Remembering the Reformation: An American Reformer (Part 2)

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Remembering the Reformation: An American Reformer (Part 2)

Miller Begins to Preach

It was only at the solicitation of his brethren, in whose words he heard the call of God, that Miller consented to present his views in public. He was now fifty years of age, unaccustomed to public speaking, and burdened with a sense of unfitness for the work before him. But from the first his labors were blessed in a remarkable manner to the salvation of souls. His first lecture was followed by a religious awakening in which thirteen entire families, with the exception of two persons, were converted.

He was immediately urged to speak in other places, and in nearly every place his labor resulted in a revival of the work of God. Sinners were converted, Christians were roused to greater consecration, and deists and infidels were led to acknowledge the truth of the Bible and the Christian religion. The testimony of those among whom he labored was: “A class of minds are reached by him not within the influence of other men.”—Ibid., page 138. His preaching was calculated to arouse the public mind to the great things of religion and to check the growing worldliness and sensuality of the age.

In nearly every town there were scores, in some, hundreds, converted as a result of his preaching. In many places Protestant churches of nearly all denominations were thrown open to him, and the invitations to labor usually came from the ministers of the several congregations. It was his invariable rule not to labor in any place to which he had not been invited, yet he soon found himself unable to comply with half the requests that poured in upon him. Many who did not accept his views as to the exact time of the second advent were convinced of the certainty and nearness of Christ’s coming and their need of preparation.

In some of the large cities his work produced a marked impression. Liquor dealers abandoned the traffic and turned their shops into meeting rooms; gambling dens were broken up; infidels, deists, Universalists, and even the most abandoned profligates were reformed, some of whom had not entered a house of worship for years. Prayer meetings were established by the various denominations, in different quarters, at almost every hour, businessmen assembling at midday for prayer and praise. There was no extravagant excitement, but an almost universal solemnity on the minds of the people. His work, like that of the early Reformers, tended rather to convince the understanding and arouse the conscience than merely to excite the emotions.

In 1833 Miller received a license to preach, from the Baptist Church, of which he was a member. A large number of the ministers of his denomination also approved his work, and it was with their formal sanction that he continued his labors. He traveled and preached unceasingly, though his personal labors were confined principally to the New England and Middle States. For several years his expenses were met wholly from his own private purse, and he never afterward received enough to meet the expense of travel to the places where he was invited. Thus his public labors, so far from being a pecuniary benefit, were a heavy tax upon his property, which gradually diminished during this period of his life. He was the father of a large family, but as they were all frugal and industrious, his farm sufficed for their maintenance as well as his own.

Prophecies Are Fulfilled

In 1833, two years after Miller began to present in public the evidences of Christ’s soon coming, the last of the signs appeared which were promised by the Saviour as tokens of His second advent. Said Jesus: “The stars shall fall from heaven.” Matthew 24:29. And John in the Revelation declared, as he beheld in vision the scenes that should herald the day of God: “The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” Revelation 6:13. This prophecy received a striking and impressive fulfillment in the great meteoric shower of November 13, 1833.

That was the most extensive and wonderful display of falling stars which has ever been recorded; “the whole firmament, over all the United States, being then, for hours, in fiery commotion! No celestial phenomenon has ever occurred in this country, since its first settlement, which was viewed with such intense admiration by one class in the community, or with so much dread and alarm by another.”

Its sublimity and awful beauty still linger in many minds…. Never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell toward the earth; east, west, north, and south, it was the same. In a word, the whole heavens seemed in motion…. The display, as described in Professor Silliman’s Journal, was seen all over North America…. From two o’clock until broad daylight, the sky being perfectly serene and cloudless, an incessant play of dazzlingly brilliant luminosities was kept up in the whole heavens.—R. M. Devens, American Progress; or, The Great Events of the Greatest Century, ch. 28, pars. 1-5.

“No language, indeed, can come up to the splendor of that magnificent display; … no one who did not witness it can form an adequate conception of its glory. It seemed as if the whole starry heavens had congregated at one point near the zenith, and were simultaneously shooting forth, with the velocity of lightning, to every part of the horizon; and yet they were not exhausted—thousands swiftly followed in the tracks of thousands, as if created for the occasion.”—F. Reed, in the Christian Advocate and Journal, Dec. 13, 1833. “A more correct picture of a fig tree casting its figs when blown by a mighty wind, it was not possible to behold.”—“The Old Countryman,” in Portland Evening Advertiser, November 26, 1833.

