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Ellen G. White and the Shut Door Question

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    The Earliest Published References to the Vision

    The earliest published reference we have to the vision is in a letter James White wrote on August 19, 1845, to the editor of the Day Star four months before she wrote it out. White’s report was published on September 6, 1845. Note carefully James White’s impression of hearing the first vision related—what he saw in it and what he did not see:EGWSDQ 17.2

    There is one Sister in Maine who has had a clear vision of the Advent people traveling to the City of God. In her vision she heard the “Midnight Cry”—she saw a mighty host start at the point where the cry was made (finished)—soon she saw many denying the light set behind them, (which was the midnight cry). By this time they were in darkness, and began to stumble and fall off from the strait and narrow path, down into the dark world below to rise no more. She saw them continually falling till the voice of God was heard as recorded in Ezekiel 12:25, which was a number of days before the “Sign of the Son of Man” appeared—which was the great white cloud. Revelation 14:14—Day Star, September 6, 1845.EGWSDQ 17.3

    James White’s emphasis is on the phases of the account which clearly indicated the validity of the October 22 experience, and the fact that those who denied the “midnight cry” fell from the path to rise no more. Significantly, he said nothing of a shut door.EGWSDQ 17.4

    It must be that the four pages published in Early Writings devoted to her account of the vision presents but a brief portion of the total of what was shown to her, for here it can be read in fifteen minutes. This is also confirmed by Nichols in his letter to Miller with which he sent the 1846 broadside carrying the vision. Nichols mentions its content as being “a part of the vision of E. G. H. of Portland.” This, of course, is all that we have today. How enlightening it would be if we had the full account before us, but apparently it was never written out, only related orally.EGWSDQ 17.5

    Here is what we have from her first vision as it relates to the “shut door” as sent in a letter to Enoch Jacobs, editor of the Day Star, and published by him in the issue of January 24, 1846. It was written from Portland, Maine, but during the eight-month period she was staying with the Nichols family. (See the Nichols’ letter in Exhibit 2.).EGWSDQ 18.1

    While praying at the family altar the Holy Ghost fell on me and I seemed to be rising higher and higher, far above the dark world. I turned to look for the Advent people in the world, but could not find them, when a voice said to me, Look again, and look a little higher. At this, I raised my eyes and see a strait and narrow path, cast up high above the world. On this path the Advent people were traveling to the City, which was at the farther end of the path. They had a bright light set up behind at the first end of the path, which an angel told me was the Midnight Cry. This light shone all along the path and gave light for their feet so they might not stumble. And if they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, who was just before them, leading them to the City, they were safe. But soon some grew weary, and said the City was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before. Then Jesus would encourage them by raising his glorious right arm, and from his arm came a glorious light which waved over the Advent band, and they shouted, Hallelujah! 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 which left 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. They fell all the way along the path one after another, until we heard the voice of God like many waters, which gave us the day and hour of Jesus’ coming. The living saints, 144,000 in number, know and understand the voice, while the wicked thought it was thunder and an earthquake. When God spake the time, he poured on us the Holy Ghost, and our faces began to light up and shine with the glory of God as Moses did when he came down from Mount Sinai, (Exodus 34:30-34.) 2Note: With some slight editing James White republished the vision in the Broadside To the Little Remnant Scattered Abroad, dated April 6, 1846, then reprinted it in “A Word to the Little Flock,” with Scripture references added, on May 30, 1847. See Exhibit I, for the full text of the vision as there published. In 1851, the most of it was included in Ellen White’s first book, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White, and from there became a part of Early Writings, 11, 12EGWSDQ 18.2

    As mentioned by James White this vision reestablished the confidence of Ellen and the band of 60 in Portland in the fulfillment of prophecy on October 22, 1844. It led those who heard it recounted to “acknowledge their 7th month experience to be the work of God.”—A Word to the Little Flock, 22.EGWSDQ 19.1

    This being the case it appeared to them that this vision inevitably and immediately confirmed their initial understanding that probation had closed on that day. At this juncture in their thinking what other event could have taken place? There was no room at that time for any other conclusion.EGWSDQ 19.2

    One unique feature of the Millerite preaching in America, as distinct from the Advent awakening in the old world was the firm position of its absolute termination of all prophetic periods at the end of the 2300 days. At one of the second Advent conferences it was expressed in this way: “When Christ comes the door is shut, and such as are not ready can never enter in.”—The Signs of the Times, June 1, 1842.EGWSDQ 19.3

    This could mean only one thing, that is, probation for all mankind would close at the coming of Christ, the confidently expected event they saw forecast by the prophecy of Daniel 8:14. Beyond this point in prophetic history, there would be no opportunity for salvation. (See SDA Encyclopedia, 1966 edition, pp. 921-922; 1976 edition, pp 1034-1035). This was ingrained in the hearts and minds of the Advent believers through repetition from the public platform and in the Millerite journals. 3Note: See Exhibit 6 for G. I. Butler’s review of the position of leaders in the Millerite movement on the close of probation on October 22, 1844. For the full Butler series of ten articles on “Advent Experience” treating especially the matter of the “Shut Door” see Review and Herald, February 10 to April 14, 1885. Copies available from the White EstateEGWSDQ 19.4

