The Day The World
DID NOT END !
N O, God. No!
“Thou knowest that I cannot preach.
“ I cannot preach!”
For 13 long years, that was the daily prayer of William Miller. (1782 - 1849) But, the Lord didn’t answer his prayer.
The result? A movement that changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the entire world during Miller’s lifetime---------and then millions in our own.
Like nine-tenths of his countrymen, William Miller was a farmer----------but not an ordinary one. Growing up in Low Hampton, New York, he’d often spent the night reading by the light of burning pitch knots, long after everyone else had long gone to bed. Married in 1803, he moved to Poultney, Vermont, where he quickly exhausted the contents of the local library
Sociable as well as studious, William Miller was successively elected constable, deputy sheriff, and then justice of the peace. Soon, he was wealthy enough to own two horses, wise enough to have close, lasting friendships in both political parties of the day-------and worldly enough to give up his boyhood faith and become a deist.
Though raised a Baptist, Miller had long been troubled by the Bible’s apparent contradictions. The writings of David Hume, Voltaire, and Thomas Paine seemed to provide the answers he needed. According to them, God had wound up the world like a watch and left it to run on its own. Nature’s laws dictated that people should live clean lives and honest lives. To believe in prayer or life after death, however, was childish. Not Christianity but decent, law-and-order Americanism was the answer, Miller concluded, and his house became a regular meeting place for like-minded people of Poultnet.
The War of 1812.
Back in Low Hampton, Miller’s mother became deeply concerned. She begged her brother-in-law and her father, both Baptist clergy, to visit William and promised her prayers would with them. William warmly welcomed Uncle Elihu and Grandfather Phelps, but after they left, he mocked them to the great enjoyment of his friends.
The War of 1812 was a desultory affair most of the time, but the Battle of Plattsburgh was an exception. Fought on September 11, 1814, on pitted British land forces of 15,000 regulars as well as a naval detachment against a mere 5,500 American soldiers and sailors. The outcome was a total surprise. “Sir: It is over, it is done.” reported an American officer at 2:20 that very afternoon. “The British fleet has struck to the American flag. Great slaughter on both sides-------they are in plain view, where I am now writing......The sight was majestic, it was noble, it was also grand. This morning, at ten o’clock the British opened a very heavy and destructive fire upon us, both by water and by land. Their .........rockets flew like hailstones.........You have no idea of the battle..........You must conceive what we feel, for I cannot describe it.
The officer than reviewed with pride the part he had played. “I am satisfied that I can fight. I also know that I am no coward..........Three of my men are wounded by a shell which burst within two feet of me.” “Huzza! Huzza!” he exclaimed in his excitement; and then, as 20 or 30 prisoners were led into the fort, he carefully signed his name, “Yours forever, William Miller. The war ended in 1815, sending Captain William Miller back to farming. But, the war had changed the Captain in unexpected ways.
Humanly speaking, Miller reasoned, victory at Plattsburgh should have, without a doubt, gone to the British. There troops were all veterans; they’d outnumbered the Americans three to one. Was it possible God had taken a personal interest in the outcome? And, also, what about the shell that had landed and exploded at his feet without hurting him? Was there a God who cared?
Miller moved from Poultney back to Low Hampton. His father having died, he paid off the mortgage on his boyhood home so his mother could live on the place debt-free; he then settled on 200 acres nearby. To be polite, Miller attended the local Baptist church whenever his uncle had the sermon. Otherwise, he just stayed away. “We missed you at service last Sunday.” said his mother one day. “You can’t expect me there when Uncle’s gone, Mother.” “Why not, my son?” “It’s the way the deacon’s read the sermon.” “They do the best they can, I’m sure.” “When Uncle’s away, Mother, why don’t they let me read it?”
Thus Miller set a trap for himself, and the good Baptists made sure he was caught in it. The sermons they assigned him to read sobered him; his doubts about deism deepened. September 11, 1816, rolled around----the second anniversary of the victory of Plattsburgh. A public dance was scheduled; a sermon, too, on the night before. The visiting preacher sent the people home bathed in tears. A revival was defiantly on and the dance was off. Next Sunday, it was Miller’ turn to read again, this time a homily by Alexander Proudfit titled “The Duty of Parents to their Children.” Overcome by emotion, he could not finish it.
