The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4


Part II - Prophetic Exposition the Foundation of The Millerite Phase of the Second Advent Movement 1831-1844

CHAPTER TWENTY: Tremendous Changes Alter World Picture

I. Cracking the Constrictions of a Localized World

The Western world, at the dawn of the nineteenth century, was vastly different from the modern world, with all its varied means of communication and transportation, its comforts and conveniences, its opportunities and freedoms, its inventions and discoveries. In our quest for the interpretation of prophecy in the early decades of the century-based upon what were then considered current and impending fulfillments of prophecy—we must project ourselves back to those relatively simple and rather primitive times. PFF4 429.1

First of all, on the American continent there were no great cities with their teeming multitudes as we know them now—for in 1800 the population of the entire United States was but 5,308,483. Even by 1840 it had reached only 17,069,453. By 1850 it stood at 23,191,867, according to the official census records. Of these only 10.8 per cent were urban dwellers, the large majority living in rural areas. 1 These percentages have since been steadily reversed, until today more than half of America’s multiplying millions are city dwellers. The comparative size and growth of a few of the larger, or key, cities, with which we shall soon need to deal, may be seen at a glance by this comparative table. 2 PFF4 429.2

The world of that day was slow moving, largely localized, and very constricted. Transportation was frustratingly slow and circumscribed, and communications were tantalizingly tedious. Information was restricted in its spread and slow in transmission. And the populace was bound by the fetters of circumstance and convention. PFF4 430.1

There were relatively few newspapers, and these had but limited circulations, for there were no great power presses and facilities for speedy distribution in those days—the first steam-power cylinder press not appearing until 1822. The great New York dailies did not come into being until the fourth decade—the New York Tribune in 1831, the Sun in 1833, and the Herald in 1835, and even then in greatly simplified form. Religious periodicals were just beginning to be established. What was believed to be the first weekly religious newspaper, the Herald of Gospel Liberty, was published in 1808, the Recorder in 1816, and the Observer in 1823. PFF4 430.2

Education for the masses was still markedly limited, but the first half century was a time of epochal advance in this field. In 1801 there were only 25 colleges of all kinds in the entire United States, the number increasing to 120 by 1850. The American Educational Society was formed in 1815, and the renowned Horace Mann began his career in 1837. Coeducation was as yet unknown, being introduced into Oberlin about 1833. Up to this time there had been no colleges for women, Mount Holyoke not being established until 1837. The first free public library was not opened until 1822. So, in comparison with modern times, it was a narrowly constricted world. PFF4 430.3


Through the centuries the world had been locked into national and racial compartments, with long-standing hostilities ascendant. The eyes of churchmen were fixed primarily on Christendom, not heathendom, for prior to the nineteenth century there had been no general concept or vision of a world missionary program. There was neither an organized plan nor were there facilities for undertaking such a task. Quite apart from the marked limitations in transportation and communication then prevailing, there were as yet no general foreign or home missionary organizations to implement such a scheme, no Bible and Tract Societies to support it, and no Sunday school unions to accompany it. PFF4 431.1

More than that, the church was still under the spell of reactionary and lethargic Protestant concepts ascendant in Europe. It was still tinctured with deistic, infidelic, and atheistic principles from England and France, and the distant heathen lands were still largely closed to entry. PFF4 431.2

Then swift changes came, as within a few years multiple agencies for the spread of the gospel sprang up. The Great Revival, beginning just before the turn of the century, was accompanied by aggressive efforts in behalf of the “diffusion” of the Scriptures, so all men might have the Word of God in their own tongue. The British and Foreign Bible Society was launched in 1804, others following in quick succession on the European continent. The American Bible Society was founded in 1816, and societies for the circulation of religious books began around the same time and in different lands. The American Tract Society was formed in 1825, although small local groups had been operating since 1803. PFF4 431.3

