Extensive Overview of the Shut Door
By Maurice Barnett
The "Shut Door" Defined and then Re-Defined
Though Jesus had been expected to return on October 22, 1844, the failure did not deter the Millerites for long. They decided that the date was correct, just the event was wrong, a course the Jehovah's Witnesses would take concerning the failure of the Lord's return in 1914. The Millerites decided that on that date Jesus entered the second compartment of the heavenly sanctuary and began an "INVESTIGATIVE JUDGMENT" of His people. This period would be of very short duration, hence their expectation of His soon coming. In keeping with all of this, during that short period the opportunity for salvation for the world was over; there was no way anyone could be saved other than the small group of Adventists who had accepted the Millerite message and the "midnight cry." This was known as the SHUT DOOR. Upon this theorizing all other peculiarly SDA positions rest. Yet, even after the "shut door" was given up, the positions that came from it were kept.
William Miller, who started the movement, had predicted the second coming of Jesus for sometime "about the year 1843," but set no exact day in that period of time. It was thought to be at some point between March 21st, 1843 and the same date in 1844. There was a great disappointment after the passing of the spring of '44 among the Millerites, but that wasn't the end of things for them. An erratic and unstable Millerite minister named Samuel S. Snow, along with George Storrs, who gave the group their "no soul in man" position, set a much later date. As early as February 16, 1844, Snow published an article setting forth that the "second coming" would occur on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, the day of atonement. He later set the date of October 22, 1844, which was the tenth day of the seventh month in keeping with the Karaite Jewish calendar. This became known as "THE SEVENTH-MONTH MOVEMENT." It was in early August, 1844, at a five day campmeeting where Snow presented his views, that the "seventh-month movement" caught fire. Another phase enters the vocabulary at this point. Between the August campmeeting and October 22 was the period to be known as "THE MIDNIGHT CRY." This was also referred to as "the TRUE midnight cry," especially in this "seventh-month movement," though later SDA writers simply referred to it as "the midnight cry." It was only at the last moment that William Miller accepted this view of Snow's and held it for several months after that date, but then gave it up and preached against them.
All of their figuring was based on the parable of Matthew 25:1-13 concerning the wise and foolish virgins, the bridegroom, etc. So, "at midnight" the announcement came that "the bridegroom cometh." They reasoned that a "day" in prophetic reckoning was a "year." But, "midnight" amounted to "half a year." This six month period that stretched from the springtime disappointment of Miller's original reckoning, to the October 22 date, was further divided in the middle by "midnight." This gave them the time beginning with the August campmeeting, approximately, till October 22 as the time for the "midnight cry," the preaching of the message that the "bridegroom cometh." The "five wise virgins" were the people who accepted the Millerite message and the October 22 date. The "five foolish virgins" applied to ALL OTHERS. When the bridegroom came (October 22, 1844) the wise virgins (Millerites) entered with Him, and THE DOOR WAS SHUT. All others were left on the outside, cut off from the bridegroom. This was the basis for the "shut door" doctrine that would have such far reaching consequences.
The Millerite movement then divided into "shut door" Adventists and "open door" Adventists, with their own ministers, organizations, and publications. The Seventh-day Adventist Church developed from the "shut door" group and attained the prominence that the others did not. They were known in the early years as the "sabbath and shut door people." There were several warring factions among the Millerites, each having some distinctive test of faithfulness; "footwashing" and "greeting with a holy kiss" were two such tests. After the SABBATH was accepted, coming in via Joseph Bates, it became the distinctive mark, the "SEAL," of the righteous REMNANT.
