The Rise of Sabbatarian Adventism

“We now turn to the second distinguishing doctrine of the Sabbatarian Adventists—their acceptance and observance of the seventh-day Sabbath. Prophetic interpretation, as we have seen from the sources, has persisted through the vicissitudes of the passing centuries, despite certain stormy upheavals and periodic setbacks. In a similar way, though not so commonly known, the Christian observance of the seventh-day Sabbath has likewise persisted throughout the Christian era. At times it has been driven underground, into silence and obscurity. But it has inevitably reappeared to bear its witness and urge its message upon mankind. The Sabbath, and its change and restoration, are tied inseparably into the very structure of Bible prophecy, the Sabbatarian Adventists firmly believed.” The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 906.

Following the death of the apostles, Sabbath observance continued in various parts of the Roman Empire. There were some in the Celtic Church of Scotland that kept the seventh-day Sabbath. The same was true in Ethiopia and Abyssinia as well as in pre-Reformation Norway. During and after the Reformation period, Sabbath-keeping reappeared in Sweden, Finland, Bohemia, England, Poland, France and Germany. These groups developed into the Seventh-Day Baptist communion. Samuel Mumford took this movement from England to America in 1664. The years following saw the establishment of the Seventh-Day Baptists in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“The seventeenth-century revival of the seventh-day Sabbath centered chiefly in England, touched Continental Europe slightly, and was projected into the New World. And we have seen how, in North America, agitation over the seventh-day Sabbath appeared first in the Colonial Era, and then in the early National period, and this among men of British as well as German background. And now, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, simultaneously in Argentina and Scotland, new Sabbatarian voices break forth early in the great revival of prophetic exposition, which appeared at the same time in the different countries of Christendom. Thus the Sabbath message was brought out in connection with the Old World Advent Awakening, and in the New World Second Advent Movement.

“These two doctrines combined—the second-advent and the Sabbath—were proclaimed. . . by two widely separated pioneer advent heralds—Francisco Ramos Mexia, prominent Argentine patriot (with a Scottish Protestant background on his mothers side), and Presbyterian James A. Begg, substantial bookseller, printer, and author of Glasgow, Scotland. Within a few years of each other they began to combine emphasis on the binding obligation of an unchanged seventh-day Sabbath with the heralding of the imminent second advent, planting both doctrines squarely on the foundation of Bible prophecy.” Ibid., 941.

The Sabbath Message Presented to the Adventists

During the years 1843 and 1844, the Seventh-Day Baptists, through fasting and prayer, supplicated God to raise up others that were Sabbathkeepers. In the meantime Rachel Oakes began the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath and proclaimed this truth in Washington, New Hampshire, where two ministers accepted it. One was a Methodist circuit rider named Frederick Wheeler. The other was Thomas M. Preble, the first Adventist to advocate the Sabbath in print. An article that he wrote and published in The Hope of Israel in 1845, introduced the Sabbath to J. N. Andrews and Joseph Bates. (Unfortunately, later Preble turned against the Sabbath truth and wrote against it.) It was by means of a tract, Bates wrote, that the Sabbath was brought to James and Ellen White.

For almost two hundred years the Seventh-Day Baptists were practically the only ones that upheld the seventh day as the Sabbath. The Sunday-keeping churches all rejected the appeals of the Seventh-Day Baptists. This was also the response of the Millerites in general. The leaders and editors of the Adventist journals were highly critical of the agitation among the Adventists about the seventh-day Sabbath.

In August, of 1844, an article appeared that stated: “We feel borne irresistibly to the conclusion that there is no particular portion of time which Christians are required by Law to set apart, as holy time. If the Scriptures, and the considerations presented, do not convince our readers of this, then we think there is another conclusion to which they must come, viz. The particular portion of time which God requires us to observe as holy, is the seventh day of the week, that is, Saturday.

“We regret to leave the argument at this point, but space fails and we must beg our readers to search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. They have learned to bow to no authority but God’s, and having that, to treat the decisions of men as utterly worthless.

“We love the seventh-day brethren and sisters, but we think they are trying to mend the old broken Jewish yoke, and put it on their necks, instead of standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ makes free.” Ibid., 944.

