Section 6

The Shut Door and the Pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism

All the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism were among the shut-door group. They strongly opposed the open-door Adventists. When the pioneers embraced the seventh-day Sabbath about 1846, they became known as the shut-door Sabbatarians. The evidence is clear that for a period of about seven years they believed that the door of Matthew 25:10 and Luke 13:25 had closed on October 22, 1844.

In 1847 James White published his first pamphlet, A Word to the "Little Flock." He said, "From the ascension, to the shutting of the door, Oct. 1844, Jesus stood with wide-spread arms of love, and mercy; ready to receive, and plead the cause of every sinner, who would come to God by him."1 The implication is clear that intercession for sinners had ceased after the October 22 date.

In this same publication James White justified the time setting of 1844. The October 22 date was called "a test," but the "final test" for the little remnant was said to be the Sabbath truth. Jesus was seen to be in the most holy place pleading the cause of "the little flock," whose names were on "the breastplate of judgment." He was not pleading for "sinners" or "the wicked world."2

James White further said: "That Jesus rose up, and shut the door, and came to the Ancient of days, to receive his kingdom, at the 7th month, 1844, I fully believe. See Luke 13:25; Mat. 25:10; Dan. 7:13, 14."3 The other pioneers also frequently employed Luke 13:25 to describe the October 22 event: "When once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and He shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are...." This parable identifies the "door" as the door of probation.

A Word to the "Little Flock" also presented some remarks by Joseph Bates, one of the most prominent pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism. These remarks related to the work of Ellen G. White. He wrote, "I believe the work is of God, and is given to comfort and strengthen his 'scattered,' 'torn,' and 'pealed [sic] people,' since the closing up of our work for the world in October, 1844."4 This clear statement on the shut door helps explain why the pioneers were known as the "Sabbath and shut-door" brethren.

In 1848 James White wrote two letters to Brother and Sister Hastings. These letters reveal that the pioneers majored on two points—the

Joseph Bates preached the Sabbath to them with strong argument, much boldness and power. My principal message was on Matthew 25:1-11 [the parable of the ten virgins]. The Brethren are strong on the Sabbath and Shut Door.5

On October 2 of the same year, in calling a conference at Topsham, Maine, James White declared:

The principle [sic] points on which we dwell as present truth are the 7th Day Sabbath and Shut Door. In this we wish to honor God's most holy institution and also acknowledge the work of God in our Second Advent experience.6

In 1849 James White launched the Present Truth, the first journal of the shut-door Sabbatarians. The two points of "present truth" were the Sabbath and the shut door.

The issue of December, 1849, carried an article by David Arnold in which he argued for a literal fulfillment of the parable of Matthew 25. He wrote:

Thus we had in our experience, previous to the tenth day of the seventh month, 1844, a perfect fulfillment of all the events in the parable, as stepping stones to the SHUT DOOR; and since that time, the event, (knocking at the shut door,) that was to take place after the shutting of the door, has not failed to fill up the concluding scene in the drama.7

Arnold also linked this shut door to the door of the first apartment of the sanctuary. He argued that Christ had withdrawn and ceased to be a priest for the sins of the world. He had gone into the most holy place to plead only for the faithful. As for those trying to find Christ as before, Arnold applied the words of Hosea 5:6, 7:" 'They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord; but THEY SHALL NOT FIND HIM—HE HATH WITHDRAWN HIMSELF FROM THEM. They have dealt treacherously against the Lord, for they have begotten STRANGE CHILDREN.' "8

Arnold understood "strange children" to be the "professed conversions" since the door was shut on October 22. Yet he softened the position for those who had not yet reached the age of accountability by October 22, 1844. "They were then in a state of INNOCENCY, they were entitled to a record upon the breast-plate of judgment . . . and are therefore subjects of the present intercession of our great high priest."9 But the pioneers believed there was no mercy for those who had rejected their October 22 message. Against them they (God?) had irrevocably shut the door. Even forty years later Ellen G. White still affirmed that the door was shut to those who had resisted the "midnight cry." They had sinned away their day of grace. Even those who killed the Son of God were given an opportunity to repent, but no such chance was given those who rejected the "cry" of 1844 with its October 22 date!

