Friday, October 21, 2016

Second Coming in 1844?

The Millerites were the followers of the teachings of William Miller, who in 1833 first shared publicly his belief that the Second Advent of Jesus Christ would occur in roughly the year 1843.


Miller was a prosperous farmer, a Baptist lay preacher, and student of the Bible, living in northeastern New York. Miller spent years of intensive study of symbolic meaning of the prophecies of Daniel, especially Daniel 8:14 (Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed), the 2300 day prophecy. Miller believed that the cleansing of the sanctuary represented the Earth's destruction by fire at Christ's Second Coming. Using the year-day method of prophetic interpretation, Miller became convinced that the 2,300 day period started in 457 BC with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem by Artaxerxes I of Persia. Simple calculation then indicated that this period would end about 1843. In September 1822, Miller formally stated his conclusions in a twenty-point document, including article 15, "I believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ is near, even at the door, even within twenty-one years,—on or before 1843." This document however, remained private for many years.

Miller did eventually share his views, first to a few friends privately and later to some ministerial acquaintances. Initially he was disappointed at the lack of response from those he spoke to. "To my astonishment, I found very few who listened with any interest. Occasionally, one would see the force of the evidence, but the great majority passed it by as an idle tale."

Miller states that he began his public lecturing in the village of Dresden, Washington County, New York, some 16 miles from his home, on "the first Sabbath in August 1833." However, as Sylvester Bliss points out, "The printed article from which this is copied was written in 1845. By an examination of his correspondence, it appears that he must have begun to lecture in August 1831. So that this date is a mistake of the printer or an error in Mr. Miller's memory."

In 1832, Miller submitted a series of sixteen articles to the Vermont Telegraph—a Baptist paper. The first of these was published on May 15, and Miller writes of the public’s response, "I began to be flooded with letters of inquiry respecting my views, and visitors flocked to converse with me on the subject." In 1834, unable to personally comply with many of the urgent requests for information and the invitations to travel and preach that he received, Miller published a synopsis of his teachings in a "little tract of 64 pages." These he "...scattered, the most of them gratuitously, sending them in reply to letters of inquiry and to places which I could not visit."

A National Movement

From 1840 onward, Millerism was transformed from an "obscure, regional movement into a national campaign." The key figure in this transformation was Joshua Vaughan Himes—the pastor of Chardon Street Chapel in Boston, and an able and experienced publisher. Though Himes did not fully accept Miller’s ideas until 1842, he established the fortnightly paper Signs of the Times to publicize them. The first edition was published on February 28, 1840, with Himes as editor. It continues to be published by the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a monthly evangelistic magazine under the same name.

Periodical literature played an important part in the rapid and widespread dissemination of Millerite beliefs. "From first to last the power of the press, in this particular form, was one of the foremost factors in the success of this now vigorous, expanding movement."  In addition to the Signs of the Times based in Boston, Millerite papers were published in numerous cities including New York, Philadelphia, Rochester, Cleveland, and Montreal. There were at least 48 Millerite periodicals that circulated in the period leading up to the Great Disappointment. The majority of these, however, were quite short-lived—often a new paper was started whenever a Millerite evangelistic campaign entered a new area.

As well as publications based on geography, the Millerites issued various papers targeting different groups. The Advent Message to the Daughters of Zion focused on female readers, and was first published in May 1844. The Advent Shield was a more academically orientated paper published in Boston and edited by Joshua Vaughan Himes, Sylvester Bliss, and Apollos Hale. Its announced purpose was to "defend the doctrine from the attacks of the enemies, to exhibit the unscriptural position of the opponents, and furnish the truth to those who were ready to receive it." While only three issues were produced: in May 1844, January 1845, and a final issue in April 1845; it was the largest of the Millerite papers, the first two issues each having 144 pages, and the final having 250.

As the various dates of Christ’s predicted return approached, Millerite publishing went into high gear. In May 1843, 21,000 copies of the various Millerite papers were published for distribution each week. In New York alone, in the five-month period ending April 1843, 600,000 copies of various publications were distributed. In December 1843, Himes proposed the publication of one million tracts, while in May 1844, he announced that five million copies of Millerite publications had been distributed up to that time.

A researcher examined the geographical distribution of correspondents to the Millerite periodical Signs of the Times from 1840 to 1847. Out of a total of 615 correspondents, she found that the 131 correspondents from New York state provided the largest group. Vermont provided another 107, with New England (excluding Vermont) accounting for a further 279. Outside of these areas, representation was sparse: 23 in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland combined; just 65 from the west—including 20 from Ohio; and only 10 from the Southern states. While it seems then, that the vast majority of Miller’s followers were of local origin, his message was not limited to his local area—nor even to the United States. Miller preached across the border in Canada’s Eastern Townships on at least three occasions: in 1835, 1838 and 1840. He made a number of converts there and gained the support of some of the local clergy. At least five Millerite papers were published in Canada: the Faithful Watchman—published in Sherbrooke from January 1843; the influential Voice of Elijah, published in Montreal from June 1843; the short-lived Hope of the Church in St. Thomas in 1844; Behold, He Cometh in Hamilton, and the Bridegroom’s Herald in Toronto, both from mid-1844.