After Bates heard about the Sabbath through Preble’s article, he met Frederick Wheeler. Bates was so interested in what he had to say that they conversed all night about the Law of God and the neglected Sabbath. Together they went to confer with Cyrus Farnsworth, an early lay pioneer of the Adventists. These three men sealed a pact among them about the Law of God and in particular the most neglected part of it, the seventh-day Sabbath. Thus by the efforts of these three men, New Hampshire became the cradle of the Seventh-day Adventists.

In 1846, Joseph Bates published a forty-eight page tract entitled The Seventh Day Sabbath, A Perpetual Sign. He based his premise upon the fact that the Sabbath was instituted at Creation and was reinforced at Sinai. And since the Ten Commandments are the moral guide for everyone, the Sabbath commandment should be obeyed just like the others.

This tract was followed by another, entitled A Seal of the Living God, January 1849, where he set forth the Sabbath as being the seal of God. Bates concluded that the remnant “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ would number 144,000.”

Prominent Adventist Leaders Accept the Sabbath

At first, Ellen Harmon and James White did not accept the Sabbath truth as presented by Bates. Ellen was brought up a Methodist and believed in “free grace and dying love.” James claimed that Christians are not “under the Law.” They both regarded the Sabbath as Jewish and felt that Bates had placed too much emphasis upon keeping it. However, after their marriage they studied Bates’ tract more closely and, comparing the clear Biblical and historical evidence, shortly began to keep the Sabbath.

John Nevins Andrews was another young man that accepted the Sabbath when Marian Stowell, a fellow Advent believer, who was staying in the Andrew’s home, gave him a copy of Preble’s Hope of Israel. The parents of both these young people, after reading the tract, accepted the seventh-day Sabbath. The Cyprian Stevens family was the next to believe in the seventh-day Sabbath. One of their daughters later became Mrs. J. N. Andrews and the other one Mrs. Uriah Smith.

“Although the seventh-day Sabbath came to the attention of a group of Adventists through the Seventh-Day Baptists, it was the light on the sanctuary and the prophecy of Daniel 7:25 coupled with that of Revelation 14:9–12 that invested it with a significance and an importance that the Sabbath had never had under the Seventh-Day Baptists. They had long held that all the Ten Commandments are moral, not ceremonial; that they are unchangeable, being a revelation of the character of God; and that the change of the Sabbath was made by the papal church without authorization from God. Their position in this was impregnable. But Mrs. Preston (Rachel Oakes), in Washington, New Hampshire, simply urging the claim of the unchanged seventh-day Sabbath, did not have much initial success. Only in the sanctuary setting did it begin to grip hearts. The belief that men were living in the judgment hour, and were to be judged by the great unchanged standard of the judgment, with the coming of Christ drawing near, drove home the conviction that the Lord was calling men to obey all of His commandments.” Ibid., 960.

In 1849, Joseph Bates went to Michigan where he raised up a company of Sabbath-keepers in Jackson. He went to Battle Creek in 1852 and when he arrived he asked the postmaster for the name of the most honest man in that town. He was given the name of David Hewitt. Bates spent all day at the Hewitt home presenting a thorough and systematic study of the Advent Movement, including the Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14. The family accepted the entire presentation and soon a group was meeting in their home until a building could be erected for meetings.

And this was Bates’ typical method. When he went where there were no churches, he rented a hall, schoolhouse or a home, hung up his 1843 chart and preached on the new found light. Many churches were established. The success of these churches was always based on the prophecies. In 1860, when the Sabbatarian Adventists decided to organize, Joseph Bates was made the chairman and directed the conference to a successful conclusion.

“So, to the concept of Christ entering the most holy place of the heavenly sanctuary, on October 22, 1844, for the final work of judgment and the receiving of His kingdom, was added the Sabbath . . . . This concept of the ‘seal’ was likewise built into the message of the Sabbath, as an added prophetic element. And this thought was similarly attested by Ellen White, who wrote, ‘This seal is the Sabbath,’ and described the most holy place in which was the ark (Revelation 11:9), containing the Ten Commandments, with a halo of light surrounding the fourth. Thus the Sabbath and the sanctuary became inseparably tied together.” Ibid., 958.