In despair over his sins, Miller began reading the Bible instead. There he found “just such a Savior as I needed.” he said. “I was constrained to admit that the Scriptures must be a revelation from God.” he wrote later of that day. “They became my delight, and in Jesus I found a friend.” But, now his friends taunted him, as once he had taunted other Christians “How do you know the Bible is the Word of God? They asked. “What about its contradictions? “If the Bible is the word of God.” Miller responded, “then everything it contains can be understood, and all of its parts made to harmonize. Give me time, and I’ll harmonize its apparent contradictions or I’ll be a deist still.”
25 years and counting.
Laying aside every book except the Bible and Cruden’s Concordance, Miller began with Genesis 1:1 and advanced no more quickly than he could handle the problems that arose as they arose. As he did so, most of its apparent inconsistences faded away.
Then he came across the text that was to mark him for the rest of his life
“Unto two thousand and three hundred days;
then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”
What was this sanctuary? And, when would the “cleansing” spoken of by this verse take place? Using Ezekiel 4:6 and other texts, Miller determined that the 2,300 days were 2,300 years and that they began in 457 B.C. His study of Daniel 7, which parallels the prophecy of Daniel 8, convinced him that this “cleansing of the sanctuary” involved the final judgement. And, like most Christians of his day, Miller equated the final judgement with the second coming of Christ and the end of the world.
So, after two years’ study, Miller came to the conclusion in 1818 that Christ would return “about the year 1843"-------that “in about 25 years......all the affairs of our present state would be wound up.” The end, within 25 years? Then others must be warned. A voice burned into his soul, “Go and tell it to the world.”
But William Miller brushed aside that burning thought for the next five years. He was really afraid, he wrote later, “lest by some possibility I should be in error, and the means of misleading any.” When years more years of research removed all doubt, fear of public speaking took its place. “I told the Lord I was different and had not the necessary qualifications.” Miller then did share his convictions with acquaintances and correspondents. But, nothing could satisfy the persistent inner call to preach. So, by August 1831, after 13 years of procrastination, the burden on his soul seemed unsupportable. “Go and tell it to the world!” He looked up from the Bible he was always reading, deeply troubled by what seemed to be the call of God. Or was it? He must know beyond the shadow of a doubt. “O Lord, I will enter into a covenant with Thee. If Thou will send an invitation for me to preach, I’ll go.”
At last, he felt at ease, after all these years. “Now,” he mused, “I shall have peace in my life, for if I receive an invitation, I know that God will attend me. But, it isn’t very likely that anyone will ask a 49-year-old farmer like myself to preach on the second coming of the Lord.” Within 30 minutes, a loud knocking at the door aroused him. “Good morning to you, Uncle William,” said the boy at the door. “Nephew Irving!” exclaimed Miller. “And what might you be doing 16 miles from home, and so early in the morning? “Uncle William, I left home before breakfast to come tell you that our Baptist minister in Dresden is unable to speak at the services tomorrow. Father wants you to come and talk to us about the things you’ve been studying lately in the Bible.” Miller turned on his heels without a word and stumbled out of the house into a maple grove that stood nearby. He was angry with himself, angry with God too, and very much afraid.
Then immediately after lunch, Miller went with Irving to his sister’s house in Dresden. To put him at ease, the meeting convened in the kitchen, with Miller seated at the table in a big armchair. The great second advent awakening in America had just begun.
“....to all the world!”
Impressed, the people in Dresden persuaded him to preach every night for a week. And preach he did. Reports spread from farm to farm. Attendance grew. And when Miller returned home, an invitation awaited him from a minister who had not yet heard about his first series. Now, William Miller no longer doubted that he had been called to preach.
From this very start Miller received more invitations to preach than he could ever fill. Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists, and the Presbyterians vied to draw him away from his farm and into their respective pulpits. Near the end of his life, Miller reckoned that he had preached in no fewer than 500+ towns from Michigan to Maryland. Initially, Miller made it a rule to only go where the Lord “opened the way.” But, in the fall of 1839 in Exeter, New Hampshire, he met a man who changed the course of his career.
