No Hope of Heaven: Behind the Shut Door of Ellen White

locked-door

The Shut Door is a twisted doctrine that defined the first few years of the believers who eventually became Seventh-Day Adventists.  To summarize, after Jesus did not return on Oct 22, 1844 many of those who had believed he would then changed their minds and confessed that the “door” to mercy and grace had shut.

In my opinion part of their reasoning for doing this was bitterness.  Many of these poor folks had sold their farms and possessions as a show of faith that the Lord was to return.  They had nothing except each other and probably developed this view in the face of friends and family who had mocked them during the advent movement leading up to 1844.  They must have simply taken a measure of comfort in the idea or hope that they were secretly right all along and that those who had mocked them would be the ones who would truly suffer outside the “shut door”.

We see this reflected in the writings of Ellen White even many years after 1844.

“I was shown that the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, relating to the shut door, could not be separated. . . I saw that the mysterious signs and wonders and false reformations would increase and spread. The reformations that were shown me were not reformations from error to truth, but from bad to worse, for those who professed a change of heart had only wrapped about them a religious garb, which covered up the iniquity of a wicked heart. Some appeared to have been really converted, so as to deceive God’s people, but if their hearts could be seen they would appear as black as ever. My accompanying angel bade me look for the travail of soul for sinners as used to be. I looked, but could not see it, for the time for their salvation is past.” Present Truth, pp. 21-22, August, 1849

Notice above that Ellen White is teaching five years after the closing of the door that those converting to Christianity are simply false converts.

“The time for their salvation is passed”

Her husband, James White recounts his experience of the visions Ellen White received in and around 1844 regarding the shut door.

“When she received her first vision, Dec. 1844,she and all the band in Portland, Maine, (where her parents then resided) had given up the midnight-cry,and shut door, as being in the past. It was then that the Lord shew her in vision, the error into which she and the band in Portland had fallen. She then related her vision to the band, and about sixty confessed their error, and acknowledged their 7th month experience to be the work of God.” James White, A Word to the Little Flock, Pg. 22 1847

Even later Ellen White defines the doctrine of the shut door that was held by the early Adventists.  Later on this page she rebukes it as being error, obviously due to the passage of time since 1844.

“I did hold in common with the advent body that the door of mercy was then forever closed to the world.” Ellen White, {Ms4-1883, par. 20}

But the critical thing about the above quotations is we have an early Adventist definition of the Shut Door doctrine.  Later this doctrine morphed into what is now the Investigative Judgement.  If you study this further you will see a great deal of similarities in the language that frames both of them.

Obviously the Shut Door doctrine got long in tooth as time passed.  I think even for the laity they would be observing those around them years and years later as the bitterness passed and it would be hard to write them all off as damned.  Also, what about your own children?  SDA then and now believe in the doctrine of Age of Accountability.  So what of your small children in 1844 who were becoming teenagers and were asking to be baptized?  Should you consider them damned or do they get a special dispensation?

What ended up happening was Ellen White later denied the shut door doctrine entirely.  Instead of saying it was given to her by vision she claims it was corrected by vision.

“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.” Ellen White, {Ms4-1883, par. 20}

“This position was taken before my first vision was given me”

Notice she is accepting that she held to the doctrine but is clarifying that it was only because the truth hadn’t been given to her in vision yet.

For many years this was the official position of the SDA Church.  They taught their laity that Ellen White hadn’t received the shut door in vision, she simply agreed with others in her day and then later corrected them by vision.  This worked out for SDA until the 1980’s when the oldest letter sealed in the White Estate was discovered and distributed.

Unfortunately the last few pages of the Elder Bates letter are still missing, but we do have the first three pages.  I will provide a transcript of the letter and the photo copies in this blog post.  You can find the source I got them from along with the story of how they were obtained HERE.

Dear Brother Bates:

As James is at work and sisters are from home thought I would employ myself in writing a line to you. My health is quite good for me. My faith is still strong that that very same Jesus that ascended up into heaven will so come in like manner as He went up, and that very, very soon. I have had many trials of late; discouragement at times has laid so fast hold upon me it seemed impossible to shake it off. But thank God, Satan has not got the victory over me yet, and by the grace of God he never shall. I know and feel my weakness, but I have laid hold upon the strong arm of Jehovah, and I can say today I know that my Redeemer liveth, and if He lives I shall live also. Oh how good it would be to meet with a few of like precious faith to exhort and comfort one another with words of holy cheer from the word of God. The sheep are now scattered, but thank God, they are about to be gathered to a good pasture.

Oh how sweet it will be to meet all the blood-washed throng in the city of our God. ‘Tis then we’ll sing the song of Moses and the Lamb as we march through the gates into the city, bearing the palms of victory and wearing the crowns of glory.

