Chief Charges Against Ellen White Regarding the Shut-door Issue
and the Responses Through the Years
1. In 1862 W. H. Ball wrote to James White regarding what he thought was a problem in Ellen White’s assertion that “the time for the salvation of sinners is past.”1 Ball thought that notion was unBiblical, to which Uriah Smith responded in the Review and Herald.2
2. Elders Snook and Brinkerhoff, after defecting, charged in 18663 that Ellen White taught: that probation for sinners ended in 1844, that “conversions made since 1844 were all spurious,” that she suppressed passages no longer held by the church, etc. Uriah Smith responded with editorials in the church paper between June 12 and July 31, 1866, and dealt with thirty-nine objections.4
3. In 1868 James White, in Life Incidents, admitted that early believers almost invariably assumed that “probation for sinners had closed.” They moved from this extreme closed-door position by either (1) repudiating their confidence in 1844 or (2) following their new understanding in the sanctuary truth. Thus, when the sanctuary truth unfolded, many now realized that Christ as High Priest meant that mercy for sinners was still available.5
4. H. E. Carver, in 1870, (after joining Snook and Brinkerhoff’s Marion Party) wrote Mrs. E. G. White’s Claims to Divine Inspiration Examined.6 In that book he recalled an 1865 conversation with James White and J. N. Loughborough. This conversation was remembered differently by Carver and Loughborough. Carver contended that early Adventists, including Ellen White, were involved in the “fanaticism of the shut door . . . in its extremest sense.”
Carver remembered James White to have said: “Brother Carver, I will make an admission to you I would not make to a sharp opponent. Considering her youthfulness at the time, and her faith in the shut-door doctrine, and her association with those of the same faith, it should not be considered singular if these things should give a coloring to the vision not warranted by what she really saw.”7
Loughborough recalled, in a letter to Uriah Smith,8 that James White said: “‘Brother Carver, I will make an admission to you, which, of course, I would not make in public to a sharp opponent. She did believe it. And so, as you know, did nearly all the Advent people. In her visions, she had views of an open as well as a shut door; and she did not at first distinctly understand what this open door meant. Many brethren opposed her views, because she told them there was an open door.
“After speaking of the vision in which mention is made of the shut door, given at Exeter, Maine, which vision, at this point, was the topic of conversation, Bro. White said, ‘Considering her youthfulness, and her belief in the shut door, and the views of the Advent people, it would not have been considered very strange, if her vision had received a coloring, in writing it out.’ I did not understand Bro. White, for a moment, to convey the idea that her views colored the vision, but that they did not; and that, for this reason: we had, in the same vision, what she saw about the open door, notwithstanding her vision of the open door was contrary to the faith of the Advent people at that time, and contrary to her own faith, before she had the vision.
“Still further, Bro. White went on to show that it was the visions that led them out of the extreme view of the shut door. Immediately after this vision, they labored for some who had made no profession before 1844, which was directly contrary to the practice of those who held the extreme view on the shut door. This vision was repeated at Oswego, N.Y., just before it was published in Saratoga; but instead of leading them to cease to labor for the unconverted, it led them to labor for those who are now Bro. and Sr. Patch of Minnesota.
“And I will here state, that, so far as I can learn from those who were living where this vision was given, instead of its leading them to the extreme shut-door view, it had the opposite effect, to lead those who received it, out of it.”
Elder White’s wording, as quoted by Carver, seems to contradict his own statement in “A Word to the ‘Little Flock’”9 when he forthrightly disagreed with the view that Ellen’s “sentiments, in the main, are obtained from previous teaching, or study.” Then James went on to show two incidents where Ellen Harmon’s visions either corrected or presented views that were “entirely new to us, as well as herself.”
In this conversation James White linked Ellen Harmon with the shut-door teaching as understood by all Shut-door Millerites that young Ellen shared until her first two visions.10 In Life Incidents, 1868, he wrote: “That the door was shut. The clear light from the heavenly sanctuary that a door, or ministration, was opened at the close of the 2300 days, while another was closed at that time, had not yet been seen. And in the absence of light in reference to the shut and open door of the heavenly sanctuary, the reader can hardly see how those who held fast their Advent experience, as illustrated by the parable of the ten virgins, could fail to come to the conclusion that probation for sinners had closed.