The American Home Missionary Society was likewise formed in 1816 by Absalom Peters, and the plan spread through the various denominations. Sunday school societies had already started in England, and the plan was extended to other lands. In America various local societies had sprung up in Philadelphia and New York, scattered over the various religious bodies. These were then merged into what became, in 1824, the American Sunday School Union, representing the principal religious denominations of this country, though preponderantly Congregational and Presbyterian in complexion. When Steven Paxon retired in 1824, he had organized 1,314 Sunday schools. 3 PFF4 431.4


The first four decades of the nineteenth century were marked by far-reaching expansions of political, religious, and intellectual freedom. One by one the constrictive bands of the past began to burst. A new sense of coming freedom and dawning opportunity lay at the foundation of all advances. Two words, “agitation” and “reform,” compass the contemporary attitude. American independence had but recently been gained, and the Monroe Doctrine established only in 1823. America was now building on its own foundations, and was just beginning to take its destined place in the family of nations. Note the developments: PFF4 432.1

There was progress in political liberty. Jewish rights were being increasingly recognized. The principle of self-determination was spreading. Anti-slavery agitation was sharply on the increase. There was extension of religious freedom and moral reform, and an increasing breakdown of former barriers that was preparing the way for the overseas preaching of the gospel. There was expansion of freedom of speech and press, as religious periodicals were introduced and newspapers with booming circulations were established. PFF4 432.2

There was growth of popular education for the masses. Secondary schools, colleges, and seminaries were increasingly established. Even the British and Foreign School Society (or Lancastrian monitorial system) of England was extended to North, Central, and South America. 4 And there was development of rapid communication and transportation-amazing material developments and revolutionary changes, from the old turnpike and canal to the steamship and the railroad. But that was not all, as the most vital advances were neither material nor secular. PFF4 432.3


At the beginning of the eighteenth century the pathfinding Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts had been founded in 1701. Toward the close of the century the English Baptist Missionary Society was organized in 1792, and the London Missionary Society in 1795. Then came the Church Missionary Society in 1817. Others, in other lands,—were soon launched. 5 The great foreign mission movement of the Old World was under way. PFF4 433.1

It was in 1810, in the very midst of this world awakening, that the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was formed among the Congregationalists as a result of the famed Haystack Prayer Meeting group, then among American Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Protestant Episcopals, the Methodist Episcopals, and finally among several smaller societies-Lutheran, Reformed Presbyterian, and others. There was even a Society for Evangelizing the Jesuits and the Catholics. But it is the American Missionary Movement that is of primary concern to us here. PFF4 433.2


Protestantism had entered a new epoch, called the Great Revival.—Ml What were called “seasons of refreshing” had begun about the turn of the century, and continued for some three decades. These appeared first in the Eastern States, spreading thence to the South and Midwest, and even into “Canada East.” The early sprinklings, if they may be so called, spread over various parts of the country, and preceded the full revival showers. The titles of a series of small volumes bear record of these revivals in many churches. One was Glorious News, A Brief Account of the Late Revival in New England and also in Nova Scotia, by S. C. Ustick. Another was A Brief Account of the Late Revival of Religion in a Number of Towns in New England. Yet another was called A Faithful Narrative of a Revival of Religion at Bridgehampton in the Year 1800. These were typical. 6 PFF4 433.3

A new era in Protestantism was dawning, designed not only to restore forsaken doctrinal and prophetic truths, but to outline and perfect a general evangelistic missionary movement, in order to carry the gospel to all the world, with all the preparatory and supporting forces that such a giant task involves. And all this was believed to be a matter of Bible prophecy, or inspired prediction. While such activities had begun to appear in Europe, they were particularly aggressive here in America. And to prepare the way God began to send seasons of spiritual revival. Paralleling reformatory forces and movements then began to spring forth. Without these enabling provisions, the gigantic task of carrying the final gospel message to all the world, in answer to divine prediction, would have been well-nigh impossible. Observe them. PFF4 434.1