Section 5

The Shut Door

During the seventh-month movement of 1844 the Adventists proclaimed in unison and power that the parable of Matthew 25 was being fulfilled. The parable was regarded as if it were a detailed allegory of their own history. They therefore believed that the Bridegroom would come on October 22 and shut the door.

After the time passed, there was a general feeling among the Adventists that God had shut the door on the wicked world and on the fallen churches, which had rejected the Advent message. A few weeks after the Disappointment, Miller wrote:

"We have done our work in warning sinners, and in trying to awake a formal church. God in his providence had shut the door. . . . And never since the days of the apostles has there been such a division line drawn, as was drawn about the 10th or 23rd day of the 7th Jewish month."1

However, as time tarried and Christ did not come, many felt that the door of Matthew 25:10 and Luke 13:25—the door of probation—was not shut after all. They reasoned that the ordinary affairs of life must go on, that sinners must still be converted and that the gospel appeal must still be given to the world. At the Albany Conference of 1845 the Adventist leaders renounced the shut-door concept altogether. Because this shut door was so much a part of their message, they took the position that they were not only mistaken in preaching the October 22 date, but in literally applying Matthew 25 to their experience. Many were led not only to renounce the shut door, but their whole Advent experience, as a mistake and a delusion. These comprised by far the majority of Adventists and all the main leaders of the movement. They became known as the "open-door" Adventists. Those who stoutly resisted the idea of the open door called them "nominal Adventists," "the synagogue of Satan" or "Laodiceans."

A few believed that they could not deny the validity of their past experience without sinning against the Holy Spirit. Their past experience was so intimately bound up with their understanding of the parable of the ten virgins that they thought that holding to God's leading in the movement meant holding to a shut door. These became known as the "shut-door" Adventists.

But there were tensions within the shut-door group. They held several views regarding those who were now excluded from salvation. Some, like Joseph Turner, insisted that probation had closed for all but those already in the Adventist ark. Others, including the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism, modified this extreme shut-door concept over a period of nearly ten years. At first they confined their witnessing to other Adventists. Then they suggested that the door was not shut to those under the age of accountability on October 22. Later they proposed that it was not shut to those who had not been presented with the light. Later still, they included "honest souls" in the fallen churches and even in the world. There is quite clear evidence that they did not talk about converting sinners or prosecuting a mission to "the wicked world" until well into the 1850's. The pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism, however, never relinquished the idea that God had shut the door on all who had rejected the October 22 date. This date was a "test," they said, and all who refused to accept it were rejected of God. The churches which rejected the test of the October 22 date became Babylon.

But the uncertainty regarding who might still be saved was not the only cause of tension among the shut-door Adventists. They had problems with fanaticism. By their open-door opponents they were all called fanatics. Some shut-door Adventists advocated such ridiculous things as no work, spiritual wifery and creeping on the floor. The pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism, initially comprising a tiny band of about a dozen individuals, opposed these excesses, but they embraced things which appeared to place them with the fanatics. Among these were the visions of Ellen Harmon, feet washing, holy kissing and Sabbath keeping. To the outsider all the shut-door Adventists were raving fanatics. If some of these Adventists opposed the fanaticism of their brethren, it was simply regarded as fanatics denouncing fanatics. All were shut-door believers. This was seen as the ultimate delusion which bound all the fanatics together.

Some weeks after the Albany Conference in 1845, William Miller and Joshua V. Himes visited the Adventists in the Portland, Maine, area in order to help them. (This was Ellen Harmon territory.2) But the Albany Conference was anathema to the shut-door believers. To them it seemed that open-door Adventists had renounced their Advent experience. Himes reported on the condition of the shut-door believers in the Morning Watch of June 12, 1845, as follows:

There is another class in the city, who hold no public meetings. They have, and still hold to the view, that the door is shut, and that we have nothing more to do with, or for the world. They, with others, have been looking for the Advent with deep interest, at different periods, for the last few months. But all the specific times to which they looked, now being past, they, of course, must look every day. We would accord to them honesty and sincerity, in time past, in adopting and carrying out their views. They were then afraid to reject any message, that had the semblance of truth, lest they should offend God, and incur his displeasure.

