Ellen White Led the Way in Building a Biblically-Oriented Message for the World
In the very early period (1844-1848), before even a nucleus of a dozen fellow believers was formed, before any published documents were available, Ellen Harmon was conceptually leading the way in developing the Biblically based coherency of what became the distinctive message of Seventh-day Adventists. This remarkable conceptual leadership and nurturing remained a fact of Adventist life till her death.
What were the steps by which Ellen Harmon White led contemporaries out of post-Disappointment confusion and despair?
1. Her first vision (December 1844) corrected the error held by those who had not repudiated their 1844 message and experience: the future was open, not closed, implying that a great work was yet to be done before Jesus returned.
2. Her February 1845 vision, only months after October 22, 1844, focused on what happened on that date: a great and final phase of Christ’s mediatorial ministry had begun, resulting in further divisions among Millerites. Although this vision does not refer specifically to the shut door, one should recognize that for the “careless multitude” to be “in perfect darkness” does not necessarily mean that probation had closed for them. Further, “deceived” people could yet be “undeceived” by hearing truth in clear tones; for them, probation had not closed. Believers had a work to do.
3. Her August 1845 vision emphasized that Christ’s return was not imminent: His return depended on certain events yet to take place, one further indication that there was much work to be done before probation would close.
4. Her April 1847 vision linked the seventh-day Sabbath with the sanctuary doctrine that she had opened up in her second vision: those two Biblical doctrines melded would provide the basis for the last-day urgency in the three messages of Revelation 14. A worldwide work was now beginning to stretch Sabbatarian Adventist minds.
5. Her letter to Eli Curtis (April 21, 1847) emphasized the two resurrections with the intervening 1000-year period. Here was the first time (as far as we know) that Ellen White mentioned the shut door in her writings, though we can assume she had these concepts much earlier. She made plain that she used the term “shut door” as a symbolic reference to Christ’s closing ministry in the Most Holy Place, begun on October 22, 1844. Thus, the code word “shut door” meant not only confidence in the validity of the 1844 message and experience, but also confidence in what Jesus is now doing, preparatory to His second coming.
6. Her fifth vision (November 1848) flung the door open to the vast, worldwide evangelical responsibilities resting on those with the “present truth” of the Sabbath-Sanctuary-Three Angels’ Messages linkage.
7. Her Sealing vision (January 1849) further enlarged the global responsibilities of this small Adventist group by connecting the holding of the winds (Rev. 7) with the sealing work (and thus the close of probation). Here Ellen White unfolded the logic that the winds are being held, subject to the progress of the sealing work, thus recognizing the contingency of the second coming.
8. Her Open-Door vision (March 1849) linked even tighter the “shut door” with the sanctuary and Sabbath doctrines. She put into perspective (what then seemed highly unlikely) the last-day significance of modern spiritualism and hypnotism.
9. Her article in Present Truth (September 1849) emphasized the close correlation with the Biblical teaching that God’s grace is sufficient to make His people overcomers, that their overcoming had much to do with their characters being fixed and thus the close of their probation. She further pictured a world of people “starving” for “present truth.”
Each successive vision unfolded the truths already planted. Like steel beams of a building under construction, daily unfolding the architect’s drawings, each vision added to the other, providing a clearer theological foundation for their soon-to-be grasped, expanding world message and mission.
Sometimes, to Ellen White’s contemporaries, those steel beams formed a shape that wasn’t expected, although altogether foreseen by the Architect. For example, she opposed the Shut-door Millerites by rejecting their “spiritual” second coming in favor of a literal Second Advent. By redirecting the eyes of the believers toward the heavenly sanctuary and Christ’s work as High Priest in the Most Holy Place, she placed the believers in a totally different relationship to God’s plan for this earth than seen heretofore. Against Joseph Turner’s notion that Jesus had already been crowned King (a belief shared for a while by James White and Joseph Bates), Ellen White focused on Jesus as High Priest who had not yet received His kingdom.
It would have been too much to ask, then and now, to expect that Ellen White fully understood all the implications of her earliest visions. For her, it must have been a lonely venture with relatively few even welcoming her, never mind accepting her dramatically new concepts. Very few people were even aware of her first visions before 1846!2
But Ellen Harmon-White pressed on. The shut/open door imagery turned the Adventist gaze upward and forward: greater events were yet to take place, greater than even the overwhelming impact of the 1844 message! Powerful doctrine? Yes! But Ellen White’s fresh look into the heavens was also psychologically pivotal: although gratified that the Midnight Cry was God’s light behind them lighting up the path ahead, they now were to turn their energies into the opening future as they cooperated with God’s call in preparing believers for the “sealing work.”
Whatever changes in belief and attitudes that were to come anywhere in the direction Seventh- day Adventists would eventually go, would be in response to Ellen White’s relentless ministry to those relatively few who welcomed her. And the only places where she was even welcome were the shut-door believers, most of whom were either well into fanaticism or well into confusion and dismal discouragement. Without the vision-messages of Ellen White, no nucleus would have developed to even think in the direction of the distinctive message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1.Her first vision (December 1844) and the New Earth vision (December, 1845) were not published until in the Day-Star, January 24, 1846, then in “Little Remnant Scattered Abroad,” April 6, 1846, and then in A Word to the “Little Flock,” May 30, 1847. Her Bridegroom vision was first published in the Day-Star, March 14, 1846.
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