Many travellers or emigrants to the United States who had heard the Second Advent message there returned to their home districts to preach. From 1841, Millerite evangelists appeared in Great Britain, also, though he never travelled there himself.  In addition to the nearly $1000 that Miller and Himes spent supplying literature to enquirers and evangelists in Great Britain; "there is evidence that [in Liverpool, Bristol, and other ports] local Millerite pioneers borrowed copies of Miller’s works and Adventist magazines from visiting American sea captains and merchants." As well as utilizing imported American literature, two Millerite papers were published locally in Great Britain: the Second Advent Harbinger in Bristol, and the British Midnight Cry in Liverpool. The Millerite message entered Australia through the Canadian paper Voice of Elijah. Thomas Playford, living in Adelaide, was converted thus. Playford spread the Millerite message in Australia, even publishing a book of his sermons: Discourses on the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. Playford’s preaching apparently resulted in a number of converts. An English Millerite, James William Bonham, apparently sent copies of The Midnight Cry to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), though no record remains of their effect. In a similar manner, converts were made in Norway and Chile. A letter published in The Midnight Cry of October 12, 1843, from a Mrs O. S. Burnham of Kaloa, The Sandwich Islands, (now Hawaii) stated that she and her husband had accepted the Millerite message and were worshipping with a small company of believers.

Despite the urging of his supporters, Miller never personally set an exact date for the expected Second Advent. However, in response to their urgings he did narrow the time-period to sometime in the year 1843, stating: "My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844" March 21, 1844 passed without incident, and the majority of Millerites maintained their faith. On March 25, Miller wrote to Himes, "I am still looking for the Dear Savior…. The time, as I have calculated it, is now filled up; and I expect every moment to see the Savior descend from heaven. I have now nothing to look for but this glorious hope." As George R. Knight states, the movement’s survival was a result of the fact that, "the Millerite leaders had been ‘soft’ on the time…. They allowed for the possibility of small errors in their calculations and even in some of their historic dates." In fact, on February 28, Miller himself had written, "If Christ comes, as we expect, we will sing the song of victory soon; if not, we will watch, and pray, and preach until he comes, for soon our time, and all prophetic days, will have been filled."

Further discussion and study resulted in the brief adoption of a new date—April 18, 1844, one based on the Karaite Jewish calendar (as opposed to the Rabbinic calendar). Like the previous date, April 18 passed without Christ’s return. More study led the Millerites to believe that they had entered the "tarrying time"—a time of waiting after which Christ would finally return—spoken of in Matthew 25:5 and Habakkuk 3:2-3. This belief sustained the Millerites through the months of May to July, 1844. As Knight notes however, this period represented a "flatness in Millerite evangelism," when even the Millerite preachers must have experienced diminished certainty.[24]

In August 1844 at a camp-meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, everything changed when Samuel S. Snow presented a message of earth-shattering proportions—what became known as the "seventh-month" message or the "true midnight cry." In a complex discussion based on scriptural typology, Snow presented his conclusion (still based on the 2300 day prophecy in Daniel 8:14), that Christ would return on, "the tenth day of the seventh month of the present year, 1844." Again using the calendar of the Karaite Jews, this date was determined to be October 22, 1844. This "seventh month message" "spread with a rapidity unparalleled in the Millerite experience" amongst the general population. The situation caught many of the established leaders—including Himes and Miller himself, by surprise. Knight reports that, "There is no evidence that any of the foremost Millerite preachers accepted this grass-roots development until late September. Most did not accept it until early October."

The Great Disappointment

October 22, 1844, the day Jesus was expected to return, ended like any other day to the disappointment of the Millerites. Both Millerite leaders and followers were left generally bewildered and disillusioned. Responses varied: some Millerites continued to look daily for Christ’s return, others predicted different dates—among them April, July, and October 1845. Some theorized that the world had entered the seventh millennium, the "Great Sabbath", and that, therefore, the saved should not work. Others acted as children, basing their belief on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:15, "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." O. J. D. Pickands used Revelation 14:14-16 to teach that Christ was now sitting on a white cloud, and must be prayed down. Probably the majority however, simply gave up their beliefs and attempted to rebuild their lives.

Some members rejoined their previous denominations while a substantial number became Quakers. Hundreds joined the Shakers, who believed that Christ had already appeared for the second time in the person of Mother Ann Lee. The "Advents'" impact was greatest on the Shaker villages at Union Village and Whitewater, Ohio, Harvard, Massachusetts, and Canterbury, New Hampshire. Some remained Shakers for the rest of their lives; others left after a short time.

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