At the close of two years of intensive study, in 1818, William Miller came to the conclusion that there were a dozen points on which he differed radically with the popular views of the day. He was convinced that: “1. The popular view of a temporal millennium before the second advent, and the end of the age, was a fallacy. 2. The theory of the return of the Jews was not sustained by the Word. 3. Jesus will come again personally, with all the holy angels with Him. 4. The kingdom of God will be established at that coming. 5. The earth will perish in a deluge of fire. 6. The new earth will spring forth out of its ashes. 7. The righteous dead will be resurrected at the advent. 8. The wicked dead will not come forth until the close of the thousand years. 9. The papal Little Horn will be destroyed at the advent. 10. We are living in the last phase of the outline prophecies —such as, in Daniel 2, in the period of the ‘feet and toes.’ 11. All prophetic time periods—such as the 70 weeks, the 1260 days, and the rest—are to be computed on the year-day principle. 12. The 2300 year-days, extending from 457 B.C. to about A.D. 1843, will bring the climax of prophecy and of human history; and that Jesus will come ‘on or before’ the Jewish year ‘1843.’ ” The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 463.
Miller concluded at the end of his intensive study that in about 25 years (1843) the world would come to an end at the Second Coming of Christ. As far as he knew, no one agreed with him in this belief. His findings so startled him that he thought that there was something wrong, and he determined to restudy the prophecies and to challenge each step considering every objection including the scriptural statement “no man knows the day or the hour.”
He spent another four years in his restudy and, in 1822, Miller was persuaded that his conclusions were correct and he then wrote his “Compendium of Faith,” which contained his “Twenty Articles of Faith.”
Miller formulated fourteen rules for Bible study. We will enumerate seven of his rules as they show his procedures in the study of the prophecies and how he formulated his conclusions.
“IV. To understand doctrine, bring all the Scriptures together on the subject you wish to know; then let every word have its proper influence; and if you can form your theory without a contradiction, you cannot be in error.
“V. Scripture must be its own expositor, since it is a rule of itself. If I depend on a teacher to expound to me, and he should guess at its meaning, or desire to have it so on account of his sectarian creed, or to be thought wise, then his guessing, desire, creed or wisdom, is my rule, and not the Bible.
“VI. God has revealed things to come, by visions, in figures and parables; and in this way the same things are oftentimes revealed again and again, by different visions, or in different figures and parables. If you wish to understand them, you must combine them all in one.
“VIII. Figures always have a figurative meaning, and are used much in prophecy to represent future things, times and events—such as mountains, meaning governments.
“X. Figures sometimes have two or more different signification, as day is used in a figurative sense to represent three different periods of time, namely, first, indefinite; second definite, a day for a year; and third, a day for a thousand years.
“XII. ‘To learn the meaning of a figure, trace the word through your Bible, and when you find it explained, substitute the explanation for the word used; and, if it makes good sense, you need not look further; if not, look again.
“XIII. To know whether we have the true historical event for the fulfillment of a prophecy: If you find every word of the prophecy (after the figures are understood) is literally fulfilled, then you may know that your history is the true event; but if one word lacks a fulfillment, then you must look for another event, or wait its future development; for God takes care that history and prophecy shall agree, so that the true believing children of God may never be ashamed.” Ibid., 470.
A Message to Proclaim
As the year 1831 approached, the conviction began to grow in Miller’s mind that he must proclaim his findings, especially regarding the imminent return of Jesus to this earth, to the world. He stated: “After a number of years I was compelled by the Spirit of God, the power of truth, and the love of souls, to take up my cross and proclaim these things to a dying and perishing world.” The Great Second Advent Movement, 120. He thought he could comply with the impression by writing and publishing his views in public journals and his first article appeared in the Vermont Telegraph, a Baptist paper printed in Brandon, Vermont.
Nevertheless, all the writing and publishing of Miller’s views did not quiet the urging in his mind to proclaim, to the world, the nearness of Christ’s coming. One day, as he rose to do something, the strong conviction came to him that he was to go and tell the world about the coming of Jesus. The impression was so strong that he began to make excuses to the Lord that he could not go. Some of the excuses he made were: I am too old, I am not a preacher, I lack ability or I am slow of speech. But none or all of these excuses “could silence the voice of conviction that insisted it was his bounden obligation to share his faith with others in a public way.” The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, 482.
An incident occurred in Miller’s experience that illustrates the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. There was a doctor living in Miller’s community that had expressed the opinion that Miller was a fine man, but that he was a monomaniac on the subject of the Second Coming.
When one of Miller’s children became ill he called this doctor to handle the case. While the doctor was treating the child, Miller sat in a corner of the room not uttering a word. When the doctor finished he asked Miller what was wrong. “Well, I hardly know . . . I want you to see what the trouble is and prescribe for me.
“The Doctor’s superficial examination revealed no symptoms. So he asked Miller what he thought was wrong.
“I don’t know . . . but perhaps I am a monomaniac. I want you to examine me and see if I am; and if so, cure me. Can you tell when a man is a monomaniac?
“The doctor blushed at the question, but replied that he thought he could.
“How can you tell? Miller asked.
“Why, a monomaniac is rational on all subjects but one; and when you talk about that subject, he will react violently.
“In that case I must insist that you see whether or not I am a monomaniac; and if I am, you must cure me. You shall therefore sit down with me for two hours while I present the subject of the Advent to you, and if I am a monomaniac, you will be able to tell it by that time.
