The Sabbath Pact

The stagecoach swayed roughly over the sinewy corduroy roads. Seated inside Joseph Bates looked anxiously out of the window, his sharp, twinkling eyes absently taking in the passing scenery. He was on a mission. A mission that had brought him all the way from Fairhaven, Massachusetts to Hillsboro, New Hampshire. He had recently discovered a little tract, written by a man by the name of Thomas Motherwell Preble. Preble had been a Freewill Baptist minister who had been convinced by Miller’s preaching and had become a Millerite Adventist. In the late summer of 1844 Preble had written a tract entitled “Showing That The Seventh-Day Should Be Observed As The Sabbath”. After the great disappointment in October of 1844, the tract had found its way into the hands of Joseph Bates. It had come as a revelation to the veteran sea captain and he had spent many hours in earnest study of the scriptures in an attempt to figure out whether or not Preble’s assertions were biblical.

As he continued to study the Bible Bates began to ask around and he heard about a group of Sabbath keeping Adventists around Washington, New Hampshire. He decided to pay them a visit to find out more about why they had adopted Sabbath keeping on a Saturday. So here he was on his way to visit a man by the name of Frederick Wheeler who lived in Hillsboro but cared for the little congregation in Washington. The stagecoach dropped him off at the depot well after dark. After making some inquiries he realized that he would have to walk the remaining 15 miles to Elder Wheeler’s home. He arrived at the Wheeler’s home at 10 pm and woke the entire house up with his knocking.

Frederick Wheeler came to the door and when he discovered who his visitor was, he invited Bates in despite the lateness of the hour. A marathon all night Bible study ensure, with Bates peppering Wheeler with questions and Wheeler deftly navigating his way through the Bible to answer him.

“Well, Captain Bates…have you no more questions for me?” Frederick Wheeler asked, eyeing the spirited sea captain with a twinkle in his eye. Joseph Bates grinned at him “No Elder Wheeler I think you’ve answered every single one” he replied. “And what are you going to do with all those answers then?” Bates playful expression turned thoughtful and he gazed out of a nearby window, absently noting the pale pink and purple shades of dawn that were beginning to light up the eastern sky. “I’m going to commit the rest of my life to preach the truth about the Sabbath” he finally said looking Wheeler squarely in the eyes. Wheeler smiled and nodded. “Good, then let’s kneel together and make a pact of it”.

Bold Moves

And so in the quiet stillness of a new dawn, Frederick Wheeler and Joseph Bates knelt together and gave their lives to preaching this single, profound truth. The next day they traveled 12 miles to the home of Cyrus Farnsworth where they sat in the shade of the maple trees that lined the front yard and had yet another Bible study. Bates left New Hampshire considerably richer than when he had first arrived.

Arriving home after his exhausting but exhilarating trip, Captain Bates was walking home from the train depot when he ran into his neighbor and friend, James Madison Monroe Hall. The men crossed paths on an old wooden bridge between New Bedford and Fairhaven where Hall greeted Bates with the words “What’s the good news Captain Bates?” to which Bates promptly replied, “The good news is that the seventh day is the sabbath”. His answer piqued Hall’s interest and after a short conversation, Bates made arrangements to present the Sabbath to Hall and a few other Advent believers. By the next Sabbath Hall was a Sabbath keeper and his wife followed a week later.

Joseph Bates was instrumental in the shaping of Sabbatarian Adventism in the aftermath of the great disappointment. It was his influence that convinced James and Ellen White to become Sabbath keepers themselves. So deeply committed to preaching the Sabbath was Bates that he often did so at great sacrifice to himself and his family. Once while preparing a manuscript on the Sabbath his wife Prudence came into his study to tell him that she needed four pounds of flour to finish the day’s baking. Bates promptly went down to the store and bought four pounds of flour. Prudence was baffled when he presented her with the small parcel.

“Have you just been out to the store to buy me just four pounds of flour?” she asked him in surprise. Bates sighed heavily “yes,” he said quietly “I bought it with the last bit of money I have left” “What?” Prudence asked her voice breaking with emotion “We have no more money Prudy” Bates said softly sitting down at his desk “But what will we do Joseph” she cried, tears beginning to pool in her eyes “how will we live”. Bates was quiet for a long moment before looking up at her with an air of finality. “The Lord will provide Prudy” “The Lord will provide” Prudence practically shrieked “That’s what you always say! But what are we going to do now?” she persisted almost hysterically. “Well,” Bates said calmly “I am going to write my book about the Sabbath and publish it to the world”. At this Prudence threw her apron over her face and ran out of the room sobbing. Half an hour later Bates was impressed to go down to the post office. When he got there he found that there was a letter for him. Having no money to pay for it he asked the postmaster to open it. Inside was a $10 bill. Bates used the money to buy an ample supply of household provisions and to pay for a down payment on his book. God did indeed provide. Not only for Joseph and Prudence Bates but also for the work of the gospel. The Advent movement was slowly beginning to rise.

Further Reading and Citations

  • Schawrz, R.W. and Greenleaf, F. (1979) – Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Revised Edition)
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 1)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)