The Rise and Fall of 1844 – Part Two
By Norman H Young | 26 May 2022 |
Read part 1 of this series here.
In his Letters to an American Lady, C. S. Lewis writes.
I never could find out what the VIIth Day Adventists believe, tho’ I had a long talk with one the other day, a professor of electrical engineering from your country. I fear it is very mixed up with attempts to interpret the prophecies in the Book of Daniel―not, to my mind, a very profitable undertaking. But he was a grand young chap, sweet as a nut and absolutely sincere. No fool, either.
Lewis should have added the book of Revelation to what Adventists are “very mixed up with.”
Retaining the date
The passing of time proved to them that Jesus did not return to earth visibly as expected, so now—if the divine origin of their profound experience was true—our pioneers had the task of establishing what did occur on October 22, 1844. To deny the date was to deny that God had led them, and to do that meant their intense sense of the divine presence in their experience was a delusion.
The poignancy of Hiram Edson’s words is almost tangible:
My advent experience has been the richest and brightest of all my Christian experience. If this had proved a failure, what was the rest of my Christian experience worth?” (Nichol, The Midnight Cry, 264). Joseph Bates gives an identical testimony: “For myself I can truly say it was the most triumphant and soul-stirring point in all my Christian experience (Second Advent Way Marks and High Heaps. 1847, 83).
So if the date was correct, then the event must be wrong. A major breakthrough in a new understanding of the event was not long in coming. On the morning of October 23, 1844, Hiram Edson had the sudden insight that Jesus did not leave the heavenly sanctuary on 22 October to come to earth, but rather that he went into the “second apartment” of the heavenly sanctuary “for the first time.” Other than saying that Jesus “had a work to perform in the [heavenly] most holy before coming to this earth,” Edson gave little information regarding the task Jesus was to perform there. Hence, our pioneers’ key texts (Matt 25:6, 10) no longer referred to the second coming of Jesus to earth, but to his coming to the Ancient of Days in “the invisible world.” Hale and Turner, as with Edson, and later Owen Crosier, placed the fulfillment of October 22, 1844, in the invisible (and timeless) world of heaven where Jesus had entered into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive his dominion as depicted in Daniel 7:13–14.
Owen Crosier took these inchoate adumbrations of Edson, Hahn, Hale, and Turner and tried to integrate them into a coherent whole. Snow had concluded his short paper in The True Midnight Cry with a quote from Luke 16:31 (“If they hear not Moses and the prophets,”), so it is no surprise that Crosier titled his definitive paper “The Law of Moses” (The Day-Star Extra, February 7, 1846). He commenced his article with a quotation from Malachi 4:4: “Remember ye the law of Moses my servant …” The title meant that Crosier was continuing Snow’s emphasis on the Mosaic types. The Mosaic types controlled Crosier’s understanding of the gospel and the time of the End just as emphatically as they had done for Snow.
He believed that since the spring festivals had been precisely fulfilled during the first advent, the autumn feasts would have their exact fulfillment just prior to and at the second coming of Christ. Crosier made much of the bipartite structure and twofold function in the holy and most holy places of the tabernacle.
Guided by the Mosaic types, Crosier asserted that at his ascension Jesus entered the first apartment to make atonement for individuals and to forgive their sins, but in 1844 he entered the second apartment to make atonement for all the saints and to blot out their sins.
An obvious shortcoming in Crosier’s neat demarcation is that the “blotting out of sin” is not used in Leviticus 16 (the Day of Atonement) or anywhere else in Leviticus; and it is not found in either Daniel 8:13–14 specifically or in Daniel as a whole. The two references in the New Testament to the “blotting out of sins” relate to the cross (Acts 3:18–19; Col 2:13–14). Crosier was adamant that the atonement was not established by the death of Christ on the cross. “The Lamb on Calvary’s cross is our victim slain; ‘Jesus the Mediator of the new Covenant’ ‘in the heavens’ is our interceding High Priest, making atonement with his own blood, by and with which he entered there” (“Law of Moses,” 41).
