The Secret Letter
By Skip Baker
Report published in Adventist Currents, July 1984
I believe it was just around the new year of 1979-80. I was a photographer at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. A number of us were in the art department discussing the transcript of a letter written by Ellen G. White which someone had sent me the week before. The book editor, Tom Davis, had just joined our conversation; and with some warmth he was insisting that the transcript was not genuine, since it indicated that Ellen White believed in the shut door three years after the Great Disappointment.
Elder Davis asked if I had seen the original letter; and when I admitted that I had not, he said that I shouldn't talk about something that I could not prove and knew very little about. I agreed completely and realized how easy it would be for someone to fabricate the letter in an attempt to discredit Sister White. I resolved then and there not to talk about the letter until I could read the original in the Ellen G. White Estate vault, if it existed at all.
In the photo studio at that time I had a large oil painting attached to the wall waiting to be copied on 8x10 sheet film for reproduction. The White Estate had commissioned the artist, Elfred Lee, to render a beautiful depiction of the Fall of man, his redemption, and the Second Coming of Christ; and they wanted to sell copies at the upcoming General Conference session in Dallas. Ron Graybill called from the White Estate to say how desperately they needed the transparency to meet their printing deadline, and suddenly I had a flash: "Tell you what, Ron," I said, "bring me Ellen White's July 13, 1847, letter to Joseph Bates, and I will drop everything and photograph your painting today."
"Has that letter been released?" he asked. I told him that Arthur White had released a transcript to the scholars in 1971. This satisfied him, and later he arrived in my office with the letter, anxious to get the painting shot and to the printers. When he left I took the letter into the studio, thinking that if I worked fast there might be just enough time to photograph it before he returned. My hand trembled as I laid the 133-year-old letter on the copy table, adjusted the polarizing lights, put a red filter on my 6x7 Pentax, and filled the viewfinder with the letter. Due to the cross-polarized lights and red filter, the enlarged photographs were easier to read than the original; and when I compared it to the typed transcript, I discovered the two were nearly identical.
The White Estate typescript is corrected for spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Punctuation and capitalization are all but missing from Ellen White's handwritten original, and the White Estate has supplied paragraphing where there is none in the original. The letter ends abruptly because its closing page or pages are not in the possession of the White Estate.
Update From Skip Baker, January, 2005
I had read a “transcript” from the White Estate Vault that was said to be a copy of Ellen White’s hand written letter to Joseph Bates dated May 13, 1847.
If that transcript was true, then the very keel of the great Ship of Adventism had a crack in it and was taking on water. The transcript seemed to be saying that Ellen G. White had taught the Shut Door Doctrine over the decade of the 1840s, siting “visions” to support her views! The Shut Door taught that no more sinners could be saved after October 22, 1844. That had been the day that a Baptist minister William Miller had said the end of the world would come based on his study of Daniel 8:14, but since Jesus didn’t return to earth that day, it became known as the Great Disappointment. According to this “transcript” Ellen G. White had taught that the shut door was true, and that indeed no more sinners could be saved after October 1844!
When I pointed out what a problem this transcript created for the church’s founder to my coworkers in the Art Department, Tom Davis, the Book Editor spoke up and asked if I’d ever seen the actual letter written by Ellen G. White. When I admitted that I hadn’t seen the letter, and had no way to prove that it was true to Ellen White’s actual hand written letter, I felt he had a good point, and I resolved not to talk about the letter until I could look deeper into this mess.
As it turned out another project that I had hanging in fire in the studio, would soon bring about the resolution of this problem of the Bates letter. Hanging in the studio I had a painting that the Ellen G. White Estate had commissioned that they wanted to sell at the upcoming General Conference Session that would be held in Dallas Texas that year, 1980. Ron Graybill, one of the officials of the E.G. White Estate called me worried that they hadn’t gotten a transparency yet of the painting, and reminded me how urgent it was for their deadline!
“Tell you what Ron,” I said, "bring me the letter that Ellen White wrote to Bates on May 13, 1847, and I’ll photograph your painting today!”
