Response to Deletion of “Wicked World”
When Ellen White’s initial summary of her first vision (December 1844) was printed in a Review and Herald Extra, July 21, 1851, the following sentence was omitted: “It was just as impossible for them to get on the path again and go the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected.” Critics raise three questions: (1) What did Ellen White mean by “wicked world”? (2) Why was this sentence deleted in later printings, including page 15 in Early Writings (1882)? (3) Does not this deletion/suppression show that Ellen White tried to hide her “mistaken belief” of the 1840s?
Understanding what an author meant is usually discovered by considering the immediate context, the purpose of the document, and any later explanations. The disputed sentence first appeared in a letter that Ellen White wrote to the editor of Day-Star on December 20, 1845, about one year after receiving the vision she is describing in this letter. This letter was printed in the January 24, 1846, issue of Day-Star. It was reprinted in the broadside, To the Little Remnant Scattered Abroad, April 6, 1846, and later in A Word to the “Little Flock” May 30, 1847.
However, in the fourth appearance of this vision-message1 the disputed sentence was omitted. In her brief introduction to this reprinted material, Ellen White wrote: “Here I will give the view that was first published in 1846. In this view I saw only a very few of the events of the future. More recent views have been more full. I shall therefore leave out a portion and prevent repetition.”
In this statement Ellen White recalled for her colleagues that she had been led by God, step by step, for the past six years since December 1844—that the broad outline of her first vision had been in the process of being filled in by subsequent visions. With this formal reprinting of the Midnight Cry vision, Ellen White assumed the author’s responsibility for making sure that her thoughts would be clearly understood. She edited out some repetition and one sentence that could be misunderstood. As any serious author would, she wanted to remove the possibility of misunderstanding.
Looking back from her vantage point in 1851, she realized that her young, inexperienced pen of December 20, 1845, did not express well what was only beginning to break through to her own mind at that time. In this first letter she tried to summarize in a few words a vision that took two hours to relate orally! Furthermore, this first vision corrected her own thoughts.2 That is, she now saw that probation’s door had not shut on everybody on October 22.
Those Millerites who accepted Ellen Harmon’s explanation of her first vision now focused on the future, not only on the past. They began to think through the implications of that “straight and narrow path”3 on which believers were yet to travel. Some of those shut-door travelers in 1844/45 would yet step off that path, and fall into the group below, characterized as those who had previously rejected the Midnight Cry message. This view, new to all, opened a slight crack in the door that all Millerites had proclaimed to be shut in 1844—a position held by most at the beginning of 1845.
A few months later, in February, 1845, Ellen Harmon indicated that the “careless multitude,” though in “perfect darkness,” were held by Satan’s deceptions and that Satan was doing his best to “deceive God’s children.” Deceived people could be undeceived by seeing clearer light even as those with clear light could be deceived away from the truth.
Though not a contemporary source document in 1883, Ellen White wrote an extended reply to critics who charged that she had tried to suppress heretical teachings found in her first vision.4 Part of her answer follows: “It is claimed that these expressions prove the shut door doctrine, and that this is the reason of their omission in later editions. But in fact they teach only that which has been and is still held by us as a people, as I shall show.”
[In that reply she then developed the shut-door principle reflected in the Bible story.] In referring particularly to her first vision, she continued: “Those who did not see the light, had not the guilt of its rejection. It was only the class who had despised the light from heaven that the Spirit of God could not reach. And this class included, as I have stated, both those who refused to accept the message when it was presented to them, and also those who, having received it, afterward renounced their faith. . . . These two classes are brought to view in the vision—those who declared the light which they had followed a delusion, and the wicked of the world who, having rejected the light, had been rejected of God. No reference is made to those who had not seen the light, and therefore were not guilty of its rejection.”
Obviously, the author’s explanation in 1883 was what she remembered to be the facts in 1844. Critics may accuse her of a faulty memory but the facts are that her memory does not conflict with the historical record. Her explanation in 1883 faithfully reflected the unfolding of the seeds of truth inherent in the soil of her first visions. The fruit of later years is not in conflict with the terse, summarizing outline of a vision that first appeared as a short letter that was never meant to be published.5 If Ellen White had known that her brief letter to Enoch Jacobs would be published and become a matter of great historical focus as time went by, she would have pondered how her words could be made so clear that they would not be misunderstood. But this short letter from a sick 18-year-old was not meant to be a carefully structured theological exposition. The teenager’s letter summarized the central point of her vision: (a) the 1844 message and experience was valid and significant, (b) God had been in it, and He would lead the believers into the future, wherein their labors would now be devoted.
Ellen White could have been more precise in the description of her first vision, but Biblical writers also used hyperbole to emphasize their points. Note Genesis 6:12: “So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Not all flesh, for think of Noah and his family. Psalm 58:3: “Evil men go wrong all their lives; they tell lies from the day they are born.” The hyperbole is obvious and the point is clear. “It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades.” No one believes that Jesus meant that everyone in these cities was doomed, but the point is clear. Many other examples exist throughout the Bible.
Young Ellen, overwhelmed, awed, and burdened with the divine assignment, began the journey on that December morning, 1844, that would turn the eyes of the faithful from the past to the future. She obviously did not understand fully where that road would lead her when she related her first vision. But even though she was confused by the Disappointment, that first vision opened the door of hope a crack as she saw a glimpse of the future. Not many weeks would go by before she would be further enlightened as to her duty to those who needed to hear the light that had changed her thinking and opened up the future for her.
In December 1845, what Ellen Harmon meant by the “wicked world” was different from what most others around her meant, including James White and Joseph Bates. When she wrote to Enoch Jacobs on December 20, 1845, she had already had the Bridegroom vision (February 1845) at Exeter, Maine. This second vision had helped her to further understand the grand salvation event of October 22. Ellen White saw that not everyone involved in the Millerite movement had fully settled the matter until after October 22. Nowhere in this vision does she relate specifically to the shut door.6
Here again we see Ellen White applying the principle of rejection, a principle that she may not have even understood to its fullest extent at that time.7 But it does resonate with the statement of Marion C. Stowell who was in Paris, Maine, in the summer of 1845, five or six months before Ellen White wrote her first letter to the Day-Star: “During Miss Harmon’s visit . . . I stated to her the particulars of a dear friend of mine whose father had prevented her attending our meetings; consequently she had not rejected light. She [Ellen Harmon] smilingly said, ‘God never has shown me that there is no salvation for such persons. It is only those who have had the light of truth presented to them and knowingly rejected it.’ Miss Harmon’s reply coincided with my idea of a shut door, and in justice no other could be derived from it.”8
For Ellen Harmon White, the door of mercy was not shut to those who had not understood clearly the Midnight Cry messages.
1.Review and Herald, Extra, July 21, 1851
2.See p. 503.
3.Matt. 7:14, KJV. Printers misprinted “strait” (meaning “difficult”) as “straight.” “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:14, NKJV).
4.Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 62, 63.
5.In her second published letter to Enoch Jacobs, March 14, 1846, she wrote: “My vision which you published in the Day-Star was written under a deep sense of duty, to you, not expecting you would publish it. Had I for once thought it was to be spread before the many readers of your paper, I should have been more particular and stated some things which I left out.”
6.Early Writings, pp. 55, 56.
8.Review and Herald, April 7, 1885.
INDEX CONTINUE APPENDIX K