Though only 34 years old, Joshua V. Himes (1805-1895) widely known as a crusader against slavery and war. Deeply, very deeply, moved as he listened to Miller, Himes invited Miller to speak in his chapel on Chardon Street in Boston. So, on December 8, 1839, Miller presented his first series in a major city. Interest was so great, .meetings were then scheduled for twice a day-------yet hundreds had to be turned away daily for lack of space.
“Do you honestly, really believe what you have been preaching to us?” Himes asked Miller one night at closing time. “I most certainly do,” Miller replied, “or I would not be preaching it. Believe me.” “Then what are you doing to spread it to the whole world?” Miler went on to recount his attempts to reach every town and village that sent him an invitation. Himes was aghast. Every little town and village? What about all the cities? And, what about the rest of the world? If Christ is to come in a few short years as you believe,” he exploded, “there is no time to lose in sending out the message in thunder tones to arouse them to prepare”
“I know it, I know it, Brother Himes,” Milled wearily replied, “but what can an old farmer do? I was never quite used to public speaking. I stand quite alone.” Himes was on fire. At once, he became Miller’s manager, advertising agent, and promotion specialist. “Will you enter the cities if you get an invitation?” “Indeed I will, God helping me.” “Then Father Miller, prepare for the campaign. Doors will open in every city in the Union, and the warning will be spread to the ends of the earth.”
Himes made good his promise. Soon, very soon, Miller was speaking in the most important cities of the country. Ward was also spread through a magazine Himes distributed. Miller found a ready audience. In Philadelphia the secular press reported an “immense” crowd of 15,000. In Washington, D.C., even a hoax about him brought out 5,000 people. It is believed as many as 40,000 people may have joined the Methodist Church as a direct result of Miller’s message; the Baptists claimed as many as 45,000 joined them. Ministers from many denominations also joined-----though no one knows exactly how many, contemporary estimates run from 700 to 2,000 of them. Of the 174 known ministers, about half were Methodist, a fourth were Baptists, and the rest included Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Dutch Re-formed, Quakers, and others.
The presence of pastors from so many different churches made worker’s conferences essential. Thus, beginning in the fall of 1840, more than 20 “general conferences” were convened in a variety of places, sometimes at the rate of two or three a month. As attendance at these and other Millerite meetings soared, a decision was made in May, 1842 to hold camp meetings with three scheduled for that summer. The first camp meeting, which began on June 28th at East Kingston, New Hampshire, was attended by 7,000 to maybe 10,000 people. Even John Greenleaf Whittier dropped by for and hour or two. The May 1842 general conference had voted to hold three camp meetings that year. Thirty-one really took place. In 1843, 40. Then in 1844, 54 meetings. Total attendance at these meetings was estimated at a half a million, besides the thousands more that attended meetings in churches, tabernacles and rented halls.
Not everyone agreed with William Miller. A legislator introduced a bill to postpone the end of the world till 1860. A spoof offered reserved seats on an escape balloon at $200. A cartoon portrayed the “Grand Ascension of the Miller Tabernacle” while the devil grabbed Himes and yelled, “Joshua V., you must stay with me.” While more genteel, many ministers also opposed Miller. Surprisingly, some who did so agreed that Daniel 8:14 would be fulfilled in the 1840s. But the “cleansing of the sanctuary,” they said, was not the second coming of Christ, but the conversion of individual Christians.
The Reverend George Bush, professor of Hebrew and Oriental literature at New York City University, held views typical of many. While admitting that Miller’s understanding of the 2,300 days was essentially correct, he insisted that “The great event before the world is not its physical conflagration, but its moral regeneration.” Miller met one of his odder opponents in March 1842. He’d been preaching in Medford, Massachusetts, and had been persuaded to visit the friend of someone who’d been attending his meetings. But the “friend” was a phrenologist--------someone who believed (as a great many did in the 1840s ) that a person’s character could be told by the shape of his or her head. What’s more, he had never met Miller and did not recognize him either.