Writing in the same issue of Present Truth in December, 1849, James White also declared that the parable of Matthew 25 "shows that the door is shut."10

In the Present Truth of March, 1850, Arnold said that "the daily ministration [of Jesus] for the world ceased" when the first apartment of the sanctuary was shut in 1844. He also made another significant point. He declared that the end of the 2300 days was the end of the times of the Gentiles (see Rom. 11:25).11

In May, 1850, James White again reviewed the parable of Matthew 25 in the light of the 2300 days. He said: "That there is to be a shut door prior to the second advent, many will admit.... I think we shall clearly see that there can be no other place for the shut door but at the Autumn of 1844." White wrote that "the door of mercy" is not a scriptural term, but said that those "who had rejected the offers of salvation, was [sic] left without an advocate, when Jesus passed from the Holy Place, and shut that door in 1844." Like Arnold, White then quoted Hosea 5:6, 7. His article clearly shows that he meant a probationary door. He concluded by saying, "Scripture clearly fixes the shut door in 1844."12

In 1850 a special issue of the Advent Review showed through past testimonies that the Sabbatarian Adventists still stood by the original Advent faith. The paper almost appears to be a defense of the shut-door doctrine. It reprinted a letter by William Miller from the Voice of Truth, February 19, 1845, which declared that the door of Matthew 25:10 had closed on October 22. Miller said, "And I have not seen a genuine conversion since.' '13

The issue included a long article by J. B. Cook, who had joined the Sabbatarians in 1845-46. He made clear that he believed in the shut door and that there was a cross of shame in such an unpopular doctrine. Reasoning that the parable of Matthew 25 was literally fulfilled in every detail in the events of 1844, Cook said, "The world, the flesh and the devil will not consent to the door's being shut.... The Advent cause is the cause of God, and must be confessed before men—quite through the shut-door.... The cross of it must be borne." Cook then said that the "shut-door" is "present truth." "There is need for the shut-door to separate us finally and forever from the world, preparatory to ascension." Likening this shut door to the door that was shut when Noah entered the ark, Cook concluded by making the doctrine of the shut door a test of salvation. "If you avoid the cross of 'present truth' [the shut door], you are with the world, which is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned."14

In 1850 Joseph Bates wrote a little book, An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-typical Sanctuary, by the Scriptures. He said, "The 'Present Truth,' then, of this third angel's message, is, THE SABBATH AND SHUT DOOR."15

In December of the same year, Bates affirmed the shut-door doctrine in a lengthy article in the new Second Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Describing what happened in 1844, he said, "Jesus... rises up, and shuts to the door [Luke xiii, 25,] where he had been the Mediator for all the world." In support he cited Miller's words issued just after the Disappointment: "'We have done our work in warning sinners, and in trying to awake a formal church. God in his providence has SHUT THE DOOR."16

Then Bates launched a bitter attack on the Albany Conference and the open-door Adventists. He said that the Laodicean church was organized at the Albany Conference in 1845. And he denounced this conference for confessing that the shut door of 1844 was an error. For this he called the open-door Adventists "rebels." Bates denied that they had won a single convert in six years, because the door of Matthew 25:10 and Luke 13:25 was shut and the time for converting Gentiles (sinners) was finished (Rom. 11:25 cited). The only way to make a convert, he said, would be to trample over the Son of God and open the door which He had shut. Bates concluded with this amazing exclamation, "Talk about searching out sinners, that the work of the Midnight Cry left in outer darkness six years ago!"17

The last really hard-line shut-door statement appeared in the Review and Herald of June 9, 1851. It was written by James White. He said:

