The Shut and the Open Doors

Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years Volume 1 - 1827-1862, "The Shut and the Open Doors," chap. 16, pp. 256-269. Copyright 1994 Ellen G. White Estate, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The past two chapters have told the story of the turning in the tide in the beginning days of the remnant church. On the eastern tour in the late summer of 1852, even when speaking to large audiences of those newly come to the message, James White did not hesitate to refer freely to the Advent experience of eight or ten years earlier and lead his listeners into an understanding of the "shut door." It is very clear from the context of his many references to the shut door that the term in 1851 and 1852 had quite a different connotation from what it did in 1844, 1845, 1846. In the intervening years it had undergone a gradual but important change in significance.

Because the development of an understanding of the matter was gradual, statements made in retrospect put the shut door in an easily grasped setting. A knowledge of the experience of the pioneers through the years 1844 to 1851 places the question in its true light.

Ellen G. White Looks Back

In the years 1874, 1883, and 1884, Ellen White looked back and recounted the history in which the shut-door teaching figured, and commented upon it. We present first her published statement appearing in The Spirit of Prophecy , volume 4, published in 1884.

After the passing of the time of expectation, in 1844, Adventists still believed the Saviour's coming to be very near; they held that they had reached an important crisis, and that the work of Christ as man's intercessor before God had ceased. Having given the warning of the judgment near, they felt that their work for the world was done, and they lost their burden of soul for the salvation of sinners, while the bold and blasphemous scoffing of the ungodly seemed to them another evidence that the Spirit of God had been withdrawn from the rejecters of His mercy. All this confirmed them in the belief that probation had ended, or, as they expressed it, "the door of mercy was shut."--4SP, p. 268.

The chapter closes with these words:

The passing of the time in 1844 was followed by a period of great trial to those who still held the Advent faith. Their only relief, so far as ascertaining their true position was concerned, was the light which directed their minds to the sanctuary above. As has been stated, Adventists were for a short time united in the belief that the door of mercy was shut. This position was soon abandoned.

Some renounced their faith in their former reckoning of the prophetic periods, and ascribed to human or satanic agencies the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit which had attended the Advent movement. Another class firmly held that the Lord had led them in their past experience; and as they waited and watched and prayed to know the will of God, they saw that their great High Priest had entered upon another work of ministration, and, following Him by faith, they were led to understand also the closing work of the church, and were prepared to receive and give to the world the warning of the third angel of Revelation 14.[* SEE ALSO GC, PP. 428-432, FOR A SIMILAR STATEMENT.] -- Ibid ., pp. 271, 272.

The reader of this chapter, "An Open and a Shut Door," is referred to an appendix note, most likely written by J. H. Waggoner. We quote a portion of it:

Note 6. Page 268.--Almost all Adventists, including Mr. Miller, did, for a short time after their disappointment in 1844, believe that the world had received its last warning. They could hardly think otherwise, with their faith in the message which they had given--"the hour of his judgment is come." Revelation 14:6, 7. They naturally thought that this proclamation must close the dispensation. They were as unable to find their bearings at once as were the disciples when their Lord, whom they had hailed as their king coming to His throne, was crucified and buried. In both cases they were unable to comprehend their terrible disappointment.

But the idea that the work of the gospel was finished was soon renounced, except by some fanatical ones who would neither be counseled nor receive instruction. But most of those who renounced it, and yet retained their faith in the work, continued to believe that they who clearly saw the light of the Heaven-sent warning and persistently rejected it were rejected of the Lord. There is no more fanaticism in that than there is in the common belief that those obdurate Jews who continued to reject the light of the advanced truth sent to that generation, were rejected of God.-- Ibid ., p. 499. (Italics supplied.)

The note then deals with the experience of the early Sabbathkeeping Adventists and their acceptance of the sanctuary truth and an understanding of the message of the third angel. It closes with a statement that is well supported elsewhere in this volume:

Among the first who taught the third message and the open door was the author of this book [E. G. White]. By her untiring zeal, her earnest appeals, and the clear light of the testimony which she bore, she did much to advance the cause, to correct the errors of fanaticism, to renew the hopes of the desponding, and to cheer the hearts of the "little flock" who loved the appearing of their soon-coming Saviour.-- Ibid ., p. 500.

