Section 8

The Development of the Concept of the Investigative or Pre-Advent Judgment

The concept of a shut door might have been tenable as long as the Adventists thought that Christ's coming was immediately imminent. But the passage of seven years made adjustments absolutely necessary. A better explanation for the end of the 2300 days in 1844 was essential.

Hiram Edson's group had already concluded that there was a two partite sanctuary in heaven, and they believed that Christ had entered the most holy place for the first time in 1844 to fulfill the high-priestly type of "the cleansing of the sanctuary" (Lev. 16). Crosier had summarized these views. Ellen G. White said that God had shown her in vision that Crosier had the true light on the cleansing of the sanctuary.1 It is not clear how far Mrs. White endorsed Crosier's famous article of 1846, because it contains several positions contrary to her teachings. But the concept that Christ had finished His ministry in the first apartment and had moved to the second apartment in 1844 was accepted as foundational by all the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism. William Miller had already transferred the atonement from the work of Christ on the cross to His high-priestly intercession. Thus, it was a simple step for the Adventist pioneers to propose that Christ had gone into the most holy place to finish His work of atonement, according to the type of Leviticus 16. This atonement was limited to "Israel," "the remnant." When Christ had finished that work, the day of wrath would begin.

Although Ellen G. White could speak of every case being decided while Jesus was in the most holy place, the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism did not yet have the doctrine of "the investigative judgment." This was formulated only after the shut-door phase of their theology. The concept of the investigative judgment was developed in the 1850's to explain what began in 1844. But even here the pioneers were not wholly original. They simply reclaimed and developed what had already been suggested in the Millerite movement.

Josiah Litch, a prominent Millerite preacher and expositor, was probably the first Adventist to suggest a pre-advent judgment. In his Prophetic Expositions; or a Connected View of the Testimony of the Prophets Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Time of Its Establishment,2 Litch argued that there are two stages in the process of judgment—the trial and the penal execution. The trial must precede the execution. He showed that the resurrection is the retributive or executive phase of judgment. "There can be no general judgment or trial after the resurrection," said Litch.3 He pointed to Revelation 20:12, 13, where the trial of the dead precedes their resurrection. The trial phase of the judgment must take place in the invisible world "before Jesus Christ comes, in the clouds of heaven."4 Execution follows. Litch then reasoned that there must be a justification on the day of judgment before the effects of the fall could be taken away and "the saints be restored to God's perfect image and glory."5 He closed his presentation by raising the question whether this trial of the dead began in 1798 at the end of the 1260 days. Litch cited Daniel 7:9, 10, 26.6 Miller and most of his movement, however, placed the judgment at the advent.

Miller was apparently the first to connect Daniel 8:14 with Leviticus 16.7 He did not do this on exegetical grounds but in an effort to establish the time of Christ's return more precisely.

In the summer of 1844 the Advent brethren in Maine embraced the view that the judgment must precede the advent and that it would coincide with that year's harvest. They suggested that this judgment was then in progress, for the line was being drawn between the righteous and the wicked, and the righteous were being sealed.8

On December 11, 1844, a few weeks after the Disappointment, Miller suggested that "a division line" had been drawn by the October 22 message.9 And on December 18 he suggested that the eschaton was not a single event but a series of events. In one sense the judgment had already begun.10

After the Albany Conference of 1845, however, Miller and most of the leaders of the movement no longer investigated this area but retreated into conservative positions.

In the Western Midnight Cry of November 29, 1844, the editor, Enoch Jacobs, suggested that the coming of the high priest out of the holy of holies typifies Christ's sitting in judgment rather than His appearing. He applied Acts 3:19 to this finishing work of atonement now in progress. Jacobs said that "Christ might have set in judgment on the tenth day [October 22], and thus fulfilled the type."11 Like Litch, he reasoned that the rendering of judgment must precede the execution of judgment, and he cited the judgment of Revelation 20 to establish this. Then he made a statement often echoed by the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism: "Our mistakes have not been in wrong calculation of time so much as the proper application of events."12

In the Jubilee Standard of June 19, 1845, S. S. Snow, a radical shut-door advocate, argued that the Laodicean period of the church had begun after October 22. He pointed out that Laodicea means "judging of the people." Reasoning that the trial must precede the execution, he said that the trial phase of judgment must therefore be "a process" which precedes the first resurrection (second advent). Snow said, "God has been judging his people... since the 1st day of the 7th month [October 12, 18441."13 In the same issue of the Jubilee Standard, however, George Peavey argued that the hour of the judgment (Rev. 14:7) coincided with the Millerite phase of the movement and that the judgment had closed on October 22.14