But, for several years the "shut door" dominated a significant part of their thinking and actions, or non-action as the case was. After all, if the door was shut against the world, there would be no reason to preach to anyone to try to convert them; opportunity for salvation was past for them. To clearly establish just what "shut door" meant, let's look at some of the statements made by its advocates. First of all, William Miller himself, who at first was a "shut door" advocate. A letter from Miller dated November 18, 1844, just after the "great disappointment," was first printed in The Advent Herald for December 11, 1844. It was later reprinted in The Advent Review Special of September, 1850. Miller said:
"We have done our work in warning sinners, and in trying to awake a formal church. God in his providence has SHUT THE DOOR; we can only stir one another up to be patient; and be diligent to make our calling and election sure." (emphasis added)
Miller also wrote in The Advent Herald for February 12, 1845 that "I did believe and must confess I do now, that I have done my work in warning sinners, and that in the seventh month." However, by the Summer of 1845 Miller had changed his mind. He published his Apology and Defence [sic] about the movement in August of that year. He said on page 28:
"I have no confidence in any of the new theories that have grown out of that [seventh-month] movement, viz., that Christ then came as the Bridegroom, that the door of mercy was closed, that there is no salvation for sinners, that the seventh trumpet then sounded, or that it was a fulfillment of prophecy in any sense." Quoted in Ellen G. White and Her Critics, by Francis D. Nichol, p. 168.
Certainly Miller's testimony to what "shut door" meant should be accurate. Joseph Turner and Apollos Hale published only one issue of The Advent Mirror, that of January, 1845. The entire issue dealt with Matthew 25. Keep Joseph Turner in mind for future reference. On pages 3-4 of that one issue they say:
"But if the door is shut is there anything more to do for our fellowmen? There may be something, though, on any supposition there cannot be much more to be done. If we attempt to labor as we have done heretofore, it amounts to but little; if we should change our position and try to labor as others do, we could not expect to do any better than they do, and that is a little nearer to nothing than we are doing....But can any sinners be converted if the door is shut? Of course they cannot, though changes that may appear to be conversions may take place....But to think of laboring to convert the great mass of the world at such a time, would be as idle as it would have been for the Israelites, when they were down by the Red Sea, to have turned about to convert the Egyptians. It would be labor lost, to say nothing of the danger we might incur upon our own souls."
Certainly that is clear enough as to the meaning of "shut door." James White also has a good deal to say about the subject. Note the following:
"The fall of Babylon commenced in the spring of '43 when the churches all around, began to fall into a cold state, and was complete on the 7th month '44, when the last faint ray of hope was taken up from a wicked world church." The Day-Star, September 20, 1845, p. 26.
It is clear from this last quotation that the shutting of the door in October, 1844 meant that Jesus NO LONGER "stood with widespread arms of love, and mercy; ready to receive and plead the cause of every sinner..." That is what James White considered to be the meaning of "shut door." In an extensive article in The Present Truth, May 1850, he dealt in great detail with the subject, especially on the shut door. In that article he says, page 79:
"From the best light we could then obtain from the autumnal types we were very confident that the days would end at the seventh month.... When we came up to that point of time, all our sympathy, burden and prayers for sinners ceased, and the unanimous feeling and testimony was, that our work for the world was finished for ever."
The rest of the article establishes that he still believed that. His article was to establish that what they had been preaching for the previous five years was correct. Keep in mind the dates on these articles. They range from the Fall of 1844 up to 1850-51.
Joseph Bates was one of the founders of the SDA Church. He convinced the others on the Sabbath. Here are three statements from him, 1847-1850:
"I believe the work is of God, and is given to comfort and strengthen his 'scattered,' 'torn,' and 'pealed people,' since the closing up of our work for the world in October, 1844." A Word to the Little Flock, printed by James White, 1847, p.21.
Finally, but not least, let's hear what Ellen White said in 1884 about what the "shut door" meant in those early years:
"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 judgement [sic] near, they felt 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 then expressed it, 'the door of mercy was shut.'" Spirit of Prophecy, Vol 4, p. 268.
There should now be no misunderstanding about what "shut door" meant through the period of five or six years following October, 1844. This is the ONLY meaning that "shut door" had in that period. Indeed, the writings of the White/Bates group, as well as their opposers, abounded with shut door statements and allusions. But, the position on the shut door had to change. Time dragged on, the Lord did not return, and other people became interested in Adventism. The door began to crack a little, then to open wide so that the Adventist gospel was being preached far and wide. "Shut door" was REDEFINED to mean that it was just shut against those who had heard the Millerite message, and that of October, '44, and rejected it, as well as those who first believed and then fell away; those who had no opportunity to even hear the message to begin with were still subject to salvation, if they accepted the message.