We visited them just after the 10th of the 7th month. We found that they had carried out their faith, as we then understood it, in works worthy of the followers of Christ. We advised them to make provision for the destitute, and that all who had, or could obtain employment, should enter upon their work, and faithfully attend to all their duties as formerly; but, at the same time, that they should heed the admonition of the Savior, Luke 2 1:34-36.

Soon after this, as we learn, Bro. J. Turner, and others, took the ground, that we were in the great Sabbath—that the 6000 years had ended—consequently, no Adventist should perform any more manual labor. To do so, would surely, in their estimation, result in their final destruction. With instructions of this kind, from those in whom they had confidence, and being quite disheartened as to labor in worldly matters, and longing to see their Savior, and have their hope consummated in the kingdom of God, they embraced this new and erroneous view, and acted accordingly. This resulted in strong censure, and condemnation of our sincerely-tendered advice, and also in opposition to the "Herald" and "Watch," and all holding views in common with us.

While waiting in this position of idleness, as to worldly, manual labor, a new light, as it was thought, shone upon Bro. Turner's mind, viz., that the Bridegroom HAD COME—that he came on the 10th of the 7th month, of the Jewish year last past—that the marriage then took place—that all the virgins then, in some sense, went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut—None of these could be lost, and none without could be saved. Thus all the spiritual affairs of this mighty globe were finished!

These views being adopted by the publisher of the Maine paper, entitled the "Hope of Israel," together with many of those who had been devoted, and faithful in the cause, they made a spirited effort to disseminate their views by the press. In this way, and by public testimony, these new notions were disseminated among most of the Advent congregations in Maine, and other parts of the country.

The influence of these views have been disastrous in the highest degree. While some brethren and sisters, of firm habits of piety and integrity, have been able to keep themselves pure, and still live consistently, and even to repudiate all departures from the common duties of life, and the ordinances of the gospel, others, of less stability of mind, and withal given to visionary and fanciful interpretations of the holy Scriptures, have been turned aside from the more important duties of life, and of gospel ordinances, to the practice of many vain and superstitious things. We know of none who have been made better by these views. The Christian graces of humility, charity, brotherly love, kindness, and meekness, of the advocates of these perversions of truth and duty, have not been improved. But there has been, in many instances, a sad departure—a falling away—a spirit of bitter proscription, a despising of those who are good, which go far to show, that they have not the right spirit, at least. And finally, more stress, in most cases, has been laid upon the performance of certain practices, such as feet-washing, salutations, abstinence from all manual labor, etc., than upon the "weightier matters of the law." It would require great firmness and moral rectitude in any person, to withstand the fanaticisms and evils incident to such a system. Think of a class of unsuspecting disciples, living in general idleness, having frequent meetings, in the most free association with one another, given up to their feelings and impressions, with the view that they are the favorites of God, and are shut in with the Bridegroom in safety, and withal, practicing frequent salutations, washings, etc., and let common sense decide what must be the result. It would require the strength of an angel to keep such from deteriorating in manners and morals. Add to this yet another view, viz., that the door of salvation is for ever closed, so that they cannot exercise benevolent feelings towards sinners, with a view to save them, so that the most essential element of the spirit of Christ, and of Christian character, is annihilated. Under such circumstances, the wonder with us is, not that there have been some extravagances, but that there have not been more.


Now that they have seen the mistakes into which they were honestly led, their duty is plain. Nothing can be gained by wilfulness, in holding to positions that are demonstrated by the passing of the time to be incorrect. We should yield to God, and confess and give up our mistakes, when he makes them perfectly clear. All our brethren must see, that if the jubilee trump sounded in the seventh month of last year, that we should all have been made free in the first month of this year. We have no right to another moment of time. This view, then, was not the correct one.

