William Miller and Modern Adventism

 

Most of the Christian cults we encounter originate in the US and there is a whole story to be told about that, which we will keep for another time. Many are the product of, or influenced by 19th century Adventism.

They are the heirs of William Miller, a 19th century farmer and Baptist preacher, who prophesied the Second Advent in the 1840s. Miller should be better known because all Adventist cults that follow after him are shaped in some way by him. His influence cannot be overestimated.

William Miller

Born February 1782, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. His father was Captain Miller, a veteran of the American Revolution. When he was four years old, his family moved to rural Low Hampton, New York. Miller was educated at home by his mother until the age of nine, when he attended the newly established East Poultney District School. There is no record of his having pursued his education beyond the age of eighteen but he read read widely and voraciously.

In 1803, he married Lucy Smith and moved to her nearby home town of Poultney, where he took up farming. He was a pillar of the community, being elected to the office of Constable then, In 1809, to the office of Deputy Sheriff and eventually becoming a Justice of the Peace. Miller served in the Vermont militia and was commissioned a lieutenant on July 21, 1810. He was a reasonably well off, established member of the local community.

Shortly after his marriage, Miller rejected his Baptist heritage and became a Deist, influenced by serious-minded local men who put into his hands works by, Voltaire, David Hume, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and other deistical writers. The Deist view is of a distant God unconcerned with human affairs but a personal experience the war of 1812 was to challenge this view. During one conflict at the Battle of Plattsburgh, in 1814, he described shrapnel shells falling as thick as hailstones. It was during this onslaught, that one shot exploded two feet from him, wounding three of his men, killing another, but leaving Miller alive and untouched.

Miller was persuaded that this, and the victorious outcome for the US forces, was miraculous. His deistic view of a distant God far removed from human affairs was shattered. He later wrote, ‘It seemed to me that the Supreme Being must have watched over the interests of this country in an especial manner, and delivered us from the hands of our enemies… So surprising a result, against such odds, did seem to me like the work of a mightier power than man.’

Miller returned to his family and, eventually, his Baptist faith. This change of heart did not, however, go unchallenged. His Deist friends insisted he should justify his move back to a belief in a personal God involved in the daily affairs of men. He determined to meet the challenge, setting himself the task of closely examining the Bible, verse-by-verse, starting at Genesis 1. It was in this process he finally became convinced of two things, that post-millennialism was unbiblical, and that the time of Christ’s Second Advent was revealed in prophecy.

He began his calculations in Daniel 8:14, ”unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed” (KJV). Using the interpretive principle of a day being equal to a year, he calculated the 2,300 days/years from 457BC and the decree to rebuild Jerusalem given by Ataxerxes I. That period would end in 1843. The cleansing of the sanctuary he interpreted to mean the purification of the earth at Christ’s Second Coming. By 1822 he was confident enough to publish his co

Millerites Poster

nclusions . It was in 1831 he began to give public lectures.

From 1832 to 1834 Miller published letters and articles sharing his research. The interest in his theories became so overwhelming that he published a synopsis of his teachings in a 64- page tract explaining his conclusions. (Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ, about the Year 1844: Exhibited in a Course of Lectures.)

In 1840 a bi-weekly newspaper, Signs of the Times,  was established to publish his work. His writings had captivated so many that followers of his teachings were referred to collectively as the Millerites. If you lived in the United States in the 1840s you knew about the Millerites.

Miller never set an exact date for the Second Coming. He did narrow the time-period to sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.”

When March 21, 1844, came and went he amended the date suggesting that April 18, 1844 could be the date. Again, April 18, 1844 came and went without incident and Miller responded publicly, writing, “I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment; yet I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door.”

It was actually a man named Samuel S. Snow, a peculiar character who rode about the countryside in a long white robe, calling himself Elijah, who set a date. Snow set an exact date, saying that Christ would return on October 22, 1844. This peculiar chronology was held by an obscure sect of Karaite Jews, whose calendar is different from the Rabbinic calendar. Of course, that date passed without incident and many thousands of Millerites, who had stayed up all night waiting for Christ’s return, found themselves gravely disappointed. Ever since then October 22 is known and marked among Adventists as the Great Disappointment.

