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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pastor Russell's view of William Miller

A religious movement culminated in 1844, the participants in which were then, and since, generally known as “Second Adventists” and “Millerites,” because they expected the second advent of the Lord to occur at that date, and because a Mr. William Miller was the leader and prime mover. The movement, which began about 1829, had before 1844 (when they expected the Lord’s return) attracted the attention of all classes of Christian people, especially in the Eastern and Middle States where it amounted to an excitement. A long while before this, Prof. Bengel, in Tubingen, Germany, began to call attention to the prophecies and the coming Kingdom of Messiah, while the celebrated missionary Wolff did the same in Asia. The center of the work, however, was America, where social, political and religious conditions have favored, more than elsewhere, independence in Bible study as well as in other matters; just as the first advent movement was confined to Judea, though all the devout Israelites, everywhere, heard more or less of it. Acts 2:5

All know something of the failure of Brother Miller’s expectations. The Lord did not come in 1844, and the world was not burned up with fire, as he had expected and taught others to expect; and this was a great disappointment to those “holy people” who had so confidently looked for Christ (“Michael”) then to appear and to exalt them with him in power and glory. But, notwithstanding the disappointment, the movement had its designed effects—of awakening an interest in the subject of the Lord’s coming, and of casting reproach upon the subject by reason of mistaken expectations. We say designed effects because without a doubt the hand of the Lord was in it. It not only did a work corresponding to that of the first advent movement, when our Lord was born, when the wise men came from the East and when “all men were in expectation of him” (Matt. 2:1,2; Luke 3:15), but it corresponded with it in time also, being just thirty years before the anointing of our Lord, at thirty years of age, at the beginning of his work as Messiah. That “Miller movement,” as it is slightingly called, brought also an individual blessing to the “holy people” who participated in it: it led to a careful searching of the Scriptures, and to confidence in God’s Word above the traditions of men; and it warmed and fed and united the hearts of God’s children in unsectarian fellowship; for those interested were of all denominations, though principally Baptists. It is since that movement ended, that some of these have organized and bound themselves as new sects, thus blinding themselves to some of the blessings due in the “harvest.”

While, as the reader will have observed, we disagree with Mr. Miller’s interpretations and deductions, on almost every point—viewing the object, as well as the manner and the time, of our Lord’s coming, in a very different light—yet we recognize that movement as being in God’s order, and as doing a very important work in the separating, purifying, refining, and thus making ready, of a waiting people prepared for the Lord. And not only did it do a purifying and testing work in its own day, but, by casting reproach upon the study of prophecy and upon the doctrine of the Lord’s second advent, it has ever since served to test and prove the consecrated, regardless of any association with Mr. Miller’s views and expectations. The very mention of the subject of prophecy, the Lord’s coming and the Millennial Kingdom, now excites the contempt of the worldly-wise, especially in the nominal church. This was undoubtedly of the Lord’s providence, and for a purpose very similar to the sending of the infant Jesus for a time to Nazareth, “that he might be called a Nazarene,” though really born in the honorable city of Bethlehem. That evidently was in order that the truth might separate the “Israelites indeed” from the chaff of God’s chosen nation. The chaff was driven off by the statement that our Lord was a Nazarene; for they reasoned, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Just so some now contemptuously inquire, “Can any good thing come out of Adventism?” and dismiss unconsidered the testimony of the Lord and the apostles and prophets. But the humble, holy ones, wise in God’s sight though foolish in the world’s estimation, take no such attitude.

But the “Miller movement” was more than this: it was the beginning of the right understanding of Daniel’s visions, and at the right time to fit the prophecy. Mr. Miller’s application of the three and a half times (1260 years) was practically the same as that we have just given, but he made the mistake of not starting the 1290 and 1335 periods at the same point. Had he done so he would have been right. On the contrary, he started them thirty years sooner—about 509 instead of 539, which ended the 1335 days in 1844, instead of 1874.* It was, nevertheless, the beginning of the right understanding of the prophecy; for, after all, the 1260 period, which he saw correctly, was the key; and the preaching of this truth (even though in combination with errors, and misapplications, and false inferences) had the effect of separating and purifying “many,” and at the very time the Lord had foretold.

Watch a DVD about William Miller and the Millerites:


*We have been unable to secure Mr. Miller’s writings to compare his interpretations. We have merely learned the dates at which he applied the prophetic numbers.

Not understanding the manner nor the object of the Lord’s return, but expecting a sudden appearance, and the end of all things in one day, he supposed all the time prophecies must end there; and it was his aim and effort to force them all to this common terminus: hence his failure—beyond which God did not then enlighten any, further enlightenment not being then due.

