What is "the shut door" and what did Ellen White believe about it?
William Miller likened his message of the soon return of Jesus to the "midnight cry" of the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Matt. 25:1-13). He interpreted the ten "virgins" as those summoned to meet the returning Lord, the "wedding" as the eternal kingdom, and the shutting of the "door" (verse 10) as "the closing up of the mediatorial kingdom, and finishing the gospel period"--in other words, the closing of the "door of salvation" or the close of human probation. According to Matthew 25:10, "The bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut" (Matt. 25:10).
Because they expected Christ to return at the close of the 2300 prophetic days of Daniel 8:14, Millerite adventists had emphasized that probation would close at the end of that period. Therefore, for a short period after the disappointment of October 1844, Miller and many of his followers, including young Ellen Harmon (later Ellen White), felt that their work of warning sinners was finished for the world. While a majority of Millerites soon gave up their belief that prophecy had been fulfilled in 1844, a small group continued to hold that the time had been correct, but that they had been mistaken in the event expected. They were convinced that the movement was of God, that the 2300-day prophecy had been fulfilled, and that the "door" referred to in the parable was therefore shut--whatever that might mean. Thus, to believe in the "shut door" became equivalent to believing in the validity of the 1844 movement as a fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
What is important to recognize is that the term "shut door" underwent a change in meaning among those who saw that the 2300-day prophecy referred to a change in Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary. The "shut door" was seen as applying to the closing of the first phase and the opening of the second and final phase of Christ's intercession in heaven. It is erroneous to read into all of Ellen White's "shut door" statements the initial Millerite definition.
Ellen White maintained, and the evidence supports, that, while she and others believed for a time that no more sinners would be converted after 1844, she was never instructed in vision that the door of salvation was shut for the world.
Here is Ellen White's explanation of what she believed regarding the "shut door:"
"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. [Emphasis supplied. Here Ellen White states that her visions were not the source of her belief in this Millerite error.] It was the light given me of God that corrected our error, and enabled us to see the true position.
"I am still a believer in the shut-door theory, but not in the sense in which we at first employed the term or in which it is employed by my opponents.
"There was a shut door in Noah's day. There was at that time a withdrawal of the Spirit of God from the sinful race that perished in the waters of the Flood. God Himself gave the shut-door message to Noah:
"'My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years' (Gen. 6:3).
"There was a shut door in the days of Abraham. Mercy ceased to plead with the inhabitants of Sodom, and all but Lot, with his wife and two daughters, were consumed by the fire sent down from heaven.
"There was a shut door in Christ's day. The Son of God declared to the unbelieving Jews of that generation, 'Your house is left unto you desolate' (Matt. 23:38).
"Looking down the stream of time to the last days, the same infinite power proclaimed through John:
"'These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth' (Rev. 3:7).
"I was shown in vision, and I still believe, that there was a shut door in 1844. All who saw the light of the first and second angels' messages and rejected that light, were left in darkness. And those who accepted it and received the Holy Spirit which attended the proclamation of the message from heaven, and who afterward renounced their faith and pronounced their experience a delusion, thereby rejected the Spirit of God, and it no longer pleaded with them.
"Those who did not see the light, had not the guilt of its rejection. It was only the class who had despised the light from heaven that the Spirit of God could not reach. And this class included, as I have stated, both those who refused to accept the message when it was presented to them, and also those who, having received it, afterward renounced their faith. These might have a form of godliness, and profess to be followers of Christ; but having no living connection with God, they would be taken captive by the delusions of Satan. These two classes are brought to view in the [first] vision--those who declared the light which they had followed a delusion, and the wicked of the world who, having rejected the light, had been rejected of God. No reference is made to those who had not seen the light, and therefore were not guilty of its rejection" (Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 62-64).
For further study, see the following documents in the Reference Library:
"Open and Shut Door" Article from the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia
"The 'Shut Door' Documents," by Robert W. Olson