“Ah, here is a well-balanced, well-developed head,” he remarked as he ran his practiced fingers over Miller’s skull. “I’ll tell you, sir, Mr. Miller would have a hard time making a convert out of this man!” Stepping forward and looking into Miller’s face, he then remarked, “You have far to much common sense to swallow Mr. Miller’s harebrained nonsense!” The phrenologist continues, making a series of salty comparisons between the head he was examining and the head of Miller as he assumed it to be. The examination completed, the phrenologist asked politely, “Sir, may I have your name, please, to write on your chart?. “Oh,” replied Miller, “my name’s of no consequence. Let it pass.” “But, sir, I really would like to attach a name to so splendid a head as yours. Besides, I need it for my records.” “Very well,” conceded the examinee reluctantly, “you may call it Miller, if you so choose.” “Miller? Miller?” stuttered the phrenologist. “But what, may I ask, is your first name?” “They call me William Miller.” “The gentleman who lectures on the prophecies?” “The very one.”
The seventh month
But if some opposed Miller, others defended his honesty. And many who did not believe him still felt uneasy. Eyewitness reports of mysterious phenomena cluttered the newspapers: Jupiter circled with a halo, a black cross on the bloody moon, singing in the sky. In 1833, two years after Miller began to preach, a meteor. shower made it appear as though the stars were falling like snowflakes. And in February of 1843, a comet appeared. Even skeptics trembled at his “eye of doom.”
Miller’s initial calculations had carried him down to “about the year 1843.” Early in 1843 he published in the New York Tribune an open letter to Joshua V. Himes, making clear what he meant by the phrase. In biblical times, the ceremonial year ran from spring to spring (not January to December), Because of this, he believed the 2,300 days of Daniel 8:14 would end somewhere between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844. Sermons were preached, magazines printed, anticipation grew. But March 21, 1844, passed without incident.
The believers were perplexed. Adding to their discouragement, many churches were now moving to expel Miller’s followers. A few Adventist, notably Samuel Sheffield Snow, (1806 - 1870) remembered a letter William Miller had written to the Signs of the Times on May 3, 1843. In it, Miller had observed that Jesus died on Passover day in the “first month” of the Bible’s. ceremonial year, i.e.,in the spring. It seemed only natural that He might return on the Day of Atonement in the “seventh month.” i.e., in the fall. At an unforgettable camp meeting at Exeter, New Hampshire, in August 1844, Snow presented his message. Joseph Bates, a retired sea captain who had invested his fortune in the Millerite cause, was exhorting believers to hold on, encouraging them with allusions to his old seafaring days. The congregation fidgeted in the sultry heat, uncomfortable and unconvinced. When a rider appeared on horseback, dismounted, and took his seat at the end of the pew, everyone turned to watch. Those who were closest engaged him in spirited conversation. But Joseph Bates droned on.
Suddenly Mrs. John Couch rose to her feet, Sister to Samuel Snow, the rider who had just arrived, she spoke courteously but with conviction. “Brother Bates! It is too late to spend our time upon these truths with which we are familiar. Time is short. The Lord has servants here who have meat in due season for His household. Let the people hear them.” Bates gallantly relinquished the pulpit. “If Brother Snow has truth for us from the Lord, let him come and deliver his message.” Snow was ready, but one glance at the sleepy audience convinced everyone present that it was best to adjourn until morning.
“It has been common among us to carry the 2,300 years down to ‘about the year 1843,’ “ Snow explained the next day. “But we have overlooked some things! We have said that the 2,300 years began in the spring of 457 B.C. and ended in the spring of 1844. “But the 2,300 years were not to commence with the beginning of the year but with the ‘going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem’ (Daniel 9:25). Ezra 7:8 tells us that this decree did not reach Jerusalem until the fifth month of the year! “My brethren, if Bible years began and ended in the spring, and if the decree did not go into effect until five months after the beginning of the year, must not the 2,300 years extend at least five months beyond the beginning of spring?” “Indeed they must,” responded the people. “Then we were wrong to expect Christ’s return in the spring of 1844!” “Yes, yes, yes!”
“The principal festival of the spring was the Passover,” continued Snow, “just as the principal festival of the autumn was the Day of Atonement. Now, what day was it on which Jesus died?” “The Passover,” replied the crowd.