What Part Did Ellen White Play in The "Shut Door"?
This brings us to Ellen White. What part did she play, and did any of her "visions" teach the original shut door doctrine? Did she teach that theory herself through the late 1840's? Well, she claims the negative! In Selected Messages, Volume 1, page 63, she admits what "shut door" originally meant, and that she did believe that in common with the rest. But, she insists that this was BEFORE her first vision, and that her visions corrected the error:
"For a time after the disappointment in 1844, I did hold, in common with the advent body, that the door of mercy was then forever closed to the world. This position was taken before my first vision was given me. It was the light given me of God that corrected our error, and enabled us to see the true position."
This statement is the worst kind of deception, but has been readily accepted by Adventist apologists. However, Robert Olson, of the White Estate, in his paper 'The "Shut Door" Documents', page 5, insists that the above quotation does not mean she "immediately" realized that the door was NOT shut against the world at the very time of her first vision. He claims that she gradually, over a period of time, came to see the "true" interpretation of her visions and the open door. Even if Olson is correct, it took Ellen White six years to finally wake up, as we shall see. If it is true that she NEVER had a vision that taught the classic "shut door" doctrine, it is strange that she never had a vision that condemned it as error either! She should have been condemning the error all those years, by inspiration, and straightening out her husband, Bates, and the rest. There is no doubt that she had to "reinterpret" her former statements. She DID teach by "vision" and otherwise the same "shut door" the others were preaching, and in later years had to cover that up. But that cover-up is readily exposed. When we consider that she is supposed to be the inspired interpreter of Scriptures, making them clear and plain, it is a little difficult to understand that she would have so hard a time getting the "shut door" straight in her visions. Further, when we look at the facts we find that her visions taught the classic "shut door" theory, and that she preached it as the truth. In a letter to J.N. Loughborough, on August 24, 1874, she said the following in defense of her past teaching:
"I hereby testify in the fear of God that the charges of Miles Grant, or Mrs. Burdick, and others published in the Crisis are not true. The statements in reference to my course in forty-four are false....With my brethren and sisters, after the time passed in forty-four 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 that 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....I never have stated or written that the world was doomed or damned. I never have under any circumstances used this language to any one, however sinful. I have ever had messages of reproof for those who used these harsh expressions." Selected Messages, Vol. 1, p. 74.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and there is no Adventist apologist that can cover this up. We shall see shortly that after the time passed in forty-four, Ellen White, along with the rest, abandoned the shut door theology, and it was her first vision that reestablished it with the others! That is contrary to her statement that she believed the whole thing before her first vision and it was revelation from God that corrected the error.
Her first vision is claimed for December, 1844. It was not printed until it appeared in The Day Star, January 24, 1846. It was also printed in the broadside of April 6, 1846, and again in May, 1847 in James White's booklet, A Word to the Little Flock. In 1851, in Experience and Views, THE MOST POINTED SHUT DOOR STATEMENTS WERE DELETED, and were from that time on in all subsequent printings. In the quotation below, the deleted portion of this section has been emphasized. This is just a small part of the "vision" that deals with the Advent people, and the reestablishing of the positions taken concerning October 22, 1844:
"Others rashly denied the light behind them, and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and got their eyes off the mark and lost sight of Jesus, and fell off the path down in the dark and wicked world below. 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."
Here apostates, or fainthearted Adventists, wound up with the rest of the world, and it was impossible for them to be saved. She attempted to deal with this deleted statement 1883. In Selected Messages, Volume 1, page 62, after noting the statement she says: "It is claimed that these expressions prove the shut-door doctrine, and that this is the reason for their omission in later editions. But in fact they teach only that which has been and is still held by us as a people, as I will show." Well, let's see what her husband, James, had to say about it:
"When she received her first vision, Dec. 1844, she and all the band in Portland, Maine, [where her parents then resided] had given up the midnight-cry, and shut door, as being in the past. It was then that the Lord shew her in vision, the error into which she and the band in Portland had fallen. She then related her vision to the band, and about sixty confessed their error, and acknowledged their 7th month experience to be the work of God" A Word to the Little Flock, 1847, p.22.
