adventists. The reason they believed the end was so close was because a law was being considered before the United States Congress which would have made Sunday a nationally recognized holiday. In 1886, Mrs. White sounded the alarm of the soon-coming end:

"The end of all things is at hand. The time of trouble is about to come upon the people of God. Then it is that the decree will go forth forbidding those who keep the Sabbath of the Lord to buy or sell, and threatening them with punishment, and even death, if they do not observe the first day of the week as the Sabbath."31

Then, the unexpected happened. The Sunday law was defeated by Congress. While there may have been more than one reason the law was rejected, it was apparent that some in Congress felt the law would violate the separation between church and state. Besides, if the law was enacted, it would have likely been struck down by the Supreme Court. After this event, the Sunday Law movement lost steam and those supporting it gradually turned their attention to other more pressing issues. By the early 1900s, it was beginning to appear unlikely that a Sunday law was going to be passed any time in the near future. Seventh-day Adventists now had a dilemma on their hands. They needed to come up with a good explanation as to how a Sunday law could possibly be passed given the current political climate. By 1904, the former scenario of an organized movement of religious leaders pushing Sunday legislation through Congress now seemed unrealistic. Since a Sunday law appeared extremely unlikely to occur under ordinary circumstances, it was decided that there must be some extraordinary external events that trigger it. Thus, Ellen White emphasizes a scenario in which the United States is faced with a sudden, terrible crisis. In this scenario, if the United States does not act to kill the Sabbath-keepers, there will be a terrible national catastrophe:

"They will point to calamities on land and sea--to the storms of wind, the floods, the earthquakes, the destruction by fire--as judgments indicating God's displeasure because Sunday is not sacredly observed. These calamities will increase more and more, one disaster will follow close upon the heels of another; and those who make void the law of God will point to the few who are keeping the Sabbath of the fourth commandment as the ones who are bringing wrath upon the world. This falsehood is Satan's device that he may ensnare the unwary."32

During this horrific crisis the Sunday law will be justified by politicians who would, under normal circumstances, reject the law. However, in this crisis situation, they are convinced to pass a Sunday law in order to prevent the whole nation from being "thrown into confusion and lawlessness."33

While this is certainly a creative scenario, Mrs. White provided no biblical evidence for it. Neither does she explain how killing Sabbath-keepers could prevent the nation from being thrown into confusion and lawlessness. The assumption she seems to make is that political leaders stop thinking rationally during a crisis and pass laws which make no sense to anyone. While it made sense to few, if any, outside the SDA sect, the followers of Ellen White gobbled it up, believing it was a divinely inspired word from God. Not long afterward, this unlikely scenario found its way into the prophetess's major book on end-time events, the Great Controversy.

In her earlier years, Mrs. White wrote as if only "Christendom" would pass Sunday laws, but by 1888, she had changed her scenario. The scenario had been modified to include the entire world. Mrs. White wrote in her landmark book, Great Controversy:

"The powers of earth, uniting to war against the commandments of God, will decree that "all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond" (Revelation 13:16), shall conform to the customs of the church by the observance of the false Sabbath. All who refuse compliance will be visited with civil penalties, and it will finally be declared that they are deserving of death."34

This "universal" Sunday Law is further expounded upon in Mrs. White's final book published in 1917, a year following her death:

"In this our day, many of God's servants, though innocent of wrongdoing, will be given over to suffer humiliation and abuse at the hands of those who, inspired by Satan, are filled with envy and religious bigotry. Especially will the wrath of man be aroused against those who hallow the Sabbath of the fourth commandment; and at last a universal decree will denounce these as deserving of death."35

Thus, the doctrine of the Sunday Law continually evolved and changed over the years to meet the particular challenges of that generation. After the death of the prophetess Ellen White in 1915, the position of the sect on the National Sunday Law became frozen, and has remained relatively unchanged. This is understandable, since there is no longer anyone with prophetic authority in the sect to modify the teaching. Although with every passing year, the outmoded teaching becomes less and less believable, the SDA Church continues to teach the same doctrine today that was taught in the early 1900s, albeit with less fanfare and languishing enthusiasm.