In the New York Journal of Commerce of November 14, 1833, appeared a long article regarding this wonderful phenomenon, containing this statement:

No philosopher or scholar has told or recorded an event, I suppose, like that of yesterday morning. A prophet eighteen hundred years ago foretold it exactly, if we will be at the trouble of understanding stars falling to mean falling stars, … in the only sense in which it is possible to be literally true.

Thus was displayed the last of those signs of His coming, concerning which Jesus bade His disciples: “When ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” Matthew 24:33. After these signs, John beheld, as the great event next impending, the heavens departing as a scroll, while the earth quaked, mountains and islands removed out of their places, and the wicked in terror sought to flee from the presence of the Son of man. Revelation 6:12-17.

Many who witnessed the falling of the stars, looked upon it as a herald of the coming judgment, “an awful type, a sure forerunner, a merciful sign, of that great and dreadful day.”—“The Old Countryman,” in Portland Evening Advertiser, November 26, 1833. Thus the attention of the people was directed to the fulfillment of prophecy, and many were led to give heed to the warning of the second advent.

In the year 1840 another remarkable fulfillment of prophecy excited widespread interest. Two years before, Josiah Litch, one of the leading ministers preaching the second advent, published an exposition of Revelation 9, predicting the fall of the Ottoman Empire. According to his calculations, this power was to be overthrown “in A.D. 1840, sometime in the month of August;” and only a few days previous to its accomplishment he wrote:

Allowing the first period, 150 years, to have been exactly fulfilled before Deacozes ascended the throne by permission of the Turks, and that the 391 years, fifteen days, commenced at the close of the first period, it will end on the 11th of August, 1840, when the Ottoman power in Constantinople may be expected to be broken. And this, I believe, will be found to be the case.—Josiah Litch, in Signs of the Times, and Expositor of Prophecy, August 1, 1840.

At the very time specified, Turkey, through her ambassadors, accepted the protection of the allied powers of Europe, and thus placed herself under the control of Christian nations. The event exactly fulfilled the prediction (see Appendix).[1] When it became known, multitudes were convinced of the correctness of the principles of prophetic interpretation adopted by Miller and his associates, and a wonderful impetus was given to the advent movement. Men of learning and position united with Miller, both in preaching and in publishing his views, and from 1840 to 1844 the work rapidly extended.

Miller Encounter Opposition

William Miller possessed strong mental powers, disciplined by thought and study; and he added to these the wisdom of heaven by connecting himself with the Source of wisdom. He was a man of sterling worth, who could not but command respect and esteem wherever integrity of character and moral excellence were valued. Uniting true kindness of heart with Christian humility and the power of self-control, he was attentive and affable to all, ready to listen to the opinions of others and to weigh their arguments. Without passion or excitement he tested all theories and doctrines by the word of God, and his sound reasoning and thorough knowledge of the Scriptures enabled him to refute error and expose falsehood.

Yet he did not prosecute his work without bitter opposition. As with earlier Reformers, the truths which he presented were not received with favor by popular religious teachers. As these could not maintain their position by the Scriptures, they were driven to resort to the sayings and doctrines of men, to the traditions of the Fathers. But the word of God was the only testimony accepted by the preachers of the advent truth. “The Bible, and the Bible only,” was their watchword. The lack of Scripture argument on the part of their opponents was supplied by ridicule and scoffing. Time, means, and talents were employed in maligning those whose only offense was that they looked with joy for the return of their Lord and were striving to live holy lives and to exhort others to prepare for His appearing.

Related Article: What Does it Mean to Abide by the “Bible and the Bible Only?”

Earnest were the efforts put forth to draw away the minds of the people from the subject of the second advent. It was made to appear a sin, something of which men should be ashamed, to study the prophecies which relate to the coming of Christ and the end of the world. Thus the popular ministry undermined faith in the word of God. Their teaching made men infidels, and many took license to walk after their own ungodly lusts. Then the authors of the evil charged it all upon Adventists.

While drawing crowded houses of intelligent and attentive hearers, Miller’s name was seldom mentioned by the religious press except by way of ridicule or denunciation. The careless and ungodly emboldened by the position of religious teachers, resorted to opprobrious epithets, to base and blasphemous witticisms, in their efforts to heap contumely upon him and his work. The gray-headed man who had left a comfortable home to travel at his own expense from city to city, from town to town, toiling unceasingly to bear to the world the solemn warning of the judgment near, was sneeringly denounced as a fanatic, a liar, a speculating knave.

