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Thursday, April 2, 2009

William Miller and 1844

1844 Re-Examined

"Most contemporary American and European historicists... were convinced that this period [the 2300 days] began sometime between 457 and 453 B.C. and would end between A.D. 1843 and 1847."1 Miller believed that the 2300 days would begin in 457 B.C. and would end about A.D. 1843. By "the cleansing of the sanctuary" he understood both the cleansing or justification of the church at the last judgment and the purification of the earth by fire. The end of this time period, therefore, would mark the Parousia.

At first Miller did not try to establish the date too specifically. One of his earlier books was called Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ, about the Year 1843: Exhibited in a Course of Lectures.2 Others were even more cautious in specifying the time too closely.

As late as the end of 1842, one of the major Millerite papers still cautioned against setting a definite day or even month for the Parousia. But as the year 1843 approached, apocalyptic fervor grew and speculation on a more definite time increased. Some justified emphasis on a definite time because of the results the message produced.3

In January, 1843, Miller wrote a summary of his views. He said, "I am fully convinced that sometime between March 21st, 1843, and March 21st, 1844, according to Jewish mode of computation of time, Christ will come."4

Additional Reading:

In heralding the end, the Adventists applied the parable of the ten virgins to the Advent Awakening. They said that their message literally corresponded to the cry at midnight, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh" (Matt. 25:6). They also identified this "cry" with the cry of the first apocalyptic angel of Revelation 14, "The hour of His judgment is come" (Rev. 14:7).

For several years Miller's ministry seemed welcome in the churches. But around 1842 opposition arose. By 1843 the disfellowshipment of Adventists became quite common. Adventists consequently began to formulate the idea that the Protestant communion was a part of Babylon. In 1843 Charles Fitch preached an influential sermon, "Come I Out of Her, My People. "Fitch made the appeal, "If you are a Christian, come out of Babylon! If you intend to be found a Christian when Christ appears, come out of Babylon, and come out NOW!"5 It was not until the summer of 1844, however, that the Millerite leaders generally supported the call to "come out" of the churches. At that time several thousand left the churches. This "come-out" message was identified with the second apocalyptic angel of Revelation 14, who cries, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen." Leaving the various Protestant churches was urged as a test of salvation. It was something people were required to do to be saved.

But let us return to the central issue of time setting. In 1843 the Millerite movement began swelling in a great wave of expectation. The Adventists expected the Lord to come sometime around that year. Some used the standard Gregorian calendar and expected the Lord to return between January 1 and December 31. Miller used Jewish reckoning to arrive at March 21, 1843, to March 21, 1844. There was also much speculation on more exact methods for determining the time of the Lord's return. It was discovered that the Jews had two opposing methods of reckoning time. Rabbinical reckoning, based on astronomical calculations, placed the Jewish year 1843 between April 1, 1843, and March 20, 1844. The Karaite Jews adhered more strictly to the letter of the Mosaic law. They based their reckoning on the new moon nearest the barley harvest in Judea and placed the beginning of the Jewish year one moon later.

Throughout 1843 the Adventists speculated on various specific dates. The date of February 10 or 15, 1843, was established by precarious predictions based on the fulfillment of the 1335 days of Daniel 12. In other calculations the third of April was set, since it supposedly corresponded to the time of the crucifixion. The fourteenth of April was rather confidently regarded as the date by many. And as each date passed, the Millerites found still another likely day.

Additional Reading:

Then in 1843 William Miller himself emphasized that the cleansing of the sanctuary in the Jewish tabernacle ritual occurred in the autumn. He pointed out that the high priest made the atonement in the holy of holies and then came out to bless the waiting people on the seventh month of the Jewish year (Lev. 16; Heb. 9:28). And he speculated that if Passover and Pentecost were fulfilled to the very day in Christ's death and in the sending of the Spirit to the church, Christ should come out of the holy of holies in the autumn. Consequently, many anticipated that Christ would come between September 24 and October 24, 1843.

It is most significant that the connection between Daniel 8:14 and Leviticus 16, so vital to Adventism to this day, was first made by Miller. It was not made or prompted by linguistic or exegetical evidence but wholly by the desire to calculate the day of Christ's coming. It was felt that Daniel 8:14 was not specific enough. Leviticus 16 seemed to provide the vital clue to the time of the year.

Many more astronomical, Karaite and other adjustments were made to the reckoning of time. At the end of the year 1843 and the beginning of 1844, S. S. Snow concluded that the sixty-nine weeks had ended in the autumn of A.D. 27, so that the 2300 days would also end in the autumn. He therefore said that Christ would not come until the autumn of 1844. At that time his speculation attracted little attention. Most eyes were fixed on the coming spring Passover season of 1844. Hopes were high. But when the spring season passed and Christ did not come, the Millerites experienced what they called their first disappointment. While many abandoned belief in Adventism, the faithful interpreted the delay as "the tarrying time" in Christ's parable of the waiting virgins.

After the first disappointment in 1844, Snow's views began to attract more attention. He had already adopted Miller's idea of the autumnal cleansing of the sanctuary. And, using the Karaite reckoning, Snow determined that the Day of Atonement (the tenth day of the Jewish seventh month) would fall on October 22, 1844. On that day, he said, Christ would come out of the holy of holies. At the historic Exeter, New Hampshire, camp meeting in August, 1844, Snow advocated this new date with great certainty.

