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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN: Sabbath Conferences Consolidate Emerging Movement

    I. The Scope of the Six Sabbath Conferences

    We now turn to the six Sabbath conferences, really Bible conferences, held in Connecticut, New York, Maine, and Massachusetts, between April and November, 1848. These conferences were vital, and proved to be a unifying, clarifying, and fortifying force, consolidating the positions of the growing Sabbatarian group, 1The records are meager, but are sufficient to give the essential outline. The sanctuary position, developed by Edson, Crosier, and Hahn, was set forth in the Day-Dawn and the Day-Star of 1845 ana 1846. And the literature that developed immediately after, and as a result of the conferences, reveals much more of the scope—the Present Truth (1849), the Advent Review (1850), the early volumes of the Review and Herald, and the Youth’s Instructor. Add to these a dozen pamphlets, broadsides, and books of the time-by Bates, White, and others, the biographies of Bates and the Whites, and the letters, diaries, and retrospective articles by Ellen G. White, as well as the explanatory notes by J. N. Loughborough-and the remarkable range and content of the positions taken are disclosed. These all required time for the fuller development, but were all there in embryo in 1848. We do not know the precise order of all of the discussions or in just which conference certain of the items were presented, but we know the conclusions reached, and can reconstruct with fair accuracy a composite picture of their total discussions. The best sources are the James and Ellen White contemporary ms. letters, in the Ellen G. White Publications vault. See also Joseph Bates, The Opening Heavens (1846), The Seventh Day Sabbath (1846), Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps (1847), A Seal of the Living God (1849), and An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-typical Sanctuary (1850); James White, A Word to the “Little Flock” (1847): Ellen G. White, Christian Experience and Views (1851), and the periodicals named, of 1849-1852. as well as molding and shaping the future course of an emerging movement, soon destined to be heard from. These six conferences, 2While some have listed only the first five as the 1848 Sabbath conferences, the important Dorchester meeting belongs properly in the list. See also Spalding, Captains, p. 178. in order and place, were as follows:PFF4 1021.1

    1. ROCKY HILL, CONNECTICUT, APRIL 20-24 (ALBERT BELDEN’S HOME).” 3E. G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 108. A good epitome of the first five conferences is found in Arthur L. White, Prophetic Guidance in Early Days, pp. 14-16. A running account also appears in Spalding, Captains, pp. 175-178.

    The first of the six was held at Rocky Hill, eight miles from Middletown, Connecticut. It was initiated by E. L. H. Chamberlain, of Middletown, and held in a “large unfinished chamber” in the second story of the Albert Belden home. Fifty were present as the conference got under way, among whom was H. S. Gurney. 4These early Sabbatarians examined every feature of “advancing light” before accepting it, seeking to “prove all things.” Thus H. S. Gurney, the singing blacksmith and preacher’s helper—who had previously accompanied Bates on the trip to Maryland and Kent Island—examined with great care the manifestation of the Spirit of prophecy. At the Advent Hall in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he heard Ellen Harmon relate her experiences. She appeared to be a humble, conscientious Christian. Getting her home address, he went to Portland, Maine, located her father and the family, and found them to be humble and God fearing. Here he made extensive inquiry concerning Ellen. All testified to her devoted, self—sacrificing character. Thus he became convinced that God had assuredly called this lass to an important work. With another brother, Gurney paid much of the cost of printing this first message on a “broadsheet,” or broadside in 1846, for distribution, just as he helped to bring out Bates’s first tract on the Sabbath. (H. S. Gurney, “Recollections of Early Advent Experience,” Review and Herald, Jan. 3, 1888, p. 2.) Joseph Bates and James White were the chief speakers in this first conference. Bates’s principal theme was the Sabbath and the law, while White’s special emphasis was the dawning significance of the third angel’s message, its scope and specifications. 5James White, Letter to Brother and Sister Hastings, April 27, 1848. (Illustration appears on p. 1020.)PFF4 1021.2

    2. VOLNEY, NEW YORK, AUGUST 18-(DAVID ARNOLD’S CARRIAGE HOUSE). 6E. G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 108-111 (see also Christian Experience and Teachings, pp. 118, 119; Testimonies for the Church 1:85, 86).

    Hiram Edson urged the Whites to attend the next conference, held at Volney, New York, in August. They had to pay their own way, but arrived on time. Here they met Edson for the first time. Bates, Gurney, and Chamberlain likewise attended from New England, with about thirty-five present from the western part of New York State. Bates still preached on the Sabbath, and White presented the parable of Matthew 25:1-13. There was, however, much diversity of view on minor matters, on which “hardly two agreed.” And this occasioned much serious prayer and study.PFF4 1022.1

    Mrs. White was shown some of their errors in contrast to the opposite truths. She was bidden to admonish the contenders to yield their errors and unite upon the fundamentals of the third angel’s message of Revelation 14:9-12. 7James White, Letter to Brother and Sister Hastings, Aug. 26, 1848; E. G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 111; Spiritual Gifts 2:99. To this they responded, and the discordant elements were brought into harmony. So the conference closed in a triumph of unity. And David Arnold 8David Arnold(1805-1889), of Mount Vernon, New York, was born at Lennox, Massachussetts. At sixteen he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. Accepting the advent message, he helped the proclamation of God’s judgment hour. After the Disappointment he accepted the advancing light, heralding it stanchly by voice and pen. soon became one of the stalwart workers and writers in the emerging movement.PFF4 1022.2

    3. PORT GIBSON, NEW YORK, AUGUST 27, 28 (HIRAMEDSON’S BARN). 9James White, Letter to Brother and Sister Hastings, Aug. 26, 1848; E. G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White, 112; Spiritual Gifts 2:99.