The ridicule, falsehood, and abuse heaped upon him called forth indignant remonstrance, even from the secular press. “To treat a subject of such overwhelming majesty and fearful consequences,” with lightness and ribaldry was declared by worldly men to be “not merely to sport with the feelings of its propagators and advocates,” but “to make a jest of the day of judgment, to scoff at the Deity Himself, and contemn the terrors of His judgment bar.”—Bliss, page 183.

The instigator of all evil sought not only to counteract the effect of the advent message, but to destroy the messenger himself. Miller made a practical application of Scripture truth to the hearts of his hearers, reproving their sins and disturbing their self-satisfaction, and his plain and cutting words aroused their enmity. The opposition manifested by church members toward his message emboldened the baser classes to go to greater lengths; and enemies plotted to take his life as he should leave the place of meeting. But holy angels were in the throng, and one of these, in the form of a man, took the arm of this servant of the Lord and led him in safety from the angry mob. His work was not yet done, and Satan and his emissaries were disappointed in their purpose.

Despite all opposition, the interest in the advent movement had continued to increase. From scores and hundreds, the congregations had grown to as many thousands. Large accessions had been made to the various churches, but after a time the spirit of opposition was manifested even against these converts, and the churches began to take disciplinary steps with those who had embraced Miller’s views. This action called forth a response from his pen, in an address to Christians of all denominations, urging that if his doctrines were false, he should be shown his error from the Scriptures.

“What have we believed,” he said, “that we have not been commanded to believe by the word of God, which you yourselves allow is the rule, and only rule, of our faith and practice? What have we done that should call down such virulent denunciations against us from pulpit and press, and give you just cause to exclude us [Adventists] from your churches and fellowship?” “If we are wrong, pray show us wherein consists our wrong. Show us from the word of God that we are in error; we have had ridicule enough; that can never convince us that we are in the wrong; the word of God alone can change our views. Our conclusions have been formed deliberately and prayerfully, as we have seen the evidence in the Scriptures.”—Ibid., pages 250, 252.

History Repeated

From age to age the warnings which God has sent to the world by His servants have been received with like incredulity and unbelief. When the iniquity of the antediluvians moved Him to bring a flood of waters upon the earth, He first made known to them His purpose, that they might have opportunity to turn from their evil ways. For a hundred and twenty years was sounded in their ears the warning to repent, lest the wrath of God be manifested in their destruction. But the message seemed to them an idle tale, and they believed it not.

Emboldened in their wickedness they mocked the messenger of God, made light of his entreaties, and even accused him of presumption. How dare one man stand up against all the great men of the earth? If Noah’s message were true, why did not all the world see it and believe it? One man’s assertion against the wisdom of thousands! They would not credit the warning, nor would they seek shelter in the ark.

Scoffers pointed to the things of nature,—to the unvarying succession of the seasons, to the blue skies that had never poured out rain, to the green fields refreshed by the soft dews of night,—and they cried out: “Doth he not speak parables?” In contempt they declared the preacher of righteousness to be a wild enthusiast; and they went on, more eager in their pursuit of pleasure, more intent upon their evil ways, than before. But their unbelief did not hinder the predicted event. God bore long with their wickedness, giving them ample opportunity for repentance; but at the appointed time His judgments were visited upon the rejecters of His mercy.

Christ declares that there will exist similar unbelief concerning His second coming. As the people of Noah’s day “knew not until the Flood came, and took them all away; so,” in the words of our Saviour, “shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Matthew 24:39. When the professed people of God are uniting with the world, living as they live, and joining with them in forbidden pleasures; when the luxury of the world becomes the luxury of the church; when the marriage bells are chiming, and all are looking forward to many years of worldly prosperity—then, suddenly as the lightning flashes from the heavens, will come the end of their bright visions and delusive hopes.

As God sent His servant to warn the world of the coming Flood, so He sent chosen messengers to make known the nearness of the final judgment. And as Noah’s contemporaries laughed to scorn the predictions of the preacher of righteousness, so in Miller’s day many, even of the professed people of God, scoffed at the words of warning.

And why were the doctrine and preaching of Christ’s second coming so unwelcome to the churches? While to the wicked the advent of the Lord brings woe and desolation, to the righteous it is fraught with joy and hope. This great truth had been the consolation of God’s faithful ones through all the ages; why had it become, like its Author, “a stone of stumbling” and “a rock of offense” to His professed people? It was our Lord Himself who promised His disciples: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself.” John 14:3.