In his historic article of February 1846, Crosier argued that the final phase of Christ's ministry began rather than ended in 1844. This was a pillar for the pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism.15

In the Day-Dawn of April, 1847, Mrs. J. F. Wardwell criticized James White for rejecting the idea of a pre-advent judgment. She suggested that the high priest who went into the most holy place wearing the "breastplate" of judgment symbolized a work of pre-advent judgment. She believed that Daniel's standing "in [his] lot at the end of the days" (Dan. 12:13) meant that he would be judged before the advent.16

James White, however, took a position contrary to a pre-advent judgment. He remarked, "It is not necessary that the final sentence should be given before the first resurrection, as some have taught; for the names of the saints are written in heaven, and Jesus, and the angels will certainly know who to raise, and gather to the New Jerusalem."17

Joseph Bates was the first pioneer to outline what eventually became the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of the pre-advent judgment. This is found in his 1850 booklet entitled An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-typical Sanctuary, by the Scriptures. He made the following principal points:

1. The door of Matthew 25:10 was shut when the Bridegroom came in 1844. This coming is the same as Christ's coming to the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9, 10, 13.18

2. Before 1844 the throne of God was in the first apartment. But at the end of the 2300 days the throne was moved to the second apartment of the sanctuary in heaven. This was a typical pioneer concept.19

3. The judgment was set in 1844 and began to decide "who is, and who is not worthy to enter the gates of the holy city." Christ will plead all cases written on His "breast plate of judgment," and when finished, the day for the execution of judgment will commence.20

4. "The seven spots of blood on the Golden Altar and before the Mercy Seat, I fully believe represents the duration of the judicial proceedings on the living saints in the Most Holy, ... even seven years. "21

5. Jesus entered the holy place, not the most holy place, at His ascension. Bates offered Hebrews 6:19; 9:12; Revelation 1:12, 14; 4:1, 2, 5; 5:1, 7 as proof.22

6. In 1844 the first apartment was shut and the second apartment was opened.23

James White was not impressed either with Bates' time setting or with his pre-advent judgment. In the September, 1850, issue of the Advent Review, White wrote:

Some have contended that the day of judgment was prior to the second advent. This view is certainly without foundation in the word of God.

Daniel, "in the night visions," saw that "judgment was given to the Saints... ," not "until the ancient of days came," and the "little horn" ceased prevailing, which will not be until he is destroyed by the brightness of Christ's coming.

"I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at [not before] his appearing and his kingdom."—ii Tim. iv, 1.

The advent angel [Rev. xiv, 6, 7] "saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come," does not prove that the day of judgment came in 1840, or 1844 nor that it will come prior to the second advent.24

On February 3, 1853, J. N. Andrews used the same basic "proof texts" for the two-apartment ministry of Christ in heaven.25

In 1854 J. N. Loughborough made a number of new points:

He connected "the cleansing of the sanctuary" of Daniel 8:14 and the Day of Atonement of Leviticus 16 with the first angel's judgment message of Revelation 14:7. He argued that the Day of Atonement described in Leviticus 16 was a judgment situation where decisions were made who would remain in Israel and who would be "cut off."

2. He used 1 Peter 4:5, 7, 11, 17, 19 and 1 Tim. 5:24 as evidence of a pre-advent judgment and applied these texts to 1844.

He reasoned that Daniel's standing in his lot refers to the judgment which began in 1844.26

In 1855 Uriah Smith restated Loughborough's main positions on the pre-advent judgment but made two additional significant points:

1. He placed more emphasis on men being judged by the books of record (Dan. 7:10; Rev. 20:12).

2. He pointed out that this judgment will only involve those names written in the book of life.

Smith dogmatically declared that 1 Peter 4:17 and 1 Timothy 5:24 refer to the judgment beginning in 1844.27

In 1857 James White finally accepted the concept of a special judgment for "the house of God" before Christ comes. He was apparently the first to use the distinctive Seventh-day Adventist expression, "the investigative judgment. "28 He used Litch's argument that both the righteous and the wicked must be judged before they are raised from the dead. In trying to find New Testament proof for this investigative judgment which began in 1844, White used four Scriptures—    1 Peter 4:17, 18; 1 Timothy 5:24; 1 Peter 4:5-7 and Acts 3:19.