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1. William Miller, 15th proof, as quoted in History of the Second Advent Believers, p. 689: “It can be proved by the numbers in Rev. xiii. 18: ‘Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six,’ connected with Daniel xii. 12, as before quoted. This text shows the number of years that Rome would exist under the blasphemous head of Paganism, after it was connected with the people of God by league; beginning B. C. 158, add 666 years, will bring us to A. D. 508, when the daily sacrifice was done away. Then add, Daniel xii. 12, the 1335 to 508, makes the year 1843.” Note: After the 1843 failure, this proof was recalculated to point to 1844.

2. Ronald Numbers and Jonathan Butler (editors), The Disappointed (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1993), p. 197.

3. Joseph Bates, The Autobiography of Elder Joseph Bates (Battle Creek MI: Steam Press, 1868), 270.

4. 1. Preble, a freewill Baptist preacher adopted Sabbath-keeping in August, 1844. Preble wrote an article on the Sabbath that appeared in a Millerite magazine named Hope of Israel on February 28, 1845.

5. William Miller, Voice of Truth, Dec. 11th, 1844, as quoted in Joseph Bates, Second Advent Waymarks and High Heaps, p. 86.

6. Joseph Bates, Ibid., p. 69, 70.

7. Ibid., p. 84.

8. Joseph Bates, The Typical and Anti-typical Sanctuary, pp. 10-13.

9. Second Advent Waymarks and High Heaps, p. 114.

10. Ibid., p. 89.

11. Ibid., p. 91.

12. Ibid., pp. 91,92.

13. Ibid., p. 92.

14. Ibid., p. 93.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., p. 122.

17. Ibid., p. 69.

18. Ibid., p. 69.

19. Ibid., p. 103,104.

20. Ibid., p. 114.

21. Second Advent Waymarks and High Heaps, p. 110.

22. Adventists continue to teach Bates' theories regarding the Sabbath, the Seal of God, the Mark of the Beast, and the "remnant" in the year 2022 as presented in their "Revelation Seminars". Many SDAs are not aware that Joseph Bates is the originator of these teachings.

23. Letter to Mr. Keith Moxon from the Chestnut Street United Methodist Church, June 3, 1988, sourced from Truth or Fables web site.

24. Ellen G. White, Early Writings, p. 233. See the entire section Early Writings, pp. 229-249.

25. Ibid., p. 254.

26. Ibid., p. 116.

27. Ellen G. White, Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 13.

28. White, Early Writings, p. 274.

29. Ibid., p. 282. First appeared in Spiritual Gifts, vol. 1 (1858), p. 201.

30. Ellen White, Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4 (1884), pp. 425, 444.

31. Ellen White, Historical Sketches, p. 156. See also "Special Testimonies on Education," p. 99: "The time is not far distant when the laws against Sunday labor will be more stringent" (Feb., 1894).

32. Ellen White, Southern Watchman, June 28, 1904. Quote originally appeared in Signs of the Times, Jan. 17, 1884.

33. Ellen White, Youth Instructor, Jul. 12, 1904: "When the Sabbath becomes the special point of controversy throughout Christendom, the persistent refusal of a small minority to yield to the popular demand will make them objects of universal execration. It will be urged that the few who stand in opposition to an institution of the church and a law of the state, ought not to be tolerated; that it is better for them to suffer than for whole nations to be thrown into confusion and lawlessness. This argument will appear conclusive; and against those who hallow the Sabbath of the fourth commandment will finally be issued a decree, denouncing them as deserving of the severest punishment, and giving the people liberty, after a certain time, to put them to death."

34. Ellen White, Great Controversy, p. 604, (1888).

35. Ellen White, Prophets and Kings, p. 512.

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