A Prophet Among You


William Miller

Of the men preaching the second advent during the early nineteenth century, the one who ultimately came into greatest prominence was William Miller. Miller was born at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, February 15, 1782; but when he was a small child the family moved to Low Hampton, New York. This became Miller’s permanent home, except for a thirteen-year residence at Poultney, Vermont. The Miller household was a religious one. William, the oldest of sixteen children, was strictly trained by his mother, who was the daughter of a Baptist minister. Two of her brothers became Baptist ministers. Facilities for education were limited, but Miller’s passion for books and his persistence in reading at night by the light of the fireplace or pine knot, enabled him to be classified as well educated. Access to libraries of friendly well-to-do neighbors broadened his education. APAY 185.2

In his early twenties Miller made the acquaintance of a number of deists. He enjoyed his discussions with them, and eventually joined them in their thinking—partly because of the inconsistencies he saw in the lives of professing Christians, and partly because of the conflicting opinions of the ministers to whom he asked questions about the Bible. His change of viewpoint regarding the Bible and the church did not alter the general trend of his life. He was honest, truthful, and clean, and he enjoyed the respect of his fellow townsmen. He served acceptably as constable, justice of the peace, and sheriff. The war of 1812 called for Miller’s services, and he spent two years as a captain in the infantry. He came out of the war disillusioned about his deistic beliefs. Though he did not join the church, Miller became a regular attendant at the Low Hampton Baptist Church, of which his uncle was the minister. APAY 185.3

On occasions, when it was known that the minister was to be away from the church, Miller did not attend the service. He excused himself on the basis that the sermon was so poorly read by the substitute that he got nothing out of it. He hinted that if he could do the reading at such times he would attend. The church officers extended him an invitation to do so. Some time later, during his reading of a sermon on Isaiah 53, Miller was overcome with emotion and was forced to sit down. As a result of deep conviction, he accepted Christ as his Saviour, and found the satisfaction he had long been seeking. APAY 186.1

For two years, from 1816-18, Miller’s attention was given to Bible study. He set aside commentaries and, as far as possible, all preconceived ideas, and launched into his investigation of Bible teachings, using only his Bible and Cruden’s Concordance. The longer his study continued, the deeper became his confidence in the Scriptures; but the further he found himself from some of the popular theological teachings of the time. Miller’s own statement of what he calls “The Result Arrived At,” published in a pamphlet, should be given careful scrutiny: APAY 186.2

“While thus studying the Scriptures, I became satisfied, if the prophecies which have been fulfilled in the past are any criterion by which to judge of the manner of the fulfillment of those which are future, that the popular views of the spiritual reign of Christ, a temporal millennium before the end of the world, and the Jews’ return, are not sustained by the word of God; for, I found that all the Scriptures on which those favorite theories are based, are as clearly expressed as are those that were literally fulfilled at the first advent, or at any other period in the past. I found it plainly taught in the Scriptures that Jesus Christ will again descend to this earth, coming in the clouds of heaven, in all the glory of his Father: that, at his coming the kingdom and dominion under the whole heaven will be given to Him and the saints of the Most High, who will possess it forever, even forever and ever: that, as the old world perished by the deluge, so the earth that now is, is reserved unto fire, to be melted with fervent heat at Christ’s coming, after which, according to the promise, it is to become the new earth wherein the righteous will forever dwell: that, at his coming, the bodies of all the righteous dead will be raised, and all the righteous living be changed from a corruptible to an incorruptible, from a mortal to an immortal state; that they will all be caught up together to meet the Lord in air, and will reign with him forever in the regenerated earth: that, the controversy [of] Zion will then be finished, her children be delivered from bondage, and from the power of the tempter, and the saints be all presented to God blameless, without spot or wrinkle in love; that, the bodies of the wicked will then all be destroyed, and their spirits be reserved in prison until their resurrection and damnation; and that when the earth is thus regenerated, the righteous raised, and the wicked destroyed, the kingdom of God will have come, when his will will be done on earth as it is done in heaven; that the meek will inherit it, and the kingdom become the saints’. I found that the only millennium taught in the word of God is the thousand years which are to intervene between the first resurrection and that of the rest of the dead, as inculcated in the twentieth of Revelation; and that it must necessarily follow the personal coming of Christ and the regeneration of the earth: that, till Christ’s coming, and the end of the world, the righteous and wicked are to continue together on the earth, and that the horn of the Papacy is to war against the saints until his appearing and kingdom, when it will be destroyed by the brightness of Christ’s coming; so that there can be no conversion of the world before the advent; and that as the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, is located by Peter after the conflagration, and is declared by him to be the same for which we look, according to the promise of Isaiah 65:17, and is the same that John saw in vision after the passing away of the former heavens and earth; it must necessarily follow that the various portions of Scripture that refer to the millennial state must have their fulfillment after the resurrection of all the saints that sleep in Jesus. I also found that the promises respecting Israel’s restoration are applied by the apostle to all who are Christ’s,—the putting on of Christ constituting them Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” William Miller, Apology and Defence, pages 7-9. (This is a pamphlet of thirty-six pages, written in 1845.) APAY 186.3