Again, if the cry given in the seventh month was the midnight cry, after the tarrying time, then the morning must have come, in three months from that time, as the night could be but six months long, on their principle of interpreting it.

And, finally—if the first "watch" commenced then, and there are but four "watches," and the prophetic night being but six months, and this time having now passed, that view also has failed. For Christ must come in one of the "watches;" and yet, on this view, they are all passed, and the Saviour has not come. There is now no view which we can take of the seventh month movement, which makes it a final one. Time has demonstrated our mistakes respecting it. Then let us all abandon our errors, and return to our duty as honest and faithful servants. The door of salvation being open wide, and the gospel still sounding a sweet release to all the perishing sons of Adam, let us as ministers, and members of the church of Christ, awake, and engage with new zeal and interest in the work of God.

Let all who have not already, return to their several callings in life, and be diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.

We are much rejoiced to find so many coming up to the work, in harmony and love. The Lord is smiling upon us, and we may look for his blessing to attend us in the faithful discharge of our duty as formerly.

Above all, we must "watch and pray always," that when the Son of Man cometh, we may be found of him in peace.

New York, June 6, 1845. 3

This letter illustrates how hard it was for open-door believers to distinguish more moderate shut-door believers from the rank fanatics. Joseph Turner was at that very time (1845) a friend of Ellen Harmon and of James White. They visited in each other's homes. And while they later parted company, they appeared at that time to be mutual believers.

While open-door Adventists pointed to continuing conversions as evidence that the door was not shut, the shut-door Adventists discounted all reports of conversions in other religious bodies. They claimed that these conversions were all of Satan. This attitude toward the possibility of new conversions must be appreciated against the background of hostility experienced by these Adventists. They were vilified in both the public and religious press—particularly after the October 22 debacle. The Adventists regarded this as evidence that the door was shut.

We must also consider the psychological effect that ridicule and persecution had upon the Adventists. They were deeply sensitive to ridicule and persecution. They talked much about enduring persecution for the Advent faith, about being rejected and cast out of the churches, and their hurt was in proportion to their deep seriousness. It seems that the shut-door doctrine was only their way of saying, "Since the world and the churches reject us, we reject the world and the churches." Shutting the door of salvation to those who had rejected the October 22 date was the measure of their reaction to their own rejection. When the bitter wounds of their rejection healed, they were ready to open the door of salvation to "the wicked world." Yet we would not suggest that this psychological reaction wholly explains the shut-door mentality. These Adventists were wrestling with real theological problems.

The Advent Mirror, edited by Apollos Hale and Joseph Turner, and the Day-Star,4 edited by Enoch Jacobs, were the main periodicals advocating a shut door. Turner said that the Bridegroom had come on October 22, finished His atonement and shut the door. He advocated a no-work doctrine, since he said that the Millennial Sabbath had begun. He was one of the most radical shut-door Adventists. But he was certainly not alone in denying the possibility of new conversions. J. D. Pickands declared that they must deny the reality of sound conversions or "deny the whole history of Adventism."5 This was the great reason for holding to a shut door.

Jacobs took a more moderate position, although he advocated a number of shut-door views. He believed that the close of probation spoken of in Revelation 22:11 had already arrived. But he refused to call the shut door "the door of mercy" lest God might yet gather some souls out of the world.

The Adventists faced a problem. If they held to the validity of the 2300 days and of 1844, they must explain what happened at the end of the prophetic time. If the parable of Matthew 25 was fulfilled in the Advent Movement, then the Bridegroom must have come and the door must be shut. They could come to no other conclusion. They felt they could not accept an open door without denying God's hand in the movement.

