Do you know how important this man has been to your life?
Do you know your life would have been entirely different (without a doubt) had he not lived?
Would you like to know why?
Time: 1782 (After the American Revolution and before the War of 1812)
Place: Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
There is a family of 16 children called the Miller family.
The firstborn male in that family was named William. He was born into a family of abject poverty. Little wonder with all those children, you say? Not exactly. Poor families needed to have lots of children to survive by working those kids' fingers to the bone to benefit the household as best as they could. The Miller family was no exception. William had little opportunity to better himself in the normal scheme of things other than a rudimentary education. But, he was special.
William Miller was a very curious and bright lad who loved reading books! He devoured them whenever he had a spare moment away from his backbreaking chores. He learned as much as he could and became useful in his teen years to the community in which he lived, Low Hampton New York. He became the local scribe. Community scribe was necessary at a time when a great many folks had been too busy at hard work to learn how to read or write. Having a secretary with these skills was indispensible.
William's parents made a strong impression on his character. William's dad had been an army captain in the American Revolutionary war. His mother was deeply pious and a devout Baptist. His Grandfather and two uncles were Baptist Church ministers. Can you imagine the questions a bright young man would have at family gatherings? In a "children should be seen and not heard" sort of world; how would this be tolerated?
When he turned 21, Miller married a woman who had profound influence on his thinking and his belief system. He married Lucy Smith and moved away from his family ties to Vermont in the town of Poultney.
As is often the case, once a young person leaves the familiar behind them and starts a new life on their own they are more objective and idealistic than before. Newly married William Miller saw things he couldn't like or understand in the hypocricy of local Christians. He asked many questions and could not abide the answers he was given by local ministers. His giant intellect vomited out mundane explanations and he turned inward.
His easy faith had now been damaged. He questioned everything. He formed a circle of new friends who were not insular Baptists as before. His friends included educated, articulate and refined people who read the works and words of great thinkers such as Voltaire, Paine and Hume. Miller was irresistibly drawn to "rationalist" thinking and philosophy. He transformed from humble believer to rational Deist. Whatever/whomever "God" was had created the universe and wiped His hands of it leaving mankind to fend for itself outside the rules of a mere book such as the Holy Bible. Mind you, he was not an atheist. He was seeing God as impersonal and distant to human affairs.
While Miller's profession of faith changed, his outlook on what was ethical and moral was firmly entrenched. He was no libertine indulging the flesh. He remained steadfast and upright in his actions and a leader in the local community well-respected for integrity. Miler served as constable, Justice of the Peace and even sheriff.
By the age of 30, Miller faced the War of 1812 as the Captain of the local regiment of infantry. He met the challenge of the British by facing off with his men at the Battle of Plattsburg.
Battles at that time were largely a matter of two things: how many soldiers there were handy to fight and how much advantage in terrain and experience were available. Miller's infantry was grossly outnumbered 3 to 1 and faced certain defeat. Miller was smart enough to know this. It was unthinkable they should win at such odds against seasoned troops such as the British brought to bear upon them.
Then, events transpired which dramatically seized upon Miller's sense of the divine. The Americans won and the British retreated!! The main cause was the defeat of the British Navy which was the support of infantry columns. The British lived to fight another day by not squandering troops. But, Miller saw it as proof positive that God was truly one who intervened in human history. Perhaps even intervening meant God had a purpose for Miller's life personally.
It was a new William Miller born that day by unexpected events and an imagination fueled by his early belief-system.
Let us stop for a moment and reflect!
William Miller is now a war hero, natural leader of men, well-respected for his integrity and much appreciated for his intelligence and curiosity. In a world of deeply religious believers, many of whom came from Puritan families, such a man as Miller might seem remarkably blessed against a backdrop of this Epiphany of Belief!
After the war, Miller moved his family back to Low Hampton and began life as a mere farmer. But, deeply troubled in his mind and soul he tried to reconcile his personal experiences with his religious upbringing. He sought solace in attending his Uncle's Baptist church.
Obviously his family deeply longed to have William join them spiritually without reservation. His Uncle involved Miller in bible reading before the congregation. The loving support of the crowds and their natural admiration keened him toward a tipping point of inevitable crisis.