    So while the idea of the Adventists of 1844 after October 22 holding to the close of probation may seem strange to us today, we must remember their firmly established positions and we must also remember that the Lord could lead His people only as fast as they could understand and follow His leadings. With the background of their preaching and beliefs, any message at this juncture to the effect that probation had not closed on October 22 would have led to the abandoning of confidence in the fulfillment of prophecy on October 22.EGWSDQ 20.1

    If we are inclined to be critical of our early Advent believers, let us call to mind again the experience of the disciples. It may be correctly said that the first vision given to Ellen Harmon did not teach a “shut door” for the world, that is, a close of probation for the whole world. In some of its expressions it carried the seeds of the teaching of a much greater movement yet to take place. Yet the interpretation placed upon it in confirming confidence in the fulfillment of prophecy on October 22 just naturally established in their minds a close of probation on October 22. This whole experience to them was clearly linked with a shut door as set forth in the parable of the ten virgins as found in Matthew 25:10.EGWSDQ 20.2

    As Otis Nichols in his letter to William Miller written on April 20, 1846, which he sent along with a copy of the Broadside printing of her first vision, recounts Ellen Harmon’s experience and the influence of her message, he declared:EGWSDQ 20.3

    From the time [the telling of the vision in February, 1845, at Poland, Maine] 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 parts 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 to the faith, and the 7th month movement; and that our work was done for the nominal church and the world, and what remained to be done was for the household of faith.EGWSDQ 20.4

    Those that rejected her message very soon fell into the world and a nominal faith, and those that did receive her testimony as from the Lord and afterward denied it, calling it mesmerism or an unholy thing, are many of them like those that are given over to strong delusion and working of Satan—a ship without a helm or anchor and driven by every wind, thus causing the way of truth to be evil spoken of.EGWSDQ 21.1

    This class of persons are her greatest enemies, and have done what they could by calumny, and lies to destroy her influence and character. But God has hitherto protected her in a remarkable manner from all harm; raised up benefactors for her wherever she goes notwithstanding the malice of wicked spirits and fallen Adventists.—Otis Nichols to William Miller, April 20, 1846. White Estate Document File, No. 439b.EGWSDQ 21.2

    This very valuable letter only recently came to our hands, and consequently was not known to exist when earlier statements on the shut door were written. It fills in some important history of which we have had little knowledge and confirms our understanding that those whose faith was confirmed by the vision of the travels of the Advent people to the city of God were not at once divested of their convictions, perhaps somewhat foggily held, that the door of salvation had closed. At the same time, Ellen White, as she later explained—and as was evidenced by an experience in Paris, Maine, in the summer of 1845 in which a sister not in the 1844 movement was understood to be eligible for salvation, was led through the visions to see an open door as it pertained to salvation. There was a period of a few years in which the full truth was only dimly seen.EGWSDQ 21.3

    This should be taken into account when considering statements made in this interim period. There was what Ellen White saw in vision which for the most part is clearly defined, and there were the conclusions reached by those holding shut door views who dared not abandon them for fear of rejecting confidence in the 1844 experience which carried such marked evidences of the work of the Spirit of God. But we repeat, as did Ellen White through the years and also the pioneers who were very familiar with the experience. Ellen White was not shown, nor did she write, that probation for the world generally closed in 1844.EGWSDQ 21.4

    Elder J. N. Loughborough in the The Review and Herald, September 25, 1866, gives a report of an experience in which he was present when James White was conversing with H. E. Carver, and stated:EGWSDQ 22.1

    Considering her youthfulness, and her belief in the shut door, and the views of the Advent people, it would not have been considered very strange, if her vision had received a coloring, in writing it out.EGWSDQ 22.2

    Then Loughborough comments:EGWSDQ 22.3

    I did not understand Brother White, for a moment, to convey the idea that her views colored the vision, but that they did not; and that, for this reason: we had, in the same vision, [the vision at Exeter, Maine, in February, 1845] what she saw about the open door, notwithstanding her vision of the open door was contrary to the faith of the Advent people at that time, and contrary to her own faith, before she had the vision.EGWSDQ 22.4

    Still further, Brother White went on to show that it was the visions that had led them out of the extreme view of the shut door. Immediately after this vision, they labored for some who had made no profession before 1844, which was directly contrary to the practice of those who held the extreme view of the shut door.EGWSDQ 22.5

    This vision was repeated again, as he showed, at Oswego, New York, just before it was published in Saratoga; but instead of leading them to cease labor for the unconverted, it led them to labor for those who are now Brother and Sister Patch of Minnesota.EGWSDQ 22.6

    The reader will recall that God in His providence and wisdom, may at times hide in obscurity some points which if, at the moment were fully revealed could cause perplexity and confusion. It will be recalled that God’s “hand was over and hid a mistake in some of the figures” on the 1843 chart, in spite of the fact that the chart “was directed by the hand of the Lord.” (Early Writings, 74).EGWSDQ 22.7

    Near His death, Jesus told His disciples, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” John 16:12. Ellen White was shown a rejection by God of a certain class of people in 1844, but from the wording it seems that just who this included, not being the subject of the vision, was at the time left undefined.EGWSDQ 23.1

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