The Development of My Ideas Concerning the Divine Inspiration of Mrs. E. G. White
Harold Snide, 1950
A Personal History
I was reared a Seventh-day Adventist as was my mother before me. My mother's father, Elder H. W. Lawrence, was a Millerite in 1844 and was later a Seventh-day Adventist minister, ordained by Elder James White. A letter from him to Elder White relative to the condition of the Cause in northern New York was printed in the Advent Review & Sabbath Herald of March 23, 1842, published at Saratoga Springs, New York. It was my grandfather who was largely instrumental in persuading the Whitney Brothers, Buel and S.B. and Wilbur, to become Seventh-day Adventists. A. W. Spaulding's book, Pioneer Stories of the Second Advent Message, presents chapter xxix, "The Health Work," from the experience of my grandparents. Grandfather Lawrence knew both Elder and Sister White very well and had great confidence in the gift of prophecy as manifested through Sister White. One of his cherished possessions was a personal testimony to him from Sister White. He believed however that there was possibly a difference in degree of inspiration between statements prefaced by "I saw" and statements not so introduced. Therefore he deplored the omission of such prefatory statements in later revisions of Mrs. White's writings, as tending to obliterate existing distinctions of inspiration.
At five years of age I memorized a portion of Matthew 28:18-20 as a Sabbath School memory verse; and upon having it explained to me, I decided to fulfill that commission when I grew up.
In my eleventh year I was truly converted and was baptized. One day I said to my mother, "Mamma, I want to read some of Sister White's visions." So she gave me a copy of Early Writings, and how I did enjoy those marvelous descriptions of the New Earth and the thrilling times ahead of God's people in the closing scenes of this troubled old world! I read and re-read the book.
While I was still a boy at home I had access to numerous pamphlets written against Sister White, some by "First Day Adventists" and some by A. T. Jones, with the General Conference reply to the latter. I was impressed with the disingenuous and unwarranted use made of her writings by some of her opponents. Their garbling of her statements and their unfair deductions confirmed my faith in her as a true prophet of the Lord.
While I was still in my early teens I entered the colporteur work and earned a scholarship to South Lancaster Academy. With my order of books for the final delivery I ordered for myself a new high-priced Oxford Bible and a set of the nine volumes of the Testimonies for the Church in red leather. For such books the best binding was none too good.
In my five years of study at South Lancester Academy and Atlantic Union College, I
looked upon Sister White's writings just about as I did upon the Bible. Apparently
all the teachers and ministers held that same attitude. In my course in
Denominational History and Spirit of Prophecy, my confidence was built up, and I was much
impressed with the memory selection: "It is Satan's plan to weaken the faith of God's
people in the Testimonies. Next follows skepticism in regard to the vital points of
our faith, the pillars of our position, then doubt as to the Holy Scriptures, and then the
downward march to perdition." 4T 211:2.
My First Doubt
In the winter of 1920, when, with my bride of a few months, I was holding an evangelistic effort in Tupper Lake, New York, my father wrote me an urgent letter stating his opinion that our whole denominational literature was wrong in explaining the text "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Mark 9:48. Book after book and article after article for fifty years had explained the "worm" as a destroying agent like the "fire," and referred the language for its literal illustration to the refuse incinerator in the Valley of Hinnom. But Sister White in Early Writings, page 254, says:
They were punished according to the deeds done in the body. Some were many days consuming, and just as long as there was a portion of them unconsumed, all the sense of suffering remained. Said the angel, "The worm of life shall not die; their fire shall not be quenched as long as there is the least particle for it to prey upon."
This angelic quotation clearly refers the "worm" not to any destroying agent, but to the life of the individual who is being destroyed. I believe it was a statement from the pen of Elder F. C. Gilbert that attracted my father's attention to the matter. Father had always interpreted Mark 9:48 in harmony with Early Writings, p. 294. At least it was to Elder Gilbert that he wrote asking why our denominational writers explained the "worm" as a destroying agent, contrary to the statement in Early Writings. Elder Gilbert offered no explanation, but stated in a brief reply that he saw no discrepancy between the two statements. Inasmuch as there was nothing but discrepancy, this aroused my father greatly, and he wrote to me, sending an outline of his explanation of Mark 9:48, in harmony with Early Writings but unlike anything else in our denominational literature. Father wanted me to write it out more fully if I saw best to do so. I started enthusiastically, certain that Early Writings was correct. But as I studied and wrote I became more and more convinced that in the Bible the "worm" is an agent of destruction along with the fire. So the article is still unfinished -- still lying with other manuscripts in a desk drawer.
I tried to think that in Early Writings the expression "the worm of life" might mean "the living worm" as an agent of destruction; but the preceding sentence forbade such a meaning. The best that I could do was to note that in Early Writings, page 294, no actual citation is made to any chapter and verse in the Bible, and therefore the words of the angel might not refer to Mark 9:48 or Isaiah 66:24. Yet every time I would read Early Writings I realized that such an attempt to make the angel's words independent of those Bible verses was not in harmony with Sister White's intention when she wrote Early Writings. I knew that if a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness should use such an argument to save his system of teaching from collapse, I would call it subterfuge, and should feel like laughing at the shallowness of it. This remained an unsolved puzzle through the years. But as I do not have to solve all puzzles, I laid the matter aside, so far as possible, and filled my mind with other matters.