In his view, to assert that the atonement occurred on the cross conflicted with the bipartite atonement of the Mosaic types, which demanded a separation in time of the two applications of Jesus’s blood. Although both antitypes occurred within “The Gospel Dispensation,” the fulfillment of the spring feasts was at the beginning (1st Advent, 27–34 C.E.), and the fulfillment of the autumn feasts was at the end (1844 C.E.–2nd Advent). Crosier attempted to do two things: first to validate the date of October 22, 1844, by changing the event that he believed occurred at that time; and second, to place the event in the heavenly realm, which procured an extension of time post-1844. Jesus’s ministry in heaven soon took the ascendancy over the idea that the door of mercy was shut to those outside our pioneers’ community.
Crosier had six “proofs” (The Law of Moses, p.41) for dismissing Christ’s death as the moment when God inaugurated a new covenant of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. He argued that atonement is the role of a priest, but at Calvary Roman soldiers officiated; that the priest’s application of the shed blood makes the atonement and not the slaying of the victim; that as the heavenly high priest is appointed to make atonement, Christ “certainly could not have acted in that capacity till after his resurrection;” that Hebrews 8:4 makes it clear that the high priesthood of Jesus was in heaven and not upon the earth; that “the atonement was made in the Sanctuary, but Calvary was not such a place;” that “he did not begin the work of making the atonement, whatever the nature of that work may be, till after his ascension, when by his own blood he entered his heavenly Sanctuary for us.” Sadly, Crosier’s focus on the Old Testament types and his zeal to defend the validity of a date led him to deny the truth of the gospel.
The idea of an investigation of the lives of the saints is absent in Crosier’s article. It was first suggested by Joseph Bates, Elon Everts, and consequently by James White, who wrote:
The judgment is passing! Very soon will your names either be confessed by Jesus Christ before his Father, or they will be blotted out of the book of life. Consecrate all to God, then you will be prepared to act your part in saving others from ruin. The great work of consecration now required is set forth in the following scriptures: Zephaniah 2:3; Joel 2:12, 13; Jas 4:6–10; Rev 3:19 (“The Judgment,” Review and Herald, January 29, 1857, 101).
The emphasis of his texts is on repentance, confession, and the overcoming of sin. There is little mention of grace or mercy in them. The attempt to isolate the date and the event it predicted from the test of time in reality only delayed the problem; it did not escape it.
The widening gap
When our pioneers declared their belief in an Investigative Judgment (IJ) of believers they associated it with the soon return of Jesus. To facilitate this close link they universally affirmed that the IJ would be a brief process that would climax with the return of Jesus. Thus our pioneers affirmed a swift process in the heavenly courts followed soon after by the Second Advent. Because of this close association between the IJ and the return of Jesus, our pioneers were able to assert a pre-Advent judgment without any chronological difficulty, but that luxury has long ago expired.
The IJ that commenced in 1844 is now separated from the Advent by nearly 178 years, and a gap of 200 years now looms on the horizon. The date 1844 and the IJ can no longer be referred to as pre-advent with the same proximity and urgency as was possible when Ellen White wrote to Joseph Bates that Christ “will come very very soon” (Letter July 13, 1847).
The consequence of this growing separation of 1844 from the return of Jesus is that it transforms the IJ into a prolonged process rather than a brief preliminary to the Second Advent. And this gives 1844 an eschatological significance independent of Jesus’s return. Our pioneers’ eschatology now intrudes 1844 into the NT’s sequence of events as follows: death, resurrection, ascension, , advent.
Thus 1844 can no longer be interpreted as conjoined to the return of Jesus, so it sits there in isolation from the death and resurrection of Jesus and from his return—it is there by itself like a meaningless lamppost in a desert. We can have a pre-Advent judgment, as with our pioneers, or we can have 1844, but we cannot have both, as they did, for the gap in time is now too large.