Note what he says: After the failure of October 22, the group had given up the midnight-cry, and shut door; it was not in the past, but yet future. What turned them around to renew their faith in all of that, including the shut door, was Ellen White's vision! And, the "shut door" they had given up before the vision, and the one they preached following that vision, was that opportunity for salvation for the world was over! But, we have a statement about this vision from Ellen White herself, so that we can clearly see the purpose and intent of it. First, notice her attempt to deny having gotten her ideas from anyone, especially Joseph Turner. Remember from a previous quotation [above] that Joseph Turner was an avid "shut door" advocate, believing there was no hope for the world and no use wasting time preaching to them. Notice her joy in finding that her first vision was in perfect agreement with Turner's views. (We will not deal at this point with the apparent fact that she could very well have gotten her ideas from overhearing conversations going on around her in the house). Secondly, notice her second vision was also used to confirm others in the shut door doctrine:
"Brother Bates, you write in a letter to James something about the Bridegroom's coming, as stated in the first published visions. By the letter you would like to know whether I had light on the Bridegroom's coming before I saw it in vision. I can readily answer, No. The Lord showed me the travail of the Advent band and midnight cry in December, but did not show me the Bridegroom's coming until February following.
The letter speaks for itself. Israel Dammon, in whose home the second "vision" was received, was just as much an avid shut-door advocate as Joseph Turner. Though she does not relate her second vision in the letter to Bates, it appeared in the broadside of April 6, 1846. Note the following portion from it:
"Then Jesus rose up from the throne, and the most of those who were bowed down arose with Him; AND I DID NOT SEE ONE RAY OF LIGHT PASS FROM JESUS TO THE CARELESS MULTITUDE AFTER HE AROSE, AND THEY WERE IN PERFECT DARKNESS." (emphasis added)
In her letter to Bates she says that this vision established the band on the shut door. That was in February, 1845. The "shut door" position that her first two visions confirmed was the exact position presented by Turner and Dammon, and the one believed by all of this group for the next several years. Remember, that years later, Ellen White would say that she had never had a vision advocating the "shut door" position, nor had she ever preached it. We have seen that this is not so, but there is more evidence to come.
What Part Did Ellen White's Friends Play in The "Shut Door"?
Otis Nichols was a very close friend of the Whites. He is mentioned in several issues of their paper. He was an engraver who made up many of the Adventist charts of the early years. Ellen Harmon stayed in his home in the summer of 1845, an din 1847 James and Ellen White named their first born son Henry Nichols White after Otis Nichols' son, Henry. In 1850 Ellen White had a "vision" at the Nichols home that was recorded by Hiram Edson. Nichols wrote several articles and letters that were printed in the papers of the day. With this close connection with Ellen White established, Nichols would certainly know what was being presented by the "visions" and preaching of Ellen White. In a letter in April, 1846, to William Miller, he attempted to convince Miller to back Ellen White. He says: "What I have written I have a knowledge of and think I can judge correctly. Sister E. has been a resident in my family much of the time for about 8 months." Among the things Nichols says is the following:
"At the time she first went out to deliver her message (Jan 1st, 1845), she was scarcely able to walk across the room and could not speak with an audible voice, but she had perfect faith in God and was carried in this state a few miles to deliver her messages and when she came to speak her voice was nearly gone but God fulfilled his word, gave her strength of body and a clear loud audible voice to talk for nearly two hours with tremendous power and effect on the people and without fatigue of body, and from that time for many weeks she continued to travel day and night talking almost every day until she had visited most of the advent bands in Maine and the easterly part of New Hampshire. Her message was always attended with the Holy Ghost, and wherever it was received as from the Lord it broke down and melted their hearts like little children, fed, comforted, strengthened the weak, and encouraged them to hold on the faith, and the 7th month movement, and that OUR WORK WAS DONE FOR THE NOMINAL CHURCHES AND THE WORLD, AND WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE WAS FOR THE HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH." (emphasis added)
This last statement is classic "shut door," and is the message that her visions presented and exactly what she preached!