Mr. Miller was an earnest and esteemed member of the Baptist Church; and, being a careful student of the Scriptures, the prophecies began to open before him. After becoming thoroughly convinced himself, as to the correctness of his applications, he began to disseminate his views among ministers, chiefly Baptists at first, but afterward among all classes and all denominations. As the work spread, he, with many colaborers, traveled and preached extensively. The beginning of this work among the Baptist ministers was, as nearly as can be learned from his memoirs, in 1829, Elder Fuller of the Baptist Church at Poultney, Vt., being the first convert to preach his views in public. In a letter written about three years after, Mr. Miller says:

“The Lord is scattering the seed. I can now reckon eight ministers who preach this doctrine, more or less, besides myself. I know of more than one hundred private brethren who say that they have adopted my views. Be this as it may, ‘The truth is mighty and will prevail.’”

Thus it will be seen that the separating work of the “Miller movement” had its beginning at the time foretold—at the end of the 1290 days, 1829.

Now, how about the waiting earnestly until the 1335 days had been touched? Who have thus waited?

Some of God’s children, the “holy people,” the writer among the number, though not associated with the “Miller movement,” nor with the denomination subsequently organized, which calls itself the “Second Advent Church,” have been looking and “earnestly waiting” for Michael’s Kingdom; and gladly we bear testimony to the “blessedness” of the wonderfully clear unfoldings of our Father’s plan, at and since the fall of 1874—the end of the 1335 days.

Words fail us to express this blessedness! Only those who have been refreshed in spirit with this new wine of the Kingdom could appreciate it, if we could describe it. It is therefore something to be felt, rather than told. It was at and since the ending of those 1335 prophetic, symbolic days that the precious views of the Lord’s presence, and the fact that we are even now living in the time of the “harvest” of this Gospel age, and in the time of the setting up of Michael’s (Christ’s) Kingdom, came to be known.

Oh, the blessedness of this favored time! Oh, the harmony, the beauty, the grandeur of the divine plan as it began to unfold when the 1335 days were “touched!” It is to express, as far as lies within our power, this “blessedness” and fuller unfolding of the divine plan, now due to be understood by all the “holy people” now living, that this SCRIPTURES STUDIES series is being published. None but the “holy people” will understand it. It is granted as a favor. “None of the wicked shall understand”; and those of the “holy people” who have fellowship with the worldly, who unwisely stand in the assemblies of the wicked, and sit in the seat of the scorner, shall not understand, and shall not be able to experience this blessedness, now due only to those “holy” ones, truly “wise,” who delight in the Law of the Lord and meditate [study] therein day and night. Psa. 1:1,2

This message concerning Michael’s Kingdom, gradually opening from 1829 onward, is symbolically represented in the book of Revelation (chap. 10:2,8-10) as a “little book,” which the “wise” of the “holy people,” represented by John, are instructed to eat. And John’s experience, as expressed in verse 10, is the experience of all who receive these truths. They bring wondrous sweetness: Oh, the blessedness! But the after effects are always more or less a blending of the bitterness of persecution with the sweetness. And the effect upon those who patiently endure to the end is to purge, purify and refine, and thus to make the bride of Christ ready for the marriage and exaltation, due toward the close of the Day of Preparation.

Concerning this disappointment, which we have shown was nevertheless a blessing and a beginning of the correct interpretation of the vision, the Prophet Habakkuk is caused to write a word of encouragement, saying (chap. 2:2), “Write the vision, make it plain upon tables [charts], that he [desiring] may read it readily...Though it tarry, wait for it [“Oh, the blessedness of him that waiteth unto the 1335 days!”], for it will surely come; it will not tarry.” Its seeming tarrying or delay was not so, but a partial mistake on the part of Mr. Miller, foreknown and permitted by the Lord for the testing of his “holy people.”

As an evidence of the consecration, Bible study and faith engendered by this movement, we quote from a letter written by Mr. Miller, after the disappointment of 1844, to those who had been disappointed with him, as follows:

“We thank God always on your behalf, when we hear, as we already have, that your and our late disappointment has produced in you, and we hope in us also, a deep humiliation, and a careful inspection of our hearts. And though we are humbled, and in a measure pained, by the jeers of a wicked and perverse generation, we are not terrified nor cast down. You can, all of you, when inquired of for the reasons of your hope, open your Bibles, and with meekness and fear show the inquirer why you hope in the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. You need not in a single instance refer the inquirer to your minister, for the reason of your faith. Your creed is the Scriptures;... your philosophy is the wisdom which cometh down from God; your bond of union is the love and fellowship of the saints; your teacher is the Holy Spirit; and your professor is the Lord Jesus Christ....We exhort you, by all the love and fellowship of the saints, to hold fast to this hope. It is warranted by every promise in the Word of God. It is secured to you by the two immutable things—the council and oath of God, in which it is impossible for him to lie. It is ratified and sealed by the death, blood, and resurrection, and life of Jesus Christ....Never fear, brethren; God has told you what to say. Do as he bids you, and he will take care of the consequences. God says, ‘Say unto them, The days are at hand, and the effect of every vision.’ [See Ezek. 12:22,23]...It is to me almost a demonstration that God’s hand is in this thing. Many thousands have been made to study the Scriptures by the preaching of the time....God’s wisdom has in a great measure marked out our path, which he has devised for such good as he will accomplish in his own time and manner.”