Miller: The Farmer Turned Preacher

The sharp rapping at the kitchen door roused the Miller family from their lazy morning sequence. Father Miller went to the door and stopped short in surprise as he saw who was standing on the other side. “Irving!” he exclaimed, staring at the flushed face of his nephew for a long moment before standing aside and motioning him to come inside. “What brings you to these parts so early on a Saturday morning?” “Morning Uncle William” Irving panted out a little breathlessly, his eyes sparkling with excitement “I came to give you a message from father” “well it must be a mighty important one” William mused, “go on then, sit down and have some breakfast with us” he continued motioning to a chair at the table. “Before I do that, I need to give you the message” Irving insisted, continuing to stand.

“Alright then, out with it” by now the whole Miller family was gawking at Irving in open curiosity. “Well, the preacher’s taken ill and won’t be able to preach at church tomorrow morning, father sent me to ask if you’d be willing to come down and preach about what you’ve been studying of late” Irving paused and looked at William expectantly. When he received no response he continued in a rush “You know, the prophecies about the second coming of Jesus”

Suddenly a terrible tense silence descended on the entire room. Irving sucked in a breath as he felt the palpable tension envelope him. “Uncle William?” he finally asked hesitantly, unsure if his uncle had heard what he had said.

Without a word William Miller brushed angrily past Irving and stalked out of the house, allowing the kitchen door to bang shut behind him. Irving rushed to the little window completely mystified at his uncle’s response and was soon joined by his cousin Lucy. Together they watched as William Miller made his way up the hill to the little maple grove that was just beyond the house. Once there they watched him stalking, gesticulating and shouting at the sky partially hidden behind the cover of the maple trees. “Mama,” Lucy said anxiously, turning away from the window towards her mother “something’s terribly wrong with father”. Mrs. Miller smiled and slightly shook her head “It’ll turn out alright Lucy” she said quietly “Come now” she continued motioning to Irving and Lucy “come away from the window and finish up your breakfast”.

The Tug-Of-War In The Maple Grove

Thirteen years before that fateful Saturday morning in August 1833 William Miller had been touched by deep conviction. After his conversion, he had taken his Bible and a copy of his concordance and had meticulously made his way through the entire Bible verse by verse. Initially, his purpose had been to prove that the Bible was internally consistent and could hold its own against deist criticism. When he got to the book of Daniel he was completely fascinated with what he found and before long he was poring over the prophecies of Daniel 7,8 and 9 with intense interest.

Based on these studies, especially his study of Daniel 8:14, Miller concluded that Jesus would return to earth in 1843.

Around 1832 Miller began to share his finding with a few close friends and colleagues. He was a quiet New England farmer who wasn’t too enchanted with the idea of making waves. Following this, in May 1832 he wrote to members of the clergy and local community leaders sharing his views. Miller had the knack of deftly organizing and eloquently presenting his ideas in a way that caught the attention of his audience. This gift coupled with his social standing opened up opportunities for him to not only personally share what he was learning but to also make an impression on the minds and hearts of the people he communicated with.

Miller was happy to continue in this fashion in quiet obscurity but God had others plans. He was deeply convicted with a sense that he needed to publicly preach the messages he had been given. Fear of ridicule made him shy away from the call but the voice of conscience could not be silenced. Finally, in exasperation, he made a bargain with God one Saturday morning in August 1833. He promised that if someone asked him to preach he would go.

The odds of someone asking an aged New England farmer to preach on the prophecies of Daniel and the second coming of Jesus seemed far-fetched enough to make him feel fairly certain that he was safe. Half an hour later Irving showed up on his doorstep with just such an invitation. The added punch in the gut was that it would have taken Irving more than half an hour to get to the Miller farm, which meant Irving would have left home with his invitation even before Miller had put out his fleece in prayer.  

Miller preached the next day at the Guildford home in Dresden to a packed audience and then he began to preach in New England to modest crowds. But God had bigger plans for Farmer Miller. He brought Miller into contact with Joshua V. Himes, jack of all trades and publicist extraordinaire. Himes launched Miller’s preaching career out of the stratosphere and began to publish his work as well. Soon Miller was engaged in preaching to sizeable crowds all along the East Coast, making more waves than he had ever thought possible or had ever really wanted. And so the partnership between the farmer from Low Hampton and the dynamo from Boston ensured that the Great Second Advent Awakening was well on its way.

Citations and Further Reading

  • White, E.G. (1888) – The Great Controversy
  • Maxwell, C.M. (1976) – Tell it to the World: The Story of Seventh-Day Adventists
  • Knight, G.R. (1999) – A Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists (3rd Edition)
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 1)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)