SDA Roots, part 5

A great revival developed as a result of Miller ’s preaching. People flocked to his meetings not only from the community but also from surrounding towns. His lectures made such an impression upon the listeners that they kept asking for more. His messages could not be presented in one lecture, so he was persuaded to continue preaching. This was Miller’s experience wherever he went, and the result was the conversion of many souls.

Miller’s small town preaching ended in 1839. On November 12, he met Joshua V. Himes, pastor of the Chardon Street Chapel, in Boston, Massachusetts, who invited Miller to preach to his church family. While preaching in the Chapel, Miller lived with Himes, and they began a friendship which lasted for many years. “God in His providence had brought the two men together. The beginning of this association opened a new era in Miller’s work of spreading his convictions regarding the soon coming Christ.” The Urgent Voice, 63. The interest generated by Miller’s preaching became so great that he was compelled to present another series. Charles Fitch’s Marlboro Chapel was rented for the series.


Miller Begins to Write


From this time until the great disappointment, Miller hardly had time to pause in his public proclamation of the Second Coming of Christ. Almost from the beginning, he received so many invitations to preach that he could not possibly comply, for lack of time. This prompted him to begin publishing his views in printed form. He prepared a series of articles and sent them as anonymous contributions to the Baptist weekly paper, the Vermont Telegraph at Brandon, Vermont. The editor of the paper refused to publish the articles unless the author was identified,whereupon Miller consented and they were printed with the initials, W.M.

Miller wrote a book in which he detailed his views on the prophecies and particularly the Second Coming. This book had a great and profound influence upon all that read it. The editor of the Boston Daily Times, in which sections of Miller’s book were published, was the first to give Miller’s views favorable publicity through the press. The editor continued to print Miller’s articles, and they created a pronounced impact upon the public mind.

However, not all publicity was favorable. One pastor, Ethan Smith, submitted two articles rebutting Miller’s views. The opposition was not very effective, and in most cases it just spurred on the reader to a more careful study of Miller’s message. Even Ethan Smith stated: “I wish to encourage the study of the prophecies and signs of the times: and have been much tried, to see so little attention paid to them; and to hear so many ministers speaking most disrespectfully of this study! I view this fact to be a very dark sign of the times! I think such ministers have got to repent of this sin, or they must sink under it. It is a great insult offered to the Holy Ghost, who inspired the prophecies and commanded us to study and understand them.” The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 517.

“It was about this time that the copy of Miller’s Lectures was placed in the hands of Josiah Litch, a Methodist minister in Massachusetts, who soon became persuaded of its essential soundness and began to write and publish on the subject. Practically the same experience came to Charles Fitch, pastor of the Marlboro Congregational Church of Boston. Meantime Miller was lecturing in some of the moderate-sized towns of Massachusetts, such as Lowell, where he was invited to preach by Timothy Cole, a minister of the Christian Connection, who was likewise greatly impressed.” Ibid., 519.


Himes Helps the Work


The acquaintance with Himes, in late 1839, led to a greatly expanded and accelerated Advent Movement in the larger cities. Himes did not associate himself with Miller without counting the cost of such a move. He stated: “We are not insensible of the fact, that much obloquy will be cast upon us in consequence of our association with the author of this work [Miller]. This, however, gives us no pain. We had rather be associated with such a man as William Miller, and stand with him in gloom or glory, in the cause of the living God, than to be associated with his enemies, and enjoy all the honors of the world.”

“Thus it was that Joshua V. Himes, scarcely thirty-five years old, gave up a promising future to cast his lot with an unpopular cause. But Himes was no stranger to unpopular causes. He was an energetic opponent of the liquor traffic, and for a time he had worked closely with William Lloyd Garrison in the battle against slavery. As pastor of the Chardon Street Chapel, he had opened the doors of the church to more than one reform cause. Millerism was therefore only one of several ‘causes’ with which Himes was actively associated. But it was the one to which he was to devote the most time and effort. And, with Miller and Fitch, he became one of Millerism’s three leading figures.” The Urgent Voice, 64.