George Storrs, another Adventist preacher, increased the apocalyptic fervor by emphasizing the correspondence between the parable of Matthew 25 and the Adventist experience. He applied Christ's parable as if it were a predictive analogy for every detail of the Advent Movement. The ten virgins going forth to meet the Bridegroom were said to be the Millerites. Their lamps were said to be the light from the Bible. The tarrying of the Bridegroom was said to be caused by the first disappointment. With their hopes unrealized, the virgin band slept for three months. They were said to be "virgins" because they.had a pure faith and had "come out" of the fallen churches (Rev. 14:4; 18:4), Now at midnight—the time of their night watch and trial—the true date of Christ's coming was finally discovered. It was only a few weeks away. Hence, with great enthusiasm the cry went forth, "Behold, the Bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet Him." This cry swept over the land like a tidal wave. It was a movement of spirit and conviction. The believing ones were the wise virgins, who made ready to meet the Bridegroom.

Additional Reading:

Miller and the other leaders in the movement did not initiate this climactic revival. A popular grass-roots fervor took it out of their hands. They only acquiesced a few days before the decisive date.

Aside from the undoubted genuineness of the Adventists and the convictions of the Holy Spirit which led them to give themselves to God and yearn for Christ's coming, we must not ignore the immature human element. In reviewing the history of that decisive year, with the Adventists setting season after season only to be frustrated by the nonappearance of Christ, it seems that they had to purge date setting from their system in one mighty climax of expectation. The unanimity of their conviction regarding the "tenth day of the seventh month" (October 22, 1844) was amazing. They fixed their hopes on a particular day and staked everything upon it. It is hard to resist the thought that many believed it because they wanted to believe it. Describing this "midnight cry," Storrs said:

Where this cry gets hold of the heart, farmers leave their farms, with their crops standing, to go out and sound the alarm—and mechanics their shops. There is a strong crying with tears, and a consecration of all to God, such as I never witnessed. There is a confidence in this truth such as was never felt in the previous cry, in the same degree; and a weeping or melting glory in it that passes all understanding except to those who have felt it.6

With earnest appeals the Adventists warned all to enter the ark before the door was shut. The imagery of Noah and the ark was linked with the parabolic statement, "The Bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with Him to the marriage: and the door was shut" (Matt. 25:10). This parable was used as if it were an allegory of Adventist history that would be fulfilled in every particular.

Just as leaving the churches was made a test of salvation, so accepting the October 22 date was also made a test of salvation. To doubt was to endanger salvation, and those who did not accept this date were bound to be lost. George Storrs made this urgent apocalyptic appeal:

On this present truth [of the October 22 date], I, through grace, dare venture all, and feel that to indulge in doubt about it, would be to offend God and bring upon myself "swift destruction." I am satisfied that now—"whosoever shall seek to save his life," where this cry has been fairly made, by indulging in an "if it don't come," or by a fear to venture out on this truth, "shall lose" his life. It requires the same faith that led Abraham to offer up Isaac—or Noah to build the ark—or Lot to leave Sodom—or the children of Israel to stand all nfght waiting for their departure out of Egypt—or for Daniel to go into the lion's den—or the three Hebrews into the fiery furnace. We have fancied we were going into the kingdom without such a test of faith: but I am satisfied we are not. This last truth brings such a test, and none will venture upon it but such as dare be accounted fools, madmen, or anything else that Antediluvians, Sodomites, a luke-warm church, or sleeping virgins, are disposed to heap upon them. Once more would I cry—"Escape for thy life"—"Look not behind you"—"Remember Lot's wife."7

Then on October 10th Storrs voiced the sentiments of the Adventists when he cried:

Cut your ropes, now, brethren: let your boats float off out of sight;—yea, make haste before the "sign of the Son of Man appear." Then it will be too late. Venture now—and venture all. Oh, my heart is pained for you, while I see you hesitate. Oh, make haste, I beseech you—don't dally—push off that boat, or you are lost. . . . Let go every boat by which you are now calculating to escape to land "IF it don't come." That "IF" will ruin you....I feel that it would be a sin for me to doubt or indulge in an "IF" for one moment. I am forbidden, by the Spirit of God, to do so. I cannot do this great wickedness and sin against God. I dare not do it.
To God and the word of His grace I commend you. Farewell, till we meet in the kingdom of God.8


1 P. Gerard Damsteegt, Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), p. 30. Aside from the original source documents, Damsteegt's book is the best and most thoroughly documented material available on the development of early Seventh-day Adventism. It is the source for much of the narrative in this chapter.
2 William Miller, Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ, about the Year 1843: Exhibited in a Course of Lectures (Troy, N.Y., n.d.; Troy, N.Y.: Kemble & Hooper, 1836; Troy, N.Y.: Elias Gates, 1838; Boston: B. B. Mussey, 1840; Boston: J. V. Hines, 1842).
3 "Midnight Cry," Signs of the Times, 15 June 1842, p. 84, cited by Damsteegt, Message and Mission, p. 37.
4 William Miller, "Synopsis of Miller's Views," Signs of the Times, 25 Jan. 1843, p. 147, cited by Damsteegt, Message and Mission, pp. 37-8.
5 Charles Fitch, "Come Out of Her, My People": A Sermon (Rochester, N.Y.: J. V. Himes. 1843), cited by Damsteegt. Message and Mission, p. 80.
6 George Storrs, "Go Ye Out to Meet Him," Bible Examiner, 24 Sept. 1844, p. 2, cited by Damsteegt, Message and Mission, p. 98.
7 George Storrs, "Go Ye Out to Meet Him," Midnight Cry, 3 Oct. 1844, p. 99.
8 George Storrs, "The Finale," Midnight Cry, 10 Oct. 1844, p. 107.

- Published by the Present Truth Magazine, Inc., P. O. Box 7, Julian, California 92036, U.S.A., Copyright 1979