But what was meant by the coming of the Bridegroom? This was another source of tension among the shut-door Adventists. Some, like Turner, said that the Bridegroom had come spiritually to His spiritual temple and sealed His people in the ark like Noah's family. It was impossible for the lost to be saved or the saved to be lost. Those who held this view were often called the "spiitualists." Some of them developed perfectionistic theories and soon exhibited the most bizarre fanaticism.

The pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism explained the coming of the Bridegroom differently. The morning after the Disappointment, Hiram Edson was impressed that the High Priest, instead of coming out of the holy of holies on October 22, had gone into that apartment for the first time to make His atonement.6 This view was not a great innovation when we consider the background of Edson's "discovery." The Millerites had already focused their attention on the day-of-atonement ministry. If Christ had not come out of the holy of holies as predicted, He must have gone in. Edson, Crosier and Dr. Hahn explored this alternative until Crosier was able to present a well-reasoned explanation for this position in the Day-Star Extra of February, 1846.7 The tiny band of Seventh-day Adventist pioneers gathered around Crosier's thesis. They said that Christ had come as High Priest to the most holy place of the heavenly temple on October 22, 1844. Against the spiritualizers, they stressed a literal sanctuary with two apartments where Christ ministers. Consequently, they were labeled "literalizers."

Although this highly literal concept of a two-partite sanctuary in heaven was presented in an immature, even childlike way, it gave the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism a distinct advantage. It was a strong anchor in those confusing days:

1. It enabled them to believe that the atonement or intercession of Christ was not yet finished. This saved them from perfectionism and the claims to sinlessness made by their spiritualist opponents.

2. The concept of an intercessory work in the heavenly temple gave them an objective focus and anchor. This has been one of the most praiseworthy features of Seventh-day Adventism to this day. To an Adventist, "the temple is in heaven" means that there is something outside and above him in which to anchor his faith.

3. It later provided an escape from the unfortunate shut-door posture. In the setting of the sanctuary they saw another meaning to the "shut door". They said that when Christ entered the most holy place for His final work, He shut the door of the first apartment, which no man could open, and opened the door to the second apartment. They believed that Revelation 3:8 applied to this new situation: "I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My name" (NIV).

At first this "open door" was only for the benefit of "the little flock," "the remnant," "the Israel of God," and of no benefit to the wicked world and fallen churches. But as time went on, this view gave the pioneers a way out of their shut-door dilemma. Gradually their wounds healed and their horizons broadened. They admitted "honest souls," "jewels," "hidden ones," first from the "nominal Adventists," then from the fallen churches and finally from the world. In the 1850's they eventually saw that the "daily" service of reconciliation was not suspended on the ritual day of atonement. Therefore they finally recognized an "open door" for sinners and the world. They could do this while maintaining a shut door-one door was shut and another open. Moreover, the pioneers, including Ellen G. White, always maintained that the door was shut to those who had grieved the Holy Spirit by rejecting the Advent Awakening. In this way the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism tried to maintain their credibility by denying that they were mistaken about the shut door. It seems that the Great Disappointment was all they could stand.


1 William Miller, letter in Advent Herald and Signs of the Times Reporter, 11 Dec. 1844, p. 142, cited by P. Gerard Damsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission, p. 106.
2 Ellen Gould Harmon was married to James White on August 30, 1846, at the age of nineteen.
3 Joshua V. Himes, "Editorial Correspondence: Visit to Portland with Bro. Miller—A Good Hearing, State of the Cause—Duty of Adventists," Morning Watch, 12 June 1845, p. 192. Letter written from New York, June 6, 1845.
4 Called the Western Midnight Cry before February 18, 1845.
5 J. D. Pickands, letter to Snow in Jubilee Standard, 19 June 1845, p. 120, cited by Damsteegt, Message and Mission, p. 108.
6 William Miller had already shifted the atonement from the cross to the intercessory work of Christ.
7 R. L. Crosier, "The Law of Moses," Day-Star Extra, 7 Feb. 1846, pp. 37-44. It should be noted that others had also arrived at a similar conclusion.

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