Positive Denial of the False Charge

Another retrospective Ellen G. White declaration was penned in August, 1874. It deals with a charge made by Miles Grant, a first-day Adventist minister, that she had declared on the basis of the visions that probation for the world had closed:

Dear Brother Loughborough:
I hereby testify in the fear of God that the charges of Miles Grant, of Mrs. Burdick, and others published in the Crisis are not true. The statements in reference to my course in '44 are false. With my brethren and sisters, after the time passed in '44 I did believe no more sinners would be converted. But I never had a vision that no more sinners would be converted. And am clear and free to state no one has ever heard me say or has read from my pen statements which will justify them in the charges they have made against me upon this point.

It was on my first journey east to relate my visions [mid-February, 1845] that the precious light in regard to the heavenly sanctuary was opened before me and I was shown the open and shut door. We believed that the Lord was soon to come in the clouds of heaven. I was shown that there was a great work to be done in the world for those who had not had the light and rejected it. Our brethren could not understand this with our faith in the immediate appearing of Christ.

Some accused me of saying that my Lord delayeth His coming, especially the fanatical ones. I saw that in '44 God had opened a door and no man could shut it, and shut a door and no man could open it. Those who rejected the light which was brought to the world by the message of the second angel went into darkness, and how great was that darkness.

I never have stated or written that the world was doomed or damned. I never have under any circumstances used this language to anyone, however sinful. I have ever had messages of reproof for those who used these harsh expressions.--Letter 2, 1874 (see also 1SM, p. 74).

Explained Further as a Charge is Answered in 1883

In 1883 Ellen White wrote at length on the subject in answer to a charge brought against her that her visions taught that probation closed for the world in 1844. It is one of the few statements written by her in her own defense: Click here to read statement

Developing Perception on Ellen White's Part

Three or four decades after the experience, Ellen White could look back and see the full significance of the light given her that guarded against a very restrictive stance on the shut door, but it seems clear that in her early experience the full application of the visions was not at first fully perceived. From the light given her in 1844 in her first vision, there were 144,000 "living saints" who would greet their Lord at His second coming (EW, p. 15). The records indicate only 50,000 to 100,000 were awaiting His coming in 1844. As noted earlier, in the summer of 1845, Ellen Harmon was at Paris, Maine, some months before she had ever written the account of her first vision. She there took a stance quite distinct from those who held extreme views on the shut-door question. Marion C. Stowell (Truesdail) brought to her the particulars of the experience of a young woman, a close friend, whose father had prevented her from attending the Advent meetings and consequently had not rejected light. In a statement attested to by four others who were present, Ellen is reported to have replied:

God never has shown me that there is no salvation for such persons. It is only those who have had the light of truth presented to them and knowingly rejected it.--RH, April 7, 1885.

It is indisputable that there were a few years in which Ellen herself did not understand the full significance of the "shut door" and "open door." This is evidenced in a very valuable letter only recently come to light written by Otis Nichols to William Miller on April 20, 1846, and quoted from in chapter 5. To reach accurate final conclusions on the matter, all available sources must be taken into account.

A Term with a Changing Meaning

One point is certain: The term shut door was employed through the period of 1845 to 1852 with a gradually changing and broadening significance. Through most of that period it referred primarily to confidence in the fulfillment of prophecy on October 22, 1844. As pointed out by Ellen White, those who did hold such confidence were known for a time for their shut-door views. A vision or two and several experiences opened the eyes of the pioneers and aided them eventually in reaching sound views of their relation to the shut door.

In November, 1848, the vision given at the home of Otis Nichols calling for publishing the Sabbath truth indicated that there was a work before the pioneers that would spread the Sabbath message like streams of light all around the world. Then early the next year there was a more specific vision.

Vision of the Open and Shut Door

On March 24, 1849, a vision of an open and a shut door was given to Ellen White. This is referred to by some of the early church workers as a repetition of the vision at Exeter, Maine, in mid-February, 1845. Many of the same points are dealt with. She saw Jesus transfer His ministry from the holy place in the heavenly sanctuary to the Most Holy Place, closing one door and opening another. As Ellen White wrote of this vision to Leonard and Elvira Hastings, she referred to the fact that there were those at Paris, Maine, who had given up the "shut door." In other words, they had abandoned their confidence in the fulfillment of prophecy on October 22, 1844. Reference has been made to this in chapter 10.

She wrote of what was revealed to her in this vision:

I saw the commandments of God and shut door could not be separated. I saw the time for the commandments of God to shine out to His people was when the door was opening in the inner apartment of the heavenly sanctuary in 1844. Then Jesus rose up and shut the door in the outer apartment and opened the door in the inner apartment and passed into the Most Holy Place, and the faith of Israel now reaches within the second veil where Jesus now stands by the ark.