Doubt Becomes Certainty
About the year 1921 I was pastor of the Binghamton, New York, Seventh-day Adventist church, and lived next door to Elder D. G. Turk, a former pastor, then retired. While we were visiting together one day, some mention was made of 2 Thess. 2:9, and Elder Turk produced an Emphatic Diaglott to show that in this verse the expression "after the working of Satan" did not mean "after" in time, but "after" in the sense of "according to." This interested me greatly because it is a much used text, and that was a point I had not before got clear in my mind. A few months later at a Union Conference session in Springfield, Massachusetts, I heard Elder L. K. Dickson use 2 Thess. 2:9 in a sermon on "Armageddon." He took pains to explain that "after" in this verse refers to time, and that he "whose coming is after the working of Satan" is Christ. Elder Orva Leo Ico was sitting at my left in the audience, and I whispered to him, asking whether the Greek did not require the other interpretation of that text. He nodded assent, and added that Elder Dickson was interpreting it according to Patriarchs and Prophets. So when I reached home I looked this up in Patriarchs and Prophets, and found on page 686 this statement:
Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, points to the special working of Satan in Spiritualism as an event to take place immediately before the second advent of Christ. Speaking of Christ's second coming, he declares that it is "after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders."
Then I went to Lidell and Scott's Greek Lexicon and found that the proposition here translated "after" or "according to," while usually meaning the latter, could in some instances be used of time, with the meaning of "during." This discovery brought great relief to my mind, and impressed me with the evident leading of the Lord in Sister White's interpretation in Patriarchs and Prophets, inasmuch as she knew no Greek and yet explained the verse contrary to most scholars but seemingly within the possibilities of the Greek language. Having two or three other instances in mind where Sister White had seemed to make misstatements, but had not really done so, I decided to write an article on the wonders of the Spirit of Prophecy as illustrated by instances where Sister White had exhibited unstudied scholarship. In preparing such an article I took occasion to examine every place where Sister White had used or commented on 2 Thess. 2:9, and right away was surprised by the following:
Even at the time when the apostle was writing, the 'mystery of iniquity' had already begun to work. The developments that were to take place in the future were to be "after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders." AA 266.
Here the preposition "after" is evidently used with the meaning "according to" as translated by the American Standard Version, and as quoted in 8T 226. Thus the one whose "coming" is described in this verse is antichrist; whereas, in PP 686, it is Christ. This discovery ended my contemplated article on the supernatural accuracy of Sister White.
Perplexity Number Three
In Early Writings, page 36, there is an explanation of Rev. 11:18, "and the time of the dead that they should be judged," which made an early impression upon my mind:
I saw that the anger of the nations, the wrath of God, and the time to judge the dead, were separate and distinct, one following the other.
This would not allow the judging of the dead of Rev. 11:18 to apply to the hypothetical "Investigative Judgment" of 1844, but would limit it to the Millennial judgment of the wicked. I noted that Elder Uriah Smith was in agreement with this in his comments in Thoughts on Revelation; and away back in 1918 I marked in the margin of A. T. Jones' Great Nations of Today, page 116, my disagreement with his comment on Rev. 11:18 --
This time of the dead that they should be judged, is the same time referred to in Rev. 14:6,7 in which the threefold message carries still the everlasting gospel to them that dwell on the earth...
Therefore, it was with great surprise that about the year 1924 I found this text quoted in 6T 14 and applied not after the seven last plagues as in Early Writings page 36, but to the present time, thus:
The nations are angry, and the time of the dead has come that they should be judged.
I Seek Help
A short time later at a campmeeting at Union Springs, New York, I asked Elder A. G. Daniells in a private conversation, whether he thought that Sister White's use of a text of Scripture was always a sure guide to its meaning. He said that he generally considered her use of a text as an inspired commentary on that text. I was aching for help, and wanted to ask how to determine the true meaning when Sister White used or explained the same text in contradictory ways; but I did not dare to mention specific problems for fear I should be judged as "doubting the Testimonies." I derived some comfort from Elder Daniells' use of the word "generally." It left room for exceptions. Perhaps he too had been forced to accommodate his ideas of inspiration to include a few contradictions.
Perplexity Number Four
In the summer of 1915 I was canvassing for Bible Readings in Schohario County, New York. At one farm home where I boarded for a short time there was a large "Family Bible" in the spare room which I occupied. In the Bible was the Apocrypha. Having wished for some years to become acquainted with the Apocrypha, I took this occasion to read largely in it. As I read in 2 Esdras I felt much as I suppose Luther felt when he first discovered a Bible. There were the streams ceasing to flow (2 Esdras 6:24; Early Writings 285); and the sun shining in the night (2 Esdras 5:4; Early Writings 285); and there was the Son of God taller than all the saints, standing in the midst of them and putting crowns on their heads (2 Esdras 2:42-47; Early Writings 288); and there were the seven mountains covered with roses and lilies, "Whereby I will fill thy children with joy" (2 Esdras 2:19; Early Writings 19). The conclusion seemed obvious that the writer of 2 Esdras must have learned these details by divine revelation; for how else could he have known these things which had only recently been revealed to Sister White?
My interest in 2 Esdras was intense. Surely every Seventh-day Adventist ought to know about 2 Esdras. I studied the book diligently, trying to untangle the symbolism. Some years later, when I started to write a little book of miscellaneous prophetic expositions (Prophetic Essays, published in 1927), I planned to include a chapter on 2 Esdras, showing that it must be, at least in part, a divine revelation, because of its similarity to Early Writings.
I still have the unfinished manuscript for that chapter. More thorough study revealed that chapters 1, 2, 15 and 16 of 2 Esdras are not in the Arabic nor in the Ethiopic, and are probably interpolations by a later writer. But some of the choice comparisons with Early Writings are in these chapters. Even those Christian denominations which admit the canonicity or near-canonicity of the Apocrypha, do not accept 2 Esdras. For fear that in the minds of some the ill-repute of 2 Esdras should seem to adhere to Early Writings, I never finished the chapter. It does seem that where the ideas and language are practically identical, 2 Esdras and Early Writings must have come from the same source or else Early Writings is copied from 2 Esdras in those portions. In those early days Elder James White sometimes quoted the Apocrypha as Bible (A Word to the Little Flock, pp. 2, 3, 23), and it is difficult to avoid the conviction that Mrs. White did not know the difference either. It becomes difficult to think that these statements have any higher source in Early Writings than they have in 2 Esdras.