Brother Bates, you write in a letter to James something about the Bridegroom’s coming [synonymous with Shut Door], as stated in the first published visions. By the letter you would like to know whether I had light on the Bridegroom’s coming before I saw it in vision. I can readily answer, No. The Lord showed me the travail of the Advent band and midnight cry in December, but He did not show me the Bridegroom’s coming until February following…

Something important to understand for context is that Elder Bates was a strong believer in the Shut Door doctrine.  He was unsure though as to whether Ellen White had received it in vision or had read about it first.  In this letter Ellen White conveys her story to assure Elder Bates that she received the vision from God before it comes to her from any other source.

…Perhaps you would like to have me give a statement in relation to both visions. At the time I had the vision of the midnight cry[more shut door language] I had given it up in the past and thought it future, as also most of the band had….

Just to make this clear “band” does not mean music band.  She means the “little flock” or group of early Adventists.  Here she is speaking of a time after the great disappointment but before the shut door vision.  This would be December of 1844.

…I know not what time J. Turner got out his paper. I knew he had one out and one was in the house, but I knew not what was in it, for I did not read a word in it. I had been, and still was very sick, I took no interest in reading, for it injured my head and made me nervous…..

Above she is making it clear that she had not read J. Turner’s paper on the shut door as it was known that she had it before receiving the vision.  Whether or not she read the paper isn’t material.  What does matter is that she is making it clear she did not read it as evidence that the shut door vision is from God not man.  To put it bluntly, Ellen White is endorsing the teaching and saying it was received straight from God to her in vision.

…After I had the vision and God gave me light, He bade me deliver it to the band, but I shrank from it. I was young, and I thought they would not receive it from me…

This is the vision she is talking about with regards to the shut door,  she gets clear about it later.

…I disobeyed the Lord, and instead of remaining at home, where the meeting was to be that night, I got in a sleigh in the morning and rode three or four miles and there I found J. T. He merely inquired how I was and if I was in the way of my duty. I said nothing, for I knew I was not. I passed up chamber and did not see him again for two hours, when he came up, asked if I was to be at meeting that night. I told him, No. He said he wanted to hear my vision and thought it duty for me to go home. I told him I should not. He said no more, but went away. I thought, and told those around me, if I went I should have to come out against his views, thinking he believed with the rest. I had not told any of them what God had shown me, and I did not tell them in what I should cut across his track.

All that day I suffered much in body and mind. It seemed that God had forsaken me entirely. I prayed the Lord if he would give me strength to ride home that night, the first opportunity I would deliver the message He had given me. He did give me strength and I rode home that night. Meeting had been done some time, and not a word was said by any of the family about the meeting….

Above I see a lengthy explanation that seems to be driving home the point that she did not converse with J. Turner about anything related to his teaching or to her visions.  In the context of the letter this is showing that her aim is to demonstrate to her reader the independent veracity of her visions.  Notice she was clear that she didn’t attend the meeting at her house and didn’t speak about its topic with him.  We see that later.

…Very early next morning J. T. called, said he was in haste going out of the city in a short time, and wanted I should tell him all that God had shown me in vision. It was with fear and trembling I told him all. After I had got through he said he had told out the same last evening. I was rejoiced, for I expected he was coming out against me, for all the while I had not heard any one say what he believed. He said the Lord had sent him to hear me talk the evening before, but as I would not, he meant his children should have the light in some way, so he took him. There were but few out when he talked, so the next meeting I told my vision, and the band, believing my visions from God, received what God bade me to deliver to them.

The view about the Bridegroom’s coming I had about the middle of February, 1845.

While in Exeter, Maine in meeting with Israel Dammon, James, and many others, many of them did not believe in a shut door. I suffered much at the commencement of the meeting. Unbelief seemed to be on every hand. There was one sister there that was called very spiritual. She had traveled and been a powerful preacher the most of the time for twenty years. She had been truly a mother in Israel. But a division had risen in the band on the shut door. She had great sympathy, and could not believe the door was shut. (I had known nothing of their differences.) Sister Durben got up to talk. I felt very, very sad. At length my soul seemed to be in an agony, and while she was talking I fell from my chair to the floor. It was then I had a view of Jesus rising from His mediatorial throne and going to the holiest as Bridegroom to receive His kingdom. They were all deeply interested in the view. They all said it was entirely new to them. The Lord worked in mighty power setting the truth home to their hearts. Sister Durben knew what the power of the Lord was, for she had felt it many times; and a short time after I fell she was struck down, and fell to the floor, crying to God to have mercy on her. When I came out of vision, my ears were saluted with Sister Durben’s singing and shouting with a loud voice.  Most of them received the vision, and were settled upon the shut door. Previous to this I had no light on the coming of the Bridegroom, but had expected him to this earth to deliver His people on the tenth day of the seventh month. I did not hear a lecture or a word in any way relating to the Bridegroom’s going to the holiest…..