In the next two sections of his pamphlet, Miller presents the basis for the conclusion that he was living at the end of the fulfillment of such outline prophecies as Daniel 2. He asserted that all prophetic time periods are calculated on the year-day principle. The following section tells of his conclusion that the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 begin with the seventy-week period of Daniel 9:24, and that they would terminate “about A.D. 1843.” “I was thus brought, in 1818, at the close of my two years’ study of the Scriptures, to the solemn conclusion, that in about twenty-five years from that time [about 1843] all the affairs of our present state would be wound up.” Ibid., pp. 11, 12. APAY 188.1

To Miller the matter seemed clear and the conclusions sound, but they were so different from those generally held that he felt it was his duty to restudy the whole matter. He was unaware that some excellent scholars in Europe and in America had come to virtually the same conclusions on many points. In order to be certain of his positions, Miller spent the next four years, 1818-1822, in assiduous study, again giving his attention to the Bible without the aid of other books except his concordance. The search confirmed the essentials of his earlier convictions and enlarged his grasp of the prophecies, which he recognized to be only a part of the whole gospel message. He prepared a list of twenty points in which he declared his faith. The list was wider than the statement in his Apology and Defence quoted above, but on similar points the conclusions were unchanged. 3 APAY 188.2

During the next nine years Miller quietly, in private and in letters, told others of his expectation of the second advent. At times he wrote for one or another of the papers. Few persons seemed interested, and this Miller had difficulty to understand. As the years passed, there came to him the increasing conviction that the nearness of the end required him to help warn the world. This, of course, would require public presentation of his findings, and that he felt he could not do. The inner struggle between the sense of duty and the sense of inadequacy seems to have reached a climax about the middle of August, 1831. APAY 189.1

On Saturday morning of August 13, Miller spent a little time in his study after breakfast. As he rose from his desk to go about some task, the conviction filled his mind with greater urgency than ever before: “Go, tell it to the world.” It was as though God had spoken audibly. The impression was so vivid that he sat down again and said, “I can’t go, Lord.” The question seemed to come, “Why not?” There were all sorts of reasons. He was too old. He was not a preacher. He had no training. He was slow of speech. But the arguments, singly or combined, could do nothing to still the voice of conviction and conscience. His distress became so marked that he then and there promised the Lord that if He would definitely open the way, William Miller would respond and perform his duty. “What do you mean by opening the way?” the voice seemed to ask. “Why,” he replied, “if I should have an invitation to speak publicly in any place, I will go and tell them what I have found.” With the making of the bargain, relief came to him. He was certain that no invitation would be forthcoming. APAY 189.2

But at the moment Miller’s burden seemed rolled away, Irving Guilford was on his way from nearby Dresden to Low Hampton with an invitation for his Uncle William to come and tell the members of the Dresden Baptist Church his views on the second coming. Their pastor was to be away. Miller’s sister Sylvia, and her husband Silas Guilford, knew of his beliefs, and proposed that Miller be invited to come Sunday and tell of his convictions. When the lad had delivered his message, the farmer-Bible-student was thunderstruck. Then he was angry with himself for the covenant he had made only a half hour before. “I rebelled at once against the Lord, and determined not to go.” Without a word he left the house and went to the maple grove to pray. APAY 190.1