“But light on the subject soon came, and then it was seen that although Christ closed one ministration at the termination of the 2300 days, He had opened another in the most holy place, and still presented His blood before the Father for sinners. . . . Was the door of mercy closed? This is an unscriptural expression, but, if I may be allowed to use it, may I not say that in the fullest sense of the expression the door of mercy was opened on the tenth day of the seventh month, 1844?”11
5. I. C. Wellcome, an Open-door Adventist and early chronicler for the Advent Christian denomination, wrote, in 1874, that the early Ellen White reflected the shut-door teachings that prevailed at the time of her first visions. However, he wrote that she changed her views as time passed, suppressing those earlier statements that she no longer believed.12
6. Miles Grant, also an Advent Christian spokesman and editor of World’s Crisis, published in 1874 certain editorials that were expanded in his The True Sabbath: Which Day Shall We Keep?13 Grant, leaning heavily on Carver’s work, added a number of “witnesses” who supported the charge that Ellen White taught that no genuine conversions were made after 1844. This allegation is discussed in Appendix M.
7. Ellen White’s long letter to J. N. Loughborough, 1874, was prompted by Grant’s book. She responded: “I hereby testify in the fear of God that the charges of Miles Grant, of Mrs. Burdick, and others published in the Crisis are not true. The statements in reference to my course in forty-four are false. With my brethren and sisters, after the time passed in forty-four I did believe no more sinners would be converted. But I never had a vision that no more sinners would be converted. And am clear and free to state no one has ever heard me say or has read from my pen statements which will justify them in the charges they have made against me upon this point.
“It was on my first journey east to relate my visions that the precious light in regard to the heavenly sanctuary was opened before me and I was shown the open and shut door. We believed that the Lord was soon to come in the clouds of heaven. I was shown that there was a great work to be done in the world for those who had not had the light and rejected it. Our brethren could not understand this with our faith in the immediate appearing of Christ. Some accused me of saying that my Lord delayeth His coming, especially the fanatical ones. I saw that in ‘44 God had opened a door and no man could shut it, and shut a door and no man could open it. Those who rejected the light which was brought to the world by the message of the second angel went into darkness, and how great was that darkness.
“I never have stated or written that the world was doomed or damned. I never have under any circumstances used this language to anyone, however sinful. I have ever had messages of reproof for those who used these harsh expressions.”14
8. G. I. Butler, president of the General Conference, urged the publication of Early Writings (1882) and wrote that it contained “the very first of the published writings of Sister White”; that it contained “all she has written for publication.”15 Butler was correct in that all known publications of the 1840s were included. He was not aware that Christian Experience and Views (1851), which was reprinted in Early Writings, did not include every statement found in earlier printings of the visions. (See Appendix J for a discussion of the alleged suppression, especially as it relates to the preface to Early Writings.)
9. Shortly after the 1882 appearance of Early Writings, A. C. Long reacted, in 1883, with A Comparison of the Early Writings of Mrs. White With Later Publications.16 Long, apparently, was the first to show the missing sentences, comparing Early Writings and Christian Experience and Views, with the original documents. He believed that the deletions proved that Ellen White believed, after her first visions, that probation had closed, the door had shut, on October 22, 1844.
10. In response to Long, G. I. Butler and J. H. Waggoner wrote a 16-page Supplement to the Review and Herald of Aug. 14, 1883. One of their “most conclusive proofs”17 was the testimony of Marion C. Stowell in a letter written on August 17, 1875: “During Miss Harmon’s visit to Paris, Maine, in the summer of 1845, 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 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.” (Emphasis supplied.)
11. In 1883 Ellen White also responded to Long’s charges: “For a time after the disappointment in 1844, I did hold, in common with the advent body, that the door of mercy was then forever closed to the world. This position was taken before my first vision was given me. It was the light given me of God that corrected our error, and enabled us to see the true position. I am still a believer in the shut-door theory, but not in the sense in which we at first employed the term or in which it is employed by my opponents.
“There was a shut door in Noah’s day. . . . There was a shut door in the days of Abraham. . . . in Christ’s day. . . .
“I was shown in vision, and I still believe, that there was a shut door in 1844. All who saw the light of the first and second angels’ messages and rejected that light, were left in darkness. And those who accepted it and received the Holy Spirit which attended the proclamation of the message from heaven, and who afterward renounced their faith and pronounced their experience a delusion, thereby rejected the Spirit of God, and it no longer pleaded with them.