“When the doctor hesitated, Miller insisted, reminding him that the problem involved his mental health and that therefore the doctor might feel free to make his regular charge for professional services. Unable to find a graceful way out of the situation, the doctor finally consented. So for the next two hours Miller asked questions. And the doctor, under Miller’s direction, read the answers from the Bible, in what was probably one of the most unusual Bible studies ever given. Before the study ended, the doctor had been led step by step to the conclusion that Christ was coming to the earth in 1843. At the end of the study he sat back in his chair, paused a moment as if to speak, thought better of it, and without saying another word picked up his hat and left the room. “But the next morning he returned to the Miller home, very much upset.
“Mr. Miller . . . I feel that I am going to be lost. I have not slept a wink since I was here yesterday. I have looked at the question from every side, and I cannot see but that the vision will end about 1843, and I am not prepared. “So each day for the next week Miller and the doctor spent some time together studying the Bible prophecies. And at the end of the week the doctor was as great a monomaniac as Miller was.” The Urgent Voice, 38, 39, by Robert Gale.
Miller’s Covenant with God
In 1832, Miller’s distress of soul was so great that he entered into a covenant with God that if He would open the way, he would go and perform his duty to the world. He further agreed that if an invitation should come to speak publicly in any place, he would accept the invitation and go and tell others what he had found in his Bible studies.
“Little did he dream that within a scant half hour he would be confronted with just such an opening. He had thought himself safe, through the terms of his condition, from having to carry out his compact. His burden seemed lifted. And he felt relieved. But at that self-same moment a lad of sixteen was riding down the road on horseback from nearby Dresden to Low Hampton, bearing an invitation to Miller to come and tell the members of the Baptist church of Dresden his views on the second advent.” Ibid., 483.
When the lad arrived and delivered his message, Miller was thunderstruck, and he became angry with himself for having made such a covenant. He rebelled at once against the Lord and determined not to go and stormed out of the house. In a maple-grove near his house, Miller fell to his knees and at first asked God to release him from his promise. But the only answer he received was to go. Finally He surrendered to the clear command of God and said, “Lord, I will go.”
Thus William Miller was launched on a career of itinerant preaching for the next ten plus years. Invitations poured in for him to lecture mostly in churches all over the northeastern states. Miller was determined to fill as many appointments as was physically possible, and to do his best to warn as many people as he could of the end of all things.
Events that Validated Prophecy
There were two astronomical phenomena that occurred between 1833 and 1844 that attracted attention to the Bible prophecies. The first was the falling of the stars on November 13, 1833. The meteor shower was especially heavy over the northeastern states where the Millerite movement had begun and exerted its greatest influence. Many people that were not necessarily believers in Miller’s message were inclined to regard his teaching with more seriousness than before.
The second occurred between February 28 and April 1, 1843. A great comet (not Haley’s Comet)appeared, causing those that were serious minded to take note that what Miller was teaching might be true and that the end of all things was at hand.
But more than these two occurrences there was a direct fulfillment of prophecy that inspired increased faith in the Scriptures as the Word of God and strengthened the position of the Millerite movement regarding the prophecies of the Bible.
A Millerite preacher, by the name of Josiah Litch, wrote a number of articles on the seven trumpets of Revelation 8 and 9. He said that the sixth trumpet would cease to sound on August 11, 1840, and that the Ottoman Empire would come to its end on that day. When that happened he said that the fulfillment would substantiate a day for a year in Bible prophecy.
War broke out between Turkey and Egypt in 1839 and continued until August, 1840, when Turkey asked the allied powers of England, Russia, Austria and Prussia to intervene, and on August 11, the Ottoman Empire came to an end. “In the Words of Dr. Jerome Clark, ‘By accepting the intervention of the Allied powers to bring a settlement of his difficulties with Egypt’s pasha, the Ottoman Turkish sultan had lost control of his external affairs insofar as Egypt was concerned . . . The pasha took the message under advisement on August 11, 1840. That same day the sultan wrote the four powers for assurances of their help should the ultimatum be refused. Turkey from that time forward was known as the sick man of Europe. The pasha complied with the ultimatum. The prophecy of the 1391 years and fifteen days of Ottoman Turkish domination had been fulfilled to the day.’ The event exactly fulfilled the prediction.” Ibid., 51, 52.
This fulfillment of prophecy made a deep impression on thousands of people. Josiah Litch wrote that, within a few months, more than a thousand infidels wrote to him saying that they had been led to accept the Bible as the Word of God. Some of these men became preachers in the Millerite movement. As a result of the astronomical events and what had occurred in the Middle East, Miller’s name became a household word all over the United States.
Some Rejected the Light
It was only natural for some churches to reject Miller and his message, and some ministers warned their congregations to stay away from his lectures. In one town, after delivering his first lecture, “Miller received a letter signed by ten ‘bullies and blackguards’ saying that if he did not get out of the State they would put him where even the dogs would not be able to find him. But Miller was not a man to cower before a threat. He stayed; he delivered his lectures and God blessed his work in that community.” Ibid., 52.
Noah Webster wrote to Miller saying, “Your preaching can be of no use to society but it is a great annoyance. If you expect to frighten men and women into religion, you are probably mistaken . . . If your preaching drives people into despair or insanity, you are responsible for the consequences. I advise you to abandon your preaching: you are doing no good, but you may do a great deal of harm.” Ibid., 52. This man had never attended any of Miller’s lectures. Miller’s marching orders came from God, not man.
With the busy schedule Miller had set for himself, he still had a farm to run from which he gained the means for supporting his itinerary. Near the end of 1843, his lecturing was taking up so much of his time that he had to decide whether to farm or to continue to preach. He decided to rent out his farm to one of his sons. “At the same time he wrote to (Elder) Hendryx, ‘I devote my whole time, lecturing.’ ” Ibid., 53.
Next month we will continue the story of William Miller and we will meet a few old friends that came into his life and continued with the Great Advent Movement to their death.