In 1927, shortly after going to Union Springs to teach Bible, published the book Prophetic
Essays. In it I refer to passages from Sister White's writings as proof-texts
indiscriminately with Bible verses. Some of the studies in Prophetic Essays
were revisions of earlier studies written years before, and in this use of Sister White's
writings they reflect my earlier attitude. Though even at that time I hardly
admitted to myself that my attitude had materially changed. However, in the last
chapter, in a suggestive list of baptismal questions, number 20 has the expression:
"Do you believe Mrs. White's visions to be from the Lord?" I worded the
question purposely thus because one could conceivably assent to it while knowing that
there were inaccuracies and contradictions in some of Mrs. White's writings. It
seemed that whatever supernatural element there was in her work must have been from the
Lord; but it seemed just as certain that there were inaccuracies in her books.
Why I Believed in her in spite of 8 more discrepancies
About the time that I went to Union Spring Academy (1927) I secured an early (1887) edition of Great Controversy, and volumes ii, iii, and iv of Spiritual Gifts. In these books I encountered further problems and contradictions. Then, for my own satisfaction, I wrote out, in 1928 or 1929, what seemed to me to be the truth regarding Sister White's work. It repeats some points already mentioned, and is reproduced here only in part and slightly revised. I prefaced the study with the four points which seemed to me to authenticate Sister White's work to be from the Lord, and entitled it
Misery Likes Company
One year while I was at Union Spring Academy teaching Bible (1927 to 1930), one of the teachers called at my home near the close of a camp meeting held on the Academy grounds, and asked me whether I had not found some contradictions in Sister White's writings. He admitted that he had, and that he had just asked Elder W. W. Prescott, who was at the campmeeting, whether there were not some contradictions in the Testimonies and he had said, "Yes, there are." Such a frank acknowledgement from so scholarly a representative of the General Conference greatly helped Brother ------- and me to maintain confidence in Sister White's prophetic gift in spite of the contradictions in her books.
Is This Contradiction Number 13 -- Or Have I Lost Count?
In 1930, I moved to Takoma Park to attend Washington Missionary College. There I studied Greek. One day Professor M. E. Cady, who lived across the street from me, asked me what I had found in my study of John the Baptist's diet, especially how it could be "wholly vegetable" (3T 62 and Christian Temperance, p. 38). I avoided expressing an opinion but found that Professor Cady delighted in maintaining the purely vegetable nature of John's food. A careful study of the Greek shows beyond the possibility of a doubt that John ate the regular insect locusts. The Greek word has no other meaning. It is never used for a bean-like pod as the English word "locust" is. It is true that many otherwise renowned commentators have tried to "vegetablize" these locusts, but a squeamish stomach rather than their intellect controls their exegesis. I have not found one of them who offers any valid evidence that the locusts could have been vegetable. Thus we find a plain statement in Mrs. White's Testimonies directly contradicting the Bible.
Error Number Fourteen
While I was attending Washington Missionary College one of my history courses (semester ending Feb. 1, 1931) was about the French Revolution. I chose for the subject of my term paper Religion and the French Revolution. This subject appealed to me particularly because of my interest in the prophecy of Revelation 11 about the war on the "two witnesses," especially the time prophecy of "three days and an half" (verse 11) of which the statement is made in Great Controversy:
It was in 1793 that the decrees which abolished the Christian religion and set aside the Bible, passed the French Assembly. Three years and a half later a resolution rescinding these decrees, thus granting toleration to the Scriptures, was adopted by the same body. (GC 287)
I found that the facts were not as stated in Great Controversy. That which follows, until notice is given otherwise, is from my term paper.
Allow me to state that my teacher was in no way responsible for these conclusions, as he had no idea what my theme was like until it was completed and handed in. It was the result of my personal and independent study.
More recently Elder Jean Vuilleumier of France has had a series of articles in The
Ministry ("The Two Witnesses in Prophecy," The Ministry, May, June,
July, 1940), taking Jordan's speech of June 17, 1797 as the end of the prophetic
period. The articles in The Ministry led me to re-study the whole question,
as my term paper was based entirely on secondary works. Extensive research in the
sources -- French as well as English -- as well as the study of
additional secondary works, has abundantly confirmed the position taken in my term paper
years ago, and has shown unmistakably the impossibility of Elder Vuilleumier's position.
I Dare to Speak
While living at Takoma Park (1930-34) I had a number of pleasant and profitable visits with Elder L. E. Froom. One day while he was at my home he asked about my book, Prophetic Essays, and seemed to want me to say that if I had it to do now, I would not publish it. I could not honestly say that. But I did tell him that if I were to publish it again, I should use Sister White's writings differently, not making them the basis for deciding minute points of prophetic interpretation; for further study had led me to conclude that they were never intended for that purpose. Elder Froom responded that a scholarly attitude toward the matter would not permit using the Testimonies to decide minute points of prophetic interpretation. I asked him whether he had noticed the contradiction in Sister White's writings in the interpretation of 2 Thess. 2:9. He had not, but would like the references. So I wrote them out for him. We have not discussed the matter since.
During these same years that I lived in Takoma Park (1930-34), I chanced to be one day in the office of a General Conference worker, a minister of life-long Denominational experience and service. We were talking about some phase of the Reformation and the work of Luther. This minister remarked very casually that if Sister White had read more widely concerning the Reformation and the life of Luther, not confining her reading so much to D'Aubigne, the book Great Controversy would doubtless not have presented so one-sided a viewpoint.