“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 might have a form of godliness, and profess to be followers of Christ; but having no living connection with God, they would be taken captive by the delusions of Satan. 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.”18
12. In 1884, Ellen White wrote the fourth volume of Spirit of Prophecy, entitling a chapter, “An Open and a Shut Door,”19 in which she again described the transition from the original shut-door-of-mercy concept to the one that places the shut door in the setting of the heavenly sanctuary; this chapter in 1888 was enlarged for The Great Controversy, pages 429-432.
13. Between February and April, 1885, G. I. Butler wrote ten articles for the Review and Herald, describing the events of the 1840s. He reviewed the shut-door charges, noting that they “have been repeated over and over, and some souls have been deceived and thrown into darkness thereby.
“For the sake of helping such and saving others from the same fate, we propose to sift these charges thoroughly and see what truth there is in them. We shall admit all the truth they contain, and expose the error. If this is God’s truth, we can afford to be fair. If it will not bear the test of careful examination, and a full knowledge of the facts, the quicker those engaged in it hear the truth the better for them. . . .
“Nothing can ever be really gained by concealing any fact or by deception. . . . In saying this, however, we wish it to be understood that we have no idea that there was anything connected with the rise of this message which anyone should wish to conceal. . . .”20
Butler then reviewed the facts: (1) In common with most Millerites, most early Sabbatarian Adventists believed that their work for the world was finished; (2) Within six months the larger part of the Millerites had repudiated the 1844 movement as a mistake; (3) Those who were patient found light in the sanctuary truths; (4) Early Sabbath keeping Adventists had “much to say about a ‘shut door’ because they thus recognized the past movement as genuine in distinction from those Adventists who had given it up”; that those who repudiated the 1844 movement were “rejected of God.” Up to 1851, they had much to say because “up to that time their efforts to proselyte were largely confined to those who had believed the advent doctrine in 1844; (5) “But [Sabbatarian Adventists] came to this understanding [grasping a world-wide work] gradually”; (6) “But their belief in the ‘shut door doctrine’ was not such as to forbid the salvation of those who had not rejected the first message, or those who had come to years of accountability since the passing of the time, for plenty of instances can be found where they worked for the salvation of such persons; (7) He produced twenty-one witnesses who lived through the 1840s and who verified that Ellen White never taught that probation had closed for everyone in 1844; (8) “That the vision of Mrs. E. G. White so often quoted is in perfect harmony with these positions”; (9) “Finally, that the Scriptures themselves are in perfect harmony with such a kind of shut door as this, and indeed, that various texts really teach the same thing.”
Butler then injected his father’s experience who embraced the “present truth” of the Sabbatarian Adventists in 1850 when the son was 16 years of age. After asking, “What kind of shut door did he believe in?” Butler quoted from a letter his father had written to the Whites. The letter appeared in the Review and Herald, January 1851: “Since I have been converted to the shut door and seventh-day Sabbath, I have been out in this town and some of the neighboring towns . . . to try to get off some of the prejudice from other minds which I so deeply felt on my own. . . . I have learned from conversation with others as well as from my past experience that the shut door has been the great shoal on which the Adventists [Millerites] have run their ship and foundered.”
Butler described how his father, in referring to Millerites generally, spoke of “their contradictory positions on the messages, midnight cry, etc.,” and their misunderstanding regarding the shut door: “‘You see how all these have shunned the door. . . . They supposed the shut door would exclude from every degree of the Spirit of God all the unconverted having had light or no light, young or old. I think if this class could have the true shut door and the third angel’s message set before them, some of them would see the true line of prophecy and rejoice again in the light. I have been striving to look up those who have not given up our past experience in these messages, and trying to show them what the sanctuary is and what the shut door is; that the sanctuary spoken of in Dan. 8:14 is being cleansed.’”
Then Butler said: “That father, in his view of the shut door, was at this time in perfect accordance with Brother and Sister White, we know by personal knowledge.”21
14. D. M. Canright, after repeated troubles and reconciliations, made his final break with the church in 1887. He brought together all the major accusations of previous critics, including Snook, Brinkerhoff, Carver, Wellcome, Grant, and Long. He charged that Ellen White taught the shut door “in its very worst form.” Canright’s book, Seventh-day Adventism Renounced After an Experience of Twenty-eight Years by a Prominent Minister and Writer of That Faith,22 was the most massive attack on the credibility of Ellen White in the nineteenth century, and probably was the strongest influence on later critics.