    The third conference was held in late August on Hiram Edson’s place. It was here, it will be recalled, in the historic granary of Edson’s barn, where the assurance came to Edson and his praying associates on the early morning of October 23, 1844, that light on the nature of their disappointment would be given. And here again, in the same humble but hallowed place, another unifying conference was held, and harmony prevailed.PFF4 1023.1

    4. ROCKY HILL, CONNECTICUT, SEPTEMBER 8, 9 (ALBERTBELDEN’S HOME). 10James White, Letter to Brother and Sister Hastings, Aug. 26, 1848.

    Returning to Rocky Hill on September 8 and 9, the fourth conference was held, and again the work of the conferences and the growing cause went forward.PFF4 1023.2

    5. TOPSHAM, MAINE, OCTOBER 20-22 (STOCKBRIDGE HOW-LAND’S HOME).” 11James White, Letter to Brother and Sister Hastings, Oct. 2, 1848; Spalding, Captains, p. 177.

    At the Topsham conference, the work in Maine was solidified. And here the possibility of publishing a paper was discussed. But they were without funds, and the project seemed beyond them. So the matter rested for the time.PFF4 1023.3


    The sixth and last of the Sabbath conferences was held at Dorchester, at Otis Nichols’ home. 12It was Otis Nichols, who, using the back of a copy of the first Ellen G. White broadside, “To the Remnant Scattered Abroad,” wrote in detail to William Miller in April, 1846, giving a comprehensive statement concerning the sanctuary. Sabbath, and Spirit of prophecy developments. This was duly received and recorded by Miller, who filed it under “Otis Nichols Dorchester, Mass.” (Original in Adventual Collection, Aurora [Illinois] College; photostat in Advent Source Collection.) Concerning this, Bates says:PFF4 1023.4

    “Before the meeting commenced, some of us were examining some of the points in the sealing message; some difference of opinion existed about the correctness of the view of the word ‘ascending,’ &c., and whereas we had made the publishing of the message a subject of prayer at the Topsham Conference [Me.] a little previous, and the way to publish appeared not sufficiently clear, we therefore resolved unitedly to refer it all to God.” 13Joseph Bates, A Seal of the Living God, p. 24.PFF4 1023.5

    Without resources, influence, or experience, the whites entered upon a publishing program that developed into remarkable proportions, now issued in 198 languages and dialects (upper) present truth, First periodical, Published at Middletown, Connecticut; (lower) advent review, First issued at Auburn, New York; (inset) James and Ellen White
    Page 1025
    PFF4 1025

    After a period spent in prayer for guidance and instruction was brought before Mrs. White the appearance of a light, of the sun, with its powerful rays growing in strength. And the message was given, “The angels are holding the four winds.,.. The saints are not all sealed. Yea publish the things thou hast seen and heard, and the blessing of God will attend.” “Look ye! That rising is in strength, and grows brighter and brighter.” 14Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement, p. 274.PFF4 1025.1

    Then it was that she said to James White:PFF4 1025.2

    “I have a message for you. You must begin to print a little paper and send it out to the people. Let it be small at first; but as the people read they will send you means with which to print, and it will be a success from the first. From this small beginning it was shown to me to be like streams of light that went clear round the world.” 15Ibid., pp. 274, 275.PFF4 1025.3

    This led directly into their earliest printing activity. Let us here advert a moment to this publishing venture. Albert Belden, of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, offered the Whites the “large unfurnished chamber” where the first Sabbath conference had been held in his house. So the Whites returned from Maine, and the Present Truth was started. In its editorial policy it took for granted the premillennial second advent position and the great prophetic outlines, as reaffirmed at the conferences, but stressed particularly the Sabbath, the sanctuary, and the Spirit of prophecy as truths for the time then present. At last the paper was off the press, and the simple, touching record is:PFF4 1025.4

    “The precious printed sheets were brought into the house and laid on the floor, and then a little group of interested ones were gathered in, and we knelt around the papers, and with humble hearts and many tears besought the Lord to let His blessing rest upon these printed messengers of truth.” 16E. G. White, Christian Experience and Teachings, p. 129.PFF4 1025.5

    James and Ellen White, and associates, Plead for divine blessing upon the new present truth before it was sent forth with its clarifying message on the meaning of the times
    Page 1026
    PFF4 1026

    The papers were then folded, wrapped, and addressed, and James White carried them afoot in a carpetbag to the Middle-town post office. Thus the periodical publications of the Sabbatarians had begun, this journal proving to be a molding, welding influence among the “little flock” of Sabbatarians. Then a new venture was started, the Advent Review. 17The early issues were printed in Auburn, New York, and in Paris, Maine. Finally, at a conference at Paris, it was decided to replace both Present Truth and Advent Review with a permanent paper, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. And its purpose was just that to review past teachings on the advent, and to herald the sabbath and Kindred “advanced truth.” The positions of 1844 had been so generally repudiated by the former leaders that they required a clear restatement, with further illumination and explantion. It was composed of extracts from the leading Millerite papers prior to the Disappointment, showing that the Sabbatarian group were simply retaining and perfecting the prophetic interpretations that all Adventist leaders had once taught, particularly in the seventh-month phase, but which the larger body of the Adventists had now largely abandoned.PFF4 1026.1

    So it was that, six times in 1848, groups of these earnest men and women, together with such leaders as James and Ellen White, Joseph Bates, and Hiram Edson, met for systematic Bible study and prayer, seeking to reach united conclusions, which they achieved. Mrs. White took little part in these discussions, but gave priceless clues, which were followed through by earnest Bible study. As a result of these conferences and studies a “line of truth” was unfolded extending clear through to “the city of God.” 18E. G. White, Special Testimonies, Series B, no. 2, pp. 56, 57.PFF4 1027.1

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