The first Adventist to write on what was to become the "Sanctuary" doctrine was O.R.L. Crosier. He was with Hiram Edson in the cornfield the morning after the disappointment of October 22, 1844 when Edson got the flash of thought that started the sanctuary business. After extensive study with Edson and F.B. Hahn, Crosier was designated to write up their conclusions for publication. This appeared in the Day Star extra of February 7, 1846. This convinced James White, Joseph Bates, and others on the subject of the Sanctuary and its cleansing. The following letter was written to D.M. Canright, December 1, 1887 by Crosier:
"Elder D.M. Canright - I kept the seventh day nearly a year, about 1848. In 1846, I explained the idea of the sanctuary in an article in an extra double-number of the Day Star, Cincinnati, O. The object of that article was to support the theory that the door of mercy was shut, a theory which I and nearly all Adventists who had adopted William Miller's views, held from 1844 to 1848. Yes, I KNOW that Ellen G. Harmon - now Mrs. White - held the shut door theory at that time. Truly yours, O.R.L. Crosier." Ballenger-Mote Papers.
In 1848 Ellen White wrote a brother and sister Hastings. The letter is full of "shut door" statements and ideas. Let's look at part of it:
"I saw the Brother Stowell of Paris was wavering upon the shut door. I felt that I must visit them. Although it was fifty miles off and very bad going I believed God would strengthen me to perform the journey. We went and found they needed strengthening. There had not been a meeting in the place for above two years. We spent one week with them. Our meetings were very interesting. They were hungry for present truth. We had free, powerful meetings with them. God gave me two visions while there, much to the comfort and strength of the brethren and sisters. BROTHER STOWELL WAS ESTABLISHED IN THE SHUT DOOR AND ALL THE PRESENT TRUTH HE HAD DOUBTED....We came to this place yesterday; found our dear Brother Nichols' family as well as usual, steadfast in the faith, and strong in all the present truth....I will now write you the vision God gave me on the Sabbath, the 24th of March. We had a glorious meeting. I was taken off in vision. I SAW THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD AND THE SHUT DOOR COULD NOT BE SEPARATED....I saw that as God worked for His people, Satan would also work....My accompanying angel bade me look for the travail of souls for sinners as used to be. I LOOKED BUT COULD NOT SEE IT FOR THE TIME FOR THEIR SALVATION IS PAST. Dear Brother and Sister, I have now written the vision God gave me. I am tired sitting so long. Our position looks very clear. WE KNOW WE HAVE THE TRUTH, THE MIDNIGHT CRY IS BEHIND US, THE DOOR WAS SHUT IN 1844 AND JESUS IS SOON TO STEP OUT FROM BETWEEN GOD AND MAN."
Some statements from the letter were deleted from the printed versions later. But, the meaning is clear. The reference to Otis Nichols standing fast in the faith, and knowing what Otis Nichols believed through those years, along with allusions to other doctrines surrounding shut door theology, makes it clear that Ellen White preached the "shut door" position energetically.
Perhaps the strongest shut door statement is made in what is referred to as "The Camden Vision." It was dated June 29, 1851. The date is a matter of controversy. The only source of a complete copy of the "vision" came from the critics of Ellen White. It was, like other visions of Mrs. White, copied by someone else, though evidence suggests that Ellen White did write it out and sign it at some time. The Adventists have tried to deny it as authentic. Francis D. Nichol gives space to trying to prove she was not even in Camden on the date given, so it must be spurious. Regardless, of all that, however, the evidence shows that the vision, as given is authentic. Let's note some statements from it first:
"Then I saw that Jesus prayed for his enemies; but that should not cause US or lead US to pray for THE WICKED WORLD, WHOM GOD HAD REJECTED - when he prayed for his enemies, there was hope for them, and they could be benefited and saved by his prayers, and also after he was a mediator in the outer apartment for the whole world; BUT NOW HIS SPIRIT AND SYMPATHY WERE WITHDRAWN FROM THE WORLD; AND OUR SYMPATHY MUST BE WITH JESUS, AND MUST BE WITHDRAWN FROM THE UNGODLY. I saw that God loved his people - and, in answer to prayers, would send rain upon the just and unjust - I saw that now, in this time, that he watered the earth and caused the sun to shine for the saints and wicked by our prayers, by our Father sending rain upon the unjust, while he sent it upon the just. I SAW THAT THE WICKED COULD NOT BE BENEFITTED BY OUR PRAYERS NOW - AND ALTHOUGH HE SENT IT UPON THE UNJUST, YET THEIR DAY WAS COMING....THEN I SAW CONCERNING LOVING OUR NEIGHBORS. I SAW THAT SCRIPTURE DID NOT MEAN THE WICKED WHOM GOD HAD REJECTED THAT WE MUST LOVE, BUT HE MEANT OUR NEIGHBORS IN THE HOUSEHOLD, AND DID NOT EXTEND BEYOND THE HOUSEHOLD; YET I SAW THAT WE SHOULD NOT DO THE WICKED AROUND USANY INJUSTICE; - BUT, OUR NEIGHBORS WHOM WE WERE TO LOVE, WERE THOSE WHO LOVED GOD AND WERE SERVING HIM...." (emphasis added).