The investigative judgment then became a plank of orthodoxy among the Sabbatarian Adventist body. Ellen G. White incorporated these basic concepts into her book, The Great Controversy.29

Thus the investigative judgment replaced the shut door as the explanation for the 1844 event.


1. White to Curtix, 21 Apr. 1847, in A Word to the "Little Flock," p. 12.
2. Josiah Litch, Prophetic Expositions; or a Connected View of the Testimony of the Prophets Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Time of Its Establishment, 2 vols. (Boston: J. V. Himes, 1842), vol. 1.
3. Ibid., p. 51.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., p. 53.
6. Ibid., p. 54. This presentation by Litch comes fairly close to the Seventh-day Adventist concept of the investigative judgment. Although refinements were to be made, the concept and basic outline were already present in Litch.
7. William Miller, "Letter from Win. Miller," Signs of the Times, 17 May 1843, p. 85.
8. Nathaniel Southard, "The Present and the Past," Midnight Cry, 31 Oct. 1844, p. 140.
9. William Miller, letter in Advent Herald and Signs of the Times Reporter, 11 Dec. 1844, p. 142. Reprinted in Western Midnight Cry, 21 Dec. 1844, p. 25. Letter dated November 18, 1844.
10. William Miller, letter in Advent Herald and Signs of the Times Reporter, 18 Dec. 1844, p. 147. Letter dated December 3, 1844. In a letter of March 20, 1845, published in the Day-Star, April 8, 1845, page 31, Miller was apparently the first to link the judgment message of Revelation 14:6, 7 with the cleansing of the sanctuary.
11. Enoch Jacobs, "The Time," Western Midnight Cry, 29 Nov. 1844, p. 19. Jacobs could have secured his idea on Acts 3:19 from William Miller, who wrote him on November 22, 1844, "that our sins cannot be blotted out until Christ comes to judge His people" (William Miller, in Western Midnight Cry, 21 Dec. 1844, p. 26).
12. Ibid., p. 20.
13. S. S. Snow, "The Laodicean Church:—concluded," Jubilee Standard, 19 June 1845, p. 117.
14. George Peavey, "'The Hour of His Judgment Is Come,' " Jubilee Standard, 19 June 1845, p. 113.
15. O. R. L. Crosier, "The Law of Moses," Day-Star Extra, 7 Feb. 1846, pp. 37-44.
16. Sister J. F. Wardwell, "The Mystery of God," Day-Dawn, Apr. 1847, p. 10. This position was later adopted by J. N. Loughborough and has continued down to Dr. Desmond Ford's recent commentary on Daniel. See Desmond Ford, Daniel (Nashville: Southern Publishing Assn., 1978).
17. James White, "The Judgment," in A Word to the "Little Flock, "p. 24.
18. Joseph Bates, An Explanation of the Typical and Anti-typical Sanctuary, by the Scriptures, pp.9, 10. This point was later adopted by Ellen G. White and incorporated into The Great Controversy. See Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (1911 ed.), p. 424.
19. Bates, Explanation, p. 10.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid. James and Ellen White did not share this further attempt at date setting.
22. Ibid., pp. 8, 11.
23. Ibid., p. 12.
24. James White, "The Day of Judgment," Advent Review, Sept. 1850, pp. 49-51.
25. J. N. Andrews, "The Sanctuary," Review and Herald, 3 Feb. 1853, pp. 145.49.
26. J. N. Loughborough, "The Hour of His Judgment Come," Review and Herald, 14 Feb. 1854, pp. 29-30. Perhaps Loughborough and the other pioneers of Seventh-day Adventism were unaware of William Miller's earlier suggestion that the judgment message of Revelation 14:6, 7 and the cleansing of the sanctuary were related. See William Miller, letter in Day-Star, 8 Apr. 1845, p. 31. Letter dated March 20, 1845.
27. Uriah Smith, "The Cleansing of the Sanctuary," Review and Herald, 2 Oct. 1855, pp. 52-4.
28. See Appendix, Exhibit A: James White, "The Judgment," Review and Herald, 29 Jan. 1857, pp. 100-101.
29. Ellen G. White incorporated the basic concepts of the investigative judgment into the chapters, "What and Where Is the Sanctuary?" "The Holy of Holies" and "The Investigative Judgment," in her book, The Great Controversy. The Great Controversy illustrates that Mrs. White was not so much an innovator and leader in setting out new positions but a charismatic figure who set the seal of endorsement on a position already developed.

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