More and more it became clear to me that the more scholarly of the leading Seventh-day Adventist ministers had been forced to the same conclusion that I had, that the writings of Sister White are so permeated with human fallibility that they cannot be used consistently to settle minute details of history or even of Biblical exegesis or prophetic interpretation; but that they are as certainly so permeated with divine enlightenment as to be of inestimable value for spiritual inspiration and for inculcating the great principles of righteousness, and that she was a true prophet of God.
In 1934 I went to Southern Junior College to teach Bible. Three successive summers, 1935, 1935, and 1937, I attended the Advanced Bible School of SDA Theological Seminary, two summers at Angwin, California, and one summer at Takoma Park, DC.
The summer of 1936 at the Advanced Bible School we read 2 Thess. in the advanced Greek class, translating verse 9 in accordance with Acts of the Apostles, p. 266, and contrary to Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 686. After the class was dismissed, I asked the teacher privately whether he had ever noticed the contradiction between PP and AA on this verse. He had not. At first he tried to think that they could be interpreted to mean the same thing, but a few hours later he told me he had been studying on the matter and evidently I was correct in taking them to be contrary the one to the other.
In the summer of 1935 in Elder Andreasen's class in Systematic Theology, as we studied
various ideas about "Inspiration," I found courage to ask in class whether
possibly there might be a difference in kind or in degree of inspiration between some of
Sister White's writings and other of her writings -- whether perhaps some parts were much like the Bible, and other
parts were the result of special "illumination" -- a lesser kind of inspiration. The
class was large, but no one fainted away at the question. Elder Andreasen in his
customary tactful but non-committal way, gave a ready answer susceptible of various
interpretations. He thought that if time were to last indefinitely, and Sister White
were to take her place with Isaiah and Jeremiah as prophets of permanent record, perhaps
not more than a hundredth part of what she had written would be preserved as Bible.
This answer was surprisingly close to the idea I had in mind when I asked the question.
I was successful in adjusting my idea of Sister White's writings to allow for the human element and the presence of inaccuracies, mistakes, and contradictions; while still I firmly maintained my faith in her visions as being from the Lord. This attitude, while seeming to harmonize most of the phenomena, has two serious disadvantages.
First: In the practical use of Sister White's writings, it leaves one with no sure guide as to what is accurate and what is not, and thus tends to vitiate all her writings so that they cannot be any final authority or last court of appeal. It makes them powerless to "confirm" anything.
Second: This attitude is not in harmony with the counsel in 5T
683-691, where such a distinction is criticized as "unwarranted." It
seemed, in view of the incontrovertible facts, that this counsel in 5T must be another
instance of inaccuracy!
One considerable practical advantage this attitude seemed to have: It divested of all interest the claims of opponents of Seventh-day Adventists that there are contradictions in the Testimonies. When I heard some apostate trying to get Adventists to lose faith in the Testimonies because they contain contradictions, I would think: "So what? Probably I could show you some that you don't know, but I am not interested; for the evidence that Sister White's visions were from the Lord are convincing enough regardless of a few exhibitions of human fallibility in her writings."
For years I felt keenly the danger of those who supposed Sister White's writings to be
perfectly free from inaccuracies. I wondered what would happen when they stumbled
across a sure-enough contradiction. I wished that I dared to enlighten my
ministerial students on this matter, so they would not become the prey of designing
apostates; but I never dared to for fear of being misunderstood or misquoted. But I
taught them the basic reasons which kept me loyal to Sister White and her work, and which
I hoped would keep them even when they met the sudden shock of a contradiction in her
Why I Still Believed in Sister White
As I try to analyze my own thoughts on the subject as they were in about the year 1936, the points which outweighed all the contradictions and inaccuracies and kept me constant in the belief that Sister White was used of God in an extraordinary manner and that her visions were revelations of divine truth, were these.
That Sister White was controlled by a supernatural power seemed to be shown by her not breathing in vision, not winking, holding a heavy Bible aloft a long time, her knowledge of events taking place at a distance, etc. If supernatural, such a power could be only from God or from Satan. I could not see any possibility of her life and work being constantly and directly controlled by Satan. That seemed the most unthinkable conclusion imaginable. Her earnest, sincere Christian life forbids such a thought. Her relation to the SDA Message and Movement forbids it to anyone who believes in that message and movement. So when about the year 1936, the Elmshaven Estate sent a questionnaire asking how I presented the topic of Sister White's inspiration to my students, I replied somewhat as follows:
Mrs. White had visions and supernatural revelations. Being supernatural, these manifestations were either the work of the Lord or the work of Satan. They from the Lord because:
In 1937 the President of Southern Junior College, after hearing me present this subject to a Baptismal Class, asked me privately what I did with seeming contradictions. I told him that they were regrettable but insufficient to over-balance the evidence for Sister White's having received special light from heaven in visions and dreams, which light we should disregard at our peril. He seemed pleased and satisfied with my answer.
By the date last mentioned, 1937, it was clear to me from the evidence herein presented that Sister White's writings are sufficiently inaccurate to be an unsafe guide in matters of fact in history or science or even in Biblical exegesis and prophetic interpretation. I could no longer feel sure that a thing was so just because she said it was so. I felt that my attitude was not that of the average Seventh-day Adventist, but that it was that of many, perhaps of most, of the more studious and scholarly Seventh-day Adventists. My realization of the unrealiability of Sister White's writings was so acute that I should not have been able to think of them as a manifestation of the Prophetic Gift had not I been faced with the alternative of attributing her work to Satan. That was, is yet, and I think will always be for me utterly impossible.
This conclusion -- that Sister White's visions were supernatural revelations from heaven, and that her voluminous writings, though sometimes erroneous, benefits more or less from the light thus received, left some problems unsolved, for example how an angel could speak words (EW 294) misinterpreting the "worm" of Mark 9:48 and Isaiah 66:24. I just tried not to think about that.
