Seventh Day Adventist Roots — The Parting of the Ways

Following the Great Disappointment on October 22, 1844, opposition arose against the preaching of the advent message and against those proclaiming it. Most of the churches refused to admit the ministers that were preaching the coming of Christ. “Thus the impressive Millerite movement came to its tragic close, so far as its original form is concerned. The great stream ceased its onward flow and was dissipated, to use the figure aptly employed by Nichol (F. D.), like a river absorbed in the torrid sands of the desert. Here is his graphic portrayal.

” ‘The erstwhile fast-moving stream poured out over an arid, uncharted waste. The scorching sun of disappointment beat down, and the burning winds of ridicule swept in from every side. The river suddenly lost its velocity. There was no momentum to cut a clearly marked channel in this new, parched land. Sun and wind quickly began to play havoc with this directionless body of water, now spread thinly over a wide area. While a central stream of what had once been an impressive river, was more or less well defined, there were many lesser streams, which often ended in miniature dead seas, where stagnation and evaporation soon did their work. Indeed, no small part of the once large river, when evaporated under the scorching sun of disappointment, was finally returned to the sources from whence it came, the other rivers in the religious world.’ ” The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 827.

Following the Disappointment, the leaders were concerned over the confusion of opinions that became prevalent. I. E. Jones describes the confusion at that time: “Our brethren this way are catching at every conceivable hypothesis to reconcile the movement of the tenth [day of the seventh month, or October 22] . . .But supremely ridiculous, painful and dangerous, as is this state of things among ourselves, it is not as much so as the ranks of our opponents present. Who can think of the endless diversity of opinion among them on the prophecies and atonement, free will, baptism, conversion, and every Bible truth; and not say in view of his temptations to leave this [Advent] cause, ‘To whom shall we go?’ . . . Oh, I sigh, for home. Home; sweet home. But, patience my soul.” Ibid., 828.

William Miller was very perturbed by the discord that existed among the various factions that grew out of the Millerite Movement. He said, “I must confess I am pained at heart, to see the battle we are now in . . . after having silenced our common enemy . . . Every [Adventist] paper which has come into my hands recently is full of fight, and that too against our friends.” Ibid.

He was openly opposed to all the various “new theories” that had arisen in an attempt to explain the Disappointment. He denied the application of the parable of the “Midnight Cry” to the seventh month movement and stated that that was not a fulfillment of the prophecy.

“The controversy as to whether the seventh-month movement was the logical and legitimate climax of the Millerite message, or whether it was a tragic mistake, hinged on what came to be known as the ‘shut door’ doctrine. The seventh-month movement, it will be remembered, was based on two premises: (1) The typical cleansing of the ancient sanctuary on the Day of Atonement, on the tenth day of the seventh Jewish month; and (2) the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, who, after passing the expected time of the wedding, fell asleep and were roused at midnight by the cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom cometh!’ The wise virgins, who are ready to meet the coming bridegroom, enter with him into the wedding, where the door is shut after them. But the foolish ones, who failed to use their opportunity to be ready, then find themselves outside.” Ibid., 829.

In midsummer, of 1844, the cry went forth at “midnight” that the Bridegroom was to come, not in 1843, but in the seventh month of 1844. The cleansing of the sanctuary at the end of the 2300 years was to occur on the tenth day of the seventh month—the day when the sanctuary was cleansed in ancient Israel’s time. At the close of the 2300 years and the passing of the tenth day of the seventh month there were two courses open to those who refused to be discouraged by the passing of the time. Either the message containing the “midnight cry” was a delusion and the time a mistake or, the period had ended but the anticipated event was wrong.

After 1844, those that rejected the “Midnight Cry” message decided that the time was a mistake, the seventh-month a blunder and concluded that the “Midnight Cry” and the “Shut door” were still future. They said that “if the parable of the Bridegroom was yet to be fulfilled in the second advent, at a future ending of the 2300 days, they would be right in saying that the Bridegroom had not come and the door of the parable had not yet been shut. But if the time calculation had been correct —if the 2300 days had really ended in October, 1844—and the ‘Midnight Cry’ of the seventh month had been the true climax of the God-given message of a great prophetic movement, then those who held this view must necessarily believe that the parable of the virgins and the prophetic Day of Atonement had been fulfilled and that the ‘door’ of the parable—whatever it might be—had been ‘shut.’ ” Ibid., 830.

The Millerites taught that the door of the parable meant that the door of salvation would be closed at the Second Coming of Christ, when everyone would either be ready or lost. After the Disappointment, Miller and others thought that their work for the world was ended and that they were now in the tarrying time—a few days or months—until Christ should come.

In 1840, Himes and Litch had taught that after the sixth vial and trumpet ended, when the seventh trumpet sounded, the mystery of God was to be finished, the time of grace would end and probation’s door would be shut. Miller agreed with this interpretation, but added that there would be a little time to separate the good from the bad. Miller stated: “We have done our work in warning sinners, and in trying to awake a formal church. God, in His providence has shut the door; we can only stir one another up to be patient; and be diligent to make our calling and election sure.” Ibid., 831.