15. In 1887 Uriah Smith, the first to respond to Canright, listed Canright’s charges that had been repeated for years, and then presented his denials.23
16. In a Review Extra, November 22, 1887, Uriah Smith and G. I. Butler again responded to Canright’s assertions.
17. In 1905 J. N. Loughborough’s revised edition of Rise and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists (1892) was published but retitled, The Great Second Advent Movement.24 In this revised edition Loughborough added a chapter called, “The Shut Door.” He reviewed again what he understood to be the facts of the 1840s, emphasizing that no Sabbatarian Adventists, including Ellen White, believed “that there was no more mercy for sinners.” He too had his list of twenty-one witnesses supporting his positions.
18. D. M. Canright, in 1919, published his Life of Mrs. E G. White: Seventh-day Adventist Prophet: Her False Claims Refuted, an extremely polemic book. His chapter on the shut-door issue occupied about one-fourth of the book.25
19. In 1925 M. E. Olsen’s A History of the Origin and Progress of Seventh-day Adventists was published, but his treatment of the shut-door question was limited.26
20. W. A. Spicer recognized that “critics can find phrases to stumble over”; that early Adventist pioneers, at first, had limited, mistaken notions about their mission field; that Ellen White led the way in thinking through a clear message and mission, but he rejected the “ridiculous charge” that they believed that sinners could not be converted after 1844.27
21. A few years later, another former General Conference president, A. G. Daniells, took a slightly different approach, contending that the pioneers did believe that probation had closed in 1844; even Ellen White “shared personally this view in common with those with whom she associated.”28 Then Daniells made an interesting distinction between Ellen White’s “personal belief” and the “revelations” she received—that is, she never had a vision that probation had closed. Daniells believed that Mrs. White’s visions implied a “clear scriptural position” which led the way for the pioneers. Two years later, when her 1874 letter to Loughborough was found in the White Estate files during the indexing of her thousands of letters, Daniells believed his positions were reaffirmed.29
22. However, W. A. Spicer was troubled, believing that Daniells’s position gave away too much to the critics. He wrote another manuscript that was placed in both the General Conference files and Ellen White Estate files. One of his conclusions was that “our pioneers set forth the open door for sinners, all the way from 1844.”30
23. During the 1930s the shut-door question became more than a North American issue. European leader L. R. Conradi left denominational leadership and, in the German language, wrote a strong polemic against the claims of Ellen White. His argument was basically a resurrection of Canright’s charges.31
24. Also during the 1930s, an Australian leader, W. W. Fletcher, defected largely over his contention that nothing significant happened in 1844. His book, The Reasons For My Faith, focused on his view of the atonement and the related shut-door problem which he believed to be “the darkest page in our denominational history.”32
25. In 1949 A. W. Spalding asserted that “Ellen Harmon’s visions corrected those who maintained” that “there was no mercy for sinners” after 1844. But he clouded his position by including Ellen White with Joseph Bates and James White in his statement that “these three maintained the doctrine [shut-door] longer than most, until increasing light caused them to abandon it.”33
26. F. D. Nichol was, perhaps, the most vigorous defender of Ellen White’s legitimacy, especially in his 1951 book, Ellen White and Her Critics.34 Devoting ninety-one pages to the shut-door issue, he responded to most of the charges that have been made since the middle 1860s. He amassed evidence that Ellen White did not have a vision that taught that probation had closed in 1844. Critics contend that Nichol lifted certain quotations out of their immediate context to serve his purpose. On balance, he seems to have mediated between the positions represented by Daniells and Spicer.
27. In 1971 Ingemar Lindén’s doctoral dissertation, Biblicism, Apokalyptik, Utopi,35 appeared with an updated version of previous criticism, this time with more historical documents available for scrutiny. In 1978, his The Last Trump36 was published, followed by his 1844 and the Shut Door Problem37 in 1982. He charged church leaders with a coverup of the shut-door issue, and considered Nichol’s Critics an inadequate treatment of the issue. Although he strongly accused denominational spokesmen of speaking “from preconceived viewpoints,” many believe that Lindén’s treatment of the shut-door issue is an example of presuppositions driving one’s conclusions.38
28. In 1976 R. L. Numbers leaned heavily on Lindén’s analysis and certain novel interpretations.39
29. In 1977 Gerard Damsteegt published his exhaustive review of the 1840s-1870s in Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission.40 Among other themes, Damsteegt focused on the shut-door issue, recognizing its connection with other core beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists. This book notes the seminal contribution of Ellen White’s visions, the gradual transition in the meaning of the “shut door,” and the clear evidence that Ellen White led the way in opening the future for those who understood the meaning of October 22, 1844.
