Ellen G. White: The Early Years: 1827-1862 (vol. 1)


The Doctrinal Point—Time to Begin the Sabbath

On Friday evening, the day the conference in Battle Creek opened, those assembled commenced the Sabbath at six o'clock, although the sun had been set for an hour. The next day they closed the Sabbath at sunset. During that Sabbath a change in practice based on Bible study had been made. It was an interesting and instructive experience in doctrinal development. 1BIO 322.1

As noted in earlier chapters, Joseph Bates was considered the father of the Sabbath truth. As captain of his own vessels, he had sailed far and wide and was acquainted with the matter of time-keeping in different parts of the world. It was his conclusion that time as kept at the equator, with sunset uniformly at 6:00 P.M., was the proper guide to Sabbathkeeping, regardless of season of the year or location. The Scriptures called for evening marking the beginning of the new day, and the words “from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath” (Leviticus 23:32) were cited in support of this point. The April 21, 1851, issue of the Review carried a three-column article by Joseph Bates in support of the six o'clock time. 1BIO 322.2

In the State of Maine in 1847-1848, some took the position that the Sabbath commenced at sunrise, quoting as support, Matthew 28:1: “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (see The Review and Herald, February 25, 1868). A vision given to Ellen White checked this error in principle, for the angel repeated the words of the scripture “From even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.” 1BIO 322.3

There were a few who observed the Sabbath from sundown to sundown (JW to “My Dear Brother,” July 2, 1848; see also Ibid., February 25, 1868), but the majority stood with Bates, as did James and Ellen White. The charismatic experience in Connecticut in late June, 1848, recounted in chapter 13, seemed to confirm the six o'clock time. Still the matter was not settled conclusively, and in June, 1854, James White requested D. P. Hall in Wisconsin to give study to the matter and come up with an answer (Ibid., December 4, 1855). 1BIO 322.4

When this request failed to yield fruit, he turned to John Andrews with the earnest request that he take his Bible and bring evidence to settle the question. Andrews prepared a paper on the matter. As he passed through Battle Creek with his parents in November on his way to Iowa, he left this in the hands of James White. The reading of this paper became the Sabbath morning Bible study at the conference in Battle Creek. From nine texts in the Old Testament and two from the New, Andrews demonstrated that “even” and “evening” of the Sabbath were identical with sunset (Ibid.). 1BIO 323.1

As the paper was read that Sabbath morning, it could be seen that while the six o'clock time advocated by Bates was in principle not incorrect—for it called for beginning the Sabbath in the evening—in detail there was an error. Now with the position of sunset time so amply supported by Scripture evidence, all the congregation, which included the church's leaders, readily accepted the light and were prepared to shift their practice. All, that is, but two—Joseph Bates and Ellen White. 1BIO 323.2

Bates's position had been generally accepted and defended. He was the venerable apostle of the Sabbath truth. He was unready to accept what had been presented by the youthful John Andrews, and he would stand in defense of his position. The vision given to Ellen White in 1848, correcting the sunrise time and confirming “evening time,” had nothing to say about the six o'clock time being in error. 1BIO 323.3

Ellen White reasoned that the six o'clock time had been a matter of practice for nearly a decade. The Sabbath so kept had been a great blessing to her, and the angel had said nothing about its being in error. Must a change be made now? Thus matters stood through the rest of the Sabbath and through Sunday as the members met in conference, but this was a rather touchy point of division that was bound to widen as time went on. Then the God of heaven stepped in. 1BIO 323.4

Of what took place, Ellen White wrote: 1BIO 324.1

November 20, 1855, while in prayer, the Spirit of the Lord came suddenly and powerfully upon me, and I was taken off in vision.—Testimonies for the Church, 1:113.

Her attention was called to many points, among them the time to commence the Sabbath. She discussed the matter with the angel. This conversation is very enlightening: 1BIO 324.2

I saw that it is even so: “From even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.” Said the angel: “Take the Word of God, read it, understand, and ye cannot err. Read carefully, and ye shall there find what even is and when it is.” 1BIO 324.3

I asked the angel if the frown of God had been upon His people for commencing the Sabbath as they had. I was directed back to the first rise of the Sabbath, and followed the people of God up to this time, but did not see that the Lord was displeased, or frowned upon them. 1BIO 324.4

I inquired why it had been thus, that at this late day we must change the time of commencing the Sabbath. Said the angel: “Ye shall understand, but not yet, not yet.” Said the angel: “If light come, and that light is set aside or rejected, then comes condemnation and the frown of God; but before the light comes, there is no sin, for there is no light for them to reject.” 1BIO 324.5

I saw that it was in the minds of some that the Lord had shown that the Sabbath commenced at six o'clock, when I had only seen that it commenced at “even,” and it was inferred that even was at six. 1BIO 324.6

I saw that the servants of God must draw together, press together.—Ibid., 1:116. 1BIO 324.7

And they did. The vision set Ellen White and Joseph Bates straight, and they accepted the vision wholeheartedly. The matter of the time to commence the Sabbath was forever settled—settled on the basis of Bible study, confirmed by vision. It was indeed a significant experience in God's leadings, one that Uriah Smith was later to comment on: 1BIO 324.8

Lest any should say that Sister White, having changed her sentiments, had a vision accordingly, we will state that which was shown her in vision concerning the commencement of the Sabbath was contrary to her own sentiment at the time the vision was given.—The Review and Herald, August 30, 1864. 1BIO 324.9