From historicism to “platonism”
For our pioneers the goal of historicism was October 22, 1844. and the return of Jesus. They treated prophecy as predictive of events in history. This method of interpreting prophecy is called “historicism” because it sees prophetic fulfillment as an unfolding process in a series of sequential historical events that climax in the abolition of sin and the creation of a new earth.
Historicism, then, maps the prophetic fulfillments in a space-time continuum that includes the first Advent of Christ, his death and resurrection, the rise of the Gentile church, the ascendancy of the Papacy, the Reformation, the Wesleyan revival and the rise of the Adventist church and its message. All these events have dates in history that can be and have been plotted on a chart as movements on the earth. So for our pioneers every prophetic fulfillment was historical, on the earth, and datable. That is, all but one, the date October 22, 1844—a date that marks an activity occurring not on the earth but in heaven.
How can a date that refers to a happening in heaven be true to the hermeneutical principles of historicism? History records and dates events that happen on earth, but it never dates acts that occur in heaven. October 22, 1844, is the only date in our pioneers’ schema that did not occur on earth. Historicism suddenly becomes Platonism in attempting to explain the prophecy of Daniel 8:13–14; it is a contradiction on the one hand to affirm historicism and on the other hand to accept the fulfillment of Daniel 8:13–14 as occurring out of sight in heaven.
The elephant in the room
The outstanding misapprehension of our pioneers was their failure to recognize the cross as the once-for-all act of atonement. Controlled by the Mosaic tabernacle ritual, they paralleled the death of Jesus with the blood-letting that took place outside the earthly tabernacle. In the Old Testament type the act of atonement occurred firstly on a regular basis with the priests’ smearing blood on the horns of the burnt offering altar and sometimes on the horns of the incense altar (Lev 4:7, 18, 25, 30). Second, once a year on the Day of Atonement the high priest sprinkled blood before the ark of the covenant in the most holy place and on the incense altar (Ex. 30:10; Lev 16:14, 15, 18–19, 27).
Our pioneers concluded that since Jesus’s death on the cross was not a sprinkling of blood, it was not atonement at all.
Unlike our pioneers, the New Testament is not governed by the types. In the Old Testament types it is the smearing or sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat and/or the altars that achieves atonement, but in the New Testament it is the death of Christ. The Greek word that the Septuagint uses to translate the Hebrew word for “atonement” occurs in Romans 3:24–25a (“atoning sacrifice” or “mercy seat,” see Hebrews 9:5; Hebrews 2:17, “make atonement”; 1 John 2:2; 4:10, “atoning sacrifice”). In fact these texts draw on the language of the Day of Atonement, as does Hebrews 6:19–20; 9:7, 12, 24–25; 10:19–20; 13:11.
Hebrews 9:23 is a text that our pioneers seriously misunderstand: “Thus it was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these” (NRSV). Our pioneers, who tended to read their personal experience into the biblical texts, were led astray by the phrase “heavenly things.” To their mind they were the dual holy places of the heavenly sanctuary where Jesus since his ascension and from October 22, 1844, had been offering his blood to forgive and then to blot out believers’ sins.
The focus of the author of Hebrews is more on the saving power of Jesus’s death than on some post-1844 blood manipulation in heaven. If the old order required sacrifices to inaugurate it, the new order required better sacrifices. The plural form, “better sacrifices,” simply balances with the plural “these rites” and does not therefore prevent the clear reference to Christ’s death in Hebrews 9:12–28 (“his own blood,” “the blood of Christ,” “offered himself,” “a death has occurred,” “a will takes effect only at death,” “he would have had to suffer,” “the sacrifice of himself,” “as mortals die once … so Christ having been offered once”).
His death ushered in the new age and forgave sins (Hebrews 1:3; 9:26–29; 10:18) at the deepest level of the human psyche; it opened up the way to God, for he entered into heaven itself having offered himself, and not in order to offer himself. The “heavenly things” are this new order, or new covenant, a new approach to God—“the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain” (Hebrews 10:20)—indeed a new way of worship (Hebrews 13:10–16).