30. It could be argued that with the publications of Lindén and Damsteegt, the clearest expressions of both the critic and the affirmer have been made. The arguments of Lindén and Damsteegt are mutually exclusive. Perhaps we have in these two scholarly presentations the flowering of two basic presuppositions in conflict.
1.Mar. 24, 1849, Open-door Vision, in Christian Experience and Views, 1851, and in Early Writings, p. 45.
2.Review and Herald, Jan. 21, 1862.
3.B. F. Snook and Wm. Brinkerhoff, The Visions of E. G. White, Not of God (Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Cedar Valley Times and Book and Job Print, 1866).
4.“The Visions—Objections Answered,” Review and Herald, June 12-July 31, 1866.
5.See pp. 168-216, 264-268.
6.Marion, Iowa: Advent and Sabbath Advocate Press, 1871, pp. 11, 12, 28-45. Photocopy in Pacific Union College Library.
7.Ibid., p. 11.
8.Review and Herald, Sept. 25, 1866.
9.A Word to the “Little Flock,” p. 22 (1847).
10. See pp. 503, 552, 553 for an analysis of Ellen White’s growing understanding of the doctrinal seeds planted in those first two visions.
11. Life Incidents, pp. 204-209.
12. Isaac C. Wellcome, History of the Second Advent Message (Boston: Advent Christian Publication Society, 1874), p. 406.
13. Miles Grant (Boston, Mass.: Advent Christian Publications, 1874).
14. Letter 24, 2874, cited in MR, vol. 8, p. 229.
15. Review and Herald, Dec. 26, 1882.
16. Reprint from the “Advent and Sabbath Advocate,” Marion, Iowa, 1883. Pacific Union College Library.
17. Review and Herald Supplement, Aug. 14, 1883.
18. Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 59-73, emphasis supplied.
19. Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4 (Oakland, Calif.: Pacific Press, 1884).
20. Review and Herald, Mar. 17, 1885.
21. Review and Herald, Mar. 31, 1885.
22. Chicago: Fleming H. Revel, 1889.
23. Review and Herald Extra, Nov. 22, 1889.
24. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1935.
25. Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company, 1919.
26. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1925.
27. Review and Herald, March 18-April 29, 1926.
28. Review and Herald, Feb. 6-27, 1930.
29. Review and Herald, Jan. 14, 1932.
30. A statement filed with the Secretary of the White Estate Board of Trustees by W. A. Spicer, p. 5— “Facts of Record vs Tradition,” DF 434-a.
31. “Ist Frau E. G. White die Prophetin der Endgemeinde,” Hamburg: Buchdruckerei Kroggel, 1933.
32. Fletcher, The Reasons for My Faith, p. 199.
33. Spalding, Origin and History, vol. 1, p. 162.
34. Nichol, Critics, pp. 161-252.
35. S. Ingemar Lindén, Biblicism, Apokalyptik, Utopi, Uppsala, 1971. Doctoral dissertation.
36. Lindén, The Last Trump (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1978).
37. Lindén, 1844 and the Shut Door Problem (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1982).
38. “It is undeniable that, in spite of his efforts, his [Lindén] presentation shows considerable bias himself and is, at times, marked by superficiality and gross misinterpretation. . . . Lindén’s superficial treatment of documents and his tendency to misrepresent the obvious meaning of primary sources can be demonstrated on various examples. . . . Since he is undoubtedly the ablest representative of the critics of SDA on the shut-door issue, it seems fair to say that, on the whole, they have been no less biased than their opponents, the SDA apologists, sometimes even surpassing them considerably through their unfriendly polemics. And the one serious scholarly attempt by one of the critics failed to prove that a truly objective and unbiased approach supports their far-reaching claims.”—Rolf J. Poehler, “Shut Door Doctrine,” unpublished paper, Andrews University, pp. 61-63.
39. Numbers, Prophetess of Health, pp. 26, 27, 35, 215.
40. Grand Rapids, Mich., William B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 1977.
INDEX CONTINUE APPENDIX M