Above we see a clear view of her vision in 1845.  She has identified this vision as teaching on the shut door, a doctrine that Elder Bates believed in, and has juxtaposed it against a dissenting sister who repented and then received the shut door teaching.

I can only imagine how fearful this band felt that morning.  They had just received what they believed was a heavenly message that all but a chosen few in their viewing was going to hell.  There was no need to evangelize or consider the next day as each of them were soon to be taken in the second coming.

From our perspective though we see a doctrine that Ellen White is endorsing with heavenly vision, “precious rays from the throne” as she puts it in one of her other letters.  According to this doctrine, nobody today could possibly be saved!  The door shut in 1844 and that’s it folks.  This puts someone who holds to Ellen’s visions in a precarious position.  The only logical conclusions are:

  1. She made it all up,
  2. She hallucinated the vision,
  3. or received it from Satan.

Any of those three would prove her a false prophet.  This is no simple matter, before this letter was found SDA had a thin case but after it was discovered the whole world knows the truth now.  The only equivalent to this in Mormonism would be discovering proof that Joseph Smith forged the signatures of those who claimed to witness the golden tablets.

 “And you may say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?” When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.” Deut 18:21-22 ESV

I am going to include the rest of the letter so that nobody can claim I am taking it out of context.  But if you want to skip it go ahead, it is not relevant to the point of the Shut Door.

…I had but very few privileges in 1842, 3 & 4. My sisters both went to the camp meetings in New Hampshire and Maine, while my health prevented me from going to but one, in Maine. I know the light I received came from God, it was not taught me by man. I knew not how to write so that others could read it till God gave me my visions. I went to school but very little on account of my health. I do not think I went to school a day after I was twelve years old, and did not go then but a few days at a time, when sickness would cause me to take my bed for weeks and sometimes for months. The first I wrote anything that could be called writing was after I had been sick the prayer of faith was put up for me, and healing” [here the sheet ends, and the remainder of the letter is gone.] —E. G. White, Letter 3, 1847, Manuscript Release #281—4

There is a great deal more one can study on this topic.  I have simply tried to present the details of the facts which matter the most.  Below are photocopies of the Elder Bates letter for anyone that wants to see it in her own handwriting.

As stated earlier you can find the sources I used and the photocopies I obtained HERE.  I recommend taking a look either way as they go into greater depth on the other issues going on in Ellen Whites day as well as the discovery of the Elder Bates letter in the 80’s.  My post only covers the most important issues regarding the Shut Door.  If this is the first time you have heard of this I know you are going to want to know everything.

If you would like to see more on my studies of my journey out of Adventism you can find them HERE.

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About ACTheologian

I am a layman who blogs my Biblical studies. Enjoy, please read with an open Bible and do double check with your pastor.
This entry was posted in Ellen White, Heresy & Heterodoxy, Leaving Adventism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to No Hope of Heaven: Behind the Shut Door of Ellen White

  1. Mike Manea says:

    (I need to start with a disclaimer: if I became absolutely convinced that EGW was a false prophet it would not change my beliefs in any way as I base my beliefs entirely on the Bible. This is only in response to the EGW post and not a defense of Adventism.)

    I have not had a chance to read all the quotes carefully but have you accounted for the fact that, as a community, they used the term ‘shut door’ differently as time progressed? At first it was used in the sense that no one was still being saved. As they began to understand the sanctuary, they began to use the ‘shut door’ in reference to the ‘door’ between the holy and the holy of holies in heaven, meaning that the nature of present truth had changed. Later still, they used the term in reference to the 1844 experience in general. Instead of calling it the Great Disappointment like we do today, they called it the Shut Door.

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    • Armchair Theologian says:

      Actually during my studies on this I did encounter that shifting of terminology. In my opinion the shut door doctrine is what ultimately became the investigative judgement.

      In this post I tried to define what Ellen White was talking about in her elder Bates letter of 1847. I think you will find it is this letter that is key.

      I chose to define Ellen Whites meaning of shut door in her own words. I think that is the most fair way to do it. And she did define it as mercy and grace being shut to the world.

      The SDA church affirmed for years that Ellen White was corrected in vision about the shut door. But the elder Bates letter indicates the opposite, and that instead her vision confirmed it.

      This letter was written in 1847 and matches the dialogue found in other documents from that time. Like a word to the little flock etc.

