Miller Time: The End of the World on October 22, 1844!
By Thomas Williamson
William Miller (1782-1849) was a farmer and Baptist layman in Low Hampton, New York. After receiving Christ as his Savior in 1816, he gave himself to avid study of the Bible. As a result, he came to the inescapable conclusion that the Second Coming of Christ would come in or about the year 1843.
Feeling the moral obligation to share this startling and vital information with his fellow men, he began to accept speaking engagements in NE New York and adjacent areas of Vermont, but after many years, he had succeeded in getting the Second Advent message out to only a small circle of followers.
Not until Miller met Joshua V. Himes in 1839 did the Millerite movement really take off, becoming the greatest sensation of the age. Himes was a publicist and organizing genius, while Miller was the theologian of the movement.
Millerism was spread through the Northern U.S. by 3 means - by speaking appearances of Millerite lecturers, by camp meetings, and by the mass distribution of millions of newspapers, tracts, books and pamphlets.
Miller's preaching resulted in many unbelievers making professions of faith, and for that reason he was welcomed by some pastors who did not particularly care for his date-setting enthusiasm. But Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, was not so impressed - he told Miller: "Your preaching can be of no use to society but it is a great annoyance. If you expect to frighten men and women into religion, you are probably mistaken. . . . If your preaching drives people into despair or insanity, you are responsible for the consequences."
The movement concentrated on the 1843 date for Christ's return, but not all Millerites accepted that date, some of them proposing an 1847 date, with others saying that it was not scripturally possible to set an exact date for Christ's coming.
The movement did not fall precisely into modern categories of millennialism and Christian Zionism. A handbill prepared by Himes in 1840 proclaimed, "No Literal Return of the Carnal Jews as a Nation to Palestine" and "No Millennium Prior to the Resurrection of the Dead."
IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT. The glad news of Christ's coming in 1843 was accepted by a cross section of American society, mostly prosperous middle-class people who had no particular reason to feel alienated from or weary of their current earthly circumstances. The movement was strongest in New England and New York, while lecturers spread the word west to Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and other states.
Free blacks in New England flocked to the Millerite camp meetings along with whites, while slaves in Maryland received with great interest the news that their earthly servitude would soon be over, and sang Millerite hymns as they worked in the fields. The Millerites attracted almost no support from white Southerners, who were suspicious because many of the Millerite lecturers had been anti-slavery activists.
Naturally, the teaching that the world would end in 1843 resulted in a storm of opposition and ridicule, from orthodox evangelical Christians as well as infidels. A few trained theologians became Millerites, but most rejected the movement with scorn. The Millerites dismissed their opponents by identifying them with the "scoffers" of 2 Peter 3:3-4. Miller accused those who did not accept his date-setting of not wanting Christ to return at all. His teaching resulted in a tremendous amount of strife, division and infighting among evangelicals.
The movement was ecumenical - historian Everett Dick found that of 174 Millerite lecturers, 44% were Methodist, 27% Baptist, 9% Congregationalist, 8% Campbellite and 7% Presbyterian. Millerite leaders at first advised their followers to stay with their churches, but as derision and persecution increased, there was a call for them to "come out of Babylon."
SIGN, SIGN, EVERYWHERE A SIGN. There were great expectations that Christ would come at that time, based on the "signs of the times" such as the "Dark Day" on May 19, 1780 in which the sun did not shine over New England; also a meteor shower in 1833, a storm in Madeira in 1842, earthquakes and a comet in 1843, the financial "Panic of 1837," increasing lawlessness and violence in the inner cities, riots, hunger, breakdown of morality, etc. Then, as now, every item of news in the daily papers was considered a sign that Christ would return soon.
Many people considered the Millerites to be insane. Sympathetic Seventh Day Adventist historian Everett Dick stated it was not true that the Millerites used white ascension robes - this appears to be a tall tale put out by anti-Millerites. However, Dick admitted that there were some suicides and cases of insanity traceable to "Miller mania" and that some Millerites gathered in cemeteries to await the Second Coming, in hopes of greeting their newly resurrected loved ones.
BRING IT ON. Hostile cartoonists had a field day with the Millerites. One cartoon showed a smug Millerite crouched in a fireproof safe stocked with ice, crackers and brandy, with the caption "A Millerite Preparing for the 23rd of April - Now let it come, I'm ready." Another showed the "Grand Ascension of the Miller Tabernacle," with Millerites clinging precariously to the airborne meetinghouse, while Joshua Himes is held down by the Devil who is saying "Joshua V, You Must Stay With Me."
Miller calculated his 1843 date by taking the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14, changing them to 2300 years, and then counting from the decree of Persian king Artaxerxes ordering the rebuilding of Jerusalem in 457 BC, thus yielded the 1843 date.
Comment: With this type of numerical manipulation, one can come up with any date for the Second Coming. Nowhere does the Bible teach that the decree of Artaxerxes in 457 is a starting point for a countdown to the Rapture. The 2300 days of Daniel 8:14 are literal days, or "mornings and evenings," relating to events of the Maccabean revolt against Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd Century BC, and should never have been changed to years, which is a non-literal interpretation.
To bolster his case, Miller took the 1260 days of Revelation 12:6, changed them to years, then counted 1260 years from the alleged beginning of the Pope's civil power in 538 AD, which brought him to 1798, when Napoleon supposedly dealt a deadly blow to the papacy. Also he dated the fall of Rome at 508 AD, added the 1290 days of Daniel 12:11 (you guessed it, he changed them to 1290 years), once again coming up with 1798, truly a year of destiny. To that date he added 45 years, thus coming up with 1843.
Comment: It may seem hard to believe that anyone would take this date-setting mish-mash seriously, yet in our supposedly more enlightened age, there are people who take seriously the date-setting delusions of such false prophets as Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, Edgar Whisenant, Charles Taylor, Harold Camping, etc.