It was the compassionate Saviour, who, anticipating the loneliness and sorrow of His followers, commissioned angels to comfort them with the assurance that He would come again in person, even as He went into heaven. As the disciples stood gazing intently upward to catch the last glimpse of Him whom they loved, their attention was arrested by the words: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11.

Hope was kindled afresh by the angels’ message. The disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.” Luke 24:52, 53. They were not rejoicing because Jesus had been separated from them and they were left to struggle with the trials and temptations of the world, but because of the angels’ assurance that He would come again.

The proclamation of Christ’s coming should now be, as when made by the angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem, good tidings of great joy. Those who really love the Saviour cannot but hail with gladness the announcement founded upon the word of God that He in whom their hopes of eternal life are centered is coming again, not to be insulted, despised, and rejected, as at His first advent, but in power and glory, to redeem His people. It is those who do not love the Saviour that desire Him to remain away, and there can be no more conclusive evidence that the churches have departed from God than the irritation and animosity excited by this Heaven-sent message.

Those who accepted the advent doctrine were roused to the necessity of repentance and humiliation before God. Many had long been halting between Christ and the world; now they felt that it was time to take a stand. “The things of eternity assumed to them an unwonted reality. Heaven was brought near, and they felt themselves guilty before God.”—Bliss, page 146. Christians were quickened to new spiritual life. They were made to feel that time was short, that what they had to do for their fellow men must be done quickly.

Earth receded, eternity seemed to open before them, and the soul, with all that pertained to its immortal weal or woe, was felt to eclipse every temporal object. The Spirit of God rested upon them and gave power to their earnest appeals to their brethren, as well as to sinners, to prepare for the day of God. The silent testimony of their daily life was a constant rebuke to formal and unconsecrated church members. These did not wish to be disturbed in their pursuit of pleasure, their devotion to money-making, and their ambition for worldly honor. Hence the enmity and opposition excited against the advent faith and those who proclaimed it.

Called to Search the Scriptures

As the arguments from the prophetic periods were found to be impregnable, opposers endeavored to discourage investigation of the subject by teaching that the prophecies were sealed. Thus Protestants followed in the steps of Romanists. While the papal church withholds the Bible (see Appendix)[2] from the people, Protestant churches claimed that an important part of the Sacred Word—and that the part which brings to view truths specially applicable to our time—could not be understood.

Ministers and people declared that the prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation were incomprehensible mysteries. But Christ directed His disciples to the words of the prophet Daniel concerning events to take place in their time, and said: “Whoso readeth, let him understand.” Matthew 24:15. And the assertion that the Revelation is a mystery, not to be understood, is contradicted by the very title of the book: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass…. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.” Revelation 1:1-3.

Says the prophet: “Blessed is he that readeth”—there are those who will not read; the blessing is not for them. “And they that hear”—there are some, also, who refuse to hear anything concerning the prophecies; the blessing is not for this class. “And keep those things which are written therein”—many refuse to heed the warnings and instructions contained in the Revelation; none of these can claim the blessing promised. All who ridicule the subjects of the prophecy and mock at the symbols here solemnly given, all who refuse to reform their lives and to prepare for the coming of the Son of man, will be unblessed.

In view of the testimony of Inspiration, how dare men teach that the Revelation is a mystery beyond the reach of human understanding? It is a mystery revealed, a book opened. The study of the Revelation directs the mind to the prophecies of Daniel, and both present most important instruction, given of God to men, concerning events to take place at the close of this world’s history.

To John were opened scenes of deep and thrilling interest in the experience of the church. He saw the position, dangers, conflicts, and final deliverance of the people of God. He records the closing messages which are to ripen the harvest of the earth, either as sheaves for the heavenly garner or as fagots for the fires of destruction. Subjects of vast importance were revealed to him, especially for the last church, that those who should turn from error to truth might be instructed concerning the perils and conflicts before them. None need be in darkness in regard to what is coming upon the earth.

Why, then, this widespread ignorance concerning an important part of Holy Writ? Why this general reluctance to investigate its teachings? It is the result of a studied effort of the prince of darkness to conceal from men that which reveals his deceptions. For this reason, Christ the Revelator, foreseeing the warfare that would be waged against the study of the Revelation, pronounced a blessing upon all who should read, hear, and observe the words of the prophecy.

Editorial Note: This article was adapted from The Great Controversy, chapter 18, entitled, “An American Reformer.”

Click here to read the rest of this exciting series, Remembering the Reformation

Read another article series exploring a foundational Biblical teaching uncovered during the Millerite movement

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Notes.