Many of the same statements and sentiments were made previously by others. Some of these can be found in other quotations in this article. In 1866, in the Review, Uriah Smith, editor of the paper, had a series of articles defending the visions of Ellen White. These articles were later printed in booklet form under the same title. On page 20 of the booklet, Smith says:
"Our only proper course here, therefore, is to confine ourselves to what has been published under sister White's own supervision, and by her own authority, and what appears in manuscript over her own signature in her own handwriting."
Further, a short article in the Review, June 12, 1866, page 16, highly commends the article by Smith, stating that they were read by several leading ministers and approved for publication, and that most of the manuscript was read before the sessions of the General and Michigan State Conferences, who approved their publications also. J.N. Andrews wrote in the Review of August 14, 1866, page 16, a hearty recommendation of the articles, as did C.O. Taylor a month later. They urged a careful and multiple reading of the articles. With those endorsements in mind, we note in Smith's article of June 19, 1866, page 18, and reprinted on pages 27-28 of his booklet, these statements about the visions. The sentences that are emphasized are directly from the Camden vision:
"Now what are the representations of the visions in relation to this time? Do they teach a more exclusive shut door than Scripture facts and testimonies which we have presented? In their teachings we find such expressions as these: 'I saw that Jesus finished his mediation in the holy place in 1844.' 'He has gone into the most holy, where the faith of Israel now reaches.' 'HIS SPIRIT AND SYMPATHY ARE NOW WITHDRAWN FROM THE WORLD, AND OUR SYMPATHY SHOULD BE WITH HIM.' 'THE WICKED COULD NOT BE BENEFITTED BY OUR PRAYERS NOW.' 'THE WICKED WORLD WHOM GOD HAD REJECTED.' It seemed the whole world was taken in the snare; that there could not be one left, (referring to Spiritualism). 'The time for their salvation is past.'
There can be no doubt that Smith had a copy of the Camden Vision before him when he wrote the articles, and not only accepted it as authentic, but presumed the readers would too. We also note that the leading Adventists read and approved the articles for publication, and thereby accepted it as authentic. We note that Smith said that only those visions would be defended that were published under Ellen White's direction, or were approved by her, or appeared over her signature in her own handwriting. The Camden Vision would have to be accepted in that number. Any discrepancy in date is of no consequence, for whatever the date, the vision was authentic. It takes the same "shut door" position for Ellen White all the way from October, 1844, to sometime in 1851, and it was the "shut door" position that Smith was defending Ellen White against in the above section of his writing; that included the Camden vision.
In the Review Extra of August, 1851, her first vision was reprinted with the deletion of all shut door statements. For five years after that no "visions" appeared in the paper. By the end of that time the "shut door" had been REDEFINED. It is no wonder that in later years show would want to blot out any exposure of her former teachings by deletions of statements made, reinterpretation of her visions, or by simple denial of guilt. However, her part in the shut door episode, and subsequent change, tags her as a false prophetess! And there is much more evidence that could be presented on this than we have noted thus far.
Category: Shut Door
Please SHARE this using the social media icons below