The Shut Door
Just when I had reached the state of mental adjustment and theological equilibrium regarding Sister White's visions and writings, outlined in my former letter, there came into my possession information which I had never had before -- photographic reproductions of early Adventist documents published by Elder James White: A Word to the Little Flock, printed in 1847; a broadside entitled To Those Who Are Receiving the Seal of the Living God printed in 1849; a file of the paper Present Truth from the first number in July 1849 to the issue of November 1850; and The Advent Review, printed at Auburn, NY, in 1850, containing among other things a reprint of O.R.L. Crozier's Day Star Extra article on the Sanctuary.
The diligent and repeated study of this source material gives a very different picture from that presented in SDA literature, and clearly substantiates some of the charges regarding "suppression" and the "shut door" which the denomination has been wont to deny. Every repeated reading of the documents makes this clearer. It is certain from the evidence that Elder James White, Sister Ellen G. White, Elder Joseph Bates, and those Sabbath-keeping Adventist believers associated with them in preaching and writing, taught emphatically for a number of years after the "disappointment" of October 22, 1844, that there was salvation for those only who were favorably responsive to the Advent Message known as the "Midnight Cry" just before October 22, 1844.
Sister White's first vision, a few weeks after the "disappointment" did not correct this error, but rather increased it.
The "light on the Sanctuary" as written by O.R.L. Crozier, and as seen in vision by Sister White for six years after the "disappointment," did not correct this error, but rather increased it.
Sister White's vision specifically on the subject of "The Shut Door," March 24, 1849, had not the slightest effect toward correcting this error, but rather confirmed it. Elder White and the other brethren associated with her continued to write and to publish and to preach in her presence for more than a year after her vision on "The Shut Door" this same error of no salvation for non-Adventists. And there is not recorded a word of protest from her, but on the contrary she writes in language similar to theirs, language which they could not possibly suppose meant anything different from their own presentations of the subject. Her articles, so similar to the articles of her associates, are printed in Present Truth alongside of detailed and extended argument for the "shut door" for non-Adventists. And these teachings of Sister White are presented as being the result of the gift of prophecy.
Also during those early years other erroneous ideas, such as those concerning the "image beast" and his number, were presented by Sister White, prefaced with the formula, "I saw."
As I am writing this for the consideration of those who have access to all the books and documents referred to, I shall not take the space here for long quotations from these sources.
My first definite instruction regarding the "Shut Door" controversy was obtained from Elder J. N. Loughborough's book The Great Second Advent Movement, edition of 1905. In the year 1910 I read this book as part of the Missionary Volunteer Reading Course. In the school year 1913-14, I studied the same book as the regular textbook in the course in Denominational History at South Lancaster Academy. Knowing that the First Day Adventists claimed to be the opponents of the "Shut Door" idea after 1844, and that they laid the odium of that theory on Seventh-day Adventists, I formed a very poor notion of the honesty of First Day Adventists.
Come to read the source documents, I find that the SDA group, led by Elder And Sister James White, were known both among themselves and by the First Day Adventists as "the shut-door people," and that the "shut door" was bitter opposed by most First Day Adventists. As late as 1850 Elder White published at Auburn, NY, a large pamphlet, The Advent Review, in which he quoted extensively from statements of Miller, Himes, etc., made at about the time of the "disappointment" in October 1844. The purport as that according to their statements those Adventist leaders once believed in the "shut door" and had since given it up; Elder White's point was that they ought not to have given it up, that he still believed in it, and that to abandon it was apostasy.
Elder White was honest enough to admit later that he adhered to the "shut door" longer than many others (Life Incidents, Vol. i, Edition of 1868, page 207).
Thus I have had to adjust my thinking to admit the knowledge that the real situation on the "shut door" after 1844 was the reverse of that which was presented by Elder Loughborough, and much more nearly like the situation described by the First Day Adventists and other opponents of Seventh-day Adventists.
The first intimation which I had that Elder Loughborough might not be a safe guide on this point was from Elder L. E. Froom in a visit he made at my home, 53 Flower Avenue, Takoma Park, DC, near the time when he began his special research in Adventist source material. Either then or later (I think both then and later) Elder Froom explained to me that at first he was considerably shocked at Elder Loughborough's unreliability, but that he had been much relieved in mind to find a letter from Sister White to Elder Loughborough which letter might have been misunderstood by him; and his false statements could have resulted from this misunderstanding rather than from intentional deception.
At the History Teachers' Convention at Takoma Park in the summer of 1940, one of the "doctors" casually mentioned that of course Elder Loughborough's book had been discredited. No one appeared surprised.
So far as I have learned it seems now to be rather generally admitted by informed SDA leadership that the Sabbath-keeping Adventists under the leadership of Elder James White held to a "shut door" theory which they abandoned about the year 1851, but that if Sister White held the same view, she at least did not claim that it was divinely revealed to her as truth, and that therefore her prophetic gift is not impeached by her personal opinion, erroneous though it was.
From SDA leaders who had studied the matter thoroughly I accepted this explanation until I read the sources for myself. Since ten I have been unable to believe that this attitude is other than "wishful thinking" entirely unwarranted by the evidence. And really there is no great practical advantage in attempting logical acrobatics to defend Sister White from the "shut door" because there are sufficient other errors which saw in vision to discredit her visions as an authority on any subject whatever.
As to the "shut door": We have a series of articles treating exhaustively on the "shut door" published in Present Truth and other papers by Elder White, 1849-1851. On March 24, 1849, Sister White had an extended vision directly on the subject of the "shut door," which vision appeared in the Present Truth, Vol. i, Number 3, August, 1849. There is not a statement in it which disagrees with or which would modify the "shut door" theory as presented by various writers in Present Truth during the years 1849 and 1850. To try to force the language of this vision to mean something different from what it seems to say and from what it is admitted that all of Sister White's Sabbath-keeping associates were teaching, is absurd. Such a forced interpretation was attempted in 1868 by Elder Uriah Smith in a booklet defending the "Visions," and again by Elder A.G. Daniells in an undated pamphlet The Shut Door and the Close of Probation. Both of these discussions are utterly inadequate inasmuch as they extract Sister White's words out of the setting of "shut door" propaganda in which they appeared, and deal with them as a thing apart. When her words are read in the setting in which they were given, I do not see how anyone can doubt their import to be in perfect agreement with the other "shut door" arguments of White, Bates, Rhodes, Edson, etc.