I saw that Jesus had shut the door in the holy place and no man can open it, and that He had opened the door in the Most Holy Place and no man can shut it; and that since Jesus had opened the door in the Most Holy Place the commandments have been shining out and God has been testing His people on the holy Sabbath.--Letter 5, 1849.

The account of the vision continues. As given in the letter, it parallels very closely the account given in Early Writings, pages 42-45, in the chapter "The Open and the Shut Door." Attention should be given to the closing paragraph:

I saw that the mysterious signs and wonders and false reformations would increase and spread. The reformations that were shown me were not reformations from error to truth. My accompanying angel bade me look for the travail of soul for sinners as used to be. I looked, but could not see it; for the time for their salvation is past.--EW, p. 45.

The pattern is developing. Truths are opening up. Standing out are the Sabbath and the understanding of the sanctuary in heaven. Inseparably linked with this is confidence in the fulfillment of prophecy concerning October 22, 1844. Referring to the passage quoted above, Ellen White wrote in 1854:

The "false reformations" referred to on page 27 are yet to be more fully seen. This view relates more particularly to those who have heard and rejected the light of the Advent doctrine. They are given over to strong delusions. Such will not have "the travail of soul for sinners" as formerly. Having rejected the Advent, and being given over to the delusions of Satan, "the time for their salvation is past." This does not, however, relate to those who have not heard and have not rejected the doctrine of the Second Advent.-- Supplement to the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White , p. 4. (see also EW, p. 45).

Labor for Sinners During the Shut-Door Period of 1845 to 1851

We now introduce several exhibits giving evidence that James and Ellen White did, as there were opportunities (limited as they might be), work for sinners through the years between 1845 and 1851.

Reference has just been made to Ellen Harmon's experience in Paris, Maine, in the summer of 1845, as reported by Mrs. Truesdail.

J. N. Loughborough, in an article in the Review and Herald dated September 25, 1866, makes reference to the vision given to Ellen White in Exeter, Maine, in mid-February, 1845, and states:

Brother White went on to show that it was the visions that led them out of the extreme view of the shut door. . . . Instead of leading them to cease to labor for the unconverted, it led them to labor for those who are now Brother and Sister Patch of Minnesota.

Hiram Patch and his fiancee were not in the Advent movement of 1843-1844. Their experience is related in chapter 11.

Experience of Heman Churchill (July, 1850)

The Advent Review , volume 1, number 1, published in August, 1850, at Auburn, New York, carries a report from James White entitled "Our Tour East." Meetings were held at Johnson, Vermont, on July 6 and 7, with "quite a number of scattered brethren and sisters present" (AR, August, 1850).

We left the brethren in that vicinity, strong in the "commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." One brother, who had not been in the Advent, and had made no public profession of religion until 1845, came out clear and strong on the whole truth. He had never opposed the Advent, and it is evident that the Lord had been leading him, though his experience had not been just like ours. Such, who come into the truth at the eleventh hour, may expect great trials.-- Ibid .

George I. Butler remembered the meeting and identified the man as Heman Churchill, of Stowe, Vermont, a man whose name appears often in reports of the progress of the cause. Butler writes:

His was one of the very first cases of conversion from the world to the present truth, which occurred after 1844. . . . I remember him well as he came to Waterbury, Vermont, and attended meeting in my father's house, where a few met from time to time. They were quite surprised at first that one who had been an unbeliever should manifest an interest in the Advent doctrine. He was not repulsed but welcomed. He was earnest and zealous, and as they discerned in him sincerity, they accepted him as a true convert.--RH, April 7, 1885.

J. H. Waggoner Recalls His Experience

Writing in 1883, J. H. Waggoner made reference to his own experience, much like Heman Churchill's, and wrote:

I have before me the report of a meeting held in Vermont, signed Joseph Bates, dated Fairhaven, November 4, 1850. In the last paragraph the report says:

"The two Brothers Martin and their companions, with two others in Bennington, professed their clear convictions of the seventh-day Sabbath and shut door."

This, then, was noted as an article of their faith as late as 1850. But now notice further. In this same report he says: "Brother and Sister Butler came from Waterbury with Brethren Chamberlain and Churchill." And yet Brother Churchill was not in the first message; his first Advent experience was in the faith of the third angel's message, the Sabbath, and the shut door! It is also true that Brother Churchill was held off for a time by some who were in doubt about his case, but Sister White had a message of hope for him , which silenced the objections of all who had confidence in the visions. . . . The visions were the means of bringing them out to the faith of an open door as well as the shut door.--RH Supplement , Aug. 14, 1883.

