The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4


I. Litch-First Methodist Minister to Espouse Adventism

The first well-known minister in New England to take his stand openly and aggressively by the side of William Miller and his cause was the scholarly DR. JOSIAH LITCH (1809-1886). He was born in Higham, Massachusetts, was converted at the age of seventeen, and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. He received his earlier education at the Wilbraham Academy, and subsequently became an able minister in the New England Methodist Conference. He also studied medicine, which he practiced in later life. 1 Litch espoused the Adventist cause in 1838, and took his place publicly as a colaborer of Miller. He had a strong and vigorous mind, a bent for investigation, and the courage to advocate what he believed to be truth. He was a deep and original thinker, and became widely known as, an able preacher and writer on prophecy. (His portrait appears above.) PFF4 528.2

From left to right: Charles Fitch, Eloquent Presbyterian Preacher and Designer of the Famous “1843” Chart; Joshua V. Himes, christian connection minister, publishing and organizational genius of movement; william miller, baptist pioneer leader in the American great second advent movement; Josiah Litch, redoubtable methodist clergyman, editor, organizer, and preacher; and Joseph Bates, former sea Captain, of the Christian Faith, and rugged pioneer following 1844
Page 529

Litch was thoroughly conscientious. He was a humble man; but his humility was not the result of cowardice, for in the early days of the slavery and temperance agitation he was constantly in the forefront of the conflict. He was ever the courageous champion of neglected truth and downtrodden causes. He was a power in the pulpit, and often held the unwearied interest of five thousand for an hour and a half, proclaiming the imminent advent of Christ on the basis of Bible prophecy. He was equally forceful with his pen, both as an editor and an author, his books and tracts having an extensive circulation. PFF4 529.1

Early in 1838 he received a copy of Miller’s Lectures, as we have seen, with the request that he read it and give his opinion on its merits. However, the idea of anyone trying to discover the time of Christ’s second advent was so distasteful to Litch that at first he was scarcely willing to examine it. He felt he could with ease overthrow its argument in a few minutes. He was already well aware that the Protestant world generally believed that Antichrist, under the various prophetic symbols of Daniel, Paul, and John, was the Papacy. And he knew that Protestants generally believed that this power was to continue for 1260 year-days, and that quite a few of these learned writers began the period with the decree of Phocas in 606, and consequently would not terminate until 1866. To Litch this evidence had seemed rather decisive. PFF4 530.1

However, to please his friend—as well as from personal curiosity to know what arguments could be summoned to support so novel a doctrine—he began to read Miller’s Lectures, a$ his book was popularly called. As he progressed his prejudice began to melt, and he came gradually to feel that Miller had many good points of truth-especially the idea that Christ’s coming reign of glory would be “on the earth renewed.” 3 In fact, the more he read, the more weighty Miller’s arguments appeared to be. Nor did they seem to conflict with his stanch Methodist beliefs and convictions. PFF4 530.2

Miller’s evidence for the 1260 years, as from 538 to 1798, really seemed stronger than for that of the more common later dating. And the reasoning and the Scriptural evidence convinced Litch that there could be no millennium until Christ comes in person. The reign of the Man of Sin and the glorious millennium obviously could not coexist. Before he had finished the book he became fully satisfied that the arguments were so clear, logical, Scriptural, and conclusive that it was virtually impossible to disprove Miller’s fundamental contentions. Prejudice had given way to definite acceptance of the advent faith. PFF4 530.3

Then the sobering issue confronted him: If these positions be true, must he not also, as an honest and sincere minister of the gospel, proclaim them? A tremendous struggle took place in his heart. And what if these postulates should prove to be false? What then would happen to his reputation? It was an uncomfortable thought. Yet the teaching of the Scriptures seemed conclusive. It was obvious that, if Biblical, the doctrine of the imminent advent should be made known; if un-Biblical and false, its error should be exposed. But the prophecies and the time period were assuredly there, and their meaning was seemingly what Miller presented. PFF4 531.1

Now fully persuaded that it was Biblical truth, he felt there was only one course open for him as an honest believer in the Bible—that it was his duty to make it known to others to the extent of his ability. And on the question of willingness to bear the reproach of an unpopular cause, Litch solemnly resolved at any cost to present the truth as he saw it. 4 He then and there consecrated his talents to the advocacy of the advent message, whatever the reproach. PFF4 531.2

Litch was studious of habit and keen of mind, and soon began to write on the theme. His first production was a forty-eight-page synopsis of Miller’s views entitled Midnight Cry, or a Review of Mr. Miller’s Lectures on the Second Coming of Christ, About A.D. 1843. This had a wide distribution, and created many friends for the advent cause. And wherever Litch went he preached the imminent advent of Christ. At this time there was not another minister in all New England so identified-except Charles Fitch, pastor of Marlboro Church, Boston, who, for a brief time, had taken his stand publicly with Miller. But Fitch had, at the moment, relapsed into his former views of a temporal millennium before Christ’s coming. PFF4 531.3

Undaunted by Fitch’s temporary retreat, and by the solitariness of his own position, Litch began the preparation of another book in April, 1838-a two-hundred-page volume entitled The Probability of the Second Coming of Christ About A.D. 1S43. In the preface Litch definitely declared his belief in the certainties of prophecy. So much had already been fulfilled that he profoundly believed the predictions of the Bible to have been “written by the direction and influence of the unerring Spirit of the Holy One, and will, in due time, be fulfilled.” 5 PFF4 531.4

It was at a meeting in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1839, that Litch first met Miller personally. He was on the Committee of Arrangements for the first general conference, held in October, 1840, and was one of the leading speakers. He was likewise a frequent speaker in the lengthening series of subsequent general conferences. PFF4 532.1

In June, 1841, Litch attended the Methodist Episcopal Conference at Providence, Rhode Island. Here he was closely interrogated by the presiding bishops as to his relation to the Millerite teachings. After Litch had expounded his convictions, the bishop asked, “Do you think that is Methodism?” Litch replied, “I do. At least it is not contrary to the articles of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” After considerable discussion the conference also came to the conclusion that Litch held nothing contrary to Methodism, though he had at points gone beyond it. They granted his request to “locate,” that is, to retire from the itinerant ministry. This allowed him to devote most of his time to preaching the second advent. 6 PFF4 532.2

Thus Litch came to the conclusion that he must dissolve his connection with the Methodist ministry, in which he had been employed for eight years, and throw his entire time and talents into the second advent enterprise. In July he had “entered the field,” lecturing as a “general agent” of the Committee of Publication, ready to respond to calls and traveling in behalf of the publications—a customary practice among religious bodies of the time. 7 He soon became one of the editors of the pioneer Millerite paper, The Signs of the Times. PFF4 532.3

He traveled extensively and preached on the prophecies with great effect, and was a strong leader in the growing band of Adventist ministers. His three weeks of lectures in Newark, New Jersey, in 1841, made a profound impression. He continued to travel and lecture, and was the companion of Miller on trips to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and New York. He was also editor of the Philadelphia Alarm (thirteen numbers), and thereafter of the Trumpet of Alarm, also of Philadelphia, which succeeded it, where he became the leading Millerite representative. PFF4 533.1