I never dreamed in a million years that he’d do such a thing, but the next thing out of his mouth was, “Has that letter been released to the scholars?”
When I told him that it had been in 1971, that seemed to satisfy him and he seemed to see no problem with letting me see the letter!
I could have fainted dead away when he showed up within the hour with the letter, left it with me in the studio and then walked out back up to the front of the department to speak with our Art Director about something.
I couldn’t believe it, for in my hands I held the oldest document on file in the entire Ellen G. White Estate Vault! This would be like a Mormon getting irrefutable evidence from the Mormon Vault in Salt Lake City that their founder, Joseph Smith, had forged the signatures of the 12 men who said they’d seen the Golden Plates from which the Book of Mormon was created!
My hands shook as I pulled the three pages out of the envelope and laid the first one under the glass of the copy table. If I worked fast, I could actually expose a roll of 120 film and put these original pages onto good negatives under cross polarized lights with a red filter and that’s exactly what I did. I worked fast and sloppy but then everything had been in place when I started so there wasn’t any time wasted in setting up the shots! In a matter of one minute I’d reeled off a role of 120 size Tri-X Film and now had the Bates letter exposed on film.
I quickly folded the letter back up and slipped them into the envelope thinking that Ron Graybill would walk in anytime catching me at the copy stand!
The information in the Bates letter was even more devastating than I could ever have imagined! Not only was it exact, proving that the “Scholar’s Transcript” was the truth, there were two hand written notes in Bates own handwriting showing that he knew at some point, where Ellen had gotten her information, proving that he knew she was stealing her material even back then! The letter ends abruptly at page 3, so we know she wrote more but what ever was in the rest of the letter was SO BAD that somebody made sure it was destroyed. Evidently, the damning evidence in pages 4 and beyond was so shocking that the editors failed to see the dynamite that the first three pages offered!
Once any thinking Adventist comes in contact with the letter that Ellen G. White wrote to Bates in 1847, he can no longer maintain his or her faith in Ellen G. White as a true prophet of God from then on. It becomes clear that she taught, based on her “first visions” that the Shut Door was true, and that “no more sinners could be saved” after October 22, 1844. She knew that Joseph Bates was a “Shut Door Believer” himself, and she wanted to get her letter out to him to show him that her “visions” agreed with his own Shut door view of the world!
Clearly, when we study the Bates letter we can see that William Miller the great preacher about the Second Advent has set New England on fire with his preaching that the end was going to come in first 1843 and finally in 1844, on October 22. People sell off their farms and wait all day to be taken up into heaven at the Second Advent that didn’t happen, and it all became known as the “Great Disappointment.”
But now a new wrinkle develops and some people believe that what they’re seeing is just a momentary delay, that Christ has shut the door of the Holy Place and moved into the Most Holy, and is about to come any day now so there’s no use to get new converts because “the door is shut” and that’s what Turner and Hale believed, as well as Joseph Bates who Ellen G. White was writing to in this the oldest letter in the White Estate Vault! So they now band together and cut themselves off from the other churches, claiming that those churches that failed to believe their false belief that the end was going to come on October 22, were all lost and couldn’t be saved because they’d rejected “present truth.” They were about to give up their view that the “door was shut” but along comes Ellen G. Harmon, and says she’s had “visions” proving that the door is indeed Closed! So, they believe her vision and are “confirmed in the shut door!”
One can only imagine me as a middle aged Seventh day Adventist and having this explosive information falling into my hands at the very time that the Church Elders are putting Dr. Des Ford on trial for being a heretic because he believes that the Sanctuary Doctrine that came out of the “Shut Door Doctrine” wasn’t biblical!
(Skip Baker e-mail to Dirk Anderson, Jan. 18, 2005)
A Sample Page
After Skip Baker published the photographs of the letter the White Estate released the letter in Manuscript Releases, vol. 5. To read the part of the letter pertaining to the shut door of salvation, click here. Below is a page that Skip photographed. Although it is difficult to read in this scanned copy, it can be seen to be in Ellen White's handwriting.
Category: Shut Door
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