The longer he prayed the deeper became his conviction. The only answer he received to his plea for release from his promise was, “Go, and tell it to the world.” “Will you make a covenant with God and break it so soon?” his conscience wanted to know. Then the decision was made, the only kind of decision a man of Miller’s character could make: “Lord, I will go.” The next morning the neighbors flocked to the Guilford home for the Sunday service to hear William Miller’s first sermon. When he had finished, the listeners insisted that he continue his studies through the week. APAY 190.2

When Miller returned home the following Monday, a letter awaited him with an invitation to speak at Poultney, a few miles away. Sermons by the hundreds followed in quick succession in Baptist, Methodist, Congregational, and other churches throughout New England, in eastern Canada, and a little later as far west as Ohio and south to Maryland. The Millerite movement, as it was later known, was well under way. In 1834 he began to devote his whole time to preaching. In nine years he preached four thousand sermons in about five hundred towns and cities. APAY 190.3

Beginning in 1831, William Miller worked for seven years without any associates to counsel with him or to share the burdens of his task. But in 1838, Josiah Litch, a Methodist minister, accepted the message Miller was preaching and took his place beside him. As a preacher, author, and editor, Litch creatively contributed to the spread of Miller’s prophetic interpretations. He maintained his connection with the Methodist Church until 1841, when he felt that it was best that he should sever this tie and devote himself entirely to the second-advent cause. He served as editor or associate editor of various Millerite publications, traveled widely while lecturing on the prophecies, and accompanied Miller on numerous preaching missions. Litch is probably best remembered now for his exposition of the seven trumpets of Revelation 8; 9; 11, and his confident prediction that the downfall of the Ottoman Empire would occur in August, 1840. APAY 191.1

Litch was instrumental in bringing Charles Fitch to Miller’s teaching. This man was the former pastor of the Marlboro Street Congregational Church in Boston, and the Free Presbyterian Church of Newark, in Newark, New Jersey. After a considerable tour of preaching in a number of states, Fitch returned, in 1841, to Haverhill, Massachusetts, where he began to restudy the subject of the second advent, which he had been inclined to accept a few years before, but from which he had turned away. Josiah Litch, knowing of the earlier experience, called at Fitch’s home to urge him to study and accept the advent teachings. After a severe struggle in his own mind, Fitch made his decision and took his place with Miller and Litch. He soon became one of the most beloved and successful preachers of the advent movement. Fitch was the designer of the well-known 1843 prophetic chart which was so widely used by the advent preachers and which was the progenitor of the numerous prophetic charts originated since that time. APAY 191.2

Other than Miller, the man who likely contributed most to the success of the Millerite movement was Joshua V. Himes. Pastor of the Second Christian Church of Boston when the advent message came to him in 1839, Himes soon threw all of his many talents and energies into the task of propagating the advent message. Himes was a powerful preacher, and a man of deep spirituality and perfect integrity. His personality was attractive and he had a gift for popular, appealing presentation of his message. His ability in the pulpit was outshone only by his unusual gifts as an editor and an organizer. Soon some of the best publishing facilities in the country were enlisted for the publication of the numerous papers, tracts, books, pamphlets, songbooks, charts, broadsides, and handbills issued under his direction. When an evangelistic series was conducted in New York City, Himes started a daily newspaper, the Midnight Cry, to publicize the advent teachings. For a time ten thousand copies a day were sold or given away on the streets. APAY 192.1

It was Joshua Himes who was responsible for drawing Miller out of the small towns and villages into the large cities, and his promotional ability provided more openings for sermons than could be filled. Tens of thousands of persons attended the camp meetings Himes organized and managed, and more thousands were added as the movement spread beyond his personal supervision. “In approximately 130 camp meetings held in 1843 and 1844 between 500,000 and 1,000,000 were estimated to have attended—and the total population of the States was only 17,000,000.” Ibid., p. 554. APAY 192.2

Of the many who might be included, one must not be passed by—Joseph Bates, a retired sea captain. Bates heard a lecture on the second coming of Christ about the same time that Joshua Himes was becoming interested in William Miller’s work. His response was wholehearted. Bates preached, attended many of the camp meetings, and was a member of numerous committees studying and planning for the extension of the movement. Moderately well-to-do at the beginning of his connection with the advent movement, Bates soon invested all he had in the enterprise. He was a stalwart leader, firm in his convictions, wise in his leadership, and tireless in his search for truth. His influence was widely felt and deeply appreciated. APAY 192.3