There is no scriptural basis for adding 45 years to some notable year in history to set a date for Christ's coming, any more than there is for those who add 40 years to the founding of Israel in 1948, the conquest of the Wailing Wall in 1967, etc.
Historians usually date the fall of Rome at 476 AD, not 508, although the actual fall of Rome was a gradual process over a period of centuries. Nothing notable with regard to the papacy happened in 538, nor does anyone interpret the military events in 1798 as a significant weakening in the power of the Roman Catholic Church, which at last notice was still going quite strong.
(In fairness to Miller, it should be observed that he was not alone in making the mathematical calculations connecting the decree of Artaxerxes with Christ's return in the 1840's - a number of commentators and theologians agreed with him that something big was to happen in that decade. A liberal theologian named George Bush wrote to Miller, agreeing with his chronology and citing such luminaries as Sir Isaac Newton to support it. But Bush believed that Christ's coming would be spiritual and symbolical, not literal).
TURKISH FANTASY. An early test of Miller's predictive prowess came when he proclaimed that the Ottoman Empire would fall on August 11, 1840. In those days before the telegraph, it took several months for ships to bring the latest news from the Middle East, but by November it had become embarrassingly evident that the Ottoman Empire had not fallen. This should have given early warning that the Millerite prophecies were a bunch of malarkey. But Millerite theologians twisted certain events in Egypt as an evidence that the Ottoman Empire had begun to fall, and therefore the prophecy had been fulfilled after all.
Comment: All historians today date the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. As late as 1915, the Ottoman Empire was sufficiently alive and kicking to be able to defeat a massive army of British, Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli.
As the fateful 1843 date approached, and expectations rose to a fever pitch, Miller was pressured to be a little more specific about when Christ would show up. He confidently stated that Christ would return between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844. This was not specific enough for some of his followers, who set a succession of exact dates, all of which passed by uneventfully.
A full year passed, and by the spring of 1844, Christ had not returned, creating some disappointment. The Millerite prophets did not miss a beat, proclaiming that the world had entered the "tarrying time" of Matthew 25:5 and Habakkuk 2:3. Miller expressed his apologies for being imprecise in his calculations, and encouraged his followers to maintain a high state of readiness for Christ's Second Coming which must by now be very close. He declined to set any more exact dates.
SNOW JOB. This was not good enough for his enthusiastic followers, who were tired of the suspense and craved certainty. Elder Samuel Snow came up with an October 22, 1844 date for Christ's coming which was avidly spread through the circuit of camp meetings which continued to operate at full blast during that last fateful summer in the history of mankind. Miller and Himes finally, reluctantly concluded that Christ would definitely return sometime in October, but Miller refused to set an exact date, although at one point Miller stated that only one more Sabbath would pass before Christ came to judge sinners. (As late as October 21, Miller told friends that he did not think Christ would come on the following day).
In preparation for Christ's eagerly awaited return, Millerites closed their shops, left their crops unharvested, and gave away all their money and earthly goods which would soon no longer be of any use to them.
A tailor in Philadelphia put out a sign reading "This shop is closed in honor of the King of Kings, who will appear about the 22nd of October. Get ready, friends, to crown Him Lord of all."
The great day came, but Christ did not return. The Millerites called this day the "Great Disappointment." As the sun dawned on the 23rd, they were "Left Behind" to endure the ridicule, persecution and occasional violence of anti-Millerite mobs.
Hiram Edson wrote, "We wept, and wept, til the day dawn. . . . If this had proved a failure, what was the rest of my Christian experience worth? Has the Bible proved a failure? Is there no God - no heaven - no golden home city - no paradise? Is all this but a cunningly devised fable? Is there no reality to our fondest hopes and expectation of these things?" Thus, in all ages, has true Christian faith been weakened and exposed to vilification because of the date-setters and false prophets.
WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP IT'S BEEN. Everett Dick documented, as a result of the disillusionment of the Millerites, a drastic decline in Methodist church membership in the North after 1844, and a slight decline in northern Baptist church membership after 1844. Methodist church membership continued to grow in the South where Millerism was almost unknown. At the height of the Millerite excitement, many churches were split and some disbanded as a result of the heated prophetic wrangling.
Millerites reacted to the Great Disappointment in various ways; some returned to their old churches and denominations in repentant embarrassment, while others lost all interest in religion. Some joined weird mystical sects like the Shakers, who believed that Christ had already returned in the person of Mother Ann Lee in 1770.
Hiram Edson and Ellen G. White decided that what really happened in 1844 is that Christ cleaned out the heavenly sanctuary as a prelude to His coming to earth - this, plus observance of the Saturday Sabbath, became the foundation of the successful Seventh Day Adventist denomination, which has spread worldwide and still looks back to Miller for inspiration.
Miller and his loyal sidekick Himes were good and sincere men, who do not appear to have been motivated by desire for fame or financial enrichment. They felt compelled by duty to spread their Adventist message, but they were sincerely wrong. Let us maintain our faith in Christ's future literal return, but let us not disgrace and discredit that message by setting dates. Christ knew what He was talking about when He told the Apostles, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." - Acts 1:7.
"Left Behind" Author Says We May Have 1000 Years To Go Until the Second Coming
"I think one of God's major personality characteristics is mercy. And I think that's the reason it [the Second Coming] hasn't happened in 2000 years. And if He waits one more day, in His economy of time that's a thousand of our years. We could be a thousand years from the second coming. Now, to rabid pre-tribbers and rapture watchers, that's heresy. How could the person who wrote Left Behind say it could be a thousand years? Because it's been 2000 years." - Jerry Jenkins, on LeftBehind.com.