      In my opinion after a few years passed she dropped the topic and then later tried to smooth it over.

      The elder Bates letter was discovered in the 1980’s. It had been kept sealed in the White estate for a long time but was finally released.

      There is actually a fascinating story surrounding how that took place. But it was outside the scope of my blog.

      I believe I handled this issue fairly. I did read SDA apologists responses to the shut door. And the reason I reject them is they don’t address the later half of the elder Bates letter where the band is settled on the shut door after she conveys her vision. I think it’s rather disingenuous to leave that out.

      And all I ask is that you take a look and discern for yourself friend. I have other studies on why I left SDA you can read if curious. What you do with the information is up to you. Peace.

      http://armchairtheologian.info/leaving-adventism

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  2. mikecmanea says:

    It’s probably gonna be about a month before I have the time to go through all the quotes and do the research to figure out what was going on here. I could already tell you I find it highly unlikely that this really happened. The Millerites were highly skeptical of dreams and visions as was Bates. For EGW to make such a significant claim and then change her mind on it at that early stage would have been a major red flag.

    As far as the rest of your site, I probably won’t have the time to go through it as such. But if you want to discuss a specific topic and have something specific for me to look at, I can.

    However, let me explain a little about how informed Adventists think. We take our fundamental beliefs from the Bible only. We feel that our beliefs are what a sincere person would arrive at if they first deconstructed any previous belief they had obtained via tradition and then reconstructed their theology using the Bible only.

    That being the case, when it comes to EGW, we’re dealing with someone who, as a prophet, agreed with everything we already believe from the Bible. Being a prophet means that she had to come either from God or from Satan so why would Satan send someone who agrees with the right set of doctrines? Moreover, she has given the church substantial quantities of practical advice that has proven very useful as well. So even if you turn out to be right about this post and she made a mistake, that’s not a good reason for us to question her authenticity.

    For us to really question EGW, we would have to develop serious doubts about the SDA fundamental beliefs first. Moreover, like I said before, even if we do begin to doubt EGW, it won’t change our beliefs in any way so there really isn’t much point. For this reason, I find this kind of attempts dishonest and geared toward instilling doubt in people who are new or uninformed Adventists. If I disagreed with a denomination I would first ask if my disagreements were regarding something that is important. And, if I thought that they were, I would confront them regarding the crux of the problem and not on peripheral issues like a beast of pray going after the young and sick in a heard.

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    • Armchair Theologian says:

      I was actually a Seventh Day Adventist. And like you I truly did believe that SDA fundamental beliefs were Biblical.

      I found through study that they are not. SDA take vague verses and then bring their interpretation to them. Generally their interpretations or definitions are anachronistic to the text. It took a while for me to learn this though.

      What I found is that SDA will ignore passages that contradict their beliefs and eisegete the ones they can get to work for them. They don’t take the Bible as a whole.

      They do this around the teachings of Ellen White. I would identify her as the SDA hermeneutic.

      The big reason I left SDA is the false Gospel. I blog on Ellen White to help people that are stuck in the system and are afraid to reject the prophet.

      I actually do believe that Ellen White was a prophet of Satan. That’s more of a personal speculation on my part as I can’t prove it. I would also argue the possibility of her just making it all up. That’s probably the most likely.

      I understand if you don’t have the time but you can find my studies in the link below. If you can only pick one I recommend you read the series on the new covenant.

      http://armchairtheologian.info/leaving-adventism

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      • Susiez says:

        At times its good to be honest, you think once Jesus has said it’s finished,He will go back? You are the people mobilizing many to Hell instead of warning them to repent and stop their sinful ways. For the case of Noah and the ark,God locked the door,and Jesus says as it was in the days of Noah,so shall it be

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      • Armchair Theologian says:

        I think you are missing the point of this post friend. Ellen White said the door of the ark, if you will, closed in 1844.

        It has been many years since then. Are we all damned or is she a false prophet? Those are your only two choices.

        Either she was wrong and the door wasn’t shut in 1844 or it was and we are all damned. Think this through.

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  3. Susiez says:

    Stop putting words into her mouth,no where in her books such a comment exists

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    • Armchair Theologian says:

      I actually quoted her words above. I recommend you read the post before criticizing it or making false accusations.

      Like

  4. Bil says:

    Praise Jesus for your ministry. The credibility of the doctrines held in the SDA church hangs largely on the truthfullness of Ellen White as a prophetess. I found your exposition extremely helpful having just recently left the SDA church over the extraneous interpretations of the bible to fit the extrabiblical teachings held in the church. May the spirit of God give you good courage and guide you continually.

    Liked by 1 person

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