Every redemptive term that the apostolic writers used focuses on the cross.
- “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28);
- “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25);
- “we are now justified by his blood” (Romans 5:9);
- “we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (5:10);
- “in him we have redemption though his blood” (Ephesians 1:7);
- “but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13);
- “and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20);
- “you … he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death” (Colossians 1:22);
- “Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people by his blood” (Hebrews 13:12);
- “your blood did ransom people for God” (Revelation 5:9);
- ”they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).
Foremost, the gospel of the free grace of God revealed in the gift of his Son remains supreme and it ceases to be compromised by giving October 22, 1844, ascendency over the first-century atoning death of Christ. Then there is the hope of eternal life that is centered in the resurrection of Christ and not in some immortal entity within humanity. Furthermore, Adventism provides a balanced understanding of the moral life that is focused on and proceeds from the gospel of Christ. The Sabbath also remains viable as a day of celebration and gathered worship that is inclusive. The care of our physical life and of the environment where we and all of God’s creatures live remains increasingly relevant.
As well the New Testament doctrine of the judgment is also intact; even as a pre-Advent judgment. It is a judgment based on deeds (Matt 12:36; Luke 12: 13–21; 16:19–31; 19:22; Rom 2:3–5, 16; 14:10; 1 Cor 4:5; 2 Cor 5:10; Heb 13:4; 1 Pet 1:17). The judgment is inclusive of both the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5) and believers as well as non-believers (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10; Col 3:24–25; Heb 10:30).
Furthermore, it is difficult to exclude the people of God from the judgment texts of Daniel and Revelation. These books were not written to Babylonians or Romans, but to believers. The episodes concerning testing in Daniel chapters one (the king’s food), three (the king’s image), and six (the king’s edict against prayer) were written to warn believers that faith in God must endure even through troublesome times.
The language of Daniel 12:1–3 (“everyone whose name is found written in the book will be delivered,” and “some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt”) also indicates that God will separate the faithful and the unfaithful from among his people. The warning would seem to be that those who succumb to the little horn’s demands will share in the little horn’s lot. Likewise, it is difficult to deny—given the oscillation between acceptance and rejection in the counsel to the seven early churches (Rev 2–3)—that the dire warning in Rev 14:9–12 against worshiping the beast and his image is directed at believers.
For Paul, the judgment is according to works (Gal 5:21; Rom 2:1–11; 1 Cor 6:9–10; 2 Cor 5:10; Eph 5:5). If deeds are so crucial in the life of the believer, then how can salvation be the gift of God’s grace? We need to think in terms of relationships. Relationships cannot ever be earned or deserved. That is true at every point of the relationship and not just at its beginning. However, a healthy relationship is reciprocal in a mutual giving to and receiving from each other. The relationship elicits behavior that expresses the reality of the loving bond. The relationship is the cause of the appropriate deeds and never the reverse. Likewise, if we accept the friendship of God, we need to learn how we “ought to live and to please God” (1 Thess 4:1; 2 Cor 5:9; 1 John 3:22).
God’s attributes are eternal, so he remains full of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness whether the context is justification or judgment. By asserting that believers are judged prior to the Second Advent, our pioneers placed the judgment of believers within the context of the gospel. Deeds express the viability of a “life hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:3), but they do not and cannot procure what comes only as a gift―a relationship with God. Any reference to perfection or total triumph over sin is out of place in any healthy relationship whether between humans or between God and a believer. Nevertheless, a healthy relationship generates wholesome moral conduct towards the loved one. Those who say, “‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen,” (1 John 4:20.) Love is an active noun, which is manifested in how we treat the other.
Perhaps we need to bring our teaching concerning the metaphor of the judgment back to where it belongs, that is, just before the Advent, which was also where our pioneers placed it.
Norman H. Young is a New Testament scholar and retired senior lecturer from Avondale College in New South Wales, Australia.
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