Many left the movement, while those who remained divided into two movements. The Open-Door Adventists continued to set dates, trust and preach prophecy, and preach the imminent return of Christ. The Shut-Door movement taught that October 22 had marked a turning point and the opportunity for repentance was passed. No more outreach work was to be done for unbelievers according to this group. It was a 17-year-old Ellen Harmon (later Ellen G White) who claimed to have had a vision in which God had taught her that the probation for people on earth had closed on October 22 and Christ’s return was imminent.

Miller himself died in 1849. His work was the catalyst for the formation of the Adventist Movement. Typically, throughout the century, periodicals appeared with titles like, Signs of the Times, Times and Seasons (a Mormon publication), and, of course, Zion’s Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence. Some of his followers would go on to found the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which we will come on to consider, as well as heavily influence Charles Russell’s Bible Student Movement (eventually Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Jesus said, ‘Concerning the day or the hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.’ (Mt.24:36) Readiness is everything, he went on to teach. This seems to hold no currency with those determined to know what God alone knows. Below is a brief list of prophecies that demonstrate the folly of man when he ignores the counsel of God. If you want to know more about these go to the Wikipedia page where I found the list, which I have shortened for the sake of space. There you will find another list of yet future predictions. Yes, the circus goes on. Jesus’ words for us meanwhile are simply this; ‘You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ (Mt.24:44)

