How could a true prophet have proclaimed the shut-door doctrine?
It seems clear that during the years between 1844 and 1851, the term shut door began to shift in meaning. Mrs. White’s critics, I believe, fail to take that shift into account, and they quote every reference by Mrs. White to the “shut door” as though these words referred to the close of probation (the shutting of the “door of mercy”) for the entire world. Though evidence from those early years is sparse, what there is will support the viewpoint I’ve expressed.
In the last two months or so before October 22, 1844, the Millerite believers had proclaimed with power the message, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him” (Matthew 25:6, KJV). In the parable, this cry went up at mid¬night, so the message they proclaimed that Jesus was to return on October 22 became known as “the Midnight Cry.” In the same parable, you will recall, those who were ready for the bridegroom’s arrival went in with him, “and the door was shut” (verse 10, KJV). So, both the terms Midnight Cry and shut door came from the same parable.
After the Disappointment on October 22, those who believed that God had been leading in the 1844 movement concluded that they must even yet be just on the verge of the coming of Jesus, and the scorn of the world around them convinced them that they were in the time spoken of in Jesus’ parable when “the door was shut.” They believed it was too late for sinners to accept Jesus’ offer of salvation; in fact, they saw no evidence that the Holy Spirit was striving with the world at all.
In that situation, to give up on the shut door was to renounce one’s faith in the Midnight Cry—the Advent movement—and to say that God must not have been leading in the study of the prophecies that had so captivated them. It was to say that nothing happened in 1844. (Mrs. White admits, understand¬ably, that she came to that unhappy conclusion herself for a brief time after the Disappointment.)
God did not reveal everything to them all at once, even as He did not im¬mediately reveal everything about the resurrection of Jesus to His disappointed disciples, who were mourning and confused over the death of their Lord. (See The Great Controversy, pages 404–408.) Though the gift of prophecy was ac¬tive in the church through Ellen G. White, God allowed incorrect ideas to exist in the church and even in His prophet until He saw fit to correct them.
Ellen White’s first vision did not explain everything about the Disappoint¬ment, but it did give the disappointed ones God’s assurance that they had not been deceived. (See Life Sketches, pages 64–68. Of course, she was Ellen Har¬mon at the time, not yet having married James White.) Jesus was still leading His people along the narrow path high above the world that led to the City of God. There was a light behind them that lit the path all the way to the city. That light, Ellen White saw, was the Midnight Cry, which was the message pointing to October 22, 1844. So the Millerites had not been deluded! On the strength of this assurance and the many other evidences they had of God’s having led them, those who still believed could not turn their backs on the shut-door message.
At first they saw their work as focusing on those who had accepted the mes¬sage of the Millerite movement and who now needed to see the new things God was making known from His Word—matters such as the Sabbath and the sanctuary. They regarded those who had rejected the Millerite message as comprising the “wicked world which God had rejected” (Selected Messages, 1:62). But as early as 1845, and much more by the end of the 1840s and the early 1850s, they began to see evidence that people who had not been touched by the Millerite movement were showing interest in their message. This could only be the work of the Holy Spirit, and so it must not be too late for these people. Evidently, then, the door was not yet shut for everyone. The Adventist believers began to see that God was opening a new mission for them. By 1851, this was quite clear to them. Mrs. White had an important role in bringing about this change of view.
As I mentioned earlier, after the Disappointment, Ellen G. White herself gave up on the idea that the door was shut in the past and looked for it in the future—that is, she believed for a brief time that the 2,300 days had not yet ended. But her faith in the 1844 movement revived as a result of her first vi¬sion. A superficial reading of what she wrote about that vision might lead one to conclude that the vision taught that it was too late for everyone outside the Millerite movement, but a closer reading will show that this is not necessarily so. She did refer to the impossibility of salvation for “all the wicked world which God had rejected,” but while she herself believed for a time that this referred to nearly all non-Millerites, it later became clear to her that the re¬jected group was quite a bit smaller than this. While there was a door in heaven that was shut by the One who “shutteth, and no man openeth” (Revelation 3:7, KJV), there was also an “open door, [which] no man can shut” (verse 8, KJV). Here was scriptural reference to a shut door that evidently did not mean that probation for all the world had closed.
It should not surprise us that a prophet of God does not know all the truth immediately upon receiving the prophetic call or even after receiving some early instruction from God on a specific point. The prophet may not immedi¬ately understand the instruction correctly or fully (see, for example, 1 Peter 1:10–12). The full import of God’s message through Ellen White’s early vi¬sions unfolded over time, and the visions have stood the test of time.
In addition to the paragraphs above, the Ellen G. White Estate Web site also contains a statement Ellen White wrote in 1883 regarding her relation¬ship to the shut-door doctrine and a chapter on the subject from Arthur White’s biography of Ellen White. And it recommends what Herbert E. Douglass wrote about the shut door in his book Messenger of the Lord.