There are some persons, however, who will not admit evidence. One SDA administrator is reported to have pointed to his black felt hat and said earnestly: "If Sister White should tell me that that hat is white, I should believe that it is white, and that there is something wrong with my eyesight that makes it look black to me." That is the attitude which keeps papists believing in the infallibility of the pope, and keeps Sunday-keepers sure that they are right regardless of evidence. But it is not the true Protestant position; it is not the Bible position; and I cannot bring myself to share that attitude.
There is a clear-cut logic to the "shut door" theory whether based on the parable of the virgins or on the Sanctuary service. If the Advent Movement of the late summer of 1844, known as the "Midnight Cry," was in truth the fulfillment of the prophetic parable, then somehow those who were "ready" October 22, 1844, must have gone in with the Bridegroom and "the door was shut" against later arrivals.
It will be very evident as one reads that to doubt the "shut door" was to doubt the validity of the Midnight Cry Movement of the summer and autumn of 1844. As the expression "shut door" aroused much opposition, it was more tactful to say "Midnight-Cry," and leave the "shut door" to be implied. The watchful reader will find numerous instances of this pregnant use of the expression "midnight cry." There seems to be an instance of this in Sister White's first vision. It could hardly be otherwise so long as the terms "midnight cry" and "shut door" were logically inseparable. Likewise the term "present truth" as used by Sabbath-keeping Adventists from 1847-51 is largely comprised of two things: the Sabbath and the "shut door."
It is notable that the "light on the sanctuary" buttressed the argument for the "shut door," modifying it very slightly if at all. The SDA position on the Sanctuary as expressed in Present Truth and other publications during 1849 and 1850 fitted in beautifully with the "shut door" and strengthened the arguments for it that had come at first from the parable of the virgins. In the Mosaic type, when the high priest entered the Most Holy Place on the 10th day of the 7th month, there was to be no man in the Holy Place, or first apartment of the Tabernacle. Or in the language of the Adventists, 1845-1851, when the door into the second apartment was opened, the door into the first apartment was shut. They reasoned that inasmuch as the ministration of the Holy of Holies concerned only those whose sins had been previously dealt with in the daily service of the Holy Place, and as there was no "daily service" conducted during the time the high priest was in the Holy of Holies, therefore those for whom Christ our High Priest ministers in the heavenly Holy of Holies since October 22, 1844, can be only those who had been entered on His "breastplate of judgment" as belonging to Israel -- the people of God or Adventist group -- before October 22, 1844.
The logic of this "shut door" theory seems more compelling than the less radical modifications adopted in 1851 and thereafter. One wonders whether when the parable of the virgins reaches its final application, the door will not be just as tightly shut as these earnest Adventist believers from 1845-51 thought that it was. (Note: See The Reasons for My Faith by W. W. Fletcher.)
In late 1850 and throughout 1851 there was a gradual relaxing of the strict "shut door" -- first admitting the children of Believers, and then some who had not opposed the '44 Movement. It should be noticed that this gradual opening of the door was not compelled by the logic of the Sanctuary Truth, nor was it the result for any vision of Sister White, but was forced upon the Advent Believers by the passing of the years and the apparent religious interest and conversion of some who had not been logically eligible under the strict "shut door" arguments.
It is significant that under the earlier "shut door" arguments the inability to repent depended upon an act of God. In their presentation of the matter, Christ refuses to open the shut door of the parable, or He has moved into the Holy of Holies in the Heavenly Sanctuary where the seekers cannot find Him no matter how earnestly they seek. Notice the frequent use of Hosea 5:6,7 to support this idea. He shuts the door and no man can open it. Rev. 3:7,8. But in the "shut door" as finally taught after 1851 the emphasis is entirely upon the sinful and rebellious attitude of men -- they shut the door! In this final meaning of "shut door" there is nothing to identify the process with 1844 or with the Advent Movement or with the parable of the virgins or with the "cleansing of the sanctuary." It is an attitude of perverse disobedience possible for anyone at any time from the entrance of sin into the world to the present day -- and beyond.
One should notice as he reads these old Adventist publications those words and expressions which are used in a sort of technical sense by the "shut door" Adventists. One should notice that Sister White uses these same words and expressions in the same way, assuming on the part of her readers a familiarity with the "shut door" logic. These undesigned coincidences pile up into a tremendous weight of evidence, but they have never been dealt with in any attempt to defend Sister White from teaching the "shut door." It is easier to limit the defense to those fewer times when she uses the definite expression "shut door."
Of like significance are the numerous occasions where those are mentioned for whom Elder and Sister White were laboring. They are always the "little flock," the "company of believers," or some equivalent designation. The significance of this seems to be overlooked by Elder Daniells in his pamphlet, "The Shut Door and Close of Probation," page 23; for after quoting from Sister White two short paragraphs which were printed in 1849, containing the expressions "Nothing should be too dear to sacrifice for the salvation of the scattered and torn flock of Jesus" . . . "and will now pardon all the transgressions of Israel." "For all their sins will then be blotted out." -- after quoting these statements about "Israel" and the "flock of Jesus" Elder Daniells says "Sure this statement does not indicate that Christ had closed His ministry for a lost world." But it is not of the "lost world" that the paragraph speaks, but of "Israel." It is true that the same paragraph mentions rescuing "souls from the coming storm of wrath." But it nowhere indicates that these souls were other than those of the "Israel" already mentioned.