“Correct! And what did the high priest do in the autumn on the day of Atonement?. “He cleansed the sanctuary.” “Yes, indeed! And what work will Jesus complete at the end of the 2,300 year-days of David 8:14?” “Cleansing the sanctuary!” “Exactly! Now if time was most strictly regarded when Jesus died as our Passover sacrifice, does it not follow that time will be just as strictly regarded when our High Priests fulfill the cleansing of the sanctuary? Is it not clear that Jesus will fulfill the prophecy of Daniel 8:14 on the exact day of the Day of Atonement?” .”Yes!” “And when is the Day of Atonement?” “On the tenth day of the seventh month.” “Right again!” Snow continued. “And by the most careful reckoning preserved in the Lord’s providence by the Karaite Jews, the tenth day of the seventh month falls this year on October 22nd “
The Great Disappointment
Electrified, the believers took Snow’s message back to their homes. Then, from Canada to Maryland, from the Atlantic to the Middle West, the “seventh-month movement” spread. Himes challenged Snow’s view at first but then finally supported it. Miller studied it, prayed over it, and then wrote about it joyously: “I see a glory in the ‘seventh month’ which I never saw before. I am almost home. Glory! Glory! Glory!”
October 22nd. Only days until the end.
With time running out, Millerite businessmen closed their stores. Employees gave up their jobs.
Mechanics locked their shops.
At the camp meetings, scores confessed their faults and asked for prayer.
Large sums were donated so the poor could pay their debts.
In the country, farmers abandoned their harvest to prove the depth of their faith. Potatoes remained in the ground, apples rotted in the orchards. In Philadelphia a tailor on Fifth Street closed his shop “in honor of the King of kings who will appear about the 22nd of October.”
Within the movement the believers waited with joyous longing. Teenager Ellen Harmon later wrote, “This was the happiest year of my life. My heart was full of glad expectation.” Outside, the world waited in suspense. Thousands who had never joined the movement searched their hearts for fear it just might be true.
October 20th. October 21st. October 22nd ,1844.
As October 22nd dawned, perhaps as many as 100,000 Millerites collected in companies large and small; in their tabnacles, in churches, in meeting tents, in private homes; in meetings solemn with prayer and joyous with praise. At Low Hampton, New York, Miller’s friends had gathered beside his house, on what is known today as Ascension Rock.
They watched all day. For the didn’t know the exact hour their Lord would come. The sun rose in the East, as “a bridegroom coming out of his chamber.” But the Bridegroom did not appear. It stood at the meridian, warm and life-giving.”with healing in his wings.” But the Sun Righteousness failed to shine forth. It set in the west, blazing, fierce, “terrible as an army with banners.” But He that sat upon the white horse did not return as the leader of the hosts of heaven. Evening shadows stretched still and cool across the land. The hours of night ticked slowly past. In disconsolate Millerite homes, clocks tolled 12 at midnight.
October 22nd had ended. Jesus had not come.
Source: Dr. C. Mervyn Maxwell is professor emeritus of church history at Andrews University. Adapted with permission from his great book,
Tell It To The World: The Story of Seventh-day Adventist (Revised edition). (Mountain View, Calif.; Pacific Press,
Copyright @ 1977 by Pacific Press.
ONE AMONG MANY
William Miller was not unique. As early as 1768, the German Calvinist pastor Johann Petri taught that the 2,300 days of Daniel would end in 1847. And, 50 years before Petri, Johann Bengel (another German pastor) had declared Jesus would return in 1836.
Interest grew during the 1790s, due in part to Manuel de Lacunza’s The coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty. A Jesuit priest who’d been exiled from his native Chile in 1767, Lacunnza moved Christ’s second coming from the indefinite to the immediate future. Pope Leo XII banned his book in1824----- a move that only increased its popularity among Protestants.
A great many lf Lacunza’s readers lived in England; his book (along with the Napoleonic wars) stimulated the advent awakening that took place in Great Britain during the early part of the 19th century. In 1810, John A. Brown used the 2,300 days to predict Christ would return in 1843. And in 1826, Henry Drummond----a very wealthy British banker------financed a series of prophecy conferences at his Albury Park estate; the participants all agreed Jesus would soon return, most likely in 1847. Daniel Wilson, Episcopal bishop of Calcutta, also expected Christ’s return in 1847.