According to William Miller's own account, it was in the public reading of Isaiah 53 that it all came together. The focus of this scripture was expounded to explain what Miller had failed to see. God did purposefully intervene in men's affairs to redound to their salvation!! Miller was stricken at his failure to see this previously. He collapsed with emotion only to rise afterwards with dramatic self-realization.
Miller's journey was a small circle back to the starting point. He simply became what he had been raised to be all along: a devout Christian Believer. But, now, the full force of his intellect was brought to bear upon it rather than the weak and ineffective emotional succor he saw in others.
What William Miller now threw himself into is predictable in hindsight. He simply did what he always did: he began reading and teaching himself from whatever books were available. Miller was what is called an auto-didact; a self-taught man. Whatever views he might form would be according to his own personality, whims and imagination rather than conforming to some rigor of schooling or headmaster's influence.
William Miller invented himself and the indelible mark of his theology would be proprietary to his self-educated viewpoint. It is notable that what William Miller sought to do is done again and again every day by perplexed Christians and waffling non-believers alike. It is commonplace and rather naive to simply view it now for what it was.
1. Miller started with the first book of the bible and worked his way through to the end using a concordance only so as not to taint his learning by the opinion of others.
2. Miller tackled the problem of language and interpretation and lack of resources with zeal. Yet, he was baffled by most of the difficult passages. There was little in the way of archaeology, hermenuetics, documentary hypothesis or analysis of any scientific structure available at that time. But, he slogged away for 2 solid years!
3. Miller concentrated on what interested him most: Prophecy and especially End Times. This was of the greatest interest to amateurs as always because it concerned them personally and the times in which he lived.
What happens next is most interesting. Miller finished his studies in 1818 at the age of 36. He had bootstrapped himself into a theory about End Times that gave him much cause for urgency. Miller came up with the idea that ONLY TWENTY-FIVE YEARS REMAINED before Jesus would return to Earth and end human affairs!!
The target year was 1843!
Let us stop once again and review.
Plenty of crackpots through history had come up with speculative dates and explanations for when the world would end. They came and the went. What made Miller's crackpot speculations different, you might ask?
Nothing. It was William Miller as a person that is of interest.
It would not exactly be the scholarship or explanation of William Miller that would set events into motion which should concern us here. It is the fact that Miller had credibility, respect, good standing in the community, intellect, high morals, and a strong connection with fellow Christians that should red flag what followed. Miller had strayed from the faith and had COME BACK as a prodigal son which marked him as no flash in the pan. Miller had been a war hero with a story of Divine Intervention on his behalf that made him irresistable to other believers and even non-believers who might sympathize.
Miller had Gravitas! He was one heavy dude. Further, he had natural talent as an orator and preacher of spellbinding ability. He made people listen and he could convince you that pigs could fly so marvellous was his gift of speech.
The disaster that followed was caused by people admiring the talent of other people and wanting a certain outcome in advance to be true! All it took was the suspension of disbelief. Miller gave it to them in spades.
Two things of note now follow.
Stop and think!
1. Miller did something that no other preacher had done. Miller propounded the idea that ANY student of the bible of normal intelligence could do what he, Miller, had done without being a graduate of a Theological Seminary. Miller became the first POPULIST preacher of note to move a vast crowd. He empowered the little people rather than making them feel stupid and passive.
2. Miller challenged Authority! It would not be the Church as an institution which would bring about the Millennium Reign of Christ--no! It would be a small band of True Believers unfettered by tradition and pomposity.
3. Miller produced an easy-to-understand system which anybody could grasp immediately. The past mirrored the future. Prophecy of old was a mirror of fulfillment in present times. It was a matter of Dispensations or spans of time which matched present day events that enabled believers to understand predictions of when the End was to come.
4. Miller produced 14 or 15 iron-clad arguments to persuade belief in his system. He used chiefly Daniel 8:14 and Daniel 9:24-27 to achieve his purpose.
Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are today still using William Miller's system and explanations! As ex-JW's we are familiar with the "day for a year" and "weeks of year" arguments and reasonings. The only changes made today are small and inconsequential ones. The system hasn't been junked at all!
I mentioned to you how smart William Miller was, right? You must know, then, that he knew he was going to be in for a hailstorm of protests, arguments and criticisms. So, he spent an additional FIVE YEARS perfecting his counter-arguments, explantions, charts, diagrams and reasonings anticipating every critic in advance!!
Miller's theology, like that of today's Jehovah's Witnesses was refutation based counter-attack strategy. For every protest there was a reply; a counter-punch that took you back to a scripture. The effect was like watching a fistfight between a professional boxer and small un-trained amateur. It was always a dramatic knockout!
As people now know, Miller's arguments suffered from two fatal flaws hidden from view: wrong assumptions that bedeviled his very premises and the interpretations of meaning in scripture.
In other words, it was as computer programmer's often say: GARBAGE IN = GARBAGE OUT.
However, be it noted here something very important. William Miller was an intellectually honest person. He was sincere. He was reluctant. He was not a charleton nor a flim-flam artist. Read his own words:
When I was about my business, it was continually ringing in my ears, "Go and tell the world of their danger...." I felt that if the wicked could be effectually warned, multitudes of them would repent; and that if they were not warned, their blood might be required at my hand."
This is true Christian responsibility!
Having no formal public speaking training, feeling too old, not a preacher by trade, Miller overcame his reluctance.
On the morning of Saturday, August 13,1831 the fifty-five year old farmer promised God something that would go on to change your life and mine.
Read what it was:
"If I should have an invitation to speak publicly in any place, I will go and tell them what I have found."
As he made this very vow his own nephew was racing to his side to deliver an invitation for him to preach the very next day at the Baptist church in nearby Dresden!
Preparation met opportunity and the rest is history.
The result was a vast wildfire enthusiasm unlike anything known in the New World. Audiences went crazy with acceptance and motivation. Invitations galore took him from one church to another as the crowds grew larger and yet larger into huge mobs of quivering, wide-eyed yokels filled with dread, awe and religious zeal.
Revivals broke out and thousands were throwing themselves at the altars embracing Salvation and baptism in preparation for THE END. So successful did this make the local Baptist Churches that they granted him a special license to preach as a Baptist minister in 1833.
An industry was begun with pamphlets, charts and printed sermons. Illustrators sought to depict the events of Revelation soon to unfold on mankind as these publications flooded America like nothing before it. It was crazy--man--CRAZY!!
It wasn't long before half a million people stood nodding in agreement with the rendezvous with Armageddon Miller had foretold. How could it be otherwise? Leading minsters and preachers well-respected in their community came forth with public acceptance and approval of what Miller was doing and this more than triggered the final skeptics into jumping on the bandwagon with mad abandon.
One follower and admirer, Joshua V. Himes helped Miller to publish Signs of the Times and Midnight Cry.
Both influenced sectarian copycats to come.
Millerites is what his followers were eventually called by nay-sayers. After the fact it is claimed only about 55,000 people to 100,000 were true followers of his movement and theology. But, his influence was infectious in many quarters. His methodology was popular no matter what conclusions were reached at the end.
As the dreaded date approached, these 2nd Adventist watchers-of-the-end coalesced into a sect or two of True Believers who could not accept that this might all be a non-event.
Noteworthy are the following:
THE GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT
1. Millerites began characterizing other churches (who did not embrace their end time speculations) as members of Babylon the Great!
2. Eventually ALL other Christian Churches were seen has clinging to Satan's old world instead of preparing for the New World to come.
3. Christendom was attacked as the whore of Babylon who rejected the only true religion.
4. Followers began divesting themselves of personal possessions, dropping out of schools and selling their houses in preparation of the Great Day to come.
5. The unexpected appearance of a great comet in February seemed a sure sign of what was certain to follow.
I'm sure you can guess!
To his merit, William Miller made a public apology:
"I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment." He conveyed this retraction in May of 1844.
"Yet I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door."
Contrast Miller's honest admission of wrongness and personal culpability with Jehovah's Witnesses to follow!