In a "Conference Address" published in the Review and Herald of June 11, 1861, signed by J. H. Waggoner and several others, Waggoner made a veiled reference to his own experience. Apparently the penman for the group, he was identified by Ellen White in her 1883 statement as found in Selected Messages , book 1, page 64. Note the reference, penned by Waggoner, to the "shut door" in this 1861 "Conference Address":

If we go back to a period of from six to nine years, we find the believers in the third angel's message, few in number,very much scattered, and in no place assuming to take the name of a church. Our views of the work before us were then mostly vague and indefinite, some still retaining the idea adopted by the body of Advent believers in 1844, with William Miller at their head, that our work for "the world" was finished, and that the message was confined to those of the original Advent faith. So firmly was this believed that one of our number [Waggoner himself] was nearly refused the message, the individual presenting it having doubts of the possibility of his salvation because he was not in "the '44 move."--RH, June 11, 1861.

Ellen White, quoting this in her 1883 statement, added:

To this I need only add, that in the same meeting in which it was urged that the message could not be given to this brother, a testimony was given me through vision to encourage him to hope in God and give his heart fully to Jesus, which he did then and there.--MS 4, 1883 (see also 1SM, p. 64).

The Patch, Churchill, and Waggoner experiences, and the experience reported by Marion Stowell, provide a few of how the pioneers related themselves to the opening door.

A Review of 1851 Developments

We have pointed out that God could lead His people only as fast as they could grasp unfolding truth and follow intelligently. This leading is found in His Word, in His messages to the prophets, and in transpiring circumstances. All three played a part in the developments of 1851, but circumstances played a leading role. Ellen White described conditions in 1850:

In 1850 my husband and I visited Vermont, Canada, New Hampshire, and Maine. The meetings were held in private houses. It was then next to impossible to obtain access to unbelievers . The disappointment in 1844 had confused the minds of many, and they would not listen to any explanation of the matter.--RH, Nov. 20, 1883. (Italics supplied.)

But by 1851 a change was taking place. In the Review and Herald James White could report:

Now the door is open almost everywhere to present the truth, and many are prepared to read the publications who have formerly had no interest to investigate.-- Ibid ., Aug. 19, 1851.

This change in the situation that now provided circumstances favorable for the heralding of the three angels' messages was indeed welcome. During the seven years since the great Disappointment there had come onto the stage of action an increasing number of those who in 1844 were children and had not yet reached the age of accountability. Added to these were many who had not taken a decided stand against the truths presented in the great Advent Awakening, and with the fading memory of the 1844 experience were now ready to listen.

It is apparent that James and Ellen White had been in the lead in advocating an open door to salvation on the part of those who had not rejected the message in 1844. A basic factor in this was the visions given to Ellen White.

It took time for most to come into an understanding of all the involvements in the shut door--the door of mercy for all the world; the open and shut door in the heavenly sanctuary; the door that closed for those who had rejected the clear Advent preaching of the 1840s; the door open to youth who had not attained the age of accountability; the door open to those who had not heard and rejected the Advent preaching in the Millerite awakening.

Criticism of Deletions from the First Vision

As already noted, the record of Ellen White's first vision appeared in several forms before taking its place in her first book in 1851. As first written out by her on December 20, 1845, in a personal letter to Enoch Jacobs, editor of the Day-Star , she stated that it was not written for publication in his journal but for his personal benefit. However, at the request of friends he published it in the issue of January 24, 1846. James White and H. S. Gurney took it from the Day-Star and had it printed in a broadside on April 6, 1846. On May 30, 1847, James White included it in his little pamphlet A Word to the "Little Flock ," adding Scripture references. From there it was drawn into the Review Extra of July 21, 1851, and then in her first book, Experience and Views , published in August, 1851. It was introduced in the two 1851 printings by her significant statement that "more recent views have been more full. I shall therefore leave out a portion and prevent repetition.--Page 9. The major deletion is of materials descriptive of what she saw in heaven, especially the temple, a description similar to that of the vision of April 3, 1847, in which the Sabbath was confirmed. The other deletion, one that has attracted attention, relates to those who took their eyes off Jesus and fell from the path to "the wicked world below." At this point in her letter to Jacobs, editor of the Day- Star , she wrote:

It was just as impossible for them to get on the path again and go to the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected. They fell all the way along the path one after another." (See also A Word to the "Little Flock ," p. 14.)[* A FACSIMILE COPY OF THIS LITTLE PAMPHLET IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE AT ADVENTIST BOOK CENTERS, AND THE TEXT IS REPRODUCED IN F. D. NICHOL'S ELLEN G. WHITE AND HER CRITICS, PP. 561-584.]