The “second advent movement” also found a home in Scandinavia, though an unusual one. When state clergy proved uninterested in discussing Christ’s return, children began preaching it instead------some were as young as six years of age. Many suffered beatings and imprisonment rather than stop. This “children’s crusade” peaked in 1842 and 1843, then seems to have died out.
“Miller achieved no startling novelty,” wrote Whitney Cross in his landmark book, The Burned-over District. “His doctrine in every other respect virtually epitomized orthodoxy. His chronology merely elaborated and refined the kind of calculations his contemporaries had long been making but became more dramatic because it was more exact, and he predicted event was more startling.”
Source: Richard Schwarz’s Light Bearers to the Remnant
(Mountain View, California, Pacific Press, 1979)
THE DAY AFTER
The people who accepted Miller’s teachings had virtually staked their lives on Jesus’ return. They wanted Him to return. They looked forward with great anticipation to life with Jesus, to seeing again loved ones who had died, to life in a better world than this one.
So it’s easy to imagine their feelings when October 22nd passed without incident. “When Elder Himes visited Portland, a few days after the passing of the time, and stated that the brethren should prepare for another cold winter, my feelings were almost uncontrollable,” wrote one believer. “I left the place of meeting, and wept like a child.”
What came to be widely known as the “Great Disappointment” caused some to drop of the Millerite movement entirely. Others set new dates for Christ’s return. And still there were the die-hards that continued to believe Christ’s return was near but discouraged further attempts to discover a new exact date. Three modern denominations can trace their roots directly back to this last group of believers: the Advent Christian Church, with 27,600 members in 1990; the Church of God (Oregon, Illinois) with 5,700 members in 1990, and the Church of God (Seventh Day) with 5,750 members in 1990.
One group, however, came to believe Miller was right about the date but wrong about the event. Daniel 8:14, remember, had concluded with the “cleansing” of a “sanctuary.” The Millerites had thought this “sanctuary” referred either to the earth or the church, and that consequently, the “cleansing” must refer to Christ’s second advent. But this group found that the Bible speaks of another sanctuary-----a heavenly one. In fact, the New Testament makes it clear the earthly tabernacle God had the people of Israel construct was only an illustration—a model—of what God does for us through Christ. It says that true spiritual life finds its focus in heaven. It describes our spiritual life in terms of a heavenly sanctuary, with Jesus Christ functioning both as sacrifice and as high priest. The routine, daily services of the earthly sanctuary modeled the forgiveness that God offer us through Jesus. But in addition to this, that earthly sanctuary had as significant service that took place just once a year------the Day of Atonement.
Upon contemplating the earthly, this last faction of Millerites concluded that this Day of Atonement was the cleansing to which Daniel 8:14 referred . Rather than coming to cleanse the earth by fire on October 22, 1844, Jesus was “cleansing” the heavenly sanctuary-----doing what He must do to rid the universe, once and for all, of sin and the pain it brings.
The Bible suggests that this heavenly Day of Atonement services al least three purposes:
1. - It preparers God’s people for heaven.
2. - It removes any doubt the universe may have about God’s right to save His people.
3. - It tells people that Jesus’ return is near, encouraging those who haven’t put their lives in His hands to do so, and impelling those who have , to invite others to do so too.
The group who came to this “heavenly” understanding of Daniel 8:14 became the Seventh-day Adventist Church. With more than 800,000 members (1990) in North America and about 8 million worldwide, it is currently preaching the soon coming of Jesus in 233 countries and areas of the world.
Editor’s note: Not too bad Mr. William Miller. See, you really could preach.
NOT COMPLETELY WRONG.
One Hundred Fifty Years (150) years ago this very month------a large number o well-intended Christians representing many different denominations prepared what they thought would be their last meals, attended their last classes, saw their last patients, gave their farm animals their last feed, and then tidied up their homes and their personal affairs for the last time.
Church of the Science of God
La Jolla, California 92038-3131
© Church of the Science of GOD, 1993