At the seventh month, 1844, we were called out from the world. At the tenth, our sympathy was wholly with the expected Jesus. Previous to this, we were warning the world with tears to be ready for the Lord's coming; but on that day, or about that time, our labor for unbelievers rolled off from us, and an unseen hand drew us away from the world, and shut us up in sweet communion with Jesus. The thrilling testimonies of leading brethren, published after the tenth, and the experience of the entire body of Advent brethren establish this point. The church of Christ, since the day of pentecost, has not experienced so sudden and so great a change in labor and feeling, as Adventists experienced in 1844. A few days before the tenth of the seventh month, thousands were running to and fro, giving the cry, and papers containing the message were scattered everywhere, like the leaves of autumn. But about the tenth, every Advent paper was stopped, and the traveling brethren returned to their homes, feeling that they had given their last message to the world. The state of feeling throughout the entire body of Advent brethren can be accounted for in no other way, than that a change then took place in the position of the "vine," [Jesus,] and the living "branches" felt it. And as he ceased to plead for the world, and moved within the second vail, the living branches were called away from the world, and their sympathy was with Jesus, and with each other....

"And the door was shut." This also was a literal door in the marriage, and was designed to mustrate an important event connected with Advent history, which we have already referred to in our remarks upon the coming of the bridegroom, and the going in with him to the marriage. Christ, the "Minister of the Sanctuary, and of the True Tabernacle," was to officiate in the antitypical daily ministration, until the termination of the 2300 days. Then that work for the world was to cease forever; and he was to pass within the second vail, and enter upon the work of cleansing the Sanctuary.18

James White also cited the words of Hosea 5:6, 7. About 1851, however, a change began taking place in the shut-door thinking.19 Until this time there had been no missionary outreach to the world at large. Bates' outlook was typical.

Although he desired the salvation of non-Adventists, he was bound by a theological understanding of the shut door which made further mission work unbiblical. He therefore had to reject the rumors of new conversions from the "Babylonian revivals," seeing as his only task the reclaiming of backsliders among Adventists.20

In the Review and Herald of March 17, 1853, James White cited a complaint by Crosier, who was no longer with the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism. Crosier said that he had written his Day-Star Extra article of 1846 to prove the shut door. He thought it was not right for Sabbatarian Adventists to use it, since they no longer believed in the shut door. James White then retorted that these critics should therefore no longer reproachfully call them "shut-door Sabbatarians." He added, "While the great work of saving men closed with the 2300 days, a few are now coming to Christ, who find salvation."21

Writing on April 14, 1853, James White tried to refute those who said that all details of the parable of Matthew 25 could not be applied to the experience of the Adventists. He insisted on interpreting the parable as if it were an allegory of their own history. But he gave evidence of a distinct shift in their position. While he said that the door was shut in 1844, he said that the knocking of the foolish virgins on the door was still future.22 Using the opening of the door to the most holy place in 1844 as a way out, he declared, "We rejoice to publish.., that there is an Open Door." The door of 1844, he said, was only shut to the foolish virgins, and the foolish virgins did not include those who had not heard the message.23

Finally, in the Review and Herald of May 26, 1853, James White declared that the shutting of the door in the parable of Luke 13:25 was still future.24

On June 9, 1853, Win. S. Ingraham declared, "We present an open door." It was shut only to those who had grieved away the Spirit in their positive rejection of the Advent message.25

Thus the pioneers turned from their restricted shut-door days and increasingly realized that the gospel had to go not only to "honest souls," but to real sinners in "the wicked world." What really made them genuine open-door Adventists?

1. The passing of time made a rigid exclusivism more and more difficult to maintain.

The sanctuary doctrine directed them to an open door, and gradually they came to realize that it was open to sinners.

Certain statements from the young Ellen G. White indicated not only a continuing ministry for Christ in the holy of holies, but a broadening work on earth in proclaiming new truths—such as the Sabbath. Although her visions were not immediately understood to teach anything different from what the pioneers all believed, the visions did have a positive influence which slowly moved the early Adventists toward a mission for "the wicked world."