Of special interest is Elder F. M. Wilcox's book The Testimony of Jesus, pages 72-88, the chapter on "Suppression and the Shut Door." It is Sister White's own statements quoted in those pages -- taken in connection with the source material in the early Present Truth papers, 1849-50 -- that seem to furnish the final evidence that she held and taught the same erroneous view as her husband did for about seven years after the 1844 "disappointment." She evidently makes her defense with a faulty memory; for her statements are inconsistent with themselves and with the facts as made clear and certain in the early SDA papers printed in 1849 and 1850. On pages 74 and 75 of Elder Wilcox's book Sister White disclaims knowledge that the 1851 edition of Experience and Views lacked anything from her first visions as first printed. But on page 94 there is quoted a statement from that very 1851 edition showing that it, itself, claimed to be somewhat abridged from previous printings. Elder Daniells' chief defense of Sister White in his pamphlet, The Shut Door and the close of Probation is that the changes were all made by her in person, or with her full knowledge and consent, and therefore are OK. Contrariwise, her own defense is that the did not know of the omissions -- so of course she is not to be blamed for them. Both arguments seem to be combined in Elder Wilcox's book as may be seen by comparing pages 74 and 75 with page 94.
Notice the section beginning on page 76, "The 'Shut Door' Defined." This is very enlightening. She says:
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.
She could have added truthfully that this idea was "common to the advent body" for a few hours or a few days only; but was persisted in by her and Elder Whiteand Elder Bates and their followers for nearly seven years in fierce opposition to Miller, Himes, Litch, etc.
Then she adds,
This position was taken before my first vision was given me.
This is doubtless an accurate statement, but misleading to one not having access to the "sources." For it could have been just as truly added, "and was confirmed by that first vision and by other later visions, and was held and taught by me as 'present truth' for nearly seven years."
Then she says,
It was the light given me of God that corrected our error, and enabled us to see the truth position.
As all "light" comes from God, this statement is doubtless true, but it is also misleading. One might readily suppose that it was some vision of hers that cleared up the matter. But there is no such vision on record. Time went on until the "shut door" was a demonstrated absurdity and then the door was gradually "opened."
I am still a believer in the shut-door theory, but not in the sense in which we at first employed the term, or in which it is employed by my opponents. There was a shut door in Noah's day.
As there is no question by anyone concerning the "shut door" which is always possible -- in Noah's day, or now, or in 1844, or at any other time, we need not stop on that. It is evidently the only kind of "shut door" which she admitted correct when she wrote this defense. But it is a "shut door" in which Jesus' moving from the Holy to the Most Holy Place has no immediate connection, and the parable of the virgins has no special bearing, and the arguments used by Sister White, Elder White, Elder Bates, and their associates, have no relevance. The arguments used by SDAs for the "shut door" from 1844-1851 are applicable only to the variety of "shut door" which in her defense she repudiates.
The letter to Elder Loughborough printed on page 86 is also very interesting and may be the source of some of the inaccurate statements in his book, The Great Second Advent Movement. As it was written about thirty years after the "disappointment," Sister White's memory may not have functioned perfectly -- she was always so active doing so much -- the past could easily become indistinct.
Other Troubling Matters
Through the years, contemporaneous with the vanishing authority of Sister White's writings, another matter has troubled me. With the study of the Hebrew and Greek languages and of proper principles of exegesis an ever increasing number of Scripture texts have had to be dropped from my notes on various doctrines and prophecies. They have been misapplied to matters with which they have no connection. Often this has been caused by faulty translation or by lack of heed to the context. When I found that I had been wrong through the years regarding the work of Sister White, I decided that it was possible for me to be wrong and for the Denomination to be wrong on anything. So I started to re-study everything anew, especially such points as depended solely upon Sister White's authority contrary to recognized rules of exegesis.
Among the more vital prophecies of the Seventh-day Adventist system which seem clearly to have been misinterpreted through the years is the prophecy of the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14. The relation of this verse to its context has always seemed rather vague as the denomination has used the text. Students have asked about this in my Bible classes. My best reply was that Sister White had said that the "daily" was not a vital matter (Preach the Word, pp. 7 & 8), so it seemed proper to divorce Daniel 8:14 from the context and use it pretty much by itself. That is the way it is handled in all SDA literature and sermons. The nearest approximation I have found to a Seventh-day Adventist recognition of the context in interpreting the 2300 days is in the article by David Arnold in Present Truth, Vol. I, No. 8. Unintentionally Arnold clearly brings out the absurdity of dating Rome's oppression of Israel from 457 BC. Even a casual reading of Daniel 8 indicates that the 2300 days comprise the period during which the "little horn" that came out of one of the four horns, should oppress the "sanctuary and host." It is a period of oppression as truly as are the "time, times, and dividing of time" of other passages. Yet SDAs start it not with any oppression but with the ending of oppression and the restoration of Jerusalem. And the horn which is described as doing the work of oppression was not in contact with either "sanctuary" or "host" until centuries after 457 BC. This makes the Millerite movement an error of time as well as of event. Had I lived in William Miller's day and known even the little Hebrew, Greek, history, and Bible that I know now, I should have been one of his foremost opponents. And I should have been right, as his opponents, many of them, were right, whereas he was wrong on very nearly everything that he taught relating to prophecy, especially time prophecy -- and in nothing more glaringly wrong than in dating Rome's oppression of Israel from a Persian decree to restore and to build Jerusalem, given in 457 BC. The idea is so absurd that Sister White's vouching for it as revealed in vision is as conclusive against her reliability as is her relation to the "shut door."
For the positive views of prophecy which have displaced in my thinking these palpable errors see the chapters on Daniel 8 and 9.