Himes’ abilities as a public speaker were unusual, and he frequently lectured on the subject of the Second Coming. But his most valuable accomplishments with the Millerite Movement were in the area of organization and promotion. He was responsible for the publication of tracts, songbooks, pamphlets, charts, broadsides and handbills. Himes, at various times, published more than a dozen periodicals promoting the teachings on the Second Advent.


A Voice for the Advent Movement


By the beginning of 1840, most papers, both religious and secular, had become most unsympathetic in their treatment of Miller and refused to print anything from him in rebuttal. Miller had for quite some time wanted to put out a periodical to serve as the voice of Millerism, but he had not been able to find anyone that would risk his reputation and finances on such a publication. When Miller spoke to Himes of his desire, he accepted the challenge and produced the first issue of the Signs of the Times, a week later.

In 1844, the name of this periodical was changed to the Advent Herald. In 1874, when James White began to publish a weekly paper to speak for the Seventh-day Adventists on the Pacific Coast, he took the name that Himes had abandoned and called it Signs of the Times. James White’s paper was not a continuation of Hime’s periodical and there was no connection between the two, except for the name.

Another person who opposed Miller’s teachings was John Dowling, a Baptist clergyman from New York. He published a Review of Miller, in which he presented the old Antiochus theory for the Little Horn of Daniel 8. He explained that the 2300 evenings and mornings were half days or 1150 literal days and that this referred to the second century B.C. He also taught that the millennium came before the Second Advent. This led to a Refutation by Litch suggesting, like Miller, that the six thousand years of the world’s history would terminate about 1843. He also wrote An Address to the Clergy, which caused many ministers to examine the question more thoroughly and convinced not a few of them of the true character and truth of the Millerite positions.


Campmeetings are Born


Despite the negative reaction and prejudice, aroused by the press, to the public meetings of the Millerites and those that favored his views on prophecy, a considerable interest caused the need for larger meeting-houses. As the result of this growth in interest in the Second Advent preaching, a weeklong meeting was held in Boston in early 1842. Thus the camp meeting was born. In June, Litch held meetings in East Canada resulting in between five hundred and six hundred conversions. “Great gatherings throughout Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine followed, which according to Litch, literally ‘shook the nation.’ ” Ibid., 522.

To accommodate the ever-increasing crowds, a big tent, seating six thousand, was erected six times the first season in New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Jersey. Marked results were seen. Fitch preached the Second Advent to the students and faculty of Oberlin College in Ohio, and elsewhere, finally establishing himself in Cleveland. Litch declares of this time: “The work spread with a power unparalleled in the history of religious excitements. And had it been the object of Adventists to form a sect, never was there a more favorable opportunity to carry all before them, given to any people. But higher and holier objects were in their vision—the saving of sinners from death, and the obtaining of a preparation for the coming of the Lord, were the objects of their highest ambition.” Ibid.

Miller and Himes returned to New York City in 1842 and lectured in the large Methodist church where George Storrs was the pastor. An Adventist daily paper was started called the Midnight Cry, edited by Joshua Himes, L. D. Fleming and Nathaniel Southard. Fitch also established many Second Advent papers and periodicals in Cleveland, and H. B. Skinner and Luther Caldwell did the same in Canada.

Wherever Miller’s writings were circulated, the sale and study of the Bible was stimulated. The movement was known as a Bible movement, and Litch stated that, “a course of lectures in a village, would open a door for the sale of more Bibles in a week than would have been sold before for years.” The tone of the movement was Protestant, the Bible and the Bible only as the rule of practice and faith.

“There were among the Millerite ministers men of commanding talent and attainment—only a few have thus far been named—who were the equal of the wise and learned opposers of the land, raised up, they believed, at a time when such help was needed. As to the actual number of ministers in the Millerite movement at this time Litch frankly said, ‘We have no means of ascertaining the number of ministers, and others, who have embraced the Advent faith. We only know that there are several hundred congregations, and a still larger number of ministers, who have publicly professed the faith, besides many who still remain in the churches of the land.’ These, he explained, were associated together for the accomplishment of a definite objective—to ‘sound the alarm.’ And any organization that existed was of the most ‘simple, voluntary and primitive form.’ ” Ibid., 527.

Next month we will take a closer look at some of the men associated with Miller in the proclamation of the Second Advent. We will scan a little of their backgrounds, training, talents, standing and religious affiliation.