4. The most significant factor was the providence of God. The pioneers were like the first Jewish Christians, who preached only to Jews. The first Christians did not seek out Gentile sinners. Gentile sinners came to them. The Jewish Christians were forced to recognize that God wanted to save Gentiles. In fact, the first Gentiles were saved with almost no human effort except for Peter's sermon in response to a vision (see Acts 10). So it was with these pioneers. After they were consolidated by the Sabbath Conference of 1848, unbelievers began showing an interest in the message. To the surprise of the Adventists, some were converted. At first the pioneers thought these must be the few "hidden ones," the "honest in heart." But the work and interest grew in a way which astonished them. How could they keep the door shut when God was clearly indicating that it was open? The process of emerging from shut-door isolation to the vision of a worldwide mission took about ten years.


1. James White, in A Word to the "Little Flock" (1847; facsimile reproduction, Washington, D.C.: Review & Herald Publishing Assn., n.d.), p. 2.
2. James White, "The Voice of God," in A Word to the "Little Flock," p. 5.
3. James White, "The Time of Trouble," in A Word to the "Little Flock,"p. 8.
4. Joseph Bates, "Remarks," in A Word to the "Little Flock," p. 21.
5. White to Brother and Sister Hastings, 26 Aug. 1848, cited by Arthur L. White, "Ellen G. White and the Shut Door Question" (Statement prepared by Arthur L. White to serve as an appendix to his forthcoming biography of Ellen G. White), p. 23.
6. White to Brother and Sister Hastings, 2 Oct. 1848; cited in White, "Shut Door Question," p. 23.
7. David Arnold, "The Shut Door Explained," Present Truth, Dec. 1849, p. 45.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. James White, "Who Has Left the Sure Word?" Present Truth, Dec. 1849, p. 46.
11. David Arnold, "Reviewed.—(concluded)." Present Truth, Mar. 1850, p. 60.
12. James White. "The Sanctuary, 2300 Days. and the Shut Door," Present Truth, May 1850, pp. 78-9.
13. The Advent Review, Containing Thrilling Testimonies, Written in the Holy Spirit, by Many of the Leaders in the Second Advent Cause, Showing Its Divine Origin and Progress (Auburn: printed by Henry Oliphant, 1850), p. 10.
14. J. B. Cook, "The Necessity and Certainty of Divine Guidance," in ibid., pp. 33-4.
15. Joseph Bates, An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-typical Sanctuary, by the Scriptures (New Bedford: press of Benjamin Lindsey, 1850), p.16.
16. Joseph Bates, "Midnight Cry in the Past," Review and Herald, Dec. 1850, p. 22.
17. Ibid., pp. 23-4.
18. James White, "The Parable, Matthew xxv, 1-12,"  Review and Herald, 9 June 1851, p. 102.
19. In the Review and Herald of April 7, 1851, James White wrote that "there are those who may be converted"—"erring brethren"... "in the Laodicean church"..., "children, who were not old enough to understandingly receive or reject the truth," and "precious souls, some even in the churches" (p. 64). But later, in the Review and Herald of February 17, 1852, he declared that the "shut door.., event shuts out none of the honest children of God, neither those who have not wickedly rejected the light of truth, and the influence of the Holy Spirit" (James White, "Call at the Harbinger Office," Review and Herald, 17 Feb. 1852, pp. 94-5).
20. P. Gerard Damsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission, p. 158.
21. James White, "The Sanctuary," Review and Herald, 17 Mar. 1853, p. 176.
22. James White here anticipated the position, taken by Ellen G. White in the 1888 edition of The Great Controversy, that the shutting of the door of the parable points forward to the close of human probation.
23. James White, "The Shut Door," Review and Herald, 14 Apr. 1853, p. 189.
24. James White, "Remarks on Luke XIII, 23-25," Review and Herald, 26 May 1853, p. 4. In earlier years this text was always applied to 1844.
25. Wm. S. Ingraham, "The Parable—Matt. XXV," Review and Herald, 9 June 1863, p. 10

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