There are numerous other impossible things in Sister White's writings, such, for example, as the idea that God actively exerted Himself to deceive the Advent believers regarding the date 1843 previous to the "Midnight Cry" (EW 74; PT Vol. I, No. 11, p. 87.)
A Dilemma and the Way Out
The total picture of these early visions made it impossible longer to think that they were a miraculous revelation of divine truth and a manifestation of divine power. This placed me in a terrible dilemma; for according to my former logic Sister White's work, being supernatural, must be either from God or from Satan. I still could not see how it could possibly be from Satan. There was only way out of this dilemma -- I had heard it suggested, but had never given it any serious investigation because I considered it entirely inadequate -- Might the "visions" be the result of a pathological condition? Might they rise from a natural cause -- neither from God nor from Satan? The dilemma I was in led me to give this question rather thorough investigation. I was very much surprised at what I found.
I have numerous notebooks full of material from Medical Encyclopedias, etc., and from reputable medical journals. I also have about as much more material on micro-film because I did not have time to copy so much. These things I obtained at the Congressional Library and at the Army Medical Library, and other libraries. The library card indexes point the way to valuable material under the headings Catalepsy, Catatonia, Hysteria, Hystero-epilepsy, Ecstasy, and Trance. I found that there have been many instances of experiences very much like those of Sister White; that none of these conditions mentioned above have any tendency toward mental or physical deterioration. After reading extensively in the medical literature on the subject, I have concluded that the most charitable, adequate, and likely cause of Sister White's "visions" is some combination of these entirely natural but rather rare conditions. This conclusion has the advantage of leaving her sincerity and honesty unimpeached. It leaves her writings as valuable for Christian instruction as they have proved to be in experience, without predicating for them any supernatural accuracy whatever. They cease to be a criterion of prophetic truth or of Biblical exegesis or of anything else, but they retain such spiritual value as inheres in the writings of all Spirit filled Christian ministers.
Anyone studying this matter ought at least to read the following references, all of which are readily available here in Washington.
A System of Practical Medicine by American Authors, Edited by William Pepper, M.D., LL.D., assisted by Louis Star, M.D., Volume V. Diseases of the Nervous System.
The following articles all by Charles K. Wills, M.D.:
This book is available at the Library of the Army Medical Museum, corner of Seventh Street and Independence Avenue, S.W.
The Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. V, No. VII.Richmond, July 1839, pages 433-438. This is available at the Congressional Library.
The Journal of Psychological Medicine, A Quarterly Review of Diseases of the Nervous System, Medical Jurisprudence, and Anthropology, Vol. IV, No. 4. October 1870. "Notes on Ecstasy and other Dramatic Disorders of the Nervous System," by Meredith Clymer, M.D., pages 657-688.
The Surprising Case of Rachel Baker (Some editions titled Devotional Somnium), Mais, Charles (Reporter), Congressional Library Rare Book Room, Call Number AC901.M5 913. No. 9 (I have this on micro-film)
The Detroit Medical Journal, Vol. VI. No. 3. March, 1906, page 99, "Clinical Reports -- Two Cases of Catalepsy." by W. J. Macdonald, M.D., St. Catherines, Ont. This is available at the Army Medical Library.
The Medical Times and Hospital Gazette, London: August 5, 1905, page 423. "Case of Catalepsy," by Charles H. Miles. This is available at the Army Medical Library.
Hypnotism, Moll, Dr. Albert, translated by Arthur F. Hopkirk, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1889. Pages 87, 88, 122, 123, 124, 465, 466. I found this at the City Library, Corner of Seventh St. and New York Aver.
The Monthly Homeopathic Review, London. Vol. XLVII. December 1, 1903, pages 726, 727. "A Case of Catalepsy,", by Stanley Wilds. This is available at the Army Medical Library.
A Dictionary of Miracles, Brewer, E. Cobham, Philadelphia. J. B. Lippincott Co. 1934. Article "Trance," pages 308-314. This is in Reading Room Reference (Alcove), Congressional Library.
Archives of Electrology and Neurology, A Journal of Electro-Therapeutics and Nervous Diseases, May, 1875, pages 78-121. "The Nature and Phenomena of Trance," by George M. Beard, M.D.
The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Jan. 1877, edited by J. S. Jewell, M.D., Professor of Nervous and Mental Diseases in Chicago Medical College, and H. M. Bannister, M.D.
A New Theory of Trance, and Its Bearings on Human Testimony, George M. Beard, M.D., pages 1-47. (Read before the New York Medico-Legal Society, November 1, 1876.)
AESCULAPE, 1913, Pages 236-240, L'Amour Mystique Par le Docteur Charles Guilbert (de Paris). The pictures are of special interest in this. Available at the Army Medical Library.
Journal de Psychologie, Paris, 1925, pages 369-420, 465-499, Les Etats De Consolation et Les Extases, pp. 369-420. Les Sentiments De Joie dans L'Extase, pp. 465-499. Par Pierre Janet. Available at the Army Medical Library.
These last mentioned articles by Pierre Janet are especially interesting. Pierre Janet, M.D. was Professor of Psychology in the College de France, and Director of the Psychological Laboratory in the clinic of the Salpetriere. In 1906, he delivered a series of lectures on Hysteria in the Harvard Medical School and also lectured at Johns Hopkins University and in the Medical School of Columbia University. These lectures were published in 1907 by Macmillan as The Major Symptoms of Hysteria. He is also the author of a book Neuroses et Idees Fixes, Paris, 1898. On pages 94-99 of this book is an interesting account of an "extatique." However, this is not nearly so valuable as the articles in the Journal de Psychologie, mentioned above.
I have studied numerous other references, but these are representative, and perhaps sufficient. The indexes list many German works on this subject, but as I do not read German, I have not been able to use them. For those who read German the indexes should be a sufficient guide.
Category: Books and Tracts
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