It was not until some thirty years after the publication of Experience and Views in 1851 that question was raised concerning the deletion, in a pamphlet published by a group made up of those who had withdrawn from Seventh-day Adventists because of church organization and the Spirit of Prophecy. These formed the Church of God (Seventh Day), in Marion, Iowa. In this pamphlet Ellen White was accused of suppressing materials she did not wish to come before the public. Not often did she turn aside from her routine work to answer her critics, but on this occasion she did, in a statement on file as Manuscript 4, 1883, now found in Selected Messages , book 1, pages 59-73. She introduced her explanation of the charges thus:

My attention has recently been called to a sixteen-page pamphlet published by C [A. C. Long], of Marion, Iowa, entitled Comparison of the Early Writings of Mrs. White With Later Publications . The writer states that portions of my earlier visions, as first printed, have been suppressed in the work recently published under the title Early Writings of Mrs. E. G. White , and he conjectures as a reason for such suppression that these passages teach doctrines now repudiated by us as a people. . . .

The first quotation mentioned by C is from a pamphlet of twenty-four pages published in 1847, entitled A Word to the "Little Flock ." Here are the lines omitted in Experience and Views:

"It was just as impossible for them [those that gave up their faith in the '44 movement] to get on the path again and go to the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected. They fell all the way along the path one after another." . . .

It is claimed that these expressions prove the shut-door doctrine, and that this is the reason of their omission in later editions. But in fact they teach only that which has been and is still held by us as a people.

It is in this setting, as noted earlier in this chapter, that she explained that "all who saw the light of the first and second angels' messages and rejected that light were left in darkness" and also those who later "renounced their faith and pronounced their experience a delusion, thereby rejecting the Spirit of God." These she contrasted with "those who did not see the light" and "had not the guilt of its rejection." Then she declared:

These two classes are brought to view in the vision--those who declared the light which they had followed a delusion, and the wicked of the world who, having rejected the light, had been rejected of God. No reference is made to those who had not seen the light, and therefore were not guilty of its rejection .--MS 4, 1883 (see also 1SM, pp. 59-64). (Italics supplied.)

As attention is focused on phrases in the first written account of the vision, it is proper to point out that in the letter that Jacobs published Ellen would naturally condense the presentation and confine the written statement to just the essential features. At the same time, she would write with much less painstaking than would ordinarily be required in preparing material for publication. This she soon discovered, as is evidenced by her explanations that she added to her first book in 1852. She had discovered that in writing for print great care must be taken to phrase the message in such a way that none might misunderstand the intent.

A point of considerable significance must not be overlooked, and that is, a few months before these words were penned, Ellen Harmon in Paris, Maine, had made it clear that from what God had shown her there was opportunity for the salvation of a person who had not heard and rejected the first angel's message. This, and the absence of statements declaring the extreme shut-door position, would guard against reading into the phrases in question the interpretation of probation's close for the world generally in 1844.

Why Were the Lines Omitted in 1851?

It may be asked, then, why were the three lines omitted from the printing of the vision in 1851 in Mrs. White's first book? In introducing the vision in the book, she gives a very general reason for all omission--space and repetition of subject matter. This would apply more to the paragraphs descriptive of the new earth than the three lines in question. As to the statement embodied in them, the author herself had the right, even the responsibility, to choose content and wording for her book that would correctly convey what was revealed to her. If there were phrases that were capable of distortion or interpretation to mean that which she did not intend to teach, she had the privilege and even the duty of handling the matter in such a way that the printed account would correctly reflect her intentions.

Again, one must not overlook Ellen White's reference to the "144,000 living saints" and her later explanation of what she meant by the "shut door." One must be alert to other evidences that indicate she did not hold the extreme view of no salvation for sinners, either at the time she wrote the letter to Enoch Jacobs on December 20, 1845, or in 1851, when her first book was published.

In the light of developing history, what to some may at first have seemed perplexing becomes clear and evinces God's gentle but certain leading of His children in difficult times. Fuller documentation and explanation in the form of a sixty-nine-page document titled Ellen G. White and the Shut-Door Question--The Experience of Early Seventh-day Adventist Believers in Its Historical Context , prepared by the author in 1971, is available for more detailed study.
[* COPIES MAY BE SECURED FROM THE Ellen G. White Estate OR THE SDA ELLEN G. WHITE RESEARCH CENTERS.] An exhaustive statement also appears in F. D. Nichol's Ellen G. White and Her Critics , pages 161-252.

Category: Shut Door
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