Ellen G. White — Messenger to the Remnant

Chapter 5—Early Time-Setting Dangers Met

From time to time the assertion is made that in their early history Seventh-day Adventists frequently set time for the second advent of Christ. It may be truthfully stated that the Sabbathkeeping Adventists as a body, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, have never set time, nor has the published organ of the group, the Review and Herald, ever advocated a definite time for the appearance of Christ. EGWMR 41.1

There were two occasions, however, during the formative decade, when some individuals among the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church were involved in time setting—the first and seventh years after the disappointment. One experience in 1845 was before the Sabbath light had been generally received among the pioneers of the third angel’s message. The second was in 1850 and 1851, when one of the workers, entirely on his own initiative, advocated a time message without the support of the body of believers. In each case the Spirit of prophecy played an important part in giving warning that such expectation was not well founded, and that those who continued to hold such views would meet with disappointment. EGWMR 41.2

1845 Time-Setting Episode.—Not too much is known as to the direct basis of the 1845 expectation. However, in view of the inevitable conclusion reached by the majority of the Adventists soon after the disappointment—that their message for the world closed on October 22, 1844—it was not strange that some should look forward to the autumn of 1845 as a time of importance. Not a few anticipated the jubilee year of deliverance at that time. The following statement from James White, published May 30, 1847, gives us a picture of this time-setting expectation: EGWMR 41.3

“It is well known that many were expecting the Lord to come at the seventh month, 1845. That Christ would then come, we firmly believed.” A Word to the Little Flock, 22. (Italics mine.) EGWMR 41.4

Warning was received through the Spirit of prophecy, however, which averted a disappointment. Elder White continues: EGWMR 41.5

A few days before the time passed, I was at Fairhaven, and Dartmouth, Massachusetts, with a message on this point of time. At this time, Ellen was with the band at Carver, Massachusetts, where she saw in vision that we should be disappointed, and that the saints must pass through the ‘time of Jacob’s trouble,’ which was future. Her view of Jacob’s trouble was entirely new to us, as well as herself.”—Ibid. (Italics mine.) EGWMR 41.6

While the full results of this experience are not recorded, it is apparent that those who accepted the visions were spared what would have been a keen disappointment. EGWMR 41.7

1851 Time-Setting Experience—In 1850 the much-respected Joseph Bates, entirely on his own initiative, published a treatise on the sanctuary, in which the following paragraph appears: EGWMR 41.8

“The seven spots of blood on the golden altar and before the mercy seat, I fully believe represent the duration of the judicial proceedings on the living saints in the most holy, all of which time they will be in their affliction, even seven years. God by His voice will deliver them, ‘For it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul.’ Leviticus 17:11. Then the number seven will finish the day of atonement (not redemption). Six last months of this time, I understand, Jesus will be gathering in the harvest with His sickle, on the white cloud.”—“An Explanation of the Typical and Antitypical Sanctuary by the Scriptures With a Chart,” 1850, pp. 10, 11. EGWMR 41.9

This view was accepted by a few, mostly in New Hampshire and Vermont, but it was not taken up or advocated by the leading workers, aside from Bates. Then, on June 21, 1851, in a vision given at Camden, New York (published in Advent Review and Sabbath Herald Extra, July 21, 1851, p. 4, col. 2), the error of this time teaching was eliminated: EGWMR 41.10

“Dear Brethren: The Lord has shown me that the message of the third angel must go, and be proclaimed to the scattered children of the Lord, and that it should not be hung on time; for time never will be a test again. I saw that some were getting a false excitement arising from preaching time; that the third angel’s message was stronger than time can be. I saw that this message can stand on its own foundation, and that it needs not time to strengthen it, and that it will go in mighty power, and do its work, and will be cut short in righteousness. EGWMR 41.11

“I saw that some were making everything bend to the time of this next fall—that is, making their calculations in reference to that time. I saw that this was wrong, for this reason: instead of going to God daily to know their PRESENT duty, they look ahead, and make their calculations as though they knew the work would end this fall, without inquiring their duty of God daily. In hope, E. G. White.” (Republished in Review and Herald, October 21, 1937.) EGWMR 41.12

In the Review and Herald of August 19, 1851, James White published an article which was clearly molded by the revelation given Ellen White on June 21, though the vision was not mentioned. The article entitled, “Our Present Work,” deals firmly with the time-setting issue: EGWMR 41.13

“It is well known that some of the brethren have been teaching that the great work of salvation for the remnant, through the intercession of our great High Priest, would close in seven years from the termination of the 2300 days, in the autumn of 1844. Some who have thus taught we esteem very highly and love ‘fervently’ as brethren, and we feel that it becomes us to be slow to say anything to hurt their feelings; yet we cannot refrain from giving some reasons why we do not receive the time.”—Page 31, col. 1. EGWMR 41.14

Six reasons why he could not accept the time message were given in detail. We summarize them here as follows: EGWMR 42.1

1. “The whole matter seems to us to rest on inference.” “We confess that we have not been able to see it”—Ibid. EGWMR 42.2

2. “The message of the third angel does not hang on time. Time is not in the least connected with it.”—Ibid. EGWMR 42.3

3. “We are now emphatically in the waiting time.” “Give us time again, and we cease to be in a waiting position.”—Ibid. EGWMR 42.4

4. “Our present position relative to the truths connected with the third message, is based on positive testimony, and is stronger than time can be, or ever has been.” “Connect time based on inference with the message, and our position is weakened.”—Ibid. EGWMR 42.5

5. “If it is the purpose of God that time should be embraced, we think the brethren generally would be called up to it.” “It has not been received only where those who teach it have traveled, and presented it as a subject of importance.”—Ibid. EGWMR 42.6

6. “To embrace and proclaim a time that will pass by, would have a withering influence upon the faith of those who would embrace and teach it.”—Ibid. Continuing, Elder White wrote: EGWMR 42.7

“It has been our humble view for the past year that the proclamation of the time was no part of our present work. We do not see time in the present message; we see no necessity for it, and we do not see the hand of the Lord in it. And we have felt it to be our duty to let the brethren know that we have no part in the present movement on time, and that we believe that our present work and present duty is to strive to be united in presenting those important truths embraced in the third angel’s cry.”—Ibid., col. 2. EGWMR 42.8