As time passed, this view was abandoned by the Millerites. Himes had never, since the Disappointment, believed that their work for the world had come to an end. Miller, along with some other leaders, soon came to be of the same opinion. The controversy over the “shut door” increased so dramatically that the leaders of the Millerite movement decided to convene a conference in Albany, New York, to attempt to resolve the conflicting views. The conference unanimously passed a report listing ten principles similar to the “Fundamental Principles” published in the Millerite papers, upon which they could unite. They opposed: “(1) The postmillennialists’ dream of world conversion before the advent. (2) The ‘Judaizing doctrine’ of the restoration of the literal Jews as a fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. (3) Any of the new tests advocated by various minority groups.” Ibid., 834.

But their attempt for unity was not altogether successful, and the Millerite movement was split into three groups.

The first group included J. V. Himes and others that repudiated the “shut door” and denied the validity of the seventh-month movement and that Christ’s coming was imminent. Having rejected all the views, which had made them a part of the Advent movement, they had no reason to exist and so soon, the group faded out of the picture. Litch also refused to accept the “shut door” idea and eventually broke with the Adventist groups and became a Futurist. The second group was concentrated in Maine and New York and they took extreme views stating that all probation had closed and the doom of the world was fixed. That the 2300 days were fulfilled in 1844 and the door was shut on Christ’s mediatorial work and no one else could be saved. Only those who had entered with Christ on October 22 would be saved.

The third group was smaller than the first group but soon far surpassed them in numbers. They believed and taught the validity of the seventhmonth movement and adopted Edson’s view of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary as an explanation of the Disappointment. They rejected the idea of the “shut door” (meaning the close of probation) and continued to preach the soon coming of Christ to all that would listen.

“This group, holding to the validity of the 1844 movement as a fulfillment of prophecy, saw in the Disappointment a test of those who were willing to make every sacrifice to be ready to meet their Lord, and then to hold their faith in the face of bitter disappointment. They insisted that the working of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of the participants in that movement had been proof that the Lord was in it; and consequently they felt that those who declared it all a mistake were repudiating the leading of God, and murmuring against the path in which He had led them.” Ibid., 841.

It was out of this third group that the Seventh-day Adventist Church developed. Joseph Bates, who had played a prominent role in the Millerite Movement, James White, a Millerite evangelist, Hiram Edson and others were prominent leaders. They rejected both formalism and fanaticism and became the nucleus of the Sabbatarian Adventists.

“Three key teachings, each developing independently, began to characterize the group which erelong became the Sabbatarian Adventists. And these features came to be regarded by them as interrelated in what they believed to be the prophetic charter of their mission. These three were: (1) The sanctuary, as embracing the special, or final ministry of Christ in the holy of holies of the heavenly sanctuary, thus giving new meaning to the message, ‘the hour of God’s judgment is come’ (2) the Sabbath, that is, observance of the seventh day, as involved in the keeping of the ‘commandments of God,’ and (3) the Spirit of Prophecy, or the ‘testimony of Jesus,’ to be manifest in the ‘remnant’ church, or last segment of God’s church of the centuries.” Ibid., 844, 845.

These three beliefs developed in various places. Hiram Edson and his group, after study in western New York, began to preach the sanctuary phase. Joseph Bates and others began to proclaim the Sabbath in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In Maine, Ellen Harmon’s experience and influence established confidence in God’s past leadership and in His future guidance in the Advent Movement. These three groups eventually united.

“These three primary teachings—the Sabbath, the sanctuary, and the Spirit of Prophecy, along with the old basic, established, and fundamentally evangelical positions, as well as immortality only in Christ and the foundational Adventist teachings on the second advent and the Bible prophecies —formed the basis for the emergence of a new theological system, balanced in form and Scriptural in emphasis. Slowly the doctrinal framework of the Sabbatarian Adventists took definite shape. Their convictions were crystallizing as the thinking of different leaders began to be published in 1846 and 1847—the writings of Hiram Edson, O. R. L. Crosier, and F. B. Hahn, Joseph Bates, James White, and Ellen Harmon.

“As this merging of views began to take place, and the adherents of the Edson view of the sanctuary and the Bates view of the seventh-day Sabbath first began to coalesce, there was as yet no semblance of an organization, much less of an emerging denomination. But in this way, in three separate places in three different States, and all by the close of 1844, these three distinctive teachings that were to become major doctrinal features, in a distinctive Sabbatarian Adventist setting and movement, now reached out and touched each other.” Ibid., 848–850.

“A series of six Sabbath conferences, held in 1848, with an aggregate of several hundred in attendance, was the next step. Here these three distinctive features, with their already established positions, began to be forged into a single unified body of belief. And before long the essentials of an integrated system of evangelical, doctrinal, and prophetic truth were developed as held by Seventh-day Adventists around the world.” Ibid., 850, 851.

God was leading His remnant people.