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When Christ failed to return in 1844 there was great confusion among the followers of William Miller. Most of the Millerites returned to their churches, but others were too ashamed to admit their error or felt too humiliated to return. It was among these people that the "shut door" teaching developed. The teaching is based upon the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. These people firmly believed that they had given the "midnight cry" (Matt. 25:6) and that Jesus, the Bridegroom, came to the "marriage supper" on October 22, 1844:
And while they [foolish virgins] went to buy, the Bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with Him to the marriage; and the door was shut. Matt. 25:10They taught that on October 22, 1844, Christ got up and moved from the Holy Place into the Most Holy Place. In so doing, Christ shut the door of salvation to all except those Advent believers who had joined Miller's 1844 movement. They believed that Jesus was "shut in" with His special people, preparing them to receive His kingdom. They believed that since October 22, 1844, Christ was ministering only to Israel (the Advent believers). They taught that Christ was testing His children on certain points of truth, such as the Sabbath, and that their work for the salvation of others was finished.
Joseph Bates held the view that there would be a 7-year period where Christ would test His children and that Christ would return to earth in 1851. In 1848 there was a war in Europe, and later a pestilence occurred, and the Advent believers took these events as signs that the time of trouble had commenced.
Ellen White had visions supporting this "shut door" doctrine, and James White's paper--Present Truth--trumpeted the shut door teaching up until late 1850. The doctrine was rejected by William Miller and most of the leaders in the Millerite movement. It was accepted by a small number of followers of Joseph Bates and the Whites.
In early 1850 the "shut door" began to slip open. Those who were Christians in 1844, but had not had opportunity to hear Miller's time-setting message were allowed to enter the church. Near the end of 1850 the "shut door" opened a little further. The Adventists were shocked when a man who was a non-believer in 1844 accepted the Adventist message in August, 1850, and started attending their meetings. It was their first conversion of an unconverted man since 1844!
In 1851, when it became evident that Christ was not going to return, the Whites modified their teaching on the "shut door". James White abandoned the Present Truth magazine and started a new magazine, the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. He reprinted his wife's visions in 1851, but was careful to remove those parts referencing the erroneous "shut door" doctrine. The doctrine disappeared from the writings of the leaders and most of the new converts into the church never heard of it nor had any idea that their prophet had seen a "shut door" of salvation in her visions.