Crucial Question 12:  Did Ellen White teach the "shut door" theory on the authority of her visions?




Ellen White’s first vision took place in December 1844, just after the October 22 Millerite disappointment.  Her second vision took place in February of 1845 in the home of Israel Dammon, one of her early mentors.  These visions clearly teach that the door of mercy for the world had been shut on October 22, 1844.  Ellen’s early “shut door” visions confirmed the beliefs of Israel Dammon and other radical Millerites who held that Christ had not returned in 1844 because there had been more than 144,000 saints ready at that time.  In their minds, the reason for the delay was to reduce the number of saved individuals to 144,000.  As the months and years passed, Ellen White slowly backed away from the shut door teaching.  She acknowledged that children from her group of followers could be saved, and that people who hadn’t heard the Millerite message could also be saved.  She later expanded the Lord’s generosity by allowing for the salvation of those who had been misled into rejecting Millerism.  Even so, the Whites were still teaching an exclusionary shut door in the early 1850’s.  Once it became clear that the second coming wasn’t particularly imminent (they were still engaged in the futile setting of dates for the second coming until the early 1850’s), she finally put the shut door theory to rest by saying that one door had shut in 1844 and another door to salvation had opened in 1844. 


From the Pen of Ellen White:


In her first vision, Ellen reveals that God had rejected the entire “wicked world” (shut door teaching), and that the Millerites were being tested to see if they would maintain their belief in 1844.  Those who failed the test would be lost.


“Others rashly denied the light behind them [the light from the Millerite movement], and said that it was not God that had led them out so far. The light behind them went out leaving their feet in perfect darkness, and they stumbled and got their eyes off the mark and lost sight of Jesus, and fell off the path down in the dark and wicked world below. It was just as impossible for them to get on the path again and go to the City, as all the wicked world which God had rejected. [This sentence was edited out of the widely available account in Early Writings]. They fell all the way along the path one after another, until we heard the voice of God like many waters, which gave us the day and hour of Jesus' coming. The living saints, 144,000 in number, knew and understood the voice, while the wicked thought it was thunder and an earthquake.  When God spake the time, he poured on us the Holy Ghost, and our faces began to light up and shine with the glory of God as Moses' did when he came down from Mount Sinai” (A Word to the “Little Flock,” p. 14).


Here is Ellen Harmon’s second vision, which takes place in the home of Israel Dammon, one of her early mentors.  Notice how Sister Durben’s “great sympathy” had tempted her not to believe in the shut door, and notice how Ellen’s vision returns the group to a shut-door consensus.


“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” (5MR 97-98).

Ellen White was still emphasizing the shut-door in 1850:


“Then I saw Laodiceans. They will make a mighty effort. Will they get the victory? One who has the truth will chase a thousand, and two will put ten thousand to flight. . . .  Anguish of spirit will seize them. Dare they admit that the door is shut? The sin against the Holy Ghost was to ascribe to Satan what belongs to God, or what the Holy Ghost has done.  They said the shut door was of the devil, and now admit it is against their own lives. They shall die the death” (5MR 204; emphasis supplied).


The following explanation was written in 1874:


“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 [in Feb. 1845—see Olsen, p. 58] 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” (1SM 74).




Robert Olsen, former head of the Ellen G. White Estate, admitted that young Ellen initially “misinterpreted” her first vision in regard to the shut door (p. 58).  He also admits that the February 1845 vision taught “that the door of mercy had been closed for the world in 1844” (p. 59).  Olsen resolves the tension by blaming God: “Progressive revelation on God’s part had been accompanied by progressive understanding on Ellen White’s part” (p. 60).  Ellen White taught the shut door doctrine for several years on the basis of her visions.  Did any Bible prophet ever distort a message from God based on a misunderstanding?


Thought Questions:


  1. Why was one particular sentence deleted from Ellen’s first vision?
  2. Why would God use Ellen Harmon’s visionary experience to confirm belief in the shut door in early 1845?
  3. Why didn’t Ellen White mention an “open door” until 1849, four years after her ministry began (see EW 42)?
  4. If the shut door was so important as to warrant a vision (Feb. 1845), why does the shut door virtually disappear from Mrs. White’s writings after 1850 (except for times when she is defending the early teachings)?
  5. Why would God threaten people with damnation for doubting the shut door?
  6. Are Ellen White’s later explanations satisfying or convincing?  Was she likely being truthful in her later statements?
  7. Is it reasonable to excuse Ellen Harmon for possibly misunderstanding her visions?



Bible Texts:


“[W]hen the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him” (Jer. 28:9).


When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:22).


“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20).

“And he said, What is the thing that the LORD hath said unto thee? I pray thee hide it not from me: God do so to thee, and more also, if thou hide any thing from me of all the things that he said unto thee. And Samuel told him every whit, and hid nothing from him. And he said, It is the LORD: let him do what seemeth him good. And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground” (I Sam 3:17-19).


"But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matt. 24:36).


For Further Study:


  • Selected Messages, bk. 1, pp. 59-76
  • Early Writings, pp. 14-16 (the key phrase is still missing)
  • Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, pp. 95-98, contains the account of her Feb. 1845 vision
  • Olsen, Robert W.  101 Questions on the Sanctuary and on Ellen White (available from the White Estate), pp. 57-61
  • Arthur White’s paper on the shut door (available from the White Estate)
  • White, Arthur L.  Ellen G. White.  Vol. 1.  Washington: Review and Herald, 1985, pp. 267-268. 


Continue on to Crucial Question #13:  Sanctification Through Health

Go back to Crucial Question #11:  Non-Millerites Damned?