[1] Fall of the Ottoman Empire. — The impact of Moslem Turkey upon Europe after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was as severe as had been the catastrophic conquests of the Moslem Saracens, during the century and a half after the death of Mohammed, upon the Eastern Roman Empire. Throughout the Reformation era, Turkey was a continual threat at the eastern gates of European Christendom; the writings of the Reformers are full of condemnation of the Ottoman power. Christian writers since have been concerned with the role of Turkey in future world events, and commentators on prophecy have seen Turkish power and its decline forecast in Scripture.

For the latter chapter, under the “hour, day, month, year” prophecy, as part of the sixth trumpet, Josiah Litch worked out an application of the time prophecy, terminating Turkish independence in August, 1840. Litch’s view can be found in full in his The Probability of the Second Coming of Christ about A.D. 1843 (published in June, 1838); An Address to the Clergy (published in the spring of 1840; a second edition, with historical data in support of the accuracy of former calculations of the prophetic period extending to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, was published in 1841); and an article in Signs of the Times and Expositor of Prophecy, Aug. 1, 1840. See also article in Signs of the Times and Expositor of Prophecy, Feb. 1, 1841; and J. N. Loughborough, The Great Second Advent Movement (1905 ed.), pp. 129-132. The book by Uriah Smith, Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation, rev. ed. of 1944, discusses the prophetic timing of this prophecy on pages 506-517.

For the earlier history of the Ottoman Empire and the decline of the Turkish power, see also William Miller, The Ottoman Empire and Its Successors, 1801-1927 (Cambridge, England: University Press, 1936); George G. S. L. Eversley, The Turkish Empire From 1288 to 1914 (London: T. Fisher Unwin, Ldt., 2d ed., 1923); Joseph Von Hammer-Purgstall, Geschichte Des Osmannischen Reiches (Pesth: C. A. Hartleben, 2d ed., 1834-36), 4 vols.; Herbert A. Gibbons, Foundation of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1403 (Oxford: University Press, 1916); Arnold J. Toynbee and Kenneth B. Kirkwood, Turkey (London, 1926).

[2] Withholding the Bible from the People. — The reader will recognize that the text of this volume was written prior to Vatican Council II, with its somewhat altered policies in regard to the reading of the Scriptures.

Through the centuries, the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church toward circulation of the Holy Scriptures in vernacular versions among the laity shows up as negative. See for example G. P. Fisher, The Reformation, ch. 15, par. 16 (1873 ed., pp. 530-532); J. Cardinal Gibbons, The Faith of Our Fathers, ch. 8 (49th ed., 1897), pp. 98-117; John Dowling, History of Romanism, b. 7, ch. 2, sec. 14; and b. 9, ch. 3, secs. 24-27 (1871 ed., pp. 491-496, 621-625); L. F. Bungener, History of the Council of Trent, pp. 101-110 (2d Edinburgh ed., 1853, translated by D. D. Scott); G. H. Putnam, Books and Their Makers During the Middle Ages, vol. 1, pt. 2, ch. 2, pars. 49, 54-56. See also Index of Prohibited Books (Vatican Polyglot Press, 1930), pp. ix, x; Timothy Hurley, A Commentary on the Present Index Legislation (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1908), p. 71; Translation of the Great Encyclical Letters of Leo XIII (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1903), p. 413.

But in recent years a dramatic and positive change has occurred in this respect. On the one hand, the church has approved several versions prepared on the basis of the original languages; on the other, it has promoted the study of the Holy Scriptures by means of free distribution and Bible institutes. The church, however, continues to reserve for herself the exclusive right to interpret the Bible in the light of her own tradition, thus justifying those doctrines that do not harmonize with biblical teachings.

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A bad girl
Reduce weight
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Classic cars
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Fashion magazine
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The recipe
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health
Lose weight
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Reduce weight
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stretch
training
A bad girl
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health
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The recipe
A bad girl
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attitude
movies
rendezvous
sex
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Reduce weight
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stretch
training
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fashion
fitness
health
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Classic cars
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Female models
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health
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Small tools
The recipe
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car
games
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About the author

Ellen G. White

Ellen G. White (1827-1915), a cofounder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, wrote more than 5,000 periodical articles and 40 books during her lifetime. She was more than a gifted writer; she was appointed by God as a special messenger to draw the world's attention to the Scriptures and help prepare people for Christ's second advent. Read her writings at ellenwhite.org.