Past predictions

Predicted date

Claimant

Description

500 Hippolytus of Rome, Sextus Julius Africanus, Irenaeus These three Christian theologians predicted Jesus would return in the year 500. One prediction was based on the dimensions of Noah’s ark.
793 Apr 6 Beatus of Liébana The Spanish monk prophesied the second coming of Christ and the end of the world would take place that day to a crowd of people.
1000 Jan 1 Pope Sylvester II Various Christian clerics predicted the end of the world on this date. Following the failure of the January 1, 1000 prediction, some theorists proposed that the end would occur 1000 years after Jesus’ death (1033)
1260 Joachim of Fiore The Italian mystic determined that the Millennium would begin between 1200 and 1260.
1370 Jean de Roquetaillade The Antichrist was predicted to come in 1366 and the Millennium would begin in 1368 or 1370.
1504 Sandro Botticelli Believed he was living during the time of the Tribulation, and that the Millennium would begin in three and a half years from 1500.
1524 Feb 20 Johannes Stöffler A planetary alignment in Pisces was seen by this astrologer as a sign of the Millennium.
1524–1526 Thomas Müntzer 1525 would mark the beginning of the Millennium, according to this Anabaptist.
1533 Oct 19 Michael Stifel Judgement Day would begin at 8:00am on this day.
1673 William Aspinwall This Fifth Monarchist claimed the Millennium would begin by this year.
1694 Johann Jacob Zimmermann Believed that Jesus would return and the world would end this year.
John Mason and Johann Heinrich Alsted Both claimed the Millennium would begin by this year.
1700 Henry Archer Archer counted 1335 years from the end of the reign of Julian the Apostate taking the 1335 days in Daniel 12:12
1757 Emanuel Swedenborg Followed the Last Judgement in 1757, in the spiritual world.
1793–1795 Richard Brothers This retired sailor stated the Millennium would begin between 1793 and 1795. He was eventually committed to an insane asylum.
1814 Dec 25 Joanna Southcott This 64-year-old self-described prophet claimed she was pregnant with the Christ child, and that he would be born on Christmas Day, 1814. She died on that day, and an autopsy proved she was not pregnant.
1829 Sep 15 George Rapp Founder and leader of the Harmony Society, predicted that on September 15, 1829, the three and one half years of the Sun Woman (Rev.12:1) would end and Christ would begin his reign on earth.
1836 John Wesley He foresaw the Millennium beginning this year. He wrote that Revelation 12:14 referred to the years 1058–1836, “when Christ should come”.
1840–1864 Jakob Lorber Austrian musician pointing to a time before the passing of 2000 years after the death of Christ on the cross.
1844 Oct 22 William Miller, Millerites The fact that this failed to happen the way people were expecting was later referred to as the Great Disappointment.
1847 Aug 7 George Rapp Rapp, the founder of the Harmony Society, preached that Jesus would return in his lifetime, even as he lay dying on August 7, 1847.
1861 Joseph Morris Morris told his followers not to plant crops because he firmly believed that “Christ will come tomorrow.”
1863 John Wroe The founder of the Christian Israelite Church calculated that the Millennium would begin this year.
1874 Charles Taze Russell Russell proclaimed Christ’s invisible return in 1874, the resurrection of the saints in 1875, and predicted the end of the “harvest” and a rapture of the saints to heaven for 1878, and the final end of “the day of wrath” in 1914.
1890 Wovoka The founder of the Ghost Dance movement predicted in 1889 that the Millennium would occur in 1890.
1891 Joseph Smith, Mormons Joseph Smith spoke of “the coming of the Lord, which was nigh–even fifty-six years should wind up the scene.” Though this was not a prediction from Joseph Smith, he stated, “I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time.” (D&C 130:14-17)
1901 Catholic Apostolic Church This church, founded 1831, claimed that Jesus would return by the time the last of its 12 founding members died. The last member died in 1901.
1914 Jehovah’s Witnesses Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Christ’s visible (to humans) return will be at Armageddon. They believe that 1914 marked the beginning of Christ’s invisible presence (Matt. 24:3 gr. “parousia”) as the King of God’s Kingdom (Psalm 110; Revelation 12:10), and the beginning of the last days of the human ruled system of society.
1915 John Chilembwe This Baptist educator and leader of a rebellion in Nyasaland predicted the Millennium would begin this year.
1917–1930 Sun Myung Moon The followers of Reverend Sun Myung Moon consider Reverend Moon to be the Lord of the Second Advent called by Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday at the age of 15 on a Korean Mountainside.
1930–1939 Rudolf Steiner Steiner predicted that Christ would reappear in the etheric, or lowest spiritual, plane beginning in the 1930s.
1935, 1943, 1972 & 1975 Herbert W. Armstrong Armstrong felt the return of Jesus Christ might be in 1975. Armstrong had previously predicted in a 1934 edition of The Plain Truth magazine that Christ would return in 1936. After that prediction failed, he stated in a 1940 edition of The Plain Truth that “Christ will come after 3 1/2 years of tribulation in October 1943.
1982 Jun 21 Benjamin Creme The followers of the New Age Theosophical guru Benjamin Creme, like Alice A. Bailey, believe the Second Coming will occur when Maitreya (the being Theosophists identify as being Christ) makes his presence on Earth publicly known. Creme put advertisements in many of the world’s major newspapers in early 1982 stating that the Second Coming would occur on Monday, 21 June 1982 (summer solstice in the northern hemisphere), at which time Christ (Maitreya) would announce his Second Coming on worldwide television.
1988 Edgar C. Whisenant Published a book, 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988.
1994 Sep 6 Harold Camping Camping, general manager of Family Radio and Bible teacher, published a book, 1994?, a prediction that Christ’s return was likely pointing to 1994.
1999–2009 Jerry Falwell Fundamentalist preacher who predicted in 1999 that the Second Coming would probably be within 10 years.
2000 Ed Dobson This pastor predicted the end would occur in his book The End: Why Jesus Could Return by A.D. 2000.
Timothy Dwight IV This President of Yale University foresaw Christ’s Millennium starting by 2000.
Edgar Cayce This psychic predicted the Second Coming would occur this year.
Isaac Newton Newton predicted that Christ’s Millennium would begin in the year 2000 in his book Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John.
2000, April 6 James Harmston The leader of the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days predicted the Second Coming of Christ would occur on this day.
2011 May 21
2011 Oct 21
Harold Camping Camping claimed that the rapture would be on May 21, 2011 followed by the end of the world on October 21 of the same year.
2011 Sep 29
2012 May 272013 May 18
Ronald Weinland Weinland predicted Jesus would return on September 29, 2011. When his prediction failed to come true, he moved the date of Jesus’ return to May 27, 2012. When that prediction failed, he then moved the date to May 18, 2013.
2012 Jack Van Impe Televangelist who has, over the years, predicted many specific years and dates for the second coming of Jesus, but has continued to move his prediction later. He recently pointed to 2012 as a possible date for the second coming.
2015 Sep 28 Mark Biltz Starting in 2008, Mark Biltz began teaching that Christ’s return would correspond with the September 28, 2015 lunar eclipse. His idea is known as the Blood Moon Prophecy,

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